Wednesday, December 13, 2023

“We’re giving the whole Italian show”

Tom DeVito understands the NFL marketing machine. I wonder if "My son gaining sudden fame and our Italian heritage being a phenomenon" was on his 2023 bingo card. His son, Tommy DeVito, has been thrust into the starting quarterback position for the NY Giants, and is having quite a moment. His popularity shot up as soon as it became known he still lives at home with his parents. He got tagged with the amazing nickname "Danny Cutlets." It's fun to see Tommy having a moment, and he was even named NFC Offensive Player of the Week.

But getting back to Dad. Mr. DeVito is totally in on the marketing game and keeping his son's profile up for as long as possible. Speaking about the tailgate situation before a recent game against the Green Bay Packers, Mr. DeVito gave us this gem: “We’re giving the whole Italian show. It’s gonna be craziness. We’re gonna give 'em the Italian theater they’ve been asking for. Three hundred chicken cutlets, got Italian sandwiches, baked ziti, sausage and peppers, rice balls — everything Italian. I’m gonna have my guys setting up sandwiches with Italian headbands on. We got an Italian flag with Tommy’s picture on it. They’ve been begging for it. We’re gonna give it to ’em.”

Mr. DeVito sounds like he's all in for however long this lasts. Perhaps he knows the Nirvana maxim: "Here we are now, entertain us." And he's quite likely familiar with the Rocky franchise. We all like an underdog, right? Since "The Italian Stallion" was already taken, "Danny Cutlets" is pretty solid. 

I'm available if anyone needs further takes. I'm a football fan (of the Buffalo Bills, known as the only NFL team with a stadium in New York State). I'm also Italian-American, though not 100%. One German grandparent gives me my last name. The other three have something to do with my love of sauce (my family doesn't gall it gravy) and meatballs. And, yes, we like our chicken cutlets.

Monday, December 11, 2023

David Byrne on The Self, and How We're Social Animals

A few answers from the always interesting David Byrne in an interview with The New York Times.

On the self:

"Lots of other people, scientists and philosophers, think about this more than I have: Where is the difference between yourself here and here and here? Is there any continuous self? You could say you’ve retained memories from various parts of your life, but memories are very malleable. We reshape them every time we remember them. They’re not fixed. Every self you go through, you dredge something up and make it apply to whoever you are at that moment. It’s a hard thing for us to intuitively accept the idea of “self is an illusion.” It’s very Buddhist, but it’s also increasingly more scientific. It’s not just a spiritual concept. It’s also a kind of neural concept."

And our socialness:

"Well, in our culture there’s a lot of emphasis on the individual: I have a right to do this, I have a right to do that. There’s a sense that you’re making these decisions about your life or what you want to do or say and that they’re all coming from you. But they’re not! Who you are at any given moment is defined by the social context. We’re not quite ants, but we’re social animals. To pull one ant away and say, That ant decided to do that! No. We do things because we’re part of a larger community. I feel like the pendulum in our culture here has swung maybe a little too far into the individual zone — away from a sense of community. It’s all about me, me, me. That’s what you think, but everything you’re saying is coming from people around you or the internet. You’re not making this up yourself. We do some things as individuals, but a lot of things we do are socially determined. Way more than we would like to admit. I mean, we tend to look down on arranged marriages, for example, but then you look at who people connect with and you go, I could have arranged that. You think that you’ve had this freedom of choice but, well, your parents might have picked the same person for you."

Thursday, October 5, 2023

Note to (Presentation of) Self

I'll be teaching about Goffman's presentation of self to students soon. I love the material, and enjoy talking with students about different examples of front stage and back stage behaviors. My go to example of impressions is a hundred years ago I went to a job interview not wearing a tie. I could see the interviewer's notes on the table. He wrote "NO TIE!!" We are always making impressions, regardless of whether we mean to. First impressions, of course. But second impressions too. Impressions always. 

