Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Weekend From Hell c.2

Chapter 2 Hotter than Hell

My daughter needed to meet the team at 8am at the fields, but game time wasn’t until 9:30. That gave me the luxury of sleeping in about another hour, as the fields were only five minutes away and my mother could get her there for me for warm-ups. Apparently mom did a dry run the night before, scouting them out, where to park, etc. Yeah, I know.

Select Softball is a very intense sport. These girls practice their asses off, pretty much year ‘round. They arrive at least an hour before on game day to practice. The Collinsville Extreme association has it’s own training facility with four batting cages that the girls have access to year ‘round, and get plenty of one-on-one instruction, something other teams generally don’t have. There’s also private instruction that many of the girls participate in as well, whether from a facility such as Turn 2/The Athletix Factory, or private “tutors”, if you will. Virtually every girl at this level is intensely focused on performance. And the parents are intensely focused on their wallets. It aint cheap!

But, it’s a ton of fun, too. It’s quite competitive, and we all really pull for the girls to win. But, it’s taken for what it’s worth, as well, and we have fun with it, win or lose. I’ve gotten pretty close to many of the parents, and we have just a wonderful time rooting on our girls, drinking some beers, yelling at umps, and marveling at some of the tremendous softball we witness, whether it’s our own girls, the other girls on the team, or some of the amazingly talented opponents we encounter. It’s almost like being a Cardinal fan or something, only your kid plays on the team.

Of course, why all the intense focus on a game that basically has no professional level? Well, besides it being a passion for them and the parents, the Holy Grail of Select Softball is to get your kid a scholarship somewhere playing. And Collinsville Extreme focuses on that very thing. Championships are a great thing. Sami won an ASA Northern National tournament at the 10u level. But, if this can lead not only to building self esteem, setting goals and meeting them, and physical development, but also a path to college, well, that’s pretty damned cool. Dunno if my daughter will make it there. Dunno if other girls on this team will. But some one, or two, or possibly more will. That’s a pretty big deal, a tremendous opportunity.

I slept well and found myself waking before I needed to, and laid there contemplating if I should force myself to keep sleeping or just go ahead and get up. My cell phone chimed that a text message had arrived. Oddly, it was my ex-wife asking if I was at the fields yet. No, I responded, but the girls were. I was trying to capture a little more sleep. She informed me she was on her way there, which, frankly meant little to me, but, ok. Then she texted back my youngest claimed she was still with me. Huh? I pulled myself out of bed, and peered around the corner to locate my darling twelve year old sprawled out on the couch under the covers, with her notebook laptop.

“Hi daddy!” she said. Looks like someone else wanted to sleep a little longer, too.

Sarah, my youngest, helped me find the Shawnee Sports Complex fields as she was with grandma on the “dry run”. They were more than adequate fields, with a “hub” in the middle which housed the concessions, restrooms, and park offices. The hub also housed a shaded breezeway, which often is absent at other facilities. Pretty nice. This particular tournament wasn’t sponsored by any team, but by one of the nation’s softball associations, the USFA, as a Regional Qualifier. That’s the association we will travel to Florida next month to compete in their national tournament. Basically, this is a must attend event, to gain points to qualify for that national.

Lawn chair in hand, I trudged from the parking lot, searching for the familiar black and purple Extreme colors. The skies were a bright blue, with small patches of puffy, sketchy white clouds. The morning dew was lifting, and the air felt an agreeable, comfortable room temperature. Obviously none of the rain that chased me from Gateway International fell here. It must have all pushed off to the east.

Locating their field, I set up camp along the third base line seated next to mom. Sarah located her mother, the ex, and sat a while with her.

“Play last night?” one of the parents would ask me. I’m sure my lethargic demeanor told the answer.

“Yeah, Gateway International. The drag strip. Drove here right after.”

“You’re a madman, D.” And they’d just shake their heads.

Sami sat in the dugout wearing her game face. She noticed me, flashed a smile, but by and large, it’s all business with Sam. The girls pumped themselves up, rattled the bats, popped the leather, and prepared for battle. They have dozens of chants they love to shout from the dugout when they are at bat, and really get pumped up to play. Once in a while, grandma likes to chant them with them.

Sami wears number 17, stands a little taller than most of the girls, and a strong build, but not a stocky one. She’s amazingly quick for her size, which she certainly didn’t inherit from me! I’m about as slow athletically as a person can get. She’s not the fastest on the team, but she can keep up with any of them. This makes her a solid center fielder because of her quick range. She also can hammer the ball. She has one home run so far this year, and a triple that landed at the base of the wall last week. She’s a power hitter. Part in parcel with that comes strikeouts. Like most big sticks, she swings and misses a little too much, too! With that quickness and power, she’s a lethal weapon at the plate, bunting for singles, beating out infield hits, rounding bases with ease, and hammering the long ball. She’s a pleasure to watch and root for.

