Softball

Thursday was a weird evening for me in several ways.

First, I was staying the night at my mom’s house. Thanks to everyone who prayed for her hip replacement surgery Tuesday. After a rough first night she rebounded fantastically on Wednesday and was able to go home Thursday. She’s already getting around as well as she was before the procedure and I’m very hopeful that this will greatly increase her quality of life. But I didn’t want her staying home alone on that first night.

Which leads to Weird Thing #2. Mom went to bed early as usual and I had a kid-free evening of relaxation, but with no DVR on the TV. I don’t watch anything live on TV. Even sports, which is the one thing everyone watches live. I still DVR it, wait until the kids go to bed and then fire it up in peace and zip through the games quickly. I can watch a Cubs or Thunder game in about 45 minutes and a football game quicker than that. If it means I have to stay off my phone for a few hours in the evening to avoid spoilers then I consider that an added bonus. So I’m just chilling on her couch, flipping between the NBA Finals and the Women’s College World Series.

Which leads to Weird Thing #3. I watched a lot more of the softball game than I expected to. I’d still say the TV was on the basketball game more than 50% of the time, but it was close.

It was a great back-and-forth game, with OU beating Alabama 3-2. The next night while playing poker I watched the winner’s bracket game between OU and OSU. It’s pretty cool that both schools made it and the atmosphere at Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City seemed really electric. The top-ranked Sooners pulled away late for a 6-1 victory.

Why is it that I enjoyed watching softball two nights in a row when I never watch women’s basketball? Why did I watch more softball the past two nights than I’ve watched college baseball over the past two years? I think it comes down to the product. Women’s basketball is (in my opinion) an inferior product to men’s college basketball, which itself has become barely watchable ever since we got an NBA team. But they are essentially the same game. College baseball is an inferior product to minor league baseball, which is an inferior product to Major League Baseball. But they are essentially the same game. Softball is a different sport entirely, and the differences are what make it fun.

Start with the underhanded pitching motion. For one thing, it allows pitchers to throw multiple games in a row, as opposed to major league games where starters get pulled after four innings and it takes 6 guys to complete a game. It also allows for some different spin and manipulation of the ball. It doesn’t take long to figure out how hard it is to make solid contact off of these elite softball pitchers.

Softball games are full of chants and songs that don’t really make sense to an outsider like myself but they make for a festive environment. The whole field and base paths are smaller and shorter than a traditional baseball diamond, which makes the whole game move quicker. The shortstop doesn’t have time to play patty cake with the ball before throwing to first; any hesitation will cost her the out. My great friend and former OU softball beat reporter Josh Ward compares it to Arena League football, and it’s a perfect comparison. The quirks are what make it fun to watch. Yet it’s still very similar to baseball, and the players can easily display their athleticism in the field and on the basepaths.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt when your alma mater has the best program in the country. In 1995, OU hired the coach at Long Beach City College. All Patty Gasso has done since then is win 78% of her games and four national titles. And this year’s squad may be her best yet. OU is 54-4 and didn’t lose a game in Big 12 Conference play. Statistically, this would be their best team ever if they can win three more games and capture another title.

Patty Gasso

I came to OU three years after Gasso did, and in 2000 I was the sports editor of the school paper. The aforementioned Josh Ward covered the softball team, which looked like it might be a special one.

If you know Josh, you know he can be a tough critic (especially the Y2k version of Dub). But he never had a negative word to say about Gasso or the way she ran her program. He said she was great to work with and always “had her shit together.” Not that anyone could have predicted this level of success, but Josh says he never had a doubt that OU would be a big winner under Gasso.

One of the coolest experiences I ever had at OU came on the softball field while I was sports editor. Gasso let me, Josh, and our sports photographer Paul Dryden take batting practice against OU’s pitchers that spring. It was really a testament to both Josh and Coach Gasso. Most reporters wouldn’t have developed the kind of relationship with the team to make that a possibility, and most coaches wouldn’t be cool enough to go along with it.

I remember going to the old (and now defunct) Perfect Swing off Highway 9 to get some practice cuts in. I didn’t plan on hitting a home run but I was darn sure going to get the bat on the ball. OU’s pitchers that year were Jennifer Stewart and Lana Moran. Stewart was the ace and she had a changeup that made Josh and Paul look silly. Like any good pitcher she threw it with the same motion as her fastball and you only had about half a millisecond to react to that if you wanted to hit it, so when she threw the change you looked like Bugs Bunny swinging three times at the same pitch and striking out. I don’t know how anyone hits that pitch unless they just guess right that it’s coming.

