Nerf Guns and Nonsense

My older son peered through the blinds into our back yard, but made no move to join his friends.

His homework was finished and he was free to play until supper time. Yet, the Monday afternoon soccer game went on without him.

“Aren’t you going outside?” I said.

He turned away from the sliding glass door and shook his head.

“No,” he said. “Not today. I just don’t want to.”

Strange. He loves to play outside. I knew why this time was different.

“Is it because of the Nerf gun thing?” I said.

He nodded.

“A little bit,” he said.

He turned back to the sliding glass door and peered out at his friends playing soccer in our back yard. He wanted to be out there playing, too. Instead, he watched from the cover of the blinds.

_________________________

The Nerf gun thing. In our neighborhood, Nerf foam dart gun battles rage almost daily. There are Nerf assault rifles, Nerf sniper rifles, Nerf blasters, Nerf cross bows, Nerf cannons. The neighborhood lawns are littered with discharged and forgotten Nerf darts.

I don’t like Nerf foam dart guns. I don’t like guns, period. I don’t like watching kids pretend to shoot each other. I worry that they might become inured to violence, and I worry that a blue or orange Nerf dart might strike one of my kids or a neighbor kid in the eye and cause permanent damage.

Naturally, our kids have about a half-dozen Nerf guns.

We allow them to participate in these neighborhood foam dart battles, with the stipulation that they wear the protective goggles that came with one of their Nerf gun sets and that they don’t aim the Nerf guns at other kids’ heads.

The Nerf gun thing that kept my son inside peering through the blinds instead of running around outside on the brown winter grass had its origins in a bicycle race over the weekend. A race my son lost to two other kids, both of whom are older, bigger, stronger and faster than my third grader.

Before that bike race around the block, one of the older kids – a good kid, a kid we know – announced that the race loser would be subjected to an undefended barrage of Nerf darts shot at him point-blank by the other two race participants.

In essence: a Nerf gun firing squad.

Our son told us Sunday night about his scheduled next-day “punishment” for losing the bike race. His mom and I told him there would be no Nerf gun firing squad. He would have to tell the other kids it’s not going to happen.

We left it at that, but we both woke up thinking about it the next morning. My wife called me on her way to work and we talked about it.

Was this a case of bullying behavior? Was it just “kids being kids?” How can parents tell the difference? What should we do about it?

In the moment, shortly after he informed us about the kid-manufactured consequences of losing that bike race, we told our son to stand up to the other boys if they tried to get him to “take his punishment.”

But were we sure he knew how to do that?

My wife and I decided that it wasn’t a case of repetitive bullying behavior, based on what we know about the kids involved and our son’s relationship with them. These kids are a grade or two ahead of our son, but we know them. They’re generally nice kids, not mean-spirited, and our son enjoys their company.

Still, it’s not easy to say no to friends. We wanted to make sure our son was equipped with the words he needed to gracefully minimize a potential conflict and prevent a potential long-term rift with his buddies. She and I talked about it and, together, made a plan of action we could suggest to him if it came up.

_________________________

Back at the blinds, our son was of two minds as he peered out: He longed to go out outside and play, but did not want to be shot at with Nerf dart guns.

I said, “You can go outside if you want to. Those guys might not even remember the bike race. But if they do, and they say something to you, do you know what to do?”

He nodded and said, “Yeah, come back inside.”

His expression told me he wouldn’t be happy with that outcome, so I was glad his mother and I had come up with a suggestion.

“Well, sure, you could do that,” I said. “Or you could look right at them and say, ‘That’s ridiculous. I’m not going to stand here and let you shoot me with Nerf guns. Let’s just play soccer.’”

Then I said, “Let me know if that doesn’t work.”

He thought about it for a few seconds, then reached for his fleece pullover.

“OK,” he said. “I’m going outside.”

I resisted the temptation to watch him through the blinds. I’m not against keeping a close eye on my kids, but this was one time I felt like he needed some space. I figured if he needed me, he’d come get me.

