Pizza Bones and Man Caves

You know what’s awesome?

This is awesome:

Like most parents from sea to shining sea, we rely on quick dinner options a couple times a week. A couple days ago it was Totinos Canadian Bacon pizza. The girls left me the pizza bones – aka the crust. Because, well, I like pizza bones. They’re crunchy, tasty and contain nearly all the taste of the original intact piece of pizza without all the grease. Sure you can discard the bones because they lack conventional amounts of cheese and toppings. The bones are just what’s left at the end of the piece of ‘zza right? They’re Franco Harris wearing #34 anonymously toting the rock in royal blue and silver around the Kingdom in 1984. But not to me. Pizza bones are Aerosmith nailin’ it with “Love in an Elevator” in ’89 a full 16 years after “Dream On” hit the charts. It’s the best part. And you get to eat it last.

Anyway, I’ve been secretly drawing up blueprints, architectural drawings, schematics for something. Riley called it a “man cave.” To me its just a place to put my stuff. My awesome collection of throwback NFL mini helmets. My Jeff Shaara books. My Diamonds Are Forever movie poster. My vintage football pennats for the Cardinals when they were in St. Louis and for the Rams when they were in Los Angeles. My Andy Van Slyke rookie card.

When the girls are too old for the swing set, I’m doing to it what Tim Burton did to Planet of the Apes – I’m demolishing it. In its place will be a small structure equipped with Direct TV, wireless internet and a mini fridge. What got us talking about this? Well, I attended a Man Cave party at my neighbor’s house. Its really a Pampered Chef/Tupperware party for dudes. You can buy over 30 varieties of bratwurst – including bacon cheeseburger and Philly cheese, a spatula large enough it requires a good deal of forearm work in the weight room to handle it properly and a burping coozie. It has a remote. So if you lose your beer, you hit the remote. And when your beer burps, you know where it is.

The burping coozie is a big hit with dudes. And kids. Rye has been walking around for a week pretending to burp. Normally you’d think after the first time it would cease to be funny. But you’d be wrong. Its hilarious. She’s come up a different facial expression nearly every time she’s done it. I figure as long as she doesn’t do it during math or in church, it shall remain funny.

Plus how cool is it to sit on the couch with your 4th grade daughter hitting a remote while coming up with your best burp face?

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The Draft

Hey, so the NFL Draft was last weekend. Lots of people don’t understand why anyone would watch other people pick guys to play on their team. I mean back in third grade picking kickball teams wasn’t all that exciting. But if you were to add guys talking about guys picking other guys to play on their team, well, that’s freaking awesome.

Throw in a debate about the best draft classes of all time and, well, that’s a whole day right there. 1974 Steelers draft by the way. Four Hall of Famers and they signed one of the best safeties in team history as a rookie free agent.

Point is that the draft is cool. And this year it lasted three days. I had it on the whole time too. Flipping between the NFL Network and ESPN. I could watch Mike Mayock break down film all day. Anyhow, we get back from our set of three softball games on Saturday afternoon and I turn on the draft. My Mom groans and says, “Geez, how can these guys still be talking? What could there possibly be left to say?”

“There’s still half of round 7 left. I would kill to have that job. Sit around and talk about the draft for three days and get paid.”

Mockingly and with a good deal of derision my Mom replies, “This is a dream job for men isn’t it? Get paid for talking about the NFL Draft.”

Before I can even answer Riley interjects with this gem, “Talking isn’t their dream job. Getting paid for sleeping and burping is.”

While actually getting paid to sleep and burp would be awesome and I’m certain some federal employees and some members of the mainstream media do in fact get paid for doing this, I still want to know how she came to that conclusion.

Seriously, if you were to put together a list of the most awesome jobs you could think of where would getting paid to sleep and burp fall on the list? What if some of your choices were NFL historian, ESPN College Gameday anchor, first person shooter video game tester and lead singer for Poison?

Yeah, not such an easy choice now is it…

A weekend of awesome

So as far as weekends go, last weekend was pretty awesome. Steelers took Maurkice Pouncey in the first round and Jonathan “The Diesel” Dwyer in the sixth. Welcome home power running game, we’ve been looking for you.

Then, with my folks in town, all three girls got their first hits in softball. Kinsey caught a fly ball. Riley stole two bases and Bails was the only girl on either team in her game not to have to use the tee to get a hit. Awesome! But she’s the coach’s kid so you know how that goes…

Friday we go to our favorite restaurant and order our favorite nachos. Upon delivery we noticed they have been changed. And they are better! Awesome.

