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Perfection not Required to Make Mom's Day (But it Doesn't Hurt!)

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I don't think I have to remind anyone here of the magical things that transpired one year ago on Mother's Day, when Dallas Braden achieved perfection on the field and an outpour of affection off of it, as the image of Dallas and his grandmother wrapped in an emotional embrace left few eyes dry across Athletics Nation.

It was the mother of all Mother's Day gifts, a stirring tribute to the maternal parent that had left Braden too soon, and to the woman who raised him.

Well, I am here to tell you- and it may come as a shock- but I am no Dallas Braden.  Heck, the only things we have common is that our first names begin with the same letter, we both have at least eight toes, and we have an affinity for Drumsticks.  That last one might be only true of me.

It's not that I have never made my mother proud; I'll never forget when my newly published books arrived on her birthday.  And to track her down that morning at the Laundromat to present her with the very first copy was pretty damn cool.  But this story isn't about my mom.  I will honor her in my own way today.

This is a story dedicated to the mothers of tomorrow's Dallas Bradens.  And while it may be a million-to-one shot that any of these kids will have the opportunity to play their sport professionally, let alone etch their name in the record books on Mother's Day or any other day, they do their moms proud just the same.

And hopefully, by seeing their children's names "in lights" today, they might have a small glimpse into the life of Peggy Lindsey.

One of my favorite things about Athletics Nation is that it has afforded us the opportunity to speak freely about our personal lives, whether it's the loss of a loved one, an ailing pet, or when wedding bells ring.  Some of these things are connected to our baseball team, and some of them have nothing to do with sports at all.  I realize these stories aren't for everyone, and that's ok. 

So if you were counting on seeing some A's news before this morning's first pitch, I am sorry to disappoint you.  But if you'd like your heart warmed - and come on, who doesn't? - read on, and enjoy. 

Amid a very demanding work schedule, I find it nearly impossible to get out to see my nephews and nieces play their respective sports.  The schedules come out, I save them in my in-box, and I end up making it to their last games, if at all.  I have gotten a little better at it this year, escaping the office for a couple of hours on Saturday morning to watch my godson and nephew on the diamond.

But I was still missing out on watching my niece and two other nephews, and their seasons were rapidly coming to a close.  I knew attending a weeknight contest was out of the question, so I decided the only way to make this happen was to choose one Saturday and watch them all play on the same day.  Now I just needed some assistance from the schedule makers. 

And yesterday I got it.  Four games in six hours- the first at 9am, the last at 3pm- placed conveniently two hours apart.  Here is the behind-the-scenes coverage from each game, starting with the last one, and working my way backwards.  I wish to thank my brother-in-law Michael Nemeth for his wonderful photos, and for his general awesomeness.

***

After my niece Vanessa was born in May 2002, we experienced somewhat of a baby drought in our family, a rare occurrence indeed.  But it all came to a halt in the form of three nephews born to us in a six-week span at the end of 2004 and the beginning of the following year.

Two of them- Ethan and Nathaniel- now age 6, are classmates and T-ball teammates.  Ethan's parents Christina and Greg were my A's season ticket partners from 2004 to 2007, and they often brought the little one along.  Fans sitting next to us were always amazed at Ethan's ability to clap at the right times, and how he was able to sit through- and actually watch- entire games.

And now I look at him, and I swear sometimes he can pass for a 12-year old.  I arrived at their game a few minutes late, and Ethan was behind the plate (yes, even for T-ball, there is still a need for a catcher.)    I positioned myself behind the backstop to let him know I was there, and I think it freaked him out for a second because he kept forgetting to cover the plate in bases-loaded situations, where the throw was most definitely coming home.  Good thing they don't keep score at this age.  All kidding aside, Ethan made up for it in the last inning when he was moved to first base.  He fielded two grounders cleanly and beat the runner to the bag both times.  I am also pretty sure that one of the girls on his team has a massive crush on him.

Ethan Eyes a Double

Ethan eyes first base as the opposing outfield is inexplicably in No-Doubles formation.

Nathaniel is the (barely) youngest of the trio, and has faced many obstacles from Day One.  Born with cataracts and glaucoma, Nathaniel is legally blind.  By the time he hits middle school he will likely undergo eye lens transplant surgery.  He certainly doesn't have any issues seeing the ball, and he got off two solid hits from the tee on Saturday.  Most kids can't wait to take their hacks at the plate, but Nathaniel patiently and methodically lines up the bat to the ball before swinging away.

To interact with my nephew you wouldn't know that he is at a disadvantage from other kids his age.  Nathaniel is a loving child, and possesses a genuine zest for everything he does, whether it's baseball or playing guitar to Johnny Cash songs.  And AN ladies would be thrilled to know that the autograph upon his Cardinals cap is none other than Gio Gonzalez, whom the boys met a few weeks ago at Little League Day.