An hour later, he came in for supper. I asked him as casually as I could if the Nerf gun thing had come up. He said it had.

“Oh?” I said. “And what happened?”

“I told them it was just nonsense and to keep playing soccer,” he said.

I smiled and repeated, “Nonsense?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I forgot the other word you told me, but I like nonsense better, anyway.”

I told him I liked it better, too, and asked how his friends had taken it.

“We just started playing soccer again,” he said.

I told him I was proud of him.

I liked that he was not intimidated by his older friends into going along with a bad idea.

I liked that he found the fortitude to face his apprehension.

I liked that he accepted – and improved upon – the plan of action his mother and I devised to help him.

I loved that our son learned something about his own strength of will. And, even though he lost that bike race, he defeated his own uncertainty and managed a difficult situation with words and with grace.

 

Sunday Morning

I hear a kid yelling upstairs. Roaring, actually. Repeatedly. I’m downstairs and I hear a kid roar over and over.

My investigation consists entirely of one question directed toward the general vicinity of the stairwell.

“Jay, that sounds awful,” I yell. “Are you OK?”

The roars cease.

“Well, Chris is being a maniac.”

The mystery is resolved and the investigation concludes with a succinct, disembodied answer from somewhere upstairs.

Sunday morning.

Think these guys are ready for #MonsterJam? Oh, yeah.

A photo posted by Carter (@dadscribe) on

 

A Magical Event for Cancer Research: VIP Four-Pack Ticket Giveaway

Magic Cure Benefit

Renowned illusionist Reynold Alexander will perform at the 3rd Annual Magic Cure Benefit at the Ritz Ybor on Feb. 7.

We saw Reynold Alexander perform during the 2nd annual Magic Cure Benefit at the Ritz Ybor in 2014, and our sons were spellbound. It was their first real magic show, and the experience left them mesmerized.

My wife and I, thanks to the generosity of the Lawrence A. Martucci Benefit Corp, have the chance to share this important and fun event with another family this year.

Alexander, who has performed his astounding magic act in 20 countries, will be on stage at the Ritz again on Feb. 7 for the 3rd annual Magic Cure Benefit, which raises money and awareness for the vital cancer research being performed by Dr. Cameron Tebbi’s team at the Children’s Cancer Research Group.

It’s all about ending childhood cancer. This is a fun and magical way to help with that cause.

Through Beth’s association with the incredible 1Voice Foundation and the Martucci Benefit Corp, DadScribe is giving away a four-pack of VIP tickets to Alexander’s Feb. 7 show.  To enter, leave a comment below on this blog post expressing your support for pediatric cancer research. 

The entry period ends at 11:59 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 16. A random drawing will determine the winner, who will be announced on the DadScribe Facebook and Twitter accounts on Saturday, Jan. 17.

The show, which is suitable for audiences 6 and older, begins at 6 p.m. The doors open at 4:30 for VIP ticket holders, 5 p.m. for the general public. VIP ticket holders receive complimentary beer, wine and hors d’oeuvres, which also will be available for purchase by the general public before the show.

A silent auction also will be held before the event. Items for bid will include autographed sports memorabilia, L.A. Fitness memberships, vacation trips, game tickets and more. Items will be available for bidding on the event website starting Jan. 31.

To get a feel for Alexander’s show — and for the performer’s magnetic stage presence — take a look at this five-minute demo reel on YouTube. Trust me, Reynold Alexander does things that will amaze you and make you laugh. Our younger son spent the entire show last year asking, “How did that happen?” and “What’s going on? Where did it go?” He also laughed — a lot. He was captivated, and so were we.

You will be, too, and it is all for one of the most important causes I can think of: to eradicate pediatric cancer forever.

Tickets are available by following this link to the 501 Auctions Magic Cure Benefit portal. General admission is $35 for adults, $15 for children 6 and older. A limited number of VIP tickets are available for $100 apiece.

