Recent Splats according to Miz Yank

Team Yank celebrates a Hall of Famer

[My pal Philippa and I have just kicked off our version of National Blog Posting Month, where we cover the whole month by alternating days. It’s supposed to jump start my writing, or my insomnia, or both…]

Last weekend, my brother was inducted into the West Springfield High School Athletic Hall of Fame’s inaugural class: a very big deal.

L.J. never would have described it in those terms — “don’t get a big head” was one of my father’s mantras when my siblings and I were growing up, plus my brother is a humble team-player by nature–but statistics don’t lie.

As a right-handed pitcher for the West Springfield varsity baseball squad from 1991-1993, he helped the team win a State Championship, pitched on the silver medal-winning USA Junior National Team, landed repeat berths on the Washington Post’s All-Met Team, and was named the All-Met Player of the Year in 1993.  When the Minnesota Twins made him an 18th round draft pick in 1993, he opted instead to accept a full athletic scholarship to Georgia Tech, an engineering and Division 1 baseball powerhouse. In his first year on the talent-loaded Tech team, he helped pitch the team to its first-ever College World Series appearance. He was a perennial ACC Honor Roll-er, a two-time academic All-American, and the recipient of Tech’s prestigious Total Person Award in 1998, an honor given annually to two student athletes who excel on the field, in class, and in the community. (Did I mention that he’s also a nice guy? It’s true.) He closed out his pitching career at Tech with a record of 25-4, the third-best in Tech’s history at the time. When the Atlanta Braves drafted him in 1998, L.J. was not just a member of the team’s pitching staff but also its only engineer. During five seasons, he pitched four hundred-plus innings in over 100 games on Braves teams in Macon, Myrtle Beach, Greenville (SC), and Richmond. He made it to AAA before injuries nudged him off the field.

Though he’d had a spectacular run, its ending was without spectacle, so this whole Hall of Fame thing gave our tribe an opportunity, however belated, to give my brother’s accomplishments their due. I can’t speak for anyone else in the family, but I really needed that second chance.

It’s not that I hadn’t known my brother was an incredible athlete; of course I did. I’d been aware that he was a gifted pitcher long before he got to West Springfield, though that’s when his true potential really began to show. Unfortunately, I simply failed to appreciate that time. I had just started college and was not merely determined but flat-out defiant about blazing my own, non-baseball trail. This might have been fine if I’d had any idea where that trail should go —navigation has never been my strong suit –or what my own potential was.  But I didn’t. So at the precise moment when I should’ve been cheering L.J. on with the rest of Team Yank, I was busy trudging through the Great Seeking Swamp (a place that’s easy to get stuck in but turns out not to be all that deep), my progress hampered by the fact that I had blinders on and my nose in my navel.  I went to my brother’s big games, but those gorgeous curve balls, sinkers and sliders whizzed past me just like they did all those hapless batters. I wasn’t present. When I emerged from the Swamp, at about the time when L.J. was heading to Tech, Team Yank didn’t act like I’d spent a couple of years warming the bench. I knew I had, though, and I knew I’d missed out on some great stuff.

So when the Hall of Fame news broke, I reacted with what my brother probably saw as extraordinary enthusiasm. It’s not every day that a family member gets inducted into a Hall of Fame, and it’s certainly not every day that you get a second chance. A second chance may not be the same as a clean slate, because that botched first attempt lives on in your memory (and who knows where else), but that’s exactly what makes second chances so great: remembering what you screwed up the first time frees you up to make an altogether different mistake the next time. Or to learn from it. Or both.

Instead of reprising my role as benchwarmer, this time I helped rally Team Yank. Together, we compiled a video commemorating L.J.’s greatest moments, both on and off the field. It was some of our better work. In a nod to Dad’s “don’t get a big head” mantra, the off-the-field segment was part roast and part heartfelt tribute. There were cameo appearances by family, friends, and L.J.’s mullet (yes, the mullet was of such magnitude as to warrant a separate credit). There was a dramatic re-enactment of my brother’s pitching career, featuring every member of the family and the music of, who else, Barry Manilow.

But the real scene-stealer was L.J. After the ceremony and after we’d watched the video, when he’d earned the right to bask in the glow of his accomplishments and our family pride, my brother refused to stand in the spotlight by himself.

