Tag Archives: baseball

Take an Interest In Your Kids No Matter What

“Dad, I don’t want to play baseball anymore.”

It didn’t exactly come as a surprise. To be honest, I don’t think he’s ever liked baseball. It’s too slow, too boring, with too much time out in the field doing nothing. Soccer? Basketball? Will loves those. But not baseball. Which is tough for me because baseball is the first thing I thought of when I found out we were having a boy. Field of Dreams, fathers and sons, and the “Dad, you wanna have a catch?” moment of pure hardball bliss for which every red-blooded American dad yearns.

I tried telling him it’s a learning process. That the games would be faster and more exciting this year because he’s older now. I showed him Red Sox games on TV and tried to explain how much baseball means to me. That last part he understood. And with a pained look of worry at the thought of disappointing his old man, he agreed to give it one more shot.

And then it was my turn to frown at the disappointment I felt in myself.

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chorus

See the little kid circled in that picture? That’s me circa 1992 or so. On a Sunday. At church. Singing in the church choir. See my face? I’m not at all happy to be there.

The reason I’m there at all is standing on the left. That’s my grandmother, whose transcendent musical talents were truly extraordinary. She was a masterful pianist who taught many a neighborhood child out of her home for many years. But her true talent? Singing. Grandma Ga-Ga (as I called her, much to her chagrin) was a classically trained soprano and member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Tanglewood Festival Chorus. And as she would have no problem telling you herself, that was kind of a big deal.

Now guess who showed early vocal prowess as a young kid.

Yours truly was taken under her wing as a toddler and immediately given voice lessons at every turn. And not to toot my own horn, but I was good. So good, in fact, my grandmother had me try out for an area chorus. Not only did I make the cut, the choir director was so impressed he invited me to join an elite boys-only choir in Providence that paid me, a 10-year-old, to sing.

This place was no joke. In the fifth-grade I was spending at least 10 hours a week rehearsing. Most of the time we weren’t even given music, because the choir director would make us learn the songs bar by bar and commit it all to memory. When he heard someone out of tune, he would make each one of us sing individually until the out of tune culprit was found and shamed.

OK, to be fair, he probably didn’t shame us. But it sure felt that way to a nervous 10-year-old trying to live up to his grandmother’s high standards.

It didn’t take long for me to start hating singing. The time commitment was absurd for my age, and the pressure was often debilitating for me. I obsessed about pitch, memorizing the songs, my diction, and I guarantee I was the only little kid petrified about diphthongs and having a “lazy mouth.” Add to that, I had really started getting into sports and I loved playing basketball, soccer, and baseball.

But whenever I mentioned quitting singing and piano, my grandmother would lay such a guilt trip on me and start talking about wasted talent. I didn’t want to let her down, so I simply piled sports on top of school and the absurd rehearsal schedule.

Then one day I came to a realization that changed my relationship with my grandmother forever.

She was very interested in the piece my choir was singing and she wanted to hear us rehearse. I told her that’s impossible because our director closed off practice to parents and outsiders, but still she insisted. It was summer and therefore the windows would be open, she said, allowing her to sit in the car with my mother and listen to our voices drift down from on high.

And suddenly I realized my grandmother had never come to any of my sporting events. Ever. Not a single game. Yet she was more than happy to sit in a hot car in a church parking lot just to hear a few notes of our rehearsal.

I loved my grandmother very much, but if you didn’t share her interests then you were of no interest to her. You served no purpose because you were of no use to her as she sought to further her love of music. Even when she met my friends, the first thing she’d do is force them to sing. If she thought they had promise, she recruited them. If not, she dismissed them on the spot and away we went.

I’ll never forget how that made me feel.

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December 13, 1991.

Hardcore Boston sports fans might remember that night as noteworthy because Dennis Johnson, the Boston Celtics legend and Hall of Fame point guard, was honored at the old Boston Garden on “Dennis Johnson Night.”

And my sports-crazed dad had tickets.

