Friday, December 20, 2019

My Cavs: Good, with a shot at being Very Good

I don't want to leave folks hanging, so here's a quick update on my Community House Cavs ...

We split our games this week.

Fell behind early against our biggest rival, JM Robinson, rallied within 2 after three quarters, but ran out of gas and lost at the end. We got sloppy with the ball when we could least afford it, and also gave up two offensive-rebound putbacks on consecutive possessions. I'm already looking forward to the rematch next month!

Last night, we played well in the first half, and a half-court shot at the buzzer by our point guard Skyler gave us a 13-point lead. Her reaction was precious -- an absolutely amazed look on her face, arms raised as she ran back toward the bench, and she kept shouting, "I made it! I made it!" It was as if we had won the WNBA title.

But despite my stern reminder that we had come back from a bigger deficit just last week against Crestdale, we got a little full of ourselves thinking the game was over. The opponent, Southwest, didn't get that memo. They played harder and better than we did, and we turned the ball over several times as they pressured us a little. Just like that, we were up by only 2.

Thankfully, led by our experienced 8th-graders Skyler, Meniya and Jalayah, we took care of business in the 4th quarter and pulled away to win by 11. Meniya, whose pursuit of the basketball is relentless, finished with 20 points, the highest total by any Cav this season. I liked the defensive effort and hustle we got from our 7th-graders: Emma, Emersyn, Avery and Bryson.

So we take a 3-2 record into the break. Coulda been 4-1 if we hadn't run out of gas against JMR. But coulda been 2-3 if we didn't rally to win at Crestdale or even 1-4 if we also hadn't figured things out last night.

Yep, 3-2 is just about where we should be.

We are a good team, with the potential to be very good. We'll see if the girls (and their coach) are willing and able to make that jump in January.

Most importantly, it's a good group of kids, and a lot of interesting personalities. Very different from most of the girls I coached at my previous middle-school stop.

They do play hard, they want to get better, they want to compete. It's fun being their coach, and I'm excited about the 9 games on our schedule after break.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

A New Assignment For Coach Nadel

A couple of months ago, I received this text message from my basketball coach at Ardrey Kell High, Jeff Buseick:
Community House Middle School is looking for a girls coach. Do you know anyone that would be interested/good?
Community House is one of AK's feeder schools, and many of the best players I had the privilege of assistant-coaching during my two years at AK came from there. So it certainly was in Coach B's interest to get this filled with somebody he could trust.

I was thinking of my many coaching colleagues, and even called one to see if she knew anybody who might want to do it. And then I started thinking ...
Hmmm. I loved coaching that age group during my four wonderful years at Scholars Academy. And I want to be a head coach again. And I don't think I want to be a high school head coach because of the time commitment, especially with all the visits we have to make to our new grand-twins. ... I don't know about the "good" part, but darn right I'm interested!
I told Coach that and he thought it was a great idea. He sent out an email of recommendation, I set up an interview with the Community House AD for the next day, and the offer was waiting for me in my email inbox by the time I got home from the interview.

So I'm a middle school basketball coach again. This conference is a considerable step up from the one that housed Scholars Academy, so I knew it would be a challenge -- but a fun one.

Even though Community House is one of the largest middle schools in North Carolina, with nearly 1,800 students in grades 6-8, not all that many girls showed up for tryouts. (Only 7th and 8th graders are eligible to play.)

Our Cavaliers ended up with an 11-player roster that included 3 girls who were on last season's team (Jalayah, Meniya, Skyler) and 8 of various experience levels -- from some rec ball to having barely ever played (Alyssa, Avery, Emersyn, Emma, Chloe, Allie, Janita, Bryson).

Our season started last week and we were crushed in our opener by South Charlotte MS, whose outstanding point guard will almost certainly be a varsity starter in high school a year from now. We tried man, zone and box-and-1, and we never could corral her. Offensively, we committed too many turnovers and missed too many layups. The Cavs simply were out-played and out-coached. 

Oh, and the first points of my second go-round as a middle school coach were scored in the opponent's basket after some confusion following the jump ball. Yep, we made the layup ... and we were down 2-0.

Thankfully, one of the great things about sports is that you get a chance to play again soon. This past Monday, Dec. 9, we went to Quail Hollow MS and rolled to victory. 

