Sunday, April 29, 2012

Very Cool Turf Field

It's a beautiful morning for baseball! We are not playing on this field, this one is for special needs baseball!


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Thursday, April 26, 2012

On Youth Baseball

Hello, my name is Chris and I coach youth baseball.

There.  It's out in the open.  Though if you have spent more than 10 minutes with me in the last 5 years you probably already knew this.

There are crazy dance moms, obsessed theatre dads, grandmoms who take their charges to Makin' Music 5 times a week to encourage the slobbering 3 year old to channel her inner Taylor Swift and grandpops who dress the youngest of kids in camo, hand them a shotgun and drag them into the woods every morning.

And then there are the baseball coaches. I freely admit that during the season (March to June, August to November, January to March) I have very few conversations that don't have youth baseball mixed in some how.  I looked last year at the percentage of my income I spent on baseball teams, travel, fees, training, equipment and lessons.  It scared me.

I had intended to step away from coaching this year.  I have been coaching my son for 6 years now, from T-ball to travel and over the winter I decided I had done enough.  There were better coaches available I reasoned. I wanted to sit with my daughter and watch. Like they always do, things happen, and here I am again, shouting repetitive instructions at 11 year olds, desperately hoping something sinks in.

It's an obsession. It dramatically affects our relationships with our significant others. Our other children have baseball day packs, filled with art supplies, snacks, water bottles, blankets, sunscreen and electronic diversions. Lunch hours are spent calling other coaches looking for games, staring at cell phone videos of pitchers and batters or fielding calls from parents concerned (inevitably) about their son's playing time.

I've watched other dads give it up. It's not pretty. They shout instructions though the fence at their sons. They tremble and shake in the bleachers when an umpire blows a call. They grumble and groan and hold parking lot meetings with their son's coach after the games. All of the symptoms of withdrawal are there. (One note: the guy pictured does none of these things. He's a model ex-coach.)

I'm not alone in my coaching obsession. Nearly all of the friends I see reguarly  anymore I have met through youth sports. We talk briefly about a new restaurant in town, our daughter's dance recital or taxes, but things move quickly to 'Did you see what so-and-so's kid did the other night? or 'Did you see so-and-so's email about whatever tragedy is confronting the team?'  We compare the latest catalogs from JustBats or Baseball Express and swap coupons to Dick's and Sports Authority.

We borrow each other's kids to fill out our lineups, throw countless batting practice sessions and show up at random rec league games to check how other coaches are using our travel team players. We spend hundreds on gear and apparel and look for every advantage for our kids and our teams. I recognize this is probably some form of insanity, but when everyone you know is doing the same thing, it all feels pretty normal.

We practiced last night until 8:45. On a school night.  We've got tournament games for the next 3 weekends.  Including Mother's Day. Today is an off-day and I am going to resist the temptation (I think)  to hit a rec game to see which kids are throwing tonight.

It's just what we do.  And every year I swear this will be the last year I coach, and every spring I am right back out there.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Even the Littlest Ones Grow Up

image from www.flickr.comToday was one of those moments as a dad. 

Emma dresses herself most days.  It takes about 35 minutes on a good day.  An hour on a bad day.  This morning she came out of her room wearing the dress and boots outfit pictured here.  I raised my eyebrows a bit.  It's not her usual look for school, but she switches it up now and then.

So when we got home tonight I asked her why she wore the dress today.  She said 'I know it is getting too small and that it's a winter dress. I wanted to wear it one more time.  My doll has a dress just like it.'

She wasn't sad, just matter-of-fact. She's growing up. A little more every day.

'Let's go take a picture,' I said. And we did and she went back to memorizing her poem for school. My little one is getting so grown up.

 


Monday, April 23, 2012

Serendipitous Sunday

Yesterday was a day where nothing went the way it was planned to go, but the result was still a surprisingly pleasant day in the end.

I was running a bit later than I wanted to be to get John and Emma picked up and over to John's game, but just as it was time to get moving to the fields, the game was canceled due to rain.  We were able to have a leisurely morning and not race around like crazy people.  We also avoided having to play and watch baseball in the rain! We headed home ahead of the forecast nor'easter and decided to do some long-delayed chores around the house.

Alas, I had not remembered to pick up John's bookbag the night before (why is that my job?) so we haded over to the Duff's to retrieve it.  What I had expected to be a 15 minute trip there and back (I had told Emma we were not staying) turned into an impromptu Flyers Eliminate the Pens and The Phillies Really Suck party as Emma and John got to catch up on the goings on back in Mount Laurel, we cheered on the Flyers to victory, met a new friend and generally had a good time.

