Saturday, March 31, 2018

Together We Rise

Back in September, a 16 year old boy from my hometown was seriously injured during football practice. He broke his neck and surgery left him paralyzed from the chest down. As you can imagine, in a small town the news spread like wild fire. Prayers went up just as quickly. 

I didn’t know the kid, but seeing my community hurting, broke my heart. I debated and finally decided to tell my homeroom kids. If I know anything about Webb City, it’s that they can relate to all things football. 

I started with a white board using the Eldon football team’s motto, “Together we rise.” I told my students what had happened a couple days earlier. I explained how my hometown and all of the surrounding communities (even Osage, our biggest rival) were coming together to raise money for this one boy and his family. (All of the schools in our conference, plus a couple others, raised money the next two weeks at their football games!) Watching mid-Missouri come together inspired me to do the same with my homeroom. 

I had my students write on my board what “Together we rise” meant to them. Then we wrote cards to Bushy. Wanting to do more, my mom and I bought my entire homeroom the green Backing Bushy bracelets that were being sold for him. My heart burst with joy as they’d randomly ask if I knew how Bushy was doing, still to this day they ask on occasion. 

During this time I was also teaching a block of math, more specifically statistics. I thought what better way to apply statistics to real life than with football! Lucky for me, Webb City provided us with fairly consistent weekly scores while Eldon provided... obscure scores. 

Things you need to know about Eldon football: I was a Varsity cheerleader 2005-2009. In those 4 years of cheering for Eldon football, they went 4-36. (0-10 my senior year and the year after I graduated!) In those 4 years, we learned to cheer for a first down like it was a touchdown and scoring a touchdown was practically like winning a game. I realize this is a foreign concept to Webb City folks. But we had to cope somehow. 

Fast forward to 2017 and Eldon had been putting together a really great football season. A few of our scores looked more like that of a basketball game: 72-33, 82-48, 69-20, 72-69. Better yet, we were on the WINNING end of those scores! Proud to be a Mustang had never been so true. I don’t know if they were extra inspired by their fallen teammate or what, but it was an exciting time for sure. 

I jumped at the opportunity to go “home” to watch several games for the first time since I’d cheered at them myself. Although it was also lesson planning for me. Each week from September-November, my students would find the average, IQR, and median scores of Webb City, Eldon, and their opponents. We’d write our guesses on the board each Friday and students who guessed the closest got candy the following week. 

I secretly had turned my entire homeroom into fans of the Eldon Mustangs. But to be honest, I felt as though me getting to cheer on my hometown football team during a winning season was long overdue. I’d served my time and cheered proudly as they lost all those years ago, this was my time for redemption. Plus, my kids could rest assured in the fact that Webb City and Eldon would never play each other. 

Long story short, we were all very sad to see Eldon fall to Mt. Vernon at Sectionals. However, I was also very pleased that they had made it that far finishing with an 11-2 record! We rejoiced together as Webb City brought home their 14th State Championship. 

I should have known back in September what a truly special group of kids I had. Looking back now I think Eldon’s football motto perfectly and beautifully sums up my year with my homeroom. Together we rise. And boy have we rose together. 

This group of kids... as they begin to countdown the days left until summer, I cringe. I don’t want to send them to Jr. High. I want to keep them. 

A group like them is a rare gem in teaching. I’ve started feeling incredibly guilty for being this groups homeroom teacher. I rarely have to remind them to turn in missing assignments, they remind each other. I don’t have to pull teeth to get them to make their AR Goals, they read silently when they’re asked. When we were asked by our BIST consultant to come up with students who could benefit from a BIST plan, I was the student looking at the ground hoping not to get called on. I couldn’t answer that, because none of my students need a BIST plan. 

It’s taken until March for me to finally come to terms with the fact that these kids really are that good. The ONE day I had to give them a “stern” talking to, the next week our other pod teachers were telling me how EXTRA good they were for them. When I congratulated the class for being rock stars, they responded, “We had to be! We were messing around during breakfast Friday and we had to make it up to you.” For real? 💔 I would take their “messing around” any day compared to most classes “messing around.”

