Glorious days in the sun

Glorious days in the sun

I write incessantly about my children and the game of football. From all perception, it consumes us and is the forefront in everything we do. In many ways that is true but I believe it would be the case with any endeavor they attempt. Although we have immersed ourselves in the sport and have experienced some of the greatest joys and relationships of our lives, there is one game that will always be dearest to my heart and that is baseball.

I grew up in Hawthorne, California, sixteen miles southwest of downtown Los Angeles and Dodger Stadium. Our only claim to fame is that it was home to the Beach Boys. Other than that Hawthorne really is not very significant and most people prefer to say they are from L.A. rather than this small town that has seen its share of crime and urban change.

At 10 years old none of that mattered to me. What mattered to me were two things, my batting average, and the Los Angeles Dodgers. I didn’t even know Pop Warner existed and that kids played football. I thought it was a game only played by “grown ups”. We certainly did not care whether it was played in high school, unlike the 10 year olds I see here in Texas who wait in line to get the autographs of teenagers.

If I was not watching baseball I was playing it. We had no year-round or “Select ball” so organized play was only during the spring. It did not matter to us, however, because there existed different variations of it that allowed us to play anytime we wanted. Impromptu games of Wiffle Ball, Pickle, Fastpitch, Cup Ball or our beloved Over the Line would break out at the slightest hint of boredom during our day. It was not unusual to find a pickup game of Over the Line at any field or park and I always had a glove with me, just in case, even into my adulthood.

The game was a part of growing up in California and I always stated my children, boys or girls, would grow up with it.

Plans change sometimes and I left Hawthorne and California for the Lonestar state. Here we raised our children like any other Texan, I suppose, with football at the forefront. The Grand Old Game took second chair to the gridiron and my sons’ heroes did not play for the Dodgers but for the Texans and Longhorns. They still played baseball but money and effort did not go towards helping them excel in a sport like football. There were more pigskin and tackling pads in the garage than cowhide and pitchbacks.

Still, when football season was over and the fervor of the game died down, we were met with the quiet start of baseball. It was almost as if I had forgotten about the game every year. We would sign the boys up and I would volunteer as an assistant coach. Baseball was almost a chore for me, that is, until I walked onto the field for the first practice. The familiarity of it all would come back to me as if I had put up my spikes just yesterday. It was an old friend who would welcome me back home and remind me of all the stories of our time in the sun. It was born out of years of loving this game and I wanted my sons to love it as much as I did.

My youngest son played his last game this week. He does not intend to try out for the high school team which means the game is over for him. The pain on his face was visible and he quietly, discreetly wiped the tears from his cheek as he knew the significance of this time when maybe others did not. I then knew for certain, he loved the game as much as I.

Unlike football, baseball does not impose such an exact finality and there are opportunities to continue playing the game, or some form of it, well into our late adulthood. I played the game into my 30s. Who knows, maybe my sons and I will play the game together, one day. What a day that would be! For now, however, I will reminiscence about the wonderful time I had watching my boys play baseball.

The Addict

If you search the Internet, you will see a plethora of articles and posts on the common designation of parents when it comes to sports. I will rattle off a few but they are not the focus of this post:

  • The Investor – “My child is going to play college ball and someday make the pros so let’s get started early.”
  • The Status Lover – “Their success or failure is a reflection on me.”
  • The Helicopter – “I know what’s best for my child’s future not her/him.”
  • The Has-been or Neverwas – “I never made it in sports, so I will have my children do it for me.”
  • The Indifferent – “What is the name of his team? I have no clue, this is his thing.”

I will add one that is never mentioned.

  • The Addict – Watching my kids play sports is an addiction stronger than any drug that is manufactured or grown.

My name is John Lucero and I am an Addict.

<Crowd> “Hi John”

I have two boys, 19 and 15. This the testimony of my addiction:

  • I coached 12 years of baseball
  • I spent 12 seasons as our youth football team videographer.
  • I coached 5 years of tackle football, 2 of them as head coach.
  • I cofounded the local youth football and cheer organization and served as its vice president and then its president.
  • I currently serve on the high school football booster club as chair of the Photo Committee, team graphic designer and one of the team video editors. This is my 5th year serving.
  • My wife has volunteered to serve team meals to the boys.

As you can see we have mainlined our kids’ sports for some time now.

On February 5th, 2019 my supply was cutoff, indefinitely.

My son quit high school football.

If you know this boy, since 7 years old, he has been a fanatical follower of the game of football.  He ate it, drank it and lived it, both in play and his admiration of players. His loyalty to this game and his teammates were unmatched. He has played through pain and adversity and all for his brothers. He was more devoted to the game, it seemed, than his older brother who himself played 17 seasons of football.  

The last couple of months, however, took a turn we did not expect. His devotion to put in the work for the program was ebbing. Early morning wake ups for practices were a display of heated arguments and threats.  His motivation, now,  consisted only of his coaches telling him directly to participate. That was short lived as well.

As parents we looked to outside influences as this might be a sign of other problems such as drug use or depression. We took the avenues any concerned parent would take at the onset of these signals.

With that said, no, it’s not drugs, depression or any outside influence. He simply does not love it enough to see value in the work. He simply does not want it, like he used to when he was younger. No amount of discussion or influence from his coach, peers and even his football idol, his older brother, will sway him.