Our energetic 4, Meniya, dominated defensively and on the boards; our do-everything wing, Jalayah, smoothly navigated around defenders, scoring and setting up teammates; our point guard, Skyler, ran the offense efficiently; everybody contributed; and 8 of our 11 players scored. It was rewarding to see the girls execute the things we had been working on in practice.

The boys coach snapped this photo of me in my CHMS polo during the Quail Hollow game. (My wife was like, "What? He couldn't have gotten any of the team in the photo? You look like some random bald guy standing in a gym.")

Then came Thursday, Dec. 12. We went to Crestdale MS and fell behind 20-5 midway through the second quarter. Skyler had 3 fouls. We couldn't make a shot. We were missing defensive assignments, leading to numerous layups by our opponent. 

Then a little life ... we finished the half with an 8-0 run that included Meniya's 3-pointer and much better defense. Down only 20-13, I told them at halftime that we were right in the game but needed to turn up our defensive intensity.

I started Meniya and Skyler in the second half even though each had 3 fouls. We outscored Crestdale 11-6 in the quarter to make it 26-24. It was a game now.

We finally caught them midway through the fourth quarter ... but both Meniya and Jalayah fouled out. Our role players, who had done well all game, really stepped up. Emersyn made a huge 17-footer, Chloe hit a free throw for our final point, and Emma grabbed the clinching rebound. 

Community House 35, Crestdale 34

Our bench exploded with excitement and I pumped my fist. After the handshake line, the girls went to the locker room to wait for me. I gave them a minute to let it sink in and then I burst through the door, clapping. The girls followed suit, clapping and hootin' and hollerin'. It was an incredible scene of exuberance that lasted a couple of minutes. You gotta love youth sports!

I told the girls how amazing that was: down 20-5 to a good team but battling back, never quitting, showing heart, showing skill, a complete team victory with so many contributing. I told them how proud I was of them, and that wasn't just coach-speak.

I left the locker room completely energized. It doesn't matter what level it is -- from Biddy Ball all the way to the WNBA or NBA --  a comeback like that feels awesome. 

Hey, here's an interesting aside ...

I got back to the bench to collect my things before the boys game would start, and the refs were talking to the scorer's table. It seemed the final score on the board (36-35) didn't match the one in the official book, which is always kept by the home team. I looked at the book my manager kept and noted the discrepancy: We still won, but it was actually 35-34. 

The refs signed off on it, and it was all good ... but can you imagine if they had determined that the game was tied, or that we had lost? I don't know what they would have done ... and I'm glad I didn't have to find out!!!!!!

Look, winning is not my main mission in this assignment. I want to give these kids a great basketball experience, help them improve as players, maybe even teach a life lesson or two along the way. I play every girl in every game -- all have made the commitment and all work hard in practice; they all deserve to play. I already have started 9 of our 11 players, and the other 2 will get a start soon.

Nevertheless, the scoreboard does have numbers on it, and at the end of the game one team's number will be at least 1 point higher than the other team's. So we might as well endeavor to be the team with the higher number, right?
I know I hadn't posted on The Baldest Truth in several months. A lot going on. And when I had posted, it was all about "LoJack" -- my beautiful grand-twins, Logan and Jack.

I figure I shouldn't hit the button on this without showing a few of the latest pix of these 4-month-old wonderboys.

Happy Jack
Laughing Logan

LoJack at 4 months

Life is good, folks!!

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Lovin' On LoJack Again

Just got home from a Labor Day weekend trip to Chicago -- our second visit there since our grandsons Jack and Logan were born August 9.

Robbie and I can't get enough of Jack (left) and Logan!
The boys, who were born a few weeks early, have grown so much. Logan, who went home from the hospital first, is now topping 7 pounds; Jack, who was reunited with his younger (by about 20 seconds) brother on August 25 after he started eating better, is well over 5 pounds.

Jack (left) and Logan ... chillin' at home.
Robbie and I again stayed with Sammi's wonderful parents, Linda and Mickey Lipkin. In addition to giving us great conversation and fantastic room and board, they put on a heck of a family BBQ on Sunday. 

Chicago-style hot dogs, various accompaniments, cold beer, and an afternoon of fun with "LoJack." What could be better?

