Saturday, September 29, 2012

Youth Soccer (or Get out of the way, my girl's better than you)

The following story is true. Names (and, to a degree, pictures) have been changed to protect me from being identified by the participants as a real prick who can’t deal with their kids.
My daughter plays soccer. She is six years old and loves playing the game. Last year was her first year playing on a team and she was fantastic. On average she scored 3 goals per game and made as many as 6 in one game. It was a lot of fun to watch.
This year my daughter is playing on a completely different team. Unfortunately this team has 8 kids on it that actually want to play all the time. Because they play 4 on 4, only half the team can play at any given time. The coach has decided the best way to divide up playing time is to come up with two teams of four and play them in alternating quarters. The teams are not always the same.

Awesome Girl (my daughter) 
Awesome Girl

Other Girl (not my daughter, the only other girl on the team, once wore a tank top that looked exactly like a wife-beater ribbed sleeveless t-shirt to practice

Other Girl

 Little Dude (little islander kid who goes to my daughter’s school and has a hilarious little sister)

Little Dude

Blondie (little blonde kid who can play well but has a short attention span and tends to cry easily)
Beaker (skinny little guy who is a little slower to develop than the rest of the players, the coach’s kid called him a stupid idiot at the first practice)

Coach’s Kid (good player, not what you might call sensitive to the feelings of others)

Coach's Kid

Big Kid (he’s as big as my 8 year old, faster than any other kid in the league and has some real soccer skills)
Big Kid

Wrong Way (close friends with Big Kid, whines when Big Kid has the ball and doesn’t pass to him, doesn’t know which goal is which, kicks the ball out of bounds more often than in bounds, yells at other kids when they are in the right)
Wrong Way

So, as I said the team is split into equal halves each game. Tonight Awesome Girl was put on a team with Beaker, Big Kid and Wrong Way. The only consistency so far with team selection is that Coach’s Kid and Big Kid have never been on the same team and Big Kid is always on the same team with Wrong Way. The truth is that most parents don’t want their kid playing at the same time as Big Kid because he’s so good. He has actually started passing recently, but he’s so much better and faster than the other kids that it’s hard for any of the rest of them to touch the ball when he’s in there. The exception is that Wrong Way’s parents always want he and Big Kid together because they’re friends. Their families are close  and there seems to be some kind of family agreement that Big Kid will pass to Wrong Way whenever he can.
Well, now think of this from my perspective tonight. Big Kid has an agreement to pass the ball to Wrong Way. When he’s unable to, he’s so fast that he’s dominating the ball anyway. Poor Beaker doesn’t really stand a chance out there and my little Awesome Girl is kind of lost in the mix trying to get to the ball, but being constantly out-raced to it by Big Kid.

Understand that we only get one game per week and it’s 40 minutes long. This means that I have exactly 20 minutes per week to watch Awesome Girl in action. The first thing that goes wrong tonight is when Beaker is taking a goal kick. This is when you stand by your own goal and pass to a teammate. Well, Wrong Way decided he would make a hard charge at Beaker right as he was kicking the ball, presumably because he was jealous Beaker got to kick it. He was succesful in his aggressive charge at his teammate and had the ball bounce right off his leg and into the other team’s goal. Wrong Way jumped up and down and looked over to his enormous mom. “I made it!” Well, Wrong Way has been instructed about a thousand times which way he’s supposed to be going, but he doesn’t care. A goal is a goal, no matter which end of the field it’s on. His mom tries to tell him that his goal doesn’t count, but he doesn’t get it. Because he doesn’t listen…ever. If I were coach I would tell him it’s not that the goal doesn’t count, it’s that you’ve just hurt your team and scored for your opponent. But I’m not the coach and that’s certianly for the best.
Well, after that Wrong Way’s parents decided to correct the problem by telling him to stand by the other goal. Which he did. Literally. He stood in the middle of the other goal like a goal keeper (there are no goalies at this age level). He was standing in the way of the goal so if any of his teammates were going to score he could stop the ball, turn and try to kick it in for his own glory. Imagine a waiter standing up against the bar to take drink order only to then turn and ask the bartender for the drink simply so he can steal the tips. Same thing. Oh, and the goals they use are about 4 feet wide, so he’s taking up most of the goal. It’s not like it’s a regulation size goal and it would be easy to score around him.
So the first quarter ends and Awesome Girl has played pretty hard, but hasn’t had the chance to score yet. She really wants to score because she hasn’t at all this year (mostly because of the way this team is set up). She is used to scoring every game but the parents think it’s cute when she comes close because she’s a girl. They don’t understand that she actually is a good soccer player. A few nights a week she has me set up obstacle course drills for her to navigate with her soccer ball. She runs these courses for upwards of an hour nonstop getting better and better. She’s talented, but she also works hard at it. I’m not just being a dad here, she’s actually a good player with skills that the other kids don’t have because she practices her butt off.

