Thursday, July 12, 2018

The Grand Finale

Sunday was another early day, though not as early as it could have been.  It was another pleasant morning, though it was shaping up to be warmer than Saturday.  Our first game was against the host team, who had finished 2-1 the previous day.  The team that beat them was a good one, so we knew it would be a battle no matter what.  It was another really tight game, and as time ticked down, we were only up 5-4 and momentum was not on our side.  We were giving the ball away left and right, which isn't something we normally do.  With a few minutes left, an opposing player went down with an injury.  Usually injuries only take about 30 seconds to resolve--the coach runs out, the kid gets up, and they both walk off the field.  This time the kid just laid there.  We were concerned it was something serious like a head injury, mostly because they weren't rushing to move him.  Keep in mind these games are on a running clock, so the longer they take, the less playing time there is.  And given that the team was one goal down and running out of time to tie it, their lack of action with this player was shocking.  In the end it turned out to be a sprained ankle, but everyone was surprised just how long it took to get him off.  After that there was maybe only a minute left in the game, and lucky for us, they didn't score.  We ended up with a 5-4 win, and while we were all grateful, that's not really the way you want to see it play out.

So, another weekend, another championship game.  This one looked to be our toughest yet, and it didn't start well.  Before we knew it, we were down 4-1.  We came back only to fall behind again.  We struggled again with maintaining possession and picking up loose balls, which makes it awfully tough to score.  One of our players went down twice with an injury.  But the boys somehow clawed back again.  They tied it, then took the lead.  One more late goal sealed it, and they won!  Nice to end the season with a championship!

Huddling around the coach postgame

Tired but happy kid!
Most championships get you a t-shirt.  Last year we had one with a single trophy.  But for this one, they got medals!

As we packed up and headed out, I couldn't help but snap a picture of this school banner.  That slogan is in the on-field logo on their turf field, too.  It's not exactly what I expected from such a refined school like this, but think it's sort of representative of what we all want for our kids, isn't it?

Upon sitting in the van and appreciating the air conditioning for a minute, the first question was, "Well, do we do it?"  "It" being the baseball game we were supposed to go to on Friday.  It was hot, we had a long drive ahead, and everyone was tired.  But to be less than a half hour from a new baseball stadium seemed like leaving something on the table for our "vacation".  I wanted to do it, and Craig got on board when I confirmed it was so close.  The kids took some convincing, and Jacob actually freaked out upon arrival because we drove through the 'hood to get there.  I think he was on edge because his teammate's family's vehicle got broken into over the weekend (even though they were at a "nice" hotel), and we had just been talking about the importance of not leaving valuables in the van.  Well, that apparently put him in panic mode, and it took an absurd amount of convincing to get him out of the van once we parked.  We were already a bit late and had a long walk to the park (though, thankfully, there ended up being a shuttle), and with the heat being pretty intense by that point, Jacob's resistance was about the last thing we needed!  But we persevered and headed to the game, scooping up some standing-room only tickets, since that's all that was left.  It was fine, I guess, because we were really just there to see everything, and if our seats were in the sun we probably wouldn't have sat in them anyway!

So, I present to you Dunkin' Donuts Park!
We're not in Tim Hortons' country anymore, folks...
The home team is the Hartford Yard Goats, and the stadium was gloriously themed accordingly, from horns on signs to photo wraps on the bathroom doors with the corresponding male and female versions of their mascots.  It was a nice stadium for a Double-A team, a perfect size and with some cool features.  There was fun counter-height seating at the top of most sections, and they were actual sellable seats.  There was a bunch of that type of seating in the outfield, as well.  The scoreboard was huge.  The press box and the production room were both on the main concourse, and the production room even had a window to watch the action.  I'd never seen that before.

As it is Hartford, Land of Everything Insurance, there were a couple prominent sponsorships in the stadium:
The Hartford Terrace had the giant buck on top!

The Kids' Zone was sponsored by Travelers, so of course it needed a giant red umbrella.
The kids had a good time in the Kids' Zone.  For $5 total, each kid got to do three things.  Playing in the Dunkin' Donuts playhouse (which was being raffled off) was free, and our budding chef couldn't wait to serve something up!