Grandmas Robbie and Linda love their little snuggle bunnies.
One other thing that made this trip to Chicago more special was that Aunt Katie flew in from Seattle and met her nephews for the first time.

Aunt Katie has her hands full with LoJack!
On Monday, our forever friends Darcia and Mike Brundidge stopped by Ben and Sammi's apartment for a meet and greet.

Darcia took turns holding Logan and Jack ... and each seemed so content in her arms that we called her "The Baby Whisperer."

Ben and Sammi could have used The Baby Whisperer the night before, as the boys had what was described as their most restless night. 

Ben said that whenever he would put Logan down to sleep, Jack would get going; and whenever he would finally calm Jack down and return him to his crib, Logan would start.

Welcome to fun with twins!

Is this Logan whispering his diabolical plan
to keep Mommy and Daddy awake?
All in all, though, life with LoJack has been great, and Robbie and I are very proud of how patient, loving and gentle a father Ben is.

It wasn't easy leaving our grandsons again -- and it got even more difficult after we said goodbye, as our flight was canceled due to storms elsewhere. What was supposed to be an easy, 2-hour, non-stop trip ended up being a nearly 8-hour excursion that took us to Columbus and Baltimore before we finally got back to Charlotte.

Still, it was all worth it, and we can't wait to get back soon to see Jack, Logan, Sammi, Ben and the rest of the Chicago crew.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The Hypocrite In Chief Profits On Taxpayers' Backs -- And His Sycophants Cheer Him On

Every time Donald Trump takes a vacation at one of his resorts, it is a major conflict of interest. He brings along hundreds of staffers, and makes them all pay rack rates for lodging and food -- all of which goes right into his pocket.

The self-proclaimed Chosen One now is proposing that his Miami resort be used as the site of next year's G7 summit. If that's where it ends up, and thousands of dignitaries and media and security personnel stay there, it will give him a windfall that will be unprecedented in the history of American politics.

Even his cheerleaders at Fox News say that their hero's own advisers have pointed out the conflict of interest:

Trump has apparently been pushing for months to have his Doral resort host the 2020 G-7 meeting, but his advisers have cautioned against it amid concerns about the ethics of the president personally profiting off an official government event.

It would be an overt, in-your-face cash grab, all at the expense of you, me and every other U.S. taxpayer, with all the profits going right into his pocket. He will laugh at the gullibility of the American public.

The Liar In Chief's easily conned sheeple talk up his willingness to take no salary. What a crock. Nothing more than a campaign stunt. He makes more than a year's worth of salary every time he hosts an official event at one of his golf resorts -- and it's all on the American taxpayers' dime.

President Obama played golf and it was a big issue for some of his critics -- especially Trump, who endlessly ripped him for it. Of course, the Hypocrite In Chief plays more golf than Obama or any other president ever did ... and every time he does, he makes a profit at taxpayer expense.

Can you imagine what Hannity, Ingraham, Limbaugh and the intellectuals at Fox & Friends would have said had Obama personally profited from his golf vacations?

Where are all the small-government types to decry this blatant, corrupt cash grab?

Hey ... I can't write only about the grandkids, you know!

Monday, August 26, 2019

"LoJack" -- Together Again!!

Sunday was a happy day for the Nadel and Lipkin families, as Jack was deemed strong enough to leave the hospital and join his twin brother Logan (and parents Sammi and Ben) at home.

Logan (left) and Jack are all smiles at home together!

Jack had not been eating enough, but that started to change on Friday -- the boys' 2-week birthday. Ben and Sammi excitedly called to let us know that Jack was gobbling up his milk and formula.

Jack and Logan see eye-to-eye on the whole "being together" thing!

And now that Jack is eating better and gaining some weight, the boys are starting to look more alike. In the side-by-side photos below, Jack's on the left. 

The above "LoJack" photos were not poses, either; they weren't even taken on the same day! Pretty cool.

Sammi and Ben report that the boys are a lot more alert and active than just a few days ago ... but they obviously still like their naps. That's great, because sleep is a time of major growth.

And here's the happy couple, relieved to no longer have to go back and forth to the hospital, and thrilled to have their entire family at home. (Ben's holding Logan; Sammi's feeding Jack.)