I meant to do a load of laundry when we got back, but it just seemed like a far better idea to watch some Don Draper and catch up with some friends on Facebook.  Thanks to those who introduced me to Mad Men, I am now out of clean socks.

No baseball was played and not a bit of housework got done, but it was a really great Sunday.  I hope everyone else enjoyed the rainy day as much as we all did!


Sunday, April 22, 2012

On Vision

I have spent the last few weeks in an allergy-induced haze.  Not a mental haze, mind you, but a visual haze.  Itchy, watering eyes, abraded corneas, general unhappiness.  It's generally an annual thing for me, coinciding to the arriva l of tree pollen in my area.  Given the mild winter and warm spring, this has been my worst episode ever.

I've had to spend a couple of days being driven around, skip some baseball and work, and the laundry basket is full of washcloths used as cold compresses.  The variety of drops, sprays and pills I have needed in the last few weeks is astounding.  Good docs, friends and drivers have been very helpful too! 

Being able to see is a pretty important thing, but I have been amazed at how much I can do despite my uncorrected vision being somewhere around 20/2000.  Yup.  That's the right number of zeros.  I can't see very well without contacts.  Still, I have been able to get around.

Part of that is because the brain is so remarkable.  What I can do by feel, general memory, scent, and with fuzzy sight has been pretty amazing. I have been able to work, take care of my kids, cook, write and even read a bit.

The rain last night and soon today has helped settle the pollen down a bit and my vision is pretty normal today.  I think that I've turned the corner, but the experience of the last two weeks has really given me new appreciation for both my vision as well as the quality of the health care I am able to afford.

So the next time you get something in your eye and tear up, consider for a moment how lucky we are to be able to see anything at all and how difficult life would be if we alwasy ahd to walk though life in a fuzzy haze.

l of tree pollen in my area.  Given the mild winter and warm spring, this has been my worst episode ever.



Thursday, April 19, 2012

Stephen's on State - A Review

This week I had the unsual opportunity to have dinner back in Delco with my dad.  After reviewing the State Street options, I selected Stephen's over Iron Hill on the basis of better steak offerings for him and a lower potential for noise pollution from Flyers fans. 

Stephen's was a good choice overall, but unspectacular.  The decor is clean and neat, but nothing special.  The old-fashioned I enjoyed at the bar (while I waited for Pop to slide the Camry into a primo parking spot out front) had never heard of bitters and suffered from a few too many maraschino cherries.

My cold appetizer of rare tuna seemed to have been pre-prepared and was a touch dry. The sesame oil infused bed of greens was quite tasty and the overall effort was refreshing. The bread course was very good, with crusty, yet soft, recently sliced bread accompanied by herbed olive oil.  It was actually a highlight of the meal.

My crab and scallop broiled tilapia special was flavorful, but poorly cooked.  One side was very over done and the flip side was barely cooked, leading to an overly dry crunchy mouth feel.  The scallops were excellent however and the crab meat was a nice, if sparse addition.

My father had mushrooms stuffed with crabmeat as an appetizer.  SInce there were only 5, I passed on his offer to share, but he enjoyed them immensely from what I could tell.  He also filled up on the crab in his entree, choosing a filet oscar while skipping the bearnaise sauce.  He subbed out the asparagus for Yukon Gold mashed potatoes and was very happy with both the main course and his side.

I passed on a pretty pedestrian dessert menu, but Pop tried the cheesecake.  Obviously recently liberated from a cardboard box, the texture and flavor were pretty below average.  The service was very good, with our local waitress keeping the tea glass filled and endured my father's usual line of questioning about her educational background and future plans.

All in all Stephen's on State was a nice Wednesday night out for two guys without much else to do on a spring evening.  The Food was good, if a notch below the pricetag.  The service and ambiance were enjoyable and unobtrusive.  I recommend hitting restaurant.com for discount certificates if you go.  Ours cut $15 off the $100. bill, which included tip.

There are better restaurants in Delco, but Stephen's is worth a shot if you're a carnivore out looking for a meal in Media.  My dad is a steak guy, so this worked well for him.  We ate, talked about family and friends, upcoming vacations and sport.  It was a good night for both of us and the food was a big part.


Monday, April 16, 2012

A Week In Review and A Funny Coaching Moment

I have not been writing much.  It's that time of year, where, despite the ingestion of 4 different medications daily, I am still often unable to get my contacts to stay in my eyes for more than a few hours because of allergies.  I try to save those times for driving and kid time, since driving without the contacts not recommended and the kids are pretty darn cute.

