It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

“I love baseball. You know it doesn’t have to mean anything, it’s just beautiful to watch.” Woody Allen as Leonard Zelig.

Today is my second favorite holiday. Easter is first (more on that later). Opening Day of baseball season is second. Our family loves the game. I often joke that my husband decided to marry me when he realized I was not only willing to sit through a 9 inning baseball game, but that I enjoyed sitting through a 9 inning baseball game. It’s actually probably more true than not though. Many of my favorite memories with Lloyd have been surrounding baseball games. We remember, with fondness, watching the Mariners play in the Kingdome, with the roughly other 1,000 fans there in the early 90’s. Okay, that is a bit of an exaggeration, but it was at a time when the team was not enjoying much success or record attendance. I met Lloyd’s sister for the first time in the Kingdome. She was in town and met us there for a game. I also met my sister-in-law for the first time in the Kingdome. Lloyd’s brother had just begun dating her and we went to a game together. As a matter of fact, the first time my step-mother met Lloyd was at Washington State University during Mom’s weekend in 1992. We went to a WSU baseball game. Baseball is part of our relational DNA.

We loved the M’s. I still remember the 1994 lineup. We knew before a swing was even finished that Jr was going to hit it out of the park. I can’t think of Jay Buhner without hearing his batter up song in my mind – “Bad to the Bone”. It wasn’t a banner year for the M’s – far from it, but we could tell they were on the brink. The next year, we went to Spring Training in Arizona and before it was over, we’d decided to move. We returned to Washington, packed up everything we owned — which at the time fit into a small U-Haul trailor — and hit the road. That year, the Mariners won the division. Watching Edgar Martinez hit for a double that drove Ken Griffey, Jr home for the win in the 11th inning of Game 5 was sweet…but sweeter still was that it was against the Yankees. My, oh my. To this day, I can’t sing “Take me out to the Ballgame” without immediately launching in to “Louie Louie”.

Arizona was a great place to be a baseball fan. Spring training games were a blast to attend and we could always count on visitors during that time. I remember taking a weekend trip to Tucson to watch the Colorado Rockies play — I had just found out I was pregnant with our son. In the fall, we could go to Fall League games, paying a mere $5 to see top prospects who could go on to be major league stars. This was baseball at it’s best because the players were there to play hard and get the attention of baseball scouts and team executives.

As much as we enjoyed the baseball that Arizona had to offer, we missed going to major league games and we did our best to attend other games whenever we could. In 1997, I surprised Lloyd for his birthday and took him to see his favorite team, the LA Dodgers. We had a great time and were so in awe of the stadium that had such history (and, at the time, only one advertiser). It was major league baseball at it’s most authentic.

In 1998, the Arizona Diamondbacks arrived on the scene. Not only we were able to be at the inagural game, we watched it from the pool at what was then BankOne Ballpark. While I am not a huge fan of what I like to call “Theme park” stadiums, I do have an affinity for this particular facility. I think it’s because of all of the memories attached to attending the games. I remember the people I was with more than the players on the field, but that was okay — they were still among some of my favorite memories. Our son attended his first major league baseball game in this stadium, wearing the first piece of clothing I bought when I found out I was pregnant — an AZ Diamondbacks onsie. We moved away in 2001, the year the Diamonbacks won the World Series (are you catching the theme here?) and while I still have a soft spot for the D-Backs, I don’t really follow them and I still can’t quite reconcile the “Sedona Red” color scheme.

We moved back to Washington in 2002 and since we lived in Olympia, it was harder to attend games on a regular basis. We went to a couple of games a year. We always tried to hit the opening series and it’s a tradition to take Lloyd to a game on Father’s Day. In 2008, we had to buy a fleece hat for Jake on Opening Day because it snowed.

