What To Do In Alberta – If You’re From There

my dad
calgary alberta 2nd birthday
I should remember the birthday cake, cuz, it’s cake, but I don’t. Me, age 2

Despite our best-laid plans,  we ran out of time to see the places in Calgary where I grew up, or as the Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World said, “the places that made Joe, Joe.”

It’s too bad.

Much of my early, happy life was here.

Here I had two parents. Here I had a neighbourhood full of friends. Here I played ice hockey on the icy streets, played soccer in snowy fields, and made snow tunnels so immense that the Vietcong sent me a note saying, damn, boi, that’s some tunneling. (Looking back, maybe we never had summer in Calgary for some reason).

calgary, alberta, home
My first home. I remember the sunporch and the garden.

Of my life in our first house, when I was a small child, I remember sitting in the sun on the porch with our dog, a lab named Bobby. I remember not getting supper one time because I refused to stop watching Lost in Space. I remember digging in the backyard, which I defined as gardening and not, you know, digging up the flowers.

But I recall so little of when I was that young. Most of my other ‘memories’ are no more than extensions of photos taken at that time. Funny how that is.

Of my life in our second house, I have many, many more memories. We lived on a cul-du-sac in LeDuc, and if not every house, then every other house had kids around our age. We built snow forts in the winter, and cardboard forts in the summer. We built used hot wheel car lots and stocked them with our best cars (then forced our parents to pick which one was best and even though I always made the best one, I didn’t always win.)

During those times, we ran wild and had fun, being kids in a time before iphones, youtube and stupid morons like Logan Paul. We had a street full of parents who made sure we never got into any real trouble and sent us home if we got out of hand (and God help us if that happened because, by the time we got home, mom had received a phone call detailing what we’d done!)

Calgary alberta 2018
Everyone getting ready for school. Well, not ‘everyone’ by a long shot, and yes, I played with girls.

I traded and collected hockey stamps in that neighbourhood. I threw stones at the bigger kids in that neighborhood, then spent a year hiding behind telephone poles avoiding getting beaten up by them (strangely, a lot of my childhood stories involve throwing stones at people for some reason I still can’t explain). I watched my first football game in colour at a friend’s house, played tag around the cars, and found the best places to hide for hide-and-seek in that neighbourhood.

We had street BBQs, no crime (at least anything serious), and so many kids to play with, we were never short of company.

Or at least that’s how I remember it.

I remember my dad made a skating rink in the backyard that took too long to freeze and rolled downhill, ultimately creating a very deep, but very narrow skating rink.  I remember walking the dog with my dad beside the yellow grass-way next to the highway. I remember making a lemonade stand with my mom in the summer. I don’t remember selling any, though… odds are, I drank it all myself.

I remember playing with my brother when he was my best friend in the world. I remember watching Bugs Bunny and eating hamburgers and ripple fries while my dad rolled cigarettes. I  remember being woken up one night when one of dad’s friends arrived at our house drunk and playing the bagpipes. I remember the wolf that used to hide in my closet and scare me. I remember my mom coming in and chasing it away with a broom. A whole lot of times.

So for the years that I lived there, did that place help define me?

Without question. I felt loved. I had a street full of friends. I had a small world to play in.

Only much later in life did I realize the magic of that time, of the wonder years of skinned knees and sleepovers, of living in a community, not just a house on a street.

Work dad
Work dad. Suit. Tie. Good accounting glasses.

I understand why we had to move, why my dad made the choice to move.

He hated the long hours at work, hated not being with his wife and sons, and hated that he had not found the balance between money and a quality life.

He made the choice to move so he could read to his sons, throw the ball around with them, or take them to the library. He made the choice to listen to his boys in those terrible school concerts, to coach my soccer team (being English, this was more of a deal than I ever knew), and to be there to cheer us on, wipe away tears or teach us how to be men.

my dad
My dad and me on the first day of baseball.

Did he know he had only a few years to live?

I don’t think so, but I do think he knew that being a good dad, a good husband, a good man was more important than a big paycheck.

And I get that.

He made the best move possible, but I look back on those Calgary years as some of the best in my life.

Who could not? I had nearly everything a kid could want.

