Sunday, July 22, 2012

Not-So-Love Letter

Dear Mines,

I don't know how I feel about you. I mean, I think I really like you, but I've only known you for a year. I've missed you so much over the summer. It's weird...but yet it's how I feel.

Gosh, I miss you so much. But sometimes you're a jerk. You introduced me to them, but it seems you don't give me enough time to hang out with my friends like I want to. You constantly try to take me away from the things I love. You're so distracting. Demanding my full attention. It's not convenient. You make me emotional when I don't want to be emotional. Make me feel stupid at school. Nerdy. Socially awkward and dorky away from school. Insecure and alone when I shouldn't feel that way. You take away the feeling that I have it all figured out and make me come up with this thing called living life, crammed in and intense as an exam.

Now that I think about it, maybe this time away from you has been good. Of course it has been. But gosh, I miss seeing you every day, thinking about everything you bring. I feel this longing for me to go back, no, for you to come back to me. I'm here in Golden right now, waiting during the few weeks until you come back. Everything reminds me of you. Some place will bring up some memory. A picture will bring back a day. Some nights...I even dream about you. 

I'm scared a little bit, of course. The next two years are gonna test our relationship. But I'm really excited where the next year might take us. Maybe that's why I miss you so much: I need the constant pressure back in my life. The excitement and uncertainty of what I want and what's going to happen. I'm ready. Because, again, I think I really like you. I just wish you'd show me that you might feel that way too. Please? Can we just have the time of our lives this year and the next? And the next? (Until the sad day when I'll leave you?)


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

I Love This Game: Tales from Mines Athletics

Here lie the Tales of Mines Athletics. Stories of my job, the kids down the hall, watching games, and homework. Hopefully the first collection of many.

Before school started, I knew I needed to find a job for my work-study. So I looked at what was available on Diggernet, the school's go-to place to find a job, and came up with a couple decent prospects: Library staff and Event Staff for the Athletic Department. I contacted the latter first, because it sounded pretty legit and it sounded right up my alley. "I am enjoy baseball, football, and all sports, really and would enjoy working in this type of setting." I said. (Wow, I suck at proofreading). My future boss responded, and on my would-be first day of class, I had my first interview for a job. Ever.

I went in at 8:30 along with two other people, and pretty much already had the job. No-pressure interview at all, which was cool. Since I was a work-study kid, I could work in the office too. It was already looking to be a cool job.

"All baseball players look alike." -Rima 

Move-in to Maple Hall was interesting. The first weekend was interesting, meeting everybody and stuff. I learned earlier that I'd be living on one of the co-ed floors of Maple. Along with the other strangley awesomely random kids on Maple 1st North, there was a suite and a half of football players, and one room of baseball players. After the first floor meeting, the football guys would become hermits in their rooms, never to be seen again (a very slight exaggeration).

Brandon Storm and Brady Smith (living in 151B- the B.S. room) came and hung out in our room one of the first days. I learned that they were both pitchers on the baseball team. They saw the Rocktober poster on my wall and we started talking about baseball. Brady and I discussed the recent Ubaldo Jimenez trade to Cleveland, as Brady is from OH, more specifically- the Dirty Dusk. He also said that Rafael Betancourt sucks. Somehow Brandon and I started talking about a MLB draft pick he's played against over the years, and I knew what/who he was talking about. I know I'm a nerd- that's the point. I love this game.

All of us floormates had to learn which one was which with them having with names beginning with 'Br' (remembering that Brandon is the taller one helped), but after that I guess we thought they might be alright guys, although stereotypical baseball players.

The first Mines Athletics game I worked was doing Bleachers for Volleyball. I had a vague idea what doing Bleachers would be, and it sounded intriguing. After a long day of class that ended at 7 and quickly eating something (I think...I hope...), I headed up to the Student Rec Center and put on a super sweet Mines polo thingie shirt. I felt all official and stuff.

I think I enjoyed doing Bleachers for the most part that first day. I learned that doing Bleachers was making sure none of the spectators at the mostly empty Lockridge Arena went on the court and cleaning up afterwards a little (like collecting dirty towels), but for the most part it was sitting and watching the games. I didn't love it, but volleyball was interesting enough.