“Anything I’ve done, I didn’t do alone,” he said.

Whether or not we all agreed with L.J.’s words, they shouldn’t have surprised us. I scoured a bunch of old articles in the weeks leading up to the induction ceremony, and in every article that praised my brother, he credited and thanked his team, his teachers, his coaches. It seems he understood even 20 years ago the value of humility, and that you strive not so much for individual gain but to elevate those around you. I couldn’t be prouder of my brother, for what he’s done and who he is. And I think I speak for all of Team Yank when I say he’s definitely helped me raise my game.

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Celebrating 50 Years of Team Yank with a 21-Fun Salute

My parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on April 16.

Fifty years of marriage —600 months –is a big deal. A very big deal. I can’t begin to comprehend such a feat, especially considering my marriage to the Lawnmower lasted two percent as long. My siblings and I were determined to make a very big deal of this very big deal. We booked a private room at Fireworks, a cool pizza and craft brew joint in Arlington, for a celebratory Team Yank dinner and invited Mom and Dad’s siblings to join us.

I woke up on the morning of the party feeling an odd mix of emotions: unadulterated joy for my parents on reaching this milestone, gratitude to them for showing us that people and love matter most of all, nostalgia for our years together as a family, and an unrealistic but understandable desire to hold on to all of this, and them, forever. As I drove to my parents’ house to spend some pre-party time with my brother and his family, those emotions formed a swell of sentiment that threatened to crest. To stay ahead of the wave, I cranked up a few of my favorite Earth Wind and Fire songs, and that got me to my parents’ house. The Roommates happened to be there too, a sight that never fails to improve my mood.

An hour and a half later, I was wrapping up my visit and getting ready to run some party-related errands and Emily, who may have detected that swell of emotions rising up in her aunt, said, “Can I come with you?”

As we got in the car, I told her she’d made my day. The minute we backed out of the driveway, we lowered the windows, opened the sunroof, and fired up our favorite tunes in preparation for a rolling dance party. We hit our stride twenty minutes later when she cued up “Walkin’ on Sunshine,” complete with air guitars and arms-through-the-open-roof dance moves. I was feeling so sunny I almost didn’t mind having to go to Michael’s: we needed a frame for one of the gifts we’d gotten my parents. Emily, who is Arts and Crafts people, was elated about this pit stop, so I didn’t feel guilty about using her as a human shield as we entered the store.  We knocked out our task in short order and had a little extra time, so I told her to pick something out for herself.

In a move that just might land her a spot on our Peeps squad next year, she asked, “Can I get a glue gun?”

Off we went, me carrying a frame and Emily concealed-carrying some Elmer’s. When we got to my house, we assembled the gift, grabbed the fancy gold wrapping paper I’d bought and some tape, threw it all in a bag, and Uber’d over to the restaurant. We got everything set up and needed only to wrap the gift. That job required the perfection of my sister Suzi, but I knew when she arrived she’d be busy setting up a cake she had decorated (flawlessly, no doubt). I decided to give it my best shot. I put Emily in charge of handing me pieces of tape, a job she performed admirably. The super-fancy paper I’d bought, however, seemed repulsed by a pedestrian adhesive like scotch tape. We couldn’t get it to stick, no matter what we did.

Emily’s eyes met mine and I said what she had to be thinking, “Get the glue gun.” As the two of us hot-glued wrapping paper seams together, I noted that such a thing would never happen to Aunt Suzi.

“I know, right?” Em said. “I just wish she’d make a mistake sometime.” We finished the job just as Suzi was coming in with her perfect cake. Shortly thereafter, the aunt/uncle contingent arrived, followed by the rest of my siblings and their families, and then, to round out our 21-person gang, my parents.

My Aunt Kate, who is no slouch in the Fun Aunt department, sent my parents out of the room and closed the door so she could give them a proper wedding-style introduction like they got 50 years ago. Mom and Dad pranced in, arm-in-arm, and took a few twirls around our tiny dance floor. The party had begun.

