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Teachers and Coaches

August 24, 2014 Leave a comment

2012-09-04_08-02-48_676Fifth grade was a nightmare for me. A year filled with stress induced migraines and a constant feeling of dread. At the center of my memories of this time stands the imposing image of a strict, red faced women who was my teacher and she caused me to hate school.

The reason I mention this is because I’ve been thinking about both teachers and coaches a lot lately. Partly because the boys just found out who their teachers are going to be this year, partly because of the video going around featuring the little league coaches post game talk to his kids and partially because of the constant attacks that our teachers seem to be under by media and politicians.

And I mention my fifth grade teacher because she serves as a contrast to most of the teachers I’ve been fortunate to have in my life and to highlight the importance of good teachers in the lives of our children. She was the rare exception in a long line of teachers that would become positive influences on my life.

There was Mrs. Cahill who welcomed me into her classroom in second grade when I was new in the school after moving to New Jersey from Colorado. She made sure to give me the attention I needed then as well as connected me with my earliest friends. She was tough, but always with a smile.

There was Mrs. K in fourth grade that would take breaks during the day to read to us from the Chronicles of Narnia. She could have sat at her desk and let us do busy work, but she chose to do this and my earliest interests in writing started there.

There was Mrs. Racioppi who became the first big influence on my writing. I initially dreaded her writing assignments, but I learned to love them as she encouraged creative writing and helped me start to develop my writing voice.

There was Mrs. Unger who’s eyes absolutely lit up as she talked about science in eighth grade. I don’t think she could tone back her enthusiasm if she wanted as she passed on her love and interest on to use. Even when our experiments failed (you can’t cook a hot dog in a handmade tin foil oven on a cloudy day), she was quick to help us find the lesson in the failure.

The list of teachers really goes on and on. Mrs. Eckle who scrapped her whole course plan when the Gulf War broke out to guide us through history as it happened. Mrs. Fitzgibbons who brought literature alive with such excitement that I learned to love Shakespeare as much as Salinger. Mrs. Casey who made religion fun and helped us figure out why it was important in our lives, dragging us out from under the fear the Baltimore Catechism delivered. Mrs. Lucas (who recently passed away) taught us the importance of how history still affects us in the present. Mrs. Wilmarth who patiently worked with me through the difficulties of Algebra, refusing to leave me behind as the rest of the class grasped it faster. And, of course, the Frank Zappa loving Mr. Setlock who made everything fun, cleverly masking the fact that we were learning important things like biology.

The very sad thing of it is that adults should not have to stand up and say that teachers are important and trying to remind other of that fact. They should simply be standing up and applauding our teachers. So many dear friends of mine are teachers and I see them struggle at times because of critical parents, a skeptical media and heartless, stupid politicians. I believe the average American would take their teachers and put them high on pedestals, but there are loud voices out there that want to tear them down and I cannot fathom why. The fact that teachers are important, deserve our respect and should be paid well should be a universal truth like water is wet and the sun is hot.

Good coaches are also important because they pick up teaching our children after they have left the classroom. The life lessons learned on the fields and courts become ingrained into the kids. I once read something about how athletes in high school tend to have much higher self-esteem than non-athletes. And I would think this would have to extend to other activities like forensics, religious groups, scouts, theater, etc. The importance of having someone that can help you learn the things you love is invaluable and can only have a positive influence on you. Coaches and advisors are teachers, as well, and become huge parts of who our children grow to be.

The past couple of years I’ve coached Little League baseball and basketball. While it is always rewarding, it is difficult more often than not. This past baseball season left a bad taste in my mouth and left me resolved to not coach baseball again even if my kids decided to play again. However, as I watched the little league coach video and truly think about how much the teachers and coaches of my children invest of themselves, I can’t help but re-think this. I watch the sacrifices that teachers and other coaches make and I feel like I need to do my part. I’m not saying I’m a good coach or looking for any kind of praise, but I can’t help but feel that I have a part to do.