Of course, now this means double the fun -- and double the attention necessary. There will be occasions when the boys want to eat at the same time, need to be changed at the same time, etc.

Ben and Sammi are up to the task ... and when they do need a little help, Sammi's family is nearby. Her mom Linda and younger sister Lauren are pediatric RNs, and her older sister Genna is a pediatrician. And of course Ben's mom also is a pediatric RN, and we'll be going to Chicago often. 

LoJack will never be lacking the best of care, that's for sure!!

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Hey World ... Meet Jack & Logan Nadel!

What's even more adorable than a cute baby boy? How about two cute baby boys!

On August 9, Jack Ezra Nadel and Logan Max Nadel entered the world. 

They weren't due until late August, but they were so excited about making their debuts that they demanded their release from Sammi a few weeks early. Thus marked the first of, oh, a bazillion times the boys get what they want from Sammi and Ben!

The twins were born via C-section. Jack emerged first -- a little guy at 4 pounds, 2 ounces. Seconds later, Logan entered the world, at 5 pounds, 8 ounces. 

The fact that Logan had grown so much bigger than Jack in Sammi's womb was one reason the doctors felt they needed to come out a few weeks early.

Lest anybody think that Smaller = Weaker, Jack wanted to make sure everybody knows that little guys are quicker to the punch!

At first, Logan had a little trouble breathing on his own, so he needed some outside help. 

Indeed, the first couple of days, Jack was, by all accounts, "doing better," and Sammi and Ben were thinking that the little guy might be the first to go home with them.

Within a few days, however, Logan was breathing well on his own and was eagerly slurping down all of his food ... while Jack needed to take in some nutrition through a nasal feeding tube.

Apparently, just the thought that he might get out of the hospital first made Logan smile.

The question I've gotten asked most since they were born is whether they are identical twins. Right now, it appears not; they were in different sacs when inside Sammi, and they definitely have some differences. 

Most noticeably -- besides Logan being obviously larger -- is that Jack has a cute little cleft in his chin ... just like Daddy and Grandpa do! (In both photos below, Jack and his cleft are on the left.)

As we have learned, though, small differences now can disappear over time -- and the only way to tell for sure is through a DNA test. Ben and Sammi say they will have one done.

On August 17, eight days after the boys were born, Robbie and I arrived in Chicago to meet our grandkids. I had booked flights in anticipation of a late-August birth ... but we didn't want to wait that long, so we made the 13-hour drive. It was worth it!!!

The day we got there, Sammi and Ben received the great news that Logan was strong enough to go home the next day.

We all went to the hospital on Sunday, August 18, and "loved on" both boys for several hours. Jack took his feeding well but still wasn't quite able to get all the nutrition he needed orally.

At about 5 p.m., Logan went through the process of getting checked out of the hospital, and then it was time for his first car ride -- See Video.

Once home, Daddy and Grandma couldn't get enough of Logan Max!

During our time in Chicago, Robbie and I stayed with Sammi's parents, Linda and Mickey. They were gracious hosts and, despite the potential for a wacky sitcom, we mostly spent our time talking about how lucky we all are to be parents of two amazing young adults, and grandparents to two gorgeous, healthy twin boys.

The only remotely "sitcommy" thing that happened during our stay was Cooper the dog deciding that one of my shoes tasted delicious.

Robbie and I had to begin our drive back to Charlotte on Monday afternoon, so we stopped by Sammi and Ben's apartment to say goodbye (for now) to Logan.

We will be returning to Chicago soon, and Aunt Katie will be making the trip from Seattle, so that will only add to the excitement.

In the meantime, we will be getting updates and photos from Ben and Sammi ... such as this one of Logan's first bath.

Hopefully, we soon will hear that Jack is eating all of his food and ready to rejoin his brother. They obviously belong together!

Can't wait to see Jack and Logan again!

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

To Umpire Is To Dream

What happens when 100-plus youth baseball umpires get together in one location?

Well, as much fun as it might have been to regale you with Umps Gone Wild tales ... sorry ... it isn't quite as exciting as that.

