Sunday, April 26, 2009

State Memories Project: Kentucky

I’ve driven across Kentucky three times, but only stopped once, and that was on my 2006 baseball trip. Swankette had left me to go back to work, and I did a few days on my own. My plan was to get to Louisville about 3 hours before first pitch and head to the Muhammad Ali Museum, then catch the game. That plan was scrapped when I discovered upon arrival that, although I had driven directly north from Nashville that day, I had slipped from the Central to the Eastern time zones.

I forewent the museum—too expensive to tackle in an hour—and instead wandered along the riverfront. It was 100 degrees. Within a few steps, my shirt stuck to my skin. But I noticed something pretty cool on the side of the museum. It was a pixelated something-or-other photo. I headed east along the river, looking back over my shoulder at the building, and slowly, surely, the image came into focus over the next half hour or so of walking…it was Ali, standing in that famous pose with one gloved hand extended after the knockout uppercut, menacingly standing with his mouth open, mouth guard exposed, over his defeated opponent. Liston? Foreman? I don’t know the opponent, but you know the picture.

Even pixelated, it was stirring and impressive. Not stirring enough to get me past the half-hour walk in 100 degree heat, mind you. But it was a fun moment from my 5 hours or so in Kentucky.

What do y'all have for Kentucky?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Letter to Hedgehog: Month Two

Dear Hedgehog,

Month two finds you becoming a little bit more human-looking in my eyes. I mean, I did think you were beautiful from minute one, but newborns tend to look more like chewed-up gum than people. You now look a little more like the Gerber ideal of a baby.

Heading back to work was a bit of a bitch. I know that my job is important--that's one of the things I like about it, is how it forces me to be at my best--but it was really quite hard to get up for my job daily when the most important people in the world stay behind. And right now, while I'm grading monster research papers, it's even harder. But it's working out.

When I was in college, I found that my grades actually went up every time I dated. Some of that was that I was happier, but mostly I found that I managed my time better. Because I knew that, given the choice, I'd rather spend all day with the girlfriend, I would force myself to set aside time to get my studying done. The same principle is true now. Because I know I'd rather be with you, I'm making myself grade these huge research papers in record time by making myself spend a couple hours at the library or at Moxie's doing them -before- I come home.

Because home is so much fun now, and I know I won't want to grade there like I used to. This is a habit I'll try to keep through your childhood. I hope it's okay with you.

Occasionally I feel a little inadequate--it took me forever to figure out how to swaddle you--and when you're inconsolable, my lack of boobs is a handicap to settling you. But your mom says that you calm more from my slow-dancing than hers. So I've taken to singing slow John Lennon songs ("Julia," "Revolution #1," "This Boy") or slow-dance hits of the '80s ("Crazy for You," "True") while pivoting on one foot and putting my cheek next to yours.

And you fall asleep. Which means your mom falls asleep.

And when I can do something to calm these two most important people in the world, well, I feel as accomplished as any inventor, poet, or Nobel laureate.

As if that's not enough, your smiles arrived this month. Man oh man. The smiles. Impossibly wonderful smiles. Smiles when I come home. Smiles when you make good eye contact. Smiles for whatever other reasons are inside that developing brain. Big, glorious, open-mouth smiles.

Fatherhood, in spite of all the struggles, poop, and sleep deprivation, rocks. You should try it in another quarter- or third-of-a-century. I want you to be happy, and this is sure as heck has been effective for me in that regard.

Oh, and thanks for all the rounds of "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" this morning while your mom slept in. I had fun.

Baby's First Baseball Game

Hedgehog attended his first baseball game last week. Sacramento at Portland.

It was chilly—about 50 degrees—but we had him bundled up. I was wandering back to my seat after changing his diaper (only a few hundred people were there, although announced attendance was 1600) when I heard someone calling me.

“Sir! Sir!”

I turned around and saw an usher on a landing over me.

“Did you know about our infant and toddler suite?”

Apparently, the Beavers have set aside a suite just for people with infants and toddlers at the game.

The cost of admission was merely the intimation that I was an unfit parent.

“You need to go there! That boy will FREEZE!!!” (The boy was both bundled up and fast asleep.)