But what history has forgotten about that date, is it was also the day of my 6th grade concert. Specifically, my chimes concert. Yes, that’s right. Yours truly was also an esteemed member of the Norton Middle School Hand Chimes group. Why didn’t I mention that before? Look, I don’t like to brag but let’s just say the early 90’s hand chime scene was vastly underrated.

Hand Chimes

I’m kidding of course. It was terrible. I only joined because I had a HUGE crush on one of the girls who was in the group, and that was my pathetic attempt to make in-roads. Because ladies love the chimes, right? Ugh.

Anyway, my father found out Dennis Johnson Night was the same evening as my chimes concert. I saw the look of guilt and panic on his face immediately. He started asking me if I even liked the chimes. I told him I didn’t. He asked me how upset I’d be if he missed it. Not at all. He asked me if I had another concert in the future? No.

And that was it. I fully expected him to go to the Garden and see a little piece of Boston sports history, and I didn’t blame him for it at all.

But that’s not what happened. He skipped the game and showed up at my concert instead. Sure, to this day I still hear about how he missed that game in order to attend a godforsaken chimes concert and I’m sure my mother played a part in forcing his hand, but it ended up meaning the world to me. It told me he (and my mom who was ALWAYS present) didn’t just care about me when what I was doing was interesting to him. I saw him sacrificing something meaningful to him simply because his kids — no matter what they’re participating in– are MORE meaningful.

It’s a moment I swore never to forget.

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Fast forward 24 years to my teary-eyed son who hates baseball but is willing to play solely because he knows it means a lot to his dad.

Baseball was my thing and I’ll miss going to his games and watching him on the diamond. But this isn’t about me, it’s about Will. And as a father, I’ll be damned if I ever make my kid feel like I’m not interested in his interests. So we decided on karate and cooking classes in the summer.

Do I like or know anything about cooking? Hell no. To me, cooking is Kraft mac & cheese. But you know who’s going to be at every single one of Will’s cooking classes taking an interest and rooting him on? Me. Big time. 100%.

Whatever he’s doing, I’m going to be there and I’m going to be into it. I’m going to support him and let him know what he’s doing is important to me. Because he is my interest. And always will be.

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My Son Hates Baseball

willbaseball

“Dad, I don’t think I like baseball and I don’t want to play anymore.”

Except for Will saying he doesn’t love me or that he’s become a New York sports fan, nothing uttered from my 6-year-old’s lips stings as much as my boy — my oldest son — telling me he doesn’t want to partake in America’s pastime. My father’s pastime. My pastime.

And the first thing that ran through my head was “How can I raise a kid who doesn’t like baseball?”

Continue reading My Son Hates Baseball

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“Hey Dad, You Wanna Have a Catch?”

ws_game2

“The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good, and what could be again.”

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There are two types of people in this world — people who love Field of Dreams and get choked up at the end of the movie, and heartless jerks.

Fathers, sons, and baseball. There’s just something special about America’s pastime, boys, and their dads that defies explanation. It’s the reason why I went out and bought a tiny baseball mitt when I found out MJ was pregnant, and why the first thing that popped into my head when I realized I had a son was teaching him how to play catch. And when it’s the Boston Red Sox — one of the most storied franchises in all of sports — you’re talking about a birthright which generations of fans have laid claim to and passed down to their kids. Especially in my family, where we take Boston sports fanaticism to previously unheard of levels.

Which is why attending Game 2 of the World Series with my father and brother was one of the most special moments of my life.

Continue reading “Hey Dad, You Wanna Have a Catch?”

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I Am an Overbearing Sports Parent

It was a little slip of paper tucked in amongst some other stuff Will brought home from preschool. Truth be told, I almost missed it entirely. But when my eyes scanned the words on the page, I was suddenly flooded with tidal waves of excitement. And trepidation. Followed by shame for acts I haven’t even committed yet.

“Four-Year-Old Wiffleball Sign-Ups”

There’s a league for 4-year-olds that starts in April and runs to the end of May. Every Saturday Will is going to play Wiffleball with a bunch of other kids and learn the fundamentals of the game. Well, technically he’ll be perfecting the fundamentals since I’ve been teaching him to swing a bat and throw a baseball since he was about a week old. But I digress.