 

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Top 10 Reasons School Being Out Rocks

NYNY rideI don’t know whether to be nervous or excited. Sort of like the moment before your date arrives or just before the roller coaster drops 10,000 feet in 2 seconds.

But the boys are out of school!

And there are 10 GREAT things about that.

1) No more nagging The-Youngest to do his spelling or math or English or socials or science or, well, anything that doesn’t involve mini-hockey.

2) We get to use the pool one last year. With water restrictions, birds pooping in it all the time, and the cost of various and toxic chemicals, the pool’s gotta go.

3) More time to play Magic, build tanks, play FIFA or NHL 2015, throw the baseball, walk the dog in the park, win at Clue, or listen to The-Oldest become a classic pianist.

4) Another epic vacation. This year, Vegas/Grand Canyon, or as The-Youngest calls it, “the trip to the Hershey World.” Apparently, it’s HUGE. The candy store, not the Grand Canyon. (“Joe, did you know – it’s two stories?”)

grand cayon

5) More time to discuss the great philosophic ideas of all time. Like the meaning of evil. The nature of the greater good. And if Ant-man could beat Spiderman (who The-Oldest pronounces, Spooooderman for some reason that makes sense to a teenage mind).”

6) No freaking baseball, hockey, Tai Kwon Doh, parachuting, goalie camps, soccer, Tai Chi, Ballet or Jujitsu or Jedi Training. Just summer. No commitments. How cool is that?

7) No force-feeding The-Youngest so he can get to school on time. Or fast-washing The-Oldest’s gym strip so he doesn’t smell like the Rock’s armpit.

8) No racing out the door, then remembering The-Youngest forgot his lunch, binder, water bottle, magic cards or shoes.

9) monte pythonMovie time! So many movies to watch.

10) Two months chock full of opportunities for great experiences.  Good or bad, I’ll blog about them all.

But, as The-prettiest-girl-in-the-world often says, “it’s not our job to make sure the boys aren’t bored.”

So, true, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make 2016 a fantastic summer.

Top 10 Baseball Moments

horrible scorecard
Mine had more scribblings and drawings of calvin and hobbs

Ok, so baseball’s officially over. The boys went out swinging, as they say. I survived scorekeeping and made only a few mistakes, though the whole ‘error’ thing completely eludes me still. I mean, take the last run scored in the last game. It was basically a hit followed by 11 errors, misthrows, overthrows and dropped catches. How to you record that in a 2”X2” square?

However, when I wasn’t scorekeeping, I kept my eyes and ears open for those great moments that make kids sports infinitely better than adult sports.

Here’s why.

  1. In one game, a mom yelled. “Get your hands out of your pants!”
    Mom, stop yelling at me to get my hands out of my pants! Jeez! I' David Ortiz for the love of God.
    Mom, stop yelling at me to get my hands out of my pants! Jeez! I’m David Ortiz for the love of God.

    I mean, you just don’t hear David Ortiz’s mom saying that. At least shouting it out in a stadium (but who really knows what goes on at home.)

2. When The-Youngest ran into home, he forgot that he had to slide in. For some reason, sliding in is a rule. I don’t know why. But the coaches yelled at him to slide, slide, SLIDE, even though he was already standing on the plate, somewhat confused. He did what any major league player would have done while the infield desperately tried to get the ball to the catcher to tag him out. He knelt on the plate like he was praying to God. Or the umpire. (FYI, it worked, he was ruled safe.)

3. One infielder stopped a ground ball on the 1st-2nd base line and stepped aside with the ball in hand so that the runner could run by. No tag. No throw to 2nd. Or first. He was just being polite, I guess, a good Canadian who’d think it rude to actually get someone out.

4. If I was recording a game, here’s what a typical home run would be recorded as… one hit to outfield, the outfielder runs towards the infield for some reason, then realizes the ball is going way over his head, then runs back, then gets it and watches while one runner is nearly run over by another runner around 2nd base, and then the fielder throws it to first even though there’s no runner at first, and the first baseman misses it, causing the first runner to reach home and while the 1st baseman’s sauntering to get it, the rest of the runners are kind of confused and standing or running in circles, but then the first basemen gets the ball and throws it wildly to what can only be described as mid center field and the runners race to home while the shortstop rushes to get the ball, fumbles it, but ultimately throws it to the 2nd basemen who misses and the ball rolls to the pitcher who races to it as the last runner heads for home, and throws it, accurately, but the catcher is watching a drone fly overhead rather than catch the ball and the kid who hit the balls slides into home.

