My Own Field of Dreams (and Memories)

Sean pitching 2013“Baseball…is a place where memory gathers.”  — Donald Hall

Another baseball summer has come to an end.  And so goes that magical time of year where we schlep our kiddos to and from practice, block out our evenings and weekends for games, purchase sunflower seeds and Gatorade in bulk, spend all of our money at the sporting good stores and plant ourselves for hours on end upon narrow (and often uncomfortable) bleacher seats.  Oh, how I LOVED it!   There’s just something special about being at the ballpark.  And this summer, America’s favorite pastime took on new significance for me as a typical ballgame outing transcended time and space (cue Twilight Zone music here….)

One of the consequences of living hours away from family is that the chorus of cheers and encouragement for your kid come from yourself and the parents of your kid’s friends.  I had become accustomed to hearing these familiar voices during my son’s baseball games, but on this particular weekend when my son stepped up to bat I could hear my Mom say, ‘Here you go, Sean,” followed by my Dad, “Pick a good one.”  And just like that, I was transported back in time, to ball fields in my home town.  Their voices and their presence that afternoon sent me right back to my childhood.  You see, I was a “baseball sister,” nestled in the stands…sucking on sunflower seeds, drinking soda and watching my little brothers at bat.  My Dad was on the field as coach and we all waited with bated breath for every pitch.  In a flashback moment I could see their uniforms and determined looks.  I recalled hot and dry, western Kansas evenings and the sports complex where they played little league.  I took a deep breath and present day reality set back in.
baseball 2013 004All afternoon my head (and my heart) bounced between the baseball game at hand and games past.  My mind’s eye could clearly see thrilling victories and agonizing defeats–my brothers’ sweaty faces and red, dirt stained white pants.  I remembered Dairy Queen celebrations and post game lamentations at the kitchen table.  Then I would see my son, in all his determination strike out a monster of a batter (keep in mind this is little league, but this batter was as tall as the umpire!)  In the stands, my folks and I reminisced about Gatorade gum (does that still exist?), pre-game rituals and the power of green m&ms.  Every caught ball, grounder and close call produced cheers and jeers intermixed with stories from my own childhood…Do you remember when kids wore stirrups as part of their uniforms, when entire teams ran to the parking lot for coolers loaded with soda and snacks, when games were scheduled as late at 9:30pm, and when wearing rally caps was a concept that NEVER had to be explained?  Remember when…?   
Between games, my Dad and husband talked about strategy, the ins and outs of coaching your own kid and various pitching techniques before heading back to the diamonds.  We reminisced about how much baseball caps have changed (do you recall the mesh back, plastic snap variety?) and laughed about the NO SWIMMING ON GAME DAY rule, which still holds true for the new generation of ball players, at least in my family.  We compared games of yesterday with my husband’s baseball experience on the West Coast.  Before long we found ourselves in line at the concession stand again…purchasing more sunflower seeds, of course.  And my niece helped to carefully pick out green m&ms (we might as well test out the “home run” theory) and discreetly handed them off to my son in the dugout (see candy commercial below for explanation), and finally we settled in for another inning of play.    New game, but such familiar territory.  I was living my own “Field of Dreams.”  Like the well-known baseball flick, I was experiencing a mixture of baseball past and present, family togetherness and a desire to hold on to this special summertime moment.
Three games later we were sun-worn and windblown, but smiling.  Sean pitched his very best game of the summer.  We cheered as he and his teammates celebrated in the dugout.  I took in the moment as the most important men in my life collectively grinned from ear to ear and looked so proud!  Okay, it’s just baseball and little league baseball at that, but these are the occasions that become some of our best memories.  As in life, another baseball game, another victory, another afternoon together is never promised.  For now summer baseball will continue to weave itself in and out of my son’s childhood.  We have camps to look forward to, the excitement of new teams and teammates, and the joy of taking in the occassional MLB game whenever we can.  There’s nothing like building family memories around the ball diamond and dreaming major league dreams all while celebrating little victories at the local Dairy Queen.
“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”— Rogers Hornsby

The Other Birthday Brother

It’s my other brother’s birthday and I’m all smiles.  I asked my sister to find some photos of our brother for his birthday blog and this one stole my heart.  Look at that toothless grin, HUGE ball cap (did you borrow that from Dad?) accompanied by a tiny body, lefty baseball stance, and sporting a look of sheer determination!    And you were way ahead of your time with that stylish flat bill…LOL!  Under that hat I imagine that you’re sporting the same haircut you run around with today and that’s one of the things I love about you…you always know what works for you!  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

I wish I could remember you when you were little, but I was little too and so we’ll have to go with what I’ve been told…brace yourself.  According to unnamed sources (our Mom), I loved to give you a bottle.  Somewhere I must have learned that happy babies are well-fed babies and so you were constantly having milk shoved in your direction.  As the story goes, it didn’t really matter if you needed or wanted your bottle, whether you were crying or not, I seemed to know what was best for you and as your older sister I decided that was milk.  So, I was a dairy pusher in your early days but don’t worry, you had your revenge later in life when you decided to dump a bowl of melted ice cream on my head immediately after my bath.  Yuck, and it was chocolate almond.

