ReThinking Lent – Day 41: Rejoice

How do you pick one verse for this word?  There are so many things to rejoice in throughout the Story of God.  And how do you choose one photo?  That’s what I tend to take photos of the most — the things that make me rejoice in God’s creation.  Family.  Friends.  Pets.  Nature. The Beach.  Music.  Sunsets.  Art.  Good Wine.  Bacon.  It’s all worthy of praise and proof that God cares about all of the details in our lives (and I have pictures of all of it).

That being said, I’m going with baseball.

Sunset over Nationals Park.  © 2012 Stephanie L. Brown

Sunset over Nationals Park
© 2012 Stephanie L. Brown

Rejoice always

1 Thessalonians 5:16


I also want to share a song that always makes me rejoice.  I dare you not to dance.













What’s wrong with bullies?

screechThat’s what my 13 year old wants to know.  He came home in tears yesterday.  He explained what had happened at school and then asked if he could write on his blog instead of practicing the piano.  The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.  I knew that if I was dying to get something out in writing, I would not be able to focus on anything else until I had.  Instead of relaying what happened, I’ll let you read it yourself.  This is what he had to say about the situation:

My son has dealt with his share of “bullying” through the years.  I use bullying in quotes, because a lot of it is just the result of people saying stupid things…not intending to be hurtful.  Most of it has been because of his size.  He’s small for his age — he’s always lagged about 2 years behind his peers.  He’s starting to catch up, but people have always made comments.  Even grown ups.  I remember once when he was six, I met a friend of a friend at a playgroup outing.  Jake was standing next to me and the woman asked me, “Oh, is your son three?”.   “No, I replied…he’s six”.  Her response floored me:  “Oh wow…he’s so small.  What’s wrong with him?”  She was genuinely curious to know why he was so small.  But, she obviously had no filter and I was way past worrying about people’s feelings when it came to this issue.  “Nothing”, I said.  “His ears work perfectly fine, too”.  And, that was way nicer than the “Nothing, but clearly something is wrong with you” reply that I wanted to give.  She was clearly embarrassed, and she should have been.  I hope she learned her lesson.  And, by the way, it’s not just small kids who deal with this ignorance.  I have a friend whose son looked three years old when he was one.  He didn’t walk yet and certainly didn’t talk.  And, people constantly were wondering if he was “slow”.  Contrast that with my 12 pound one-year-old who was walking and that freaked people out, too.   The point is, you can’t judge a book by it’s cover.  And, kids come in all shapes and sizes…it’s best not to try and guess how old they are.  Just ask the child, “how old are you?” and be done with it.

Truth be told, my son was pre-mature and born with a heart defect.  Both of which contribute to his small size.  But, I don’t like to use that as an excuse because it makes no difference.  Nor does it change anything.  I don’t think people should have to make excuses for how they look.  My friend who had the giant one year old didn’t say, “Well, he was full term…”  Now, when Jake was younger, he sort of had a preemie “look” about him and I would often tell people that he was 7 weeks early. When I was feeling especially feisty  I would deliberately try to make people feel stupid for their insensitive comments by telling them that he’d had 4 heart surgeries by the time he was 8 months old.   But, he’s 13 now.  He leads a normal, healthy life.  He shouldn’t have to defend his stature in that way.  It’s not like his dad and I are big people.  Part of it is his genes.  And, I maintain that it doesn’t matter and you can’t change it anyway so just let it roll off your back. And, he has done that.  Even when presented with the opportunity to take growth hormone, he declined because he was, in his words, the way God intended him to be.  (Now, in his case, the growth hormone was not because he has a deficiency…it was simply going to help him get to his adult height quicker, not give him more height.  So, this is not a commentary on people who choose that for their child).

The other contributor to the “bullying” is that he marches to the beat of his own drum.  He’s not afraid to be who he is.  He spent an entire year in a Scooby Doo costume.  When you are 6, people don’t really make a big deal out of it though.  When he was in 3rd grade, he played Wolfgang A. Whale in “A Whale of a Tale” and insisted on wearing a Mozart wig.  It was perfect for the role (and if you really know Jake, it was just perfect in general).  He continued to wear it after the play as well….once donning it for a piano recital.  It was just HIM and it was refreshing to see a kid just embrace his quirkiness.