Jacob just wanted to shoot hoops (of course)…

Carter wanted to do the slide.  He loved it!  I loved the look on his face in both of these, so I couldn't pick just one.  Click to zoom in on the first one :)

One of the coolest things I've ever seen was the pen of live goats at the end of the first base side.  I mean, how cute are the babies (two near the mom on the left, one in the crate to the right)?

Upstairs from the goats was the bullpen, and of course our resident basketball fan noticed the tiny hoop on the wall!

While I was off visiting the ladies' room and getting food, Craig couldn't resist catching these shots of the boys in front of a nearby mural...

It was a HOT day, and it was clear we were running out of energy quickly.  We did a couple rounds around the stadium, finished up at the Kids' Zone, and visited the very busy team store.  I snapped a couple last photos, and it was time to go.
You can just see it in this photo, but there was a patio/suite area on the third base side that was sponsored by a basement renovation company.  Just another cool feature of a neat little stadium!

Check out that coffee cup on the scoreboard!
We left during the 7th inning stretch and were happy to get back to the van (intact, despite Jacob's fears), and get started on the long trip home.  It was a long trip, but it was manageable--at least until about 90 minutes outside Rochester when Carter started moaning about how he just wanted to be home.  You and me both, buddy.

So, another season ends.  On one hand I'm thrilled to be done with packing, done with coolers and suitcases, and done with long stretches trapped in the van.  I don't miss sleeping in hotels or waking up early to leave enough time to get ice in the coolers.  I'm tired of trying to figure out eating on the road and roasting for hours because the players get shade priority.  I'm ready to have relaxing weekends at home (or at least spend my weekends trying to make our home look presentable again) and not be infinitely exhausted every Monday.  But then again, I will miss spending time with the families and watching the team come together for a big win.  I miss the prospect of adventures in new places and having time to be a family without the normal distractions of home life.  Tryouts are coming soon, and we're nervous.  While we'd like to think two years of experience and Jacob's good attitude despite tough circumstances would be nice boosts to his chances, there's no telling what might happen if good players come in from outside.  He wants to be on this team, but clearly he didn't play a lot and there's a chance he won't make it.  If he doesn't, he won't have a lot of options, but hopefully that won't be necessary.  Everything happens for a reason, and hopefully we'll find some really good ones if things don't go as planned, but hopefully we get to do it all over again next summer!

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Connecticut, Day 2 (or is it Massachusetts?)

I was out of bed before 5am on Saturday, even though I didn't sleep well.  I couldn't get in a deep sleep, and I was dreaming a lot.  I think it was a combination of the usual hotel stuff like a different bed and humming A/C, the joys of sleeping next to Carter, and being overfull from a late dinner.  So when I woke up and it was nearly time for my alarm, I checked out my phone for a couple minutes and got up before I could start the snoozing battle.  We had to be on the road by around 6:30 to be at the field by 7am.  We were shocked to discover it was downright cool outside.  After last weekend where we were roasting the second we walked out the door, this time we needed jackets!  It was a gorgeous morning.

We arrived at the tournament site, the Westminster School.  It's a private 9-12 school, and we realized as we drove into the lush, large campus that we were passing by dorms.  It's a boarding school that costs about the same as the very expensive university where I work.  It costs a little bit less to attend locally, but the thought of spending such a large amount of money on high school--let alone college--was mind-blowing.  I also can't imagine sending my high schooler off to live in a dorm, either, but it was a gorgeous campus and I'm sure it's a great experience for those who attend!

The tournament was called "The Brawl on the Hill", and this is why:

The picture doesn't really do it justice, but if you use the players for scale, it helps.  The hill was pretty large, and we had to go down and up it a bit because our other two games were at fields at the top!  It had a beautiful stone lookout area at the top, and below was the view.  The field we played on was on the left, and the fancy turf field is in the distance.

Game one was a close one, but we came out with an 8-7 win.  We had a decent lead at one point, but they lost their edge a little and were lucky to escape with the one goal win.  The second game was a 13-2 blowout, but the good news was that Jacob got to play a lot!  No goals again, but he was hustling and helping to set up plays, so we were thrilled.

