Monterey Bay Aquarium

After going twice in 2016 it’s taken me three years to return to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The kids have gone the past couple years (including an overnight with their grandparents in 2017) but I haven’t. It’s nice to be back and just sit in the Outer Bay gallery or watch the Kelp Forest tank. The main exhibits are the same as always but they’re also my home waters and speak to me.

As comforting as it is to see the same exhibits and animal life I’ve grown up with, I can’t help but wonder how the aquarium’s focus is going to change as sea water temperatures rise and the mix of the bay changes. I love that my kids love this aquarium and I hate that they’re most-likely only going to know about all this stuff as things they saw when they were little before they vanished from the Earth.

Anyway, I got to try out a new phone camera and further figure out how I can try and keep my DSLR from blowing out the blue channel.

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Palo Alto Obon

This year the whole family made it to Palo Alto Obon. We enjoyed the food and got to watch San José Taiko perform on the Yagura. This was the boy’s first time being able to see them play without having to deal with a massive crowd and I think they enjoyed the performance a lot more.

And we danced. It started earlier this year and didn’t last as long* but was still fun. The right amount of community feel and a good time was had by all. The boys have already weighed in that they like Palo Alto’s festival the most and I know what they mean.

*Apparently some one complained last year and in typical Bay Area fashion the town cracked down on the church that has been having these festivals for decades instead of letting the resident know that they’d purchased a home next to a church.

Since I was dancing the photos are similar to my previous ones in San José this year and in Palo Alto last year. I’m still working out how best to take photos during the festival. I might have to stop dancing for a few songs and just take photos of the kids. They’re getting pretty good now.

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MLB Debut

My youngest has caught the baseball bug pretty bad. After taking my eldest to his first game last summer, we’ve had a pretty baseball-heavy start to this season and it became apparent that I’d have to take him to his first Major League game this summer.

We thought briefly about all going up together but it felt right for him to be able to experience it on his own without his big brother being the “expert.” So last week we took the train up the peninsula for a game against the Nationals.

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He was excited verging on nervous. He’s familiar enough with trains that he knows they don’t always run on time. This is mostly New Jersey Transit’s fault but Caltrain hasn’t helped either. We got sit on the top floor of the train and it wasn’t too crowded—mostly other Giants fans—since we’d left before the commute started in earnest. Once we were moving he calmed down a little.

I always enjoy taking the train though since it allows me to actually spend time talking with him. He was excited to realize that he was going to be one of the few people in the park who’d been to the original Polo Grounds location and I duly pointed out where Candlestick had been and where we used to park when I was going to games decades ago. Then as we pulled into Fourth and King I pointed out how he could se the stadium lights from the train.

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He literally skipped all the way from the station to the ballpark.

I asked him if I was walking too fast and he just said “no I’m just excited” and kept on skipping. Loved seeing Willie Mays. Giant eyes as we went through security and got my phone scanned.* And a face that rivaled his excitement at seeing Winnie the Pooh when he saw the World Series trophies. We picked up his “My First Game” certificate** and a program and scorecard*** and then he finally got to see the field.

*Rant about how physical tickets no longer exist goes here.

**Very cool. Not sure how I missed these last year.

***Good lord the $1 Giants scorecard is an afterthought to an afterthought. It’s the same piece of paper that’s stapled into the programs and doesn’t even pretend to be a functional souvenir. 

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He was excited to see that batting practice was going on. The next time we go to a game I suspect that we’ll just find out seats and watch BP but this time it was time to make a circuit of the park before things got too crowded.

So he went down the Coke slide (it was much faster than he expected). Checked out the bobbleheads (I had to lift him up to see the top row). And wandered along the arcade by McCovey Cove where I got to point out the Willie McCovey statue across the water.

It’s great to see the park from multiple angles and get a sense of the field—especially walking along that right field wall which starts off so far away and gets so much closer as you reach the foul line.

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Then we found our seats so we could eat dinner and be ready for starting lineups. I figure that he’ll want a scorecard from this game in the future even though there was too much to keep track of for him to keep score himself.

We were up high in almost the same set of seats I took his brother to last year. Same row just the other end. My favorite place to sit in the ballpark. Up high where you can only be at a Major League game and, in this day and age of defensive shifting, a great perspective on how defenses are being set up.

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The game wasn’t particularly good but we did get to see a fantastic play by Kevin Pillar and caught a beautiful sunset. Unlike his older brother he never had a crisis of faith in feeling like the game was now over. Unfortunately this is because the Giants never felt like they were in it. Even going into the 9th inning when they were down 3–0 it felt like they were down 10–0.