Still, Swankette and I took the woman up on her offer, more for our own comfort than for Hedgehog’s. Bean joined us, and a fine time was had by all of us. We’ll probably head back to the suite, just for easier breastfeeding and a better changing table than the bathroom provides.

It was “nothing night.” There were no promotions, no wacky between-innings banter, nothing…just baseball and occasional organ music. This meant that Hedgehog got a calm introduction to baseball. We think he liked it—the noises, the atmosphere. He sat on his mom's lap, facing outward, checking everything out for far longer than an infant's attention span normally is.

We’ll see on May 6 if he still likes it when all the infernal PA noise is added. And on May 24, he makes his major league debut at Safeco Field. We’re working him up to it nicely, I think.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

State Memories Project: Kansas

My 2004 Spring baseball trip brought me to games in Wichita and Tulsa before heading to see Rangers and Astros games. Very, very few people fly to Wichita on their spring breaks (the plane from Dallas to Wichita was nearly deserted). I went to a freezing cold April night game (a bad one, too, final was 10-0) on Holy Saturday before heading to Tulsa for an Easter Sunday matinee.

I took back roads. Not quite as deserted as the tiny ones I took that morning in Illinois, but smallish state roads through tiny towns. My only real goal was to head south and east and to get to Tulsa for first pitch, so I meandered along rather improvisationally. Looking at the map, I’m pretty sure I headed to Winfield and then struck out into the quiet farmland, passing through (perhaps) Dexter, Maple City, Cedar Vale, Wauneta, Chautauqua…three-digit population towns at most.

But what I remember was that every town had one massive church, and that every parking lot was filled—overfilled, actually—with cars. Everyone in Southern Kansas was celebrating the Resurrection. And while I probably would not have agreed with what I’d heard from the pulpit if I’d walked into these churches, it was still a very sweet, wonderful drive that day. As much as I wanted to be cynical and coastal-blue-state-liberal smug about all the heartlanders at church, I just couldn’t do it.

In fact, I popped in my CD of Jesus Christ Superstar and sang my way through the crucifixion and resurrection, singing the Passion as I passed by all of these churches, filled with what I believe to be decent people worshipping the same God I do. It was a wonderful solitary religious experience. I’d even say it brought me closer to God, and in a transcendentalist kind of way, closer to the people in these Kansas towns. I won’t soon forget that beautiful Easter.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Some thoughts on the boy

At this point in the baseball season, one of my favorite phrases is "on pace to." As in, "Miguel Cabrera is on pace to have thirty million RBIs this season." It's fun to extrapolate.

Let's do that with my son.

Between the first measurement (birth) and the second (at about two weeks), my son grew over two inches and gained a pound. Both measurements were quite impressive to the medical personnel. He continues to grow like a weed. I don't know that he's grown four more inches, but it sure looks like it. He's getting his father's longness and leanness. Only when I bathe him do I see the Buddha belly (much the same as the only time I can see my own belly).

But I did the math. Let's look ahead to his 18th birthday.

By the time my boy turns 18, he is on pace to be 101 feet tall!

Part of me feels like this would be pretty cool. Needless to say, I immediately thought that volleyball or basketball would be his best sports.

But then I continued the math. While 101 feet tall, my son would only weigh about 400 pounds.

He'd be the string-beaniest tall boy in history.

I'm not sure a guy with that build would make it as an athlete. He'd either have to make money as the star of a reality show or he'd have to clean storm drains.

That's okay. We'll love him regardless.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

State Memories Project: Iowa

My grandfather (dad’s dad) died on April 12, 1987, when I was a junior in high school. (It's an alphabetical coincidence that I post this on the anniversary of his death. I still miss you,'d be 100 this year, and I wish you were still around.) The family took a week away from school to head out for the funeral, driving up to get my brother in Fort Collins before zipping across Nebraska, going as quickly as we could. My brother, kid sister, and me were cooped together for the trip; my big sister headed down from Ann Arbor to meet us in Streator, Illinois, Dad’s birthplace, where Grandpa has rested in peace ever since, waiting for Grandma to join him.

The first day, as we zipped across Colorado and Nebraska, the five of us had fun together, cracking wise and screwing around as we pretty well always do. We drove all the way to Des Moines and crashed at the Holiday Inn.