The third game of the day was against the team we beat in the semifinals the week before.  That was a very competitive game, and we knew they took the loss hard.  Well, we figured they'd be back with a vengeance, but initially we jumped out to a pretty good lead, maybe 4-1?  Everyone thought it was going to be another blowout.  But then something weird happened.  Every single call started going against us.  We've seen bad officiating before, but generally you see refs blowing either one big call against you (like the no-goal in Syracuse) or iffy penalty calls that get parents up in arms because they threaten the kids' safety.  But with those, usually they eventually seem to even out for both sides.  We'd never seen anything like this.  There were repeated man-ups for the other team, and so many blatant missed calls on them.  Even worse, there were a lot of phantom possession calls, like when their player got hit in the cup with a shot (ouch) and somehow they ended up with possession.  Literally every time the whistle blew we knew we were losing possession.  It was mystifying.  Our lead quickly evaporated because we spent most of the game down a man, and as time ticked down, we were tied 5-5 and ended up in overtime.  We had a few scary moments, but then one of our players broke out and boom--goal!  It was an important win to keep us in the running to play for the championship, but it never should have been that close to begin with.  We're still not sure how that happened, but thank goodness they won because it would have been a shame to go down that way.

We were done by lunch time and decided to head into Springfield (less than 30 minutes away) to go to the store at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.  We had wanted to go into the hall, but the Groupon offer stopped prior to summer, and I wasn't sure the price was worth it for us.  Jacob was fine with the store, so we headed out around 2:30.  I went to the Hall on my same eighth grade class trip as the Howe Caverns visit, and I remember enjoying it.  However, that version is long gone and was replaced years ago with a new, fancy one.  How 'bout that roof?  It's actually a giant sphere building, and yes, the orange sphere is a basketball!

Inside, there were a bunch of free exhibits in the lobby.  There were lockers for a variety of hall of famers, much like I remember seeing for current players in my original visit...

We enjoyed these shoe size plaques in the floor.  Jacob's foot is just a little smaller than Shaq's!

We checked out the store and all along Jacob was longingly looking through the doors at the cool center court inside, where you can shoot basketballs at a variety of hoops.  He really wanted to go in and play.  After the Groupon was no longer an option, I spent a lot of time debating whether we should go in.  Should we try to come back sometime when we can get the discount?  Or should we just bite the bullet, make our kid happy, and go in now?  Well...after some discussion and making Jacob promise he would patiently look through the exhibits and not spend the entire time begging to play, we relented and went in.  At least a AAA discount softened the blow a bit.  

The view from the third floor (the automatic first stop on the entry elevator) was pretty impressive.  

All of those squares across the middle of the picture above are the faces of the inductees.  Below them were bios grouped by year of induction.  We had fun looking for names we recognized, mostly from Buffalo's and Rochester's short tenures in the NBA.  We also learned some interesting history we never knew about a recreational team in Buffalo that formed shortly after Naismith's invention of the sport.  Speaking of Naismith, here he is with his famous peach basket (a.k.a., the first basketball hoop).

In our house, former NBA player Mugsy Bogues comes up a lot.  He was only 5'3" but could slam dunk.  Between Jacob's general fascination with players and the fact he's only an inch taller than me, he's sort of a thing for us.  Funny, then, that there was this cutout at the Hall of Fame...

Then there was this one, of 7'6" Yao Ming.

There was a lot to see throughout the upper floors, mostly jerseys and shoes interspersed with historical artifacts like this old scoreboard.

There were also some interactive activities, like something to test your vertical leap or a blue-screen simulation game.  It might be hard to follow, but this is Jacob playing against a WNBA player (not his choice but we couldn't figure out quickly enough how to select a different one).

We tried to make our way through pretty quickly but not too quickly.  After all, we paid enough for this and I wanted to get a taste of what was there.  We could have read descriptions for hours!  On the second floor there was a media zone that included your chance to do your own version of a famous call, but our funny memory from there was Jacob noticing that in the very old video clip, a random fan ran on the court in the victory rush, stole the ball, and ran off just as fast.  It was hilarious!  Presumably that ball is sitting in someone's house somewhere as their prized possession!

We took a quick rest in the pretend skybox suite...

...and then headed down to the floor for what Jacob had been waiting for since we got there--center court!

