Monday, April 11, 2005


You know when you watch a movie and there's a scene when you think, "I wish something like that would happen to me..."? I had one of those Friday night. No, I wasn't watching a movie; I had one of those real-life, great moments.

My daughter, Samantha, wanted to go to a Girl Scout-sanctioned, Father/Daughter sock hop at her elementary school. Being a guy and realizing that some sort of dancing was involved, I wasn't particularly thrilled at the prospect of attending. But, being the dad of a daughter (and only those of you who fill the same roll will know what I mean), I knew I had to go.

The plan was to bring something to eat and then dance the night away. Well, at least until 9:00. So, we grabbed some Wendy's and headed for school. We arrived at the same time as some other girls and their fathers. Many girls had poodle skirts on and some of the dads had white t-shirts, rolled-up jeans and penny loafers. One father brought her daughter on the back of his Harley. Not realizing that everyone would be taking it so seriously, I was wearing a forest green t-shirt, brown cargo pants and my Royals cap. Samantha was wearing a little black dress (girls must have these issued to them at birth) and some tall black boots.

We walked in, paid our $5/couple cover charge and made our way to the cafeteria. There were cafeteria tables set up along three sides of the room, decorated with blue tablecloths and centerpieces made of balloons and old 45s. There was a DJ set up in one corner, complete with multi-colored lights. There were people sitting at the tables, eating their dinners and there were a few girls already warming up the dance floor. I'm certainly not old enough to have attended a real sock hop, but this certainly had the feel of one.

We both ate our dinners and watched as more and more people filtered in, each of us formulating some judgement on who was there and how the night would end up. Now, ever since my kids have been enrolled in school, I've been uncomfortable hanging around with the other parents. I'm a young parent and most of the other parents are anywhere from 10 to 15 years older than I am. It's not that I feel self-conscious; I just don't seem to relate very well to these folks who lead very different lives than I do. Most are fully established in their careers, making more than enough money, owning sizable houses and multiple SUVs, whereas I still consider my job relatively temporary, I don't make a great deal of money, I live in a two-bedroom apartment and I own what can be kindly be called an "economy car", though I personally refer to it as a "clown car". And I'm more than content with my situation, in fact I wouldn't ask for their situation in a million years. It just doesn't make for interesting conversation with folks who live a lifestyle exactly the opposite of my own. So I prayed beforehand that I would just focus solely on Samantha and ensure that she had as good a time as possible.

I can only speculate on what Samantha was thinking. She wasn't very talkative as we ate and seemed focused on the girls who were already dancing. Sam isn't the most outgoing person in the world and sometimes has difficulty getting to know other people. She's a little like me in the sense that she likes to sit back a little and get an assessment of someone before pouring herself fully into a relationship with someone. There's certainly nothing wrong with that, but it does make for a little anxiety in large, group settings. One of her little school buddies, Jordan, came up as Sam was finishing her dinner and asked her if she wanted to go out and dance. Samantha responded shortly that, no, she preferred not to go out there. Jordan bounded out to the dance floor for a few seconds and then ran back, imploring Samantha to come on out with her. I tapped her on the shoulder and encouraged her to go on out there with her friend. But, again, Sam declined and as she turned around, I noticed her eyes were a little red. I asked her what was wrong and she just started crying and put her head in her folded arms on the table.

"Oh, great," I'm thinking. "Not only do I not want to be here, but now she's crying. No wonder I don't go out on any dates." She was sitting across from me, so I asked her to come around the table and sit beside me. Just then, the DJ pumped up the volume and started playing "YMCA", making it a bit difficult to communicate with someone who was mumbling through folded limbs. I asked her if she wanted to go out for "YMCA". It was easy and something she knew, I reasoned with her. She responded, "I don't know." Okay. Uhhhh.... Then I asked if she wanted to go out with me on the next song. "I don't know," she repeated. So I said that we should, in fact, go out on the next song and she mumbled "Okay, I guess," and raised her head to reveal an unhappy frown that didn't promise for a sock-hopping good time.