We are a family. We joke around with each other. They like to remind me that I walked backwards into pole on the first day of school. I teach them important life lessons, like don’t lock your keys, spare key, and phone (containing your keyless entry code) in your car. They warn me when snow is coming, because they know snow and I don’t get along this year since my apartment flooded. They give me a hard time when I “abandon them” by taking HALF a personal day. They write “Go Royals” on my board because they know it’s the quickest way to see their teacher scowl. We celebrated together when Tommy Pham of the St. Louis Cardinals retweeted our white board drawing. 

We build each other up. We cheer each other on. We fail. We make mistakes. We go too far with joking around and say we’re sorry. We do better the next day. We laugh, a lot. We have inside jokes. Sometimes we cry. We give high fives goodbye and occasionally hugs. 

They are weird. They are quirky. They are nerdy in the best of ways. They walk down the hallway, always on the second tile, but sometimes squirmy like a worm or hoppy like a bunny, so you know what? I join them. 

In case you were wondering, Bushy has regained movement in his arms, somewhat-ish in his hands, not his legs, yet. But we’re still praying and hope is still there. I’ve heard he’s a very resilient young man. 

This 31 day blogging challenge wouldn’t have been complete if I hadn’t written about my kids. Years from now, I look forward to reading back on this year. Until then, I’m going to enjoy and soak up the days I have left with these kids.


Friday, March 30, 2018

Suga Shane's Signature

During summer and holiday breaks in college I worked at Brooks Brothers at the Lake of the Ozarks. (Brooks Brothers is a fancy clothing store. Founded in 1818, it's the oldest retail store in the U.S. I was a cheerleader with the store manager's daughter, so when I graduated in 2009 she asked if I wanted to come work for her.)

By the summer of 2012, I had worked there for three years, and had come to really enjoy it. (That 2012 summer followed the Cardinals 2011 World Series Championship season, obviously. Which was also the summer I had spent many days reading and reading and reading about the Cardinals history. I knew all current players names and had watched every game I could that current season.)

One day that summer it was business as usual, mostly consisting of folding and straightening clothes. Truth be told, I preferred folding and straightening, because I was terrified of measuring a man wrong for a dress shirt or suit. So if a man needed help, I prayed another employee was around. I knew how to measure properly it simply stressed me out!

This particular day, my assistant manager, Patrick, and supervisor, Marsha, were both tied up, so the man needing assistance fell on me. He had me measure his neck and arm length for dress shirts. (Oy!) He picked out 3 dress shirts. Then he let me pick out 3 ties to match. That was always my favorite part. And this man was kind. Sometimes they were picky and hated everything I picked out (then why bother asking for help?!). This man, however, liked the options I gave him and quickly chose the 3 he liked best.

On to the cash register we went. We always had to ask their name and zip code to see if they were in our clientele system. At Brooks Brothers they keep record of sizes, so if you forget or someone is shopping for you it can be looked up. He wasn't in clientele and was fine with being added.

First name? Shane.
Last name? Robinson.

I looked at my wrist, where I was wearing my St. Louis Cardinals bracelet. Looked back up at the screen, Shane Robinson. Looked over the man standing in front of me. Yep, he could be a ball player. It's July. Baseball is on break for the All-Star Game. This could be him alright.

My hands were shaking and the inner turmoil set in. Do I ask? No. I don't want to disturb him. And what if I'm wrong? That's embarrassing. But what if I'm not? What if this is THE Shane Robinson? St. Louis Cardinals outfielder, Shane Robinson??? Yeah right. Not at the Lake of the Ozarks. 

Don't worry, all of my inner thoughts occurred as I continued to check out Mr. Shane Robinson. (Yes, pun fully intended!) I bagged his clothes, he signed his receipt, and I sent him on his way.

As soon as he got out the door, I ran to the back squealing. Patrick, my assistant manager, was also a baseball fan. (He grew up in Pittsburgh, so he was a Pirates fan.) In three years we had had numerous chats about baseball. He always mocked me for talking about the Cardinals like I actually knew them. (He was about to find out I really did!) However, he was also one of the few men who acknowledged I knew what I was talking about when I talked baseball, so it was always enjoyable.

"PATRICK! I just helped Shane Robinson! St. Louis Cardinals, Shane Robinson! It had to be him! I think it was him! I have his address! Can I look up where he lives?!"

I'm typically a quiet human being, but when the Cardinals are involved all sense of calm escapes me. Patrick graciously directed me to the "for managers only" computer so I could Google Shane Robinson. 