It sucks that he didn’t get to see the Giants even score a run but I was pleased that he still got excited with each hit even though he was increasingly pessimistic that they’d be able to pick up another.

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It was nice just to be up there and enjoy being with him as things went on and hope slipped away. We watched the seagulls come in and the Coke bottle get “brighter.” The stadium was only 75% full so we didn’t feel like we had to run* to the train afterward.

*Walk fast, yes. Run, no.

He was down about the game but not upset or grumpy. We talked about it being bad but also remembered the cool things we’d seen. He read the program until he fell asleep on the train ride home and the following day took great pleasure in re-enacting Pillar’s catch for his grandparents and showing the video clip to anyone who’d watch. Even a bad game can have memorable moments and I’ve got a photo of Pillar that I need to make into a card for him after the season is over and I finish my custom cards.

Next time we go to a game it will be all of us together. Maybe it will be at Pac Bell Oracle. Maybe it’ll be at the Coliseum. Or perhaps Citizens Bank, Citi, or Yankee Stadium. Lots of options open to us now that his Giants fandom has been cemented and he’s had that proper first MLB game experience in the correct park.

Another TTMer enters the fray

While I wrote about my eldest taking a stab at TTMs, I haven’t provided much of an update on his activities. He’s only sent out a couple more requests and hadn’t gotten any returns yet. This is more what I expected (and had warned him to expect) and reflects both how much work it is to write a letter and how hard it is to send duplicates when your inventory is already so small.

Yup I’m making him write the letters himself. I’ll take care of postage and even stationery for now but he’s got to write the letter. I’m a bit more lenient on providing cards though. Current-year cards are difficult to get duplicates of in a timely fashion* but I’ll provide all the junk wax he wants.

*Especially because I’m having a hard time finding breaks in recent months.

Late last week his drought was broken with a junk wax return. He’d been inspired and excited to try to send to Bruce Bochy after he saw my return so I pulled out an extra 1988 Topps Bochy for him to send. It looks like Boch spent some of the All-Star break answering his fan mail and after 81 days of waiting my son got his second return.

Oh, and my youngest got his first return too. Yup, I had a bunch of 1988 Topps duplicates so I told him that if he wrote a letter I’d help him mail it. Challenge accepted.

I love this letter very much and I really hope Boch read it. I’m not going to take photos of all their letters but I’m very happy to have a copy of their first letters. Whether or not they continue in this hobby, they’ll still have these cards and letters and a memory of what they did. Until then it’ll be fun to encourage them and see what kind of players they choose to pursue in the future.

Blink of an eye

Note: This is a longer version of a post I wrote for SABR which was in part inspired by my previous post on this blog.

This year I enrolled my sons in the Trenton Thunder’s Boomer’s Kids Club. It’s a great deal. Tickets to eleven games for the three of us plus fun activities and a tshirt* for $45. I knew we wouldn’t be able to make the games in July and August because of summer plans but even just going to the games through June it would be worth it.

*Shirt and activities for kids only.

So this past weekend were our last games before summer vacation. Normally summer means more baseball but in our case it means a break. Well from Trenton at least. Hopefully we’ll catch a San José Giants game in California. Given the way San Francisco has been playing we have a decent chance to get to Pac Bell AT&T Oracle as well.

Erie was back in town and the three of us went to games on both Saturday and Sunday. Saturday was a Copa de Diversión night between the Trueno and the Piñatas. Sadly Boomer is not renamed Bumador but the Guatemalan band was a nice touch. Game was not good either—only one of the 5 runs scored was earned—but it was an enjoyable night at the ballpark.

I wandered over to the Erie dugout before the game with a Casey Mize card since he’d been so cool the previous Erie game I’d been to. And indeed he was. He’s very strict about one autograph per person but takes his time, personalizes everything, and has no problems posing for photos. It’s nice to see. I don’t blame these top prospects for getting a bit surly and tired of the autograph stuff—especially the autograph hounds with dozens of the same card who are clearly in the resale business. Mize’s approach with the personalizations is perfect. Clear lines about what’s appropriate but also super accommodating for the actual fans.

The following afternoon we were back at the ballpark. The game itself couldn’t have been more different. Crisp and well-played. 1–0 pitching duel which gave the Thunder a win the desperately needed. Over in just about two hours.

Because I knew it was our last Thunder game for a while I decided to let the boys hang around the clubhouse after the game and try to get some cards signed. I wasn’t sure how the boys would be able to handle a stack of cards as well as the pens but there’s no way to find out unless you try.