After we’d all stuffed ourselves with delicious Italian fare, my siblings and I got the official program underway. We had decided that each person would share a favorite memory or story, and that my brother would give a toast at the end. We planned to go in order from oldest kid to youngest, but we didn’t coordinate our remarks with each other at all. I looked forward to my siblings’ stories. Though we have close relationships with each other and our parents, each of those relationships is a little bit different, and I love getting a glimpse into what they look like.

Suzi reminisced about the years in high school during which she had to sell citrus fruit as part of a fundraiser. Because Suzi’s always had a real knack for sales, for a few weeks every fall our home looked like a Tropicana warehouse. My father would spend hours driving her around, helping her deliver pound upon pound of fruit. Then Suzi mentioned my mother’s willingness to do absolutely anything for her kids and grandkids, including dropping everything a decade ago to help my sister out on a spur-of-the-moment trip to Philly and New York with Suzi’s three boys.

Lynne took a slightly different tack. Known as the “feisty” one when we were kids, she told a hilarious story about a doubles tennis match with my father gone seriously awry. Though she and Dad didn’t win that day, at least she, unlike me, managed not to bean her parental tennis partner in the back of the head. Lynne also talked about how my parents never lose sight of the little things that make us feel loved. In Lynne’s case, one of those little things is liverwurst, which my parents always keep in the fridge for her. (Maybe it’s just me, but if liverwurst is an act of love, I’d hate to see a show of hostility.) She also reminded us that, fifteen years ago, when Lynne had broken her arm and I had come down with bronchitis, Mom launched her own Meals On Wheels program, loading Dad up with tortellini soup for delivery to me and Lynne.

The stories my sisters told led precisely to the point I intended to make: even though Mom and Dad were a “them” long before the rest of us showed up, my parents have never, ever been about them. As I was making that point, that wave of emotions, which had continued to gather momentum all afternoon, got fully organized and swamped me. I pieced myself back together sufficiently to talk about how we get only tiny reminders of Mom and Dad as a “them,” such as when I watched them dance at my cousin’s wedding two summers ago. Or when they decided to go to Alaska in the summer of 2014 and I joined them, wanting to take in the “them” and their enjoyment. I will never forget the experience of riding in a small plane with them, landing on a glacier (on purpose, don’t worry), and actually setting foot on it. I watched the two of them stare in slack-jawed awe and I listened as they reveled in nature’s magnificence. They were right, it was astonishing, but to me the real natural wonders were the two of them and what they built together. As I was finishing my story, that infernal wave pummeled me again so I handed things over to L.J.

My brother began by sketching out memories in broad strokes, like the gift-laden Christmas mornings that began so early they were really still Christmas Eves, and our annual week-long vacations in the Outer Banks. Then L.J. talked about his baseball career, which my father nurtured at all points, first by hitting countless flies after work and on Sunday mornings after church, and then, when my brother went to Georgia Tech on a full athletic scholarship, telling my brother to leave him a ticket for games “in case I can make it.” I wasn’t surprised to hear that my father made it, every single time, sometimes even with Mom and always with her help. When L.J. reached the minor leagues – a place where dreams are big and salaries small –Dad handed him a literal blank check, something I never knew. And my brother had kept it all these years. As L.J. held it up, it seemed the same wave that hit me might have splashed onto him just a little bit too.

At last it was time for the toast, which reminded all of us that my brother handles words even more expertly than he does a baseball. He mentioned that Team Yank, which may not have won every game over the past 50 years but has a very solid record, has the attributes of the all-time great teams, like chemistry, strong fundamentals, and passion. He quoted Babe Ruth, who said, “The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime.” That’s Team Yank in a nutshell: we love to play together, and when we do, we’re at our collective and individual best. Then we raised a glass to the greatest team any of us could ever hope to play on.

The party ended there but the story does not. Suzi and her family were staying with me, so we loaded up their car with all the leftovers. My brother-in-law drove so Suzi could sit in the passenger seat and hold the remaining half of that perfectly decorated cake on the ride home. We pulled into my driveway and I opened the car door just in time to hear a sound that looked just like this:

busted cake

The Cake Splat: No, of course it couldn’t have landed on the box, silly!

I couldn’t decide whether to call Emily or to get a piece of chalk so I could draw an outline around the cake where it died. It is perhaps fitting that four of us spent the waning moments of April 16 doing what Team Yank does best: laughing hysterically while batting cleanup.

team Yank parmesan

All 21 of us, in varying states of saying “Parmesan!” Sometimes plain ol’ “cheese” works best…

 

 

 

 

If Mothers Know Best, What the Heck Does a Childless Aunt Know?

