Posts Tagged ‘arlington virginia’

Size Matters: Baseball Bat Shopping in January

January 28, 2014

My older fella has worked his tail off and has made the 12u travel team—they’re looking at their first tournament around St. Patty’s Day.

My big boy getting into one in July.  He's grown at least 3 inches since then.

My big boy getting into one in July. He’s grown at least 3 inches since then.

The one other thing that’s helped my guy since last spring is the fact that he’s grown about a foot over the past 9 months. I’m between 5’9 and 5’10 depending on how David Lynch I go with my hair, and I seriously think this kid is going to lap me by the time his Bar Mitzvah rolls around in June. I just knew there was a good reason to marry a 6-foot Norwegian woman other than the whole “she’s amazing” and “love of my life” thing!

So after the last indoor training session, (his coaches have been kind enough to allow me to abuse my arm throwing them BP. Only hit 3 kids so far!), he complained to me that his bat just felt too light now. As nuts as I am about the game, I am not one of those parents that feel it’s worth it spending $200+ on a bat. Normally, I like to keep it in the $100-max range, as the low-end bats are all well-and-good for t-ball and coach-pitch, but once the balls and swings get harder, the cheapies tend to have little carry, lots of vibration, and quick dents.

Solid, if not spectacular

Solid, if not spectacular

My guy’s current bat is a 32-inch, 20-ounce Easton Quantum—a good, mid-range bat that normally retails for $150 but Dick’s is currently selling it for $75.00. He still got some sting from balls off the end, but I think he got excellent use out of it and was quite satisfied (at least if the expression of unmitigated joy in hitting his first over-the-fence-home run this fall is any indicator).

But, in wanting to go a little heavier, I looked at the -11 (that’s how many ounces lighter the bat is than it is long—a handy thing to know as many bats aren’t showing how many ounces they are anymore, and just using the “drop sign” like -11) bats and ran across this DeMarini Vexxum for $130 (normally $180 and listed for $200 at a lot of places). With a rewards certificate and a bit left over from my birthday gift card, I looked the Vexxum up, and it seems to be quite well rated. Here’s the promo piece on it and a positive review.

Really have no idea how they come up with the names

Really have no idea how they come up with the names

I’m especially excited about the special end-capping, as unlike with tennis rackets and the magic little vibration-dampener you put on the strings, finding good ways to “keep the bees out of the bat” is a challenge at any price range. I’ve had good success with the mid-to-high end DeMarini bats over the years, so I’m psyched to find a mid/high-end model at an affordable price. With Dick’s offering free shipping on $99+, it was an even better deal.

With a lot of people still not fully focused on getting ready for baseball, now’s a great time to sneak in a deal or two on high-quality 2013 products so your slugger can feel big-time on a budget that is a bit more “age-appropriate.”

One last interesting note is the fact that from my research, I have not been able to find a single legal 33’’ bat despite the fact that Little League and Babe Ruth allow it. These bats are available at the Sr. Babe Ruth level, but none for 12u. It does surprise me a bit, but perhaps the manufacturers have decided there’s just not enough of a market for that length bat to be go out and make it. But, if you do find one, let me know, as I think there are some tall 12-year-olds, inclusive of my guy, who could really benefit from the extra inch.

It is designed to break your heart

August 2, 2013

Barcroft Park

It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.” – A Bartlett Giamatti, The Green Fields of the Mind

15-3.

That’s how badly the DC Dynasty had whipped us Arlington Cardinals in the wee morning hours.  It happed just the day before, in what now has been coined “The Great Hangover Game of 2013.”  You see, our young B-teamers, 11 and 12-year-olds all, had bounced back after getting thrashed by the Arlington A Team–the Storm–in the first game of this, our last tournament of the season, to actually win the next game by mercy rule.  The ecstasy of that 11-1 win, a game that started at 8pm, kept most of our kids up past midnight that night.

