Come Out and Play

It is known that you can give two boys a stick and a rock and they will create a game within minutes. They will then spend another 45 minutes deliberating over the rules. What can I say? We males really dig games. I realize women do as well. After all, my wife could probably teach Marv Levy a thing or two about the history of the Buffalo Bills. She probably also has a better chance of throwing a completed pass but I digress. Sports and games are a huge part of American culture. Sports can bring out an esprit de corps that inspire people to shout at the top of their lungs, consume untold quantities of junk food, and spend a week recovering from the horrendous cold brought on by parading around while shirtless and painted in 12° weather. For example, I live in Western New York. As a native Georgian, I LOVE watching the Atlanta Braves (I know, who am I to take shots at the Bills?) I can walk the perimeter of the local mall wearing my Braves hat. There is a good chance that a random stranger will see me and shout: “CHIPPER JONES RULES! GO BRAVES!”

However, it should also be noted that sports are not just for the armchair athlete. You can’t go to school, church, or work without hearing somebody talk about their fantasy league. They have fantasy leagues for about any sporting event that come to one’s mind: baseball, football, basketball, hockey, soccer, auto racing, lacrosse, disc golf, croquet, bocce, darts, jai alai, or synchronized swimming. Actually I am not sure about all of those. I don’t think there is really a disc golf fantasy league.

Then you have the world of intramural sports. Most people have jobs that include some kind of sports league. This is designed to bring out that aforementioned esprit de corps amongst you and your co-workers. You may scoff about that funny, geeky guy on the other side of the cubicle wall. So what if he has the strange laugh and the annoying habit of clearing his throat. This doesn’t change the fact the he has a left hook that brings the company’s bowling league to a certain victory. Let the jerks from Ignoramacorp® continuously drink the last of the coffee in the break room. You’ll get even at the next paintball tourney. I even had one of my colleagues do some recruiting for a league at my job. He asked: “Shane, do you like kickball?” “Say WHAT?” I politely responded. He repeated: “Do you like kickball?” I responded: “I did in third grade.” He didn’t need my snotty remarks anyway. He quite successfully recruited enough co-workers to form a team without me.

While I am glad my colleague found a way to have fun and promote camaraderie, I can’t help but wonder — Where does it go from here? We have grown folks playing kickball on a self-formed league. You can even watch a spelling bee on a sports network. The worst part is, I run across this bee on the TV and suddenly I am unable to change the channel. I am suddenly shouting at an 11 year old girl for misspelling “colloquialism”. Next thing you know, there will be a commentator giving a play by play on a marbles game: “Welcome back from the commercial break folks. Tommy Smitherson is still dominating this round. We now have Scotty Jamison at the taw line. Jamison is returning after a histing controversy in 2008. He seems a bit rattled by Smitherson’s perfor…OH MY GOODNESS! JAMISON HAS LOFTED HIS AGGIE AND TAKEN THE TIGER’S EYE! THIS PLAYING FOR KEEPS TOURNAMENT HAS COME TO A SHOCKING AND SUDDEN END, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN!” Great, I had Smitherson in my fantasy league.


When Do I Say “FORE!”?

I spent a WONDERFUL 4th of July with my family. Every year we go to a sports park that is owned by our local church. The day is spent enjoying all kinds of great activities: inflatables, lawn games, a baseball pitching range, and face painting. This is in addition to all the concession food you can eat (everything was a buck apiece) and one of the most phenomenal fireworks displays ever seen.

In another recent event, my wife and I renewed our wedding vows in a mass ceremony the previous week. Due to this, I told my wife that as “newlyweds” we need to be a bit spontaneous and try something we normally wouldn’t. That’s right folks, right there on the 4th of July, me and the missus headed straight for the lawn games. There were two games to choose from: bocce and croquet. Wifey and I decided to play croquet.

A very nice man approached us. He was in charge of coordinating guests who wanted to play croquet. He asked if either of us had played before. We explained that it had been since childhood for both of us. We asked if he just walk us through it as if we knew nothing about it (pretty close to the truth anyway). He kindly replied: “Well, you folks are probably used to playing nine-wicket croquet. This field is set up for six-wicket croquet. I’ll explain it to you”. This man then proceeded to spit out more words than a dictionary in a wood chipper. To his credit, he explained the rules and object of the game with eloquence and clear authority on the subject. My wife and I stood there, holding hands, trying to hide our deer-in-the-headlights feeling that had overcome us both. We both nodded our heads to properly feign complete understanding of what this fine gentleman had just explained to us. My lovely queen and I did our best to piece together his instructions. We also took pointers from another couple who already had a game in play. At game’s end, my wife and I both had a great time. We then went to get our faces painted because; after all, we’re newlyweds.