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit the Martucci Benefit Corp website.

MagicCureBenefitLogo

Bolts Family Carnival Benefits Lightning Foundation

Bolts Family Carnival

Image: Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Lightning look good this year, eh? In fact, this might just be the best team they’ve put on the ice since 2003-04.

You remember those guys, right?

Now, I’m not saying this Steven Stamkos-Tyler Johnson-Ben Bishop-Jon Cooper Lightning team is going to match the Stanley Cup greatness of that Vinny Lecavalier-Marty St. Louis-Brad Richards-John Tortorella team of ’04.

I’m not saying they’re at that level … yet.

They look awfully good this year, though. Certainly, a deep Cup run isn’t out of the question, as long as everyone stays healthy. Wouldn’t surprise me a bit to see Stamkos hoist the Stanley Cup over his head this summer.

That’s all I’m saying.

There is something this Lightning organization does every bit as well as the Stanley Cup winners of 11 years ago. If anything, when it comes to giving back to the community, Tampa Bay’s NHL franchise is even better today than back then.

That’s saying a lot, because the Lightning players and organization have an admirable history of lending a hand to those who need it in the Tampa Bay area. A few years back, when I covered professional sports for the Tampa Tribune, I was assigned a story about the philanthropic efforts of the Lightning, Bucs and (then) Devil Rays.

I was blown away by the generosity of players such as Lecavalier, who donated millions of dollars toward the Vinny Lecavalier Pediatric Cancer and Blood Disorders Center. The former Lightning captain isn’t the only one doing good, of course, and it’s about more than throwing money at a cause.

I have always admired athletes and coaches who spend time with fans away from the fields, courts and ice. Some of the most poignant experiences of my sportswriting career came as I watched guys like former Bucs offensive lineman Jerry Wunsch, Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks and Rays pitcher Chris Archer do great things for kids.

During my time covering the Rays, I always knew that if a Little League field needed refurbishing, the entire front office and organizational support staff – along with coaches, players and anyone else from the Trop who wanted to help – would band together and re-build that field in nothing flat. The Rays Baseball Foundation also has performed admirable community service through the years.

All of this leads me to one of the coolest philanthropic initiatives any area pro team has put together in recent years: the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation’s Community Heroes program. This initiative was made possible by Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and his wife, Penny, who launched it in 2011 with the goal of distributing $10 million to area non-profits over the course of five years.

During every Lightning home game, the team awards a $50,000 grant to a different non-profit organization or its representative. The Community Heroes roster is an All-Star team of Tampa Bay area philanthropists and others who have taken it upon themselves to help make this a better place to live.

One of the goals of the Community Heroes program, said Lightning Foundation manager Heidi Hamlin, is to provide a nudge in the right direction for Tampa Bay area citizens who want to play an active role in doing good, but might not know where to begin.

“We want to tell other people’s stories, so that people will find them and build a relationship with one of our Community Heroes,” Hamlin said. “If they hear about other people wanting to do good in their community, maybe they’ll find their own way to help others and be involved.”

The Lightning Foundation also does other good work, including educational programs, two initiatives to feed the hungry and much more.

Here’s what’s happening. Our family was invited to Amalie Arena this Sunday, Jan. 18, for the first Bolts Family Carnival, a fundraiser for the Lightning Foundation. Every player and coach will be there, and fans will have chances to interact with them throughout the day.

There will be traditional carnival games (dunk tank, darts, etc.) and meet-and-greet opportunities, as well as video games, bubble hockey and much more.

“We really want it to be not just another fan fest,” Hamlin said. “We want people to get to know our players off the ice, to really have fun with them and see them not just as a competitive hockey player, but to get the personal experience with someone.

“We want to instill a sense of personality and community in our players and into the day. We hope we can make and create Lightning fans, but also give everyone a chance to have a really good time.”