I feel like if we continue to attack our teachers there are going to be less college kids that chose to become teachers and not only will the quality of education diminish, but there will be more teachers like my fifth grade teacher.

And Mrs. Racioppi or Mrs. Fitzgibbons, if you happen to be reading this…I am so sorry for all my grammar mistakes. And thank you. To all you other teacher, good luck and God Bless as you embark on a new school year.

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What does a ball hitting the bat look like?

20140427_124822His uniform seemed like a lead shroud hanging from his thin frame. His hat pulled low, concealing wet eyes. Glove tucked under his arm as he drags himself into the car. He is heartbroken.

My heart breaks for him, also. I’ve been there and it feels like there is nothing worse, not at that age.

Five at-bats. Five strike-outs.

Not even a single saving ping of a foul ball, and my poor son seemed broken.

Baseball sucks. He hates it (and he hasn’t even realized yet that I’ve doomed him to be a Mets fan).

This isn’t the “good” heartbreak that baseball dooms all her fans to.

We talk, we analyze, we get ice cream. He laughs and smiles again and plays video games with his brother.

My heart continues to twist, impaled on that metal bat he dropped in frustration. I want to let him quit…There are still ten more games.

A few days pass, we talk more. With each day, he wants to talk less about it. I feel helpless to help him. Rain pours and prevents me from trying to help him. It seems like he doesn’t want to even try anymore.

Finally, I drag him out. I tell him to set his feet as I told him, but forget everything else I told him. In talking I realize that I am too deep in his head. His coaches (all four of them) are too deep in his head. His friends running the bases are too deep in his head. His own little brother’s success in baseball is too deep in his head.

I know he hears them and they fight with his own, once confident voice.

I throw two dozen balls to him…he misses.

Every.

Single.

One.

His brother takes a turn and he hits half the balls.

We step away from the plate. We have a catch and I let him talk about his video game. I’m dying inside.

I ask if he wants to bat again. He reluctantly says “yes”.

I get a box to help him visualize his strike zone. I get a second bat and have him hit the head of it with his bat. I move it around so he can adjust his swing. He has fun with that.

I take the bucket of balls and back up 15 feet. He misses the first six.

Then I remember his analytic mind. I ask him what he thinks a ball looks like when the bat hits it. He says he doesn’t know. I tell him that we should find out.

“What does a ball hitting the bat look like?”

He hits the next one 50 feet to the driveway.

“What does a ball hitting the bat look like?”

The next ball hits my car.

He is smiling.

“What does a ball hitting the bat look like?”

The next ball almosts hits me.

I back up another 20 feet. He looks nervous again. I go back to five feet in front of him and throw a ball over the plate. He realizes the longer pitched ball is his advantage. I go back to the full distance.

“What does a ball hitting the bat look like?”

The next ball goes back into the driveway.

He hits half of the next two dozen and he is beaming. We call it quits for the night.

Next game. First at-bat. He fouls off a pitch before striking out, but clearly his swing is better.

Next at-bat.

First pitch.

His brother sits next to me, eyes closed, too nervous to watch his older brother.

He hits a slow roller up the third base line.

Safe.

It might as well have been a world series winning home run.

Inning ends with him at third and he runs over to me with a huge smile on his face. Tells me he did it. Tells me he timed the pitches from the pitching machine. Tells me how he is watching the ball hit the bat. Tells me how he isn’t thinking about hitting when he is hitting.

Home run.

Final at bat.

Foul.

Swing and miss.

Foul.

Hard fly ball to left field. Outfielder doesn’t get there.

Ben is almost dancing on first base.

Three-for-five.

Back in the car. I pull my hat low, concealing wet eyes.

Meeting a Yankee

July 3, 2013 Leave a comment

sparkyThose of you who know me, know that I am a big Mets fan. In recent years, I have playfully “trained” Benjamin and Matthew to boo whenever they hear “Phillies” or “Yankees” (“Eagles”, as well). Well, recently, I had the opportunity to meet Sparky Lyle and get his autograph. Having just finished their little league season, I told my sons that Sparky played Major League Baseball. Sparky responded that he had played for the Yankees.