Gasso only allowed us 5 or 10 pitches each. Neither Josh nor Paul made contact with any of Stewart’s pitches and the entire team was sitting on the outfield grass laughing up a storm and talking trash. So the pressure was on yours truly. Luckily I didn’t have to face Stewart. Moran was also a good pitcher but she didn’t have that nasty changeup and I was able to send her first pitch over the fence and into the parking lot, where it shattered Gasso’s car window. OK maybe that’s not quite how it happened. Actually, I just fouled it straight back, which was already a pretty big win for me. I also managed to hit one fair, although it would have been a routine ground out.

But it was a blast, and it made me appreciate how hard the sport is. As the sports editor of the paper, it stinks that the school year ends before the Women’s College World Series. Josh had some great coverage of the team during the season but by the time the WCWS rolled around it was summer and I had a regular job.

I’ll never forget the day OU won the national championship that year. It was Memorial Day and our family tradition at that time was to split into two groups. Mom took Andrew and Allison to her hometown of Enid to decorate the graves there, and I went with dad to the small town of Jones where his family was from. In the world before smartphones, I had no idea what was going on in the game against UCLA. As soon as we got home I turned on ESPN and the first batter I saw was the last batter of the game. It was really exciting to see this team we had been covering all year celebrating a national championship. The football championship wouldn’t come for another 7 months so this was the first time OU won anything during my tenure there.

Josh covered the WCWS and says he remembers some kind of special edition of the paper after it was over. It just stinks that the majority of the students wouldn’t have been on campus to read his great work and that I didn’t get to be part of the coverage or design of that paper. He said he gathered his notes and mementos from that WCWS and later gave them to Gasso, although he doesn’t know if she kept them or what she did with them. She’s won three championships since then (with a fourth hopefully on the way in the next week), but that first one is always special.

I was never the beat reporter for the softball team; I covered the baseball team. I covered several high school state tournament games at the Constitution but only one OU game. It was a Bedlam game in Norman, and I wasn’t actually sent to write about the game itself.

I was there to do a feature on Courtney Totte, who was a catcher for Oklahoma State. She was a great player and as far as I can remember she was the only Lawton kid during my time there to go on to play for OU or OSU. The stadium was packed and the crowd was really into it. I remember the weather being absolutely perfect that night, the game moved along at a good pace and OU won (sorry Courtney). Afterward I got a good interview which turned into a pretty good story, if I do say so myself. I remember it being one of those nights that make sportswriting the best job in the world. (The nights when the game takes four hours, the coaches are grumpy and the computer quits working, not so much).

This summer my daughter Addison is playing softball for the first time. We watched some of OSU’s win over Florida the other night together. We’ve gone to the park a few times to practice, just her and I, and it’s those kind of moments that you live for as a parent. She’s got some natural talent but she’s also good at volleyball, basketball, and a lot of non-sports stuff like music, acting, cooking and science so it will be interesting to see what piques her interest the most in the upcoming years.

I’m not pushing her toward softball by any means, but I’ll enjoy whatever time we end up getting on the diamond. And I’ll be watching the Women’s College World Series, at least as long as Gasso and the Sooners are in it.

Boomer.

News and notes

Another school year is almost in the books. It’s crazy how fast time flies now. I remember when I was growing up, wanting to be done with high school, and how the school year seemed to last forever. Now I find myself constantly unsure of what month it is. And it’s not like I’m just lagging behind a little bit. Sometimes I think it might be November when it’s April or vice versa.

As we head into the summer I thought it appropriate to give a little update on everyone in the Franklin clan.

Of course yesterday was Mother’s Day so we ought to start with the queen bee (and no, that bee is NOT short for another word). Missy has been kicking some butt lately (even more than usual).

This semester she taught her usual class at OU and did her usual once-per-week overnight shift in the labor unit. But she also picked up another part-time gig at the hospital that lasted a month or so which mostly involved her being on call. We realized that doing all three at the same time was probably a bit too much but this poker habit I picked up won’t pay for itself so she’s just going to have to deal with it.

Besides all that, she’s also coached Addison’s volleyball team and done a masterful job in our garden.

Missy did all of this basically by herself. That’s our strawberry patch on the bottom right.

Now that the semester is over, so are two of her three jobs, at least for the next month. So we celebrated all of that and Mother’s Day at Missy’s favorite restaurant in the whole world, a hibachi place in Lawton called Kudo’s. Some of our favorite people, the Goodmans, were able to join us and it was a great dinner.

