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The Samurai's Heart by Walt Mussell

The Samurai's Heart

by Walt Mussell

Giveaway ends January 08, 2018.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

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Friday, February 29, 2008

11 Runs, 1 Hit, 1 Very Important Walk

When we lived in Oregon, I rarely got to see a complete Braves games during the week. The only exception was weekends and West Coast road trips…and then the game had to be on TBS. Often, during the week, I would come home from work, turn on the TV, and start watching a game from the 6th or 7th inning.

One day in June 1998, I came home at the end of the game. It was the 9th inning. Dennis “El Presidente” Martinez, pitching in the fifth spot in the rotation, was still on the mound. I saw him get the last out and then celebrate with his teammates, as he had just tied Juan Marichal for the most wins in Major League Baseball by a Latin American pitcher. TBS then flashed the score on the screen. The first thing I noticed: Martinez had pitched a shutout. Great for him! Great for Atlanta! However, the next item astonished me: 13 HITS! How do you give up 13 hits and not allow any runs? I am convinced I will never again see a box score that strange at the major league level.

However, I know that I will continue to see strange box scores. On Monday, my older son’s 9-10 years old team, the Atlanta Braves, faced the NY Yankees in a practice game. I kept the scorebook. Final score: Braves 11, Yankees 2. The box score on Andrew’s team was 11 runs on one hit. The other team’s pitchers kept walking the players on my son’s team. Then by virtue of wild pitches, passed balls, errors, and the occasional fielder’s choice, the team racked up 11 runs in three innings (before the 90-minute time limit ran out).

The box score may be classic. Even more than the box score, though, the one thing I’ll remember is Andrew’s first time at bat. Like any parent, I want my kid to do well. However, my wife and I have concerns. Andrew’s challenges extend to athletics. (This is not necessarily a special-needs issue. He just takes after his Dad.) We don’t want the other kids to regard Andrew as a detriment to the team. Several times, my wife has asked if the other kids regard Andrew as being “different.” “No,” I say. “They only ask if it’s Andrew’s first year of baseball. When I say it is, they nod their heads and say, ‘he’ll learn.’”

To help him learn, I worked with him the best I can. One area we concentrated on was batting. I’m not good with technique. However, I wanted Andrew to understand the difference between balls and strikes. Playing in the backyard with a garbage can behind him to serve as the strike zone (also umpire and backstop), I pitched to him often to make sure he swings only at good pitches. “Hits are good,” I said, “but it’s more important to get on base. For that, a walk is as good as a hit.” As we progressed, there would be times I pitched to him and he laughed, saying, “That was a ball, Daddy.” At a Braves game last year, he even questioned an umpire’s call. I explained to him that it didn’t matter if the ball was actually a ball or a strike. What mattered was if the umpire said it was a ball or strike. When he disagreed, I told him “the umpire is always right…sort of like Mommy.”

So, with Andrew taking his first time at bat, I knew a hit would be great. However, I also hoped for patience at the plate. He showed it. With the count 3-1, he held up his swing…ball four. Andrew took his base. He reached second on a wild pitch, got to third on a passed ball, and made it home on an error. He made a baserunning blunder between third and home, but it didn’t hurt him. Wearing a wide smile, he crossed the plate, and carried that smile into the dugout. I carried my smile all the way home.

Now if I could only get him not to argue with umpires.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

I've Been Tagged

By Tami Brothers
Here's the way it works if someone tags you:

1. Link back to the person who tagged you.
2. Post these rules on your blog.
3. Share six unimportant things about yourself.
4. Tag up to six random people at the end of your blog entry.
5. Let the tagged people know by leaving a comment on their blogs.
Okay, let's see... Six unimportant things about me:

1. I majored in physics in college.
2. One of my high school girlfriends appeared in Playboy.
3. I listen to Christmas music year-round.
4. I once received a nearly century old dime as change from Starbuck’s.
5. I’m a Trekkie.
6. I’m the 2nd oldest of 17 grandchildren on my Dad’s side.

These are just a few unimportant (i.e. boring) things about me. I’m sure it will change as soon as my wife sees the posting. Now I’m tagging . . . Anna Adams. Anna has a wonderful blog about the challenges of writing (as well as 17 published novels). I am also setting up a link to Devon Gray, who was already tagged by Tami Brothers, the one who tagged me, and who’s blog I read often. Check out their blogs via the sidebar!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Needs Improvement

It was a little after 4:00 when my desk phone rang. I picked up the phone.
“Hello, Walt Mussell.”
“Andrew got his report card,” my wife responded.
“How’d he do?”
“He got mostly A’s and B’s”
“Mostly?” I asked.
“Yes. One of his grades was Needs Improvement.”
“What was that in?”
“Art.”

I thought for a second…Art? Are you kidding me? Mo continued
“I’m surprised by this. I haven’t seen any reports from the teacher.”
“Well should we contact him or her?” I asked.
“I already sent an e-mail, requesting information.