The last quarter begins and I have told Awesome Girl it’s her time to take that ball on her own and score no matter what. The first thing that happens is she has a shot at a breakaway at midfield. Well, she had a shot at a breakaway. It ended when Wrong Way jumped in front of her, bent over and picked up the ball right from in front of her foot. Thanks Wrong Way…it would be nice if your parents would tell you not to do that. I yell “No Wrong Way! What are you doing?!!??!?!?”
The next thing that happened was Awesome Girl came in from the side and was about to take a shot at a wide open goal. She was DEFINITELY going to score. That’s when Wrong Way came out of nowhere and stole the ball from her kicking it the wrong way back up the field. The ball came bounding back and Awesome Girl kicked it toward the goal, but there was Wrong Way standing right in the middle like a goal keeper and he succesfully took another goal away from my daughter. It was driving me INSANE!

Then Awesome Girl had yet another chance. I had just yelled “Get the ball and take it in yourself! Don’t let your teammate steal it from you! Score!” She did exactly that. She took it from the other team, dribbled in from the side, turned a tough angle shot into a more makeable one and kicked it hard at the middle of the goal. Problem was, there was Wrong Way standing there in the middle of the goal…like a goalie. And again he succesfully blocked the goal like he was Hope Solo in the World Cup.
Almost immediately the whistle blew and the game was over.
Maybe it was the caffeine in the Excedrin I took before the game. Maybe it was the smoke in the air from the forest fires. Maybe it was a paternal instinct to want the best for my daughter. But I can’t take this anymore! I’m losing my mind! I get to watch my amazing daughter play for 20 minutes of game action per week and without fail there is one single kid out there crapping all over her glory. I just want to shake his huge mother. Just shake her and ask her why she keeps allowing this to happen. Why? WHY? I want to shake the coach and shame him into making his own kid play with Big Kid and Wrong Way. I want to scream and yell at Wrong Way until I am the first person he has ever obeyed in his entire 6 years on this planet.
But instead I will continue to do what I always do…make comments under my breath on the sideline making the other parents think (realize) I’m a jerk. Listen, all I want is for my daughter to taste the success she derserves. Your kid doesn’t work for it. Your kid doesn’t give a crap. Your kid doesn’t even know what success is. He doesn’t know which way he’s going. He doesn’t care about anything except kicking the ball. It doesn’t matter which direction. It doesn’t matter if it’s in bounds or out of bounds. He doesn’t know the difference and you haven’t taken the time to teach him the difference. Please just tell him to get out of the way. Please!?!?!??!!?
Who knew being a parent was going to mean having to deal with other people’s kids? Bleh!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Baseball, rage and a cheating umpire