On the surface this seems totally innocuous and very much a win-win. Will gets to be active, play with other kids and learn about a sport all at the same time. And it’ll be valuable bonding time with him as we practice and get to be together doing something we both love. All of that is true. On paper this should be a very fun, laid back time during which I can take pictures and talk with other parents and delight in watching my son scamper playfully around the baseball diamond.

But I don’t think that’s how it’s going down.

To understand what I’m talking about, you need to know a few things about me. First of all, I’m a perfectionist. Not regarding everything in my life, but certainly regarding sports. And second, I’m a huge crybaby when things don’t go perfectly. Which is often.

When I started playing baseball at the age of 5 I showed promise very early. I had a great arm and I could hit. My first coach was a friend of my dad’s, a born and bred New Jersey guy named Bill. He was a really good guy underneath his gruff exterior, but he was also a miserable prick. He knew I was good so he held me to a higher standard. While other kids were being praised for their attempts to catch the ball, I was criticized even when I did catch it for not using the right fundamentals. Or if I didn’t hit the cutoff man fast enough. Or if I legged out an infield single he’d poke fun at me for not hitting it in the outfield.

Ultimately he made me better, but I carried lofty expectations with me when I advanced to the next leagues for older kids. And that’s when it got really bad.

I made the all-star team when I was 9 years old. We had a really great team and a lot of awesome players in our age group, and we’d play together every summer for the next four years. Our coaches really knew what they were talking about and I learned more than I ever imagined about baseball in that time. But they expected a lot. I mean it. A lot. For instance, when we were 10, I remember we lost a game to our rival, Franklin. And after the game they told us we let ourselves down, our parents down and disappointed the entire town. I was crushed and in tears. And I vowed to never let anyone down again.

As you already know, that’s impossible. But combine that need to please with a perfectionist’s attitude and you got me as a kid. The kid who cried when he struck out. The kid who cried and threw a temper-tantrum when he didn’t make a play in the field. The kid who—and I’m not making this up—cried after hitting a double off the fence because it wasn’t a homerun. And of course, the kid who nearly had a mental breakdown if we lost the game. Let’s just say there are plenty of pictures of me with my team holding second place trophies and crying hysterically.

A neurotic, hyper-competitive, perfectionist crybaby. Those were some good times.

But for better or worse, I’ve carried that with me even to now. While my athletic days have long since passed me by, that attitude resurfaces in even the most mundane of endeavors. For example, MJ will no longer go bowling with me. When we were dating, she was beating me in the 8th frame and I was so pissed off I started kicking the ball return. And those of you who have watched Patriots and Red Sox games with me can probably attest to the fact that I am, well…not exactly a sane person when things start to go south.

Even with Will I’ve seen the competitiveness flare up. I eagle-eye his milestones and make sure he’s ahead of the curve. I compare him relentlessly to other kids his age and older, and get legitimately upset if they can do things he can’t. Hell, his recent progress report from preschool showed him to be advanced in every category except letters. He’s average in letters. This struck such fear into me that I’m now going to work more on letters with him every single night until he’s reading Stephen King books.

Which brings us to wiffleball.

When I found out I had a son my first thoughts were of teaching him sports. Unfortunately, I fear I will be “that sports parent.” The one everyone hates. The one who takes a kids’ game way too seriously. The one whose son goes 3 for 5 and then criticizes him for striking out in the third inning. And God forbid Will is average or even below average at sports. I’m not sure I can handle that.

I was raised with high standards, with sports and even grades. While everyone else had the traditional grading system, mine was different. An A was good, a B was a C and a C was failing. I still remember my dad asking me why my A- couldn’t have been an A. And I don’t fault him for that, it kept me on my toes and made me work hard. But I also remember it feeling like an intense amount of pressure.

I don’t want to be That Sports Parent. I really don’t. But I think it might be inevitable. Thankfully MJ will disembowel me if I get too out of hand, so it’s nice that I have her to correct me. Yet even if I’m not expressing it, I’ll be thinking it. I already have visions of Will as the star catcher hitting the game-winning homer to take the state title. Yes, I absolutely intend to live out my dreams of unfulfilled athletic glory through my son. And yes, I’m also aware of how pathetic and unfair that is.