5. One kid hit himself in the face with his glove so hard he fell down.

6. One coach actually yelled, (I kid you not!) “there’s no crying in baseball!” Sadly, he was serious and not just ironically echoing League of Their Own.

7. Our third base coach grabbed a runner who began to run home and yanked him back to 3rd base. He felt so bad, as he just acted out instinct like any father seeing his son about to make a HUGE mistake.

8. At one point, in one game, there were 2 runners on second. The runner from first ran when there was a fly ball and didn’t stop even when it was caught. He reached 2nd only to find the 2nd base runner refusing to leave. So… what’s a runner to do??? What’s the 2nd baseman to do? They all kind of stared at each other while all the coaches and parents yelled advice. In the end, just to be safe, the 2nd baseman tagged everyone in a 10′ radius and let the umpires sort it all out.

9. There were many times a young fielder was just paralyzed by what to do with the ball once they got it. Like me when I’m at a fudge store – there are simply too many choices so you freeze up. Apparently, though, 20 parents shouting at them doesn’t help.

10. In one game, the other pitcher plugged one of our batters right on the elbow. You know that’s gotta hurt. The-Youngest ran out of the dugout and I thought, damn, what a good kid, he’s going to give the other kid some sympathy or be supportive, or do something empathetic. But no, he grabbed the bat from between the kid’s legs, cuz he was up next.

Sigh.

The team
The team

And that was the baseball season. The kids started out like the Bad News Bears and ended up, well, like the Bad News Bears at the end of the movie. They didn’t win a title, but man did they ever improve.

The-Youngest went from holding the bat like he was afraid it would independently hit him in the head, to becoming one of the team’s best batters.

Man, was I ever proud of that little guy. He was fierce when he went up to bat and swung like he wanted to bang it over a fence two fields away.

I can’t wait until next year, though I doubt I’ll be doing scorekeeping, again. I don’t have the attention span or mental discipline to keep thoughts out of my head like what to cook for supper, why did that little boy in the outfield just lie down and put a glove over his face, or wonder what just crawled up leg and into my crotch.

But mad props for all the parents who did kick in this year. Without the volunteer coaches, the dads who stepped up to coach first or third base, and the team moms who kept everyone informed, it could have been a nightmare.

 

Keeping Score – Playing Hardball

Take me out to the ball game.
Take me out to the ball game.

So now it’s time to learn me some baseball.

In the future, I think I’ll volunteer only for things I like to do (or can, actually, do.) Something like official team pizza eater. Or World of Tanks Game adviser. Or napping manager.

Even though being the hockey team treasurer took way more time than I thought it would, I wasn’t too stressed out about it, especially after The-prettiest-girl-in-the-world helped me through relearning Excel.

But this whole score keeping thing, man, that was turning out to be hardcore.

So, what do I do when faced with something hard?

First, I curl up into a ball and hide under my writing desk. I have worn a special place in the shag carpet there. It’s where I go when I receive a rejection letter.

But after that, it’s time to figure it all out.

Here’s my top 6 ways I will use to learn me some baseball.

  • Find baseball movies. Bad New Bears. Bull Durham. League of Their Own. Sadly, none of them deal with being a score keeper, though.
    There's no crying in baseball
    There’s no crying in baseball

    One might ask why? Maybe there’s a movie there. Maybe I’ll get Ryan Reynolds to play me. We kinda look alike. But the things I’ve learned so far…. there’s no crying in baseball. I learned sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains. And I learned that this quitting thing is a hard habit to break.