A hundred-plus colleagues and I recently had the opportunity to umpire a national 12-and-under tournament at Cooperstown Dreams Park, which is located in the central New York town best known as home to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The 165-acre complex includes 22 well-manicured, lighted fields, each enclosed within green walls to form its own little stadium. Here is a shot I snapped from the grass berm outside the main field, which is used for opening and closing ceremonies, the championship game and other big events.

From the CDP website, here is an aerial view of the entire facility.

You'll note the white buildings in the middle of that photo. Those are the "barracks" that housed the teams and the umpires. 

I was in #30B. The outside wall of each barracks featured a replica baseball card of an all-time star who wore the number, in this case Orlando Cepeda.

The barracks included numerous bunk beds and little else -- not exactly glamorous. Each umpire got one full set of bunks, the bottom to sleep on, the top to store his gear and other stuff.

On our first day, Saturday, June 15, we were placed into 5-man crews. Mine was headed by our crew chief, Gary, who has been umpiring at CDP for many years. 

Our crew also had the youngest umpire of the entire week, 19-year-old Kody, as well as 82-year old Ken. 

Age-wise (and experience-wise), Brandon and I were in the middle of those extremes. We spent a lot of time together on and off the field.

Just as teams came from all over the country -- from California to New England and from Florida to Utah -- we umps were from everywhere. Brandon lives in Tennessee, as you might have guessed from his Vols hat.

On that first night, they ran the skills competition, featuring running, throwing, fielding and hitting contests. Our crew worked the "Golden Arm" event, which rewarded points for the accuracy of throws from 125 feet away.

The games started Sunday, June 16, with each team scheduled to play twice over three days.

"Scheduled" is the operative word. Heavy rains moved in Sunday morning, and things got pushed back by several hours. My first game, which had been scheduled for 1 p.m., didn't start until 11:30 p.m. After showering, my head didn't hit the pillow until 2:10 a.m.

Thanks to the composition of the fields, the equipment they use and the dedication of the grounds crew, CDP does an amazing job getting fields ready quickly after rain stops. 

Still, they aren't miracle workers, and Sunday's final two games couldn't be played. So one game was added to each of the next two days' schedules. I worked three on Monday and two on Tuesday.

Here I am on the bases for one of my Tuesday games. 

The above photo (and many others) was taken either by my sister-in-law Sandy or my brother Al. They made the trek from their hometown of Philadelphia to get a little vacation time in a less-hot, picturesque part of New York state. 

Given that coaches and parents aren't always pleased with our calls, it was nice having my very own "umpire groupies"!

One of the popular activities of the week is pin-trading. Each team produced its own pins, and kids from all over the country exchanged pins with each other. Umpires also were given pins to hand out.

Below is the pin of the team from the Matthews Athletic & Recreation Association -- the MARA Cobras -- who sponsored my trip to Cooperstown. The photo also includes the official CDP tournament baseball, as well as our umpire pin.

Each team selects an umpire, usually from its region, to go to Cooperstown Dreams Park. I'd like to thank the MARA Cobras, coached by Chad Bost, for choosing me. (To avoid conflicts of interest, umpires do not work games involving the teams that sponsor them.)

Wednesday, June 19, marked the start of the single-elimination tournament. Here are a few shots of me at the plate in the first game of the day.

Waiting for a pitch

Strike 2!

Recording a lineup change

Here are Sandy and I outside the field after one of my three Wednesday games.

The tournament concluded Thursday, but in general those games were handled by the most experienced umpires. That was fine with me, as I wanted to get going to Easton, Pa., where I was to meet my wife for a few days with friends. 

Before leaving CDP, I picked up my American Youth Baseball Hall of Fame ring. 

And before leaving Cooperstown, I met Al and Sandy for a quick stop at the Hall of Fame. I had been there years ago with my son Ben, but it was nice to check it out again for a couple of hours. 

This time, I took special note of displays involving umpires ...

... and the media.

Being a lifetime Baseball Writers Association of America member, I'm guessing that I was probably the only umpire at this tournament who also has a Hall of Fame vote.

All in all, my week in Cooperstown was an outstanding experience. 

I got to meet a lot of interesting people, work in an amazing facility, and share a love of baseball with both kids and fellow kid-like adults. 

I also took advantage of being surrounded by folks with decades of umpiring knowledge. I like to think I improved at my craft, and it was great getting to know so many others who answer to "Blue" at ballfields all across the country.