Oh and then there’s the drama thing.  People tend to lump men who act into one category:  Gay.  Some of them are, yes.  But, take a look at some of Hollywood’s leading actors and you will see a much different picture.  George Clooney.  Sean Connery.  Brad Pitt.  Leonardo DiCaprio.  These are men who undoubtedly were teased for being gay at some point in their lives.  And, they aren’t.  But, it brings up a point that Jake himself made a couple of years ago:  Who cares?  Why is calling somebody “gay” an insult, he wondered?  It should be as benign as being heterosexual.  He’s right.

Fifth grade brought a new level of bullying (notice the quotes are gone).  Mama Bear had to go grizzly when a kid in Jake’s class started calling him a midget and gay.  It’s hate speech, plain and simple.  And, luckily, the administration handled it swiftly.  And, things seemed to tame down as he got to 6th grade and started to find his own niche.  Admittedly, he doesn’t run around with the “popular” crowd, but that doesn’t bother him. He came home last year and asked me why popular kids were (air-quotes) popular when lots of people didn’t actually like them.  Great question, right?  I still wonder that.

And now, here we are again.  Yesterday, he threw his hat across the room and said he wasn’t wearing it again.  I told him that just means the bullies win.  If you want to wear it, I told him, wear it.  Those people don’t define you. Them telling you that you look stupid does not make it so.  Don’t give them power because these are people who, if they don’t have your hat to make fun of, they will find something else.  And if they see that,even after yesterday, you are wearing it….they will move on to something else.  Bullies only attack people they perceive to be weak.  When you show them you aren’t weak, they will lose interest.  But, sometimes it takes a while.

I promised him that this won’t last forever.  I told him to focus on the people who thought the hat was cool….because when I asked him who they were, it turns out they were his friends.  He got the point.  I told him that so many kids his age are afraid to express themselves because they are desperate to “fit in” and that the truth is, when you are 13, everyone questions whether or not they fit in.  And, yes…I told him that he can’t hit someone with his backpack because even though it felt good and the kid deserved it, it’s not worth getting into trouble over.

And intellectually, he gets all that. But, he doesn’t understand why people are deliberately mean.  And, I don’t either.  It’s hard not to care about this stuff when you have a heart of gold and you genuinely like people.  It’s easy to SAY to just ignore them and let it roll off your back, but it’s often hard not to believe the things people say.

On Saturday, we were walking around DC on inauguration weekend and Jake was wearing his hat.  He got lots of positive comments from complete strangers on it.  And, at one point, we happened upon the Reverend Jessie Jackson who shook our hands and commented on the hat.  I reminded him of these things. I told him to hold his head high and be himself.

Today, I drove him to school rather than making him deal with the bus (although he was willing to).  And, I was super proud of him as he walked in to the school with that Screech hat on, not because he was being combative, but because he is okay with who he is.

He’s showing a ton of character and courage.  But, as his mom, I wish he didn’t have to.

Old School Baseball, Rivalries and Sportsmanship

It doesn’t help that my mood has been foul for about three days. But, there are a few things that are taking up a tremendous amount of space in my brain today. Since Twitter is generally where my evil twin hangs out, I have been trying to condense it all into 140 characters and there is just too much to say. I’ll just focus on one thing, as I tend to get long-winded. And to be honest, I wouldn’t normally be so worked up about this, were it not for the other stuff. So this might sound small and petty in the grander scheme of life, but it’s today’s brain dump.

The Phillies. I have never liked the Phillies, but I have never hated them either. In fact, the only MLB team I’ve ever really despised is the Yankees. Well, and the Braves. Mostly because I think the fans are arrogant and cocky. Yes, I’m generalizing. I met some really nice Yankees fans in Boston at a Red Sox game a couple of years ago. And, in March, I sat next to some really nice Yankee fans at a Nationals spring training game (although the Nats were playing the Mets, so that could have had something to do with it….) Anyway, when we moved here and I became a Nationals fan, I sort of laughed at the Phillies/Nationals rivalry. Mostly because I couldn’t understand the rivalry. The Phillies have been a dominant team, not only in the NL East, but in MLB in general. The Nationals haven’t. Now that I live here though, I know that the rivalry really is about more than baseball.

I went to Washington State University. I’m a lifelong Denver Broncos fan. I spent years in Seattle watching the Mariners struggle through terrible seasons. Sure, each of those teams has had success, but none of them have been dominant for very long. So, I get losing. I’m okay with it. It makes victory even sweeter, I think. And, as a result, I tend to root for the underdog when I don’t have a vested interest in the game. So, here I am, rooting for the underdog again. Pretty typical.