  •  Look up score keeping on You Tube. Ok, I did that. I found a great site that explained a lot of it. I even found another one that had a clearer explanation of the terms and abbreviations and what exact is a ‘fielder’s choice.’ Never doubt the internet, folks. It’s just jammed packed with truths and explanations, and for some reason, lots of pictures of naked girls wearing only baseball caps (though that could have been a search problem).
  • Read the official scorekeeping book. Actually this didn’t help much. I think they keep it deliberately vague because only a moron who doesn’t completely understand baseball would ever volunteer to be a score keeper.
  • Ask for help. Ok, for me this is the hardest thing to do. But I emailed one of the parents who seemed to know a thing or two about the game. He agreed to help me out. He was even super nice about it.
  • Talk to other parents who’ve done this before. This, oddly, yielded some of my best information. I mean, sure, I got less pictures of naked women, but I did learn that I don’t have to sweat the more complex part of the game. Not at this level. There simply isn’t such a big concern with errors and RBIs and that mysterious passed ball thingee (which I still believe might be someone pooping a ball out.)
  • Go to a game. And bring a score sheet. I’ll see if I can figure it all out on the fly. Oh, how I wish I was in Victoria. I know a couple of people who could school me on this whole baseball thing.

So that was my plan.

I did my best studying everything that I could ahead of time, and then the game came. I was in a full body sweat, but everyone there was so nice, mostly because either they have done it before and remember the terror of that first game, or they haven’t done it before and hope I don’t bugger it up so badly that they have to do it next week.

horrible scorecardAll in all, with the help of my experienced baseball buddy, I did ok. I didn’t make any huge errors and recorded 99% of the game without any confusion.

But, ah, that 1%. Oh my goodness. When there’s actually a hit and then the fielders miss it, then mis-throw it, then mis-catch it, and the runners all get confused and run into each other and no one is sure where to go or where to throw and then, all of a sudden, it stops and one of the runners is walking off the field and another looks like he’s tagged the plate and I had to turn to ask,

“What the f*%# just happened?” I asked my guru. A zombie melee looked less chaotic.

“One run. 6-4 out at second. Runner one advanced to third. Hitter got a double. No errors.”

“Oh. No errors? Really? What abou…?”

“It’s ok. You got this.”

Thank God I had help. I would have either recorded that as 42 errors, one run and someone out somewhere, I’m still not sure where.

But I survived my first game.

Not that I won’t keep learning.

Wait is there an f…ing app?

Oh and for anyone interested in one of the great speeches of all time. Please be aware, there’s some NSFW language.

 

Striking Out – Scorekeeping 101

No one gets me like the Simpsons.
No one gets me like the Simpsons.

As I get older and older, I believe less and less in trying new things. I have to fight hard to get out of my comfy-cozy fortress of solitude (like Superman’s fortress only less ice and more big screen TVs).

But once again, I’m going to try something new.

I decided it would be good to volunteer to be a baseball scorekeeper.

See, after hockey ended, the-Youngest decided to try something new, too. So I decided that I hadn’t had enough torture after being the hockey team treasurer and signed up.

I thought I was being all kinds of clever. In my day, it was pretty simple. The pretty red-haired girl would put up the numbers on the board and smile at me. No wonder I took so many balls in the face. Oh sure I was a catcher, but I was also easily distracted by a pretty girl smiling at me. Still am.

But that was it. We scored a run, and the pretty-red-haired-girl would put it up on the scoreboard. The umpires kept track of the strikes and balls and, I think, secretly, how many balls to the face I took. They shouted a lot and told us who was out (and for me to stop shouting ‘swing batter, batter, batter, swing!’.

I assumed it would be the same only with less pretty red-haired girls and more electronics.

My first clue should have been how all the other dads looked at the grass or stared up at imaginary stars and whistled to themselves when the coach asked, who wants to scorekeep?

When no one leapt at the chance, he looked at his clipboard and said a couple of families had volunteered to be scorekeepers. Ours being one of them.

I corrected him on this point. The sign up website would not let you sign up unless you chose some sort of volunteer work, the sneaky bastards. So, the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world chose score-keeping. I suspect for the same reason I did (minus the red-head).

But that being said, I’d give it a whirl. How hard could it be?

Well.

F…ing hard as it turns out.

Apparently little league is now like the majors. It’s up to the scorekeepers to record EVERYTHING.

I went to the meeting where they said they’d teach you all you needed to know about score-keeping. It reminded me of a test I took in Business school, where I didn’t understand a flipping thing and got 12% in the test. It was my first failing mark ever and it traumatized me forever.

So when they began to explain how to record a hit, then an error, then a pitcher’s ball, which I think is a kind of error, and a forced play, which I had no idea what the hell that is, and a double play with a sacrifice fly, my hands began to shake, my eye twitched and I broke out in a full body sweat.

