Friday, August 1, 2014

Trying Not To Overthink

For a vacation, this has turned out to be a pretty emotionally draining few days. The specter that all of us in recovery live with is that someone that matters to us relapses. As our literature says, the ends are always the same if the using continues--"jails, institutions, and death." I've seen hundreds of people go back out over the time that I've been around, and intellectually I know that it happens, and that in many cases it's a part of people's process, and sometimes--not always, but sometimes--it is the event that jumpstarts lasting recovery. But this time is different. Never has someone that I have been this close with relapsed before, at least while I was still relatively close to them. And it is kicking up a lot of feelings that I have not felt in a long, long time, not since when my clean time was being measured in days, not years.
The overwhelming memories I have of the first two months at the halfway house I was at are of feeling stressed and worried all day every day, when Sabrina's mother was on the streets and Sabrina was still in the womb--and then after Sabrina was born, when she relapsed and Sabrina ended up in foster care. I remember the few conversations I was able to have with Shannon during the time, the pleading to put it down and the marshaling of logical arguments of why she should stop and appeals to thinking about what she was doing to others. I also remember that it did not a bit of good; perversely, if anything it only increased the alienation, guilt, shame,  and sense that nothing was going to get better she was feeling, and so continuing to escape those feelings was necessary. I was on the receiving end of a few of those talks near the end of my own active addiction, too, and I remember that I didn't really find them helpful or them fueling any kind of desire to stop what I was doing.
Yesterday, I found myself in one of those kind of situations again. And I tried real hard not to go to conversational places that I knew would be pointless or make things worse-- I am well aware that the person is well aware of what is happening and what is being lost and the effect it is having on those that care about her. It is the gasoline feeding the fire, in fact. I slipped a little at the end, choking up when mentioning what I didn't want to see happen, but by and large I think I managed to convey my care and concern without passing judgment. I don't have any idea of what it is going to take to bring this to an end; knowing her as well as I do, it may be a while, and as far down the slope as she has slid--well, all three of the possibilities are definitely in play. I'm trying not to think about that too much, or the effect on those she matters to, or the damage she is doing to herself and the future that, just a few short months ago, seemed so bright and full of promise.
I'm trying not to overthink, either. As bad as I feel, as much as it hurts, I am trying to remember that the direct effect on my life is somewhat small. While we have been close, we're not as close as we have been in the past. Many of my friends have experienced having their households torn apart by relapses, or romantic relationships blown up and torn up by one partner using; that's not the case here. I feel bad, but my everyday life is more or less the same as it has been. And I do know that feelings pass. All those oppressive feelings that I had long buried that I went through in early recovery have not been pleasant to get in touch with, but they are in no way the pervasive reality that they were in the winter of 1999. And I am a lot wiser and a lot more aware of the nature of the disease of addiction, of how powerless I truly am over others, and what is and isn't helpful. As much as I am feeling this, the fact is that my life is moving on, and what is happening with that person is not my reality. Nor does it have to be.
I've been reassessing my own recovery and the place the fellowship I have a part of for nearly sixteen years has in my life the last few months. Stepping back has been helpful--but it's only been stepping back, not exiting, not questioning the basic premise of my presence there. I did not forget, at any point, what my existence--it wasn't even something that could plausibly be called a "life"--was like the day I got clean, and I am not ever going to willingly return there. It's been helpful that softball and work have been so involving, have kept me so busy the last several weeks--it's allowed me to take the necessary breather without focusing too much on the negativity that was making me sick of the fellowship in May. I've been to meetings on consecutive days for the first time in three months, and both meetings were good for me. I like my home group; it's smallish and comfortable, and much to my surprise, I found that many people there missed me when I wasn't able to make it regularly for a while. I will probably be able to go Saturday morning for the first time in a few weeks, and I like that one, too, although not as much because there are some people there that are definitely toxic both to me and, in my humble opinion, the fellowship.
But recent events have reminded me that other people are not my Higher Power, and I am not going to allow them to dictate how I feel and, more importantly, what I do. God does work in all sorts of ways, and can wrest good out of the not-so-good. I cannot predict how this experience will play out for my friend--but I already know that one positive effect has taken place. Any thoughts that I might be able to "socially drink" some day--and I freely admit that there are times when I have entertained that idea--have been rudely exposed as nonsense, and that as aggravated as I get sometimes at this fellowship and the people in it, isolating myself from it is not a solution. In the bigger picture, feeling the pain of someone else is positive, on balance; it means that I have gained and retained the ability to care about and even love other human beings.