Speaking of moms, my wonderful mom has been in a lot of pain lately and is having hip replacement surgery at the end of this month. Some of my favorite memories with mom involve going for walks in the neighborhood, and those just aren’t possible right now with the amount of pain she’s in. Her feisty dog Harry B told me he also hopes to get mom back into walking condition. Her knee replacements about 15 years ago did wonders, so here’s hoping the hip surgery is as effective. Our whole family would appreciate prayers that everything goes smoothly.

Today Addie has two end of year parties, one for drama club and one for volleyball. She did an amazing job in her drama performance last Friday and the volleyball team won their final game of the season the next day. This summer she’ll try fast-pitch softball for the first time. I think she has a natural talent for it and with no school I figure I can make her practice about 90 hours per week until she gets offered a college scholarship in July.

Maddux is finishing pre-K and is ready to go school all day this fall. He’s come a long way with his vocabulary and knowledge of numbers and the alphabet. Last night he told us two knock-knock jokes he came up with.

Knock knock.

Who’s there?

Zero.

Zero who?

Zero. Like nobody is there!

Then he tricked me on the second one, since I was expecting the same punch line as the first one.

Knock knock.

Who’s there?

None.

None who?

None of your business.

Myra is graduating from kindergarten. Her favorite thing this year was learning about chickens and then watching as the seven eggs her class got hatched. Myra even got to name one of the chickens, Rainbow. (Last night Joey asked if she named it Fried).

Hawk has been super cute of late. He’s intellectually ready for school but will have to wait two years before he’s old enough for pre-K. His vocabulary and deductive reasoning are really impressive, he just needs to work on communicating his emotions a little better (probably true for every 3-year-old). The other day Missy asked him what he was eating. He said, “I’m eating the grilled cheese sandwich. You can have the boy cheese sandwich.”

As for me, I had a great time celebrating at Kudos last night and am really looking forward to Friday. That day I get to help Maddux and some other pre-K kids go through Super Kids day at school, where they compete in a kind of elementary school Olympics. Then we scored some cheap OKC Dodgers tickets through OU Medical so we’re going to that as a family.

Silver Dollar City

The very first family vacation I remember taking as a child was to Silver Dollar City in Branson, Mo. I was about 7 years old, and my only strong memory of it was getting my first baseball bat there. They had a shop where the bats were made from scratch and they would carve your name into it.

I had that bat for years; in fact it might still be in our garage somewhere. In high school Chad Anderson, Kevin Ash and I would go over to the little league baseball fields off 12th St. in Moore and play home run derby. Generally we’d use Chad’s aluminum bat as it generated more dingers but occasionally we’d use the wood bat with “Matt” carved into it.

That’s really my only memory of Silver Dollar City from my youth, but Missy has a stronger connection to the place. Growing up a little closer to Branson than I did, her family made frequent trips there. There’s not a spot in the whole park that Missy couldn’t tell you a story about — something that happened there, a different ride or attraction that used to be in that location, etc. So Missy really wanted SDC to be a part of our family, and it truly is a great place for the whole family to make some lasting memories.

We’ve gone many times over the years but for 2019, since we don’t have a big summer family trip planned, we decided to get a season pass. Every couple of months SDC has different themes which include new shows or attractions, so Missy tentatively planned four separate trips to the park, the first of which was last weekend.

It’s a solid five-hour drive, and we made it up there with only one stop (the Missouri welcome center at the border has clean bathrooms and a playground for the kids to let some energy out). For this trip we decided to stay at the Silver Dollar City cabins, which were really perfect for our family. The cabin was small but it had everything we needed, and it was only about a mile away from the park. There was a loft with three beds, with another bed downstairs. We had a gas grill outside and a small kitchen with a fridge and a microwave. We arrived Thursday evening and grilled up hot dogs and smores while soaking in the perfect weather and beautiful Ozark mountain scenery.

Our plan was to put the kids to bed upstairs in the loft while Missy and I did some Netflix and chill downstairs. But naturally the kids were being stinkpots and refusing to go to sleep or even be relatively quiet, so we scrapped the whole setup and moved both boys downstairs with me while Missy moved into the loft with the girls.

The park itself is only open for eight hours a day, and that goes by super quick when you have as much on your to-do list as we did. On Friday we had perfect weather again. In the morning we rode a bunch of rides. Our kids’ personalities really came out when it came to what they wanted to ride.

Addison was an amazing big sister and was willing to accompany any of her siblings on just about anything they wanted. She chickened out of the super-mild roller coaster Fire in the Hole but otherwise was willing to go on just about anything.

Myra won the Most Brave award I gave out at the end of the day. There wasn’t anything she wasn’t excited to try out and she loved all of it. She was also a great big sister and helped out the boys.