Today’s opponent was a formidable one, the Downstate Rippers 95. All second year 14u. Our team is about half ’95 and half ’96. Last season at the Collinsville Extreme Tournament, the Rippers took down the 14u Extreme for the championship. Sami wasn’t a part of that team, but most of the other girls were. They had something to prove. They also knew these girls can hit the ball. Hard.

Since this was pool play, the games really didn’t count for anything. Normally, pool play will designate what seed you earn in the elimination rounds. But, USFA tends to do things differently, and instead seed teams by how many USFA points they’ve earned thus far in the season. This was our first USFA tourney, so when the elimination round begins later, it was already determined who we were playing. This game was a just a gimmie. Coach took this opportunity to play some girls at different positions. The out come wasn’t spectacular. The Rippers ripped us.

It was bad enough these Ripper girls can hit, but compound that with some poor fielding on our part, and this first game was a disaster. They pounded our butts 8-3. I was proud of Sami, though. She played very well, hit 1 for 2 with an RBI, and even scored one of the three Extreme runs. Early in her career, her Black Widows coach stressed base running. Sami reflects that, as she’s a demon out there. She knows how to score, and get that extra base.

The mood wasn’t particularly grim, though, despite the loss. We were in good spirits in the stands, and knew that this pool game didn’t amount to much, and were well aware at the quality team the Downstate Rippers were. If we met them again, we’ll give ‘em hell. But there’s no shame in losing to that group. They can play. Plus, with some of our miscues, we beat ourselves.

The next game started immediately after, so there was no rest for this wicked man. The cool morning air was quickly starting to heat up, and I was huddled underneath the shade umbrella attached to my lawn chair. I did manage to make up to the concessions for a cold bottled water and a bratwurst. I kind of have a slight superstition: I almost always get a hot dog or bratwurst at these games. If I don’t, I feel like I’m missed a step or something. Maybe just a little OCD…

The next team, the S.L.A.M. was from the Mineral Area, I believe. Farmington. A young team made up of mostly 1st year 14u, I’d wager. Not big girls. We’d faced them in a tournament at Wapplehorst, and beat them. If this was the same team. Often times there are more than one team from an association, so you have to go by the coaches, and I rarely remember them. We had our ace pitcher going as well. She plays for the Columbia Eagles as a freshman, and she had a terrific season in high school ball.

And, she had a terrific start to the game, which drew the ire of the S.L.A.M. coach. After the third out, he wandered from his third base coaching position and had a word with the ump about our pitchers technique. He then made a comment to the other ump. Obviously some gamesmanship, because he must have been afraid his girls couldn’t hit our pitcher. I made a snide remark loud enough to be heard. That’s just how I am. Bush league shit.

And, watching HIS pitcher pitch it was clear she was “crow-hopping”, where she basically leaps from the pitching rubber as she throws, getting a little more on the ball. Can’t do that. Her back foot has to stay on the ground. Now, I don’t really give a shit about it. We don’t need to win a game that way, but since Mr. Pitching Technique is pointing things out, I made sure to point that out as well. He strutted out to his coaching position next inning, and I noticed his thick gold rope dangling on the outside of his tee-shirt. The Mr T starter collection. Who wears a thick gold rope and a tee shirt? To coach in? That explained enough. He’s a douchebag.

Sure enough, the next inning our pitcher pitched, the ump stopped her and called an “illegal pitch”, something about not “presenting the ball” properly in her wind up, what ever the hell that’s supposed to mean. What bullshit. 5 years of watching Select ball, I’ve never seen that called. We let ‘em know about it, to. It was just a ploy to try and take her off her game. We were incredulous. Come on, man, just beat us in the field with your girls, not with this monkey shit.

And, his girls played pretty well. Their middle infield made some terrific plays to rob us. We were down a run or two at one point, and we were frustrated from miscues in the last game, and some that carried over into this one. We really shouldn’t be losing to this team, and not with our ace pitcher. We should be clobbering them. But, we weren’t. And it was starting to get hot out. Hot as hell.

We righted the ship, and started rattling bats. Sami didn’t figure into much of the offense, she had a single, but never scored. But some timely hits and good baserunning got us back in the lead. A terrific accomplishment to battle back, and battle the horseshit mind games of the other coach.