The next day I had my first turn at selling tickets. Selling tickets is cool- I get to work the ticket program on the computer- click click- and the tickets print. During events that aren't relatively popular, I mostly surf the internet while talking to whatever person is selling with me. The other kids usually brought homework. Not silly freshman me (I will never do this, actually).

As the season went on, I grew a little tired of volleyball. There was this one set I had to work where it was really late again, and I'm sure I was really hungry. I was doing Bleachers. The matches are best-of-five, and of course this one was taking forever, as there is no clock in volleyball. One team would take forever to get the lead and have 24 points. Then the other team would catch up and the game point volley would go on forever. And once they scored....the noise was deafening. Screeching girls being their own cheerleaders running in circles, celebrating. Of course the visiting team's screams would be the most high pitched. Ugh, let me go home. The match ended up having to go to five games. I don't know why, but I kept staring at the clock. When it finally ended, I was relieved and tired (seriously, my first semester Fridays sucked).

"I'm an athlete." -Brady 

Brady went through my little book of baseball quotes and put sticky notes on the ones he found interesting. "'Pitching is the art of instilling fear. (Sandy Koufax).' I like that," Brady said.

School was in full swing, as was studying. But first semester for me was a lot about having fun and chilling out. But for the guys even in the offseason, it was not. I heard about it all: 6 a.m. swimming, running poles, lifting weights, PFP's..."Do you know what PFP's are, Katerina?" "Hmm. Pitcher Fielding Practice." "Dang, you do know the most about baseball out of everyone I know." Maybe Brady didn't know very many people, but I'd take it, I guess.

And studying...yeah. One or two weeks in to Calculus I, I thought I was doomed. It was making me feel stupid. I had never taken it before. I didn't understand my professor's ramblings. And when I got the homework, I understood so little I wanted to cry. I should have gotten help right then, but instead Brandon and I looked at the worksheet and said "I'm gonna fail Calc". It was one of the first 'I'm so screwed'  moments. But I honestly thought that I would have to fight to pass (especially after the first exam...ouch) and the dude I then thought was like a stereotypical jock would be right there with me.

The cool thing about our hall, living in the dorms, and college in general is that you become friends with people you probably wouldn't have otherwise. Studying helps that. Brady would go to bed the earliest usually, because "he's an athlete" not a Mines kid, or whatever. My other friends would be next, even my overachieving ChemE friend. Then Brandon and I only remained. You know it's getting late when only Brandon is awake. But Brandon began earning my respect with his crazy late nights. I could see he worked hard, even if his time management needed work. During self-proclaimed study breaks, he told me about how he got into Mines, why he came here, stuff like that. He shook his head at the amount of homework and cracked open another Red Bull.

"I can't wait for baseball season. Then I can take it. As long as I can play baseball, then I'll be okay."

In a way, I knew how he felt.

My job in the Athletics main office was not glorious. First semester I woke up to get there at eight two days a week and fought to stay awake as I stuffed envelopes. Second semester I would pass out on the grass outside Volk Gymnasium after running a lot in gym class and then go to the office, and stuff envelopes. I liked doing it, though. The office has a mix of personalities, and its mood also varies depending on the day. When there's nothing to do, I do homework. Again, stuffing envelopes and organizing them by zip code was most of my duties on a normal day. I amused myself by looking at the names or cities they were going to sometimes. Or ranking the athletes' handwriting on their fundraising messages. Sometimes I'd overhear laughs about a liberal arts kid wanting to transfer to Mines to play a sport, followed by a question if they realized our academic integrity we have to uphold or something. Sometimes I'd walk in and my boss would ask, "What's up with your Rockies?" Or we all would speculate on the coming season. Or discuss why O'Dowd traded Ubaldo. This is a pretty normal day in the office. The Athletic Director, easy-going as always, walks in, says good morning/how am I doing, and I'd respond and ask the same of him. "Every day that you get to make a difference in young people's lives is a good day."