But the balance that comes from having lived this program for so long tells me that a boundary is OK and even necessary. My life remains on track, no matter what I am feeling. I have prayed for others recently like I have not prayed for others in a very long time, and of course it is natural to wonder if it is doing any good--but one piece of good it is doing is that it is keeping me focused on what is important in my own life.
And I am going to need it in the days to come. Sabrina will be out of town this weekend, at the family reunion of the other side of the family, somewhere around Atlantic City. She is going with her aunt, her mother's twin sister; I am not sure if her mother is going to be going (last I knew, she was not). But it is a normal sort of worry, not some intense dread, and I know that she should be back here Sunday night with a new batch of hopefully pleasant memories. I have enough to do around here that I am not going to tempted to do anything stupid on Saturday, either. I managed to borrow a saw and drill from my friend, and the next two days I am going to be reconstructing my garden box in the front and maybe, if time permits, start on the back corner, too. I might make the meeting tonight, and I do plan on making the meeting tomorrow, and should be able to make the Sunday morning meeting, too, for the first time in months. Between being busy and the support of those in the fellowship that are helpful, I should get through the next few days without obsessing on things I can't do anything about.
I'm not going to be able to--nor, really, do I want to--drive what is happening with my friend completely out of my mind. There will be moments when I will be caught up. But only moments. The only thing promised to us in recovery is freedom from active addiction; I have been granted that and remain grateful for it. Between this and someone else that has mattered to me in the past throwing away the best chance the person will ever get at building a new life, I have seen what happens when that gratitude is lost. I feel for them, hope that it is just a temporary blip in the process--but this is one experience that I do not wish to, nor will I, share.
Praying is all I can do right now. Maybe God can reach into places that I cannot. And even if He can't, the fact that I am asking Him for help will keep me from losing my way.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Death Comes Knocking Again

For the second time in a month, I attended a wake for the father of a kid on one of Sabrina's softball teams. This one was the father of one of the players on the team I coach. Any death is devastating, but this one seemed particularly so, because when the season began at the end of May, he appeared to be as healthy as I am. But sometime in June, he contracted acute onset leukemia; I was shocked to hear that he was in the hospital in Rochester in the intensive care unit less than a week after he watched his daughter's game and took her home from it. And the expectation is, rightly or wrongly, that when someone not obviously elderly or infirm goes in the hospital, that they will come out again, even if not totally healthy.
He never did.
The wake was fairly crowded last night, and the funeral home is one of those that has a video montage of the deceased's life playing while you wait in line. I knew two of his kids, actually--the one on the team is the younger sister of a daughter that was on Sabrina's last Odyssey of the Mind team a few years ago. It was indescribably sad watching the video and hearing "Wish You Were Here" over and over again, and by time I was at the casket and then talking to the widow and kids, it was difficult to talk. Not that there is anything to really say at such a moment. I've been in that situation before, and the true impact of the death is not going to hit for some time.
But of course I am thinking about my own mortality again. I'm not much for cameras and videos, and I'm not sure I would want one of those montages anyway. But the objects that go in the coffin are something I've given some thought to, and I've already written them down in case it is ever needed. I've also told my daughter that I would like Bob Dylan's Series of Dreams somehow as a part of the wake and/or service. I really would like to think that my day is still a long time in the future, and that I will have some control over the timing.
But I may not. There are times now when I wake up in the night and I have a pain in my chest. So far, every time it has merely been heartburn--but one of these times it may not be, and one concession to the possibility is that my cell phone now is within an arm's length of my body when I sleep. I have written a will, and sometime will take it to my lawyer to make it official. My daughters are all at least in adolescence now, and I feel like I've done the lion's share of parenting that there is to be done--but it does not mean that they would be unaffected or able to move forward seamlessly, especially Sabrina. As long as I am employed at this job, she will have some life insurance money to get through a couple of years; I don't want to think about what should happen should that job not be there anymore.
I don't like thinking about this stuff at 7 AM on a vacation morning. But reality has intruded several times already during these two week off. I've done a few work-related things because, basically, if I don't, no one else will. The disease that I live with daily--addiction--has been intrusive in a way I didn't really think it was going to be again; some people that matter to me a great deal are struggling right now. I tend not to think too deeply about what I see in the news because the world, both locally and nationally, is going to hell in the express elevator, and there's not a lot I can do about it.