So we hung out for an hour and they did great. Missed a few guys because they were shy. Missed some others because of having to pick one out of a bunch to get. But they each ended up with seven signed cards plus the program and were super happy with their results. For my part I got the Albert Abreu Kenny sent me signed since I was there and had the card.

We’ve now been to seven games this season and it’s been awesome. The boys have gotten two shirts, a jersey, a frisbee, and a pennant. They’ve had a chance to throw out the first pitch, walk around the field, be part of a high-five tunnel for the players, and watch The Sandlot on the outfield after a game. We’ve even been tossed five baseballs. Oh yeah and the games have been good. The Thunder are a decent team and it’s been a lot of fun to watch the boys learn the players and really get into following the season.

They’re also completely hooked on the hobby—especially autograph collecting. Completely. This is all me and my interests rubbing off on them. They’ve seen me write TTM requests and get cards signed at Trenton Thunder games and they want to join me. So I indulge them.

Not too much. I supply cards and pens (for now) but they have to do the requesting. I’m not going to flag a player down for them or ask on their behalf. I’ll help spot guys but the boys need to learn how to approach players, make the request, and say thank you. In addition to the Trenton players we’ve started off pretty simple by just focusing on visiting coaches. As a result the two of them have pretty eclectic autograph binders.

My youngest’s binder is organized alphabetically by first name. His idea. It’s a wonderfully random bunch of cards.* Seven Thunder players. Five coaches. And one card that Marc Brubaker mailed to him. I find myself wondering how much a first grader even cares about people like Joe Oliver, Brian Harper, or Matt LeCroy. These aren’t guys he knows. Some, like LeCroy, aren’t even guys I’d really talk to them about.** But they’re in the binder and he’s super-excited to show them off.

*Unless you make the Eastern League connection.

**Even though the Frank Robinson story is pretty touching

Can he tell you about the players? Only what he knows by turning the cards over. But he’s into this as a hobby even though he’s, so far, just tagging along with me.

His brother’s binder is pretty similar except that his one TTM return is in there and there are a couple 1991 Topps cards that he pulled from his own binder because he got the set for Christmas last year. As a result he has a bit more of a connection to guys like Harper and Oliver but LeCroy, Mark Johnson, and Mike Rabelo are all ciphers to him.

As the season’s progressed I’ve been questioning what it means to collect autographs of guys you’ve never heard of and second-guessing the importance of what I’ve gotten my kids into. Are they excited only because I’m excited? Am I pushing them to do something that only means something to me?

I jumped into the hobby in 1987. I bailed in 1994. Not a long period of time but it felt like forever. And in a way it was. Not only did those years represent half my lifetime by the time I stopped, they covered most of my years in school—pretty much my entire youth.

Now, 25 years later as a father, I’m seeing things from the other side. What was a lifetime when I was a kid is already flashing by in the blink of an eye. I know I only have a handful of years where my sons will legitimately share my interests. Yes legitimately. At the end of the day I’ve realized that it doesn’t matter why they’re interested in the hobby, the fact that they are and that we’re able to share it is what matters.

My two boys love collecting and everything it entails. Getting cards. Sorting cards.* Re-sorting cards.** Showing me their cards. Asking for new cards. Etc. Etc. It’s great. It reminds me of being a kid and it inspires me to document their adventures so that in a decade or two when they look back at their collection they’ll have my thoughts and memories to go with their memories of those years when the three of us were enjoying baseball together.

*On the floor as God intended.

**One day will be by number, the next by team, the next by last name, the next by first name.

I get to experience what I put my mom through, how patient she was, and how much she enjoyed seeing me get excited by the hobby. She kept a journal which I eventually turned into a book so that we could all have copies. I still enjoy rereading her essays and I’m looking forward to my boys reading them too.

Instead of journalling I’m blogging about our adventures and putting together summaries of events we’ve gone too. Like when we went to the Thunder Open House I took photos of their baseballs and printed out a letter-sized sheet for their binders. I’ll do the same thing with their haul of autographed cards for the season since I know they’ll re-sort them multiple times in the future.

It’ll always be important to have the biographical breakdown of their collection. As my sons get older, their cards and autographs will increasingly become markers for their memories rather than just objects to collect and hoard. The memories they’re attached to is what makes them special. It’s why I collect and why I hope they keep collecting.

In fact, I’ve been inspired to start doing the same thing for my cards and autographs. I know I’m going to be passing  everything on to my sons. I also know that “all dad’s stuff’ will be nowhere near as memorable as having an introduction to a given collection or set which explains who I was when I got these and why the set was important to me. This is a big project but I’m looking forward to it.