Anyway...sometimes I get lost in talking about impression management and performances. This time around, I want to say more about what happens when emotions take over. When we are reacting emotionally, are we less concerned with managing impressions? In such instances, are we less deliberate about our behavior? Like when we're mad! For example, what's going on with the couple constantly arguing with each other in the neighborhood? Do they think about the possibility that their fighting shapes people's impression of them as an unhappy couple? Do they care? Whatever the case, they keep forming impressions. Or suppose a dad is jawing at another dad at a youth sports event. Something angers a parent who then speaks aggressively to the other parent. Awkward! This would be front stage bickering between two dads. In such an exchange, emotions rule the interaction. There seems to be less calculation in these kinds of interactions. So this is just a note to myself (with a few examples to consider) to talk with students about how to analyze interactions when raw emotions are a key feature, and how emotional interactions influence the impressions of audience members. 

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Three Indie Rock Love Songs

Just a quick appreciation post for contemporary indie rock love songs. What are some of your favorite love songs in various genres? Here are three of my favorite indie rock love songs. 

The song "Lilacs" by Waxahatchee received a lot of play on Sirius XMU a few years ago. I love hearing it whenever it shows up in their rotation. It was on the station yesterday when I caught it. I then listened to it a few more times on YouTube. I'm a sucker for a good lyric, and this line knocks me out: "I won't end up anywhere good without you."

Another song I hear often on XMU is "True Love" by Hovvdy. The simplicity of the lyrics work for me..."You comfort me, Rosy"... and the imagery works for me too...

"Show off your new dress

Spin around for me

Like a blue sky I get up so high

You sure shine in the color

In that shade of pink"

To end with a perfect song... "Geometry" by Rubblebucket

"When you talk to me

I start to believe

I can believe in myself

When you're far out to sea in your personal hill

Draw a line to me

And I'll draw a line to you

Let's make geometry"

I just love the everyday life stuff in this song:

"I woke up thinking the same thing

What you want to do today?

I guess I'd go for a walk again

But Alex said it might be raining"

It's all so good: 

"I like you

You like me too

That's why I'm callin' on you"

These songs will be in my head all day 😍

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

The True Declaration of Love

"The practice of mindfulness will help you to love properly, in such a way that harmony, freedom, and joy are possible. The true declaration of love is, "Dear one, I am here for you," because the most precious gift you can give to your loved one is your true presence, with body and mind united in solidity and freedom...

In order to love, we must be here, and then our presence will embrace the presence of the other person. Only then will they have the feeling of being loved. So you must recognize the presence of the other person with the energy of mindfulness, with the genuine presence of your body in mind in oneness." 

Excerpts from You Are Here, Thich Nhat Hanh, p. 91 and p. 93 

Sunday, July 16, 2023

Deep Listening

"The practice of deep listening consists of keeping compassion alive in your heart the whole time that you are listening. You do not listen in order to judge, criticize, or evaluate. You listen for one reason alone: to offer the other person a chance to express him- or herself. That person is going to say things that irritate you. He or she might express disapproval of you, heap blame on you, say things that are false. You have to be ready to listen to anything. You have to say to yourself, "I'm listening to this person not to criticize or judge him. I'm listening to give him a chance to express himself, to provide him with some relief--that's all."

Excerpt from You Are Here, Thich Nhat Hanh, p. 62

Friday, July 14, 2023

See The Blue Sky

"Albert Camus wrote a novel, The Stranger, in which his character, Meursault, is condemned to death. Three days before his execution, he is able for the first time in his life to touch the blue sky. He is in his cell, he is looking at the ceiling. He discovers a square of blue sky appearing through the skylight. Strangely enough, a man forty years of age is able to see the blue sky for the first time. Of course, he had looked at the stars and the blue sky more than once before, but this time it was for real. We might not know how to touch the blue sky in such a profound way. The moment of awareness Camus describes is mindfulness: Suddenly you are able to touch life." 

Excerpt from True Love, Thich Nhat Hanh, pp. 16-17

I took this picture at Knox Farm (East Aurora, NY) yesterday during a long walk. 