My wife and I are heartbroken to say the least. Like I said, this is our drug.  He is taller, faster and hits as hard as his older brother did and his older brother was a great football player. This was now his time to show the world who he was. The entire family was excited to see how he and his classmates would turnout. We think it could be a state run team their junior year and my son was fully ready to count himself among those players, but no more.

We told him he had to speak to the head coach first, a man who has known my family for the past 7 years. My son and his son played football on the same youth team together.  He was to face him and tell him, from his words,what he intends on doing. He did just that and as most kids would have wavered at the slight hint of a coach’s consternation, my son stood fast in his resolve that football was not for him any longer. His coach tried to reason with him and convince him to stay on, but my son’s mind was made up.  

He told me, in not so many words, it is unfair to his teammates and to the coaches for him to stay on where his effort would be from obligation rather than love. He told me if he misses it and realizes it was a mistake, he will come back and work his ass off to show the team they can rely on him again. I have to respect him for it because at 15, I would have folded like a belt, for good or bad.

Here we are in unchartered territory, now. We no longer have a son in football while his classmates continue to play. We will not have #51 to cheer on at scrimmages and games. There will be no more early morning drives to practice. We will no longer meet with our team family in the stands of our little high school field, on Thursdays, where the Luceros were a mainstay for the past 6 years. I suppose this is where The Addict suffers the worst of the withdrawals but there is no 12 step program for us.

None of it really matters as this is not our life and we need to see it through with him no matter how it might differ from our expectations.

He said, “I prayed on this and God has a plan for me, dad, and it might not be football.” How can you argue with that statement?

Maybe the new drug, to this addict, should be to watch this good boy become a good man someday.

Oh, but I did so love to watch him play.  

Advice to Californians moving to Texas

Being from southern California myself, I wrote these little tidbits of advice a little while ago for those who plan to move to Texas, more specifically Central Texas. This is all tongue in cheek and not meant to be serious or insulting.

Texans – The best part of this state is the people. Texans are a proud people and are the epitome of Southern Hospitality, very welcoming and inclusive. They wave at you when you drive by and are friendly as can be. This can be a little off putting if you are from Los Angeles where people driving by does not solicit the same response. Like me, you will get used to it quickly and hopefully start to emulate this behavior in your normal routine.

One observation is they are not really that impressed you are from California as much as you are. In fact, they seem to have disdain for pretty much any state that is not Texas. I am afraid you will eventually hear a Texan use the phrase, “Don’t California my Texas” when they find out you are from the Golden State. Don’t let this bother you, for every jerk that blames you for their problems, there are 100 more who will welcome you with open arms or even better, baked goods.

Your kids will say two pledges of allegiance in school, one for the US and one for Texas. Yeah, that struck me a little strange when we took our kids for their first day. If your kids are like my sons, they will eventually have a “Come and Take It” flag hanging in their room or flying from their truck. They will learn more about the history of this state than the history of this country, or their own history for that matter. They will also think that historic places, like the Alamo, are a pretty big deal and in turn so will you.

Transportation

Frontage Roads – Learn how to use them or you will drive miles out of the way, making multiple u-turns, using multiple four letter words.

“The” Freeways or Highways – I still don’t know what they call them here, freeways or highways, but one way to quickly identify a Californian is the use of “The” preceding a freeway number. “The 183” or “The 35” will quickly get you a smirk from a Texan. However, I refuse to change my behavior on this topic. If you are feeling nostalgic and homesick, I suggest driving on the 35 or Mopac at 5:00 PM on a weekday. This will make you feel right at home.

Road Names – Yeah, I don’t get how they pronounce some of them but when in Rome. For example, Manchaca and Guadalupe, I will never reconcile this and will continue to scrutinize it. Also FM means Farm to Market and RM means Ranch to Market which has no bearing on anything you do but an interesting fact nonetheless.

Left Turns – The practice of sitting in the middle of the intersection, waiting for the light to turn red, for you to make a left turn will quickly get you introduced to the local law enforcement. As alien as it feels to not creep out in the middle, you must sit at the line and wait your turn to make a left turn on solid green. Also, the traffic lights are sideways, not vertical, just to mess with you.

Blue Laws – Coming from the “Godless” west coast, I never heard of a Blue Law before but apparently, they exist here in Texas.

You will not find vodka, rum or any other liquor in a grocery store or Walgreens. You will also not find milk and bread in a liquor store. You cannot buy liquor on Sundays or beer and wine prior to noon on Sundays. I tried to do all the above with futility. On Sunday you better have stocked up the Saturday before or you will be calling your friends to bring their own liquor for your special Superbowl trash can punch.

Also, the car dealerships are closed on Sundays. Actually, they get to choose the day of the weekend to be closed. I remember going Cal Worthington’s to test drive a car at 9:30 PM on a Sunday. You will not get to do that here.

Guns and Hunting – Where I grew up guns were meant to shoot people not animals but here they are used for hunting and people actually eat what they kill. There is nothing like a good deer sausage so do not turn up your nose when offered. Know what a “Deer Lease” is because the circles you will associate with will most likely be made up of hunters. You will hear countless references to “The Lease” so know what that is. Ok, I will tell you, it’s a large swath of land people pay a monthly lease to hunt deer. There is always a dwelling of some sort and a feeder of some sort on said “Lease”. Texans spend a lot of time on the lease and, from the stories I hear, they seem to do more beer drinking there than actual hunting. Also, here it’s Constitutional Carry which means most Texans are armed so keep your road rage in check.

