Tag Archives: sports

Sandlot — J. Conrad Guest

With the start of the baseball season a couple of weeks away, I thought I’d share this short story I wrote more than five years ago. It appeared in an online e-zine, and from it was born my fourth novel, Backstop: A Baseball Love Story in Nine Innings. It’s interesting, these many years later, to note how the protagonist evolved.

J. Conrad Guest (photo courtesy of Sommerville Photographie)

J. Conrad Guest
(photo courtesy of Sommerville Photographie)

***

 “Hey, Buzz, what happened out there today?”

Eighteen years in the majors and I still don’t like tape recorders pushed into my face after a game, especially not after a loss, and not when I’m heading for the shower with a bar of soap wearing nothing but a towel, and that draped over my shoulder. I’ve gotten used to it I suppose; it goes with the game, but I don’t have to like it.

“I fouled out to end the game,” I said into the recorder. “I stranded the winning runs on base and we lost the game.”

“A few years ago that wouldn’t have happened, right? You’d have brought those two runners home, wouldn’t you?”

He was baiting me I knew, this kid reporter trying to make a name for himself in the local paper, looking for a quote from the colorful veteran. I’ve never considered myself colorful. I’ve always just wanted to play ball. I don’t think of myself as outspoken, but I say what’s on my mind; sometimes, when I’m quoted in the morning paper, they somehow manage to make me sound erudite. Most of the time I find it amusing.

I looked at his press badge, pressed it, and asked him what was supposed to happen. He didn’t get it. I decided against explaining. You could say I was in a foul mood.

“Yeah,” I said, “and last night I hit a three-run shot to extend our lead. So what the game wasn’t on the line in the third inning.”

All the reporter did was stare at me. Somehow he knew I wasn’t yet done. Maybe it was because I’d sat down on the bench. I let out a long audible sigh.

“Look, what do you want from me, a scoop? You want me to tell you I’m washed up, finished? That this is my last year?”

The kid sat down on the bench across from me and I thought back to a similar discussion I’d had with my dad twenty-five years ago, when I was playing ball in high school…

“Look, what do you want from me?” I asked. 

“I want you to come to your senses,” Dad said. “Major league baseball, that’s a pipe dream.” 

Both Dad and Mom wanted what was best for me, and they both thought they knew what best was: they wanted me to play it safe — learn a trade or get a degree and spend the next forty years working nine to five for someone else. I saw that as a sentence, one that would end up with me, at age sixty-five, regretting that I’d never even tried, disgusted with myself that I’d given up my dream, sans the pipe, for what my parents had wanted for me. 

“I’m going to college, and I’ll get a degree” I said, “but I want to play baseball.” 

“But major league baseball —” 

“Is for a lucky few,” I finished for him. We’d had this discussion before. “Well who’s to say I won’t be among those lucky few? Guys get paid millions for hitting a meager .250. A few seeing-eye ground balls and bloop singles here and there over the course of a season spell the difference between mediocrity and superstardom. I’ve got some talent, Dad, and I’m hard-working. I can hit a curve ball, and if I can learn to lay off the high inside fastball I’ll be able to work a count. I’ve a pretty good glove, too. After my playing days are over, maybe I’ll end up managing, or maybe in a booth doing color. If I don’t make it, well, then I’ll have my degree to fall back on.”

I recalled Ty Cobb. His father hadn’t approved of his son’s dream either; but when he realized Ty had his heart set on playing baseball, he told him not to come home a failure. A couple weeks before the Detroit Tigers called Ty to the show, William Cobb was shot dead by his wife, who claimed she thought he was a burglar. Maybe that’s what drove Ty Cobb to become the demon he was on the diamond: that his father never got to see him play.

Dad said nothing to me after I’d made it to the show; he died the year before I was drafted. Maybe that was as much the reason I continued to play well into the twilight of my career.

Baseball is a humbling game. Trust me, I know. I was drafted… well let’s just say I wasn’t taken early. I spent a year in the minors; played solid defense at first base and hit well enough, for average and with above average power, to earn a good look the following year at spring training. I was fortunate that I had a good pre-season, so the team took me north. I worked my ass off to stay in the majors. I might not have Hall of Fame numbers, but I’ve rarely been cheated at the plate; sure I’ve had my share of oh-fers, but I’ve accumulated some three- and four-for-fours along the way, too, and a Gold Glove to boot. I haven’t won a World Series — this might be the year although it’s still only June — and have been voted an All Star only twice, but I’m proud of my career. I’ve played the game the way it was meant to be played, with adolescent joy. I’ve put up numbers good enough to have played my entire career for the same team, a rarity in the modern era, and I’m thankful each and every day I take the field, which isn’t as often as it once was.

