Thursday, May 29, 2014

A Tale of Two Parks

Spring baseball is not for sissies. While I love being at games and outside, the weather is a huge player in whether any of us—on the field or off—have fun out there. This spring I’ve frozen at Yankee Stadium, baked at Fenway and been drenched at a Richmond Flying Squirrels game. Dressing in jeans, boots, jackets and gloves, you almost feel like you're doing something athletic yourself. 

Except you're drinking beer and eating peanuts so the illusion doesn't last.

The best time was a Bridgeport Bluefish game last week when my kids came for a belated Mother’s Day.  Since the Bluefish did not win, the highlights were when we had baby Zoe run the bases and when the Metro North trains slowed down so the conductor could wave, check out the score and toot the whistle. 

The mascot loved dancing on the bullpen so our view of the game was often framed liked this: 
But despite a number of competitions like spinning your head a bunch of times around the head of a bat and then trying to run in a straight line, the Bridgeport game had nothing on Richmond in terms of Big Fun.

The Flying Squirrels started out in 1972 as the West Haven (CT) Yankees and made detours through Albany, NY and Norwich, CT before arriving in Richmond's municipal park The Diamond in 2010 as a Double-AA San Francisco Giants farm team, after the Triple-A Richmond Braves moved to Georgia over the need for a new stadium.

The Diamond may be outdated in some ways (it was built in 1985) but the seats are new and comfortable, the location is easy to get to, the games are relatively packed with fans, the team is at the top of the Eastern League standings and the inter-inning games are hilarious. I never have so much fun at a game. Here's a peek:
A blindfolded boy trying to reach the lifeboat.
I think it's the Titanic. The ship's going down.
Some kind of flamingo wrangling.
The details escape me.
The mighty Richmond Flying Squirrel
surveys the stands. Master of his mini universe.
This pig got loose at a game we were at last fall.
The game went into a 20 minute delay to round 'er up.

I'm not saying the big league games weren't fun. But after going in two hours early in hopes of seeing a player in person at the dugout, they all went directly onto the field instead. We got to see them warm up, but this wasn't as exciting. There's a nice allure to Fenway, the Green Monster, the scoreboard, the Citgo sign, the mostly full park--all that's lovely. There's also the playfulness of the organ player. The day we went was some kind of Nuns Day (I kid you not) with several Sisters throwing ceremonial pitches. So the first song out of the organ was the Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin song "Sisters Are Doin' It For Themselves." Lots of baseball classics are played in between salsa classics and the vibe is all-out good times. It's hard not to have a good time at a baseball game. You really have to want to be miserable. Despite the heat, we had a great time and the Sox won on a walk-off home run. Always fantastic. Traffic was a living nightmare but we came on a bus, so it wasn't our problem.
What you really notice at a big league game, though is how serious they take their so-called fun. Not only are there no hijinks on the field (because that would involve allowing fans onto the same field as about a billion dollars worth of sports celebrities), but the promotions all involve a sponsor, a good cause or both. This was Yankee Stadium on Jackie Robinson Day.  
Brian Cashman & Derek Jeter flanking
a pin-striped Peep
The players from both teams wearing No. 42

A plaque for Nelson Mandela was unveiled and two golf carts whisked around the field carrying Mrs. Robinson and other Robinson and Mandela family relatives, along with former mayor David Dinkins, the Rev. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, MLB commissioner Bud Selig and the South African Consulate General. At least that's who was announced in the paper as attending. At the game, it was hard to tell. There was a press conference between the two games of the Yankees-Cubs double-header that was televised, and then video on the screen of the plaque, the golf carts full of people, the zipping around the field. It was cold.  But there was no fan participation, no clapping, barely any attention paid at all. Strange. 

The fans weren't much into the game either. We sat behind some college kids who were goofing around with each other, drinking beer and talking about where they'd go to dinner afterward. I keep a scorecard and at times they were so distracting I'd miss a play so I'd ask around me what happened--caught looking? pop out left? And those around me shrugged. 

In Richmond, every person around me could tell me what the last play was, as well as explain whatever gigamahoosis was going on between innings, and what each building on the horizon was for good measure. The sunset was beautiful and dozens of people whipped out their iPhones to take panoramics. There was a sense that we were at that park together, to enjoy the day. It cost 8 dollars to get in. 

The people at Yankee Stadium with me paid an average of 50 bucks a seat for a lot less.

See you in the stands :).
Love, Lisa

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Sheri & Maren

One week after the students at Jonathan Law were devastated, they were moving. 

I was watching them at the Katzmartsic Invitational, a track-and-field event for Milford and Stratford schools held in the name and spirit of Sherri Katzmartsic. She was a Law graduate and star swimmer, sprinter and (school record) long jumper while living with cystic fibrosis and diabetes. Given how difficult it is to walk and breathe with cystic fibrosis, you can understand the ribbon (above) her mother posted on Sheri's memorial facebook page

Sherri led a full and generous life while knowing the life expectancy of someone with CF is age 37. She died in 2009 at age 35 of bile duct cancer. Given the inspirational effect she had on her teammates, and indeed most people who knew her, the Law invitational track meet in her honor began the next year. 

Purple is the color of the fight against cystic fibrosis, and many family members wear purple in honor of their loved ones who suffer with the disease, or in their memory. They also raise money and awareness of the disease, for research into a cure. 

Because there has to be some good to come out of suffering. Not to take away the pain, but to give it purpose. 

Jonathan Law Girls Track & Field Team
 2014 Katzmartsic Invitational Champs 
At this year's 5th annual Katzmartsic meet, both the Law girls and boys track teams wore purple, as did many of their opponents (and the Law baseball and softball teams)  to express their pain and loss over their classmate Maren Sanchez. 

This was their first meet since Maren died, and I can't imagine anyone in the football stadium who was unmoved. It's powerful, watching them mourn in their teen kind of way, having moments of silence, and a quiet kind of steadiness, but then breaking into a sprint, or a smile. Both teams competed with heart and pride, and the girls won the six-team meet.

It must have felt like a breeze compared to the last time they were on that field. On Monday night, the school administrators and students put together a memorial service that was incredibly moving. Her family was there, and said they were appreciative, which both showed a lot of guts and grace. Though the mayor and governor and the superintendent and the state commissioner were in attendance and most spoke with great feeling, it was the speakers who knew Maren well who broke your heart.

from Hartford Courant
The principal, class advisor, her fellow musicians, her closest friends. They too had this balance of grieving and smiling. Moving through the tears. Then the floodlights cut off and in the dark we heard Maren's singing "Home." It was unbearably bittersweet, and tears poured down a lot of faces. 

Then we were moving, to our cars, to get ready for school, to tuck our kids in. The voices were quiet in the overflowing parking lots, but there were a lot of smiles. People came up to me who I usually just nodded to, and we talked. There's an openness in grief, a shared feeling of vulnerability that makes it hard not to reach out. 

I think the spirit of Maren, like the spirit of Sheri, will do much good in the world, and long outlast their lives. They both led an exceptional life, and inspire me. Inspire many. 

I also think that this Mother's Day in Milford, women who have their kids around to cuddle will hug them extra tight. 

The kids themselves will keep moving, because they're kids and can't stop, and because it makes them feel better. The teens at Law will have their prom, their graduation, all filled with sorrow and smiles. They'll move on but stay connected, maybe more than usual, and take what they've learned from all this and make it last.

That the meaning and value of your life can be found in the good you leave behind. 

Love, Lisa