I remember when your tiny hand was all burned from hot coffee and the photo that exists somewhere of you on a picnic table sporting a sweater and a diaper with your paw all bandaged up.  You were small and cute and yes, other fun photos of you exist with your red-tinged hair!  Most of my childhood memories involve you and our youngest brother together.  You were each other’s best friend and worst enemy.  When you added in the neighborhood crew…well, the adventures never stopped.  There were many years of toy trucks, baseball, football, BMX bikes, basketball, track, lawn mowing, weightlifting, and even one season of soccer.  There were so many good times and it seems like only yesterday when we would all stay up late, watching Nick at Nite and playing monopoly for hours in the basement of our parent’s house.

Today, I tell my kids stories about you and our other siblings, but I’m not sure if I’ve ever shared two of my all-time favorite stories about you and I.  Interestingly, they both involve a ghetto blaster (now if that doesn’t send you way back…I don’t know what will!)  First, I remember the time when we tried to convince our little brother that he snored when he slept.  So, after he drifted off to sleep we tried to record him snoring.  But he slept silently, peacefully, and soundly.  No snoring…and I’m not sure if he really ever snored at all.  But we had a mission and the mission was to prove that he snored.  In my bedroom we secretly created a recorded a tape of our little brother sleeping–a FAKE obviously.  It started with a few grunts, groans, some snoring sounds then morphed into a symphony of noises that could only come from a barnyard.  Bogus as it was, we seemed satisfied and waited until morning to play the tape and reveal that yes, indeed our little brother was a big time snorer (not!)  I’ll never forget how much we laughed and how hard our little brother cried.  He told Mom, we were busted, forced to admit that we made it all up, and probably punished (but I tend to block those memories out!)  Ahh…good times.

My other fave story also involves the same ghetto blaster (remember how Dad carved our names into it?)  We were huge fans of the Karate Kid (I and II) and watched those movies over and over.  We were also two broke little kids who didn’t have money to purchase the movie soundtrack…yet we LOVED the Peter Cetera song The Glory of Love.  Nevermind that we were too young to understand the song, that part was irrelevant.  So determined we were to get a our own copy of this beloved piece of music, we decided to request it on the radio.  So, phonebook in hand my brother called the radio station and made the request.  As soon as he hung up, I called the radio station to make the same request.  This pattern repeated for at least an hour as we sat with our hot little hands on the record button waiting…and waiting….and waiting.  I’m sure the DJ was at his breaking point when the song FINALLY played.  It’s amazing what determination, concentration, hard work, dedication, and the sheer act of annoying the heck out of some poor guy who works at the radio station can do for two pesky kids on a Friday night!  Just like the Karate Kid…we were victorious!

Today is my brother’s birthday and I’m proud of the man he has become.  The qualities that I liked about him as a kid are the same qualities that I love about him today.  He is fun, hardworking, dependable, strong, reliable, honest and incredibly loyal.  He is the one who will listen, come up with a plan, and help you out of whatever kind of nonsense you’ve managed to get yourself into.  He’s a wonderful son, brother, father, uncle, son-in-law, brother-in-law, cousin and FRIEND.  Wishing you the happiest birthday ever.  YOU ARE LOVED!  BTW, I requested this song for you….

A true friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need. Proverbs 17:17 NIV

The Birthday Brother

I smile because you’re my brother.  I laugh because there’s nothing you can do about it.  –Author Unknown

Little brothers are g-g-g-great!  If you can swing it, I highly recommend having one…and I can say that now because I don’t live with mine and haven’t for years.  And I am especially reminded of how great it is to have a brother because today is my littlest bro’s birthday.  (Insert birthday horns here!)

I dont’ remember the day my youngest brother came on the scene.  I think I might have been three or four and those kinds of things don’t really register when you’re little.  What I can honestly attest to is that I can’t remember a day in my childhood when he wasn’t around.  His cute little, round-cheeked, skinny self running around the house…usually right behind my other brother.  To this day I still refer to them as “the boys” (notice the plural) because they were always together!  And together they managed to get into all kinds of adventures.  But this blog is an ode to the birthday brother so I’ll try to stay on task.