Without missing a beat, Matthew yells out “Boooo Yankees!”

I had never been so mortified and proud at the same time.

Sparky was really cool though and laughed. He turned to Matt and said, “Well, I played for the Red Sox, also, is that okay?”

We then talked a little bit about my sons’ baseball season and he mentioned having been to his grandson’s baseball game the day before. Really nice guy…for a former Yankee and Phillie.

Off My Game

March 11, 2012 1 comment

Any one who is a parent knows that there are days when we just are going to be off our games.  Days when it feels like all we have is just enough energy to get through three solid meals, the bare necessity errands and a story at bedtime.  Days when the kids are basically good, but the tolerance low and they find themselves wondering why they were in trouble.  Most of today was one of those days for me, but somehow, it was salvaged in the end.

Andrea is travelling for work again and the daylight savings time change gave the entire day a weird Twilight Zone feel to it. Throw in some stuff I had to do for the kids tee ball team and near summer-like weather and I could almost hear Rod Serling’s voice narrating.  The kids are also somewhat caught in a weird place as well.  They still are stuck in Winter find-stuff-to-do-indoors mode even thought the weather is perfect.  I felt like my parents as I kept ordering them to go/stay outside while repeating, “I don’t know why you would want to stay in the house when it is beautiful outside.”

After a trip to Target and a ride to the baseball fields to pick up equipment, I did make a few half-hearted attempts to play with them outside, but when they wanted to kick a soccer ball at the baseball pitch-back and then wouldn’t leave me alone when I was trying to chop up a stump with an ax, I gave up and we all headed inside.   The next couple of hours were spent with me grumping on the couch and them playing video games and watching TV.

However, like so many things in life, the day just miraculously turned around.  A little before dinner, I decided to head out side and throw a baseball against the pitch-back and then throw pop-ups to myself.  As I was doing this, Matthew came outside and asked to play baseball.  We spent a good amount of time with me lobbing wiffle balls to him, giving him instructions and watching him solidly hit every other pitch (I am so proud).  We then went inside where we laughed over dinner.  Afterwards, we walked down to the small river by us, skipped some stones and tried to see who could make the biggest splash with rocks.  About 45 minutes after bedtime, Ben came back down complaining about not being able to sleep (because of the time change) and so, we talked about his video game as he drank some warm milk at the kitchen table.

It really was amazing how quickly the day turned.  What started out as a day I couldn’t wait to get through and forget, turned into a day that I think I will remember forever.  It’s amazing how easily that can happen and how magical it is.

Manager

March 9, 2012 Leave a comment

image

It was just an email trying to sort through what I thought, correctly, was a mistake.  Ben needed more time at a tee and Matthew had not played tee ball and they were trying to put them both in the next division. Yes, I had already said to being an assistant coach when I signed them up.  Next thing I know, I am the manager of the team.  As I went to bed that night, all I could think was “What the hell just happened?”

I thought about the madness that swirled around the  manager from last years team.  I thought about those ten kids running off in all different directions…and then all back towards the same destination, very quickly.  I thought about how my own son was driving me insane trying to get him the listen to instructions.  I thought, what had I just gotten myself into?

I had expressed similar feelings on Facebook that day and the responses from most of my male friends were ones of condolence.  They know.  However, one friend who knows of my love of baseball called me out on it and mentioned that this is probably what I secretly wanted.  I think that I may have to agree with that.

While sorting through logistics and trying to arrange things with assistant coaches is a bit of a pain, I do look forward to this now.  I think that all along I have always wanted to try this and all I needed was someone to push me on it.  Now I don’t know if I’ll be singing the same tune in six weeks, but right now, I have a general feeling of happiness about it.

A conversation with Benjamin also brought somethings to light for me:

“So, you are going to be the big boss of the whole team?”

“Yes.”

“You get to tell everyone what to do?”

“Yes.”

“You are the boss?”

“Yes.”

“Awkward.”