Developing a Listening Exercise

Listening is a sociological skill. We can all improve our listening ability. If given the opportunity to concentrate and listen carefully to others, maybe we can be better listeners. This semester I plan to try a listening exercise. One way to do this would be to pair up students and have them chat about prompts like these:

  1. Describe a pet and what your pet means to you (if you've never had a pet, would you want one some day?) 
  2. Details about a job you’ve had
  3. What's something in your life that is stressful?
  4. A hobby or activity in your life
  5. What’s a value you have, or a family value, that’s important to you?
  6. Is there an area in your life you’re trying to improve?
Whatever the questions are, we would pair back up a few weeks later to revisit these questions and to see what people remember from their conversation. The spirit of the exercise is to practice deep listening. Maybe we'll recognize we too often "half listen" in daily conversation or come in and out of conversations. We can't be perfect listeners all the time, but surely we can improve. 

Thoughts? Ideas? 

Thursday, July 13, 2023

Home Improvement, Forever

I don't know when I started watching HGTV. I'm not sure I ever want to watch HGTV, as in "I really need to watch a home improvement show, or a show about flipping, or a show about house hunting." I watch it because it's on. It's convenient. I watch it for filler, similar to my viewing of Food Network. These channels are on all day, with reliable content. I have to be careful not to consume too much Food Network. The shows make me hungry. If I'm bored, and there's nothing on (which is most of the time), I tend to flip back and forth between these channels. In the past few years, I've cut back on my Food Network viewing, and probably have watched more HGTV than say 4-5 years ago. But I don't stay on HGTV too long. After all these years, I can still fantasize about living in a newly remodeled home with an amazing yard. It's easy escapism. Sure, I'd like to have a killer pool and perfect landscaping. Or two full bathrooms. Or a home office. But the structural limitations of our home makes these things unlikely. Plus financial limitations, lol. Whatever our budget affords us (or doesn't), the song remains the same: HGTV suggests there is always something to do to your place, that there is always something to change, that updating your living quarters is valuable. You can also look good doing it! You might even make money doing it! It certainly suggests that the condition of your apartment, or home, is not good enough. Even if you love it and don't leave it, something must be improved. You can't possibly be happy with what is. Hmmmm. 

There's Crying in Baseball

One year ago, we were in Myrtle Beach for a baseball tournament. We played some very talented teams from Florida and South Carolina. Maybe the best team we played was from Massachusetts--they had a kid who could throw a curveball that our team couldn't hit. It was hot, very hot, around 90 degrees each day. It was also the end of the season. My kid, a small for his age 11-year-old, was already tired with it being the end of the season. He still loved playing games, but you could tell he was tired and that his body needed rest. The heat and the pressure of playing better teams was a lot to endure. First game, he struggled at the plate, and couldn't get a hit. At the end of the game, he was exhausted, and he cried. A lot. He'd cry over the years at age 8, 9, 10, and 11 when playing baseball. So would other kids. You'd see kids cry after striking out or making an error or getting thrown out. What the secret is to handling your kid crying, I'm not sure. I nor any other parent that I've noticed seem to have the secret sauce. Your kid is upset, they perceive themselves as failing, they might cry. We'd try to explain to kids that it's hard to succeed in baseball. We can say things like "If you get a hit 2 or 3 times out of 10 in baseball, that's success" or "MLB players strike out and make errors!" but it doesn't make kids feel better. They want to succeed and it's hugely frustrating for them to strike out or to "fail" in other ways. 

I think that was the last time my kid cried at baseball. I've observed a big difference between 11 and 12 years old. I haven't observed much crying from kids this year. Sure, you still see it once in a while for the same reasons--striking out, getting thrown out, booting a ball, getting hit by a pitch--but it's much less common and doesn't last as long. Kids are more able to move on more quickly. I notice I can reason with my 12-year-old in a way that I couldn't in previous years. It makes sense to him now that he can't hold onto a "bad" at bat and that he has to have a short memory when something doesn't go his way. You can't carry over a "bad" at bat to the field, and you can't get stuck on what went "wrong" in the last at bat. You try to learn from an unsuccessful at bat, but you don't obsess about it. I try to teach him to stay in the moment and be confident in the here and now. 

It's never easy to see your kid upset and parents seem flustered when their kid is crying. I can't claim to have always known what to do in such moments. We can aim to be compassionate, understanding,  supportive, and patient. 

