My $11 beer…

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…tasted great, even though it was a watered-down Bud Light in a plastic cup. What made it taste especially good though, was the fact that as I enjoyed it, I was perched high above Yankee Stadium watching my beloved Red Sox pummel the New York Yankees 11-1!

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Sam just started a summer internship in Manhattan this week, so he and I were making our way down to the Lower West Side of the city to get him installed temporarily in Aunt Joan’s now empty apartment. It was late on a Saturday afternoon as we zipped along the Merritt Parkway through Connecticut, and as we flipped between the local radio stations, we realized that the somewhat surprising first place Sox were going to be in town at the same time we were.

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It was a gorgeous evening at the tail end of what had been the first really hot weekend of the summer, and we both now wondered how difficult it might be to get ourselves to the stadium for the 7:10 p.m. game. We knew that since the new Yankee Stadium is so big, there was a good chance we would be able to get tickets easily, so Sam went to work on the phone. Ten minutes later… score. This version of Yankee Stadium is an impressive place. There isn’t a bad seat in the house, and the combination of mid-80 degree temperatures and a cool upper deck breeze made for a pretty amazing experience.

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The last time I was in Yankee Stadium was for the infamous night when Grady Little left Pedro in too long and when Aaron”bleeping” Boone hit a 10th inning Tim Wakefield knuckleball for a walk-off home run to send the Red Sox crashing out of the playoffs. That night I was snuggled in with the bleacher creatures – and boy was that an experience – but this time we were in a much more comfortable, and safer, environment. I can’t think of a better way to spend a summer evening than watching baseball (and the Red Sox)… even if the beer did cost $11. Go Sox!

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Opening Day

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Baseball season in Maine has finally begun. For all you warm weather folks who are used to spring coming much earlier, that must be hard to believe, eh? Jack had been waiting (im)patiently for this day to arrive, and it has been fun seeing him experience the rituals associated with becoming a Little League Baseball player. Practicing in the gym during the cold(er) winter months, experimenting with the many legit (and some not so legit) ways to soften up his glove, scouring the stores for the right bat and batting gloves, and then waiting to hear which team he was on… just some of the things that led to a heightened level of anticipation for this past weekend’s big day.

Don’t let that sunshine fool you… though the 30 degree temperatures and biting wind chill did little to dampen the enthusiasm of the local Little Leaguers and coaches as the opening day parade made its way from Fairmount Park to Mansfield Stadium. As Jack and his friends excitedly skipped, bounced, and hopped their way along the parade route, it was pretty obvious that he was in his element, and any doubts we had about signing him up for baseball were immediately forgotten.

He played his first game later that afternoon, and despite the lack of experience on the field, it actually looked like a real game of baseball. Coaches pitching kept the game moving along at a good pace, and most importantly, a welcoming, safe, and fun atmosphere was created for all of the kids. Third strikes were called as foul tips, always giving the batter another chance; while all 8 year olds are competitive, the importance of the score was minimized; and both teams definitely had a blast as they played and learned at the same time. We are lucky to have such caring people volunteering their time to coach, and both Lori and I feel very good about the quality of the experience Jack is going to have.

Back to the game… Jack looked, and played, like a pro. He had a couple of hits, played an awesome first base, and was thrilled to make it around the bases and across the plate to score a run. Like his big brother, he seems to genuinely enjoy baseball, and I have a feeling that we will be spending quite a bit of time at his games in the future… now if only the temperature would warm up!

Growing up playing sports

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A composite of several photographs showing Sam's baseball swing

I grew up playing soccer. From I was no age at all, I was playing soccer… morning, noon, and night. I played non-stop, and it was the only thing I ever wanted to do. I played every morning before school, at recess we threw jackets down for makeshift goals and played, I hurried through lunch so I could have even more time to play, and you guessed it… I played every day after school until it got dark and we couldn’t see the ball anymore. In fact, I was that kid who literally dribbled a ball on the way to school and back… seriously… there are pictures somewhere to prove it!

I spent my younger years in a part of the world where there is a tremendous passion for the game, and as a kid I was certainly swept up in it. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVED playing soccer – or football as it is rightly known – and I needed no encouragement whatsoever to devote countless hours to doing what I loved. However, looking at that experience through my “parent” lens today, I can see that it did take up an awful lot of time, often at the expense of other potential enriching pursuits. Maybe that’s why Lori and I have been reluctant to push too hard with the boys when it comes to youth sports?

Sam at the plate

Despite our reticence when it comes to youth sports, Sam dabbled in most activities while growing up, and although he is still an ardent fan of just about every game, he eventually settled on playing baseball, which he excelled at. As a teenager, he spent endless days practicing on the Little League fields, and I can remember playing some serious catch with him on the side of the yard as he honed his pitching skills. The heel of my left thumb still hurts when I think of the times spent kneeling as a catcher trying to deal with his fastball. When he learned to throw a curve ball… forget about it… my days as catcher were over!