Nathaniel

"Baseball Ready": Nathaniel pounds his mitt to prepare himself for the next play.

***

Xavier, like Ethan and Nathaniel, is six years old, and already demonstrates a feel for the game.  While other kids are daydreaming on the diamond, Xavier evaluates each situation.  His favorite player is Daric Barton, so it's fitting that he plays first base for his team, the Angels.  (Don't boo, or I will ban you from this site.  Well, not really, but I'll be really, really mad at you.)

I arrived just as Xavier stepped to the plate for the first of two at-bats.  In this particular league, the hitters face live pitching, or at least most of the teams do.  Xavier, as he often does, hit the ball hard both times to impress the crowd on this blustery afternoon.  Unfortunately I was stuffing my face at the snack bar and missed his defensive gem when he dove to tag- and nearly knocked over- an opposing player at the plate.  The kid takes the game seriously, I tell you.

Xavier

Xavier peers into a bright future as a first-baseman for his beloved Oakland A's.

His younger brother Isaiah, not so much.  He usually only plays when one or both of his godparents (me and my sister Tricia) are in attendance, so I was shocked and saddened to see him out of uniform yesterday.  But when our little prima donna does feel like entertaining us, he doesn't disappoint. The left-handed Isaiah is very comfortable at the dish and almost always connects.  Perhaps the game comes too easy to him that it simply bores him.  Whatever the case, Isaiah seems to recognize that his older brother has that special something inside of him; on the back of his baseball card, he answers the question of favorite professional player with "Xavier".

I can go on all day about the wonders and imagination of my godson Isaiah, but 1) I don't want to be accused of being biased, and 2) I don't have all day, so let's move on.

Isaiah at the Bat

So amazing is Isaiah that even on days off, he still manages to make an appearance.

***

My relationship with my recently-turned-nine-year-old niece Vanessa is strictly of the love-hate variety.  That is, she loves to hate me.  It is a rare day indeed if I can make it two minutes at her house without getting punched or kicked.  I tease her parents that when Vanessa gets to high school, no boy will ask her to prom.  She'll just choose one.  "Hey you!  You're taking me to prom!"  And then the boy, likely in a headlock, will oblige.

When she first saw me approach the diamond yesterday, she turned to her father and said, "What is that doing here?"  Yes, I've been reduced to an object.  When I said hi to her, she stuck her tongue out at me.  Later when she was warming up with my brother Abel, she wouldn't let me watch, finally "convincing" me to leave by heaving a softball into my side.  And so it goes.

Vanessa

Vanessa goes into her wind-up before firing a strike past a beleaguered batter.

Vanessa seemed to be nervous by the many family members in attendance, or maybe I got into her head before her first at-bat, when I bellowed out "try not to suck!"  (Later I told Abel that he could forward the calls that he was sure to get from angry parents to me.)  Still, she played well overall, scoring the game's first run, and pitching a decent last inning, despite getting squeezed by an obviously tired home-plate umpire. To my untrained eye, Vanessa certainly has the body, the mindset, the skills, and the work ethic to make some noise in this game for years to come.

And if I'm lucky, maybe she'll grant me an interview someday.  For some reason I'm picturing Clarise Starling in her first talks with Doctor Lecter.  I'm kidding, but only because she might be reading this.  But seriously, under that tough exterior lies a little angel, and every once in a while we get a glimpse of that.  And it's a beautiful thing.

***

The first game I went to was neither baseball/softball nor for a blood-related child.  I started my quest at 9am yesterday at the soccer fields in my hometown of Union City to watch my son's sister Maya in action.

I imagine that Mother's Day holds special importance for the eight-year old, since losing her father to a work accident nearly three years ago.  The thought of me befriending my ex-wife's daughter might seem strange to some of you, but it is certainly not to Maya.  She has always felt at ease with me, to the point where she has gone alone with me to family occasions a couple of times.  She has even "let" me take her shopping, which is her true passion. 

But Maya also knows a thing or two about what to do with a soccer ball and yesterday- despite the 0-0 tie- was no exception.  She was easily the quickest player on the field, and often drew most of the opposing team's attention.

Maya on the Field

Maya drives toward the net as a bevy of purple-clad defenders converge.

Attention.  With the impossible-to-fill void in her life, Maya- as many kids do- often goes to great lengths to draw attention.  And oh how she adores her Mommy and older brother, even though he drives her crazy most times ("he didn't even get my mom anything for her birthday!")

***

The kids will be far away from the diamond and soccer field today, so the chances of any of them doing something Bradenesque are somewhat slim.  Yet for their mothers Carol, Christina, Jodie, Rocio, and Theresa, I have a feeling their Mother's Day will be plenty perfect nonetheless.

Rocio-Maya

Rocio and Maya share their own Braden moment.