Fire Ants – These are evil, mean, little spawns from hell and you WILL get stung, it is inevitable. Yes, I said stung not bitten and that is why they are called Fire Ants because their sting burns like a hot poker. Know what their mounds look like and where these little bastards prefer to set up shop. The good thing is, they are not hard to spot, especially after a good rain. They are not the only ants that bite/sting in Texas just the ones with the worst attitude.

Property Taxes – I would rather be covered in fire ants.

Mexican Food – There is no getting around it, the Mexican food is not the same here and at first you will be disappointed. Also, the quickest way to draw the ire of any Texan is to complain about Tex Mex. With that said, once you accept the differences, you will start to enjoy the food here and ridicule California for not having migas or breakfast tacos, when you visit there. Here are some points for you:

Dona or “Crack Sauce”. This green concoction is better than anything made, ever! It looks like creamy guacamole but in no way is it even related. It’s tasty, and spicy and most places will have it, albeit by different names. Just ask for the green sauce. HEB tries to sell a variation of it but TacoDeli is the Mecca for this, although Pollo Rico is on par too.

Queso – In California, this is just shredded cheese but here in Texas it is a conglomeration of melted Velveeta, jalapenos, pico de gallo, chili, and just about anything else they desire to put in it. It is used as a dip, a sauce, and an ingredient, a rub, a cure for psoriasis and can be found in just about everything. Texans are connoisseurs of good queso and many restaurants are judged by the quality of this dip. Actually, Velveeta is only used at cheap places and the worst places use canned nacho cheese. Avoid them like the plague.

Tacos – If you were a burrito person in California, you will be transformed into a taco person here. Mainly, because you will not like the burritos here as much as in California but also because the tacos here are superior. Tacos transcend any one regional influences such as Tex-Mex or Cali-Mex. Austin food establishments take great pride in their tacos from Korean infused concoctions to birria swimming in consume, so forget the big flour tortilla and go with the small corn tortilla.

Breakfast Tacos – This is a simple concept, not much different than a breakfast burrito except it’s a taco. Breakfast burritos are not in abundance here and do not attempt to convince a restaurant to make you one thinking they are not a far stretch from breakfast tacos. You will be met with annoyance and maybe more than you bargained for in your food, believe me, I tried. Learn to love the breakfast taco because it is fantastic!

Fish Tacos – They are typically grilled using Tilapia or fried using catfish. It’s hit or miss to find a good, fried fish taco if you are used to getting them in San Diego or Baja. Cabo Bob’s is not bad.

Migas – This is a scrambled egg and tortilla chip dish I like better than machaca but my dream would be a fusion of both.

Attention San Diegans – There are no Robertos, Albertos or any other “ertos” here to get carne asada burritos or rolled tacos (Taquitos) at 2:00 AM. Good luck finding one rolled taco within 100 miles from here. Their idea of carne asada is fajitas. It’s not the same but still just as good. Don’t fret, go to Michoacan Market and get their fajita meat for the grill, put it in a taco or burrito and you will quickly be converted.

Attention Angelinos – No Super Burrito Deluxes from El Tarasco or El Gringos will ever be found here or even a variation of it. Just let that one go. No Titos either.<sigh>

Attention NoCals – Do you even have Mexican food north of Point Conception? There are Taco Bells here so you should be fine. I jest.

Whataburger – This place is a state icon and the Texans seem to embrace it almost as much as the Alamo. A quick way to get into a heated debate with the locals is to state that In-N-Out is better than Whataburger. That never seems to end well either, so try to avoid making such declarations in public. We do have an In-N-Out here in Cedar Park and it tastes the same as the ones in California. I myself have converted to the Double Whataburger with jalapenos. Try Mighty Fine too, if you want a good burger.

BBQ – People take great pride in their BBQ here and will wake up in the early mornings to spend hours cooking it to perfection. Know the difference between grilling and BBQ and what a pit is. Don’t ever handle another man’s pit without asking. Smoked brisket is the measuring stick for all things BBQ here. Learn what a smoke ring should look like and act impressed when someone shows you theirs, even if you are clueless. Don’t attempt to bring up Tri-Tip comparisons because you will get feigned interest from someone who is trying to be nice but really does not know what the hell a Tri-Tip is, nor cares. Also know that BBQ sauce here is considered a condiment for the table, not a glaze or rub for cooking.

HEB – Probably the best supermarket I have ever been to and another Texas business icon. Don’t call it “heb”.

Buccees – Oh the complete amazement and wonder you will experience when first visiting the gargantuan of all gas stations. No matter how full your tank is or how full your belly is, you will find a reason to stop at every Buccees you see if only to use the bathrooms which, by the way, are cleaner than most hospital surgical rooms. I will leave this for you to experience yourself. No literary skill can describe, properly, this monolith to roadside convenience.

