Man’s Best Friend

“His name is Butters. He is a mud dog, that is why they call him Old Mud Dog Butters. He sometimes thinks he is a snow dog, but he is not a snow dog, he is just a mud dog.” It seems like a long time ago, but less than three years ago, Katryn brought home a yellow looking puppy in a cage.

It was her first real dog. She and the two boys had begged me for a dog, and I had refused them for as long as I could remember, but eventually they decided to get one regardless of my objections. On a Saturday morning in the Spring, Katryn had her puppy. It was a yellow lab retriever, which could barely run, and who like most puppies still made a mess all the time. In the yard, the boys wondered what to name him. Apparently the puppy was a gift from a girlfriend to her boyfriend, and the situation ended up that the man no longer wanted either of them, so the girl ended up giving the puppy away to anyone who could take him. So this free dog of sorts looked kind of dumb to me, and names like Max and Rover are just too common and did not feel right. I ended up suggesting the name “Butters”, after my favorite South Park character. The boys did not object and so here was our new puppy, Butters.

Today, Butters weighs around 90 pounds and is a full size dog. He has taken over the house and is mostly an inside dog. Labs are working dogs, but Butters does not work. He mostly sleeps all day and begs for food the rest of the time. He is not much of a barking dog either, he mostly barks to complain but never barks or growls at people. He hates to be alone and rather wants the company of people. He is the perfect family dog and gets along great with our youngest boy, who is currently less than two years old.

Although it is Katryn’s dog, Butters spends most of his time with me. He eagerly awaits my return from work every day and meets me at the stairs. He is always happy to see me. I take him on walks around the neighborhood and wrestle with him. In the evenings he sleeps in my room and jumps on top of the bed to claim his spot. Butters is a good companion. He complains very little, likes my company, and always forgives my personal failings.

A Quest for the Spirit

Bass Shop BearsAfter much travel this year, and some would say little thought, I have decided to embark on a quest for enlightenment and spiritual renewal. I have set sights on Yosemite park in California. My adventure begins Friday as I head west. My companion will be my 14 year old son Diego. How I came to this and why, was not a clear to me at first. A few years ago, I watched a PBS documentary on The National Parks and became intrigued with the idea of taking a solitary trip into the wild. Over the course of 2015, I have traveled for business to New York City, Massachusetts, Washington DC, Maryland, New Jersey, Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Mississippi. After my last trip to New York City, it became apparent to me that I have been hibernating in Iowa for too long. It is time to move West, to see a different perspective. For a time I had thought of myself as the description of William S. Burroughs in the novel, On The Road, living out my days in the middle of Iowa. But that isn’t me. Instead I have been intellectually dormant and isolated, more like the novel, Steppenwolf by Hesse than anything else. The passing of my parents in 2008 took a toll on me that has taken me much time to figure out. There is not much of a point to life when one is surrounded by illness and death, when the seriousness of the moment weighs on you and drags upon your spirit. This lead to the question of happiness and what that means. Have I forbidden myself to be happy? Probably yes. Somewhere rooted in my Catholic upbringing and in my intellectual western ideas I have collapsed and fallen into the hole that is the mid-life crisis. How I can get out isn’t clear to me, and so my natural instinct is to run, to push myself to the physical limit, and establish my connection to the physical world again. This is where I am at, no longer content with looking at the Mac OS Yosemite Desktop every day, I actually want to go there and see it for myself.

Baseball Lessons

Since I wrote about my oldest son last, I thought I put down something on how my middle child, Diego is doing with his development. Diego is eleven years old and has a very amicable personality. He likes comic books, movies, music, and art. For the last two Spring seasons, he has also challenged himself to play baseball in the Iowa City Boys Baseball league. Without having any prior knowledge or experience, he put forth a convincing argument on why we should let him play baseball. Remember, Diego actually can communicate very well, for a child his age, some might even say, he is even manipulative in his conversations. As a parent, baseball was not something I particularly thought I would find enjoyable. The games take about 90 minutes and you have to be somewhat sociable. It would also be a new experience for me as well, so I figured, okay, and I have a hard time saying No to this kid.

The first Spring Season, Diego played for the Orioles. He had very good coaches and a lot of the kids had been playing baseball for a year at least. Diego had a lot of catching up to do. Learning to catch, learning to hit (something that he has struggled with for a long time), and even trying to pitch. It seemed that Diego spent a lot more time with the ball hitting him in the face than anything else. Baseball proved to be a tough physical sport after all. Diego had some good moments though, like his catch in the tournament game to clinch an out. The finals ended in a heartbreaking loss, so the Orioles awesome season ended with a third place ending.

For a first time player, Diego quickly learned the game and impressed his first season coaches. He insisted on playing the shorter Fall Season as well, and so we had Fall baseball. The much shorter season, quickly went and just this past Spring, Diego found himself with a new team: the Cardinals. This meant different coaches and new kids, and a higher level in the league. All of a sudden, this was not little kids baseball. Kids had to really pitch, the mound was farther away, the baseball diamond was bigger, there were lights, the pressure was on! As a parent, the game was harder to watch. The kids either had to improve to survive, or lose the game. I saw a lot of kids not take it seriously and quickly become disenchanted with the game. For the first time, Diego started to think about challenging himself, above and beyond the team practices. He was determined to better himself in order to get the spotlight.

There is no crying in baseball!

I have always had the mentality that you must compete to be the best or why try at all? For Diego, his experiences until now were all about the team and his personal drive was not about being competitive, but about having a good time. I think back to what a lot of NBA players say after winning the championship game, “We were hungry and we wanted it more”. This is what it comes down to. You have to want to win, and will yourself to win, no one just gives you the championship. Diego had suffered multiple defeats, whether they were close ones or not it did not matter. A loss is still a loss. For a little kid, yes, you want to cry, but like Tom Hanks saids, “There is no crying in baseball”.

I found myself on a baseball field this last Spring more often than I wanted to. Diego wanted to practice individually, and so we worked on his hitting and pitching: once before every game, and once or twice on the weekends. The extra practices helped build his confidence and developed his skills. Diego may be a very friendly, positive kid, but he also has his anger streak. This is after all the same kid that asked for his training wheels to be taken off his bike and then when he couldn’t ride it, he lifted it off the ground and threw it down in disgust, proclaiming that the bike had to be defective!

The Pitcher Takes The Mound

Finally, the kid gets to pitch and my first thoughts are that this is going to suck bad. I had sat through so many games where the pitcher just could not even get the ball to the batter, where pitching a strike was not even an option for some, that I kind of felt bad for Diego. He would have to struggle just as the other kids did and struggled he did. However it was not as bad as I had feared. He did quite well at times. We had practiced on hitting a target with his pitching, getting to the batter instead of trying to throw the fastest. Slow but accurate pitching, is what I figured would help develop his pitching arm. The batter could hit his pitches, but it would not matter, because he would be a new pitcher, and it would take the batters some time to figure his pitches out anyway. In the end Diego did okay, not great but his development was coming along.

No Longer A Rookie

It is Fall season now and Diego’s team, the Padres, are doing well. They have lost one game, but they are a pretty strong team. Diego has become a hitter as well and he is enjoying the game a little bit more. This is usually where I would talk about some lessons that baseball has taught my kid, but in reality, baseball has taught me something about myself as well. Not being known for my patience, I have had to give up my time and put in some efforts in helping Diego become good at something. The baseball hit me a couple times too! For Diego he has grown, learned from his defeats, and challenged himself to conquer his own fears, for me, I have had to watch my son grow and learned to let him find his own way in life. The time I have had with him will always be remembered and that is something that I would not have had without baseball.