A churro dog? OMG why I have not found this and eaten 10?
A churro dog? OMG why I have not found this and eaten 10?

See, I’m not a big baseball fan and the few games I’ve been to, I’ve spent more time finding where the churro vendor is than figuring out how to properly score the game.

Now, don’t get me wrong, the basics are kind of easy. The pitcher throws the baseball. A strike or a ball. I record that. If the batter hits it, I record that as well. It’s when other stuff starts to happen or things that only people with heads full of baseball knowledge understand start to occur, that I get all confused.

Basically, it’s when a whole ton of things happen at once. It’s that hit that gets dropped, then someone throws to second who misses the ball and the runner heading to third decides to go home while the pitcher rushes to get the missed ball and somebody in the stands is shouting, throw to 3rd dammit and in the distance a plane is roaring overhead and my phone is ringing and I need to pee.

How do you record all of that, cuz I’m pretty sure I have to?

As I left the scorekeeping meeting needing a drink, it occurred to me that the reason baseball is akin to watching a glacier melt is because the scorekeeping could take forever. At least with all the erasing I’ll have to do.

My brain just bled a little even looking at this.
My brain just bled a little even looking at this.

If you doubt how confusing score-keeping can be, look at that sheet. It’s now important to know errors. What’s an error in little league? From what I saw at the meet-and-greet game, pretty much every play has one error or another. Many plays seem to have about 20. With one hit.

Then there’s all the odd stuff that can happen, like a forced play on a Tuesday when there’s a full moon and a left handed batter with a hunchback. I think there’s some sort of code for all of that. And I have to record it.

And here I thought being the treasurer was a bit on the challenging side. It doesn’t even come close. I came home from the meeting completely disheartened. This will be absolutely at my limit of my well-padded comfort zone. Like telling someone to take over flying a helicopter while the pilot jumps out the door.

I can just imagine the first game.

“So,” says the other team’s scorekeeper, “I score that inning 14-4 with 17 unforced errors, and three fielder’s choice outs, two forced plays and one wiggle-dee-diggle-dee-do. What did you get?”

“A migraine.” My score sheet says 1 hit, 3 balls, and scribblings about a pizza order.

I pray it won’t be as bad as I fear, but looking at that sheet, not knowing all the codes and having to see everything and understand baseball like someone who, you know understands baseball, may be a disaster in the making.

 

42

42The Jackie Robinson story. A great story. The first black man in baseball, a true hero who triumphed over racism and general nastiness not by punching someone in the nose, but by Gandhi-ing them. Turning the other cheek. Being the best gentlemen he could be. By being an shining example.

The movie should have been awesome.

The problem was, it wasn’t. It was boring. Old fashioned. Slow. And worse, they used overly melodramatic and ham-fisted emotional scenes to try and manipulate us. Boo!  Booooooo!

Not that there weren’t things to like.

42 Harrison FordIndiana Jones was fantastic as the cigar chewing, beer-bellied, soft-spoken, hard as nails owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

In fact, if you ask me, (go ahead, ask me,) it was as much his story as Jackie Robinson’s. Or the reporter’s story.

And there-in lies the problem. This wasn’t so much a movie as a bio-pic. A series of linear events that work great if you’re Ken Burns, but not so great in today’s demanding movie environment.

Perhaps they were hampered by history, but history didn’t stop Mel Gibson from making Braveheart, an almost completely fictitious account of William Wallace. Freeeeeeeeeeedooooooom!

And the fact that in the beginning credits, they said this movie was based on true events should have meant they took a bit of license with history to make a great story.

Maybe have him defend the world from Zombies? Maybe have him fight off North Koreans attacking the White House? Maybe he kills a giant shark?

Personally, being a know-it-all, I would have chosen just one year in his life. That’s it. The first season with the Dodgers. That part of the movie was the best. It had the pilot from Serenity spitting abuse at him, it had entire stadiums full of people yelling at him, hotels that wouldn’t let him stay, evil runners who spiked him, evil pitchers who beaned him in the head, and all the while Indiana Jones stands beside him, rooting him on.

42aJackie Robinson. A brave man. A pioneer. An American legend.

Number 42, deserved better.

He really did.