With the help of Wikipedia I learned Shane was from Georgia. Oh my lanta! I also learned he was 5'9". Goosebumps!

By then, Patrick had gone back out to help Marsha on the sales floor. I scurried back out, looked around for customers, and began squealing again.

"PATRICK! It was him! It was THE Shane Robinson! He's from Georgia! That's the address he gave me! And he's 5'9"! That man was not much taller than me! He was built like a ball player! I just talked and sold shirts to Shane Robinson! Eek! I measured him for those shirts! I just touched a Cardinals baseball player!"

(Yes, I do teach Comm. Arts. So yes, I'm aware that one should not overuse exclamation points. However, I am also aware of how unnecessarily fast and high-pitched I talk when excited, so I have deemed them all acceptable.)

Patrick and Marsha probably should have been highly concerned about me. Instead, knowing my obsession for all things Cardinals, they joined in the commotion with me. 

"Is he still around? Where was he going? Go get his autograph!"

By that time, he had been gone for several minutes. He had gotten a phone call before leaving so I knew he was meeting his wife somewhere. And by then I decided it was best not to go searching for him. I'd be content with knowing I'd helped him and I'd watch interviews to see if I ever saw him in the shirts and ties we'd picked out together.

Patrick, being kind and gracious, went to the cash register drawer. He pulled out the receipt from Shane's transaction. He considered attempting to make a copy of it, but the copy machine Brooks Brothers had would have eaten up a receipt. So instead Patrick handed it to me and said, "you didn't get this from me."

That was the day I got THE St. Louis Cardinals outfielder, Shane Robinson's signature. No, not his autograph, his signature. 

You didn't see this from me.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Cardinal Way

A poem to show both my nerdiness and excitement that TODAY is finally Opening Day.

Baseball. Is. Here.

The always entertaining pitcher, Carlos Martinez.


Cardinal Nation gathers at Citi Field today
Anxious to catch the color of Martinez's hair, oh please not blue!
Ready are we to see what this new season holds.
DeJong back at short stop looks to avoid the Sophomore Slump.
Infield veteran, Matt Carpenter, moves back to 3rd while
Native Hawaiian, Kolton Wong, remains steady at 2nd.
And I believe José shall be who's on 1st.
Lovely, oh so lovely, to have all our boys back.

Now to the outfield, boy are they stacked.
A return to batting leadoff, Fowler will make as
Tommy Pham looks to become a 30/30 club member.
In walks Ozuna for his debut wearing the birds on the bat.
Oh but wait, we're not done, here comes the GOAT to a standing ovation.
Now how have they not learned... do NOT steal on Yadi!

Image may contain: 1 person, playing a sport, baseball and outdoor

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Victory in the Heartache

July 21, 2012, the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Chicago Cubs 12-0. At the time, it was one of the few things that made me smile that day. They had completely destroyed our biggest rival.

July 21, 2012, I was in Iowa in my roommate's wedding 240 miles away from home.

July 21, 2012, was my 21st birthday.

July 21, 2012, my Granny passed away.

I should note that I have a sense of humor, maybe slightly skewed or morbid, but that's okay. This isn't a post to get an, "I'm so sorry for your loss!" It's about the joy baseball brings me. Also, I know for sure that my Granny is in a much better place and reunited with my Papa in Heaven. He's sitting quietly and she's talking his ear off. Luckily he had hearing aids, so he probably has them turned off. He wouldn't bother asking God to restore his hearing in Heaven. Granny is eating frozen yogurt and Papa is eating ice cream, buckets and buckets of ice cream. And now on my birthday I get to celebrate doubly, because it's the day my Granny met Jesus. However, I wouldn't recommend you saying that to someone at a funeral, give them space to come to that conclusion in their own time! Moving on...

In March of 2012 my Granny had open heart surgery. After she went to a nursing home for rehab. By July she hadn't made it back home yet and had been in and out of the hospital a few times.

I was supposed to be in my roommate's wedding in Iowa and I knew my Granny would want me to keep my promise, so I still went.

Really late, the night before the wedding, the night before my birthday, my dad called to let me know my Granny wasn't doing well. I sat upstairs alone doing my best to pull myself back together. Emma, knowing she had planned her wedding on my birthday, had graciously surprised me with a party the night before her wedding. The rest of the girls were downstairs still enjoying my party.