Loving Friendliness

"The meditation center where I most often teach is in the hills of the West Virginia countryside. When we first opened our center, there was a man down the road who was very unfriendly. I take a long walk every day, and, whenever I saw this man, I would wave to him. He would just frown at me and look away. Even so, I would always wave and think kindly of him, sending him metta. I was not phased by his attitude; I never gave up on him. Whenever I saw him, I waved. After about a year, his behavior changed. He stopped frowning. I felt wonderful. The practice of loving friendliness was beginning to bear fruit. 

After another year, when I passed him on my walk, something miraculous happened. He drove past me and lifted one finger off the steering wheel. Again, I thought, "Oh, this is wonderful! Loving friendliness is working." And yet another year passed as, day after day, I would wave to him and wish him well. The third year, he lifted two fingers in my direction. Then the next year, he lifted all four fingers off the wheel. More time passed. I was walking down the road as he turned into his driveway. He took his hand completely off the steering wheel, stuck it out the window, and waved back at me.

One day, not long after that, I saw this man parked on the side of one of the forest roads. He was sitting in the driver's seat smoking a cigarette. I went over to him and we started talking. First we chatted just about the weather and then, little by little, his story unfolded: It turns out that, several years ago, he had been in a terrible accident--a tree had fallen on his truck. Almost every bone in his body had been broken, and he was left in a coma for some time. When I first started seeing him on the road, he was only beginning to recover. It was not because he was a mean person that he did not wave back to me; he did not wave back because he could not move all his fingers! Had I given up on him, I would never have known how good this man is. One day, when I had been away on a trip, he actually came by our center looking for me. He was worried because he hadn't seen me walking in a while. Now we are friends."

Excerpt from Mindfulness in Plain English, Bhante Gunaratana, pp, 179-180

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Touching Life Deeply

"When you contemplate the full moon, if you are thinking then the full moon is not there and you are not there either. This is because thinking prevents us from living deeply in the present moment in our everyday life. When you are drinking water, drink water, drink only water. That is meditation. You must not drink other things, such as your worries, your plans--wandering around in the realm of your thoughts. Thinking prevents us from touching life deeply. I think, therefore I am really not there."

Excerpt from: Thich Nhat Hanh, True Love, pp. 86-87

On Being a Hero

It was a close game in a six inning tournament contest, and suddenly it was tie ballgame after six full innings. Extra innings, here we go. The two teams were perfectly evenly matched, but the momentum really seemed on our side. Our second baseman was eating up everything and was piling up putouts. Normally a singles hitter, he enjoyed a double and later laid down a beautiful sacrifice bunt. In the bottom of the 8th inning, with the game still tied, the other team was near the bottom of the batting order. The hitter who came to the plate was hitless for the day, hitting a few routine groundballs to the aforementioned second basemen. In my head I figured he might do it one more time. Instead, the kid destroyed a ball for a no doubt home run. It was incredible. I had to tip my cap. Baseball gives, baseball takes away. I was proud of our team and happy for the home run hero. A walk off home run is an extraordinary feat. If you're a hero for a day as a 12-year-old, you'll remember it for the rest of your life. My kid was the second baseman who probably played the best day of his baseball life. To use a cliché, he left it all on the field. We shook hands with the other team after the game, per tradition. I get to go through the line as an assistant coach. I congratulated the home run hero. We told our team to keep their heads high, and praised them for a job well done. I like the way we coached and how the kids responded to the disappointment. 

Youth sports rightly gets a lot of criticism for erratic parent behavior, questionable coaching behavior, the increasing cost to play, and the overstructured nature of the whole enterprise. What gets overlooked in the criticism are the many positives: valuable lessons about winning and losing, opportunities for being a good sport, learning to play a game with integrity, being a good teammate, and, as this example is meant to simply show, the rare experience of being a hero in a sport context. Imagine what that home run did for that kid's self esteem and how proud he must still feel. Bravo.

Monday, July 3, 2023

Party Talking

The 4th of July has nearly arrived. You may find yourself at a party soon. Maybe you'll attend graduation parties, weddings, and other gatherings this summer. What style of talking do you notice? Here's a few of the ways of talking I've noted at recent parties...

