On baseball, parenting and memory

I have a bit of a thing for father-son baseball experiences. So when I saw that Justin Verlander was pitching for Detroit this weekend against the Yankees, my mind immediately flashed back to a Friday night last spring.

Alex Rodriguez sat at 2,999 hits on a Friday morning with Verlander taking the mound. A-Rod hits Verlander hard: .344 in 32 career at-bats with five home runs. So on a few hours’ notice I bought two tickets for the game, mostly for my son, Nathan, who despite his father’s repeated exhortations loves A-Rod. (“Well, Jeter’s my favorite Yankee, but since he doesn’t play anymore, A-Rod is my favorite. He cheated but he learned his lesson and now he’s a really nice guy.” Sigh. How about Gardy?) Our anticipation was that by being opportunistic we might be able to see a bit of history.

What we hadn’t quite anticipated was barely having settled into our seats when Rodriguez turned on a first-pitch fastball and blasted a home run for hit number 3,000.

The hit came in the bottom of the first inning. (That’s Rodriguez at the plate behind Nate in the photo above, seconds before Verlander’s pitch.) It was what the crowd had come to see, and it made for an early peak to the game: the two men next to us literally said goodnight and left, their plans fulfilled. Nate and I stayed for the whole game, though, and even found some friends in the bleachers in the late innings. I brought home our souvenir popcorn bucket and affixed a ticket (a real one, picked up at will call) to the underside as a memento.

I still don’t like Alex Rodriguez, but I love having constructed this memory–from the hit to the homer to the very late night for a seven-year-old at the Stadium. So we’re good. Even if Nate still thinks A-Rod has three thousand homers, not hits. Go Yankees.


Nate, holding an Elmo doll: “Eli, look! Who is this?”
Eli: “Elmuh.”
Nate: “Who is this?”
Eli: “Elmuh.”
Nate: “Say it one more time and you can have him.”
Eli: [blinks]
Nate: “Eli, who is this?”
Eli: “Elmuh!”
Nate: “Right, Eli, very good! Here you go.”
Seems my work here is done.

On LCD screens and parenting

Behold: the Fisher-Price Apptivity Case, a protective baby-friendly cover for your iPhone.
I’m a digital guy, have been since I got an Atari as a second-grader. I now have two kids that can’t help but see my TV set, laptop, iPad, iPhone, iPod. They think it’s fascinating and fun.
So I did what any responsible parent should do. I downloaded and tested some age-appropriate apps and let my older son explore. The iPad and iPhone are genius devices in their usability, with their clutter-free fascia and immersive interfaces. So now the gadget is teaching the boy animals, colors, shapes, letters, memory retention and matching, spatial relations, you name it. We also set up guidelines: no screens between breakfast and dinner, no YouTube (Thomas the Tank Engine snuff films! who knew?), you have to play out difficult boards and not quit things quickly, etc.
That boy is now 4 and is as digitally savvy as anyone his age. He’s also wicked good at memory matching games, he can write his letters in capitals and lowercase, and he plays sophisticated games like Flow, Trainyard and Rush Hour better than many adults. Heck, he figured out how to unlock the home screen at 21 months. And he still loves his real-world toys, crayons and books.
Done right, gadgets are as wondrously useful for young people as they are for adults.
My baby boy is 15 months and dying to play with the iPhone. Right now he only gets glimpses when his big brother is engaged. Soon enough, Eli, soon enough.

English as a first language

I’m having a lot of fun helping Nate learn to speak and watching him communicate. One of his more perplexing pronunciations is “lion,” which he learned perfectly, then switched to “liney.” So I figured we’d work on it.
“Nate, who’s that?” I said, pointing to his gold teddy-bear lion.
“Yes, but it’s not liney, that’s lion.”
“Nate, can you say lie?”
“Good! And how about yin?”
“Good good! Now say them together. Lie-yin.”

For the record

Father and son, originally uploaded by netwert.

I taught Nathan to say “Yankees” this weekend. (“Yangee!”) He recognizes the interlocking NY and gets that we have matching caps. Between this and his Shake Shack dinner, I’ve hit a new fatherly peak.

Nathan’s mother, meanwhile, has him hooked on her chocolate chip cookies. So we have all the important things covered.