And any parent can tell you that a pre-teen with a bad night’s sleep is a truly gruesome sight to behold.  As our boys staggered onto the field for an 8am start, they looked more like they’d be hunting for brains than baseballs.

15-3.

And yet, here we stood the next day in the semifinals against that very same Dynasty, headed out to the field for the bottom of the 6th and possibly final inning of our season, and the story was a very different one.

7-7.

Once again, we had gotten down early, but this time we had our top pitchers on the mound, and our ace contained the damage and, with solid defense, we were down only 4-0 going into the top of the 4th.

Raj, our #2 hitter, led off the inning and worked a nice walk to get us started, and my big fella Gus followed with a booming double to right centerfield, our first well struck ball of the game and a capper for his breakout offensive season where he batted .533.  And even though Gus eventually got thrown out at home, our guys still carried that momentum forward doing what we worked on all season: working the pitch counts, laying-off the high heat, and focusing on putting the ball in play.  By the time the inning had ended, it was more than a brand new game.

5-4.

When we trotted out to try and defend that slimmest of leads, it would be my guy on the bump.  Gus was our #2, but had really developed into a solid pitcher in his own right.  After giving up a leadoff double to their best hitter, Gus managed to do what the Dynasty could not.  He worked around an error, an infield hit, and a walk.  Walking the tightrope as he had done all season, he managed to escape the 4th with only one run scored.  The bottom of our order was then no match for their pitcher, however, and we found ourselves out there again deadlocked in the bottom of the 5th.

5-5.

Gus again worked his best through a batting order far deeper than ours.  He gave up a bloop single which in our league is essentially an automatic double as with leads and 70 foot basepaths, it is the rare day when a runner gets caught trying to steal.  They played a fundamentally sound game and bunted the runner over to 3rd.  Now our entire season was dancing up the baseline, attempting to induce a wild pitch.

And, of course, up once again stepped their big fella, whom our parents had nicknamed, “The 30-Year-Old.”  He had burned us the day before with a home run that sealed our mercy-rule fate.  He already had two doubles on the day.  And puberty seemed to be rushing upon him so quickly that I swear you could see his stubble growing as he waved his bat menacingly in the batter’s box.  As I viewed the matchup, I could only think of one possible solution:

Surrender.

“Step off, Gus, step off!” I yelled, remembering a point in an earlier tournament that season when I wasn’t vocal enough in calling time out and it cost us (that’s a story for another day, but it’s a good story).  He complied, though glaring at me in that, “Dad, you’re the assistant coach, you know,” kind of way.  I turned to Danny and pled, “Walk him.  Let’s walk him.  Let’s intentionally walk him!”

Hey now.  Don’t give me that look.  It made perfect baseball sense.  Mr. 30 was the guy who has beaten us all weekend long.  There were two outs, and the most important run was at 3rd.  I was simply trying to apply a sound strategy to a big moment—perhaps with just a small touch of, “My boy has had such a great season, please-please-please don’t make him pitch to this brute!”

Danny called time and trotted out to the mound to chat with Gus.  I immediately ran to the ump to see if we could simply declare a walk rather than throwing four intentional balls, something that you are usually allowed to do at this level.  But when Danny returned, he simply said, “No walk.  Gus wants to pitch to him.”  Abject terror and immense pride washed through my body in what, though I hope to never validate, is what I would expect a small heart attack feels like.  My son toed the rubber, and let the first pitch fly.

He attacked high in the zone, and got Mr. 30 to take the bait.  Swing-and-a-miss—strike one.  A ball outside to even the count, then a low called strike on the outside corner to get him way up.  All season long, we had worked on varying location.  None of our pitchers, even our best ones, had “swing and miss” stuff.  So location and changing speed were our bread-and-butter to compete.  Now, it was time to execute.

“Climbtheladderclimbtheladderclimbtheladder,” I muttered over and over, hoping that our catcher Harry would make the right call.  I saw him come ever so slightly out of his crouch.  Yes!  Yes!! Do it!!!  Gus fired the ball right at chest level, and—PLINK—the ball went sky-high right to the left side, a towering fly to the infield.  Gus had done it!  He beat the behemoth!