1. Opinions and assertions. The person opines, or lectures, sometimes aggressively. Often political in nature.

2. Small talk / chit chat / stays at the superficial level. Safe topics.

3. Conversation. Includes back and forth, and questions. Goes beyond the superficial level without necessarily attempting to be profound or deep. Attentive listening and sincere interest in the other person(s) are key features.

I've listed these in order of most likely to least likely, according to recent experiences. Opinions and non-controversial chit chat are common, whereas conversations are relatively rare. 

How about you? What are your experiences and observations?

Update 7/16/2023: I was at a graduation party yesterday, and got to enjoy some banter between old friends. My neighbor was sitting with two of his buddies from way back in the day. My wife and I joined them. I was a bit hesitant because I could see they were catching up on old times. But they were super cool and didn't mind us sitting with them. They were very friendly. The style of talking on display was storytelling. Storytelling is an art, and it's a form of talking I truly appreciate. I don't consider myself a skilled storyteller. These guys traded hilarious stories from over the years. We were belly laughing. All three of these guys were good storytellers. So, I'm adding storytelling to my list of talking styles I've recently observed. I appreciated that they included us through eye contact, and by giving us a chance to jump in with a few stories of our own. 

Sunday, July 2, 2023

In Perspective

My baseball playing 12-year-old had a game in Brighton just outside the city of Rochester today. It was an uncomfortable day due to the humidity. There was a threat of rain, but it never came. It's always good to get in a ballgame. We played at a field with a rough infield and very short fences. The other team came out swinging, blasting two home runs in the first inning. Dingers are always deflating. Our bats were slow to begin the game, with our kids striking out a lot. The opposing team built a nice lead and though our kids did a nice job coming back to make it a close game, they ended up losing by one run. I wasn't laser focused on the game. My attention was distracted in a good way. A long time buddy who lives near Rochester came by the game. "Not to be corny," I said to my wife this morning during a walk, "but having a buddy of almost 30 years come to our kid's baseball game filled my cup." I'm old and sentimental, and genuinely appreciative of a friend who shows up to youth baseball game during a busy day of his own. We chatted during the game as I attended to my duties as official scorekeeper. Seeing him made me happy. We're in a group text with a few other buddies, and after the game he sent a nice message about how well my kid played. It nearly brought me to tears while I was sitting at lunch at Dinosaur BBQ in Rochester with a few families from the team. Did I mention I'm old and sentimental? Our server was friendly and did a terrific job. She told us she had only a few days left on the job. I briefly chatted with her on the way out, learning she's moving to Florida. I wished her well. I'm happy for people with new beginnings. Lunch was pleasant. I devoured my brisket sandwich and one of the coldest beers I've had in a long time, a can of Sip of Sunshine. 

On the way to lunch our 12-year-old was upset. He did in fact have a good game, making several good plays at second base, and getting two hits, one of which was a very hard hit double. But he made the last out of the game by grounding out. Few things feel worse in baseball than making the last out. He's hard on himself. I was relieved when he relaxed at the restaurant and enjoyed the company of his teammates. Today he showed no signs of being upset. A good night of sleep always helps. 

In youth baseball, best practice is to keep things in perspective. It's a game. You can't always win. You can't always succeed at the plate. It's a privilege to play the game of baseball. It's a joy when a friend you met in 1995 comes to say hi and see your kid play. You have good fortune if you can eat with your family in a restaurant and enjoy a good meal. In the youth baseball world, we often lose perspective. But we can aim to keep things in perspective. 

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

What Is Yours To See?

There are parts of Mindfulness for Beginners, authored by Jon Kabat-Zinn, to which keep returning. I really dig the question "What is yours to see?" Kabat-Zinn writes: "This is a great question to ponder, to make your own, to let live inside your bones and your pores, and to guide your life." It could be an act of service, it could be a vocation. It could be small, it could be big. He writes: "Maybe you can't see what is somebody else's to see. But maybe, just maybe, you can see what is yours to see" (p. 75). 