Mariner's Opening Day - 2008

The first gift Lloyd bought for our son was a t-ball mitt. Jake was just born, only 3 pounds. He fit inside of it. Lloyd had dreams of teaching Jake to play and coaching his little league team. When he was in Kindergarten, we promptly signed him up for T-Ball, but he was totally disinterested. He would kneel down in the outfield and write music in the dirt. He didn’t like it and didn’t want to do it. So, we backed off. We can’t make our kids be who we want them to be. We just can’t. Jake would tolerate the couple of games we went to a year for his dad’s sake. He was excited when we surprised Lloyd for his 40th birthday with a trip to Boston. We had tickets to see the Red Sox play the Yankees at Fenway. This was bucket list stuff, folks. I will never forget the look on Lloyd’s face as he walked up the ramp to get his first look at the field. Priceless. But, Jake didn’t fully appreciate the significance. And, he wasn’t a fan of the game. He never watched games on TV and didn’t even show much interest at Lloyd’s softball league games.

Lloyd's first look at Fenway Park

Then came 2010. We went on vacation to Washington DC for spring break with our friends and got tickets for Game 3 of the National’s opening series against Philly. We had great tickets and it was a beautiful day. Sitting in the seats with a cold beer was a welcome change from the miles and miles of walking we had been doing for several days. The Phillies were fresh off of two years of World Series appearances and the Nationals were, well, not that good. A win by the Phillies would sweep the Nationals in this series. The game was tied in the 7th, when Ryan Zimmerman stepped up to the plate, doubled to right and drove in the tie-breaking run. The Nationals managed to hold back the Phillies and win the game. The crowd went wild and a fan was born. Even though we had no ties to Washington DC and the idea of moving here was the furthest thing from our minds, Jake was drawn in by that moment, that player, that team and by the game itself.

Brand new Nats fans

It’s hard not to think that the trip here that spring was preparing us for the move that God was about to have us make. When the job came up, we could picture the city, we could see ourselves here and as small as it may seem, Jake was a Nationals fan. But, that small thing gave him something to talk about with the boys at the lunchroom table and a connection to his new home. He knows the players, studies the stats, collects the cards, makes up games in his head and calls them in the shower and dreams of being a major league short stop. He’s developed a love for the game that is all is own, just like his dad. And, it gives them a special connection. They are anticipating their eventual trip to Cooperstown to celebrate the inaguration of Ken Griffey, Jr into the Hall of Fame. They eagerly await the announcement of the location 2013 All-Star Game. They cheered the extension of Ryan Zimmerman’s contract and they anticipate watching Bryce Harper play in the majors. Just as it was with 1994 Mariners, we see a team on the brink of something big. This may not be the year, but it’s getting close. And, the team is a ton of fun to watch.

This morning, the Mariners and the A’s opened the MLB 2012 season in Japan. Jake was up earlier than he is on Christmas day to try and watch the game. Unfortunately, it was tape delayed and wouldn’t begin until 9am EST, so he was following the box scores on MLB.com. The M’s won 3-1 in the 11th. And, so begins another exciting year. We’re looking forward to the National’s home opener on April 12th when we have begun a tradition of allowing Jake to miss school for the game. We’ll help the Nats “take back the park” against the Phillies in May. We will be there on Father’s Day to cheer them on as they play the Yankees for the first time ever in National’s Park. We’ll have a friendly rivalry with our Chicago friends as we celebrate their daughter’s first birthday at the ballpark on Labor Day when the Nats take on the Cubs. And, then we’ll celebrate our son’s 13th birthday, a day late, when the Dodgers come to town. We hope to add a couple of more ballparks to our list this summer as well, as we try to catch games in Colorado and Pennsylvania. And, then there will be the days when we spontaneously decide catch a game because it just seems like the best idea. Because really, isn’t a baseball game on a summer day always the best idea?

Rivalry Day - 2010

Happy Opening Day. Let’s play ball.

You always get a special kick on opening day, no matter how many you go through. You look forward to it like a birthday party when you’re a kid. You think something wonderful is going to happen.

JOE DIMAGGIO

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Life According to Jake

I don’t know what is going on lately but my kid has absolutely been cracking me up. I swear I don’t post every single thing he says. On that note….