The Fridays before a football game day got a little hectic, but fun. I got to go use the poster-making machine and the laminator for signs and such. I love how the signs come out all warm and fresh: small pleasures. The phone's ringing, people are coming in and out, and people are going crazy. I love it. And I get to see it the next day.

This is Division II football. We don't go insane on game day. The stands won't be bursting. But it's a fun time. I wake up early to get down to Campbell Field, and if we're lucky, there's donuts waiting for us Event Staff. I did Bleachers again for the first home game. It's a little more intense than volleyball because people actually show up, and I have to keep them from going on the turf. But it boils down to sitting for the duration of the game and setting up/taking down before/after. Football is entertaining enough. Mines made the playoffs the previous year, so there's also that. The student section would do pushups for every point we had, as we acquired them. The first game Mines ended up winning with a score of 55-7, so they were kept busy by all those points. I thought the game was going great, so I fell asleep. More like barely dozed off a couple minutes sitting in my chair in the final five minutes of the game, but the excitement was making me drowsy. (I was such a bad kid first semester, falling asleep everywhere.) But after a couple games of that, I switched to doing Tickets instead, talking and having fun with whoever I sold with, and frantically getting the already printed tickets to the fans in line until half time came when I'd go in and watch the rest from the student section, chanting "C!S!M! Firrrrrrrrrrst down!". Point is: Bleachers were antisocial, I made a few friends doing Tickets. Either way I'd walk up the steep hill back to Maple and fall asleep with my head buried in my Chemistry book.

"Dude, those Boulder girls looked like I threw my bullpens at their face." -Brady

This being a small school, you get to interact with everyone, and the athletes are not above anyone or anything. I met a few, shared classes and even studio groups with a couple. My RA played softball. But baseball players are goofy. Pitchers are goofy. Bullpen pitchers are goofy. So there were some fun times when we probably shouldn't have been having them. Brandon and Brady have their things that they say all the time- like mimicking the pitching coach.

"Alright guys, throw strikes."
"Throw downhill."
"Fill it up!"

"34 days. Canyon City, TX. West Texas A&M. If you ain't dreaming about it, you ain't ready."

I don't know how many times they watched "[Stuff] Baseball Players Say" and "[Stuff] College Bullpen Pitchers Say" on Youtube:

"What do I throw this guy? Fastball on the black, fastball on the black. Two seamer inside, Derek Jeter dance. Hammer in the dirt! Looks at it. Then two seamer inside. OYA...dial 'em up, kid. BEEP BOOP BOOP BEEP BOOP"

Or how many times Brady made us listen to his potential walk-out songs. Or those silly games we played like the hat game, draw the moon, the cities game. And how they got "Call Me Maybe" stuck in our head while playing Harvard baseball's dance.

The hat game. 

"I stay one night in Louisiana, where am I?" "Dude, you're in Louisiana."

"Got heeeeem!"
Basketball season rolled around, and at first it seemed like working them would be the same as the volleyball games. But it was more fun, a little more people came (even the band showed up), and the girls didn't scream so loudly in victory. All the cheerleaders save four quit after football season, so the two boys and two girls made for laughs. I'm a horrible person. I smirked when they didn't catch a girl after she stood on them and jumped or whatever. And also laughed if a basketball or player hit them as they stood behind the net. I shouldn't make fun of them, for I know one of these days I'm going to get hit in the face by something.

(Photo taken by Mines Athletics)
Me in the background. I'm really not that bored. 

But it was fun watching the teams win, and when I got tired of watching them win, I just thought about physics problems with projectile motion. After both games and around five hours of just standing up, it's time to sing the fight song, and then clean up. I find a new appreciation for bleacher-cleaning people, for I have to pick up food and baseball guys' spitters and spare change and packs of bubble gum. After we do 'the team cheer', a phrase that one of us gets begrudgingly assigned to come up with. Once we Tebowed. Once it was Brady's turn. The cheer he came up with was Oredigger Swag. Yeah, you can hashtag that if you want.