The wedding day and my birthday came. I put on a smile not wanting to take attention away from Emma and Mike's wedding day. Although all the girls knew my sorrows, so they frequently made sure I was okay.

After the wedding I had a missed phone call from my dad. As soon as I got to my car to drive to the reception I called him back. Alone in my car, once again I was left pulling myself together. I called my friend Emily. My Granny had been just as much her grandma. I couldn't even get the words to come out of my mouth, but she knew why I called. We just sat in silence except for our sobs until I reached the wedding reception.

At the reception, Emma, the bride, was super sweet. Just like she had been all week. When she saw me get out of my car at her reception, tears streaming down my cheeks, she knew. She, the bride, instantly started taking care of me, wiping away my tears and fixing my makeup before we took pictures. (I have to admit, I'm quite proud of myself. In ALL of the billions of pictures taken that day, only one can you tell I had been crying!)

I managed to smile, laugh, and choke back tears through the entire reception. I put on a fake smile as people came up to me and said what a great birthday celebration this must be. They had no way of knowing on the inside my heart was in a million pieces.

At one point during the reception, a good friend and fellow Cardinal fan tweeted me, letting me know the Cardinals had slaughtered AND swept the Cubs for my birthday. I was thankful and smiled at her thoughtfulness to give me something to rejoice.

A few years later in 2017, the Cardinals weren't having the greatest season. A game with no defensive errors, an outburst on offense, a miracle of a come from behind finish, a rally cat, a player called up from the Minor Leagues were things to look forward to even when we lost, which was often and in the most humiliating of ways.

On July 21, 2017, I sent a group text to my Cardinal fan friends. (We refer to ourselves as the Council of GM's. Yes, council, like from the Lord of the Rings. In our minds we believe we would be outstanding General Managers for the Cardinals. In our hearts it would be a dream come true.) Anyway, I sent them all a text informing them we were going to win that day and I would tell them how I knew later. I think Brianna was the only one who sort of believed me, the others, all boys, just laughed in disbelief. It was okay though, I knew my Cardinals would prove me right.

I won't bore you with the details of the game, although it was very exciting. Over and over, I texted the council, "Happy birthday to me!" They might have been annoyed, but they knew it was my way of saying, "I told ya so!"

From Emily, a Cubs fan, in 2017.
(I know, how are we even friends?)
That makes this all the more special.

I view birthdays differently now than I used to. Emma has sent me sweet texts every year since 2012, one that lets me know she remembers it's an extremely bittersweet day for me. I appreciate it from Emma, because she was there, she knows, and she understands. I greatly treasure the people who don't know better though, because I still get the joyous texts one should get on their birthday. I truly value both.

Looking back on 2012, the Cardinals winning is a fond memory I have from that day. In 2017 I felt it in my heart that they would repeat the victory against the Cubs 5 years later. As usual, my Cardinals didn't disappoint. They won 11-4. A come from behind win after scoring 9 runs in the 8th inning.

Baseball, specifically St. Louis Cardinals baseball, is healing. Sometimes it's a distraction and escape from reality. It provides a brief smile and allows one to be happy even when their heart is breaking. Other times it's simply an enjoyable way to pass time. It's a way to bond with friends and family. It gives people something to talk about other than the weather.

Baseball. St. Louis Cardinals baseball. It's coming.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Yips

When I got to my parents after my trip to Idaho for Spring Break, I saw a St. Louis Cardinals pennant on their table. I asked my mom where it came from, because I hadn't seen it before. They had gotten it for ME after they dropped me off at the airport. They had actually bought two different pennants and let my brother-in-law pick which one he wanted first. I started looking at mine a little closer and noticed it was the 2000 National League Central Division Championship pennant. What an odd coincidence!

While I don't particularly like reading, I do make myself read. In college, I realized I enjoy reading biographies, so that's what I tend to read now. Over Spring Break, I read Rick Ankiel's autobiography. My guess is most people reading this don't know who he is, so allow me to enlighten you.

Rick Ankiel, St. Louis Cardinals pitcher, eh, outfielder...