Tuesday, June 27, 2023


In Mindfulness for Beginners, one of the terms that stands out is selfing, defined by author Jon Kabat-Zinn as "the tendency to put ourselves at the absolute center of the universe" (p. 40). This reminds me of Charles Derber’s The Pursuit of Attention. Throughout the book, Derber talks about the cultural tendency to be self-oriented. I wrote about Derber's book at Everyday Sociology Blog a few years ago: "Tired and anxious, we become preoccupied with our own problems. Our capitalist system and individualistic culture cultivates a survivalist mentality." 

Back to Mindfulness for Beginners...Kabat-Zinn suggests we catch ourselves when we are self-oriented and self-preoccupied, and notes "...we don't have to automatically and with no awareness fall into the habits of self-identification, self-centeredness, and selfing. What is more, if we are open to looking at ourselves afresh, we can readily see that these thought-habits actually distort reality, create illusions and delusions, and ultimately imprison us" (p. 42). 

Monday, June 26, 2023

This Is It

I like the section on non-striving in Mindfulness for Beginners by Jon Kabat-Zinn (pp. 127-129):

Non-striving "sounds really subversive, even un-American. We are proverbial go-getters, megadoers. We could re-name our species 'human doers.' As a culture, we are really into doing, making progress, and always needing to get somewhere."

"Non-striving is related to the timeless quality of the present moment we call now...It involves realizing that you are already here. There's no place to go, because the agenda is simply to be awake...What happens now is what matters."

"Even the tiniest bit of reminding ourselves that "this is it," that we are alive now, that we are already here, can make a huge difference. For in fact, as we have seen, the future that we desire to get to--it is already here. This is it!"

"This moment is as good as any other. In fact, it's perfect. Perfectly what it is. And this includes everything that you might think of as its imperfections."

Sunday, June 25, 2023

What Does it Mean to Children to See Adults Act This Way?

I was fully in the moment at yesterday's baseball game. I sat on my bucket keeping score, watching the game attentively. Opposing coaches were unhappy with the umpire. More than once they complained about calls. Finally one of them truly lost their temper. I teach a Social Interaction course. It's captivating to me to watch an umpire interact with frustrated and angry coaches. The umpire has power, yet in youth baseball the umpire is often a young man. In this case, it's a high schooler interacting with grown men. It's hard for a young man to not be intimidated in the moment. He held firm, held his own, and tossed the umpires. I was impressed by how the young man handled the situation. With regard to the coaches, my question sounds judgmental, but it's not meant to be. It's honestly an honest question: What does it mean to baseball playing children to see adults act this way? I am not always 100% calm and composed. Like anyone, I'm subject to losing my patience and losing my cool. I've unraveled in public before. It's important to check our temperature, to check ourselves, and to consider what it means to the children among us when our cool leaves us. 

Monday, June 12, 2023

The Rollercoaster Ride

Yesterday's baseball game was tied up in the last inning. Our team batted in the bottom of the last inning. Runner on second base. Kid hits a weak ground ball. Runner on second should immediately run to third base in the situation. He doesn't. He hesitates. Fielder throws to first base to get the out. Runner now runs to third base, drawing a throw. It's an errant throw. Because of the error, the runner is able to easily score. Ballgame over. You take the win however you get it. Baseball will drive you mad. Textbook baserunning in the situation would've drawn no throw, because the runner would've advanced to third base when the ball was on the ground. But because of his hesitation--technically a mistake--he unintentionally provokes a hurried throw that sails past the third baseman. It wasn't by design, but it worked in our favor. 

During warmups, our team looked crisp. We had a smooth, clean warmup, and felt good about our pre-game preparation. We observed the other team having a warmup that looked sloppy. They didn't look dialed in. I wondered to myself if there is such a thing about the science of warmups. Over the years I haven't noticed a completely clear connection between warmup quality and game outcome. In this instance, a good warmup and less than quality warmup put the teams at a tie game heading into the last inning of the game. And a bad throw concludes the game.

As with a lot of contests, there are dozens if not hundreds of factors involved. It's a rollercoaster, and sometimes you just have to enjoy the ride. 