"In baseball, never kick the bench. The bench kicks back". -Brady

The guys got back from the first baseball series of the year and were beat: literally and physically. With a long bus ride to and from Texas and the pitching staff's ERA at 99.99 (okay, it was actually 12.55), I kind of felt bad for the team, but expected the games of the coming season to go pretty much like that. But whatever, it's baseball. And I love this game.

"You better be at every game, Katerina. Or I'm gonna be disapointed in you as a baseball fan." Brady was partially serious, and said the same to other floormates. So after lunch the next Saturday and most Saturdays after that, I put on my Mines hoodie and baseball cap, put my waterbottle in a pack, grab Subway, and take the walk down to Jim Darden Field.

It is reasonably cool for this "Opening Day" of sorts. A little windy. The stone bleachers are cold and hard. Around 70 people bear through the double header. Mines ended up losing both games, Brady pitched the last inning of the first game, and it started getting windy and cold as heck so I left after the first game and before I died of hypothermia. Most times attendance is like this: just the parents, the girlfriends, a couple random students, Jason, and now me. Jason brings his portable radio and the Rockies first Spring Training game on KOA plays. It's pretty awesome (and maybe nerdy...don't judge) to take in three baseball games in one day sometimes. Sometimes it gets confusing.

Baseball is a good destresser, and I am advised to not sell tickets at the games, but just to watch baseball. Which would be awesome, but I have to pay the bills, so I don't listen. But some interesting stories came out of selling baseball and softball tickets. The prices are terrible, and nearly every opposing fan shows no hesitation to tell me. One guy got really vocal and proceeded to find an Athletic admin because my ears were apparently filled enough with his angry rants. Once another lady after asking about the ticket prices asked about the restroom facilities. I informed her of the porta potty. She was disgusted. "You mean we have to pay ten dollars for a porta potty?!" "No, ma'am: you're paying to watch the beautiful game of softball!" I flashed my best cheesy smile as she grumbled.

It's not all bad. One time a football player showed up with a girl in each arm saying they forgot their blastercards and therefore could not get into the game for free. I was suspicious. First, because this guy had managed to find two girls. Second, because these girls did not look like 'Mines girls'- they were too blond and Boulderish.

Me: “Hmm. So you swear you’re Mines girls? What’s the integral of e to the x?”
Girls: “I’m not in science classes…”
Me: “Huh. So you’re an Econ major?”
Girls: “Sure…”
Dude: "It’s e to the x!"
Girl: (shrugs) “I’m a business major.”
Dude: ”….We don’t have that here.” “
Girl: "Oh shoot.”
Me: “Pay up.”

One day a guy said he was a scout for the Rockies. My counterpart ticket seller was nosy and asked for proof and also who he was scouting. The man handed him a shiny business card and said he was checking out Mesa. I grabbed it after and saw it was Marc Gustafson, the Senior Director of scouting. The business card was really cool and I kept it.

The Rockies ended up drafting Colorado Mesa outfielder Jeff Popick in the 16th round.

"Do you want to laminate these or help us carry this stuff to Lockridge?" my boss asked.

The Mines basketball team got ranked #1 in the nation after a strong season and was getting ready to host the NCAA Division II tournament. Or rather, we were getting ready to host as the office carried banners and other stuff to get Lockridge Arena ready. "Isn't this cool?" "Yeah, this is pretty cool," they said as we walked. I nodded in agreement because it was: our little engineering school's team was a part of something big. We all know how hard the players must work, athletically and academically. My Calculus professor wished one of the players- her student- good luck (my class was afterwards but in the same room). Same with the guy who works in Digger Den. Our campus had a buzz after winning the RMAC championship, and it was pretty cool.

It was business as usual for working the games, but we had to dress up all professional-like. I had one dress shirt for my EPICS class and for the first time all semester, had to bust out the ironing board. There were also passes marked "STAFF" to wear around our neck. So legit.