So the blog takes a back seat since it it pretty hard to write when you can't see what you are writing!

The kids were on Spring Break last week, so I took a few days off from work and spent a lot of time with them.  It was filled up with trips to the park for Emma, baseball (and braces) for John and a bit of family time for egg hunts and the like.  The park at the end of our street isn't much, but Emma loves the slides and swings and keeps trying harder and harder on the monkey bars each time.  John has had a solid start to baseball, nothing spectacular, but he's hitting the ball and playing with enthusiasm, which is all a dad could want.

Despite my allergies, I have been trying to get outside a lot. Saturday I coached some basebell and got some sunburn and a new look for spring. Yesterday, only half-blind for the day, I had to forgo Sadie and Gretl's birthday party, but I did manage to spend some glorious time outside in the sun and got a little (too little) exercise in.

It was a quiet, fun week with a lot of downtime for everyone to enjoy each other.  the funniest moment of the week though, came while coaching baseball, when this little gem transpired:

Coach: Ok. So that's what we do on a bunt.  Now everyone understands.  Any questions?

Kid: Coach, I have a question.

Coach: Ok, go ahead.

Kid: Did you know that all three of you coaches are wearing New Balance sneakers?

Coach: Umm, no, but that's a good observation. Anyone else have any BASEBALL questions?

So if you've ever wondering what the kids talk about when there is a discussion on the field, it likely has NOTHING to do with baseball.

Have a good week!


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Xfinity Live - A Review

image from www.flickr.comBy now many of you have probably had the chance to get down to Xfinity Live, the new party venue in South Philly sports complex. Crowds have been huge, filling the place to capacity when there is an event at any venue. The opening night, when Third Eye Blind did a free concert, was seriously packed with the crowd overflowing long before showtime.

I had a chance to check things out last weekend as the place was opening and was pleasantly surprised at how much they have packed into what is a pretty small footprint. For a place that isn't quite done yet, there is certainly a lot going on!

The music stage out back is pretty sweet for the local band scene, offering a nice raised stage flanked by a short turf football field and a back bar faced with bricks from the original Spectrum. Even on a cold early April evening last Saturday, several local bands were able to generate some warmth as fans came out for long-time favorites Burnt Sienna, Mr. Greengenes, The Flamin' Caucausians, a Strange as Angels reunion and Kristen and the Noise all rocked for the Flyers fans and later the 76ers faithful.

One musical off-note from opening weekend - whoever the idiot was that booked Crazy in Stereo needs his head examined.  They were so bad I thought that some drunken wait staffers had stolen instruments and stormed the stage.

Inside there is the main space, the NBC Sports Arena, with it's MASSIVE 32 foot HDTV towering over bars, tables and banquettes. Each time I have been to Xfinity Live, this space has been packed.  It's a great place to watch the game if you don't a ticket and the food is certainly on par with sports complex places like Chickies and Pete's and McFaddens.  You will have to deal with some jostling around and it's hard to hear over the thunderous sound system and crowd noise, but you really aren't taking a date here for the conversation, right?

I was pretty impressed with the Victory Beer Hall, which was was packed with beer lovers sucking down pints of Downingtown's best brews.  While there is certainly some learning curve on the staff beer knowledge (No beautiful, the Storm King Stout is NOTHING like a Guinness, but you sure are cute in that outfit!) the place was electric.  The outside bar and fire pit were also a really nice addition to the space.

PBR (no idea what that stands for) is an odd duck of a bar.  It's got a mechanical bull in the middle of the bar, women in backless chaps, some very pretty margaritas and some solid smoked BBQ ribs.  So you can watch your drunk buddy last .8 seconds on the bull while your suck down a few big drinks served to you by someone who looks like she should be at Hooters.  This place seems to be a staff favorite after they get cut from other spots.  Broad Street Bullies Pub is your basic sports bar, replete with Flyers memorbilia and a quieter vibe than the other bars in the complex.

Finally, there's the Spectrum Grille, a quiet, high-end steakhouse featuring soft lighting and sleek, dark wood decor and my friend Noelle making great drinks at the bar.  The tuna carpaccio was very good and other bar customers had high marks for the steaks.  In the time my guest and I were there, we saw several former Flyers slip in the back entrance and order up some massive steaks.  It looks like the Flyers Alumni has a new clubhouse!

XL certainly answers the question 'Where should we meet before the game?' It is now THE destination for pre-gaming in South Philly.  McFaddens will still have its crowd for Phillies nights, but my guess is the C&P crowds will take a hit as folks realize they don't need to take a bus from the bar to the game. Groups will be able to meet here easily, have a few drinks before game time and then head off.  Folks without tickets won't be out of luck either, given the plethora of TVs and the mega giant HDTV screen in the main hall.