General admission ($30 for adults, $15 for kids 3-12, kids 2-under free) gets you in the doors 3-5 p.m. A premium pass ($40 for adults) grants admission for the duration of the event, 1-5 p.m. Purchase price includes gaming vouchers (four with general admission, six with premium). Additional experiences, such as Stanley Cup and player photo opportunities, are available for an additional donation.

Check the event website at BoltsFamilyCarnival.com for more information and to purchase tickets.

 

Who Knew My New England-Born Wife is a Monster Jam Fan?

Monster Jam

Our family is heading to Monster Jam on Jan. 17 at Raymond James Stadium. Beth is more excited about this fact than anyone.

We are going to Monster Jam. And by “we,” I mean our entire family.

Naturally, Jay and Chris are fired up. They are boys. Their eyes get big every time they see even a moderately large pickup truck trundle down the road.

What surprised me was the conversation with my wife that took place shortly after I received the invitation from a representative of Feld Motor Sports to come on over to Raymond James Stadium on Jan. 17 to take in the biggest, baddest monster truck spectacle on the planet.

Me: “So, hey. I know we’re already going to the circus in January, but I just got an invitation to go to this truck thing at RayJay a couple of weeks later.”

Beth: “Monster Jam?!? We are IN!”

Me: “What? Really? I figured I’d take the boys and give you a day to relax.”

Beth: “No way! I’ve always wanted to go to that. We are going. No more discussion.”

So, yeah. We are going. And Beth, who was born in Boston and grew up in a picturesque New England small town, is as excited about this extreme motorsports event as any of us.

Who knew?

So, by invitation, we’re going to the first of two scheduled shows at RJS. The second will take place Feb. 7.

Monster Jam

Our older son immediately asked if Grave Digger was going to be there for the Jan. 17 show at Raymond James Stadium. Oh, yes. Grave Digger will be there.

We are particularly looking forward to getting up close and personal with the trucks and the drivers during the Party in the Pits in Parking Lot 5 outside the stadium. Our invitation includes pit passes, which are available at no cost at participating Southern Ford Dealers through Feb. 7 (while supplies last). Pit passes also are available for purchase ($10 each).

Ride Along passes also are available at Tampa area Circle K locations. Ride in a real Monster Jame truck? Yes, please. Rides will take place before the show, 1-7 p.m., on a first-come, first-served basis.

Our show, the Jan. 17 event, will feature 16 Monster Jam trucks in side-by-side racing and competitive freestyle stunt performances. The lineup at that one will include Maximum Destruction, driven by 11-time world champion Tom Meents. Jay is excited about seeing Grave Digger. The Feb. 7 event will feature 16 different Monster Jam trucks, so each show will be unique.

I’ll be sharing our experience at the Jan. 17 show on the DadScribe Twitter and Instagram accounts. If you want even more, follow Monster Jam’s social platforms: Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Tickets for both Tampa shows range from $15 (advance purchase) to $100 Total Access VIP Meet & Greet passes. They are available at MonsterJam.com, at the TicketMaster website and retail locations, as well as the Raymond James Stadium box office or by calling 800-745-3000.

For both shows, gates open at 5 p.m., opening ceremonies are at 6:30 p.m. and racing starts at 7 p.m.

Here’s a taste of Monster Jam in a fresh video from an event last week in Des Moines, Iowa.

Disclosure: Our family was invited to attend the Jan. 17 Monster Jam show at Raymond James Stadium for review purposes. This preview of the event reflects my views and not those of the event organizers or anyone associated with Monster Jam, Raymond James Stadium or Feld Motor Sports. But it does express the surprising fact that my wife is monster truck fan. Who knew?

 

 

 

 

 

My 2015 Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot

Here’s something I’ll bet you didn’t know about newly elected Hall of Fame pitcher Randy Johnson. The tall left-hander had a losing record against three teams in his distinguished career.

The Yankees (6-8) were one. The Mets (6-7) were another.

The third?

