The Magic Baseball Bat

This is a story about my 11 year old son, Nick, and a father’s pride.

I coached Nick’s Little League baseball team this year, and now that the regular season is over I’m coaching an 11-12 year old All Star team. Being the youngest on the team, Nick struggles with his self confidence even though he’s an excellent baseball player. He’s not the tallest player, but he’s faster and more athletic than many of his older teammates. Even so, he doesn’t want to take any risks or make any mistakes, and his insecurities often prevent him from performing at his best.

A few weeks ago in the league tournament Nick hit a ball against the fence, just short of going over. That was the closest he came all season to hitting one out, and was perhaps the first time he started to believe that it was possible. A few nights after our team was eliminated from the championship tournament, a kid hit a walk off grand slam with 1 out in the bottom of the 6th, down 9 – 6. Nick and I were there to watch it. I heard that the same kid hit one more out of the park later in the tournament. Those were very likely the only two over-the-fence home runs all year in our local league.

Sometime during tournament time, Nick’s baseball bat disappeared from the trunk of my car. I suspect he didn’t close the trunk all the way one night, and someone stole it during the night. The following week, in exchange for Nick agreeing to mow the lawn this summer, I bought him a shiny new baseball bat, a new bat bag, and new cleats to replace the old ones with holes in their toes. Nick was itching to play again so he could try out his new toys.

Fast forward to the all star team’s second scrimmage earlier this week. In his first at bat, Nick got walked (then stole second, third, and home over the course of the next few pitches). In his second at bat, Nick hit a hard line drive into the gap, and got to second with a stand-up double. It was just a scrimmage, there was no pressure, and Nick was feeling good about himself, perhaps even daring to feel confident in himself.

His third time at the plate, Nick crushed the first pitch well over the center field fence amid groans from the opposing team. There was a mixture of surprise and elation among the other players on our team. Some had never seen a player at this level hit a ball over the fence, and I even had to remind them that they were allowed to enter the field to greet Nick as he crossed home plate.

The excitement was soon forgotten as the game moved along, until Nick came up to bat again and everyone jokingly told him to hit another home run. And then, with two strikes, two out, and two on, he did it again!

It’s amazing how much difference a shiny new bat can make.

Five things you may not know about me

I’m sure that by now all of you have heard about the latest “chain letter” circulating about the blogosphere. It sounds suspiciously like bloggers patting each other on the back. To wit, I’ve been “tagged” by Evan Yares. On principle, and just because I like to be contrary, I refuse to pass this one on, but I’ll go part of the way since there is some redeeming social value to the premise. The five:

  1. I was a difficult child. I ran away from home routinely before I started Kindergarten. I still have memories of the summer just before my third birthday of almost daily forays with my dog “Shep” into the woods adjacent to my parents’ property. Sometimes, after a dispute with my parents, I would take off deep into the woods plotting revenge. One day, after some altercation or other, I narrowly escaped my whip-wielding mother by diving under a barbed wire fence and racing into the woods before she could catch up. My mother spent hours searching for me, and finally spotted me hiding under some brambles. After rounding me up and taking me back home, mom tied me with a rope to a post outside our workshop until my father came home from work. When my father came home, he didn’t have the heart to punish me further.
  2. I was raised Amish. When I was 12, I installed a battery operated radio tuner in my basement workshop, and wired the output through a hidden network of wires (that included our hot water heating pipes as one side of the circuit) into a recessed wall outlet beside my bed so that I could listen to the radio discreetly from my bed through a small earpiece. Later I did something similar when my parents bought my first horse and buggy, by hiding the guts of a portable stereo under the seat.
  3. Amish children are expected to quit school after the 8th grade and begin working (traditionally on the family farm, although farming is becoming less common these days). I chose to continue my education by going on to high school while working evenings and summers to support myself. For this, I was ridiculed and called names in school, and my parents caught a lot of flack from their church elders for my actions (which they had very little control over). I chose not to go on to college after graduating in the top 5 of my class in high school.
  4. My first full time job was as a brick mason, following in my father’s footsteps. I did masonary and other construction work the last two summers of high school, and full time for a year or so after I graduated. One day a family friend called to ask if I would be interested in a “computer job” programming a CNC punch press. The company had unceremoniously fired the previous programmer and had nobody with the skills to replace him. My interview went something like “Do you know anything about computers?” “Yes.” “Can you start tomorrow?” It was at that company where I discovered AutoCAD, and the rest, as they say, is history.
  5. A few years ago, I played poker on a show broadcast across the United States on Fox SportsNet. The show was sponsored by UltimateBet.net, an online poker site. The winner received 10 thousand dollars and a chance to play again for 200 thousand dollars. I got there by beating several thousand other players in a series of online tournaments. I placed third out of the six finalists at the table, so I walked away with nothing more than an all expense paid (and lavish) weekend in Los Angeles, not to mention the satisfaction of knowing my kids got to watch me on national TV.