"YMCA" ended and I leaned over and said "Don't smile; we aren't here to have any fun." That cracked a smirk on her face. "Whew!", I thought. I may avoid an evening of misery after all! We were seated at a table near a corner of the room so, sensing her nervousness, I suggested we dance to the next song right next to the table, in the corner. She liked that idea and then her face brightened when the DJ announced that he would be playing the "Chicken Dance". For those of you unfamiliar with this dance, you start by raising both of your hands to shoulder-level and make talking motions with your fingers and thumbs. Next, you bring your hands to your armpits, throwing your elbows to the sides and start flapping like a chicken. Finally, you bring your arms to hip-level and pump them forward and backward, while twisting your hips and bending at the knees. The first set of motions is performed while singing/yelling "I don't wanna be a chicken!" The flapping is accompanied by "I don't wanna be a duck!" and the fanny-shaking is serenaded with "So I'm gonna shake my butt!" A smile had fully replaced the frown on her face and the sock hop was officially on.

Next on the dance card was "The Hokey Pokey". We performed this in our corner with much enthusiasm. And then, the sock hop kicked in to an authentic 50s vibe with "The Twist". I asked Samantha if she wanted to enter the actual dance floor and she nodded yes. So I grabbed her hand and pulled her out to the floor and showed her how to do "The Twist". She picked it up quickly and was instantly hooked. There would be no more frowns on this night.

Mercifully, the DJ mixed in a slow song to give us dads a little break from bouncing, twisting and shaking. Samantha's first slow dance was stiff, awkward and spent mostly checking out all the other girls to see how they were doing things. At the conclusion of the slow dance, another high-energy song, "Shout", was cranked up.

And that's when the moment happened.

We were bouncing around and throwing our arms up in the air at each "Shout!", when I looked at her and saw quite possibly the most joyous look on her face that I had ever seen. Her eyes were fully alive and her smile was barely contained by her little cheeks. She had overcome her fear and nervousness with her daddy holding her hands and spinning her around the dance floor.

When the song ended, we were both pretty warm and decided to sit the next one out. The doors were open to the playground, so I suggested we go outside and cool off a bit. She agreed and went running off to find her buddies on the playground. I sat down, thankful for the rest, the cool breeze and the fact that I was able to provide her with enough confidence to enjoy herself in what seemed to be an overwhelming situation.

After a few minutes of talking with her friends and climbing on the playground equipment, she asked if I wanted to go back inside. I said sure, but as we made our way to the doors, a conga line appeared and started weaving towards the front of the school. She asked if she could join in and I said sure, that I would meet her inside.

When she made it back in, she grabbed my hand and we re-entered the dance floor.

And then "Moment 1a" happened.

She looked up at me and said, "I think all the dads are sitting down during this one, okay?" I said okay and she and her buddies went to the middle of the dance floor while I made my way back to our corner seat. In a little over an hour, she had gone from burying her head in her arms and crying to kindly blowing off Dad to cut the rug with the girls. I couldn't have been more proud. Little "dad tears" started to well up and I wondered if any of the other dads had experienced this. I didn't really care, though, because my daughter and I had really connected and grown, individually and together.

On the way home, we stopped and got twist cones at McDonald's. We chatted until the ice cream disappeared, successfully completing my fairy-tale, movie-moment evening. As a parent, you try to enjoy every moment in your kids' brief childhoods, but it's impossible to appreciate every one. I couldn't be more pleased that Samantha and I got to share this one.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

I Love Technology

I love technology. Just like Napoleon's brother Kip sings to his new bride during their wedding in "Napoleon Dynamite".

I sit in front of a computer all day. That's my job. It may sound atrocious to some, delightful to others. Some may tout the benefits of having access to the internet and several challenging programs while others are more at home pounding the pavement, hitting the road or working outside in the fresh air. No doubt, each has its pros and cons. I should know; I've been employed in all of these situations. But what's really great is that it doesn't matter which set of working conditions I end up in. Why? Technology.

While sitting at my desk, in front of my computer, I can check yesterday's box scores and game recaps. "Who needs technology for that?", one may ask. "I do," I answer. With technology, I don't have to buy a newspaper. And I can get a full box score and recap for every major league game, rather than just the "box score and blurb" found in print. Then, once I've finished piecing those in between my actual job duties, I can check out the noon baseball games. Live. Both and CBS have pitch-by-pitch, electronic, real-time gamecasts. I love these things! I can watch as many games as I want, all at the same time. I can know exactly what is going on in any game at any given moment, even if I have to take a break find out when a train full of wheat is going to arrive in Stockton, California.

"Ooooh, I'm scared of the internet and intimidated by technology!", one may say. "Balderdash," says I. Just turn on technology's "Old Faithful", the radio. As mind-boggling as the internet and computer technology may be, the fact that peoples' voices can travel through the air for hundreds of miles is still nothing short of astounding. My municipality's baseball team can be heard clear as day pounding some other city's squad into submission, even while I'm sitting in my car.