Maybe I should’ve gotten out of the game a couple of years ago, but thanks to the designated hitter rule — a rule I despised when I broke into the game and still loathe for the sake of the game (call me a purist) — I’m still playing, at age forty, this kid’s game that I love so much.

I learned long ago not to pay too much attention to what the press writes or says about me, for good or bad, or to listen when the fans boo me. They’re the same ones who’ll cheer me tomorrow. This game, as much mental as it is physical, is filled with ups and downs, and I’m hard enough on myself without trying to please the press or the gate, and I think that has helped my longevity as much as my work ethic.

I didn’t say any of this to the kid reporter who sat looking at me, wide-eyed. I sighed, stood up and took a few steps toward the showers. When I turned back, the kid was still looking at me, still hoping for a story.

Sportswriters, I thought wryly.

I tossed him, underhand, the bar of soap. He reached for it — it glanced off the heel of his hand and landed on the floor, bouncing once. He sat and I stood, each of us looking at the other. After a long uncomfortable moment, for him at least, he picked up the bar of soap and lobbed it back at me. I snatched it out of midair, rolled my eyes, and headed for the showers.

J. Conrad Guest, author of 500 Miles To GoA Retrospect In Death, Backstop: A Baseball Love Story In Nine InningsJanuary’s Thaw, and One Hot January 

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Click to purchase

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The Girl Who Couldn’t Learn Football

I’ve never been a football fan. Truth be told, I’ve never understood the sport at all. Keep in mind that despite cheering for the sport for a number of years in my youth, I’ve never been able to learn more than what a first down is and a hand signal or two. Basically, I know the sign for ‘holding’ and ‘touchdown.’

I know, sad.

Over the holiday break, I drove to Massachusetts to visit my family. During my vacation, I spent a couple of days visiting my sister in New Hampshire. One night, the Patriots game was on the television and I made the mistake of thinking my sister and I were spending quality time with each other. Imagine my surprise when she looked at the screen and hollared, “YOU GOTTA CATCH THOSE!!!”

Shortly after that, she began to scream at the ref in much the same manner as any man might do when watching the game with his buddies. I said to her what I’ve said to those men: “You do realize they can’t hear you, right?”

And yes, I received the same look of exasperation from her that I’ve received from men in the past.

In all fairness, I have tried on several occasions to learn the sport. I would ask questions while watching the game but soon realized that my questions that sounded something like, “So the guy in the blue shirt is the quarterback, right?” or “Which direction are they going in?” or “Why are they playing in the rain? Aren’t they cold?” were not as well received as I would have liked.

So why, despite my trying to learn the sport, am I unable to do so? I am a fairly intelligent person. I’m college educated and have been able to hold down a job since graduation. I speak grammatically correct, can make change without a calculator and can read instructions in order to assemble any number of household items. Why, I ask, does this football thing escape me? Why do I find it nearly impossible to keep track of who’s in what place or who is trying to get to which goal? And never mind which player ran so many yards in a game in 1973. Do we really care about this? Yeah, yeah, I know some of you do.

The thing is; football is great! If i were to watch any sport, football would be it. I love the crashing into one another, the die hard play-in-any-type-of-weather mentality, and let’s face it, the tight pants aren’t all that bad either.

So here is my New Year’s resolution: This is the year I will learn the fundamentals of football. I will learn the proper way to tackle someone without getting a penalty, I will learn what causes a penalty and perhaps even a play or two. I will learn all the positions as well as the qualities that are best suited for those positions. (Currently, I only know that typically, a big, burly guy is the center and a quick, smaller guy is a running back. But that’s two positions down! How many to go?)

In addition, I will follow a team through the season and cheer them on. I will make an effort to watch every game they play, even if it means I miss an outing with a girlfriend.

Now, who’s going to teach me the game?

Donna Small is the author of two novels: Just Between Friends and A Ripple in the Water. Both are from Second Wind Publishing.
http://www.secondwindpublishing.com/index.php?manufacturers_id=62&osCsid=5aa868f4ced38ad55a5e38423b6bc8f2

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Sometimes, It’s Okay to Quit by Donna Small

When I was around seven or eight years old, my parents decided to sign me up for organ lessons. That’s right – organ lessons. Not something cool, like dance or even piano. I was the kid who played the organ for my church. It was a huge contraption with several keyboards, pedals that went across the floor, and large pipes that went up through the ceiling.

Remember the organ from Beauty and the Beast? Yeah…it was just like that.

As you can imagine, I was thrilled. (Note the sarcasm here.)

Anyway, every Wednesday night, one of my parents would take me to my lesson. There was a very nice woman in town who gave lessons out of her home. She, of course, played the organ, but also played other instruments as well, including…

wait for it….the accordion!