After leaving the lawn games, my mind got very curious about the origins of the game. You, my dear reader, are about to experience the origin and rules of croquet as I understand them. Please feel free to take notes. I know it is a common tactic for many to trust but verify. As a winner of many a trivia game, I can assure I can be trusted with this information.

Croquet was originally pronounced “KROKet“. That is because the game was named after the King of the Wild Frontier himself: Davey Crockett. It seems that when Crockett wasn’t fightin‘ single handed through many a war and fixin‘ the crack in the Liberty Bell, he would passed the time playing a game he devised himself. Crockett would stand in his field and hit a boulder with a sledgehammer. The object was to make the boulder pass underneath the openings in his fence. This was any easy task for a man who killed a bear at the tender age of three. After all, Davey Crockett was a man. He was a BIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIG man. Wait a minute. Sorry, THAT was someone else.

After the Louisiana Purchase, the Marquis de Lafayette was rather intrigued by the frontier game. Due to Lafayette misspelling (and mispronouncing) Crockett’s name, the game was changed to croquet (pronounced “krow-KAY”). The name loosely translates as “sledgehammer golf”. Also, Lafayette Incorporated the use of smaller spherical balls. He also created small arches which were driven into the ground. After all, Lafayette did not kill a bear at three years old. It’s quite possible Lafayette NEVER killed a bear but I digress. Lafayette then struck a stick into the ground in the center of the play area in order to lean against it while his opponents were playing. Unfortunately, any given player’s trajectory would eventually hit the stick. Lafayette eventually gave up and just made the stick a part of the game. Lafayette then painted the stick to look like a barber pole. Thus, the tradition was born for player’ to get a haircut immediately following the game. This tradition ceased quickly as player’s wanted to keep playing the game but were catching a death of cold.

The rules are quite simple. There are several horseshoe thingies driven into the ground. Four of the horseshoe thingies create a large upside down U shape. In the center is the painted, stripy stick. There is also a horseshoe thingy on each side of the painted stripy stick. There are four spherical balls that are painted blue, red, black, and yellow. The balls are played respectively in that order. I don’t know why that is. Nonetheless, just work with me please. Using the sledgehammer doo-dad, the player strikes the ball in an attempt to pass through each horseshoe thingy, in order, in the shape of the upside down U. Once you have passed through all four horseshoe thingies in order, you do the same in reverse order until you make you way back to the first horseshoe thingy that started the game. After you do this, you make your way toward going through the two horseshoe thingies in the center. One quick note: be careful when you go to strike the ball with the sledgehammer doo-dad. It is very easy to hit the toes. If this happens, you have to call a toe truck (sorry, I couldn’t resist). Once you have gone through the center of all the horseshoe thingies (in order, both ways), you then strike the ball with the sledgehammer doo-dad to hit the painted stripy stick. Apparently, the first player to hit the painted stripy stick with their respective colored spheres wins the match.

So, there you have it, folks: the rules and history of croquet. You may feel free to take the advice of Robert Ripley and “Believe it or not”. You may find differing information on the Internet, at the library, or by consulting an actual croquet official. All the same, this is MY story and I’m sticking to it.

[This piece was written with dedication and abject apologies to my US History teachers, the United States Croquet Association, and the memory of Fess Parker]


There Was Nothing Minor About That Night.

I have mentioned before that my Dad would take us to see minor league baseball games as a relatively inexpensive form of family fun. Due to the fact that I moved a lot as a kid, I saw a few minor league teams with my Dad. I got to see games with the Charlotte Orioles, Savannah Braves, and Columbus Astros (that’s Columbus, Georgia). My Dad and I were even planning to attend an exhibition game between the Charlotte Orioles and the Baltimore Orioles in 1980. Sadly, our plans were dashed when the Major League Baseball folks went on strike. Shortly afterward, we moved from Charlotte to Savannah. We saw a few more games together before I graduated from high school.

Life went on for my Dad and me. Over the years that followed, I would join the Navy (and get out). I got married (twice). I also moved 1000 miles away from my home state of Georgia (also twice). I have welcomed four children into my life between 1988 and 1993. I have also bade several loved ones farewell (including my mother in 2006). Like many others in the world, I have tried to create memories with my wife and kids. I have also, like many others, tried to relive the great memories I had as a kid with my own kids.