High School Football – All the hype is true, it is like a religion here. I have attended more high school football games in my 17 years in Texas than my 37 years in California and that includes my time on my high school football team. I have two boys and our lives revolve around their school and this game. Know the difference between 4a, 5a, and 6a schools and the name of the head coach of your kid’s high school so at tailgate parties you can sound informed. Yes, they tailgate at the high school stadium parking lot before games. Make it out to a game on Friday night, preferably a Cedar Park high School Timberwolf game, and enjoy the splendor for all it is. (Actually, you can replace football with Band, Cheer, or any other endeavor, and Texans will make it big and tailgate for it). You will become hooked.

Yes Ma’am and Yes Sir – I will get mixed responses on this. We are in the South (Yes Texans, if you participated in the Civil War and wore grey, you are the South. Deal with it.) and, in general, it is a reflection of your parenting if your children do or do not answer adults with a ”Yes/No Ma’am” or a “Yes/No Sir”. This is confusing to Californians because the only people who say “yes sir” and “yes ma’am”, in the entire state, are found only on military bases. We don’t even expect it from people in the service industry. However, you will notice it quickly when you speak to the children here and even start to expect it of your own children. Even though it is an expectation here, people will still compliment you on your children’s good manners despite the fact they act like unruly animals when alone with you.

Cedar Fever – This essence of evil takes flight to afflict the innocent, around mid January through February. If you are one of those who states, ‘I don’t get allergies and never will”, the cedar trees will respond with, “Hold my beer”. Yeah, allergies in the middle of winter are a strange and horrible occurrence and there is no avoiding it, so make sure you ask Santa for plenty of Claritin and Benadryl for Christmas. You’ll need it.

The Weather – It’s hot and in the winter, its less hot. Actually, the weather here is very complex.

Winter– Temperatures in the 40s are the norm with some occasional dips into the 30s and 20s. On occasion, we will experience a hard freeze, maybe, one day out of the year. It seems lately we have been getting more snowfall in the area during winter. Typically we get a light dusting every few years to make miniature snowmen and to give the kids a snow day from school but we were hit right in the power grid with the Snowmageddon of 2020. This was equivalent to an average snowfall in the north but down here we were thrown into complete apocalyptic chaos. We lost power, water, heat, and all common sense when this white menace fell from the sky. If you see snow in the forecast, think hard about vacationing back in California for a week. It’s better to deal with the idiots who cannot drive in a California rainfall than to experience the hysteria a 6-inch snowfall solicits in Texas.

Spring – Spring brings California like temperatures to Central Texas and the bloom of the Bluebonnets. The landscape explodes in azure and every highway will be lined with them as well as with the bodies of those who think it is safe to take pictures on the side of a major thruway. I am kidding, no one dies but you will see many out there risking their lives, and their family’s lives, just to take a picture with a flower.

Also, at this time, we will get hit with the strongest weather. Unlike California, where rain comes in off the Pacific and gets people wet, the storms here barrel through like a stampede of longhorns to send all the non-Texans into a panic. The first time I heard the term “Tornado” on the news station, I threw my kids into a bathtub with football helmets, surrounded by pillows, all the while the Texans sat outside BBQing and drinking beer. As a Californian, it will unnerve you when you first hear the phrase, “Tornado Warning in your area” or that blaring tornado alarm that seems to come out of nowhere. I suspect the Texans would feel the same way if a 4.5 tumbler, centered in Joshua Tree, were to shake them out of their sleep at five in the morning.

Summer (AKA Hell’s front porch) – From May to Late October do not expect it to get below 95 with humidity making it feel like 150. You will know you’re A/C guy very well.

Fall – This is my favorite day of the year.

“Y’all” – Don’t fight it, you will succumb to it eventually. I will quote a friend of mine who transplanted here from New Jersey, “It rolls off the tongue like butter”. Drop the “You guys” and embrace the “Y’all”. You don’t have to be “Fixin” or “Hollerin” but definitely indulge in the decadence of this word dessert.

In conclusion, the most important advice I can give you is to become a Texan and don’t stay a Californian. Some of the most die hard Texans weren’t born in Texas. Be proud of your roots but also be proud you are now part of the LoneStar State and that is pretty cool. Do this and you will enjoy all this state and the people have to offer. Welcome to Texas, Y’all!

Chavez Ravine

The sun is finding its place high in the sky and the temperatures are starting to warm the days. The tight grip of winter has relaxed and the once harsh, bitter cold winds have given way to lazy afternoon breezes that sway the trees and cool the soul. Unlike the extremes of summer and winter, spring is easy going. The only expectation it has, is the appreciation of change. Everywhere you look, life starts to bloom and all is new again. Not only change does this season herald but something much more significant to a 7 year old boy.

Let me take you back 40 years to an early evening drive, riding shotgun in my grandfather’s Rambler, heading north on the Harbor Freeway. It was not a drive I have ever been on in my life and all of the sights and sounds were brand new and exciting to me. Then again, I was seven years old so everything was pretty much brand new to me. I can remember watching the buildings of downtown rise up like monoliths high in the sky, it was awe inspiring. I did not notice or care about the congested traffic or that everyone in their cars around me were wearing the same color.

My grandfather skillfully directed the Rambler through the gridlock and merged off of the freeway onto a road with many lanes, that climbed up a steep mountain. At the end of each of these lanes were little wooden shacks. We were not alone and it was a slow progression that seemed like a millennium to traverse.