Maddux and Hawk

Maddux loved the Dumbo ride, with elephants that fly in circles. A button allows you to control how close to the ground the elephants go. But Maddux, true to his form as our shy kid, wasn’t much into trying anything he wasn’t sure about.

On the other hand, Hawk wanted to try out everything he was big enough to ride. I took him on Fire in the Hole with me, and while it was a little scary for his liking he had a great attitude about it and it didn’t keep him from trying out other rides. His favorite was the Racing Regatta which went in a pretty fast circle.

We paused for lunch and visited the Foods of Wonder, which is one of their seasonal features this spring. Missy and I split some fancy nachos that included tri tip steak and an avocado cream sauce. Of course later in the afternoon we had to grab a bag of kettle corn, which SDC has always done extremely well. I’d characterize SDC’s food prices as “I’ve seen worse.” It’s cheaper than Disney World or a Major League Baseball game but with four kids you’re going to drop a decent amount of money even if you pack peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch like we did. I literally had $6 cash in my wallet at the end of this trip.

After lunch we changed into our swimwear and took advantage of the great weather to do all of the water attractions. The first thing we wanted to do was the lazy river but it was shut down for renovations. That was unfortunate but we were still able to do several other rides. I like the one where you can shoot water at people on the sidewalk or on other boats but they can also fire back at you. Myra’s favorite ride was the classic log ride. Missy took the girls on it and SDC screwed us out of $15 by taking such a perfect picture of them that we had to buy it.

Missy, Addie and Myra on the log ride

We stayed in the water section until the park closed and then headed back to the cabin. Everyone was so tired that we didn’t have the usual bedtime issues, we all just passed out.

On Saturday Chad’s family drove up from Clinton, Mo. to join us at the park. It was only about a two-hour drive for them and we were excited to spend the day with them. The only problem was a high chance of rain in the forecast. Somehow, it never rained a drop. Instead, we got attacked by the biggest pollen storm I’ve ever seen. The morning was really bad — everybody was coughing and sneezing. By the afternoon it had gotten a lot better. We all took the train ride around the park, the same one involving about 5000 corny jokes and a pair of fake train robbers holding up the train to tell more corny jokes. Chad said he remembered the same routine from when he visited as a child 30 years ago. But the kids love it and it’s a nice way to get off your feet for half an hour. We stayed until the park closed and then stayed an hour later than that for the nightly show they put on in Echo Hollow. Although it’s usually pretty good, none of us were overly impressed with this edition.

Myra and Addison riding in front of Everly and Aften

It’s something of a Sunday tradition of ours to stop at Lambert’s just outside of Springfield for lunch on our way home and we talked the Andersons into joining us. Chad had never been before and described it as “Cracker Barrel on crack” which is pretty accurate. They just keep giving you food. It does taste good though, and when you’re on vacation you can eat whatever you want.

Lambert’s Cafe

The drive home was as smooth as the one out there (thanks, Honda Odyssey movie player) and it was a great experience for our family. Looking forward to a few more long weekends like that one throughout 2019.

Volleyball

I’ve been lucky enough to be able to coach my kids in several different sports. Missy and I want our kids to try out as many as possible but we aren’t pushing them toward any of them. We just think it’s a good experience, good exercise, good to learn rules, sportsmanship, make friends, etc.

In addition to doing dance, art, drama and music at different times, Addison has played T-ball, soccer, basketball and volleyball. I’ve coached all of those sports except volleyball, which I know next to nothing about (incidentally, that equals my knowledge of soccer). That’s not a problem because Missy was a great volleyball player in high school and is a much better coach/communicator than I am anyway. So Missy is the coach of Addie’s YMCA volleyball team.

Except for when she’s out of town. Then I have to take over.

That’s what happened last weekend. Of course, that was also the one Saturday all season when they scheduled a doubleheader. Thankfully, Missy had already set up the rotation so there wasn’t too much work to do. Or so I hoped.

The name of this team is The Striking Asteroids Pink Cheetah Lightning Whose Name Shall Not Be Named. I’m not joking, that’s the name they came up with. Ten year old girls be crazy. Anyway, Missy has really done a great job with them, and Addie has shown that she has some natural talent in the sport. Several of the players had never played volleyball before, and Missy and Addie are both super encouraging. We’ve only played half the season but you can already tell a huge difference.

Missy’s parents and brother came to town, and her mom wanted to watch Addie’s games. It was raining cats and dogs on Saturday, so I dropped Addison and Karen off at the front door of the Y and parked the car. By the time I got inside (which was only a minute later) the game had started and the score was 5-2. What the heck?

My star volleyball player Addison and her amazing coach.