Go Buckeyes!

Ode to Holiday Shopping, 2006

‘Twas the week before Christmas, and all through the city
Highways congested, tempers were tested; the sight wasn’t pretty

The stores opened early, and stayed open late
Registers rang, loudspeakers sang; as I tempted fate

I proceeded with caution, threading the aisles
Squeaking wheels, dubious deals; all the new styles

I grabbed toys for the boys, and a gift for my niece
Loaded my cart, doing my part; to help the Chinese

I rushed to the checkout, avoiding a wreck
Teeming masses, slow as molasses; all writing a check

After walking a mile, got it all in my car
Loaded for bear, gasping for air; I didn’t get far

After dodging and weaving, with skill and deft
Almost out, stuck en route; they’re all turning left!

Happy Holidays Everyone!

Teaching and learning at AU

This year I taught an ObjectARX class at AU. As usual, there wasn’t nearly enough time to cover all the things I wanted to cover. I’m still contemplating what I want to do differently next year in order to be able to spend more time on the subject without boring everybody to death.

By the way, fellow programmers, do you agree that we need a Programming campus at AU 2007? I hate being lumped into a generic category like General Design. I suggest a new campus just for programmers, with our own industry reception (I’m thinking pizza, beer, and a Pink Floyd tribute band — and Lynn Allen of course).

If any of you went to the Programming Gurus Go Head To Head panel discussion on Thursday afternoon and were wondering why I wasn’t present… well, er, next time, could you please call me on my mobile phone a few minutes before the class to jog my aging memory? Sheesh. I always enjoy the quasi-chaotic gurus panel, and I can’t believe it completely slipped my mind.

Speaking of chaos, I like chaos — but more on that subject later. I like unscripted discussions where the topics are limited only by the imaginations of the participants. I usually sit in on a few classes at AU, but with a few rare exceptions, the only time I learn something new at AU is outside the structured classrooms.

This year I did learn something new in a class, though. I sat in on Josh Johnson’s Demystifying Installers class, and I learned how to create a new registry key that AutoCAD’s secondary install uses to trigger a third party secondary installer (this would occur when a new user logs in for the first time). Thanks, Josh! I did not know that! [An interesting sidenote: Josh taught the class with his father in the audience. How cool is that? Er, not cool at all, especially in Vegas! Seriously, I thought it was cool, and it was a pleasure to meet both of the Johnsons. Good thing I brought… never mind.]

Toot Sweet

The French expression tuit de suite pretty much sums up how I feel after every Autodesk University, and this year is no exception. So much gets crammed into one week, with barely any time to decompress or collect my thoughts, let alone catch up with all the latest gossip or relax with old friends.

I had a tradition back in the early days to describe the people I met at AU. That tradition fell by the wayside as the heady days of youthful exuberance gave way to the practical realities of putting food on the table and making sure the bills got paid. Nowadays, the list would be far too large anyway.

Just like the old days, however, I come back from AU energized and replenished, not with more knowledge per se, but with information, ideas, and revitalized motivation. This year I’ve resolved to jump on the blogger bandwagon and share some of my thoughts for posterity.

Welcome aboard. I hope you enjoy the ride!