Two days after officiating my friends’ wedding, I hopped on a plane for Atlanta.

My brother and his wife live in the suburbs there and welcomed their son, Baby C, just four weeks ago. Since they already have a two year-old boy, B, running around, I figured they could use an extra set of hands around the house.

I was right.  My hands have been put to immediate use here at Camp Wipe Me, where I currently serve as Deputy Toddler Wrangler and Backup Infant Handler. (As far as I can tell, the only qualifications for this job are opposable thumbs and willingness to buy a plane ticket.)

B and I have spent some quality time together over the past two years, so I was excited to have another chance to hang out with him.  I was surprised to learn that the kid now speaks in complete sentences. Of course, most of them are incomprehensible thanks to my brother’s belief that there’s no need to talk down to toddlers. Two of my nephew’s recent words of the day are “unorthodox” and “excavator.”

But this morning, my conversation with B didn’t include any exotic words and instead centered on my suitcase. He noticed that it was empty.  I explained that, since I was staying awhile, I had unpacked all of my clothes and put them in a chest of drawers. B is a firm believer in “trust, but verify,” so he headed straight to the dresser.

He opened the drawers as fast as he could and started pulling out random articles of clothes.  And then he began to put them on.  All of them.  At once.  He was clad simultaneously in a pair of my shorts, capri pants and a skirt before Daddy showed up and ruined the fun.

When I mentioned this episode to my mother, she said, “Why didn’t you take a picture?” I would have if I could have, trust me, but I had my hands full trying to get Tootsie to put my pants on one leg at a time.

Since I last spent time with him, B has also become a devotee of scatology.  As I changed him this morning, he yelled, “I wanna see it!”

That makes one of us, kid.

Anyway, my hands don’t have a whole lot of non-work time to type at the moment, so I’m blogging less. (Hey, at least it’s a new excuse.)  But I will be back here on Sunday. It happens to be Dad’s birthday, so the Camp Wipe Me inmates and I will be posting a special tribute.

Don’t worry, everything’s under control.

 

 

 

More Good Reasons For Why I Haven’t Been Blogging

Welcome to your bi-monthly installment of “Excuses For My Pathetic Blogging Frequency.”

I usually blame inadequate writing output on things like international travel.  It’s my preferred scapegoat because it sounds kind of glamorous, and my laziness always looks better when it gets dressed up.  This time, though, I’m going with the truth. I haven’t been doing much traveling, unless you count a 4th grade field trip to Jamestown, or time-travel by way of going to see “Hair” with my parents.

I was, instead, deeply immersed in a large writing project.  I’ll share more about that in the coming weeks, but in brief, I cleared a first draft milestone on that the first weekend in May.

At exactly the same time, the Smash Hits made their triumphant return to the tennis courts.

Regular readers know that I joined the Smashes in the spring of 2012 and became captain in the fall of 2013 because I possess the two qualities the team views as ideal in its leader: 1) Two X chromosomes; and 2) a tennis racquet.  (When push comes to shove, #2 is a goal, not a mandate.)

Our prior captain, whom I call “Mrs. O,” had run the team for years and had the whole recruit players-collect money-set lineups dance down pat.  I figured taking over from Mrs. O would be a cakewalk, like buying a lovely, well-maintained house in a nice neighborhood.

What I did not count on was that the house, while lovely and well-maintained, was located in the tennis equivalent of Crimea.  Civil war broke out in the amateur tennis universe days before our new season began. The tale of the Smash Hits’ secession from the tennis union will amaze and captivate you, assuming I ever get around to telling it.

Returning to one of my very favorite excuses for not writing, I am heading to Alaska for two weeks with my parents.

They booked their trip months ago –it’s long been on their joint bucket list– and I invited myself to join them because it’s on mine, too.  We had to choose various excursions, and as I was signing up for things like zip-lining and whitewater rafting, I assured them it was fine if we broke off and did different things.

“Of course,” they said, and then proceeded to register themselves to zip-line and raft. For the first time. In their early 70s.