When we reached the wooden shack, we were greeted by a pleasant person, dressed in blue, wearing a white brimmed hat reminiscent of the straw hats of the early 1900s. My grandfather handed over some cash and we were directed to move left around a blind bend. The Rambler lurched forward and followed the cones in the direction the man told us. The next moment took my breath away. Around that bend opened a vast expanse of parked cars and in the center of this sea of cars was the most magnificent sight I have ever seen in my young life and I have to say it still ranks up there in my adulthood too. Standing tall against the golden, dusk sky was a grand palace, trimmed in blue, surrounded by green palm trees…Dodger Stadium!

We passed the 76 gas station, my gaze was ever so transfixed in wonder at this majestic cathedral to the grand old game that I never once questioned why there was a gas station in a baseball stadium parking lot. My grandfather turned on the radio and we were greeted by the familiar “Voice of the Dodgers”, Vin Scully, as he peddled the delicacies of Farmer John and company.

After finding our spot, marked by a large white baseball on a pole, we strolled up to the gate. From outside the walls, you can hear the lofting tones of Helen Dell, the Dodgers’ long time organist as she played a familiar tune. Situated in the middle of the entrance area was a man at a blue podium yelling “Programs, get yer programs here”. It was cliche but seven year olds live for cliche. Everyone was dressed in blue at various stages of covering. Once in the gates, I followed my grandfather, looking for our tunnel where we can enter the stadium.

Many people have penned a description of their first experience entering a major league baseball park as walking through a dark tunnel opening up to a brightly lit field of green, surrounded by thousands of seats filled with others also in delightful observance. They would describe the sounds, aromas, and colors to be so vivid it all seemed like a dream. These writers have described the experience as discovering a beautiful oasis in the middle of a concrete and metal desert. I am here to tell you they were correct and much more. Every color, every sound, every smell seemed to be accentuated as if the senses had been enhanced for this moment. The grass was greener than any I have ever gazed upon, the infield was a perfect unblemished red clay and even the baseballs seem whiter than any I have ever gripped. I could smell the popcorn as if it was popping right next to me and the sound of baseballs hitting off of wood was a sweet sound that has stayed with me ever since. Towering high above were rows upon rows of seats reaching to the highest balconies of this extraordinary theater. The blue wave of the bleacher awning is signature Dodger Stadium as is the orange 76 ball in the backdrop.

Game time drew near, the shadows of the early evening were long against the perfectly manicured grass while a couple of players tossed the ball around in warm up. I did not recognize any of them but it did not matter, they were Dodgers which meant they were heroes to me. Vendors walked up and down the aisles selling anything from mini souvenir bats to chocolate ice milk. Before we took our seats, my grandfather treated me to the greatest and best known of all stadium delights, the Dodger Dog.

We took our seats, on the left field side and I strained to see if I could recognize the players in the dugout. Just then the announcer, John Ramsey, called us to stand for the National Anthem. We turned to the flag and saluted our country with our “LA” baseball caps over our hearts. I waited with the patience of a seven year old for them to announce it. I could not standstill. “Hurry up, hurry up”, I was mumbling, then from the speakers, I heard, “Now taking the field, your Los Angeles Dodgers!” That was the highlight of my night. My beloved Dodgers were taking the field to the roar of the crowd.  Jogging over to first base was the greatest of them all, at least to a 7 year old he was, number six, Steve Garvey, took up his position at first. I sat there mesmerized, eating popcorn with my grandfather, watching my favorite player warm up the infield, and just taking in the excitement of my first Dodger baseball game.  It was a perfect day.

All subsequent journeys to “Chavez Ravine”, throughout my life, have carried a part of that first day with them. Although my frequency to that place is now separated by years instead of days, I still get that feeling of excitement and anticipation when I drive around the bend and see that cherished part of my childhood, standing tall against the golden California sky.

Note: The featured picture is of my youngest son’s first Dodger game. July 3rd, 2018 the Dodgers beat the Pirates that day,  hitting 6 dingers that night. It ended with fireworks. If a more perfect day could be had from my first, it was this day with my wife and boys.

Love of the game

Posted on August 7, 2017

We watched “Friday Night Lights” and “When the game stands tall” last night. My oldest watched the latter with us. I was in a football movie mood, I guess and watching it with my son was a nice treat. (BTW he was not impressed and believes Cedar Park could beat both DLS and LB Poly). My oldest does not watch football and is not a fan of the game like his little brother. Don’t get me wrong he knows players and such but watching football will never be his preferred pastime unless it’s a social event.

His relationship to the game is different, he is a seasoned veteran of actual play. I would bet he has logged more downs in his 17 years than most friends of mine on FB have in their entire lifetime. I sat in silent awe watching him deconstruct the offense and point out the failures of the defense. “That reverse would never have been successful had the outside linebacker stayed put and contained.” “ He can’t get turned out like that”. Where was the safety on that play?” This behavior during any other type of movie would be annoying but I sat listening like a student on the first day of class, and I was a football coach for 5 years.

He has coached his little brother as well on the complexities of playing defense and it is complex, believe me. Listening to my two middle linebackers discussing the position and how it’s played here was an amazement to me.

Ryder- “Jared what am I supposed to do on ‘Buzz’, last year I was supposed to do xyz”

Jared – “Yeah last year you were but it has changed and you now have to watch this position and that position and do this if this position does that”

Ryder – Oh, got it.