As the ball sailed in the air, its hue shifted from a dirt-smudged white to neon green.  For in my mind’s eye, that ball became one of the hundreds of popups Coach Mark and I had swatted at our fielders with a tennis racket in what we called the “Sky High” drill.  It was the perfect way to safely whip soaring popups in the air so our fielders would know where to be and how to communicate.  It was one of those perfect coaching moments: a huge situation where you prepared these very players for this very thing.

But when both the 3rd baseman and Shortstop took two staggering, silent steps backwards, confidence turned to prayer.

A teeter.  A waiver.  A desperate lunge.

A ball making, quick, popcorn-like bounds as it landed safely in the short-outfield grass.

6-5.

Then our crimson uniforms were suddenly replaced with jerseys marked “Chico’s Bail Bonds.” A rage-fueled throw back into the infield careened past the 2nd baseman, allowing the runner to take 2nd.  And the only reason he didn’t get to 3rd is that the equally ill-advised throw back in managed to find the 2nd baseman’s shin, as he wasn’t even looking when the throw came bounding through.  After a ground ball single scored the next run, you could feel it all getting away.  But Gus, much to his credit, settled down and struck out the next hitter, giving us a small gasp of life in our season.

7-5.

Now, if you are skeptical of baseball gods ruling the fate of we mere mortals on the diamond, the top of the 6th should make you a true believer.  For we stood there with two outs, our season saved by the juggle of a catch in what would have been a game ending double play.  Tyler, the boy who had lunged at that fateful fly, came up to the plate.  Ty had been mired in a slump and was moved down in the order, and was not having a great day at the plate.  He got down early in the count, but each time the final pitch seemed destined to find leather, a small sliver of aluminum got in its way.  He fought back to fill the count, and, after a 10-pitch at bat, worked the walk.

Bases loaded, two outs.

Okay, sure, that’s a huge moment, but not the magic you were expecting?  Well Tyler’s walk brought the at bat a full year in the making.  For at this very tournament last year, in this very same semifinal game, in this very 6th inning, up stepped Jack, our centerfielder, who has been playing for me since 2nd grade.  In that moment, he lined a ball to Left that seemed ticketed for a game winning double, only to have the ball picked off by the fielder that the other team’s coach admitted was, “the kid we hide because he can’t catch.”

The statistical implausibility of this at bat happening again a year apart was enough to make me believe in the Easter Bunny (and I’m Jewish).  As he approached the plate, I could feel his apprehension as his chest filled and sagged.  Rustling up what little emotional control I could muster, I managed a smile and said, “Jack baby, you know you can do this because you’ve done it!  This time, just find a hole!”  Maybe it was just me, but Jacked seemed a bit heartened—and a lot determined—when he stepped over the eroded chalk line.

I saw him in his wide-open, left-handed stance, something we changed together to get him diving toward the ball so he could cover the outside corner.  And when that outside fastball came, JC was ready to roll.  CRACK.  A screaming grounder to the left of the 3rd baseman.  He had a shot at it, but it was too hot to handle and crawled up his arm and into left field.  Even with 2 outs, however, there wasn’t enough time to get that tying run in as the outfielder was playing too shallow.

7-6.

But, on the very next pitch, with our last-place hitter at the plate, the pitcher uncorked a wild one, and our runner dashed in safely.  I had to chide Jack who rather than running down to 2nd base decided to strut and clap his way to the bag.  “Get to the bag, then strut, big guy!” I yelled.  He grinned and nodded.

After a well-earned walk loaded the bases again, our leadoff hitter rapped a ball on a line, but right at the 2nd baseman.  No lead, but a mini-miracle for all concerned.

7-7.

And so Gus, our middle of the order hitter, the guy who had pitched more innings than anyone else—my son—was asked to go out one more time to save our season.