I looked at my watch, it was 10:55. The game was supposed to start at 11. The Striking Asteroids Pink Cheetah Lightning Whose Name Shall Not Be Named had exactly the minimum number of players so of course they weren’t lined up the way Missy had drawn it up.

Generally we have the same referee for every volleyball game. He knows the rules inside and out and is very encouraging to the players. But he wasn’t reffing this game. We had a high school kid who literally didn’t know the rules. If a ball was anywhere close to the line he would look at me or the other coach and ask if it was in or not.

Turns out, the other team’s coach had wanted to start early since they had played another game at 10 a.m. and already had all their players there. Had I been there I would have gotten them to wait until at least 11 so our substitutes had a few more minutes to show up. But this coach kind of railroaded the 16-year-old ref into starting the game early, and it was my fault for not being there early myself.

The reason the score was 5-2 already is that the referee didn’t know the scoring rules. You’re only supposed to get a point if your team is serving and they win the point. Awarding a point for every play regardless of who is serving is called “rally scoring.” It’s used as the scoring for tiebreakers, but the first two sets are supposed to be played using the regular scoring. When I pointed it out, the kid looked at me like I was speaking Portuguese and the other coach said, “We’ll just play this set out with rally scoring and then we’ll play two regular sets after that.”

So we did. And the teams were very even — with one exception. This is a coed volleyball league. Last year, Addie’s team had one boy on it, although he was one of the shortest people on the team, and not one of the better players. This year’s team is all girls. The team we played in the second game was all girls. The team we played first was all girls except for one dude. And this dude was serving overhanded lasers all over the court at will.

It was like Roger Federer jumping into a youth tennis tournament. Our girls were afraid of the ball and I really couldn’t blame them. Addie had the courage to get her arms on a few and they literally left red marks. Even when the girls tried to hit them back, they never went over the net because they’ve never practiced against anyone who could serve like that. The team called this guy the “Mr. Spiker.”

When anyone else was serving, the teams played evenly. Funny thing was, when our team hit it to this dude during the regular run of play, he wasn’t any better than anyone else at getting it back over. He just had the overhanded serve down pat. Hardly anyone at this age group can execute an overhand serve. In fact it’s very rare to see a serve make it to the second row of defenders, much less coming in at high velocity like this. Six points is the maximum allowed for each server and this kid got the full six every time he served.

So we lost both regular sets with scores of about 15-4, and 12 of those 15 came on aces when this kid was serving. Real fun game. I was just proud of Addie for making a full effort to get to all of his serves. The most frustrating point came when Addison actually got to one of these balls and hit it a mile into the air. It was 100% going to come down in bounds on the other side of the net but it hit one of the folded-up basketball goals hanging from the ceiling and came down on our side. I figured that would at least be a do-over but evidently the rule is that it’s a point for the other team. Oh well.

Before I talk about the second game, I want to give the YMCA some props. I really love how they organize and run their youth sports programs. Basically every sport below age 8 is played without keeping score, and coaches are supposed to give all the kids equal playing time. That’s how I coached and that’s how it should be at those ages. As the kids get older the games can become slowly more competitive, and that’s what the YMCA does.

Under age 8, it should be all about learning the rules and the basics of the game. There is no need to keep score; the parents are the only people who care about the results anyway. After that, it’s a good time to introduce scoring so kids can learn how to handle winning and losing appropriately, when they have a modicum of emotional ability to do so. But it’s still a very friendly and encouraging environment. In fact, although they keep score in Addie’s games, the standings on the website show all the teams with a 0-0 record.

The coach of our opponents in Game 2 took this to the extreme. She was wanting to let all the kids who hit crappy serves have a second chance. She let several of her girls serve from the front row. I actually didn’t have a problem with any of this because these were clearly players who hadn’t played volleyball before. But it seems like if you’re going to take that much liberty with the rules, you might as well not keep score.

Maybe it was just that I was frustrated by watching Mr. Spiker pound our heads in 20 minutes earlier, but the scoring aspect of this second game was starting to stress me out. The Striking Asteroids Pink Cheetah Lightning Whose Name Shall Not Be Named was clearly better than our opponents, but because the referee kept allowing all these do-overs and telling the scorekeeper not to count some points, the game was very close. Again, I would have been fine with just not keeping score but if you’re going to keep score why not keep it right? Then if we had extra time after the game we could scrimmage just for fun and practice.

As it was, the match was very close. In fact it went to the tiebreaking third set, and that was close too. But eventually The Striking Asteroids Pink Cheetah Lightning Whose Name Shall Not Be Named pulled out a 15-13 victory. It’s great for the girls, but more importantly I became the Vince Lombardi of YMCA volleyball and picked up the first of what will surely be one career victory. Thankfully our great (and hot) coach is back on the sidelines.