I'm trying to stay focused on positive things as much as possible. But there are times when it's really, really hard. And today is one of them.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Book Review THE RIGHT PLACE AT THE RIGHT TIME

I love reading old biographies, buried deep in the shelves of the public library. The world has changed so much since the publication date that they serve as a sort of unintentional time capsule, a snapshot of not only a time and place long gone, but also as a barometer of how much cultural attitudes have changed over the course of a single generation. Robert MacNeil is not familiar to anyone under 25, but he was a leading figure in the television news field for two decades, as the MacNeil of the MacNeil/Lehrer Report, PBS' daily news show from 1975 onward. The Right Place at the Right Time was his memoir, published in the early 1980's, that recounted his career up to that point; working for NBC and BBC prior to PBS, and he was in the middle of much of the interesting events that defined the latter half of the twentieth century, including many that have been largely forgotten about today--Algeria, the upheavals of 1968 around the world, individual places in the civil rights fights of the 1960's, various European incidents. It was interesting to read of MacNeil's coverage--and feelings surrounding--the civil rights standoff in Cambridge, Maryland, which figured so prominently in the biography I just read of Stokely Carmichael; Carmichael is not mentioned once by MacNeil, and so I wonder whose take was more correct about Carmichael's importance. His accounts of reporting from Vietnam, Iran in the late 1970's--MacNeil interviewed both the Shah and Ayatollah Khomeini in 1977--the last ten years of Richard Nixon's political career, covering the Presidency and then death of JFK, all make for fascinating reading, not least because MacNeil goes beyond the iconography and standard mythology surrounding these people and events and paints a fuller picture (he says he always felt used by JFK as part of an image prop while he was alive; he unknowingly asked Lee Harvey Oswald where a phone was 30 seconds after the assassination, and gives the most succinct and honest summation of Nixon's political motivations that I have ever read).
MacNeil is still alive, but has been off regular television for twenty years and hasn't been sighted on the medium at all since the days after 9/11. I am sure this book is out of print, but should you run across it somewhere, it's worth checking out of a library or the quarter it would take to purchase it. It's 300+ pages of recounting one of the most interesting careers of a critical period in world history.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Book Review: EGYPTOMANIA

Egyptomania is a nice little book by American archeologist Bob Brier that looks at the rest of the world's ongoing fascination and devotion to all things ancient Egypt. When I first saw the book, I thought to myself that the claims on the cover and jacket about mankind's 3000-year old fascination with the Nile River civilization were a tag exaggerated. Then I got to thinking about the number of films made about Cleopatra and mummies, and about the gigantic uproar made over the discovery of the tomb of King Tut ninety years ago. My own area of specialization while pursuing a history degree in college was late Roman Republic--early Roman Empire--and I know the Romans were totally intrigued by all things Egyptian; both Caesar and Antony ended up living in Egypt for a time, and the final incorporation of Egypt into the Empire was a hundred years in the offing. I know from other reading that France went crazy for Egypt and all things Egyptian in the wake of Napoleon's invasion in 1798. I remember when the King Tut tomb golden objects went on tour in the United States when I was in middle school--and that it was a Big Deal. So maybe Brier's notion wasn't so far-fetched after all.
These and many other aspects of the fascination are explored in detail in the book; there's nothing particularly deep about the treatment given, but it is somewhat interesting to see Victorian mummy pencil cases and the like. As I was reading the book, I eventually remembered three major examples in American pop culture of the phenomenon Brier is writing about, and wanted to see if any of them were included in the book. Two actually were not--Victor Buono's wonderfully camp portrayal of archvillain King Tut on the old Batman TV series and the 1985 Bangles hit Walk Like an Egyptian:


And one was. Steve Martin has been a part of mainstream American culture for almost forty years now, and it is hard to make people--like my children--that were not alive at the time what a major supernova he was when he first become famous in the late 1970's. And that the beloved, harmless father figure in the Cheaper by the Dozen movies was hated by my parents' generation for a time for advocating "Let's get small!" and being one of the two "Wild and Crazy Guys!". But one of the things that helped ease the way from silly, smarmy standup comedy to respectable comedic actor was the novelty song, debuted on Saturday Night Live, King Tut: 





I remember watching this live, alternately stunned and busting a gut laughing. It was released as a single later that year, and made Number 1 before a month had passed. There is a substantial history of comedians releasing songs at the peak of their popularity, and this is probably the absolute best of them all.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Binghamton East Tournament 2014--Final Day

I really thought we were going to be home by noon yesterday. Instead, yesterday turned out to be an edifying and pretty awesome experience. No, the Beast were not tournament champions; they finished second, just like a year ago. But last year, second place felt like an incredible letdown, because they were the best team on the field and they lost the tournament more than the other team won it. This year, they reached deep to find their A-game against two quality opponents, teams that were better, top-to-bottom, than they were, winning one and playing very well in the other.