Then Creighton bailed out Iowa State by taking Coach McDermott off our hands. Awesome.

Further awesomeness? I got to ride in a parade with 11 little girls. At 9:00 in the morning. On a Saturday. And we all got to wear our neon Miami Vice green t-shirts. And throw candy. Have you ever really paid attention to children throwing candy in a parade? Picture someone throwing open the side door on UH-1 Huey and opening up with the mini-gun. I hope the softball league has good liability insurance because there were a few kids limping away, clutching their bags of candy, bleeding…

Anyway, Thursday night Kinsey and Rye had games at virtually the same time. So, yes, we were those parents literally running back and forth between fields so we wouldn’t miss anything. Kinz gets a hit in her first at bat. Ever. Then the girl up after her smacks a hit into left center. Kinsey takes off so fast she left that Road Runner-like dust trail between bases. She gets to second and without even braking stride, plants her foot on the inside of the bag and takes off for third. Evidently aggressiveness on the base paths comes naturally to her. She gets to third, does this weird half pirouette with pointed toes, stands on the bag, looks at us and pulls out the double thumbs up. It was freaking excellent. And also against the rules. No taking extra bases at Kinsey’s level. She was ticked. Evidence? The clenched fists, straight armed-foot stomp back to second.

That quickly faded when she caught her first fly ball. Ever. The loudest cheer you get at a softball game being played by 1st and 2nd graders is when one of them catches a fly ball. Everybody cheers. Both teams. All the parents. Everybody. Its so rare nobody wants to miss a chance to celebrate it. Like when Ben Affleck makes a good movie.

We run over for the start of Rye’s game. She’s leading off. She swings…makes contact. Little dribbler right of the pitcher and she beats the throw. Subdued fist pump from Rye. High fives between Mom and Dad. At Riley’s level, they can steal bases or take the extra base if the catcher drops the ball. So she did. Turned into Vince Coleman. Stole second. Stole third. Then scored. Met her at the bench for the Dad-daughter fist bump.

Then on Friday we’re eating the aforementioned nachos. I’m texting with my buddy regarding the wisdom of the Steelers second round pick. Outside linebacker from Virginia Tech. He’s a tweener, so he’s risky pick. Riley asks what I’m doing.

“I’m texting about the Steelers last draft pick. They left a couple guys on the board that I thought might be better picks.”

Bails looks up at me with this look of utter disgust and says, “Ugh…men…”

She’s six by the way.

We get to Saturday. All three girls have games. Bailey’s game is first. Coaches pitch to their own teams so I’m out there. And aside from my Mom criticizing my ability to get the ball over the plate, one of the girls almost falling asleep during her second at bat and another abandoning second base for a bathroom break, it went smoothly. But I’m pretty sure at our level that all goes into the “without incident” file.

Although I’m pretty sure if a kindergartener stands on a base there is some sort of neurological reaction that causes the kindergartener to become completely unaware that a softball game is happening around them. I am also suspicious that the U.S. military may in fact be testing some type of secret weapon system that causes disorientation and motor skill dysfunction while running from first to second. Can’t prove it but it’s the only logical explanation when you have girls on every base and they all somehow end up between the pitcher’s rubber and second base.

Finally, there’s this – if you are coaching a softball team populated with girls between the ages of 4 and 6 do not, I repeat, DO NOT have them play a game on field with any kind of flowering tree near the outfield. Flower petals falling to the outfield grass mesmerizes little girls faster than Obama mesmerizes Democratic convention delegates. Just sayin’…

Opening Day

In a few hours I will join the legions of parents watching their kids compete. Riley’s first softball game is tonight. I’ve watched her in dance recitals. Even watched her in a school play in kindergarten. But this is the first game in which one of my kids will be playing.

Yes, I’m totally jacked. I can’t help it. I remember my first basketball game in 5th grade. Sat the bench the whole time. Which means that I know for a fact that Rye’s first game will be better because everybody has to play.

This is one of the cultural changes that the left has forced upon us that I think I’m okay with. The kids are in 3rd and 4th grade. To improve and stay interested, they need to play. Having a rule that says everybody plays is a rule that I’ve decided to like.

But I think part of the reason I like it is that Rye’s level still has strikeouts, still keeps score and still allows players to advance on the base path if you make an error. So there are still consequences for failure. You over throw first base, that girl is going to second. You miss three pitches, you sit down.