The … um … Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

The Big Unit, one of the 10 best pitchers ever, winner of five Cy Young Awards, the all-time leader in strikeouts per nine innings (10.6) … that guy went 3-5 with a 5.43 ERA in 11 starts against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays from 1998-2006. The Rays averaged 97 losses during that time span, which happened also to be a time when I covered the team for the Tampa Tribune.

OK, here’s why I bring up the fact that Johnson – as deserving a first-ballot Hall of Famer as you’ll find – was generally pretty bad against the Rays, especially after going 2-1 with a 1.50 ERA in three starts against Tampa Bay’s inaugural team in ‘98. I bring it up to illustrate the point that baseball statistics are only useful and revelatory in the proper context.

Also, to remind you that all baseball players are fallible.

Very good baseball players make us forgive their failures. Great players make us forgive and forget their failures. Hall of Famers make us remember and celebrate their triumphs.

Does it matter, really, that one of the greatest pitchers ever struggled mightily against one of the worst teams of the 1990s and 2000s? Not today.

Today, we remember the glare, the intimidation, the menacing mound presence, the mullet. Today, we remember why he was called the Big Unit.

Today, Randy Johnson is an elected Hall of Famer, along with contemporaries Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio.

Today, we remember and celebrate their triumphs, ever mindful that none of them were even close to perfect, yet knowing that, for a time, they were the best of the best at what they did.

This was my seventh year participating as a voter in baseball’s Hall of Fame balloting. I earned that privilege as a member of the Tampa Bay chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America from 1999-2009, and I currently hold honorary member status.

I take the privilege seriously. Every year I evaluate the new candidates and re-evaluate the holdover candidates, even the players I voted for previously. There are no automatic selections on my ballot, ever.

That said, once I have decided that I consider a player a Hall of Famer, I vote for him. It never has made sense to me to leave a deserving player off my ballot because he hasn’t waited “long enough.”

No Barry Bonds. No Roger Clemens. No Mark McGwire. No Sammy Sosa. As players, they excelled. They put up the numbers and won the awards. They fall short for me because of the character/integrity/sportsmanship clause in the voting rules.

My thoughts on voting (or not voting) for candidates suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs (PED) are documented here: This Game’s Fun, OK? Baseball’s Hall of Fame Conundrum.

My ballot from last year can be found here: My 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot.

Further thoughts about the clause that stipulates voters must take into account sportsmanship, integrity and character during the voting process can be found here: If Only Integrity, Sportsmanship and Character Did Not Count in Hall of Fame Voting.

And here are the players I voted for this year:

Voters are allowed to select a maximum of 10 candidates. As you can see, I voted for nine, including six holdovers from last year’s ballot: Bagwell, Biggio, Edgar, McGriff, Piazza and Smith.

At some point in their careers, the three first-year candidates I selected arguably could be considered the best pitchers in their respective leagues. That statement is not likely to brook much argument when it comes to Pedro and Johnson, but it also applies to Smoltz, who from 1995-1999 was as dominant as any starting pitcher in the game.

A quick word about my borderline players: Mike Mussina, Tim Raines and Alan Trammell. I strongly re-evaluated their candidacies this year, particularly Mussina. I thought this might be the year that I deviated from my philosophy of deciding that if a player is a Hall of Famer, there is no reason for him to wait.

I gave all three a lot of consideration, and concluded once more that while all three were clearly great players, they didn’t quite make the Hall of Fame cut for me. There was no one, glaring reason why not for any of them.

Rather, as I considered their candidacies again – frankly, as I looked hard for reasons to include them – I could not convince myself that they were Hall of Fame caliber. I reserve the right to be wrong in my assessment (I didn’t vote for Barry Larkin or Andre Dawson, after all). I’m sure they’ll all draw the requisite votes to carry them over to next year’s ballot, and I will begin the evaluation process anew.