I think XL also has a lot of potential on non-game nights. The music venue will be a fun addition to the local rotation of spots you can see your favorite cover bands.  There is also room inside for smaller acoustic sets at Victory, PBR and Broad St., something that I think will make for and interesting evening, as you can walk from venue to venue as long as you are willing to carry your drink in a plastic cup.

I'll be headed back down soon to see how the place looks as it works out its growing pains.  XL was obviously overstaffed and overcrowded for opening weekend, so it will be interesting to see how the place looks on a 'normal' weekend. So far though, Xfinity Live looks like a winner!


Friday, April 06, 2012

Friday Fantastic Four - Easter Candy

Hello all -

It's been a great week in the Region of Brotherly Love, with the Phils beating the Pirates yesterday, 1-0 to open the season, The Masters underway, the Flyers clinching a playoff date with the Pens and doughnuts in the office to celebrate a birthday!

But it's also Easter weekend for the Christians or bunny lovers among us. We have not finished the Halloween candy at my house yet, but it's time to hunt for eggs and check out what the Easter bunny left in the baskets this year.

What are your four favorite Easter Candies?

  1. Peeps - absolute #1.  The ones covered in dark chocolate are pretty darn good too, but they don't get stale and chewy.
  2. Jelly Belly Jellybeans - I've had a weakness since the Reagan administration when they were the rage and I would walk up to Kelly's Kandy in the Brookhaven Shopping center and scoop out my favorites into a plastic bag.
  3. Cadbury Creme Eggs - They're a bit smaller than they used to be, and darn pricey, but oh so good.
  4. Dark Chocolate Marshmallow Eggs - Yeah.  I have a thing for marshmallow.

Have a great weekend of family, sports, observations and food!


Tuesday, April 03, 2012

The Madness Has Ended - Or Has It?

Last night the Prince of Darkness and his minions smashed the forces of All That Is Good and Holy and took the national championship for NCAA Men's Division I Basketball. There was a score, but the score was not really indicative of how much The Prince's (John Calipari) forces dominated the boys from Kansas.  This was as thorough a destruction as I have seen of one team in a championship game and despite a late attempt by Kansas to make things look respectable, the game was really never in doubt.

This was the predicted outcome. The gifted recruiter Coach Cal would finally get his national championship ring and his players would disperse to the winds to prepare for the NBA draft, possibly never having seen a UK classroom this semester. Bill Self's KU squad, already a loser to Kentucky back in November didn't have the firepower then and it didn't last night. Kentucky may not either next year, as they are set to lose freshmen superstars Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist for certain and probably also Marquis Teague.

But Kentucky will reload with new talent, the recruiting of top prospects fueled by Coach Cal's first ring and the likelihood that the NCAA is still a few years away from catching up to him at Kentucky.  I don't really have a problem with the players to spend a year 'at school' and then head to the NBA draft.  For me, an educated, suburban, white guy to tell these kids who generally have so little academic preparation for college that they need a college degree to be successful while the NBA beckons with guaranteed millions is just stupid.

However, I do think that this is just another example of how college sports are nothing like what we pretend them to be. There is very little honorable or noble about universities making millions off the labor of athletes who will never graduate. Similarly, the athletes participating in this sham are little more than mercenaries, serving their term of enlistment for the bonus at the end of the line.

And it's not going to change. The NCAA tournament TV contract is an $11 BILLION deal. Anyone who has been to a Final Four has seen the obscene amount of money that gets thrown around in bars, restaurants and clubs wherever the games land each year. Then there is the merchandise.  People who can't find Kentucky on a map are bedecked in school color, wearing foam fingers and painting their faces. It's a virtual orgy of consumerism around a few games played by kids, who for the most part are not even able to drink yet.

It's a giant mess and it isn't going to get better.  I've always been a huge fan of March Madness, but this year may have been the beginning of the end for my enjoyment. The Madness isn't in Lehigh beating Duke (ouch that hurt) or in Butler making it all the way to the final game. It's in the masses believing that this is really amateur athletics and that the experience is somehow important to what colleges and universities are supposed to be about - namely education.


Monday, April 02, 2012

March Madness!

I'm enjoying the D1 national championship game tonight where I am hoping Bill Self and the KU Jayhawks win another national title over the Prince of Darkness and his band of minions who will be playing in the NBA Rookie Game next year.

Enjoy!