Lori Chipman
 Growing up I always wanted to be a baseball player. In fact…sorry Lori Chipman, not to minimize what you and I had in second grade – it was real…baseball was my first love. What’s great about baseball is that it’s a slow moving game which teaches you how to constantly fail. Come to think of it I don’t know what I like about baseball, but I loved the hell out of it none-the-less.
The reason I’m telling you this is that as I was driving around Springfield a few months ago I was reminded of something that happened on a baseball field 18 years ago. It was the only moment in my life I can say I completely, without a doubt, lost every measure of control. That’s not to say I don’t fly off the handle from time to time. When it comes to driving and sports I step into combative confrontation constantly, compadre. What I’m telling you is this particular time I didn’t lose my cool, I lost my flippin’ mind.
I was 15 years old and we had a baseball tournament down in Springfield. Being the extremely responsible adolescent I was, I couldn’t go down and stay with the team the first night because I had to work at the crack of dawn the second morning of the trip. My mom was gracious enough to drive me the nearly 2 hour drive down to game 1 (which I pitched, took a no-hitter into the 6th inning and won) then turn around and drive me back home.
Saturday morning came and I rode my bike to work at 6:00 am, served two meals (breakfast and lunch) to a bunch of elderly people who had trouble remembering their own names and rode my bike home at 2:45 as quickly as possible. My mom then again loaded my skinny butt into the stretched black Ford Aerostar (which would later be the ‘limo’ I took to Sr. Prom) and headed back down to Springfield.
My team had won early in the day and I was playing with them in the nightcap. We were facing a solid team that had also won its first two games. Their pitcher was a kid they had brought in from another team just for this tournament. He was a big ole’ horse. He threw hard…there was a reason they had invited him to play. We were getting their best…actually better than their best.
Shaun Vodka
Well, the game was going along like any other game. Very little scoring, both teams playing hard and playing well. We had Shaun Vodka on the mound so you know the other team wasn’t hitting well. Vodka’s fastball and curve both looked like they were shooting straight out of his ear. He could gas it up there in the low to mid 80’s. He was usually, and this night was no exception, very difficult to hit.
Then it happened. I was at bat and Luke Parker was on second base. The pitcher wheeled around and threw a dart to second. The shortstop slapped down the tag as both players fell to the ground. “SAFE!” yelled the umpire. I continued watching. The shortstop had fallen on Luke and he wasn’t making an effort to get up. After 2 or 3 seconds of being used like a couch cushion Luke stood up. When he stood it caused the other player to fall off of him (he wasn’t hurt, he was just resting there I guess). The guy didn’t want to fall to the ground so he kind of clung on to Luke’s jersey so Luke shoved him away...not violently. The field umpire closest to the play said nothing. The umpire behind the plate yelled “you’re outta here!!!!” Huh?
Oh no you di-ent. Oh yes, he di-id! The umpire standing more than 120 feet away decided he had observed enough malice to kick Luke out of the game! All of the parents, including Luke’s dad and Dan Nelson’s dad (from this point Dave and Ron), started yelling at the umpire. It was a horrible call. It was confounding really.  But what are you going to do? This guy is making 10 bucks to stand there in 85 degree heat umpiring a bunch of testosterone filled  little pricks so you’re not exactly getting a guy with a helluva lotta astute judgment.
Luke was a good ball player, so it was going to hurt not having him in the game. Coach Hoppel called me over after the inning said “Keith, you’re at short”. I wasn’t really an infielder at that point in my ‘career’, but I was a competitor. I ended up playing a very good shortstop for the rest of the game. But that’s not what I’m trying to tell you about. What I’m trying to tell you about is Dave and Ron…first. You see, Dave and Ron are still yelling at the umpire. Sometimes loudly, sometimes with quieter condescending remarks. Sometimes with personal insults. The umpire wasn’t liking it too much. Dave was a fiery guy, but he was also a fair guy. He knew his kid had been wronged and he had some paternal instinct kicking in. Ron was an understated fireball. He could softly tear you apart through his mustache and with Dave going crazy next to him it gave him license to belittle this skinny douche of an umpire all the more. It was on.
Now a good umpire would have taken an authoritative course of action that included a verbal warning to the fans followed by an ejection with the possible warning that they risked forfeiting the game for their kids. That’s what a good umpire would have done. But a good umpire wouldn’t have overstepped his partner’s call on the field and thrown a kid out of a game for pushing a body off of himself. A good umpire wouldn’t have had to buy a child’s catcher chest protector to fit his wussy-esque frame. A good umpire wouldn’t have whispered in Coach Hoppel’s ear “if your parents don’t quiet down you’re going to lose this game.” Wait…what?
Oh…that happened. And then so did the calls. I came up to bat with a runner on base. I had doubled off the wall in my first at-bat so I knew I could hit this guy. I fouled off the first pitch. Strike one. Second pitch came in. A curve that had slipped out of the pitcher’s hand a little. It came across at eye level. I stepped out of the batter’s box and heard “Strike Two!” I turned and looked at him and said “What the hell?” Maybe that’s what I said. Maybe I said “are you serious?” Maybe I said “are you f*@%ing joking?” I’m not really sure, but I said something. The next pitch was in the dirt, but I swung…and missed…badly. I figured I had to swing at anything at that point. But one of the odd rules in baseball is you can get to first on a strikeout if the catcher misses it. So I ran, I ran like all hell had broken loose. And I made it. Safe at first. And the moment my foot hit first base the umpire yelled “Foul Ball!” I think it was then I pointed my finger at him. “I didn’t foul that and you know it!” I was yelling as I came back to the batter’s box. Not a word from this 40 year old twerp. The next pitch I swung (again, I didn’t really have a choice) and I foul tipped it. The ball deflected off the catcher and fell to the ground. I stepped out of the box to get my composure a bit and the umpire said quietly to the catcher “pick it up and tag him.” I looked back at the umpire, confused. My mind started trying to connect the dots. None of this was computing…foul ball, tag me and I’m out…wait a second…was he? Was he claiming I hadn’t fouled it and that I had just struck out? Oh Sh9t! I started running to first again, this time I was literally yelling as I ran…”Thaaaaaaaaaat’s the ooooonnnneeee ---- I Fooooooouleddddddddd youuuuuu moroooooonnnnnnn!” The catcher picked up the ball and easily threw me out at first. I turned and started to make my way back to home plate to give the umpire a piece of my mind when coach stopped me and pushed me back toward the dugout. Fine.
Well, the rest of the game went exactly the same way for all of us. Balls were called strikes. Safes were called outs. But Shaun Vodka was mowing down the other team despite the lying, cheating, dirty condom of an umpire. So the score was tied 2-2 in the bottom of the last inning. There was one out and a runner had made it to second base. He was the winning run. Shaun stood on the mound and came set. He stood there motionless and all of a sudden the spineless gimp behind the plate yells “Balk!” When I think about it now it was actually pretty brilliant. You see, for those of you who don’t know baseball, pitchers are not allowed to make flinching or deceptive motions once they come set just before they start their pitching motion. If they do it’s called a “balk” and any runners on base get to advance one base. This diarrhea-faced umpire was getting creative with his spiteful cheating. So the winning run just moved up to third base with only one out.
A few pitches later Shaun threw a pitch that landed in the dirt. The catcher missed the ball and Shaun ran home to take the throw trying to tag out the runner who was attempting to score. The play was incredibly close. When I replay it in my head I think he was out, but you obviously know by now that it didn’t really matter whether the kid was safe or not…he didn’t have to get within 10 feet of home plate and the run would have counted. I heard the umpire yell “Safe!” and the next thing I know I’m sprinting.
Now remember, I’m playing shortstop. And I’m running as fast as my 15 year old legs can carry me. At this point things get a little fuzzy. I know I was running in the general direction of the umpire. The other team was mobbing the kid who had just scored in a celebration around home plate, so when I arrived there was a sea of blue uniforms in my way. I remember looking around quickly and not seeing the douche in black anywhere. Then I saw him…he was 30 feet beyond the backstop and he was walking briskly away. I remember pushing through the other team and basically flying the remaining 20 feet to the backstop fence and hitting it at top speed…in the air. My fingers latched on and I was a few feet off the ground stuck to that chain link like Spider Man. And I started yelling. And I wasn’t yelling things you yell in front of crowds of your mom…although I did use the word “mother” a few times. I distinctly remember screaming from the top of my lungs that he was, to quote Naughty by Nature, “another way to call a cat a kitty”. I used every word I could think of. And I yelled for a good, long time. Then I said something I had never said before and have never said since:  “Come back here! I’ll kill you!” I’ll kill you? What the hell? Who am I?
But it’s not the words that have really stuck with me all these years later. What really shook me was the adrenaline coursing through me like electricity. It was a frightening high. To this day, I honestly believe that had the umpire not fled (and after I started yelling his walk turned into a dead sprint toward his car) I would have leapt on him like a Chimpanzee and beaten him until multiple people had pulled me off. I remember seeing him run away and feeling both a sense of exhilaration from the off my handle rage and deep regret that I wasn’t going to be able to bludgeon him. Honestly, the only reason I can think of that I didn’t chase after him was that I was too enraged to think about going through the dugout 15 feet to my right to get behind the fence. I was out of my mind. I don’t really know how to convey it even now. Because as I’m typing this there is still a part of me that wishes he would have stayed just to see what I was capable of. Yet, having been to that place of unbridled fury, I know I can’t let myself get there ever again.
Here is what he looked like running away:

So you’re probably thinking that I eventually let go of the fence and calmed down and started laughing about the absurdity of it all. You’re probably thinking I finally came to my senses and realized that it was just a game and it didn’t really matter. Wrong. What actually happened is that Coach Hoppel’s brother, Coach Hoppel, grabbed me from behind and yanked me down off the fence. He got in my face and said something along the lines of “this is why we lose games because we’re always blaming umpires and not ourselves.” To which I replied with what I can only imagine was the coldest, darkest, deepest stare back into his eyes that Doug Hoppel ever received. I nearly punched him in the face. And, quite frankly, he deserved it. I played my ass off in that game and I played my heart out too and none of us deserved to have that tournament cheated away from us. If Doug didn’t see it that way then he was a fool.
After things had settled down Coach Jim Hoppel took us down the right field line and gave us the post game talk. During the talk, I was still so lost in anger that I didn’t hear a single word despite being right there in the thick of the huddle. I was doing everything I could to calm down, but it was a slow process. It was like trying to digest liquid hate and it was going to take longer than 20 minutes for me to ‘let it go’. Later Jim pulled me aside at the motel and apologized for “saying that”. I quickly accepted his apology without asking what the hell he was sorry for. Later on I asked some of the other players and they filled me in. It turned out our coach was so angry about how we had been wronged out of the game that in front of me, his half-Japanese player, he said he “wanted to Jap-slap that umpire as much as anybody.” I thought it was big of Coach Hoppel to apologize, but the truth is I never would have known he said it.
There really isn’t a moral to the story, but I do feel compelled to point out that I learned something about my temper that day. I learned that there are limits you can’t let yourself surpass. I realize that other people have stories about actual fights they were in, but this story isn’t so much about the heat of the battle as it is uncontrolled hatred. I literally would have beaten that defenseless twig until someone stopped me or until my knuckles couldn’t bear it any further. So I guess the moral of the story is sometimes you just need to walk away and hope that someday you have the opportunity to piss all over their grave.