That morning in the Holiday Inn restaurant, the mood pivoted instantly. Over my French toast, we suddenly re-became aware of what we were about to do.

I remember my dad sitting down and sighing heavily.

“I am not looking forward to this,” he said. I think a lump came to my throat. Not sadness, but surprise at the way the family mood turned on the dime of my dad’s sigh. The "this" in my dad's sentence had nothing to do with burying Grandpa, who had probably fought too hard and too long against his cancer. He did make it five years past his diagnosis of 6 months to 2 years to live, but never let go, and hearing my dad describe how violently Grandpa fought his last minutes was awful. No, the "this" was the wake, the visitation, the talking to everybody from Streator he hadn’t thought about in years, the handling of his mom through the whole thing.

At 16, I think I got all of that, but the next sentence clinched it:

“Just burn my bones when I die. I don’t want any of this.”

I’ve been through Iowa on many trips, and even to Iowa as a destination at least twice. But something about the way my dad sighed in that hotel restaurant that morning, and urged us not to put ourselves through that when his time came—the way he was thinking of us even on what would be a horrible day for all of us, but especially for him—has stuck with me more than any other Iowa memory.

What do y'all have for Iowa?

Monday, April 06, 2009

If you've heard it once, you've heard it a million times.

Don't piss off Emilio Bonifacio.

The Nationals let him go, and BAM! He's all in their grill.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

TRP's Fearless 2009 MLB Predictions

Are thus.


Boston 93-69
Tampa Bay 92-70
NY Yankees 87-75
Baltimore 76-86
Toronto 67-95

AL CENTRAL aka a bunch of mediocre teams in a lame pennant "race"

Minnesota 85-77
Chicago White Sox 83-79
Cleveland 82-80
Detroit 81-81
Kansas City 79-83

AL WEST which is actually lamer than the AL Central

LA Angels of Orange County of Anaheim of the USA of the Milky Way 88-74
Oakland 77-85
Seattle 74-88
Texas 73-89


Philadelphia 91-71
NY Mets 87-75
Florida 82-80
Atlanta 80-82 although they look awfully good on TV right now
Washington 62-100


Chicago Cubs 96-66
Cincinnati 88-74
St. Louis 86-76
Milwaukee 84-78
Houston 70-92
Pittsburgh 65-97


LA Dodgers 89-73
Arizona 86-76
San Francisco 78-84
Colorado 77-85
San Diego 74-88

Can a team face a division mate in the first round? It doesn't matter. I have the following for the ALCS and NLCS:

ALCS: Red Sox over Rays
NLCS: Cubs over Phillies

Which means, urrrgggh, we have a Cubs/Red Sox World Series. The media will have a nonstop ten-day-long climax. It will be virtually unwatchable--maybe I'll do it without the sound.

Cubs win the World Series in 7.

State Memories Project: Indiana

MCMC, the groom, was a Kenyon College Chaser buddy of mine—a bass, a year younger than me. The bride was a poetess and a Yale grad who also knew the joy of a cappella. For their May 1998 wedding (at a gorgeous state park about a half hour outside of Bloomington...they had met at IU, where he studied history and she Creative Writing), they instituted The Friend Choir. Everyone they had ever known who sang would become the choir at the wedding. A fellow Chaser served as conductor, and arranged a version of “Simple Gifts” for the occasion. We sang that, “Go Ye Now In Peace,” (a song from Chasers), and something else I am forgetting. Although we had received music and tapes to practice with, we still all arrived on Thursday for several rehearsals. And in between rehearsals, I spent quality time with old friends and became very tight new ones. We practiced at the bride and groom’s place one day, then zipped across to the state park to practice the next. In between were impromptu ice cream runs in small Indiana towns, board games at bars and at new friends’ houses, new inside jokes with people I’d known only a day or two, and an incredible amount of fun.

The one moment I’ll remember most is the who-will-cry-first pool. No money changed hands, but we in the choir each had predicted which of the bride’s and groom’s parents would cry first. I had cast my lot with the groom’s mom. Some had the bride’s dad (a poet). A few others took the longshots...bride’s mom and groom’s dad. We didn’t disrupt the marvelous service, overlooking an Indiana valley at a state park on a warm-but-not-hot early morning. But we had all made our picks, and would elbow each other and point during the service, as if to say. “I think the bride’s dad might be welling you think she’ll make it through her reading?” or “I don’t know, what about the groom’s mom?” It was like a pennant race between Yankees and Red Sox...we watched them closely, waiting for the certain winner.