My son never fails to surprise me. Just when I think he has become burnt out, indifferent, or even cynical he’ll say something or do something that tells me he embraces everything taught to him and this is his game, his pride, his love.

BBQ Season

It is summertime and the BBQ season is in full swing. Here are some basic rules to live by when enjoying these outdoor events.

[The following assumes all safe Covid measures and adherence to government mandates pertaining to the pandemic, are taken.]

BBQ Rule #1 – “What can I bring?” – These four simple words will insure you are asked again to another event. If you don’t use them, well, expect to be placed on the “Oh, I forgot to tell you” list.

“You did not tell me you had a BBQ”

“Oh, I forgot to tell you”

The side dish – This is pivotal. If this is the first time you are being invited to an event with this host, your status and probability of a second invitation will rest on your side dish. If you show up to a first-time event with beef jerky and a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos from 7 Eleven, expect to be one of the main topics of the after party, cleanup, gossip session. Also, your name will be scrubbed from the 4th of July invitation list. The more creative and delicious, the more your status will rise with group. Nothing says “A “lister like grandma’s homemade ambrosia recipe. The only downside to this sudden popularity is that you will be expected to bring that delicious meal from now on, to every event. It could be the only reason you are invited, but hey, free BBQ is free BBQ.

If you cannot cook, a supermarket potato salad or veggie platter will suffice. It will not elevate your status but also will not get you booted from the invitation list. Make sure, however, you throw in a 7 layer dip every once in a while or you will be known as the “Cheap ass, potato salad people”.

The Main Dish – If the BBQ is a bring your own meat, then bring your own meat or don’t eat. Don’t be that person who thinks they will not eat and then starts to grub on everyone’s food because they are suddenly hungry. It is good practice to bring extra. For instance, if everyone is cooking burgers, bring a few more just in case, for others to enjoy. It will help bring you up a few notches on the BBQ status list and help in getting invited to 4th of July.

BBQ Rule #2 – Bring your own drinks. Unless the host explicitly tells you what is offered, in terms of drinks, bring your own libations. Nothing says cheap ass, douche bag than someone bumming beers from every patron at the event. Conversely, if you show up with a Tundra 350 filled with 5 cases of Bud light, offer one to anyone who is thirsty.

Beer – This is the staple of all BBQs. Every beer is equal at a BBQ and celebrated. If you are one of those beer aficionados, enjoy your bottle of peanut, mango IPA brewed from some hipster’s van downtown, but be prepared to be thrown out with your organic, free range, chick pea hummus and Kale chips side dish, you brought, if you start to condescend to the Coors light drinking folk. Also, do not turn your nose up to any beer offered form someone’s Tundra 350.

Wine – It is not uncommon to have the fruit of the vine flowing at a good BBQ. Wine drinkers are a sharing group, much like pot smokers, and they each like to taste other vintages. Be prepared to share a glass from your bottle if questioned about it. Drink from a glass and not straight from the bottle unless you are at a BBQ where the swimwear is cutoff jeans and the décor is that of a Confederate flag.

Champagne – If you bring champagne to a BBQ, you are in the wrong state at the wrong BBQ.

Seltzer waters – This is the biggest fad out now, the alcoholic, flavored seltzer waters. Everyone has their favorites and their allegiances. People like to trade these like baseball cards. “Oh, can I trade a Truly Black Cherry for a White Claw Raspberry?”. It’s all good unless someone is trying to pawn off their collection of Lime White claws they have accumulated over the quarantine. That person is scorned and ridiculed, until towards the end, when he is the only one with alcohol and quickly becomes everyone’s best friend.

BBQ Rule #3 – DON’T EVER TOUCH ANOTHER MAN’S PIT WITHOUT ASKING. The only exception to this rule is when the host is taking a leak and his pit is having a grease fire. It is not only appropriate but expected for the men to jump in and save the meat from burning while the host finishes up and gets a beer. Once he arrives, relinquish control back to him and go back to standing around, drinking.

BBQ Rule #4 – Eat, and compliment the cook. There is no prouder a man or woman who is happy with their smoke ring and they will show it off, gleefully. If you do not know what a smoke ring is, it is ok to ask but be prepared for a 20-minute lesson in the science of smoking meat along with a PowerPoint presentation. If you think their smoke ring is a burn mark compared to the brisket from your KBQ C-60, keep your mouth shut and eat. If you are one of those who do not eat meat for the various reasons one would not partake in such activity and you do not drink either, WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING AT A BBQ?

BBQ Rule #5- Any food left at the home of a BBQ event is now the property of the host of the event. This includes all canned beverages, both alcoholic and non alcoholic. The property exempt from this rule is actual reusable kitchen ware, coolers and bottled liquor, 740ml or larger. However, if 60 days have elapsed without recovery of exempt property, the host may exercise the “I have no idea what you are talking about” clause, when queried about said property.