Dad and I never went to another ball game together after I graduated high school. Stranger still, I spent more than 20 years living in the same city and never took myself or my family to a minor league game. This is in spite of the fact that I went to see the Atlanta Braves twice in 2007 with some extended family. This was just downright shameful. The Rochester Red Wings have some very distinguished alumni: Boog Powell, Cal Ripken (Junior AND Senior), Jim Palmer, and Mike Boddicker. One Red Wings Hall of Famer, Bobby Bonner, went from the Rochester Red Wings to the Baltimore Orioles to Zambia, Africa where he now serves as a missionary.

I looked at my wife one day and said “We should go to a Red Wings game”. Next thing you know, my wife and two younger kids are joining me at Frontier Field. It was a nice cool summer evening. We bought programs. My wife bought pompoms (of all things). I couldn’t believe they would actually sell pompom at a baseball game. I wasn’t about to complain. I had been looking forward to this night for a while. We bought the obligatory soft ice cream in a helmet cup for the kids. We also bought drinks and the even more obligatory peanuts. The peanuts had been under a heat lamp. As I felt the heat from the bag, I felt that I was, at that very point, officially AT the game.

We had great seats 10 rows up from the field, between home plate and first base. I sat between my wife, Renee, and our daughter Brianna. Our son, Caleb, sat on the other side of Renee. The first inning had just started between the Rochester Red Wings and the Gwinnett Braves. Several innings passed and the Red Wings played to an enthusiastic crowd. At one point between innings, some Red Wings t-shirts were thrown into the crowd. I caught one and gave it to Caleb (it was too small to fit my “larger” frame). At another point between innings, The Red Wings Mascots (Spikes and Mittsy) threw foam balls into the crowd. I had my sights set on catching one to give to Brianna. I barely missed it and a gentleman behind me caught it. He graciously gave it to me to give to my daughter. Chivalry is not dead in Frontier Field.

Then there were the vendors. For the most part, the vendors were quite typical. They roved the stadium offering beer, peanuts, popcorn, and cotton candy. One vendor, however, was not so typical. He wore a Conehead cap on his head. If you had any doubt about his name, it was on his name tag and the back of his shirt: Conehead. I saw several patrons order beer to which Conehead enthusiastically served. “You got the Conehead guarantee. You won’t get a warm beer from me or you get your drink FOR FREE!”. He then politely thanked his customer and went his way. One girl sitting near us seemed either fascinated or frightened by Conehead. Any time he walked near this little girl, her eyes followed him until he was out of eyeshot.

The Red Wings had some fine batters going up to the plate. We enjoyed cheering on center fielder Jason Pridie, catcher Drew Butera, and left fielder Dustin Martin. Most of all, Brianna and I especially enjoyed watching shortstop Trevor Plouffe. We would say his name and giggle whenever he went up to bat (“PLOOF” hee hee). The Red Wings had earned a lead in the score briefly. Not much later, the Gwinnett Braves got ahead of them. Still, there was hope that the Red Wings could regain their lead.

Then, at the top of the seventh inning, it happened. Gwinnett Brave right fielder Reid Gorecki hit a fly ball. As the ball reached the apex of its arc, the crowd let out an audible “OHHHHHHHH!” Exactly as our collective interjection predicted, the ball landed over the fence. Gorecki had hit his second home run of the night. This created an 8-6 lead from which the Red Wings did not recover. The game ended. Brianna acquired an autograph from Dustin Martin, Spikes, Mittsy, and Trevor Plouffe. Caleb also got his t-short autographed by Mr. Plouffe (“PLOOF” hee hee).

The night was capped off by a phenomenal fireworks display. A beautiful mosaic of colors lit up the sky as our ears were treated to classic top 40 tunes. After it was over we made our way to the minivan. Everyone told me they had a great time. Brianna kissed my cheek and told me it was worth skipping out on a senior night function. I had done it. I had taken one of my magic memories with my Dad and shared it with my family.

In closing, I want to thank my wife and kids for sharing this great night with me. I can’t wait to do it again. Thanks to Spikes, Mittsy, Dustin Martin, and Trevor Plouffe for the autographs. Lastly, thanks to the Rochester Red Wings and the Gwinnett Braves for a great game. I look forward to seeing some of you in the majors someday. Y’all might be minor league players but there was nothing minor about that night.