But then, the equivalent of the Tampa Bay Rays ran off with it all. The groom’s dad got up to give his reading, and suddenly absolutely burst into sobs. Our eyes bugged out, as this surprise cost a lot of us the fictional pool that day. As he walked away from the podium, he added one wish to the many he’d given already: “And wild nights!” he said. Turns out he’d wanted to read Emily Dickinson’s “Wild nights,” but didn’t. Instead, he just threw in the one line.

Meanwhile, in the friend choir, we were all shocked...all, that is, except Chaser buddy Shelly, the only person to pick the groom’s dad in the pool. “I don’t know,” she had said. “It just feels like there’s a lot underneath there.” There sure was.

I loved the experience of the friend choir so much that I plagiarized it. A friend choir—including several Chaser members of MCMC's choir—sang at my own wedding 7 years later. I hope they had as much fun in my choir as I had in theirs—I owe the bride and groom and their friends that much for that great weekend.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Help me out here...

Here's RNC National Chairman Michael Steele on the Iowa Supreme Court's decision to overturn its gay marriage ban:

The Iowa Supreme Court's decision today to reverse an 11 year old state law outlawing same-sex marriage is sadly another example of judicial activism currently threatening family values in America. While I respect an individual's right to live his or her life as they see fit, decisions like this are better left in the hands of legislators and governors.

I firmly believe that marriage should be between one man and one woman. A state's autonomous nature allows it to change its laws as the citizenry sees fit, but it should be done by the people, not through judicial decree.

There are so many things haywire in this brief couple of paragraphs that my head starts to spin a little bit.

--Why is "judicial activism" (and, to be clear, I don't think that's happening) any preferable to legislative or executive activism?

--Isn't it the job of Iowa's Supreme Court to interpret its Constitution? How is this ruling doing anything more or anything different from that?

And finally, this quote: "A state's autonomous nature allows it to change its laws as the citizenry sees fit."

Ick. He's saying that the majority of citizens can infringe on the rights of a minority of citizens if it "sees fit" to do so. If a state "saw fit" to go back a century and reinstate Jim Crow laws, thereby taking away a minority group's civil rights, it would be the Supreme Court's duty to strike down those laws. That's what happened in Iowa.

If Mr. Steele (or anyone else) wants to argue that marriage is not a civil right, or that it's okay for a state to confer the privileges of marriage unequally, I would listen (although I would be highly skeptical). But the series of nothing arguments in the above quote does absolutely nothing but make me cheer for Iowa's Supreme Court even harder.

Thankful for that recent post.

Because it led me to believe that A World Without Cheese is a great name for this year's fantasy baseball team.

A habit to break

Why do I continue to read the comments on newspaper stories posted on the web? There are a lot of mean-spirited morons in the world.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Letter to the Boy: Month One

Dear Boy,

I know...I'm already a week late with this, the first letter. But when you get around to reading these however many years down the road, it won't matter much. Your mom is much more ambitious than I am...she's writing every week. My cousin--I guess he's your first cousin once removed? Or is it second once removed?--is writing to/about his boy just about all the time. But I think monthly will be sufficient for me to communicate to you everything that's gone on in your early life. Maybe I'll keep this going right up until you're in high school. Or maybe it'll fall away. You'd understand that, I think. My parents were horrible about keeping scrapbooks (but then, I'm the third child) and I never held it against them.

But I digress. Let's talk about the first month.

Your mom woke me up just after midnight with news that her water broke. And you were quite impatient...labor started a 4AM and ended with your arrival at 9:14AM. I just can't describe that feeling. I cried all day. It's the damnedest thing, kid, and something you'll understand if you actually have a kid yourself, and there's no real way to describe it other than this: there were four people in the room (me, your mom, the doctor, and a nurse), and, the very next moment, there were five people in the room, including you...a person who had never been in any rooms before. What other word is there for that other than miracle?