A fear I do have is that I may not know how to treat my own sons on a team of ten kids.  I don’t want to favor them, but I want them to love the game the way I do and this is a great opportunity.  I want them to have fun and learn the basics.  Ben really didn’t like it last year and I feel like this is my best chance to have him learn to love it.  I feel that Matthew will pick it up nicely, but we’ll have to see.

I have high hopes for this endeavour, even if I am extremely afraid.   In the end, I just hope the kids have fun, which is the most important thing.  However, I hope I also have fun, without having to be committed.

Big Blue Memories

February 1, 2012 1 comment

The Giants first Super Bowl victory came when I was thirteen and still riding high from the New York Mets World Championship the previous fall. I remember the details so clearly. I remember sitting in the living room of my sisters house during the first half and being nervous about how the game was going. I remember playful trash talking with my sister and brother, who were rooting for the Broncos, but I don’t remember it during the second half. I remember my brothers Pegasus toy from the movie “Clash of the Titans” being stripped of its wings so that it would look more like a Bronco…and then being abused. Eventually, it would find it’s way to my other brothers room, covered in shaving cream. I remember turning on WPLJ a few minutes after the game ended, just in time to hear “We Are the Champions” being played. My brother and I stayed up late that night throwing around a small football in the room we shared. The next morning brought snow and a school delay that we spent listening to the DJ’s talk excitedly and playing a home grown song, “The Giants are Number One…We went to Pasadena and had some fun” (or something like that), played over and over. Such sharp memories.

I was a senior in High School when war broke out in the Gulf. I remember the NFC Championship game far more than I remember the Super Bowl, and even then, the memories aren’t as sharp. Playing football in the shadow of war seemed to take the sharpness of my memory for a game away a bit. The Super Bowl was spent at my friends house with his two brothers (the three of them were among the biggest Giants fans I have ever known in my life) and my best friend, a Jets fan. I nervously paced the back of their den as the Bills made their final drive. I don’t remember actually seeing Norwood’s kick miss, I just remember getting into an ’86 Mets pile with my friends as we celebrated the Giants victory.

I lost a bet with my old coworker and roommate in Baltimore with the Giants third Super Bowl that I have yet to fullfil my obligations. The thing I remember most was watching all three of my favorite teams finish as the runners up in their respective leagues in a nine month period (Mets, Giants and Devils) that year and feeling pretty bitter.

The 1986 Mets changed my life. The Giants first two Super Bowl victories inspired me. The Devils first Stanley Cup picked me up at a point in my life when I really needed it. But the 2007 Giants…words cannot describe. I get tears in my eyes and chills up my spine just thinking about that team. My insides turn like a boy falling in love for the first time. I was a relatively new father, I had a two year old and nine month old son. The Mets failure in the 2006 NLCS and historic collapse of 2007 still seemed to burn away at my soul. I had started a new job just three weeks before. It’s not to say it was a dark point in my life, far from it…just a murky one in need of a distraction.

When the last second ticked off the clock on that Sunday night, Benjamin sat half in my lap, half between my feet, delirious with exhaustion. Like a wild man, I picked him up and pulled him so tight against me that I thought he might pop. I told him that the Giants had won the Super Bowl, and he had no idea. I then hugged my dad and my brother and I don’t think the smile left my face for a week. I still smile when I think of that game (after I make sure nobody can see the tears in my eyes).

Lets face it, there are a million things more important than your football team winning a championship, and sometimes I feel guilty for spending so much of my time thinking about it. And maybe that’s why they feel so important, because, in the scheme of things, they aren’t…they provide needed distractions from work and money and the economy and war and all the other things that can turn days long and murky. And not just championships…any game, win or lose, provides a respite from the things that really do matter and can make those burdens feel lighter (although they can feel heavier when you do lose).

Half my family roots for the Jets and a few of my lifelong friends are Jets fans (I’ve actually been to far more Jets games than Giants games), and every year, I hope that if the Giants aren’t going to win the Super Bowl, that the Jets do. It’s not hope born of pity, but of knowing what it will mean for them. There are few things in this world like having your team win the Super Bowl, and I hope they can one day know that feeling and have those memories forever burned into your mind.