Jacob grabbed a ball and started shooting right away!  Craig and Carter went to the slam dunk section, and Daddy gave Carter a little assist :)

Jacob quickly found his favorite spot--the peach basket!  He was hitting tons of shots.  I tried like heck to get them on video, but kept missing it.  The video below caught a less spectacular one, but watch for how long it takes the ball to spiral out of the basket!

It was a really cool space--very busy with players, but lots of fun nonetheless!

If I haven't mentioned it, Carter has been on a major Star Wars kick lately.  He thought that the Hall of Fame sphere looked a lot like the Death Star, and here he is attacking it on the wall mural--note the basketball hitting the target!

Galactic destruction aside, he's still a cute kid :)

We only had an hour and a half total to see everything before it closed for the night, and we still managed a half hour of shooting.  Jacob could have stayed all day!  But alas, closing time arrived and it was time to go.

After all, we had one more activity planned!  A few of Jacob's teammates were meeting at an entertainment center, and Jacob craves time to spend with his teammates so we had to go.  Unfortunately, many chose to hang at their hotel pool or do other things, so it only ended up being a few, but they had a blast!  The place had everything--arcade games, mini bowling, rock climbing, bounce houses, laser tag, mini golf, bumper cars, and more stuff I'm forgetting.

Jacob treated one of his teammates to bowling...

...and they returned the favor with laser tag!  He had a great time.  Carter mostly stayed in the arcade area, and was so excited to see this Star Wars game!  He did really well, too!

Eventually it was time to head back to the hotel and rest up for the next day.  We were all in mixed stages of hunger after a long day of snacking and random eating times, so the boys enjoyed ice cream from the hotel vending machine, and I had a piece of cold pizza.  It was about all we could muster at that point!  It had been a really long day, but a good one.  Could we top it on Sunday?  We'll see...

Monday, July 9, 2018

Journey to Connecticut

This weekend marked the last of our lacrosse roadtrips, and the last of five straight weeks on the road.  We did four lacrosse trips with one family weekend in the middle...but not a whole lot of memories to show for it!  So, the hope was to make this last one a big one.  Last year we tried to do something fun on each trip--the lantern festival in Syracuse, the fun activity place with Jacob's teammates in Massachusetts, and a whole bunch of stuff on the trip to Philadelphia.  I had to miss the Jersey trip, though they did do a team pizza party, and if I did go I would have pushed hard for the Jersey Shore!  But this year, nothing was working out.  It was just Jacob and me for the Syracuse trip, and we were pretty beat on Saturday night so the gluten-free bakery and dinner out were all we could muster.  Philly was still during school, so we couldn't really extend that trip at all, and our game schedule pretty much dashed any hopes of other activities, so IKEA had to suffice.  In Saratoga we were all just too darn hot to do much of anything, though the evening team gathering at the hotel was nice.  But as far as family activities, we were sorely lacking.  I was determined to have this trip make up for it.

Originally we wanted to leave Thursday, but Jacob had practice that night, and given the challenges we've had this year, Craig really wanted him to go.  He also had a therapy appointment that day, so I finally gave up trying to make that happen and settled on Friday.  Of course, practice ended up rained out anyway, but I guess it was good to have a day to pack and take care of a few things after Wednesday's hellish hoop assembly.  My goal was to get out the door by 9am, which meant an early-ish morning for me, but I calculated that we should be able to hit up both Howe Caverns and a baseball game in Hartford.  I tried to leave a good amount of buffer since I know we stop a lot, but it became apparent as we drove that it would be tighter than we thought.  We left about 15 minutes late, but I wanted to stop for caffeine and in general it just seemed to take forever to get going.  Then, when we made a stop near Utica, we ran into our lacrosse/school/church friends on their way to another tournament, so the chat with them took a bit longer than planned, which was fun but tightened things further.  I think we arrived around 1pm at our first destination: Howe Caverns!

I went to Howe Caverns on my 8th grade class trip.  It was our second stop after the Baseball Hall of Fame in nearby Cooperstown, and I remember it being pretty cool.  Craig had never been there, and while I wasn't sure the kids would love it, they were intrigued enough and I figured it could be one of those family bucket list things you just do to say you did it.  So we did.  Of course, when we walked in there was a huge line for the cave tour, at which point I realized the baseball game would most likely not happen that night.  We had to buy tickets and then had about a half hour wait--not bad, but more than anticipated.  We did run into Jacob's teammate, his sister, and their grandparents (who were subbing in for the weekend since their parents had to attend a wedding).  Small world yet again! 