Its not like the girls’ report cards where there are no A’s or F’s. Just “Meets” or “Progressing.” How the hell do you know if you are improving if nobody evaluates you? Thankfully, Rye’s teacher has started sending home a weekly evaluation which rates the kids on various measures on a scale of 1 to 3.

But back to softball. Rye has a short practice right before the game. I assume to go over scouting reports. As long as Rye’s team gets off to a better start than the ’88 Orioles, I think we’re fine.

Tomorrow, since gymnastics isn’t enough of challenge, Kiney has softball practice too. But her coach is still keeping the time and location a secret. So that’s nice. Plus Rye’s dance teacher thought the girls in her class weren’t really “getting it” with their various dances routines so she’s scheduled an extra dance practice tomorrow. Every day I come closer to the conclusion that we need a third parent.

Then Wednesday, in addition to gymnastics for Riley, we have Bailey’s last softball practice before our first game on Saturday. Thursday we have our regularly scheduled dance classes with two softball games beginning right after dance. We will test the car’s ability to teleport.

Then Saturday we have three softball games. Since that isn’t enough, our softball league has a tradition known around most places as an opening day “parade.” Even though opening day is today and not Saturday. Regardless, it still means the coaches get to organize and secure a parade vehicle, candy and safety protocols to keep eleven little girls from falling onto the pavement during the parade. Plus we get to decorate our parade vehicle.

I’m super excited about that too…

Creaky Knees and Super Bowl VII

After a few practices with eleven 5 and 6 year-old girls I am nearly convinced that kindergarten teachers have been blessed with two things. One – The Force. The only way to keep kindergarteners focused for more than 18 seconds is through a liberal application of The Force. Two – a freeze ray. Without this type of superpower it is impossible to stop a 5 year-old girl from including a few laps around the pitcher’s mound during her trip from first base to second base.

Despite our lack of fluency in The Force and the absence of any type of superpowers, we seem to be succeeding in teaching our gaggle of little girls where to line up on the softball field and how to hit the ball off the tee. Granted I had to make a big “X” in the dirt and then draw circle around it to keep the girls in their areas. Which led a few girls to continually add other shapes and forms within the circle until we had a very nice mosaic which probably passed for art. And Mom discovered that it if you give a kindergartener a bat and free reign to hit something, they are pretty self-motivated.

Bails knocked a couple all the way to edge of the infield grass on Sunday afternoon. Unless Al Oliver, Rennie Stennet and Dave Parker somehow rubbed off on me, she gets this from Mom.

After our two softball practices on Friday we dropped Kinz off at her friend’s house for a sleep over. Right before practice we dropped Riley off for her own sleep over. Mom, Bails and I decided to go out to dinner. Didn’t get to the restaurant until 8. 8 o’clock in the p.m. with a tired 6 year-old. That’s like daring the ’85 Bears to blitz and not keeping the fullback in to block. Turns out she thought it was so cool to be out with Mom and Dad – and yes I realize that won’t last – she overcame her natural tendencies toward whining and obstinance and behaved.

A few hours later we’re just about asleep when the phone rings.

“Mom, my tummy hurts. I think I need to come home.”

So its back into the car to get Kinz.

Saturday morning was softball picture day. As luck would have it, the coaches get to be in the team picture. And we have to wear the team’s t-shirt. Which is a beautiful shade of neon Miami Vice green. You really haven’t met humility until you’re dressed the same as eleven 5 and 6 year old girls. But it could have been worse. I could be the guy coaching the team that went right after us. He’s down on one knee smiling away in his hot pink fluorescent t-shirt. With “Bunnies” across the front.

We finish up pictures without incident. Not a minor victory. Riley had practice right after pictures. I decide to stick around for a few minutes to watch. Within those few minutes I get drafted into helping out with practice.

“Hey, can you help catch the pitchers?”

At Riley’s level the girls pitch to each other. No walks but there are strike outs. So Rye’s coaches have two girls who can pitch. And one of them can really sling it in there.

Now I’m about a month from 40. And my knees don’t have all their original parts and they have developed the capacity to make previously undiscovered noises so startling that most people look at me with stunned bewilderment that I’m still able walk on my own. Osmosis also doesn’t run in my family because despite my Dad being a mighty fine high school catcher, these instincts were not passed along to me. So, for me, crouching in a catching position for 45 minutes is fraught with peril.

Here’s a couple pointers if you should find yourself in this situation. Give the pitcher a target and keep your glove open. A 9 year-old can pitch faster than you’d think. Next, keep your non-throwing hand in a position to protect, um, yourself. Because a few of those pitches are going to be in the dirt and you’re not going to get your glove down fast enough. Trust me on this.