And now for the daddy part of the story that justifies this post being on this site.

Back in August, I wrote a blog post about the struggles of living deep in Eagles territory, two miles from their training camp. I talked about my fear that I wouldn’t be able to combat that influence with my sons and that one day, they might root for that team, which was seemingly putting together the “Dream Team”, destined for the position that the Giants now find themselves in. In it, I wrote how “nothing creates a fan faster than winning”. Yes, I doubted my beloved Giants (but never gave up on them), however, because of this magical run, I may not have to worry about my offspring becoming Eagles fans.  It is the Giants, not the Eagles, proving my premise correct.

All season I tried to get Benjamin and Matthew to watch football with me, but they refused. However, for the Falcons game, I bribed them with some pigs-in-the-blanket and snacks in front of the TV. They started asking questions and laughed at their old man every time he cheered. By halftime, though, they had disappeared to watch Tom and Jerry in another room, and I thought I lost them. However, each time I cheered, they came running and asked me the score. Ben started giving me high-fives and Matthew kept asking who had more points.

The Packers game brought more of the same, more high fives and brought on more questions, including when the next game was. There are a number of different ways that I can drive Matthew to daycare, including one that brings us past the train tracks and a house that usually has a seven-foot inflatable Giant’s player on the front porch. On the Monday morning after the Packers game, I asked Matt if he wanted to see if any trains around and he said, “No, I want to see the Giants guy!” My heart melted…the kid LOVES trains.

During the rest of that week before the Niners game, they both kept asking me when the next game was in the same way that they ask when Christmas. They also asked me to play football with them, with the small Giants football I have.

Last week, as I was tossing that small football back and forth with them, I was suddenly struck by the memory of tossing a Giants ball back and forth with my brother in the middle of the night in the room we shared after Super Bowl 21, because we couldn’t sleep. I was moved by it.

I don’t know what Sunday will bring, but as I have said since the Giants beat the Cowboys, anything else is just icing on the cake. With each win, the icing just gets sweeter. I feel truly blessed for witnessing the magic of 2007/2008 and it feels selfish to wish for anything more this season (but I can live with it). It has been so nice to share this with my children, that win or lose, I think the memories the Giants have given me this postseason will last just as long as the Giants previous three championships.

That said, GO BIG BLUE!

Benjamin Has a New Favorite Team

October 18, 2011 Leave a comment

On Sunday, I was watching the end of a football game when Benjamin came over and sat with me.  He seemed a little bit interested in the game, but more interested in being near me (so sweet), until he noticed one teams helmets and logo at midfield.

“Daddy, do you know what team I am rooting for?”

“No, what team?”

Tampa Bay Buccaneers“The team with the pirate flag on their helmets. Why do they have pirate flags on their helmets? Are they the Pirates?”

“Close.  They are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.”

“Tampa Bay Buccaneers?  I thing I’ll just say Bucs.  Did you know that bucs is short for buccaneers? So I can call them the ‘Bucs’.”

“Good job, Ben, that is exactly what they call that team.”

I hadn’t heard anything else from him about it since then.  I was very happy that he sat and watched football with me and asked about it (beyond just his interest in pirates).  As I’ve mentioned before, I am in a battle for his very soul to keep him from becoming an Eagles fan.  He wants to make both mommy and daddy happy, so he’s been switching between the Giants and Eagles, depending on who is asking him, for his favorite team.

This afternoon, however, out of no where, Ben asked, “Daddy, do you know who my favorite football team is?”

“No, Benjamin, who?” I had forgotten about the Bucs and was thinking he would answer “Giants”.

“The Tampa Bay Buccaneers,” he said proudly.

I am completely charmed by this and couldn’t be more proud.  I kind of hope that he doesn’t change his mind…We could use a little more of a mix around here.  It would make for a nice story as he gets older.