If I managed to play a piece particularly well, she would bring out her contraption, swing the strap around her shoulders, and squeeze the thing in and out making sounds to accompany my attempt at music.

It was not pretty.

I took lessons for years. Emphasis on the “years” part. When I started taking the lessons, I still had baby teeth. When I was finally allowed to stop, I had bee through braces, acne, puberty and was driving.

Years….

The interesting thing is, I hated every minute of it. I never practiced my songs, never looked forward to a single lesson, and continuously begged my parents to let me quit.

They never would.

So each week, I’d grudgingly get into my parents’ car and head to my lesson, feeling much like someone forced to go to the dentist for a root canal week after agonizing week.

Finally, I graduated from high school and began attending college. At last, I was allowed to quit my lessons. The small organ we had in our house was moved to my grandmothers’ house and the spot where it sat was filled with another piece of furniture. (It couldn’t be sold or given away because my parents felt certain I would eventually want to resume my lessons and they wanted to make sure I had an organ to play on.)

I never took another lesson.

Flash forward several years and now I’m the parent. I have two beautiful girls who are finding their way in life. A rather large part of that, in my opinion, is trying out different sports and activities to determine where they want to focus their energies. I don’t force them into sports or playing an instrument. I encourage if they show any interest. I pay the fee if they express a desire to join a particular sport. And I’m happy to do so. What I will not do is force them to continue something they hate participating in. Knowing that I put zero energy into my organ playing when I was their age makes me think that forcing them to do a sport or activity they don’t want to do is tantamount to flushing my money down the toilet and a surefire way to create animosity between us.

That being said, once they’ve joined a sport, they are required to complete the season and they know this. We discuss the fact that they are part of a team before they join. We discuss the fact that their team relies on them for a particular skill and it’s not fair to let the other players down. If, after one season, they don’t want to play a particular sport, that is okay with me.

Both of my girls have tried several sports and have found a particular one they flourish in and enjoy. My eldest is a swimmer and my youngest has chosen softball. Both of them have played their respective sports for several years now and I’m happy to pay the fees, purchase the equipment and attend any and all events.

Because they’re happy to participate in them.

I don’t have to drag them to practice, force them to put on their uniforms, or bribe them to get them to events. They look forward to them…because they had a part in choosing.

All this is not to say I”m angry with my parents for making me take all those lessons. I’m not. I learned a skill that while useless, is a neat party trick. I can’t play Beethoven or Mozart – you know, because I NEVER practiced – but I can play a mean “Down a Papa Joes!”

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Fishing Klinic for Kids in Minnesota by Christine Husom

A number of years ago, a retired police officer came up with an idea to help keep kids out of trouble later in life. His idea was, if they learned to love the art and sport of fishing, it could be a lifelong hobby and provide an alternative to hanging out in the streets. He started by teaching community education classes, then realized fishing in the lake would be more meaningful and fun. And getting whole families involved would be even better. So the Fishing Klinic for Kids was born.

This year marked the 14th annual event in Sturges Park on Buffalo Lake. The town of Buffalo, Minnesota overlooks the lake, the center of many activities. The Fishing Klinic is the largest event of its kind in Minnesota. I have volunteered the past two years and am amazed how much there is to do and what a draw it is for people of all ages.

There are a number of sponsors, and the event is free of charge. We have over 1,000 kids, plus their parents and grandparents who attend each year. I helped coordinate the registration booth where the kids pick up a card with a list of vendors. After they visit eight booths they can go fishing. Last year we gave each of them a tackle box. This year they got a backpack and a flashlight. In addition to the nice gifts, they are about 1,000 other prizes they can win.

Some of the things to do are: take a pontoon ride, learn to caste, have a pony ride, watch a dog training demonstration, explore a fire truck and a police car, watch someone hand-tie fishing flies, see a demonstration from the Minnesota Raptor Center, listen to professional musicians, watch karate and dance demonstrations, get your face painted, eat a variety of vendor foods, watch minnows race, participate in a casting competition, take lessons from fishing professionals, learn ethical sportsmanship, and much more.

I have truly enjoyed being part of this rewarding event. For more information about it and the sponsors, go to: www.fishingklinicforkids.com. Fishing is understandably a popular sport in Minnesota–we have a few lakes and rivers. Fishing is one activity, but are any number of wholesome activities to engage children in from a young age. What are some things that are popular in your area? I’d love to hear about them.

Christine Husom is the Second Wind Publishing author of the Winnebago County Mystery Thriller Series; Murder in Winnebago County, Buried in Wolf Lake, and An Altar by the River.

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