Conversations with my 15-month-old

Nathan is standing by a coffee table in a Martha’s Vineyard rental house playing with a stack of red and black coasters. Dad thinks this is a good time to work on his son’s language skills, and picks up a coaster of each color.
“Nathan, this is a red coaster. Can you say red?”
“Very good! And this is a black coaster. Can you say black?”
[blank stare]
“Okay, so maybe we won’t say black.”
“Want to try again? This is the red one. Can you say red?”
“Right! And this is the black one. Can you say black?”

It’s all the same nowadays anyway

Nathan answering the cameraNathan has figured out how to “answer” the phone, by putting it up to his ear. He does it with the home phone, with our iPhones … and, um, with the digital camera.
Which, if you think about it, isn’t really far off.

Last and first

Fan familyMy infatuation with the New York Yankees, and by extension Yankee Stadium, dates to my first game in 1978. I was five. My parents brought me–I believe with friends who had a son near my age–and someone (I like to pretend it was Reggie Jackson) hit a foul ball within a row or two of our seats. This being 1978, the stadium wasn’t all that full, and my parents encouraged me to chase the ball. I was too shy to do it. But I was amazed that I could be that close to the action, and I came home with a WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONS 1977 pennant that hung on my wall for the next 15 years.
I’ve been a Yankee fan ever since. And I’ve been to scores of Yankee games, many during the Yankee dynasty of the late 1990s. I’ve chanted Roll Call from the bleachers, sung “New York, New York” more times than I can count, and even gotten thrown out of a game once.
In recent years, I hadn’t been to Yankee Stadium all that much, maybe one or two games a season, as priorities shifted and life intervened. Still, I remained a Yankee fan in full, soaking up multiple articles daily in the New York Times and following every trade, promotion and signing.
I’m a sentimental guy, so the closing of the stadium saddens me. The intentional destruction of such a historic location is a shame. I’ve had a heavy heart in recent weeks as my beloved Yankees stumbled toward a third-place finish and a quiet end to Yankee Stadium.
But I was surprised by just how much I wanted to be there. To soak up the atmosphere. To look at the scenery. To see the 4 train in the gap in right field. To feel the weight and pride of the Stadium as I did when I was five, and 25, again as a 35-year-old. So I got tickets to a game, once with my family, then again with a friend. But still I needed more.
And so it was that Saturday found me on the 4 train, my son, Nathan, in a carrier on my shoulders, him in a batting-practice onesie, me in my away jersey. My wife, Amy, packed the diaper bag and wore my cap as we headed to Yankee Stadium for one last game. A day game, the last one, on the final weekend of games, for Nathan to see for himself.
Nate was all of 115 days old as of yesterday, and his memories of the day will be slight, at best. But I can tell him we were there, enjoying a Yankee victory on a glorious September afternoon. How we had great seats in the lower level, just to the third-base side of home plate–“I think the best I’ve ever sat in,” said Amy–for a fast-paced 1-0 game, won on a Robinson Cano single in the bottom of the ninth. How we took lots of photos, and strolled close to home plate, and rode the 4 train like true New York fans. And how my little boy enjoyed it all: happily taking in the sights and sounds the first four innings, making new friends everywhere we walked, gamely braving crowds, sleeping on the subway. He even ate lunch at the game, just like Mom and Dad. It was terrific.
And Amy, bless her heart, indulging me and Nathan both, gamely changing his diaper in a stadium ladies’ room, feeding him in the mayhem of the ninth inning, lingering long past the final pitch to take pictures and soak up the moment: a more accommodating, loving wife and mother would be hard to find. I’ve lost track of the number of times I have thanked her this weekend. Yet the joy in my eyes tells her more than I could say.
The outing has made for an extremely emotional weekend. I hadn’t fully grasped just how important my Yankee allegiance is to me, or how much I revered the ballpark. Sharing that with my son, however silly it may be at his age, was truly special.
“Someday,” I’ve been telling people, “Nathan is going to thank me for bringing him to the old Yankee Stadium.” But that’s only part of the story. I owe him my thanks, for being such a good, fun little kid, for making our trip a success, and for being here for me to share with him.
I became a father on May 28, but on Saturday, I became a dad.