A perfect day

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks in the hobby on Card Twitter. It seems like the big Memorial Day meetup at the Hall of Fame spurred a lot of existential conversation about why we collect, what we collect, and what will happen to our collections in the future.

For guys without kids who collect, these conversations are kind of sobering but seem to have prompted some level of wanting to pare things down to the essentials and focus their collections as tightly as possible. For those of us with kids who collect, it’s made us think about both what we’ll be leaving them as well as how much we’re influencing their collections.

As a member of the second camp, I love that my sons are enjoying the hobby with me. In a way they’re responsible for bringing me back in but I’ve also had a huge amount of influence in encouraging their interest. I’m constantly trying to balance guidance with letting them find their own path. I want them to find their own interests and I love seeing how they use their cards. I also want them to avoid doing things I know they’ll regret later.

To-date they’ve been content following my interests. Collecting Giants. Tagging along on my autograph searches at Trenton. I worry that they’re only excited about stuff because I’m excited about it. I’ve also realized that it ultimately doesn’t matter.

For example. Last Sunday we went to the Thunder game. I wanted to get autographs of the visiting Harrisburg Senators coaches. Matt LeCroy is the manager. He was a journeyman catcher (and DH and 1st baseman when needed) whose seven-year career was decidedly average. I like getting in-person autographs from guys like this. Seven years in the bigs is seven years in the bigs and being able to tie the autograph experience with the game experience is the kind of thing I enjoy doing.

For my kids though it’s not like they know who LeCroy is. He’s not a World Series winner like Brian Harper or Joe Oliver. He played before they were even alive. But because I had a few extra Topps Chrome cards around I was able to supply them with cards to ask for an autograph when I got my two cards signed.

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And they enjoyed it. My rule, as with the TTM requests,* is that they have to handle the interaction—maybe not initiating contact but at least waiting and handing the card over and saying thank you. They enjoy it…not just because I do. Getting autographs is fun. Getting them on something specific like a card is even more fun. Not only will they always know whose signature it is, they’ll have the picture and memento as well.

*Where they have to write the letter.

In a decade, no matter what their opinion of collecting is at that time, this Matt LeCroy autograph will be on a binder page with Joe Oliver, Brian Harper, Mark Johnson, Brian Rabelo, and who knows what other autographs that we got together. They’ll be able to look back at that page and remember the season (hopefully, seasons) we were in Boomer’s Kids club and went to a ton of games.

It won’t be about the players. It will be about how they did it with their brother and their father and how the three of us spent Sundays together before other activities got in the way. And they’re sure to get in the way…probably much sooner than I expect or desire.

But for now things have been perfect. We get to the ballpark early. Hang out and watch them set up the field and see the players come out. The past couple times we’ve been on the visiting side of the field the boys have gotten balls from the players. Last Sunday Austin Davidson was the generous player. Unlike with Erie where I was caught flat-footed I was able to get my ticket stub signed for the scrapbook.

As with the autographed cards, I’ll look back on this stub and remember it as part of the experience. Spending a Sunday at the ballpark with my sons. Getting cards signed and balls tossed to us and enjoying the breeze that made the hot sunny day not just bearable but quite pleasant.

I also got the Harrisburg pitching coach Michael Tejera’s autograph. I didn’t have enough extras to give to the kids (and splitting up a Fleer Classic and a Topps Gold Label card between them was likely to risk complaining and hard feelings) but it’s just as well since they didn’t even notice me get this autograph. They were still excited about getting LeCroy.

Tejera had a five season career. Average like LeCroy but he did win a World Series with the Marlins in 2003. This is my first time getting a Gold Label card signed. Pain on the butt to scan but it turned out better than I thought.

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After that perfect start to the day we settled into our seats behind the Senators’ dugout and watched the Thunder lose 4–1 by batting 1 for 12 with runners in scoring position. A frustrating loss but we didn’t care. My youngest managed to keep score for the entire game this time* and my eldest only needs my assistance when things get weird.** The group of Nationals fans in front of us were both good-humoured and funny.*** Boomer even came by with a supersoaker to help everyone cool off.

*He’s just marking the result of each plate appearance for now.

**Like a player getting picked off of first by the catcher.

***I wouldn’t expect anything else from people wearing Sean Doolittle shirts.

As soon as the game ended the sky got dark and it started to rain. But we’d had our fun and I told the boys as much on the drive home. It’s been a fun couple of months. Four games now with the kid club plus one with Little League is a lot of quality time we’re spending together at the ball park. I’m making sure to enjoy it while it lasts.