Andrew’s teacher responded a day later. Mo let me know after I arrived home from work.
“So what did the teacher say?” I asked.
“Andrew got a Needs Improvement because of his behavior. The teacher put him in time out twice, which required a letter grade deduction.”
“Time out?”
“Yes, time out.”
“Andrew’s art teacher puts fourth graders in time out.”
“Yes,” my wife confirmed

We discussed it further and concluded it made no sense. Andrew loves art. Why would he be acting up? However, we had other concerns, too. One of the issues our son has relates to his social skills. His speech delay affects not only the way he talks, but also the way he processes what he’s hearing. This affects his read of social cues. He doesn’t notice things anywhere near like his peers do. Our kindergarten age son, Christopher, can follow a movie better than Andrew can. In social settings, Andrew interrupts often and blurts out things that have no bearing on the conversation. We were concerned that Andrew was misbehaving, due to not being able to follow things. We knew we had to investigate further. My wife e-mailed the teacher to set up a meeting. It was arranged for the following week.

####

My wife called me at the office, a few minutes after she finished the conference with the teacher.
“What happened at the meeting?” I asked.
“It went well,” my wife said. “He explained the classroom procedures. Art is a little unstructured, but students are reprimanded several times in classroom setting before being sent to time out. Andrew had been warned repeatedly and the teacher felt he had no choice. Because it happened twice in a nine-week period, he had lost a letter grade.”
“That sucks.”
“Yes, it does. Also, it was at the end of the nine-week period. A few more days and it would have been the first time in the new grading cycle. He would have gotten a B.”

I thought for a second. “Well, we’ll have to discuss it with Andrew,” I said. “That’s so unlike him. He’s usually well-behaved.”
“I know,” my wife responded, “but the story’s not like we thought. Andrew isn’t the only kid in class that does this.”
“What do you mean?”
“Apparently, a lot of kids get put in time out in this class. The nature of classroom makes it different from the other classes.”
“So, he’s acting like the other kids?” I asked.
“Yes.”
“That’s good.”

That situation resolved for now, I asked my wife one more question: “So what do you think of the teacher?”
“He’s very nice and was happy to see me.”
“Really, why?”
“Apparently he gave out a lot of Needs Improvement last term.”
“Why would that make him happy to see you?”
“We’re the only parents that contacted him about it.”

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Yes, I Saw It

I saw the score: Tennessee 89, Auburn 70. Tennessee took a huge lead in the first half, a half which saw Auburn out rebound the #2 team in the nation, but shoot just over 20% from the floor. No one wins a game shooting that poorly. Auburn was able to cut into the lead in the 2nd half, but never got closer than 11.

War Eagle anyway!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Auburn – Florida becomes Auburn - Tennessee

A week and half ago, I was driving home from my niece’s 3rd birthday party. I turned on my satellite radio: Auburn was playing Mississippi State. It was the 2nd half and AU was trailing by 10. As the game progressed, Auburn’s deficit grew to 20. It was hard to listen to. I turned it over to the Fox News Channel. Hillary Clinton was speaking, giving her vision for America. I turned it back to the game. It turned my stomach less.

The team took a week off and traveled out to Oxford to meet Ole Miss. Ole Miss was the last conference team Auburn had defeated. At the time, Ole Miss was ranked #18 and had one loss. Auburn upset the Rebels, but went on a losing streak after that. The trip to Oxford ended the streak and Auburn chalked up another W.

Tonight, the boys are up against #2 Tennessee. No one expects Auburn to win this thing. The game is in Knoxville, where Auburn tends to average double-digit defeats. However, Tennessee may have something else on their mind. This weekend, UT faces Memphis in a match-up of #1 vs. #2.

To me the game is somewhat reminiscent of football season; Auburn went into Gainesville with no one giving them a chance. However, Florida was looking ahead to a match-up against LSU the following week. AS you may remember, Auburn beat Florida on a last second field goal.

So, maybe it’s just dreaming, but I am optimistic about this evening.

And if you need a little bit of inspiration, a link to the replay of the field goal over Florida is below.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=nqiHnweXYsI

War Eagle!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Undercover Penguin

My wife is not into Valentine’s Day. She wonders why a special day is needed and prefers not to celebrate. I like the holiday and use to spend time trying to think of romantic things to do, but whatever I did ended up looking goofy. I once created a trail of chocolate kisses in the house that ended in big heart. My wife was not impressed. I tried the traditional flowers idea. They’re nice, but well….

These days, I just get a card. Usually, I select something long before the big day. This year, though, I was delinquent. So, last night, I found myself at Kroger with the hordes of other delinquent males, picking from what was left of the V-Day cards. It was a little after 7:00 p.m. I had just dropped Andrew off at his Cub Scout meeting and had gone out instead of returning home under the pre-text of needing to refill the gas tank.