Card Games

When I was 14 years old, my birthday present was a subscription to Sports Illustrated. It was a big reason I pursued a career in sports journalism. A quarter-century later, I still have that subscription.

In the most recent issue, there is a photo montage of scenes from Major League Baseball’s Spring Training. One picture shows members of the Boston Red Sox playing a card game called “casino” in the clubhouse.

I was shocked. This was a game our family had played for years, but I’d never heard of single person outside of our family who had ever heard of it or played it. I thought there was a 50% chance my dad had just made it up.

It’s a great game for 2-4 players, and I’ve shown a few of my friends how to play over the years. (If you’re interested, check out the link I posted to the origins and rules of the game. I’ll include that for most of the games I discuss here).

Seeing that picture got me thinking about all of the different types of card games we played in the Franklin house growing up. I never played poker or gambled in any way while I lived at home. One time in college I remember having a poker night with my roommate and couple other buddies, but we were so broke that we were literally playing with pennies, nickles and dimes. I don’t think anyone won or lost more than $1. I didn’t risk more than $5 until I was 23 years old and working at the newspaper in Lawton.

There’s no doubt in my mind that learning and getting good at a dozen or so other card games while growing up laid the foundation for what I do now. Just like that Sports Illustrated subscription (and reading The Daily Oklahoman every day) launched my first career.

I decided to rank all the card games we played at least semi-regularly growing up. Keep in mind, we played board games, dice games, basically any kind of game you can think of. We played a ton of games, and I loved it. But for purposes of this post I’m only discussing the card games.

The Boston Red Sox play casino in the clubhouse

10. 10-point pitch (aka Partner Pitch) — I’m not gonna lie, I didn’t watch this whole video about the game, just enough to see that it was basically the same version we played. But it was my least favorite of the games we played because there was just a massive amount of luck involved. I think spades is the most overrated card game ever, but I’d rather play spades than 10-point pitch.

9. Kent — This is a perfect game to play if you have 8 or 10 people and want to do something fun. It requires no card skills at all and is a lot of fun. (In the version I found today online, it’s called Kemps, but we always called it Kent. Anyway, same game/concept). We would never play this game with just our family of five, but we would frequently have friends or the church youth group over to the house and this was a favorite. Not to brag, but I’m pretty sure Kevin Ash and I have the best record at Kent of anyone in the history of the universe.

8. Spades — It seems like everyone who only knows how to play one card game knows how to play spades. Personally I don’t think it’s that great a game, but I’ve probably spent more time playing it than any of these other games.

Here are my problems with the game of spades. First, everyone has slightly different rules so you spend 10 minutes negotiating them anytime you play with someone new. Does the high bidder lead first or left of the dealer or the deuce of clubs? Are we playing sandbags? Do you get to pass a card on a blind nil? Etc. Second, if you’re playing with halfway competent opponents it’s almost all luck. Adding sandbags into the mix raises the skill level but it feels communistic to not just want to win every single trick you can. Third, nil bids are worth too much. They should probably be worth about 72 points.

Moving on from that, spades are a great way to witness fights between siblings, spouses or friends. My sister Allison and her husband Matt love to play spades so we still play with them when they are in town. There’s nothing better than seeing the looks on their faces when they realize they’ve been set, followed by one of them saying, “Well, I got my bid.” Allison pays less attention to the game than anyone I’ve ever played with but she still knows she got her bid 90% of the time. If mom is playing, you can just mark her down for a 2 bid every time no matter what. Another staple of Franklin family spades games is that after every hand, 3 of the 4 players will get up from the table for various unspecified reasons, doubling the length of the game. (I love you all!)

At Westmoore High School, I was involved in many a game of spades with my fellow members of the Class of 1998. In Mrs. Liston’s algebra class, Matt Fallwell and I came up with the “Matt Theorem,” which stated that we would win every game of spades. We were pretty successful until Mrs. Liston confiscated my deck of cards for playing during class. She gave it back to me on the last day of school. In Mr. Chance’s class, Chris Myers and I dug our way out of a hopeless blind nil situation by sliding cards down the chalkboard rail to each other, behind our opponents’ heads.

7. Cribbage — This is the only game on the list that I didn’t play with my dad. My mom and her dad (my Papa) taught me cribbage, and it’s a pretty fun game to play if there’s only two of you. I’d still rank it just below the other two-handed games on this list.