So aside from my failure to bring catcher’s gear to Rye’s practice, we’re having a pretty good weekend. Three softball practices, three sets of team pictures, two sleep-overs and one dinner outing and the only course correction we had was Kinz getting homesick. We’re home Saturday evening and I go upstairs because my knees took more abuse that afternoon than Cliff took from Carla. To my dismay the bed is covered with clean but unfolded laundry. My choices are:

1) push it all the floor and lay down. This will undoubtedly result in Mom treating me the same way Peter, Michael and Samir treated that printer in Office Space.
2) pile it all into laundry baskets so its not on the bed, not on the floor but not put away. This, beyond any reasonable doubt, will result in Mom and I leaving the laundry in the baskets until all 5 of us are pulling our clothes out of the baskets for work and school.
3) I could fold it and put it away.

Hmm…before choosing, I turn on the TV. Pirates-Diamondbacks on one channel. Buccos already up 2-0. Cool. Obligatory check of the NFL Network reveals a full length original broadcast replay with Curt Gowdy of Super Bowl VII. Dammit, I’m trapped! Mom knows that I am physically and mentally incapable of turning off classic 70’s NFL games. Not to mention Super Bowl Freaking 7 with Curt Freaking Gowdy and the undefeated ’72 Dolphins going for immortality. But there’s no way I can come up with a story compelling enough to explain why I couldn’t fold the laundry while I watched it. Like Cornwallis at Yorktown, I chose to fold the laundry.

Anyway, folding the laundry wasn’t so bad. The girls came up a few times to see what I was doing. But laundry is pretty strong child repellant. You add a Super Bowl played 37 years ago and it may be the formula to prevent children from bothering you. If I added broccoli in there somewhere, I’m pretty sure they never would set foot in our room again.

We finished up the weekend with two more softball practices on Sunday. But we added a trip to Dairy Queen in between. So that’s not a bad weekend right there – neon green t-shirts, Super Bowl VII and Dairy Queen.

So it begins…

You ever notice how your perspective changes? For example, it wasn’t too long ago that I dreaded dance night. Three girls, two hours, one very small room. But now dance night doesn’t seem too bad. It only takes one parent to provide transportation. It requires very little logistical planning. And Kinsey and Bailey are batting about .500 when it comes to being good while waiting for Riley to finish.

Compare that to this week where we have 6 softball practices, 2 gymnastics classes, 2 dance classes, 1 roller skating party, 2 sleep overs and a Saturday morning of softball team pictures. Monday evening we had two softball practices. Bailey from 6-7 and Riley from 7-8. They both needed cleats. Why? Because you don’t want to be the parents of the only kid on the team without cleats. Not because you’re unwilling to deal with the scornful wrath of the parents who take 2nd grade softball too seriously, but because you don’t want to deal the relentless whining that accompanies the end of every practice when your kid is the only one on the team without cleats.

Thankfully I found a “buy one pair get the second half off” deal on some sweet Nikes. Cost me $31. Usually I stay away from Nikes because I think Phil Knight is killing college football with the monumentally stupid uniforms he makes Oregon wear. Anyway, we get the cleats, run home for a quick dinner at Dad’s Famous Deli. Which bears a striking resemblance to our kitchen. Ham sandwiches, mac n’ cheese and milk. And then we’re out the door to practice.

First time I’ve watched Kinsey practice. Kinsey has managed to incorporate some of dance lessons into softball. Nobody points their toes and throws better than Kinz. Her coach even told her to twist at the waist when she bats like she does in dance.

And it worked. She smacked a couple hits right after he talked to her. Hmm…I guess those dance lessons aren’t completely useless. I wonder if I could market this. The key to hitting .300? Ballet. Who knew?

I was a little anxious for Riley’s practice. It was her first one and I was guessing that most of the girls on her team would have two or three years of experience playing. Turns out, as it usually does, that I was worried for no reason. Rye fits into just about any group of kids and at least four of the eleven girls on her team haven’t played before. She only missed one fly ball during outfield practice and she charged and cleanly fielded both grounders hit to her. She only got one at bat and swung and missed on the first two pitches before knocking one down to the shortstop on the third pitch.

The best part? Rye’s team got cupcakes after practice and I got to listen to Kinz complain about that. “Dad, that’s not fair. We didn’t get cupcakes. Why does Rye get to have cupcakes?”

“Because her coach evidently likes to bake. Now zip it.”

Plus they love their cleats. They both told me independently that they want me to take “those bumpy things” on the bottom of their cleats off so they can just wear them to school like sneakers.