DC is an interesting place because in large part, everyone is “from” somewhere else. Often, the fans for the visiting team are the majority in the stadium. We experienced that in Phoenix, too — especially at Cardinals games. It’s the nature of a transient city. While I do have my favorite teams, I also have a “when in Rome” attitude, so we’ve generally always supported the hometown teams in the places we have lived.

Last year, I was given tickets to a suite by a colleague for one of the Nationals/Phillies games. We have come to expect that the stadium is usually packed with Phillies fans. And, this day was no exception. My 12 year old son and I were the only Nats fans in the suite. This would have been fine except that the Phillies fans were just plain rude. To my son. And, he wasn’t smack talking, he was simply cheering his team on. Even when they were down by a couple of runs, he was a good sport because that’s what he’s been taught to be. And when the Nats scored and took the lead, he didn’t get obnoxious. And when they won, he didn’t get in anyone’s face and scream “Phillies Suck!” No, that was behavior that I witnessed by adults in Phillies gear, who like to refer to Nats Stadium as Citizen’s Park South.

The Nats ended 2011 with 80 wins and 81 losses. There was one game that they never got to make up, so they conceivably could have finished with a .500 record. Regardless, it was a good season for a team that had been dismal in years past. The off-season proved fruitful and the fans have been excited for the new season which has started off very well. I have been around long enough to know that April doesn’t mean a lot in the larger scheme of things, but the fans were beginning to show up and stay longer and cheer louder. I’ve heard more than one person say that they have fallen in love with the Nats. And, that’s the thing that will keep fans coming back even when they get in a slump. It’s good for the team and it’s good for our city.

The marketing team came up with an idea to “Take Back the Park”, where you could pre-purchase tickets to the Phillies games only if you were from DC, MD and VA. Now, of course this didn’t mean that they weren’t going to allow any Phillies fans in the stadium (and certainly, there are plenty of them living in DC, MD and VA anyway)…but it served as encouragement for people to show up and support the home team. Additionally, the hashtag #Natitude was unveiled and the fans have embraced it. It also helps that Bryce Harper was called up from AAA and has been killing it on the field.

We have noticed a few Nationals fans getting a little cocky. A colleague of my husband’s talked some friendly smack before the Dodger games (he’s bled Dodger blue since he was a little boy). And, we saw what happened there. There’s a fine line between supporting your team and being obnoxious — and until you have a real record to stand on, it’s best to keep it low key because as any sports fan knows, anything can happen.

So, the Phillies get to town. Their fans are determined to make a showing. And, they do. And, they lose. Twice. Sunday comes and things start to get tense. Cole Hamels decided to send Bryce Harper a message and beaned him on his first at-bat. We all knew it was intentional, and he went on to admit it was. I’ve seen people praise the move, saying it was bad-ass and that Harper is arrogant and needs to respect the veterans. Bryce Harper, on the other hand, didn’t get rattled. He went on to steal home plate. Who’s the bad-ass now? Arrogant or not, kid can play. And everyone knows it. Hamels defended the move, saying he was just trying to get back to old school baseball.

What annoys me is how Phillies fans have gone on to react, insulting Nats fans, the #natitude hastag and the players in general. They cheered in the outfield when Jayson Werth broke his wrist. To me, it’s just all bad sportsmanship. It’s not a good example — by the players or the fans. And no…I didn’t like it when Zimmermann answered back. And, I’m not saying that all Nationals fans have had exemplary behavior either.

When asked about it, Harper simply said that “Hamels threw a great game tonight”.

My observation is that Harper is the one that showed class. The response I get from some Phillies fans is that I need to remember the record. Yes, the record is impressive. I’m not arguing with that. I’m talking about class, not records. I was then told that class doesn’t win division championships. Clearly not.

I do find it interesting that despite the records, this powerhouse team has only managed to beat the Nationals 3 out of the last 14 times they’ve played each other. Calling the Nats out as being pathetic doesn’t say much for the fact that they only seem to beat them about 20% of the time these days.

Look, I see nothing wrong with a rivalry. It can be fun. But, it can also make for a miserable time in the ballpark, especially when you’re trying to teach your kid some manners. If you really value old school baseball, how about going back to the days when the game was marked by a spirit of gentlemanly sportsmanship?

I respect die-hard fans, even if especially if their team isn’t that good. Baseball is about more than winning. There’s nothing better than a day at the yard. And there’s nothing wrong with some friendly smack talk. Come on out to #ourpark. Enjoy a half smoke and some Nationals hospitality (they are great fans). I’ll even buy you a beer, but only if you’re nice.


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 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.