The first game was against the team that beat us on Friday. The more I see of this team, the more I absolutely cannot understand how Sabrina's BAGSAI team beat them; in the intervening three weeks, it's like they've become an entirely different squad. I didn't know that there was some controversy about that team being in this game; their coach felt that they should have been the top seed (seeding procedures in some of these tournaments are so complicated that they appear to have been drawn up by the World Court), and she was quite vocal during, and after the game about the perceived injustices done to their team. I did notice, when taking their lineup, that their team was a little sloppy warming up, and that our team, for once, was not. We also discovered, ten minutes before the first pitch, that one of our kids, one that was among the unhappy band in the dugout about playing time, was not there; apparently she just decided that she was done playing. Her spot in the lineup was taken by another, and as often happens, the griping in the dugout was not to be heard all day long. I guess the mystery about whom the main malcontent was has been solved.
It became apparent in the first two innings that we had a good chance. We got a double play on a flyout to right field in the first inning, and the next five innings, Tia was as locked in as I've ever seen a pitcher be; she ended up not walking a hitter in nine innings, only going to three balls on one batter, and they didn't even come close to scoring until the seventh inning. We scratched a run in the second, and Sabrina interrupted her slump with an absolute cannon shot in the 3rd that would have been a homer at almost any other field we play at; it was a ground rule double because it landed five feet short of the grassy mountainside that serves as the backdrop for the upper field and hopped in. She eventually scored. It stayed 2-0 till the seventh. Our main hitter, who plays third base, got badly hurt on a play at second, twisting a knee, and their coach felt that the play was dirty (I thought it was borderline; she definitely slid late in an attempt to dislodge the ball, but was also tagged in the face, too, in addition to twisting the knee), and the chirping and noise started. In their half of the seventh, they took advantage of the new third baseman to bunt a couple of times, and they pushed across two runs to tie before a actual 6-4-3 double play, the first I have seen at this level in three years, ended the inning.
We went to the new extra inning format that has taken the softball and baseball worlds by storm in recent years. I first saw this in one of the Binghamton games after Sabrina was called up to varsity, and I have to say it has something to recommend it. The player that made the last out in the previous inning starts the inning on second base, with no outs, and play continues from there. We got two runs in our half, and I really thought the game was done--but they managed two runs, after we made a (poor) fielder's choice on a sacrifice attempt, and we went to a ninth inning. We got two more, and this time we got three outs in short order and prevailed, 6-4. It was a tense handshake line, but we were still alive, due to great pitching and a gigantic improvement in our fielding--I think we only made two errors in the game, and one of them was dropping a foul pop-up that ended up not costing us a runner, even, much less a run.
The third baseman began the championship game with an icepack on her knee, as we prepared to face the team that had beaten us yesterday afternoon (and had given us our only loss at Windsor the week before, as well). There was some usual chicanery associated with the team; I noticed they had one player they didn't have the day before, were missing another, and their coach decided in the second inning that he was going to bat the entire roster (eleven players), which is technically legal but a bullshit move because that means he doesn't have to sub in anyone on the field. We got a run in the first, and they took advantage of our diminished infield to bunt the bases loaded. With two outs, one of their hitters hit a sharp grounder to the left of second base. Our shortstop was momentarily delayed by the runner off second being in her field of vision, and didn't get there; our center fielder didn't pick the ball up for a moment because the bases umpire was stationed squarely in her field of vision, and she took a bad angle and the ball got by her. Three-run triple on a grounder to short... If it had been any game but the championship, with the normal one umpire, that's a single at most, with game tied or at most 2-1, and the possibility of a play at the plate and possible out on the second run. Softball is a funny game.