6. Four-point pitch — This is a really fast game with quite a bit of luck but also some skill. If we were waiting for dinner or about to go to bed, either dad or I would just deal six cards and we’d play a quick game without even discussing it beforehand.

5. Gin rummy — This is the only card game Missy will play with me, unless you count Skip-Bo or Uno. My favorite aspect of our trip to Paris several years back involved gin. After a full day of sight seeing, we’d return to our airbnb and Missy would put Addie to sleep while I walked to different small businesses in the neighborhood and bought a baguette, wine and cheese. Then we’d eat, drink and play gin at a low enough volume not to wake up the baby.

After I moved away for college, I always enjoyed coming home and playing card games with dad. Mom might play a game or two but she always went to bed early and dad and I would play for another hour. Our rotation (in no particular order) was gin, four-point pitch and casino.

Because it’s a game that can be gambled on, I’ve played gin with several of my poker friends (though never for more than a few bucks). I can remember playing with Randy Clark, Noah Nodine and Jake Steele at different times, and I’m sure there are more I’m forgetting.

4. Moron — Surely this game goes by another name, but this is what my family always called it. I couldn’t find it anywhere online, so let me describe it and maybe someone can help me out with the name.

This is the best 5-handed game in the bunch, and we played it a lot growing up when all five of us were able to play. It’s a bidding and trick-taking game like spades, but there are no teams. It’s every man for himself. You start by dealing 10 cards to each player, then flipping up the next card which determines the trump suit. The player to the left of the dealer bids on how many tricks he thinks he will take, then everyone else bids. The catch is that when it gets back to the dealer, they must make a bid that doesn’t add all the bids up to 10. So if the players bid 3, 1, 2, and 3, the dealer can’t bid 1. And you have to get your bid exactly to get any points.

The next hand only 9 cards are dealt but the rules remain the same. Dealer can’t make a bid that adds the total up to 9, so somebody has to go set. If you make your bid you get 10 points, plus one for each trick you bid (a successful 3 bid nets 13 points). If you don’t make your bid you get 0. This continues until on the final hand only one card is dealt. This can be pretty annoying if you happen to be the dealer and the bids are 0, 0, 1, and 0 and you are forced to bid 1 holding a crappy card. But such is life. It’s a fun game.

3. Casino — Casino is a great 3-handed game, and I played it a lot with both mom and dad, or with dad and my brother Andrew. I also taught it to Kevin Ash and Chad Anderson and we’ve played it several times over the years. I remember playing it a lot during our 2002 college graduation baseball road trip to Kansas City, St. Louis, Milwaukee and Chicago even though I was sick with mono the whole time. It’s cool that the game is popular in the clubhouse of the defending world champs.

2. Hearts — Some of you probably haven’t played hearts since the year 2000, or whenever it was that hearts stopped becoming a feature of the home computer. (Remember the sound of breaking glass whenever hearts were broken or the sound it made when the queen of spades was dumped on someone?)

Anyway, I can’t even begin to add up how many hours of my employers’ time has been wasted by me playing hearts online. One summer in college, I got a full-time job at OU with the office of telecommunications. It was a complete joke. There was literally about one hour of work to be done, not just in a given day but over the course of the entire week. I found a site called Pogo where you could play different games online against real people, which was a lot more fun than those dumb computers. Hearts was my game of choice and I ran up a really good rating on there.

When I graduated and started working in Lawton, there were many slow nights when we had everything done but needed to wait for MLB or NBA games to finish so we could run the recaps and box scores to fill out the rest of the sports section. I would frequently play hearts or bridge (spoiler alert) on Pogo.

I think hearts is a great and underrated game and I wish I got to play it more. Really have hardly played at all in the 10 years since leaving the newspaper.

#1 Bridge — I’ll rank bridge ahead of any form of poker all day every day. It’s the best card game in the world.

I learned the game by watching my parents play against my grandparents. Mom would always get on to dad for bidding too aggressively, which he was definitely guilty of at times. But they were a good bridge team because his aggression canceled out her conservative nature. I usually sat with Papa and watched him play.

Bridge is the only card game on this list that I still play semi-regularly. I’ve gotten a ton better since I started but there’s still so much I can learn and so much room for improvement. I’ll do a full post about bridge at a later time, but for now I just want to thank Francine, Will and Bev for being great and supportive partners and for teaching me a lot. Those are really the only people I get to play with these days.

I’m sure I forgot about a card game or two that I once played regularly. Please comment and remind me of those! Also, I’d love to hear about some of your favorite card games. Missy’s family used to love to play rummy (not gin rummy; this kind can be played with up to six people) and some friends taught us canasta (shout out to the Hicks’!). I didn’t include them on this list because I didn’t play them growing up but those are both fun games too.