Lockridge was packed. I mean, I may never see it that full again in my four years (but hopefully I will). The fans were into it, and the ones right by the court were into giving me a hard time, as their feet threatened to cross the lines. But I like being a mean, strict bleachers person sometimes. After I lectured on the importance of not going onto the court, I watched the game. It was a good game. Great, even. During the regular season I was used to them leading the whole games by 20 or more points, but this time Mines fell behind 7-0. After catching up, the game continued to be neck-in-neck, and became tied with 14 minutes left in the game. It was a fast-paced, exciting game that had the fans hanging (and jumping) on every basket. And eventually, we won.

That's all I remember about that game. I didn't get to go home yet, but worked the second game which was much less exciting. I may have gotten close to dozing off again. But after all the food and trash and chairs were put away, the whole crew gathered to do the cheer. My boss was chosen to come up with this one. "Alright, since we'll be playing the Dragons tomorrow, I want you all to say, 'Suck it, Dragons!'...with attitude." Laughter arose (and a couple eye-rolls), but we put our whole body into it: "Suck it, Dragons!" 

The Basketball team and fans sing the fight song after their last victory.

It was Spring Break for me after that, but my mom and I went to the next game. We beat the Dragons. We would face big, bad Metro next. I was coincidentally at a Nuggets game that night, lamenting in my head how much less fun watching NBA basketball is, but keeping track of the Mines game. Mines lost.

It was a fun run though. Very fun.

"Alright, let's not be distracted. Stop talking about baseball. I love it too much." -Brandon

Brandon Storm warms up before pitching an inning.

If I were to fall in love with baseball, I probably wouldn’t at Jim Darden Field rooting for the Colorado School of Mines to not give up double digit runs to the opposing team. But good thing I already love it. I don't know: everything about baseball is better than any other sport. Relaxing. Intense. It doesn't smell like dirty socks as basketball does, rather the Colorado outdoors and sometimes freshly-cut grass. The view from the field is great. We have the M on one side and the Table Mountains on the other side. Quite nice.

The heat of the semester was here. Both the guys were working hard at school, but I could count on Brandon to be up late. He'd crack open another Mountain Dew, even offering me one if I threatened to pack it up. Spring semester was harder on all of us academically, and now with baseball coming back, it made it harder. I reminded Brandon what he said first semester about it being easier and he just shook his head. His tired, bloodshot eyes told most of the story the day after anything was due. Exhaustion. More than sleep deprivation.

Despite Brandon's insane work ethic, of the two, Brady had the pitching success. After the West Texas A&M series and a new, side-armish delivery, he was throwing pretty well for a freshman or for anybody. At one point in the season, he had the lowest conference ERA on the staff. It wasn't amazing considering Mines plays at altitude and isn't an elite team anyway, but it was good enough to be recognized. It was the weekend of E-Days, and I was hanging out with my friends having fun like every good person should do during E-Days. I ran into Brady going to Slate and asked him what he was doing: living it up, or 'getting weird' like he usually joked? Naw, he was going to do homework and just chill. Because he was starting Saturday.

Maybe it wasn't fair: how 'success' isn't directly proportional to how the amount of effort, or inversely proportional to the amount of hours slept. But that's baseball, and that's life.

And most of the time I love it. I loved how through those two semesters, I found my job great. I loved the humor in hardship. The sharing of a common thing. Leaps over players to score at the plate. Yeah, 3a.m. nights. Getting Opening Day off. Walking back from Lockridge in the snow. Playing whiffleball on Kafadar at night (and fearing for my life as Brady threw a pitch to me). Free donuts in the morning at football games. And stuff. No, not stuff I found after basketball games, but stuff in general. And baseball and life.

Baseball actually ended up making the playoffs. Which is pretty cool, as it was the second time in five years, I believe. I ran to my physics final after talking to a player's mom about baseball after the last game. Baseball always helped me unwind. It was fitting that Mines baseball was ending as Physics and the stress associated with it was also.

Let's do it again next year.

The Miner's 'M', a symbol of a brand of mining men,
Whose courage knocks the mountains down and builds them up again,
No matter in this paydirt world Orediggers choose to roam,
Mines is always with them, The 'M' still stands for home.