And that was it for the scoring. The final was 3-1, and even though we really didn't threaten too much, it was a real good game to watch. Neither team made an error. Our injured third baseman subbed in the fourth, and played four remarkably good innings in the field; she's known primarily for her hitting, not her glove, but she made about five plays in the time she was in there without a hiccup. Tia wasn't quite as sharp as in the first game, but was plenty good. Sabrina had another couple of strikeouts at the plate, but had plenty of company in the lineup, and her catching was very good--a couple caught stealing, and a fantastic field-and-throw on a bunt that no one thought she had a shot at making.
She also called the pitches for both games, something she is getting really, really good at. Talking after the game with Tia, Sabrina, the coaches, and Tia's mom, Tia said she is totally comfortable with Sabrina calling the game, as much or more so as she has been with any catcher--which is pretty high praise considering she has been paired with Mindy, a former varsity catcher, on a couple of teams. I've gotten used to coaches calling pitches from the dugout, but that doesn't mean I like it, and after seeing the results this year from three different teams, you can't tell me that an old guy sitting in the dugout has a better feel for the game and how the pitcher is throwing than the catcher does. One advantage of Sabrina being on JV for a second year is that her coach let her call games, and as the season progressed, every pitcher on the team got much more effective--and a big reason was Sabrina was learning to call games effectively. From the beginning of this year's all-star schedule, the coaches here made it clear that they trusted Sabrina to call games--even telling Tia's stepfather that his input wasn't required when he attempted to usurp the function at one of the Windsor games (to his credit, he accepted the decision and continued to attend the games; not every parent would have done so). Tia pitched nine games over two weeks, and put up good efforts in every one of them. A lot of that is her pitching--but a lot of it is good catching, too. Sabrina has become very adept at blocking balls in the dirt, and almost never drops a pitch. Her backup on this team, who's not a bad player by any stretch, nonetheless had to throw to first to finish a strikeout because of dropping the third strike three times in three innings Saturday; Sabrina had to do it twice over eight games in two tournaments over two weeks.
This tournament didn't turn out to be the ordeal it seemed like it was going to be, and I am sure, since this is a 16U team, that she will be on it at least one and possibly two more years. The only possible drawback is that this year's coaches will not be in charge next year; the coaches of the other East Side team will be. One of them is Ed, whom I respect a great deal and who has been a gigantic Sabrina fan since she was ten years old. The other is the guy that was being a douchebag in the dugout Saturday. I'm not going to stress over it; it will be forty-nine weeks before this becomes our reality again, and I'll deal with it all then. A lot can change in a much shorter period of time, as we found out yesterday when we learned that the father of one of our City League team's kids had died on the weekend. He had been battling leukemia, but he went in the hospital a couple of weeks ago because his kidneys failed because of a reaction to some rather innocuous medication--and he never came out. And hearing that yesterday morning kind of put it all in better perspective. The bitching and anger exhibited by the coach of the first team seemed even sillier and more pointless, and the gamesmanship and chicanery of the coach of the second deal seemed like an even bigger waste of time and energy. We really don't know how long we have on this earth, and in the grand scheme of things, recreational pursuits should be pleasurable above all else. I was already starting to internalize this before this weekend, and the roots have shot a little deeper as a result of the weekend.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Binghamton East Tournament 2014-Day Two

As much fun as last week's tournament was, this one is turning into an ordeal. The team is not playing well, at all; we have made sixteen errors in three games, with almost as many mental mistakes/plays not made that don't get scored as "E" in the scorebook but cost us runs and outs on the field. And my daughter is in the worst slump of her life at the plate; she has struck out nine consecutive trips to the plate, and absolutely cannot catch any sort of a break with a bat in her hand. In the first game, the umpire called her out on strike two, and wouldn't be budged from his wrong call, and in the second game--well, I'll get to that in a minute. We did manage to win the first game yesterday because the team we were playing doesn't have half of our natural talent. But if we play either of the two teams we've lost to already again in the first game of the knockout stage this morning, we'll be home by noon, which no one but no one saw coming 36 hours ago. But it isn't even the on-field results that are so heartburn-inducing.