My memories include all the regular little brother stuff like how he would play with toy trucks, get dirty, play sports, get dirty, bother me, and get dirty (of course it didn’t help that our backyard at the time was nothing but dirt.)  But he did other things, too, and some of them still put a grin on my face to this very day!  I remember the summer he wouldn’t wear shorts.  I’m not sure of the real reason behind this abnormality, although I have my theories, but he just flat out refused to wear shorts one summer.  Instead he opted for jeans!  Jeans in the hot, dry western Kansas heat.  I can remember it was a family effort to try to convince him to wear shorts.  It was a battle we lost.  I can still picture him on the sidewalk in front of the house with a pair of black jeans on…and his little shirt was tucked in!  But those jeans were the least of his worries.  During one of the summers when he did wear shorts that boy had more mosquito bites than the whole population of GC!  He had welts the size of ping pong balls and they always got infected.  He practically bankrolled the Campho-Phenique corporation that summer!  The mosquitoes sure must have thought that kid was sweet (I’ll throw him a bone, after all it is his birthday!)  Other summer memories include his obsession, or was it superstition, with Gatorade gum and sunflower seeds.  (Upon a recent trip home a story was relayed to me that he is still crazy about sunflower seeds.  A little bird told me that he uses his prechool-aged son as a pack mule for carrying around three different flavors of sunflower seeds at a time.  If you’re ever in need, check his boy’s backpack for sustenance!)

My littlest brother was also a bit of a clown and could be counted on for a laugh or a quick remark at anytime.  This orneriness landed him in trouble once or twice (ha ha) and he was lucky that he was such a cute little boy– it was his saving grace!  As a consequence of his cuteness, little girls were always buzzing around, going to his ball games and calling our house.  Not sure if he’ll admit it, but I think he secretly liked all the attention.  Things got weird in high school when girls my age were asking who’s “that guy” and it turns out they were pointing to my kid brother!  It got even weirder when a friend of mine called and I started chatting with her when she interrupted me to say that she was actually calling to talk to him.  Awkward.  But as fate would have it, he is now the father of two beautiful girls and a darling little boy and I can’t wait to see how he handles the consequences of their “cuteness.”  I can already hear him saying, “Well things were different when I was your age….”

I could go on and on about my littlest brother, but I will stop short and relay my two favorite stories.  The first takes place in Allen Fieldhouse during a Jayhawk game.  I remember him sulking because he had to accompany my folks on a weekend visit to see me in Lawrence.  Poor guy!  He happened to be in trouble (again?) and my parents were afraid a typical grounding would be ineffective if they were out-of-town.  I’m sure the house party invites were already out by the time my folks told him he had to go with them on their road trip.  He was not very happy.  So while thousands of Jayhawk fans were screaming at the sight of the Jayhawks and Jacque Vaughn running through the tunnel, my brother sat sulkily in his chair sucking on a soda.  Nevermind the awesomeness of seeing the Jayhawks play at home.   Nevermind being on the hallowed grounds of basketball history.  Nevermind that it’s next to impossible to get tickets to a Jayhawk game.  As the saying goes, “Beware the Phog,” but that afternoon it was more like the Phog should beware him.  Hell has no fury like a boy who lost his house party!

And my all time favorite story takes place back in high school.  He was a freshman (I was a senior) and he was having a hard time relating to his math teacher (and that’s putting it nicely.)  As I bounded around the corner in JDA, I almost fell over myself at the sight of my brother sitting in the hallway.  This floored me for two reasons:  1) I didn’t know teachers put high school kids in the hallway and 2) I wouldn’t have imagined that if a teacher did put him in the hallway that he would have actually STAYED!   Okay, you’re thinking what is so exceptional about this story?  Well here it is.  I used to tell my friends that my brother was destined for great things, if only he would put all his energy into good instead of evil.  It’s a little dramatic, but I think it was right on.  As a kid, my brother was a good-hearted, funny, spirited, adventurous people magnet…what he didn’t realize was that he was also thoughtful, kind, intelligent and a born leader!  Today, my dearest little brother is a TEACHER and works at our old middle school where he also coaches football and freshman baseball.  In a twisty sort of tale that is all his own, he found his way out of that high school hallway and made his own round-the-way path to success!

He’s no longer the round-cheeked, skinny fella tagging along after my brother.  He’s much more than that.  He’s a terrific son, brother, friend, cousin, husband, father, uncle, son-in-law, brother-in-law, child of God and TEACHER who puts his energy into good and making a positive difference in the lives of others. He’s the teacher with a story that even the orneriest child can relate to.  But let’s not kid ourselves here, it is a little funny to know that as a 30-something year old man you can still find him hanging around in the hallways at school!

On your birthday, may you find joy, blessings and lots of laughter, little brother.  Enjoy your day.  YOU ARE LOVED.

A brother is a better defense than a strong city.  Proverbs 18:19