When I mentioned this to my brother, he said, “Are you sure they’re reading from their bucket list, as opposed to ‘1001 Ways To Die’?”

I look forward to reporting back, when the blog and I return to the mainland in early June. Happy splatting!

 

 

Letting It All Hang Out

Two weekends ago, my father, at 71 years of age, suddenly found himself nearly face-to-face with a bunch of singing, naked people.

No, he had not joined the chorus at a nudist colony; he’d gone with me and my mother to see “Hair” at the Keegan Theater in D.C., and we were sitting in the second row.

Nothing in my life had prepared me for that particular moment, and I’m fairly certain Dad didn’t see it coming, either.  For openers, Dad is not a culture guy.  He loves sports first and foremost, and his idea of high art is watching Roy Halladay pitch a no-hitter.  He appreciates a good play or musical from time to time, but he doesn’t go out of his way for it.  In fact, it usually takes some convincing to get him to trade nine innings for two acts.

It’s particularly impressive, then, that Mom got him to agree to see “Hair,” because the very name of the show refers to something Dad hasn’t had in years. (Not on his head, anyway.)

I wasn’t around to hear Mom’s sales pitch, but I bet she chose not to burden my father with the nitty-gritty of the plot.  She probably told him it was a musical about the ‘60s and left it at that.  Mom would have known that, had she offered a more complete description of the show –a bunch of hippies singing about sex, drugs and war in graphic detail –my straight-laced father might not have left the house.

Or maybe she just wanted Dad to be surprised.  I could relate to that.  I wanted to be surprised, too.  I knew nothing about the show beyond its setting time-wise, and I intended to keep it that way.  I purposely avoided reading reviews, synopses, or any other press.

On the night of the show, our group, which included two of my aunts and uncles and a few of their friends, arrived at the Keegan at 7:45.  The theater is a beautiful, all-brick building near Dupont Circle.  Built in 1905, it originally served as the gymnasium for a girls school.

Since its conversion to a performing arts venue, the Keegan has shed its gym image but not so much the 1905 part.  Nowhere is this more evident than in its two restrooms.  Located in the basement, each is a “one-holer” that features what may be original plumbing, as well as a sign above the toilet that reads: Please jiggle the handle.

My father must have felt right at home on seeing this public endorsement of his lone solution for every plumbing malady.  But any goodwill he was feeling shot right out the window when, during the first ten seconds of the play, one of the male leads performed an extended pantomime of what I’ll euphemistically refer to as an act of “self-gratification.”  (Hey, my mother reads this blog.)

As I sat next to my father, I was truly beside myself.  I had brief hopes of escape by way of spontaneous combustion, using the heat that had sprung to my cheeks.  When that didn’t work, I did what any mature, professional 42 year-old woman would do: I snickered uncontrollably.  Dad’s face looked like something out of Easter Island.

The three of us somehow made it all the way through the first act, despite one song whose title and lyrics read like entries in Roget’s Thesaurus: Human Mating Edition.

During the intermission, my parents and I chatted, pointedly omitting mention of the unsavory stuff and instead praising the cast for its vocal skills, costumes, and willingness to abandon any pretense of grooming habits in order to get “in character.”

Great pic of the cast, thanks to DC Theater Scene!

We returned to our seats and everything was going fine until the middle of Act Two, when the Hippies decided to stage a “be-in” at a park.

Since I was born in 1971, I had no idea what a “be-in” was.  I quickly learned it’s short for “be in your birthday suit” as the ensemble burst into song and out of their clothes, singing as a full Monty chorus line for a minute that felt like a year.  Forget “Let the Sunshine In;” the moons had taken center stage.  I couldn’t bear to look at my father.

The show ended shortly after that—a mercy killing—and the cast began to take its bows.  Dad, who hadn’t so much as applauded once during the show, stunned me by being one of the first people to leap to his feet and clap with genuine enthusiasm.

He saw my surprise and said, “The music wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, and the whole thing’s a little dated, but they gave it everything they had, and they were great.” He was absolutely right, because the production was nothing short of top-notch.

I had underestimated my father, as I’ve done many times over the course of my life.  I should have known that, instead of dwelling on the stuff he didn’t like, my father would look past form, focus on substance, and zero in on the naked truth.