The 4th of July – This is the Superbowl of BBQs. This is the pinnacle of the BBQ season. If you are invited to the 4th of July BBQ, you have been selected to be among the elite of friendships and inclusion. This is the time to bring out that side dish that takes 4 hours of prep. This is the time to bring the good beer. It is perfectly acceptable and encouraged to wear head to toe red, white and blue. There will tons of food, drinks and people and when it gets dark there are fireworks. What better a BBQ than on this day? If you are not an American, appreciate the fact that Americans take great pride in living in this country and we go to great lengths to celebrate its existence, as obnoxiously as we can. Enjoy the food, drink and the show that is the 4th!

The BBQ Pool party – If your circle of friends includes those who own pools and like to hold BBQs, you are a very fortunate individual. Not only do you get to eat BBQ, but you also get to cool off during the hot summer day, with friends and drinks. With that said, please adhere to these simple rules.

Don’t pee in the pool! As tempting as it might be and as much of a pain in the ass it is to dry off and walk to the grassy side of the house, don’t do it. You are not fooling anyone, either. No one can drink a 12 pack of beer, while in the pool for 4 hours, without getting out to use the facilities. We know what you are doing and that is why we are on the other side of the pool.

Kids in the pool. If you do not like kids, you need to get a new set of friends. Kids love the pool and will splash and play all day long with their friends. My advice is to stay on one end and avoid eye contact or you will be throwing kids in the air for an hour and half, even the heavy kid. Nothing throws out a back faster than trying to toss a 160Lb, ten-year-old, across the pool.

There you go. Follow these simple rules and advice and you will have an enjoyable summer.

On the Clock

Posted on June 18, 2015 by jklucero / 0 Comment

I dropped off my son early this morning at the CPHS Fieldhouse for his first day of Strength and Conditioning. As I am driving him to the school I thought about all the past early mornings in the last year. I thought about all the pre-dawn practices he had to endure and the workouts that taxed his strength and sometimes his will. Every day since February has been “Two-a-days” for him, morning football then afternoon workouts and somehow having to maintain an “A” GPA in school. I’ve seen the fatigue on his face and the pain in his body but not a word from his mouth as he readied himself every morning. I once asked him, “Are you doing this for you or for us?”, “If you are doing it for us then quit right now and find something you love.” He looked at me like I was an idiot.

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I drove up to the green building, adorned with images of prior seasons’ greats, and I saw them walking from all directions, migrating to that same place. Some were dropped off, like my son, by moms and dads. Some walked alone and some drove themselves but however they got there, they each had the same story to tell as my son. They too got up before dawn, weary and drained, day after day. They too had their trials and hurdles yet here they are.

In the silence of this morning and that hereafter, this place is where they will make their mark but let there be no mistake, although a word was not muttered they were saying something louder than any amplifier or bull horn could project. It was a collective voice of will and it resonated throughout those halls, as they have done years before, with the fall of every footstep. We will carry on. We will not falter. We will be great. We are on the clock!

The First Day of Practice

Posted on February 22, 2015 by jklucero / 0 Comment

The sun is starting to descend in the late afternoon sky on this August day. It’s hot and the dust from the Texas ground reflects the sun like golden flakes in the air as it is kicked around by a multitude of little feet. In the background, you can hear the distinct shrill of whistles and men barking orders. There is not a parking space to be found and canopies, coolers and fold out chairs line the grass displaying a scene that has all the earmarks of a major event. In Texas, at least, it is a major event. It is the first day of youth football practice.

You can tell who the new ones are. They cling close to their parents with a look of uncertainty and trepidation. Unsure of what is in store; they sip nervously from their water bottles as they eye all the other children around them. The parents too have that inquisitive look wondering how this will all transpire and how their son will fit in with the rest.

The veterans are unmistakable. They have a “been there done that” kind of swagger. They will have laid claim to the shady areas with all the essentials around them to stay comfortable and cool while they sit catching up with familiar faces. The boys will be horsing around with the ones they know, oblivious to the new kids standing on the side, until the whistle blows indicating the start of practice. To them it is a social event.

On the grass you can see a congregation of men in conversation, pointing to different locations of the field. A strategy is being hashed out. A plan is being put into place that will dictate the course of the next 3 months. They have taken on the noble endeavor of coaching boys not only on the game but on life. They will be applauded and criticized. They will be loved and even hated and through it all will have a hand in shaping who these boys will be as men.

Little do they all know these people, both stranger, and friend, will eventually become a family and those boys eventually will become brothers. Many will come and go but there will be a core that stays together devoted to the game and more importantly to one another. They will spend hours practicing in both the heat and cold. They will bleed, hurt, cry and push themselves past their limits just so they don’t let the other ones down. They’ll have nicknames like Hollywood, Double D, Sunshine, Pit-bull, Big Z, J-Rod, and The Flash. They’ll have sleepovers; attend birthday parties and hangout at recess together. They will wear the name of their team proudly and fiercely defend it from any criticism or attack. They will be welcomed in each other’s homes as if they lived there and moms will greet them with hugs and kisses as if they were their own. They will look tough and big in their helmets and pads although we will know better. Their actions will be immortalized in pictures and videos and they will cheer each other on as well as pick each other up. They’ll experience joyous victories they will always remember and bitter disappointments they will never forget. No one else will understand exactly their trials and toils. No one will know how much they gave of themselves for each other and how much they loved the game.

This is nothing new; their grandfathers, fathers, and older brothers each have a similar story to tell. It is the story of football and the whistle now blows for a new group of little boys. It is time to imprint their legacy, like the rest before them, on a 100 yard long, 53 yard wide stretch of turf.

