The grass is green, (at least for now) and the kids are taking to the field. It’s baseball time, folks, our national pastime. Is there anything more relaxing than taking in a day game? Watching a group of 5- to 6-year-olds bumble and stumble along? Turning a routine ground ball into a comedy of errors?
Now don’t start yelling, hardcore baseball dad. Baseball is intended to be an inclusive sport for the youngsters and that is what makes it great. My nephew Bode is in that age bracket now. He is loaded with baseball genetics. His dad Brock played college baseball and his mother – my sister – was a fantastic all-around athlete. Bode is fast and strong, but what he really excels at is looking for four leaf clovers mid-game and flailing his arms when he runs.
Let’s be honest. All that matters when they are that age is “Are they smiling?” Teaching the fundamentals of fielding to a 5-year-old is like showing my dog the way the oscillating sprinkler in my front yard works. They don’t care, as long as they get to play with it.
Baseball more than any sport lends itself to simple memories. It isn’t football, where the frenetic pace overwhelms each and every moment. It isn’t basketball, with constant motion and a stuffy gymnasium. Baseball has pace and nuance. Baseball was the only sport I remember playing that I actually enjoyed practice, especially in high school.
The season doesn’t start until year’s end. It had a much looser, more country club feel to it. I came from a football class, so by year’s end we were looking to relax a bit. Something I’m certain any coach would hate. Luckily, my first two years of high school baseball we had the legendarily cool coach Todd Vick. He knew we were probably the loosest group of humans to ever don the MHS green and white as a class. So he picked and chose the times for his yelling sessions wisely.
It’s funny that when I and my old high school baseball cronies talk shop, we end up talking about our practices much more than the games. Coach Vick’s practices were hands down the best. Nobody had a quicker, sharper tongue than Coach. “Burger, you field and throw like an old lady waiting tables at Perko’s.” Or, “Hill, if I wanted to walk four people in a row during a practice scrimmage, I would’ve put Williams on the mound.”
My favorite memory hardly even involves baseball. I played catcher, which meant a day of shagging balls for coach Vick as he hit batting practice with his Fungo. He was a monster with the Fungo. If you fielded more than four in a row cleanly, rest assured the fifth was going to be a short hop from a Howitzer.
Near the beginning of the year coach started a routine. He would sneak away about 30 minutes into practice to pick-up his son Troy from Shasta school. It was a three-minute drive and he was back within ten. Troy was probably 9 at the time; he had been my class’s ball boy through two years of football and baseball. Having a 9-year-old show up to run bases and hang out every day was awesome. I was much more nervous about fielding my position well in front of Troy than I was of coach. Nobody wants to look bad in front of a 9-year-old.
While Coach was gone I’d hit the ball around for infield practice, as he always exited with a warning: “Don’t screw around when I’m gone!” It was the first week of this routine when a pitching machine had made its way to the diamond. “Do not touch that machine while I’m gone, Teicheira.”
His wheels had no sooner left the Ag parking lot when I decided I’d use the pitching machine for infield practice. It didn’t take long before left fielder John Coldren made his way to home plate to help me out. We weren’t but 10 balls in when I made a fatal mistake. I walked in front of the machine as Coldren decided to load a ball. THWACK! I caught it directly in the eye and was out cold. The Jugs ball had left dimple imprints on my now Elephant Man-like eye. I came to with my entire team huddled over me.
That was when coach Jack Thomson noticed the commotion on our field and made his way over from varsity practice. Now the entire varsity squad is standing over me. Coach Thomson was not pleased at all, “Who gave you permission to use the pitching machine for infield?” My eye sight was still a bit fuzzy but not so fuzzy that I couldn’t see 10 of my teammates’ fingers point directly at my head.
My anger towards my team soon turned to complete terror, as I saw coach Vick and Troy pull up and make their way towards the field. “Whoa, look at his eye, dad,” Troy exclaimed. Coach asked if I was OK and then said, “Start running.” I remember thinking I should use the eye as an excuse to get out of laps. It surely would’ve been met with, “Your eyeball doesn’t run, dummy.”
Anyway, from that moment forward a new routine was instituted: I would go pick up Troy from school instead of coach. So 30 minutes into practice every day, I’d head over to Shasta. I’m pretty sure coach knew I understood the deal. “Troy isn’t a pitching machine; don’t screw around!” Troy loved it. We even managed to make a pit stop at the 7-Eleven on Powers and Yosemite for snacks a few times. Troy knew the ice cream had to be eaten before we got back, so he pigged it down. As Troy grew up, he’d always remind me how cool it was for him to be 9 and have a high school kid in full MHS practice regalia pick him up after school.
Troy is gone now, but the memories of a blonde 9-year-old thinking he stole second off me cleanly during practices still remain. Play ball, everyone!
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Time to get in shape...
My alarm clock went off this morn at 5 a.m., as is my routine. I get up and run the orchard across the street from my house. My dog Charlie tags along, and on a good day, I manage to beat him on the final sprint for home. In my opinion, there is nothing better than starting the day off with a little exerc....
Wait, I did none of the above, but I have been telling myself I will for nearly 20 years now. Let me be the one that speaks for the rest of the gravitationally challenged: Exercising stinks! I get it that, as Americans, we are becoming a nation of fatties and I’m fine with this. It’s not as if I need to be in tip-top physical condition to ward off the advance of the Persian Army. This isn’t 1855, and I have to hand-prepare my 40-acre homestead for summer crops. I don’t need to be buffed to drive a tractor for 14 hours a day.
“Oh, Teicheira, he’s country strong.” I couldn’t agree more, just as long as your definition of “country strong” involves opening bags of sunflower seeds and crushing soda cans so they will fit under the seat of the tractor.
And don’t give me the old “I workout to feel good about myself.”
People workout so others will feel good about them. Everybody is trying to make themselves look sexier in an attempt to gain favor with the opposite sex. Whether married or single, the desire to look hot is what drives the compulsion to exercise. Unless, of course, you are training for the Olympics. Are you? Because I see a lot of guys that love being in public with their shirts off that couldn’t punt, pass, or kick their way out of a paper bag.
Please, for the love of god buffed dudes, put a shirt on! If you are over the age of 12 and are not within 20 yards of a body of water, you should have a shirt on. You don’t look cool. You like an a$$. Am I jealous? Of course, but me and the rest of the fatties know one thing: The ladies love a little mystery and this why we keep our shirts on during the summer. Even when we swim.
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Booners needs to know...
Last week we pondered the quickest route from Home Depot to East Union. Many took Yosemite to Main. Are you from this town? A few answered, “Why would I be heading to EU?” Obviously, MHS is playing there on that day.
My T-shirts go to Linda Le Cara and a man we will just call “Lifelong Mantecan.” Linda went outside the box and headed up 99 to Lathrop Road. I’m not sure this is the quickest route, but I appreciate anybody that helps cut the congestion of our two-street town. “Lifelong Mantecan” gave me a dissertation of his straight line theory that included disturbing more than one residential neighborhood, via parks and alleys. This week Booner needs to know: Who should the town’s next school be named after?
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The greatest reward of writing this column is hearing that it put a smile on someone’s face, especially during tough times. My thoughts and prayers go out to the family of Dennis Bonds, who passed away this last week. Dennis was the stepfather of a close friend, Nate. He always opened his home to us as kids and treated us like adults. Yelling at the television during boxing matches was always a pleasure with him, especially when he’d win the bets. Just wanted to let Yvonne know her son’s friends are sending lots of love her way and I’ll keep trying to put a smile on her face Manteca to a T-style.