Thursday, June 8, 2023

Air Quality Index

Living in Buffalo, we're accustomed to long winters, and worrying about hazardous road conditions due to ice and snow. Now, suddenly, we pay attention to air quality index. The weekday routine for my 12-year-old is to come home from school and immediately ask if he can go to his friend's house. On Tuesday we said no because of the air quality. He reacted as if he was being punished. Telling him we were trying to preserve his safety probably sounded like bullshit. Or maybe it felt too much like being told to stay home during Covid quarantine in 2020. Last night, his baseball game was cancelled due to the air quality, and he handled it well, surprisingly. Today's air quality index, by number, is better than yesterday, but it feels much worse to me in terms of discomfort to throat and eyes. The meteorologists say it will improve here by tomorrow. It's weird to be stuck inside on what would otherwise be a pleasant June day. 

The stores are all open and the entertainment is streaming. I recommend the first season of Somebody Somewhere. 

Update: having just completed episode 4 of season 2, I also recommend the second season of Somebody Somewhere. The vodka drinking then bike riding scene is one of my favorite scenes in the series so far.

Monday, May 29, 2023

Sunflower Seeds

Sunflower seeds are a common element in the youth baseball scene. Most if not all of the players will have a package at practice and games. There's still the original flavor of David's available for old school baseball people like myself. But the kids prefer all manner of flavors over the original. There is also BIGS, a competing brand. I find many of the new flavors gross, BIGS taco supreme at the top of the list. Others are relatively palatable, like David ranch or David sour cream and onion. This can be an annoying part of youth baseball culture when kids help themselves to each other's seeds without permission, or when they spit seeds everywhere and a gust of wind takes a seed your way. But it's amusing to see kids take to the baseball custom of chewing and spitting sunflower seeds. I keep a package of David original seeds in my bag and enjoy them while on duty as official scorekeeper for the team.

Tough Day at the Office (Hitting is Contagious)

My kid pitched two innings on Friday night. He didn't have his best stuff, and he gave up some runs. There were some bloop singles, solid line drive singles, and a few errors. From a hitter's point of view, when you see your teammate have success at the plate, maybe it relaxes you a bit, and maybe it builds confidence that you can hit this pitcher too. From a pitcher's point of view, if you don't have your best stuff, you lose some confidence, take a little off your fastball, and worry too much about getting the ball over the plate. Suddenly a team puts together a string of hits in a row. We were behind 12-7 heading into the bottom of the 7th. There was some sloppy baseball on both sides. In ugly fashion, we came from behind to win 13-12. My kid said his arm was sore. He was frustrated. "Tough day at the office," I said, "this is how baseball goes." When he woke up Saturday morning, I asked, "You wanna know something funny about last night?" He said "I got the win." Exactly right. It was a rough outing, but he was the pitcher of record in the 7th inning when we won, so ended up with the win. Kid knows his baseball. 

When a kid is struggling on the mound, or at the plate, we can see a positive element of youth sports in that kids learn to deal with adversity. Coaches can instruct kids to change their pitching or swing mechanics, but ultimately it's the kid who has to figure it out. We can also see the kindness of teammates when they encourage their scuffling friend, e.g. by hollering "You got this!" or being supportive in other ways.

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Chirping at the Umpire

Tough loss today. 7-6. We got out to a 4-0 lead early in the game. By "we" I mean the team of 12 year-olds I help coach, including my son. My kid pitched 3 innings of shut out baseball. There are few things I'm fully present for in life. Baseball when my kid plays is one of them. It was like watching it in slow motion. My kid is on the small side, because genetics. It's enjoyable to watch bigger kids struggle to hit him. To be clear, there are many games he gets hit, and hit hard. But today was not one of those days. He didn't play perfectly, because no one does. He made an egregious baserunning mistake. And a bunt that he didn't place where it needed to be. On the ride home I told him to keep his head high. None of us are perfect. We win as a team and lose as a team. Too many runners were left on base. We made errors. We didn't hit enough. Collectively we didn't get it done. Cue Argent... Hold your head up

The coaches for the opposing team were chirping for the entire game. They complained about many of the calls the umpire made. They were relentless. I don't know how old the ump is, my guess is late teens. He did a solid job. Sure, he missed a few calls. But so does every umpire. Just like the players, umpires aren't perfect. This dude was solid. But there are coaches who operate like this intentionally. They chirp at the umpire all day long. To the credit of the opposing them, they came from behind and earned the win. They chipped away at us and beat us, legit. Sometimes, you're left with clichés. You win some, you lose some. 