Which, we were vindicated on. At one point late in the game, with runners on, the same ump who called the illegal pitch on our girl, threw up his hands and called one on the opposing team!

“Illegal pitch!” he shouted. “She crow-hopped. Runners advance.” Yes! Ah ha ha! Justice! So, the ump was paying attention. Good for him!

“Nice call, blue” I chirped. Fuckers. How’s your gold chain now?

We pulled off the 7-6 victory, but it was somewhat of a hollow one. We should have crushed that team, not made it interesting. We need to rattle some bats here. Cutting down on a few mistakes would be helpful too. But, a win is a win. And, since this is pool play, it really didn’t mean shit anyway. Just practice.

The next game was the commencement of double elimination play. Basically, there are two brackets. If you win you stay in your bracket. If you lose, you’re sent to the nether regions of “The Losers’ Bracket”. Now, you’re not eliminated from the tournament, but you play the other losers, and attempt to battle back to the championship, where eventually you’ll play the one team that hasn’t lost yet. If you beat them, great. You’ll play again because they have to lose twice, too. If you lose at any time from the losers’ bracket, you pack up and go home.

Since that didn’t start until 3:30, we had some down time. Sami elected to stay on the grounds with the team, but Sarah, my mother and I headed out for some lunch. We found a Texas Roadhouse, and that would do just nicely. I prefer Logan’s Roadhouse, but, by and large, they’re the same damn thing: steaks, potatoes, and beer.

Gobbling down a small ribeye and a cold Mich Ultra draught, we found we still had a few hours to kill before game time. To me, that meant one thing: SLEEP! We hightailed it to the suite, and I leapt into that soft, comfy bed and dozed off. I’m not sure what became of mom and Sarah, they might have done some shopping or something. Maybe the pool. But I was cherishing every moment I could sleep, because after this, I wasn’t going to get much. I had to play Pop’s tonight. Midnight to 5:30! Ugh!

My little two hour respite was welcomed, and I popped out of bed ready to hit the diamonds again. The midday sun had really warmed things up, and the heat was beginning to feel oppressive. Those poor girls! What warriors! An airshow was taking place a few miles away, and intermittently screaming jets would soar over head. That would get your attention!

We knew nothing about our opponents, the Angels. Dressed in blue and yellow, it was apropos as soaring over head was, in fact, the Navy Blue Angels. Nice of them to get an escort! From the corner of my eye, I’d glance out into the distance and marvel at the fighter aircraft soaring over head. Just like the movie Top Gun when it airs, when I see cool ass jets, I stop what I’m doing and watch. Guess it’s a guy thing?

The Angels on this diamond didn’t prove to be much competition, however. We ate them alive to the tune of 17-2. The bats had come alive! Sami walked a couple times, and a hit with a run scored. Kinda quiet game for her. Made some routine catches in the field. Playing steady. Being a leader.

Since the beating took place in only 4 innings, they stopped the game on the Mercy Rule, which was a HUGE advantage to me! That saved me at least 30 minutes time there, and allowed me to leave for home. By virtue of winning that moved them along the Winner’s Bracket, and their next opponent was The Phoenix at 6:30 PM. I would have to miss that game. If I stayed, I’d be racing back with little time and nothing for dinner.

Clouds rolled in over Ste Gen as I traveled north, and that helped cool things off. A mild breeze blew from my AC vents, but nothing to really cool the vehicle’s interior off. Thank goodness the clouds popped up, though. At least that kept the glaring sunlight from baking me. A small amount of precipitation made me use the wipers for a couple miles, but in all, I was truckin’ pretty good to make it home. I was back just before 7pm.

Now, I had some choices. Hard choices. Sleep? Eat? Hang out? Sleep? I wasn’t due at Pop’s until after midnight. That allowed me the luxury of partaking in our frequent weekend pleasure of “pre-game” at Si Señor, a terrific Mexican restaurant here in town. I’d had a pretty good lunch, which I haven’t normally been eating while dieting. Two big meals a day for me is unheard of now. But, I love Si Señor, and I love getting together with good friends and sharing dinner. It’s always a pleasure. And as difficult as this weekend is, I needed some down time.

So, since I’d had a good nap, I talked myself right into that one! Si Señor it is! I took a quick shower, busting the infield dirt off my body, and lathered up the mane. Since I still had a load in to perform, it was going to be roadie clothes to dinner. I’ll save the “rock star” attire for the gig. I received an update on the Extreme 6:30 game while I primped, and it was not good. They were getting beaten handily, by a team that was obviously the strongest in the tournament. They lost 6-0. Game time tomorrow: 8am. Ouch.