The first card I noticed was one of two penguins, resting comfortably in bed under a thick comforter. It says, “This Valentine’s Day, I’m going to give you something you’ve always wanted.” Open the card and you see the words, “The covers.” The picture inside shows one penguin snuggled in the blanket, while the other one has no covers and is freezing. This card is a perennial. I see it every year and it reminds me of my wife. She is perpetually cold. If I take an early a.m. trip to the bathroom, I come back to find that the covers have disappeared from my side of the bed.

Every time I see the penguin card, it makes me laugh. I gave it to Mo four years ago. I don’t remember what gift I gave her, but I’ll never forget her opening that card.

“Do you like it?” I asked.
“Yes, I like it,” she said. She then smiled, “I also liked it last year when you gave it to me.”
“I gave it to you last year?”
“Yes…and two years prior to that.”

Since that time, I can’t help but notice that penguin card every Valentine’s Day. I sometimes want to buy it again as a joke, but never do out of concern she will think I actually forgot again. Instead, I found another card, went and picked up Andrew, and headed home.

When I returned home, the house smelled of baked goods. Mo had been busy, baking Valentine’s Day cookies for the boys’ classes. A pile of less than perfectly shaped cookies was available for me to taste test. She had already spent the afternoon helping the boys address cards for their classmates and had helped Christopher prepare a special Valentine’s Day present for his girlfriend, Lily. I greedily ate the cookies and got the boys ready for bed.

As of this writing, I’ve yet to give Mo the card. We have a Valentine’s Day lunch planned, just the two of us, as well as extra nice dinner. I’ll give it to her eventually. Unfortunately, I realized, it looks familiar, like another card that comes out every year. I hope that it’s not one I’ve given her before.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Dust In My Laptop

For certain friends of ours, the four most exciting words in the English language are “Gentleman, start your engines.” At this place, my boys and I prefer another four words: “pitchers and catchers report.”

The Atlanta Braves pitchers and catchers are due to report to spring training next week. The equipment trucks are already en route to Florida in preparation. The rest of the team should follow soon after that. However, the Braves are reporting in this house beginning this weekend. Both my boys will be playing spring ball this season, Andrew in minor league, Christopher in t-ball. In both boys’ cases, the name of their team is the Atlanta Braves. Both have practices this Saturday.

For Christopher, it will be his second season. His team finished in the middle of the pack last spring and was ousted in the first two games of the playoffs. He is improved over last year and hopes to be able to hit the ball better. For Andrew, even though he is older than Christopher, it is first season. Last year, he wanted to play spring basketball, but we missed the sign up deadline. This left him unable to play basketball and we were too late to sign him up for baseball. He watched his brother’s games and ran the electronic scoreboard while I was the official scorekeeper for the team. This year, we got both of them signed up in time, meaning I will probably be scorekeeper for both teams this year.

I love watching my kids play sports and I hope they enjoy themselves, though I am nervous for Andrew as this is his first year. We’ve been working on throwing and catching, trying to get improve his techniques. We’ve also been working on pop flies, but he’s not yet good at catching them. I’ve been told that many kids have trouble with pop flies, but, given Andrew’s challenges, I don’t know if the trouble stems from his difficulties or just because he’s ten. (My wife says that his biggest problem is having a Dad that isn’t athletically inclined, which could also be the reason.)

I do know one thing. Both kids will improve. With the first practice game less than three weeks away, Andrew’s coach has scheduled four 90-minute practices per week. I think Christopher has two per week of the same duration, meaning that I will be at the ballpark a lot.

If I really consider writing as a hobby, then I will definitely have the time. Hopefully, I can keep the dust out of my laptop.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Thoughts on National Championships

Just got back from vacation. My wife and I spent a few days at Mobile's Mardi Gras. (Yes, Mobile, not New Orleans. More on that in the future.) It was a blast. My wife and I went without the kids and will definitely return. I did not have my computer with me, so no chance to post.

On Sunday evening, I did watch the Giants beat the Patriots 17-14. It was great game, though many of the commercials were pretty bad for a change. As the Giants hoisted the trophy, I did have one thought.

Championships are decided on the field. The underdogs can win and denying them even a chance makes it mythical. Yes, this is a reference to Auburn not even having an opportunity to play for the title in 2004. The naysayers still say Auburn wouldn't have had a chance, though at least one, Pete Fiutak, has commented that Auburn would have lost a seven games series to USC 4-2. The Giants had less of a chance against the Patriots and many are the carcasses of former unbeatable champoions that came up short when it all mattered.

On a related note, national letter of intent was yesterday. Alabama is the consensus choice as having the best recruiting class. Many Alabama fans will cite this as proof that Bama is back and is now dominating the state.

My response?

Championships are decided on the field.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Oops (They) Did It Again

Parent: Wise Austin, a parenting magazine in Austin, Texas, has been kind enough to publish me again. My essay is titled The Kindergarten Casanova and is on page 38 of the magazine. Please drop in, check it out, and let me know what you think. Thanks.