Rick Ankiel made his major league debut at 20 years of age with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1999 as a pitcher. (It doesn't take an obsessed baseball fan to know that 20 years old is very young to start a professional sports career.) He was brought up to the majors, like many minor leaguers, in August.

The following season, he began his rookie year in the starting rotation, quite impressive for only being 21. Ankiel finished 2nd in votes for the 2000 Rookie of the Year in the National League. He was good.

That October, the Cardinals made Post Season. The rookie was set to make his Post Season debut in Game 1 of the Division Series against Atlanta. The Cardinals were leading in the 3rd inning when Ank headed back out to the pitcher's mound.

He threw a wild pitch. That happens to pitchers on occasion, no big deal. Until he threw another wild pitch. Then another. And another. A total of 5 wild pitches, 4 runs scored on 2 hits, and 4 walks in the 3rd inning.

For whatever reason, Rick's body, mind, or soul wouldn't allow him to throw a pitch correctly. He ended his rookie year Post Season with 5 innings, 9 (kind of 13) wild pitches, and 11 walks.

The Yips.

The Monster.

The Thing.

Almost 20 years later, people still don't know what exactly happened to Ankiel on the mound nor what to call it. He uses The Yips, The Monster, and The Thing interchangeably in his autobiography.

However, stopping there wouldn't be much of a story, nor would it give much reason to him writing an autobiography.

He tried to come back in 2001 as a starting pitcher. He made 6 starts and tried everything to calm the nerves, anxiety, and voices in his head. It worked temporarily, but after his 6th start the pressure was too much and he asked Tony La Russa to send him down to the Minors.

Ank worked and worked to make his way back to the big leagues. I hate to imagine the amount of damage he did to his body trying to quiet The Monster. Finally, when he was 25 he walked into La Russa's office during Spring Training, said he was done, he couldn't do it anymore, and retired.

Retired. At 25. The only life he'd ever known. The life that was supposed to be better for him. Give him a way out of his difficult family life. A father who only wanted his money, was in and out of prison, making sure Rick knew he was worthless if he couldn't throw a strike.

Luckily, Ankiel's manager and psychiatrist (who had become like a father to Rick) had an idea, if they could get him on board with it. The pressure was on his pitching, but he had a decent bat, he had been a DH in the minors on days he didn't pitch. He should give outfield a shot.

La Russa and the rest of the Cardinals staff were all in agreement to give him a chance. I think they all had a soft spot for him, because no one in the world could explain what happened to his arm, or mind, 4 years earlier.

Finally in August of 2007, nearly 7 years after The Yips first inhabited him, he made his way back to the big leagues. Under the stadium lights, in his first game, he hit a home run. The St. Louis crowd went wild. Many of them knew his story, they knew the battle he had fought to return for this moment, and they were elated for him. La Russa, a man of one expression, even cracked a wide smile when Ankiel hit that home run. Bystanders in St. Louis that night said they knew something impressive happened at Busch that night, because the uproar could be heard all around the city.

Maybe even more impressive than his bat was his arm. Twice in one game that 2007 season, Ankiel launched a ball from center field to 3rd base for an out. He couldn't throw a ball 6o feet 6 inches for a strike, but give him 250-300 feet from the outfield to 3rd base, not being able to see his target, no problem!

Ankiel was back. He went on to play 3 seasons in St. Louis. He played for various other teams until he retired, again, in 2013. Now you can find him on Fox Sports Midwest from time to time, analyzing Cardinals games and inspiring young players who deal with anxiety.

There's a lot more to his story than can be written in an informative blog. If you like biographies and baseball, I recommend his book The Phenomenon: Pressure, the Yips, and the Pitch that Changed My Life. It's not an extraordinarily written book, but it sure is a beautiful and inspirational picture of redemption.

Getting the St. Louis Cardinals pennant from my parents made me happy. I love getting new Cardinals memorabilia. However, when I saw it was from the 2000 season, more specifically the NLDS Championship pennant, it gave me goosebumps. My parents didn't know I was reading Rick Ankiel's book during Spring Break. My brother-in-law just happened to leave that 2000 pennant to be mine. That season, more specifically, that NLDS series, was the series in which made Rick Ankiel the Phenomenon. It gave him the Yips, the Monster, the Thing, but it also made his story an inspiration to reach a lot more people. Now when I see my pennant, I'll be reminded of his story, his book, and my first trip to Idaho.