He didn’t have quite as much pop on his fastball, but was still locating well.  He got ahead of the leadoff hitter, and induced a weak fly ball to right.  But the yips got the best of our right fielder, despite the pre-game instructions for outfielders to “run in and dive for any close ball” he pulled up and allowed the popup to drop.  A quick steal of second, and trouble was once again looming.

As they did the last time, the Dynasty looked to bunt their runner over.  But this time, Gus was ready, and kept the ball up high-and-away twice inducing two foul pops to get ahead 0-2.  We needed the K desperately, and he loaded up to go low-and-in.  But the ball stayed up, and ran right over the middle of the plate.

And there was a sound of thunder.

A walkoff.  A walkoff home run, no less.

It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart.

As we lined up and awaited the conclusion of the Dynasty’s home plate dogpile, I noted that our boys were surprisingly chipper, save one devastated blond fella.  I realized then that Gus had in the most sincere sense taken one for the team.  All the mistakes were washed away, because we had come back from them.  Even the missed fly ball to open the inning didn’t matter, because the home run made it irrelevant.  It’s not that they wanted it to be Gus’s fault.  But a piece of each and every one of them were relieved that it wasn’t their fault.  They were proud—rightfully proud—of their hard work and their fight and, even in a loss, felt that this B team put in an A effort both today, and throughout the season.

But, as the boys settled in for post-season cake and pizza, it was my boy with his back turned at the next table, shoulders hunched from the piano that fell on his shoulders.  All the coaches, this one included, took their turn at cheering him up to no avail.  Even one of the coaches of the Storm came over to tell him how well he played.  That bucked Gus up a bit, but the moment, the brutal finality of it, was an anchor no adult could pry free.

But someone could.

“Hey Gus!  Don’t be so down.  You actually did us a favor, as I didn’t want to get our butts kicked by the Storm again anyway!” said our #1 pitcher, patting him on the back.  “Yeah!” agreed Raj, “Who the heck needed that?”  A small grin, a seed of the joy that season had been until that very moment, fought its way through the heartbreak of the moment and broke through the gloom.  A hand reached for a slice of pizza.  And, not 10 minutes later, Gus sat on a see-saw doing his darndest to knock Tyler off as he in the glorious stupidity of youth attempted to balance in the middle.

The next evening, Gus was having dinner and as he wolfed down his 7th taco, casually told his Mom, “I’m ready for baseball to start again.”  “Gus, it’s only been a day,” Kirsten replied, incredulously.

“Really?  It feels like it’s been 10 years.”

Of course, there are those who learn after the first few times. They grow out of sports. And there are others who were born with the wisdom to know that nothing lasts. These are the truly tough among us, the ones who can live without illusion, or without even the hope of illusion. I am not that grown-up or up-to-date. I am a simpler creature, tied to more primitive patterns and cycles. I need to think something lasts forever, and it might as well be that state of being that is a game; it might as well be that, in a green field, in the sun. – A Bartlett Giamatti, The Green Fields of the Mind

The Giving Field

May 15, 2013

As I stood out over my lunch hour looking at that cone-shaped stretch of muck, I might have just as well been looking in the mirror.

I wondered until that moment why when so many other coaches and parents cursed and/or ran from the thankless, back-rending effort of tending to a baseball field—especially when the county in its infinite wisdom has used red Georgia clay as the base on so many of our diamonds—I have leaped at the opportunity.  Indeed, I’ve dirtied the back of my formerly pristine Highlander Hybrid with such an assortment of gardening equipment that when I open the back, it puffs forth a cloud of dust Pig Pen would be proud of.

Now I understand.  It’s because the field and I are the same.

First off, we’re both introverts.  Now, when I say introvert, I know that brings immediately to mind the sullen stranger hiding at the corner at the party, wallowing in the misery of being in such proximity to actual socializing.  Introverts close the door and bury their heads in books or video games, preferring those worlds to the painful reality of human interaction.  Introverts don’t do this:

Thanks to TJ Arrowsmith

Thanks to TJ Arrowsmith

But of course they do.  For introversion or extroversion is not about what you do.  It’s about how you feel when you’re doing it.  An extrovert has a natural affinity for being around others.  Indeed, they derive energy from social interaction and seek it out.  I see it at my local school every day, watching as parents easily interact with others and seek out conversations; lingering around well after the kiddies have gotten their high-fives or hugs and scurry off to class.