I met the “gang” for pre-game around 8pm, and we had a wonderful time. Tim and Kasey, along with their friend, Liz, all shared a table with me, and while I drank a few Coronas, they hit the margaritas. Hard. Hector, the proprietor, makes margaritas of the Gods, so I’m told, and they love ‘em. Last time I’d been in, Hector told me of a new dish on the menu which was virtually the same as the fajitas that I normally ordered. Only I’d been ordering the lunch portion because of my diet. Well, despite having had a pretty good sized lunch, I went ahead and ordered it anyway. I can’t really even pronounce it, despite the fact it’s been told to me several times. That’s ok, neither can the American waitress.

Now, this delicious entrée is served in a very unique way, which is why I really wanted to try it. Prepared much like the typical fajitas, they’ve also incorporated chorizo and covered it with cheese, and then serve it in a monstrous stone caldron which is pretty hot. It also stays that way throughout. Man, was it terrific! There was obviously much more food than I could put away, and I invited them to try it. They were cautious at first, but Kasey started into it, and she couldn’t stop dipping nacho chips into it and fishing out the chorizo! Tim did some damage to it as well.

We stayed at the restaurant until about 10:30pm, chatting with Hector about the World Cup, tequila, and “stuff”. We did share a shot of Herradura Añejo, and Hector also brought out a bottle of El Jimador Añejo. Quite tasty! Hector and I shared one of those, and it was smooth, much like its brother Herradura. That was enough shots for me!

We bid him adios and made a stop at Eddie’s for a beer. The Alley was playing, and we chatted with some friends. Didn’t stay there long at all though. We had to hit QT for some beer to take backstage. They have a nice backstage at Pop’s with a fridge, so we figured we’d stash some beers back there. They give us five each band member, but this would allow our crew to have a couple.

As we arrived for load-in, the Tool tribute band was loading out, and everything on stage was ready for us to set up. It was a little hectic, but things moved in and out smoothly. We had some terrific help from friends like Tim, Jason, Greg, and Ken. I stashed the beer in the fridge, and brought my stage clothes in. A couple of the Tool tribute guys were relaxing on the couch, and seemed friendly. I tried to use the backstage restroom, but it was locked and occupied.

Tim helped me set up, and I fired up the rig. Everything seemed in order, so it was time to change clothes. I went back to the dressing room to find it still occupied. Oh, hell, I just use the main johns. No biggie. I returned to the stage to tweak any last minute preparations, and satisfied, returned to the dressing room to change. At last it was unoccupied.

“Hey, sorry about that, man,” a young, Goth looking lad said to me. “He was in the shower, trying to get all that latex off.”

“Uh, no problem, dude,” I said. “I used the other john. Just gotta change now.”

Latex? Turns out, I guess the lead singer, much like Maynard from Tool, paints himself half blue and half white in latex. The shower stall was covered in tiny flakes of blue and white. Nice! If you’re gunna do it, do it right!

I heard a commotion inside the room while changing, and overhearing voices I learned that one of the club employees had brought us our “free” allotment of beer, and found what we had brought in. They weren’t pleased at all, and basically confiscated it. Tim protested because of the amount, and they reluctantly allowed him to take it back to the car, but made it clear that if anyone was caught sneaking it in, they would be ejected. Now, this didn’t really sit well with me. And I felt really bad for Tim and Kasey who were going to have to shell out some cash, and Tim helps us pretty much for free.

This continued to fester in me during the first set. Why would they give a shit about it? Hell, they’ve never went back there before. That was the first time. If I’d even waited until after, they’d never even noticed. This was bullshit. All the fucking money this bar makes, and they want to raise hell because of some 55 Select and a Bacardi Razz? Jackoffs! I was tired, I was worn out, and I was getting pissed.

On the other hand, I did notice that not only was the monitor mix TITS on stage, and my guitar SCREAMING, I wasn’t playing too poorly, either. The mojo seemed to be with me tonight. Where the fuck it was last night, I have no idea. But tonight, everything I touched seemed to turn to gold, and every phrase inspired more phrases that I liked even better! Hmm, this aint so bad.

But I was still steaming about them taking our beer. Back stage on break I was grumbling about it, and Tim said the guy even added “hey, this is a business”. Really? Are they kidding me? It was coming to a boil now.

“Fucking bullshit!” I said. Steve, being the ever level headed one, attempted to play Devil’s Advocate.

“Yeah, well, man, how many other clubs let us do that?” he said. I snapped at him.