We stopped to get lunch this afternoon and Jake asked if he could have a chocolate chip cookie. In the car on the way home, he takes a bite and says “Ewwwwwwwww, it’s oatmeal raisin”. I sympathized….not many things are worse than expecting chocolate chips and getting raisins. (Ok, a lot of things are much worse, but still…). He says,

“I know that some people like oatmeal raisin, but I really think they must have started as a practical joke”.

My thoughts exactly.

Life According to Jake

Nothing to report from Free Lunch Friday today. Conversation revolved around March Madness (and the pronunciation of Gonzaga) and St. Patrick’s Day plans. My plans consist of cheering my husband on during the DC Rock n Roll marathon and buying Jake a Shamrock Shake for his 1/2 birthday. I didn’t share those plans with anyone, although if I had, I’m sure I’d have something more to report from Free Lunch Friday.

Instead, I’ll share some recent 12 year old wisdom. I had a particularly crappy day at work yesterday. It’s unusual, really. I can’t remember the last time I had a bad day that was caused by stress at work. It completely wore me out and I was sound asleep before 10pm. When he was headed to bed, Jake said “I’m sorry you had a bad day today. Bad days are…well, bad”. Genius.

And last weekend, we were in Florida, staying at a beachfront hotel. While we were walking out to the beach, we passed by the hotel and Jake said “I don’t get why people would swim in a pool when the ocean is right there!”. Me neither.

Finally, on that same trip, my husband made a comment that he was going to have dessert first because life is short. Jake muttered under his breath that “he’s only in his 40’s. That’s middle age. it’s not that short”. Touché. At least he doesn’t think we’re ancient. Yet.

My True Companion – 19 years later

I have writer’s block.  I have been trying to compose a post in my mind for a few days and now, as I sit in front of my screen, I will type out a few words and then delete them.  I’m not often speechless.  It’s not as though I don’t have a lot to say.  It’s that there is so much to say that I can’t even organize my thoughts.  And, even if I could, the words would be insufficient to express what’s in my heart.

It was 19 years ago today that I married my best friend.  Lloyd came along at a time in my life when I felt more alone than a person should ever feel.  I wasn’t really interested in a long-term relationship.  I definitely was not interested in getting married (ever) and I certainly didn’t want kids.  I did not believe in soul mates and happily ever after.  And, then I met this guy to whom I was immediately drawn.  Yes, there were reasons — he had a “still waters run deep” air about him, he was smart and wickedly funny and yes, I thought he was hot.  But, none of these really explain the attraction.  From almost the moment I laid eyes on him, I knew I wanted him to be part of my life. 

We eloped almost exactly a year from when we started dating seriously.  In retrospect, it was impetuous.  But, we just wanted to be together.  At the time, only one of us had a job (and it wasn’t a well paying one) and we didn’t yet have a place to live.  So, we lived with my inlaws for a few weeks until we were able to move into our own apartment. 

Let that sink in for a minute:  I ran off and married the eldest son and then came back to live with his parents.

I don’t exactly remember the vows I recited that day, 19 years ago.  But, I know they were traditional in nature.  Sickness, health, richer, poorer, we pledged to love eachother as long as we both shall live.  And over the years those vows have been tested as we have faced the kind of trials that even the strongest marriages can’t endure.  And every year, as we celebrate this day, I think that there is no way that I could love this man any more than I do today. But, I do.  I am abudantly blessed to have married a man who loves me despite my failures and short-comings, who believes in me despite my insecurities and who makes me want to be a better person. 

And, he does dishes and laundry. 

On our honeymoon in Key West, FL

19th anniversary - Sebastian Beach, FL

Lessons learned from Dr. Seuss

I loved Dr. Seuss as a kid.  Some of my earliest memories were of my mother reading me Dr. Seuss books.  She will credit the books for helping teach me to read.  I loved the rhyming, silly stories and made up words.  But as I’ve grown up, I realize that the themes and messages from these books have made an impact on how I see the world and who I am today.  I started out thinking I would list my top 10 favorite Dr. Seuss books here, but realized it would take me forever.  Instead, here are my top 5:

  1. The Lorax.  I love the Lorax.  I love his sense of right and wrong.  I love that he recognizes the need to speak for those who have no voice.  I love that he sees the beauty of an unspoiled forest.  I love that he’s willing to stand up for what he believes in, even when it is the unpopular opinion.  But most of all, I love that maintains a hope for the future, even when it seems so dismal.  And I love that he not only believes that one person can change the world, but he empowers them to do so.
  2. The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins.  This is not a typical Dr. Seuss book.  It’s long and one of the few that doesn’t rhyme, which only intensifies the intellectualism.  But it tackles some of the themes that Dr. Seuss is so famous for: the innocence of childhood, the rejection of absolute power and the fantasic occurences that are hallmarks of Suess’ works.  It explores conflicting purposes of arbitrary (and perhaps ridiculous) rules.  And, while I have heard some criticize Bartholomew for being weak and not standing up for himself (quite the opposite of the indignant Lorax), I see him as showing a gentle obedience and politeness in the face of unfair treatment from an arrogant leader.  He shows courage and bravery as he faces punishment for something that is truly not his fault.  And at the same time, the executioner shows obedience in that he cannot do his job until Bartholomew’s hat is removed.  In the end, there seems to be a confidence that leaders—even non-elected leaders—will do the right thing.  There’s that hope again.
  3. The Sneetches.  As far as I’m concerned, this is one of Dr. Seuss’ most under-rated books.  It’s a classic tale of two groups of creatures who are separated by class.  An arbitrary star on their belly makes one group think they are superior. The star bellied Sneetches control everything while the plain bellied Sneetches are social outcasts.   The message of tolerance is obvious.  But equally as important is the idea that the social divide that the Sneetches have created for themselves is ridiculous.  Add to it unfortunate truth that people sometimes profit from conflict and harmful products and you have a brilliant story, packed with lessons for everyone.  As a child, I remember feeling like a plain bellied Sneetch.  And, now that I’m an adult, I often still feel like a plain bellied Sneetch.  Dr. Seuss taught me that it’s okay to be plain bellied…and in fact, it can be preferable.  It is important to point out though, that the Sneetches did not achieve peace until they no longer knew who was who.  But, I don’t think that Dr. Seuss was saying that we should just assimilate and become anonymous in order to get along.  I think the lesson is that most of us don’t really know which we are — star bellied or not — even if we choose to identify with one or the other.  And when we can come to the realization that we all have insecurities and needs to be accepted, that is when we can begin to move toward tolerance.
  4. Happy Birthday to You!  It’s a simple message — we are all unique and should be ourselves.  I love the pictures, the use of color and the general idea that birthdays should be celebrated in an extravagant way. 
  5. Horton Hears a Who.  This was not a favorite of mine growing up.  I liked it, but it didn’t resonate with me the way some of the previous books did.  And after the movie came out several years ago, I didn’t like how it was being used to promote political messages that simply weren’t there. ( That’s not to say it didn’t have political undertones — but it was written in 1954 and was a commentary on post World War II occupation of Japan).  However, it makes my top 5 because of the way it has impacted my son.  While the message “A person’s a person no matter how small” certainly resonated with him, given his small stature, it was not the Whos to whom he related.  Instead, he was drawn to Horton…a gentle character who courageously stood up to a mob mentality to protect what he believed in.  Very much like the Lorax. 
And there you have it.  Out of 46 books, those are my top 5.  It’s painful for me to stop there because I really could go on and on.  But really, this list encapsulates most of the major themes that Dr. Seuss wrote about:  Be yourself (and don’t be afraid to be different).  Stand up for what you believe in. Question authority.  Use your imagination.  Be silly. Be courageous.  Be loyal.  Love your friends.  Stand up for them.  Always have hope.

In retrospect, it’s really hard to say whether or not my world view was shaped in part by the writings of Dr. Seuss or if I simply related to his characters and stories because of my world view.  It doesn’t matter.  I am glad he was born.  I’m glad he wrote whimsical stories that were fun to read.  And, I’m glad I get to share them with my son.  I know he will share them with his children.