For any nerds like me, a link to watch Ankiel's career unravel: 

His come back home run at 2 minutes 40 seconds:

Ankiel's impressive throws to third:


Monday, March 26, 2018

Part Four: RIP Jack

Since I've already written about my apartment flooding, I figure I might as well tell the last (to my knowledge) ironic part of the story. Plus, Cardinals baseball season starts this week, so prepare for several Cardinals posts!

Sometime during the chaos when water was still overtaking my apartment, my dad called to see how things were going. He also asked, knowing the water started in my spare bedroom, how my St. Louis Cardinal bobbleheads were.


My family goes to a lot of St. Louis Cardinals games. I think it's been going on 6 years now that we almost go exclusively to games with bobblehead giveaways. My spare bedroom has a travel theme, most notably a St. Louis Cardinals theme. Therefore, ALL of my bobbleheads I've collected the past 5 years are dispersed around the room. Also, I'm getting a new bobblehead April 7th, at my first Cardinals game of the 2018 season!

Back to the original story:

At the time, my dad didn't realize water wasn't really coming through the ceiling. So I assured him all my Cardinal boys were safe and sound. I found it quite humorous, my bobbleheads were the ONLY thing he specifically asked about that day. (You see where I get my priorities from!)

The weekend after I got to move back into my apartment, my parents came down to help me clean, redecorate, and replace lost items. My dad and I strategically placed my bobbleheads around the room. We did our best to group them with other players/managers/announcers from their decade of play.

Late one night, approximately two weeks later, I went in my spare room and caught a glimpse of a disaster. A shelf I had multiple bobbleheads on was now in the floor. To keep from crying, I called my mom. (Yes, on a school night for both of us, plus 11 o'clock at night, but this was urgent!)

As I talked to her, I nervously uncovered the rubble. I knew without a doubt at least one bobblehead was broken, based off of the detached head in the corner. I moved the glass soda bottle, it was fine. Gibby, Lou, Harry Carey, Whitey, and Ozzie were all fine! When I found the body of the beheaded Jack Buck, I started laughing uncontrollably.

The beheaded Jack Buck.
He's since been fixed good as new!
Truth be told, I had been fighting back laughter for quite some time. The thought had entered by mind of the irony of the current situation. The first thing my dad asked about during the flood were my bobbleheads. They survived the flood, yet they couldn't survive a normal Tuesday.

When I told my mom why I was laughing, she began laughing along with me. She had wanted to nearly the entire time, for the same reasons I had, but didn't want to offend me.

After rummaging through all of the debris,
I was left bewildered. My red shelf had a metal bar that ran across the bottom. When it fell, I could tell the metal bar landed on the corner of my printer (my printer had died in the flood and I hadn't disposed of it yet), because the bar was now bent. Two of the shelves were broken in half as well.

Once again, I was left feeling very thankful. The shelf can be replaced fairly easily with a new one. However, the bobbleheads, glass soda bottle, and other few knickknacks I had on the shelf would have been harder to replace. I'm still puzzled as to how the metal and wood bent, yet the ceramic and glass objects were unharmed. My dad and I concluded with God was proving where His team loyalty lies, that He is indeed a St. Louis Cardinals fan.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

It's Coming

Today was busy. Hence the late blog post. Church, family lunch, a few extra hugs and kisses for my nephew, packing, telling my dogs goodbye, and driving 3 hours back to Webb City.

Tomorrow it's back to school we go from a delightful Spring Break that I'm still in denial about being almost over. I love teaching, I love my students, but I love Spring Break and always hate to see it end.

However, this year, this week following Spring Break provides a light at the end of a cold, dark, winter tunnel. No longer will I be sitting and staring out the window waiting for winter to end.

Thursday is coming. Thursday at noon, 12:10 to be exact, the cold, dark winter, becomes a bright and glorious spring day. One I've been anticipating since last October.

Thursday is when the quiet winter turns into bats cracking, balls whizzing, and crowds applauding. The dark winter nights become stadium lights. The frigid air slowly changes into a slight breeze with warm air on its way. A sea of red will make its way into Citi Field. Cardinal hopefuls will look ahead anticipating games going to late October this year.

Baseball. St. Louis Cardinals baseball. It's coming. Finally.