But I think Will is going to ultimately thank me during his Cooperstown acceptance speech. The road to the Hall of Fame starts with Wiffleball!

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Will’s 1st Red Sox Game: A Tradition Passed to the Next Generation

The grass and the Monster.

I’m not sure exactly when I went to my first Red Sox game, but I was probably 6 or 7. Roger Clemens was pitching, although I had no idea what that meant at the time. All the other memories are fuzzy, except for one that’s crystal clear. Walking with my dad in Fenway Park, through the crowded concourse, up a ramp until suddenly my vision was flooded with the greenest grass I’d ever seen, and the Green Monster (Fenway’s signature 37.5-foot wall in left field) looming larger than life.

I was blown away. I remember thinking how all this green space could exist in the city. Wondering how ANYONE could ever muscle a ball over the Monster. And feeling the whole thing was surreal because I had seen Fenway on TV so many times, it felt like it was this faraway fantasy land that didn’t really exist. For 10 seconds I just stared, lost in the enormity of it all.

I was only a little kid, so I didn’t understand the intricacies of the game yet. All I knew was how important the team was to my dad. I watched him more than I watched the game. He lived and died on every pitch so dammit I was gonna do the same thing. Just like he learned from his grandfather. I remember him telling me the Red Sox would eventually break my heart, but it’s our job to root for them no matter what. For life. And so I did, no questions asked.

The only thing I remember from that day 25 years ago was my dad putting his hand on my shoulder and giving a squeeze. I didn’t know it at the time, but that squeeze was his way of saying “Welcome to the club little man.”

Fast forward to last weekend.

I had been going back and forth on whether or not I could bring Will to a Red Sox game this season. Ultimately I decided against it for several reasons. First of all I thought he was too young. But mostly, it’s because the Red Sox have the most expensive tickets in baseball. Bleacher seats are $25 face value. Except everything is sold out so you can’t get face value. Usually you have to pay $50 per ticket for small seats so far away you can barely see the action. And the concession prices are so disgustingly inflated you need to take out a bank loan before you buy a couple of hotdogs. Combine all of this with the fact that 3-year-olds have the attention span of a gnat and you’re traveling an hour and spending a shit ton of money for a couple of innings until the whining & temper-tantrum kicks in.

But my parents, who are awesome, decided to get Will and I tickets as a birthday present to me. So with the financial impediments cleared, I was THRILLED to take Will to his first game. And formally induct him into a club populated by the men in my family for many, many years.

I had grand plans for last Saturday. Will and I were going to take the train in because he loves riding the subway. The Red Sox were playing the Oakland A’s. Jon Lester was pitching. Our seats were along third base way up high in the State Street Pavilion. I had it all planned out and—because I blog everything—I was going to find a way to record it all for posterity, as I do with most everything that happens in my life. And the crowning jewel would be the look on his face when I walked the next generation up the ramp to worship in baseball’s most glorious cathedral.

As you can see, we got plenty of pictures.

Not only that, but Will had a truly great day. He got to ride two trains into Boston which may or may not have been the highlight of his day. He had his first Fenway Frank (picture on the right). He ate ice cream from a plastic mini Red Sox helmet. We bought a game program as a keepsake. Wally the Green Monster (who I hate because he’s the worst mascot in sports) patted Will on the head. Will danced with a beautiful woman between innings (video is at the bottom of this post). Jason Varitek—the aging Captain—hit a homerun, which Will shockingly called just before he hit it. All in all he lasted six spectacular innings.

Oh yeah, the Red Sox won the game too.

I share so much of my life on this blog. I detail the good, the bad and the just plain silly. So it makes sense that I’m sharing this experience. This wonderful, memorable day for which I’ll be forever thankful. The day I officially passed on a love of Red Sox baseball to my son. Just like my dad did for me.

But as for capturing Will’s expression when he came upon the beauty that is Fenway Park for the very first time and started a lifelong love affair with baseball and Boston?

Sorry folks. I’m keeping that one for myself.

 

 

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