“Let’s see! Eddie’s lets Rob bring in Guinness because they don’t serve it. He hands it to them, and he marches right up and grabs it from them. Tips them a buck,” I said.

“Oh, well” Steve said. I cut him off before he could go any further.

“Club 111 lets us bring a damned cooler right on stage!” I said.

“True,” Steve said. “But I don’t think Rich would let us do that!” he said.

“We don’t have to! Rich comps our drinks. So does Red Deuce.” I continued. “Its bullshit!”

And my rage continued.

“This fuckin’ bar makes more money than all of them. And they don’t want us putting beer in a fridge they provide backstage? Are you fucking kidding me??”

And, pretty much at that point, I completely snapped. In my rage, I pretty much told Steve I was tired of playing every fucking weekend, tired of the shit, and would much rather just be in Cape right now watching my daughter play. I really don’t want to fucking do this any longer. Oh, yeah, and fuck you to boot. He winced, turned for the door and muttered:

“Uh, ok. Yeah. Uh huh. Ok Rebecca.” And walked out.

Where the fuck did that come from? I kind of froze, and honestly didn’t know how to respond, or even if it was worth it. I’d said my peace. What the fuck that meant, I have no clue. But, who fucking cares? Three more hours of this, and I have to drive my ass back to Cape and watch a game at 8am with no sleep. That was the only thing to concentrate on. My rage was gone. It was time to work.

We tore into the second set, and despite my anger, I was in complete control and wasn’t going to let it affect the performance. I have too much respect for the process than to allow that. Besides, it wasn’t really a bad night. In fact, it was pretty damned good.

At one point, during the Heart song Barracuda, I made my way to my amp at the tail end of the song for the solo outro. I like to get a lot of feedback, squeals, and sounds out of the axe then, really beat and crank on it. I found myself channeling that anger right into my playing. That fucking amp was so loud, and I could feel the sound moving my hair on my arms. All of that emotion and energy transferred right to the guitar and out. Grinding the pick down the ridges of the strings, pounding a high harmonic, and cranking on my whammy bar; everything pouring out in my face. Sounded just about right. I had to smile. Therapy.

The rest of the night continued in much the same manner on stage. The sound was there, the vibe was electric, and the place, by 3:30am, was packed. It was like Stages of old. This is the only place that still has that vibe. It’s a rush. And, like Stages, the young girls were appearing. Nice!

Tim got up and sang his songs, and his wife and a few others jumped up to dance with us. A bouncer crept up on stage to clear it, but I nodded that they were fine, and he quickly left. The party was on! I was having fun despite myself. People at the foot of the stage were rocking, thrusting their hands up for a high five, and very appreciative.

I retreated to the dressing room on breaks, doing very little milling about the crowd. I was in a pissy mood still somewhat, although that was fading. I was tired, and dreading the drive back to Cape mostly. There really wasn’t anything out there in the crowd for me anyway.

Oh, hell yeah, there were pretty girls. And I felt good in my new shirt I’d bought. Kind of an Ian Asbury white dress shirt, minus the frilly sleeves. I could get some attention, I suppose. Make some idle chit-chat. But, it also seemed so pointless. The flirting, the games, the courting. God, I need a lot of energy for that, and I didn’t have any to spare. These girls are so young. Almost need the Jedi mind trick going. I guess they say many dig older men, but, I dunno. I felt ancient. Like a relic.

Not only that, Pop’s isn’t exactly fertile ground for meeting Ms Right. In fact, its about the last place you’d want to start. I was quite content to just hide from it all, focus, and rest. Save myself any further aggravation.

All of the sets went quickly, and the response was tremendous. I’d say the night was a homerun. Fascinating. Here I was, irritated, pissy, snapping at an old friend I’ve known for 30 plus years. But, we nailed one of our best shows in recent memory. How the fuck does that work? I was too tired to contemplate it. With our final song, we had some of the hottest girls in the bar onstage dancing with us. We went out with a bang. The very next moment, I started wrapping cords and packing up. Time to get the fuck out.

Tim rushed up to help, and his help was invaluable. That afforded me time to change out of the glamwear, and into the modest shorts, tee, and ball cap. Derrick met backstage with a stack of $20s and created 5 smaller stacks of $20s. But, they were still pretty big stacks. More than we make anywhere else.

Ok, so I bitched about it, threw a fit, and blew up. But, that stack of $20s in my hand was very welcomed! The crowd rocked. And we sounded as good as we could sound. I could get used to this. Just next time I won’t bring beer.


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