Sam on the mound pitching

Anyway, we have been really hands off with Jack to this point when it comes to organized sports. We didn’t want to push him into team activities, but at the same time we don’t want him to miss out on what we believe can be a very positive growth experience. He has played rec. soccer the past couple of years and although he enjoys the game, it doesn’t seem to be something he is especially passionate about. Lately though, just as we began feeling a little guilty for not signing him up for more activities – quite coincidentally – he has started taking more of an interest in baseball. Maybe it’s the poster sized photograph of his big brother Sam playing in the Senior League World Series that hangs over his bed, or maybe it’s because his friends are all getting into that scene? We also just rediscovered the huge collection of baseball cards that were accumulated when Sam was younger, so it does appear that Jack is genuinely starting to develop an affinity for the game.

Our newest little baseball player

So, when asked if he wanted to play organized baseball like his friends this spring, he immediately jumped at the chance. Last Saturday we headed out to the local sports store to buy him a new glove… one of his own that will fit him until his hands grow big enough to use Sam’s old glove. He was thrilled to be able to choose the one that he liked, and we went straight to the gym to try it out and break it in. He is a good little athlete (some say he gets that from his mother’s side of the family), with pretty good hand/eye coordination and a willingness to work hard, so it looks like we might be jumping in with both feet to see if baseball becomes Jack’s thing. It might seem strange considering my upbringing and association with soccer, but I absolutely love everything about the game of baseball. Perhaps Jack will too, and that would mean I get to shoot sports again… and maybe it’s also time to feed the fire and schedule another trip down to Fenway to see the Red Sox!

Classic Americana

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More from Fenway Park. Can you tell that I adore this place?

The Italian Sausages were good, and we got to see Jon Lester pitch 8 innings of 2-hit ball. Boy does he look good these days! Mike Lowell drove in the first run, Jason Varitek hit a rope of a 2-run single to right field, and Jason Bay looped one down around the Pesky Pole for a home run. With the 4-0 win the Red Sox finished off the sweep of the Tampa Bay Rays, and moved further ahead of the Texas Rangers in the hunt for the AL Wild Card playoff spot.

Our seats were great, not only for the ball game, but also for the spectacular show put on in the skies above Boston. I knew that as the evening wore on the cloud formation up above the stadium might create the chance of some nice light sneaking under the clouds and lighting up the twilight. I figured that a moment would come when the colors in the sky would balance with the artificial lighting from Fenway (which though blown completely doesn’t bother me in this pic), and at that point everything might come together for quite a scene… here it is.

The visit to Brown University went well. We got to see a thriving campus with classes in full swing, and a quite eclectic and diverse student population going about their business. I was glad that Sam picked up on the “vibe” of the place… quite relaxed and easy-going, not always the case in a somewhat urban and very challenging academic setting.

We participated in the scheduled admissions informational session, and were treated to a wonderfully informative campus tour by a senior who did a really nice job conveying not only her love of Brown, but also lots of good information relevant to someone interested in learning more about the university.

Sam obviously enjoyed the campus, and when asked if he could see himself going to school at Brown, he replied most definitely in the affirmative. I get the feeling though that many of the schools that Sam is going to visit will impress him… they all have rich academic traditions and thousands of prospective students clamoring to attend them. One of Sam’s biggest challenges will be finding a way to distinguish between the schools he is looking at… that and successfully applying to those he is most interested in.

Fenway Park and College Visits

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Sam and I are heading down to Fenway Park soon to see the Sox take on the Tampa Bay Rays. The Sox are very much still in the hunt for the wild card, so it is still an exciting time to be in Boston. The photograph above is from a previous visit to Fenway several years ago when the Sox faced the Seattle Mariners – this is from when Ichiro was still a big draw, before there were seats on the Green Monster, and before the Red Sox had broken the curse. As a big fan of the Red Sox it is always thrilling to make the pilgrimage to Fenway Park to see them play, but even if you weren’t a die-hard baseball fan this park is a sight to behold, and something that everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime.

One of Sam’s presents last Christmas was a Sox Pack of 4 tickets to see the Hometown Team at Fenway. Pretty cool deal where you get two tickets to the same seats for 4 different games… sort of like a mini season ticket holder! Generally tickets for Red Sox games are still quite difficult to get, so having four guaranteed games throughout the summer is a nice thing.

In addition to going to see the Sox, we are embarking on the first of several college visits we will be making this fall. Sam is at that point in his life where he is planning on applying to several colleges and universities for next year, so it is time to hit the road and spend time exploring and experiencing some of the campuses he is most interested in.

Our first road trip will include a visit to Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. We visited Brown earlier in the spring, but at that time we didn’t get a chance to meet with admissions or get an official tour. Brown is definitely one of Sam’s top choices at this point, so we are hoping to be able to glean some good information from this visit that will help in the upcoming decision-making process. There are several more college trips planned for this fall, so it is shaping up to be a busy but exciting time of year.