And if I decide to go get some lunch at the local brewpub, the chances are in my favor that I could actually watch the game on TV. Live television is even more amazing than radio, especially the way it's produced in this day and age. You can see every play from every angle on every game.

"Things were a lot better back in the good old days," one might say. You know what I say? "Phooey!" Baseball is draped in nostalgia and rightfully so. Part of the allure of baseball is that you can compare what is happening right now to some player or some team or some era from long ago. Or a decade ago. Or a week ago. Sure, it may be nostalgic thinking about the days when games were only played in the sunlight. But how many games could you actually go to? Didn't people have jobs then, too? Now there's certainly something to be said for attending a ballgame in person. It is far better to sit in the park with all the sights, sounds and smells. But if you can't be there, don't you still want to know what's going on? I sure do.

And what if your favorite team is out of town? Or you root for a team that doesn't reside in your neck of the woods? This was the case for me yesterday. The Royals were playin in g in Detroit and the Yankees/Red Sox game was also under way in New York. It was nice to be able to needle my cranky, pessimisitic co-worker with updates of Runelvys Hernandez hitting his spots and Mariano Rivera melting down YET AGAIN against the Red Sox lineup.

Maybe I'm just a product of a society built on instant gratification. But you couldn't do this stuff 50 years ago. And I'm guessing that if the folks who pine for the old days had the opportunities then that we have now, they wouldn't have passed them up.

I love technology.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Opening Slay

George Bell. Tuffy Rhodes. And, now, Dmitri Young. What do these three men have in common? They are the only players to have ever launched three homeruns on Opening Day. What team did two of those players achieve this amazing accomplishment against? That's right; you're very own Kansas City Royals!

The Royals and their fans started the year with hope and optimism, just like every other club. Granted, the hopes weren't grand: avoid 100 losses again and watch some youngsters improve and build confidence. Reality, though, was quickly and harshly shoved down our throats.

Our Opening Day starter was neither young nor particularly effective. I had faint hope that Jose Lima would harness some fire against the team who once dumped him like a crazy girlfriend. He started off quickly, striking out two in the early going. But "Lima Time, Part Two," was about as enjoyable as most Hollywood sequels. He went on to allow six hits, five runs and three homeruns in just three innings pitched en route to an 11-2 loss to the mediocre Detroit Tigers. All this in a ballpark that is supposed to favor pitchers and stifle offense.

Which is exactly the effect it had on Royals batters. Of course, young hurler Jeremy Bonderman had something to do with that, as well. Bonderman had a very solid outing, striking out seven while walking only two in seven innings pitched. He was helped out by a young and swing-happy team, though. Rookie second baseman Ruben Gotay seemingly swung at every single pitch offered to him, eschewing the plate discipline that helped him earn his starting job, and seemed to personify the term "rookie jitters". Fellow rookie and infield mate Mark Teahen seemed to be able to make some contact, but wasn't able to "him 'em where they ain't," going hitless in four tries. (Interestingly, Teahen is only the third Royal to start in his major league debut, joining Michael Tucker in 1995 and Joe Zdeb in 1977. Hopefully he goes on to a more distinguished career than the others.) And off-season acquisition/stop-gap Terrence Long put on a show of offensive futility, going 0-4 and leaving five men on base in his Royals debut.

On the bright side, leadoff man David DeJesus had a couple of hits and an RBI, Angel Berroa had a hit and a walk in four plate appearances, and new DH Calvin Pickering hit an impressive homerun, portending great things to come. Additionally, Matt "Beer League" Stairs got on base three times in his four trips to bat.

"Bright" didn't seem to appropriately describe the Kansas City bullpen. Each pitcher gave up at least one run, apparently in an attempt to sympathize with Lima. Rule 5 pick Andy Sisco was the only pitcher who didn't allow a hit, but made up for it with two walks. Shawn Camp didn't walk anyone, but gave up a couple of hits and was the victim of a Teahen error.

So, things didn't start out too well this year for the Royals. But a season isn't made on Opening Day. After entering his name in the record books, George Bell went on to have poor year at the plate. Tuffy Rhodes wasn't even able to stick on a major league roster. And one would have thought that last year would have been a rousing success after coming back to win in the bottom of the ninth with homers by Mendy Lopez and Carlos Beltran. So, maybe the Royals can reverse their fortunes this year. I doubt it, but there's still hope.