I should note, the coaches were complimentary of one of our players. They were impressed by our first baseman. One coach joked about how he would've been a good first baseman if he were taller. I can relate, I joked, as a fellow short man. Camaraderie among coaches is something I especially enjoy about the youth baseball scene. 

Sit on Your Bucket (On Being a Youth Baseball Coach)

Last summer, my then 11-year-old and his teammates played in the Ripken Experience baseball tournament in Myrtle Beach. It was awesome. It was also hot. We all knew it'd be hot in August in South Carolina. Kid you not, there were coaches from Florida complaining of the heat. I adjusted pretty quickly and thoroughly enjoyed our week spent in South Carolina. A buddy went to Coastal Carolina as an undergraduate so I used to visit him for Spring Break back in the early 90s. I hadn't been to Myrtle Beach since then. 

As one of the coaches for my son's team, I got to meet former MLB player Reggie Sanders, who gave opening remarks for the tournament. As a run up to the tournament, we listened to one of the organizers encourage us to behave ourselves during the tournament. In other words, act like grown men, and don't harass umpires. "Assistant coaches, let your head coach do the talking. Assistant coaches, sit on your buckets." We laughed. We did exactly that, we behaved and sat on our buckets during the games. I've taken that advice with me. I'm in my happy place keeping score for the team as part of my assistant coach duties. A lot of teams use GameChanger to keep score, but I'm old school and use a scorebook and pencil. I sit on a bucket, spit out sunflower seeds, and keep a good book. 

On occasion I see parents lose their cool and talk shit to umps, but mostly the parents stay cool when they watch games. I very rarely lose my temper in life so it's pretty easy to stay composed during baseball games. If I'm even close to getting mad, I remind myself to chill out and sit on my bucket. These are kids playing baseball, I remind myself, let's keep this all in perspective. 

Dreams of Being Unprepared for Class

The semester has ended. It's always weird when the emails suddenly slow down and there isn't grading and class prep every weekend. But I'm still having dreams of being unprepared for class. Last night I had a dream about the first day of class. It was minutes before teaching the Sociology of Aging--a course, in real life, that I haven't taught in 15 years--but there I was, dreaming of having nothing to teach on day 1. I have no plans to teach the Sociology of Aging anytime in the foreseeable future, but still I'm worried about content for class I won't be teaching even after the academic year has concluded.

This time of year, I do chapter updates for A Sociology Experiment. If I may plug the resource, check it out. These chapters are an unbelievable bargain. The Instructor's Resource alone is worth using A Sociology Experiment. I miss working with Peter Kaufman on our Social Class Inequality chapter. I'm proud of the chapter we co-wrote, and proud of the updates in place for the chapter and the Instructor's Resource. There's a compilation of supplemental readings, videos, and assignments in the Resource that ensure you'll never dream of being unprepared for class.

Unrelated to my life as a college professor, I also have a recurring dream of playing rugby. I played rugby in the early to mid 1990s as an undergraduate and then in grad school. I wrote my Master's thesis on rugby and masculinity. I miss playing the game, a lot, hence dreams about playing. My friend and teammate from the team we played on in my undergraduate days at Fredonia convinced me to play in a tournament this summer for 50+ year-olds. I'm 50, I figure, hey, I'm on the young end of this thing, why not? So I agreed. As a tune up I played rugby two weeks ago in an alumni game at Fredonia. Alumni ranging from twenty-somethings to age 60 gathered to play the current team. We beat them. I can't claim I made a major contribution, but I didn't embarrass myself, nor did I get injured. Mission accomplished. I'm still getting in shape for the tournament this summer and it's my goal to a.) not embarrass myself b.) not get injured c.) play well d.) score