Tuesday Kinsey had gymnastics and Rye had a roller skating deal. Evidently all the orchestra folks at school like get down and boogie and at the roller rink. Weird? Yes.

Last night we were scheduled for two more softball practices. Bailey from 6-7 and Rye from 7:30-8:15. Plus Rye had gymnastics at the same time. Luckily practices were rained out. But we still have the aforementioned dance todayand then two practices on Friday evening. But since I’m the coach of Bailey’s team, I scheduled our practice at the same time and on the adjacent field to Kinsey’s practice. I guess that is one of those seldom mentioned coaching perks.

Plus Rye and Kinz both have been invited to sleep over at friends’ houses on Friday night. Then we have team softball pics Saturday for all three of them. Woo. Hoo.

Last thing – the girls wanted to know what everybody on Bailey’s softball would call me. I thought about this for a second and quickly settled on “Mr. Awesome.” I considered “Captain Handsome,” but that didn’t have the right vibe. But I am considering getting some of these sweet coaching shorts…

Practice…or something like it

What do you think coaching softball for ten 5 and 6 year-old girls would be like?

Well, as luck would have it, I am going to find out first hand and I’ll be able to verify and/or debunk your theories.

I decided to volunteer to coach Bailey’s bitty ball team. We’re the Fireflies. Although, after our first practice last night I think it might be more descriptive to call us the Unguided Throwers. Fortunately, my skill level expectations were somewhere down around the French army’s ability to stop blitzkrieg tactics.

Now I’ve never coached softball before. In fact, I didn’t even play little league baseball. Which means I’m as qualified to be a softball coach as Obama is to be president. Anyway, I did play a lot of basketball. So if there is a way to translate the ability to come off a high screen and smoothly catch and shoot, well, I’m all set.

I figured we’d start off the basics. We’d pair up and toss the ball underhand to each other. This quickly deteriorated into a level of chaos that I can only assume resembled the negotiations inside the Democratic caucus on the health care takeover.

Hmm…I thought to myself. What is that kids do well?

Line up.

“Okay girls! Line up, single file right here.”

This must be the first thing kids are taught at daycare because they responded faster than a bunch of DOT workers who realized it was break time.

I broke them up into three groups and had a couple other Dads roll some grounders to them and then had the girls throw the ball back to us. I made the mistake of assuming that when I explained that when I roll the ball to them that they needed to get in front of the ball and trap it in their gloves, that they knew what getting in front of the ball meant.

They didn’t. Several girls used the “wait till it stops rolling” strategy and one girl was really partial to the “wait for someone else to pick it up for me” strategy.

But one of things I did manage to teach them was to trap the ball in their gloves. Which, by the way, come in a variety of girly colors. White with pink, black with pink, brown with pink, etc. Now, how did I manage to teach ten little to trap the ball? I told them to pretend they were alligators.

“You trap the ball in your glove with two hands. Your glove is your bottom teeth and your other hand is your top teeth – and you snap it shut on the ball!”

Unfortunately the alligator strategy doesn’t really work when it comes to throwing the ball. So I used the make a “W” with your fingers on the ball and an “L” with your arm method. Once they figured out which foot to step with they really, really improved. Although one girl has some weird aversion to actually throwing it back to me. She’d throw it to my left, to my right, but never to me. Finally, I coaxed her into trying to hit me in the nose with the ball. Another girl really got the hang of it and added a fist pump and a “yeah baby” to every throw.

I gave fly balls a try too. If effort and enthusiasm were the measures of success, we’d be champions of the bitty ball galaxy. It didn’t matter if they were bonked on the head, face or arm, they just kept trying. But nothing topped running the bases. Now remember, these are little kids. Before I would let them do it, I asked them to identify each base. Because, as I understand softball, each base has a name and are arranged in certain order forcing you to advance to each one in the correct sequence.

Once we figured that out, I had them run to first. Then run to first and second. Then I said, “hey let’s find out who is fast. I’ll count and you guys run all the way from home plate, around all the bases and back home!”

This, if the level of screaming is an indication of approval, was the best part of practice. I have a couple girls, including Bailey, who are pretty darn quick. I bet Bails would be even faster if she didn’t admire her own feet as she ran or checked out the parents to make sure they were also admiring her speed.

So next week we’re going to continue with throwing and catching but I’m going to add hitting off the tee. This will mean batting helmets. Swinging, running and most likely tripping with batting helmets. But I can’t wait to see how they react to actually hitting the ball.