We introverts can have that same conversation, the same smiles, and derive the same enjoyment out of social interactions.  The difference is that for us, it’s work.  Not “bad work” mind you, but work nonetheless.  It doesn’t come naturally for us, and therefore it drains our batteries rather than restoring them.  Being social is putting on the tux, while solitude is a sweatshirt and well-worn pair of jeans.

And that’s just where the field and I were, enjoying the mutual aloneness where we spend most of our time, but at the same time preparing ourselves for when the time comes for our children to come again and play.  All we want is to provide for them; to bring them unbridled joy in a couch of safety for a couple of hours.  Then, off they’ll go happily slurping their juice boxes.  And we’re a little more worn for the experience, but satisfied, too, because we know we were a part of bringing that delight despite the muddy footprints and aching muscles stamped upon us.

We need each other, and so I drag my oversized rake through its clotted soil, hunting for drier patches in which to fill holes and even out areas around the bases and plate made more worn by the nature of the game.  Each deeply imbedded footstep I erase feels like a bad hop avoided, like another chance for a child to play.  And when an hour-and-a-half later I look back upon the field, sweatshirt soaked and jeans caked with a plaster of orange earth, I felt as renewed as my partner looked.  Indeed, it felt almost empathic, as if I had taken its bumps and bruises into my aching, middle-aged bones to serve a greater good.

How many workouts can boast that kind of psychic benefit?  Eat your heart out, Tony Horton.

After I had taped-up a few signs around begging, “PLEASE do stay off the dirt infield and allow it to dry for games tonight,” the field and I parted ways as I went home to work, parent, cook, and get then get ready for the game.  I returned with both boys in tow.  As they munched on soy “chick’n” strips and then began to warm up in the outfield, I took out my field drag (yes, I’ve got one of those, too) and began to smooth out the surface.

And it was perfect.  Just soft enough not to be dusty, but it had dried enough to mask my footsteps as I towed my device around the field.  As I began my second pass, I quickly checked my watch to see if I was going to have enough time to really get my geek on.  In the trunk I had a bag of chalk, my cheap but functional liner, and my own clever creation, two planks of 1 ½ x 3 foot pieces of Styrofoam I sawed out from a larger piece left in our shed by the handyman, “because who knows when you might need it?”  Light, mobile, and when you put them together, it makes half the size of an official batter’s box.

And there was a sound of thunder.

Drop.  Drop.  Drop.

Drizzle.

Rain.

Pour.

Teem.

In ten short minutes, my field was a lake.  Streams of water rand through it, crying those saddest of words:

No Game Today.

As the sun flickered forth, I looked out at my partner in exasperation, and began to thumb an email to the team telling them not to bother coming out.  But at my feet was the heavy black bucket where I kept my field measuring equipment, including a long length of heavy string.

And the field spoke to me, saying, “There’s more to a tree than just its leaves.”  I looked and saw that the outfield was wet, but not a swamp.  Instead of the “forget it” email, I instead said, “No game, but we’ll be out here for a bit if you’d like to come down.”

I grabbed that string and made a semicircular “fence” in the outfield.  Then I grabbed my plastic plate and bucket of whiffle balls and spent the next hour playing Home Run Derby with 10 eager boys.  We made the rules on the fly, the kids shagged the balls, argued about the foul line, and swung for the fences.  We high-fived, slurped juice boxes, and the kids stole my hat and made me chase them.  A sip of lemonade out of some very wet lemons.

As the rest of the gang had cleared out I began to walk over to clean things up.  I was struck that from my angle, the string had made the field smile. We had, together and alone, brought another kernel of joy to our little corner of the world.

And we were happy.