You cried lustily and loudly right off the bat. Your Grandpa on my side was listening over the phone from Florida and was impressed with your pipes. But your cry is different from other babies' cries. When other babies cry, I can hear just a shade of "oh, poor me, the world is bad, pity me." Not you. Your cry is simply a pissed-off cry. You say "Hey! Mom and Dad! Give me what I want, and I want it NOW! You're not doing it yet! Get me fed!" (And food is what you want about 95% of the time. You're totally predictable that way...and growing at a pace that far exceeds other babies.) Your stubbornness and headstrongness should come as no surprise, of course, given that those qualities both appear in both parents (particularly, and I don't think she'd be mad about me saying this, in your mom). But to see such toughness and demandingness from someone who isn't yet 2 feet tall...well, that's just something else.

You mostly want to hang out with Mom these days, because that's where the food is. But we've still got some good times in together. I think it was our third night home--your fifth night on the planet--when you were absolutely driving your mom crazy with the constant demand for food. You were keeping her awake. Well, fortunately, I had purchased a 6-pack of 24-oz. Mountain Dews for exactly this occasion. I normally don't drink caffeine, but I figured I'd be doing some all-nighters with you, and I had to get you away from your mom. You fell asleep in my arms as I watched baseball (a 1999 Mariner game I'd saved for the occasion). You slept from 1:45 until 5:15, permitting your mom a little consecutive sleep.

And that's my favorite part of this month so far--the times when I can get you to sleep. You relaxed when I sang a John Lennon song early on, so I decided you like John Lennon, and I've been singing his stuff to you to keep you calm since. It certainly isn't 100% effective--nothing cancels out your hunger--but it's nice when it works. Makes me feel like I'm making your world better, which is a good way to feel when we feel, as many parents of infants do, kinda helpless and rudderless a lot of the time. So if John Lennon helps, I'll sing him.

What gets me most is how quickly--instantaneously, even--you became a permanent part of my life, in the sense of "you've always been here." People talk about what an incredible change the first child is...and it certainly is. But from the very beginning, it's like you've always been here. Like my dad singing to me was a necessary prequel to me singing to you. Like my first dates with your mom were necessary just get get you with us. Like every joy and hardship has been about this first month of your life...about getting me ready for you.

Oh, and we think you may have superhuman strength. We're biased, but when you're taking a bath (not your favorite thing), you tend to put your feet against the edge of our mini-tub and arch your back so that your butt is in the air. And you were pushing off with your feet way, way earlier than is normal. I'm not sure when this will end, since neither me nor your mom are athletes by any definition of the word, but as of now, you could kick other one-month-olds' butts.

I'm looking forward to what comes next.


A month without cheese

It has come to my attention of late that my cholesterol, while not officially "high," is closer to the high border of normal than to the low border. And, since my dad damn near died of a "widowmaker" heart attack at 64, and since I plan on retiring at 62, and now I have a boy and would like to see him as a man, and since my dad took (and takes) way better care of himself than I generally do...well, I'd like to do something tangible to get down to "low" rather than "normal."

But where, oh where, do I eat much cholesterol?

I don't have a lot of high-fat dessert-type things. We will occasionally enjoy ice cream, buying a carton every couple of months and eating it until it's gone. I don't eat high-fat meats. I'm not downing Oreos.

But it has come to my attention that I do eat one high-fat food all the time.


I can't break myself of the cheese habit.

On those occasions where I go out, it's usually for nachos or a cheeseburger or a burrito with loads of cheese on it. Seriously...if I could make my kitchen into a Chili's, I'd consider it. Just take anything and melt a bunch of cheese over it. Mmmm.

And when Swankette bought a package of cojack for sandwiches...well, much of it didn't make it to sandwiches. I like the stuff right out of the package.

I need to see if I can break that habit. So I'm doing it. Cold turkey.

April shall be A Month Without Cheese.

This could be a little tricky. Swankette says she will support me, but only to the point of calling this "the month without cheese slices." So if she melts a little cheese over my dinner, I will eat it...unless it is feasible to do it separately, in which case I will endure a cheese-free existence.

The hardest part: I can't say "A Month Without Cheese" without heading Peter & Gordon's damn song "A World Without Love."

I don't care what they say
I won't stay in a world without cheese...

But stay tuned. I can do this.