I understand that this a team of teenage girls, and as such expectations of 100% supportive behavior 100% of the time are unrealistic. But I am getting really, really fed up with the muttered sniping and the catty comments on the bench from the players directed at one another, mostly but not exclusively behind backs. The complaints over playing time have not diminished, far from it, and there is a part of me that wants to point out to a few complaining individuals that their owning a uniform is an undeserved blessing to start with. I'm just keeping score, not an actual coach, and so I am biting my tongue--but I have to say after a year of seeing how the varsity and JV coach dealt with this sort of nonsense, and having nipped it in the bud as coach of my own team, I honestly cannot wait for today to be over with, win or lose. I will never look at some of these kids the same way again; there are certain limits that should not ever be crossed that are crossed in that dugout, regularly.
And the thing is that the kids are not the worst offenders. We played both games at the upper field yesterday, which meant my scorer's station was on the other side of a chain-link fence from the fans's section, which meant that I heard every conversation within a twenty-foot radius. And let's just say it's not a mystery why some of the kids are the way that they are. There are times when cheerleader, unremittingly positive parents grate on my nerves--but they are a hundred times preferable to the alternative. I am beyond sick of nasty comments about the skill level of the players on the field during the game coming from behind me. These are 13 and 14 and 15YO kids, and even if they aren't playing well, they're trying their best, and trust me, they're more aware of their shortcomings than those commenting on them are. There is no reason for some overgrown jackasses to openly advocate marching out on the field and taking a kid out in the middle of an inning or loudly question how the kid got on the team. Maybe you have that conversation with your friends, if you have to let off some frustration, after the game or at the concession stand--but you don't do it five feet away from the team dugout where all the players can hear you. And a new low was reached in the second game yesterday. The kid we pitched wasn't at last week's tournament due to travel team commitments; she's a good kid and a good player and a good pitcher. But in the first inning, her coach from her City League team sits down in the dugout in order to call her pitches--a practice I don't really agree with, but I understand that sometimes it's done that way. Sabrina was not playing the first part of the game, and she was relaying the calls to the back-up catcher--and the game wasn't three batters in before the guy began disparaging the abilities of the kids playing the field, and how dumb they were and how they were screwing up all his wonderful strategizing and pitch-calling--in Sabrina's ear, but also loud enough so that the other players in the dugout could hear, too...I've been known to question coaches in the past. But 1) I don't think I've ever done so to the players on a team, certainly not while a game was going on, and 2) I've never knocked the abilities of players on the team or their willingness to play while a game was going on to the other players on the team, and pointed the finger at them to the other players on the team as the reason the team is losing. I'm sorry, but that's horseshit behavior and horseshit values at work. And more than than the results on the field, more than the horrific slump at the plate (Sabrina is still doing very well on defense, so at least she is contributing in some way) of my kid, this sniping and immature behavior from adults has what has turned me off this experience. As I said, I can't wait for this tournament to be over, win or lose.
The umpiring in this tournament has generally been decent, certainly better than that at last week's tournament. But that comes with a couple of caveats. The guy in the first game yesterday made one mistake; it's unfortunate that the player it affected was my daughter. The guy in the second game was a bit of a different story. On everything other than balls and strikes he was excellent. Calling pitches, to give him his due, he was consistent--the calls were the same for both teams' pitchers. And I realize that every umpire's field of vision is a little different, and their strike zones are consequently vary a bit. Most umpires tend to call low pitches strikes, because they are reluctant to get right up on the back of teenage girls and so they have a limited view of where pitches lower than the waist actually cross the plat as a consequence. On balance, that's probably a good thing. But yesterday's guy was calling, from the first pitch of the game to the last, a strike zone with at least a 30-inch wide plate. The problem is that home plate is seventeen inches wide; there were at least fifteen pitches during the game that batters would have trouble reaching with a bat if they had been standing on the inside part of the plate, much less in the batter's box. Three of our kids took called third strikes on pitches that were at least a foot outside. I know that for certain, because my vantage point, scoring the game, was behind the backstop and directly behind the left side batter's box. And one of the three was Sabrina, which was really a shame because she had fouled off five 3-2 pitches in a really tough at-bat; to get called out on a pitch like that after fighting to stay alive was extremely disheartening to her and the rest of the team. I really don't get why umpires do stuff like this. This is a 16U tournament; these are still kids that are not finished products, that are still learning to play the game of softball to the best of their ability. As an umpire, you're not helping that process, for players on either team, by calling such an obviously distorted strike zone. By the end of the game, our kids were flailing at pitches four feet away from them that they had no chance of hitting at all simply because they knew that it was going to be a called strike if they didn't. And that's truly ridiculous. I really hope we don't see this guy again today especially since he's one of those older guys that thinks wearing a blue shirt entitles him to act like Caligula for the length of the game.