For now, though, I’m as satisfied as I can be that the nine players I selected deserved my vote. I look forward to next year, when the first-year candidates will include Ken Griffey Jr. and Trevor Hoffman.

I also hope that the voting process can continue to move toward clarity. I hate that the character/integrity/sportsmanship rule means we, as voters, must act as moral arbiters for baseball’s highest honor after an era when the game itself was tainted by steroids.

But that’s part of it, and I consider it an obligation to participate as well as I can, to conduct the research as thoroughly as possible and to present my conclusions with the utmost respect for the players and the game. I’ll continue to do so as long as they’ll have me.

I’ll leave you with a YouTube video of one of the best All-Star Game moments ever: the Big Unit  striking out terrified Phillies first baseman John Kruk.

 

New Year, New Circus (Xtreme)

CircusCover

We went to the circus. It was cool. It was not how I remembered it from the 1970s, but that’s not a bad thing. Change is good, even — or especially — when it comes to time-honored institutions like the Greatest Show on Earth.

It still says Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey on the marquee, but this show and two other touring productions are operated by the ubiquitous family production company, Feld Entertainment.

RBB_CircusExtremeThe circus has evolved.

This makes perfect sense. How could the 1970s and ’80s circus of charismatic animal trainer Gunther Gebel and all those seemingly insane clowns hope to compete in 2015 with Netflix, Cirque du Soleil and (in an interesting twist), the popular Feld-produced Disney on Ice shows?

This new version, Circus Xtreme, seems to be a not-so-subtle nod to the famous founder of the Greatest Show on Earth, 19th century showman P.T. Barnum. While Barnum has been erroneously credited with coining the derogatory, “There’s a sucker born every minute,” he actually did say, “Every crowd has a silver lining.”

The one-hour pre-show allowed us to visit animals and performers up close. It also gave us the chance to take a clown nose selfie.

The one-hour pre-show allowed us to visit animals and performers up close. It also gave us the chance to take a clown nose selfie.

He understood, even 130 years ago, that in order to maintain the attention of the public, a fickle and fleeting attention span must be engaged constantly with newer, bigger, better and more outrageous acts. Keep that attention span, he knew, and they would line up around the block to get in the building.

If Thursday’s opening night crowd at Amalie Arena was any indication, the circus can still pack ‘em in. The arena was full, even though the show competed with the first NCAA football playoff semifinals — including a team, Florida State, with a rabid Central Florida following.

Now, don’t take all this talk of “newness” and “evolution” to mean the circus staples have been discarded. There still are animal acts (which meant there also were the ever-present animal rights protesters outside the arena). There are still clowns. There is a high-wire act, a man on a giant pendulum, a human cannonball and a ringmaster.

The differences are noticeable right away, though. The ringmaster sings. The band seemed like it would be as comfortable on the set of a late night talk show as it was playing background music at the circus. The clowns are more like friendly acrobats in minimalist clown costumes, rather than the over-the-big-top, madcap gang of anarchists I remember from my youth.

This was our first trip to the circus as a family. Each of us named something different as our favorite act. I was in awe of Gemma “the Jet” Kirby, the 25-year-old human cannonball who holds a psychology degree from the University of Minnesota and plays the violin to remain mentally sharp on the road.

My wife was thrilled by the Danguir Troupe highwire act. Our older son loved the dancing poodles in the second act. Our younger son couldn’t really make up his mind what he liked most, although it was pretty clear his attention was most riveted during the tiger act.

We all enjoyed the chance to visit the animals up-close and wander the arena floor with the clowns and performers during the one-hour pre-show. I put together a slide show (below) of the highlights of our fun evening at Circus Xtreme.

I was invited in my capacity as the author of this online journal to come to the Circus Xtreme opening at Amalie Arena and share my impressions with a review, as well as to provide readers a promotional code (MOM4) good for $4 toward the ticket purchase price for select shows this weekend at Amalie Arena.

The show runs through Sunday (Jan. 4).

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