In 1960, Sports Illustrated put a bridge player on the cover. 59 years later casino made it into the magazine. I wonder which game from this list is next?

Maddux Musser Franklin


Don’t worry, this isn’t one of those “my kid did the cutest thing” or “I ate at this amazing new sushi place” blogs.

Matt Franklin, liar

At least you don’t have to read about sushi.

Look at the pic above and try not to be distracted by the sexy, ripped dad with amazing choice in professional football teams. Today (Jan. 9) is the other little guy’s birthday, and I’d like to celebrate him.

Maddux is just like me, the good and the bad. Our personalities and interests are almost exactly the same. Probably every dad says that, but in this case it’s really true. (Probably every dad says “in this case it’s really true,” too, but instead of going down that rabbit hole you’ll just have to take my word for it.)

Does that mean I have the personality of a 5-year old? Possibly, but that’s not the point of this post. Maddux loves reading more than anything. When he was a toddler, he used to go grab a book or two from the bookshelf and then walk backwards all the way back across the room with his buns sticking way up into the air until he got to your lap. Ain’t nobody got time for turning around. He’d just plop down and expect you to start reading.

Even now he’d prefer having a book read to him as opposed to watching a TV show. I don’t know how many 5-year-olds that’s true of, but it’s not many. Now that he’s in pre-K he knows all the letters of the alphabet and is starting to recognize some sight words, and he’s already getting impatient about being able to read on his own (another trait of mine, I get frustrated when I can’t do things I want to do or things I think I should be able to do).

When I was little, I’d go into my room by myself with a deck of cards and invent a game, playing it all afternoon even though I had two siblings I could have been playing with. I also spent hours looking at the backs of baseball cards and learning as much as I could about every player on every team. Maddux generally plays great with his three siblings, but oftentimes he prefers to just be alone, building towers or playing with Legos or Transformers. If he wakes up early, he’ll just stay in his room and play with his toys until we come and get him, no complaints.

Unfortunately he also seems to have inherited my anemic balance.

I’m telling you, Maddux face-plants like 5 times a day. And he has ever since he started walking. 99% of the time, he hops right back up and says, “I’m OK!” real loud and just goes on his way. I’m a grown adult, and I’m constantly stepping on the one random toy in my path or losing my balance for no reason. I just don’t run as fast or as often as he does.

On Sunday, I noticed Maddux had a big bruise on his right temple. Not quite a black eye but close to it. I was with him all day and didn’t know anything had happened. I asked him how he got it and he said he didn’t remember. Then Addison said he had tossed a Transformer or a Hot Wheel car up in the air and tried to catch it but it nailed him right in the head. And he didn’t even cry about it. I love that about him; dude is as tough as nails.

Then on Monday we go to Chuck E. Cheese to celebrate his birthday. He’s running around there at 100 mph, goes around a corner and nails a little girl coming the other direction. This one was hard enough to make him cry and he had some blood coming out of his mouth. Two minutes later he was ready to get back to the games. Tuesday was their first day back at school after winter break and my mom was worried they’d report Missy and I to DHS since he had a bruised eye and a puffy lip!

Like me, Maddux is outgoing around people he knows but shy in new situations and with new people. He still hangs on to my leg for dear life and refuses to poke his head out if we’re trying to get him to go someplace unfamiliar.

Maddux has an oversized conscience and a super-sensitive heart. He can give himself a black eye and not shed a tear but if he hurts one of his siblings the waterworks begin. When he does something he knows he shouldn’t have done, he just goes into a shell and starts crying.

He can get super-passionate if he feels he has been wronged. He’ll stick his index finger in the air and start rambling incoherently through tears to state his case. Very similar to me when I’m talking politics.

For awhile it didn’t seem like we’d ever get a Maddux. After Addison, we couldn’t seem to get pregnant again, then when we did Missy had a miscarriage. We knew we wanted to do foster care anyway so we went that route and got a 3-month old named Myra. A couple months later we got word that we’d have the opportunity to adopt her if we wanted to. The next day we found out we were pregnant. After a long labor and a few days in the hospital with some minor complications, we got to bring Maddux Musser Franklin home to join our fast-growing clan. I can’t believe how fast those five years have flown by.

In addition to being the name of my all-time favorite baseball pitcher, Maddux means “good fortune”, which seemed like an apt moniker considering our sudden baby luck and my line of work. (Musser is my mom’s maiden name.) I sure do feel fortunate to have this sweet, smart, shy, clumsy boy in my life. Happy birthday buddy, I love you.