And one final word about this agita-fest. The team that won the last game is good; they're the same team that beat us in the Windsor tournament last week. But they're not that good. Their coaches are very involved, work the umps some, chatter incessantly--annoying at times, but above-board. But one thing that is starting to really irritate me, because this was true last year when they won the Windsor Tournament, is the, ahem, fluid nature of their roster. There were four kids on the team yesterday that didn't have regular uniforms. Their catcher was the catcher for the team we played and beat twice last weekend--for Johnson City's team. There were five kids on the scoresheet yesterday whose names weren't in the scorebook for the game we played against them eight days prior. I realize that on this level, some of that is legitimate--but this seemed fishy last year, and it seems fishier this year, especially after witnessing the chicanery that the one team in City League pulled this year with roster composition. It makes for an unequal contest when one team is playing by the rules and another is doing their absolute best to circumvent them as much as possible. We'd do a lot better if we only had eleven players at the game instead of fourteen, too--but we're a team, all fourteen of us, and as such everyone on the team should play, just like the rules say. The W or L shouldn't matter so much so that you have to manipulate the players on your team to that extent.
We have to be at the field in two hours. In two days, I've gone from cautiously optimistic that another trophy was coming to just hoping Sabrina puts a ball in play today. Amazing how the pendulum swings. There are one or two BAGSAI games left to make up, but I have to tell you that I will be very, very glad to put softball away for a few months. It really has gotten to be too much of a good thing.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Binghamton East Tournament 2014--Day One

The less said about last night's opener of the tournament, the better. I could tell a half-hour before the game started that the team would be very lucky to win. There was definitely a sense of "trophy hangover" among the girls, that last week's championship meant that all they had to do was walk onto the field and victory would be theirs. It did not help that the opponent was a team that Sabrina's BAGSAI team had played--and was one of the few that they have beaten, a fact that was communicated to the dugout rather quickly. And I missed it during the week, but apparently there was some posts made on Facebook earlier in the week  by some team members that were unhappy about their lack of playing time in the previous week's tournament; I guess a couple of the coaches ended up getting involved in that one before it all ostensibly blew over, but something like that really does not ever completely get resolved. If you're winning trophies and you're still unhappy...
And once the game started, there was never a point where we seemed remotely likely to win the game. A few of the players whose minds were in the right place are mired in bad slumps at the plate, and an offense that can score virtually at will when on their game struggled to plate three runs in six innings. And like last week's tournament, the defense let our pitcher down; we made six errors in the field, and made almost as many mental errors. It was a testament to the essential quality of this team that the final score was only 5-3; as I said, there was never a moment where it seemed likely that they were going to win the game.
We only have three round-robin games in this tournament instead of the four we had last week, and we will find out soon enough whether yesterday's experience turns out to be the fuel that powers another run through the remainder of the field or a harbinger that something seriously wrong has infected the squad. Our first game is at ten o'clock, about twelve hours after the time last night's game ended. My daughter is one of those that can't buy a hit right now; her mechanics are messed up in at least three different ways that I and another coach have detected, and she is seriously pressing when she gets up there. And her frustration has gotten so pronounced that she is overwhelmed with input and looks even more confused with every trip up. To this point, her batting woes have not affected her defense, at all; she got another couple of runners off the bases yesterday and in general is doing a very good job calling pitches for our top pitcher, so she is at least contributing in some way right now. We have another kid this week on the team that is also a good pitcher, her main battery mate on the JV team, and I am sure that kid will be pitching at least one game today. But Sabrina is showing the wear of a long season, and I really think she will be very happy to hang up the glove in a week and not think of ball at all until school starts again.
This is the fifth year in a row that my kid has been on an all-star team. In two of these seasons--2010 and last summer--she was not the main catcher, and was worked into the lineup where the coaches could fit her in. She didn't pout, didn't complain to everyone about everything, and certainly did not have any illusions that somebody with inferior skills was playing ahead of her--four summers ago, Lily was a better player than she was, and last year Mindy was a better player than she was (and still is; if Mindy hadn't aged out of this bracket, she'd be doing most of the catching). Sabrina wasn't exactly just glad to be on the team--but she used it as motivation to play well when she was given a chance. I'm hopeful that some of the other kids on the team step up in a similar manner to similar challenges facing them on this team.