Finally it was our turn to go into the cave.  It's always 52 degrees down there, and I knew that I did fine in shorts and a jacket as a kid, so that's what we did.  In the end it was pretty chilly and we were really ready for warmth by the end.  I think that sort of killed it for Jacob more than anyone, but he was still a good sport...thank goodness!  The tour was cool.  There was a lot of dramatic lighting throughout that highlights cool areas of the cave.  I think it was mostly white lighting when I was there years ago, but I assume the advances in LED lighting have changed things!

The view coming off the elevator

Stairs up to the bridal altar and Winding Way

Lots of mineral deposits

The Chinese Pagoda
You're not supposed to touch any of the mineral deposits because it prevents them from growing further, but there were a couple that were done and could be touched.

I have pretty much the same picture from 26 years ago!  The one on the left is called the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
One of the more memorable parts of my tour in 8th grade was the story about a mouse that escaped from someone on the tour, and it was kicked down into the water, which was cold, and the mouse was so cold that it froze to the ceiling.  They still tell that story.  The kids believed it!

Sort of gross to think of that as a mouse!

This is the one they take souvenir pics in front of.  In our rush we forgot to even look at ours!

This is the Pool of Peace, so called because the water is so still it acts like a mirror.  Hard to see where it starts and finishes, but look closely at the circle near the center of the picture.  The top half is real and the bottom is a reflection.

This is called the pipe organ, and a formation across from it ends up amplifying sound to "play" the organ.

At the end of the walking tour is the boat ride.  We ended up at the front of the boat on the way out, which was cool.
Starting view!

This was a hole in the rock with dramatic lighting at the far end of the boat ride, before we turned around and floated back.

Ready to start going back!
After the boat ride we had to retrace most of our steps to exit, which was fine since everything looks different coming from a different direction. 

Near the end was the Winding Way, which I remember loving because it was a super narrow tunnel.  I have a picture of a friend and I in it, and I was eager to experience it again!  So, funny story.  As we entered the tunnel I was looking for a good spot to take a picture.  The first picture I took was the one on the left, side by side with the one from my first visit:

If you study the rocks, you'll see they're at the exact same spot!  What are the odds?!

In the end, we were all relieved to be done and get back up to pleasant temperatures, but I think as a whole we all enjoyed it.  It was neat to see what nature does on its own and to relive little parts of the tour that I remembered.  I was disappointed they didn't shut the lights off in the cave like they did before, because it's rare we're ever in that amount of darkness!

Back in the light, we walked across the parking lot to the activity that I think sold the kids on the whole trip.  But first, isn't the main building just adorable?

And how gorgeous is the view?!

The boys were excited to pan for treasures!  For $20 we got a giant bag of dirt that promised to provide all sorts of rocks, fossils, and more.  The boys each got to do about four rounds of running it through the water and revealing their treasures.  We got all sorts of cool rocks (we have to really study the charts we were given to identify them), arrowheads, shark teeth, and more.  Clearly the bags are set up to have a certain content and I have no idea what's real and what's not, but it was fun to see what popped up.  Both boys have a nice-sized Ziploc to sort through now that we're home, and I think that was a highlight of the trip for them!

Inside the building there was a cool fountain that you see behind Carter below.  The top half turned and water ran down the sides., basically disappearing into the floor.
A boy and his treasures!
We headed out knowing we'd have to miss the game, but it was definitely worth the stop.  Our route back to the Thruway took us up on the hills opposite the site, and I was excited to get this picture...

We still had a long drive to Connecticut, unfortunately, so it turned into a pretty long day.  We tracked down a Chipotle for dinner in Massachusetts, and finally arrived at our hotel in time to see a pretty sunset over the airport across the road.  Jacob had napped in the car and still fell asleep almost instantly upon arrival.  Carter took a little longer as Craig and I caught up on life a bit before bed, but we were all out pretty early, which was important since we had a very early morning and long day ahead!  But I'd call day one a success!