The Perseids

Posted on August 20, 2018 by jklucero / 0 Comment

Last night I walked out to our backyard with my youngest son to watch the Perseids meteor shower. The peak nights of this event were to include this night. The news stated we should see 60-70 per hour. Watching meteor showers is an annual event for my boys and me. We grab chairs and blankets, if it is winter, and sit out in the backyard pointing out the fiery light show that consists of burning space dust and rock. We always see at least one meteor and at certain nights, when the sky is clear, and the time is right, we can see a multitude.

Last night should have proved to be a good night for viewing. The sky was clear, and the moon was nowhere to be seen to lighten the sky. We stood outside waiting, staring into the heavens above in anticipation of that first one. We waited, and we waited but one did not pass.

We sat there staring around trying to catch that glimpse of one. When you stare too long, your eyes will play tricks on you, making you imagine seeing something cross by but the imaginary meteor pales in comparison to the real thing. We sat there vigilantly in anticipation of at least one this night, but It was starting to get a little late and we were getting a little tired. Before going to bed we decided to ask God to shoot us one meteor, just one, and we’ll call it a night. We figured that was a small request for Him to throw us one burning fastball on the peak night of the most popular meteor shower of the year. We just wanted to see one.

As we sat waiting for our “prayer” to be answered we got to talking about astronomy and the universe. My son fired off question after question and we discussed topics like the solar system, the stars and life in space. I found the perfect student to dispense my college elective astronomy knowledge to and he ate it all up. We discussed the big bang and he cited, verbatim, Newton’s Law of Motion. We completely geeked out. Here sat a boy, who now would rather play video games than spend time with us, just talking and asking questions as if he was 8 years old again. I was truly and utterly impressed with this young man and his knowledge and inquisitiveness. We sat for a while with our heads cocked and our necks aching just blabbering like two best friends and we saw nothing. Not a flicker was to be seen this night by us.

Well our necks were hurting, I had to work the next day and he needed to get sleep for practice so we decided to wrap it up. We both surmised that God works in His way and if we were not meant to see a meteor that night then so be it. His will be done.

We went into house where I hugged my son good night, told him I loved him and sent him off to his room. I turned out the lights and locked the back door. I stood there alone for a second, looking out to the dark, empty night sky and I said,

“Thank you, thank you for not showing us one meteor tonight”.

Trains

I was talking to a friend of mine the other night about motorcycles and it triggered a memory I had about my oldest son and trains. Yeah that is how my brain works, I talk about motorcycles with my friends and I remember trains, go figure. My son, who is now 19, had a love for them when he was very young. At three years old his world consisted of mom, dad, food, playtime and Thomas the Tank Engine. Back then Thomas came on VHS tapes and he had the entire series. If we allowed it, he could binge watch Thomas the Tank Engine to the point that it would make watching the new release of Stranger Things look like a casual glance.

He also had his wooden Thomas train set we nailed onto plywood and painted with trees and roads.  It completely covered the coffee table where it became a permanent fixture. He had every train and car from the show, which numbered well over fifty.  He would push his wooden trains around that track for hours, imitating the voices of his favorites, Percy, Gordon, James, Harold, Sir Topham Hat and of course Thomas.

We lived in Poway, a suburb in San Diego County where there exists a quaint, old park with a gazebo for concerts and of all things, a small train. Old Poway Park is its name and I cannot tell you how many times we frequented that place and rode that train. It was our go to weekend visit and he would never get bored of going on those rides around that tree lined park on that little steam engine. The station, where we would purchase the tickets, conveniently sold the newest Thomas the Tank Engine trains and of course we would indulge our sweet little boy at each visit.

We owned a business that allowed me to take Mondays off to watch my son while my wife worked. One Monday, I took him to Oceanside where the Coaster train station was located. The Coaster is a commuter train that runs along the coast between Downtown San Diego and Oceanside.  It is a beautiful ride along the Pacific through towns like Encinitas and Del Mar. I bought tickets to take us the entire trip downtown where we would ride the Merry-Go-Round at Seaport Village and eat ice cream while watching the aircraft carriers being loaded across the bay.

He had never seen a real sized train before, so this was going to be a treat. I didn’t tell him, until we arrived, what our plans were. The look on his face when I told him we were going to ride a big train was a picture of priceless amazement.

I brought his backpack, where I stored his snacks and drink. He insisted on wearing it on the train. I paid the attendant for the tickets and we entered the station where at this time of the day, was sparse with people. I stood back from him, for just a second, to watch. I will forever have this scene framed in my mind of this empty train platform where stood alone, this little boy wearing shorts, blinking sneakers, striped t-shirt, and a blue Thomas the Tank Engine backpack, patiently waiting for a train to arrive. It was his entire life right there in all of its innocence. Grades were not a concern to him nor were student loans or his next double shift at work. His heart had not been broken yet and he had not experienced loss. The inevitable dismantling of innocence was not scheduled to start with him, for some time. His only concern was that train and the unknown, yet wonderful, adventure it would take him on and the marvelous places he would see.

It’s funny, if you ask him today, he doesn’t recall that Monday where he rode a “big” train for the first time. I, however, will be able to describe it in all its wondrous detail, for the rest of my life.