I’ve watched a lot of HGTV and don’t understand why rich people don’t put doors around their toilets

I don’t know how it happened. I was always the person who didn’t understand the HGTV craze. Why would anyone spend time watching people pick which way overpriced house to buy and discuss the many changes they planned to make with the tile in the bathroom? Didn’t people know there are sports on, like, all the time?

But then one day I was sitting in the dentist chair, basking in my cavity-free life (not to brag). This was the first time my dentist had gone full-luxury upgrade and installed TVs in every room. Super high class. There was an episode of House Hunters on, and though I didn’t understand it, it provided a welcome distraction from my fear that the hygienist might hit a snag and the sharp tool will fly out of her hand and into my eye ball.

In that 30 minutes, I was hooked (no sharp dentist tool pun intended). It was very clear this couple had made a terrible decision and also even more clear they should probably just break up. I mean, the girl who had said all along she wanted a two-bedroom apartment settled for a one-bedroom half the size of every other place they looked at just to appease her unemployed boyfriend who wanted to save $100 a month. How much was she regretting every decision she ever made while quarantined in there with him for 8 months? I loved the drama.

Since then, HGTV has become my go-to. I LIVE for new episodes of Home Town, which is the most soothingly Southern show on TV and has made it so I must DEMAND a banquette in any future home I own. A year ago I didn’t even know what a banquette is, and now, I need it. The first episode of Home Town I saw they made a book nook and painted it BLUE! I didn’t even know what a book nook was or that blue on walls was allowed but I was instantly in love with the thought.

These are some other thoughts I’ve had while watching way too much HGTV:

  1. I’m pretty sure at least 75 percent of people on House Hunters International are running from the IRS. There is no other explanation for why a couple with two children under the age of 5 would just up and move to Costa Rica.
  2. “Open concept” is stupid. Why would you ever want to walk into a house and immediately be in the kitchen? Also, no one wants to hear the dishwasher running while you’re trying to watch football. Plus, don’t even get me started on the dangers of having the snacks that close to you at all times. You need cased openings, people!
  3. Do you think Zooey Deschanel ever wishes she had the bearded Property Brother instead of the clean-shaven one?

But the biggest thought I’ve had, and it’s a thing I’ve noticed a lot, is this:

Why do rich people not put doors around their toilets???

I’m not talking about large bathrooms. I’m talking about a straight up, out in the open for everyone to see, toilet.

I’ve seen it more than once. At least a dozen times across several different shows. The first couple times I saw it was on like Beachfront Bargain Hunt and other shows where people buy homes in remote areas or other coastal countries. So my initial thought was maybe this is just a cultural thing or I guess if you’re near water and you need an open shower the next step is just slapping a toilet beside it. Maybe I just don’t understand the concept.

I’m thinking maybe I’m too poor to understand.

Because it’s always in giant mansions or multi-million dollar homes that I see this “open-bathroom” living. There are homes way out in the middle of nowhere with bathrooms completely outside, which baffles my mind! I saw one episode with a (not kidding) $7 million house in a literal jungle somewhere near the equator where the realtor told the people they would have a lot of animals around. So WHY would you want a toilet outside of your million dollar abode when you run the risk of being attacked by monkeys while sitting on it? Is that really how you want your obituary to read, because I promise no one is too rich to have “death by macaw while taking a dump” in your New York Times write-up.

And it’s not just a phenomenon in other countries. One home on one of those mansion hunter shows had a toilet in the bedroom with just sliding glass shower doors surrounding it, which is almost worse than no doors at all. Sure, the smell is contained, but your dignity certainly isn’t.

I was recently watching one of the many shows that isn’t Home Town about a woman who redesigns houses and truly got a taste of an open-toilet life in the suburbs. The three-story house had a gorgeous attic loft the lady turned into a glorified studio apartment. She had a sitting area and bed up there, and an enviable bay window seat. She filled the entire space. The house had more usable square footage just in the attic than most New York apartments.

It was beautifully decorated except she put a bath tub in the middle of the room like she was hoping the new residents would be time travelers from a Bronte novel. And she stuck a toilet up against the wall beside the tub, wide open allowing any and all smells to waft through the entire loft. How could that be enjoyable? I mean, sure, it may add a tiny bit of convenience when you have to pee in the middle of the night, but at what cost?

The woman brought her young daughter and family to look at the place before it went on the market, and amidst all the ooohs and ahhhs her daughter said, horrified, “where’s the door to this toilet?!” Look, if a 7-year-old has to ask, it’s was clearly a big oversight on your part, lady.

I’ve spent many hours thinking about why open-toilet life is a trend. My best guess is it’s a power move. Like how Lyndon B. Johnson used to have meetings with people in the White House while he was on the toilet (Google it). If you have an 8,000 square foot home and you’re inviting people into it, nothing says, “You should feel lucky I allow you here” like peeing in front of them.

I guess if you live in one of those super remote, off-the-grid houses, when you talk with former friends and do the song and dance of “you should come visit me!” even though you really don’t want them to and the friends actually hate you so there’s no way they’re spending $3,000 on a plane ticket to spend a week listening to you lie about how much you LOOOOVVEEEEEE waking up to the sounds of alligators snapping their jaws in the morning, when you send them postcards you can say, “I don’t need a door around my bathroom. You gotta take two planes, a boat, and hike 6 miles to get to it,” and that’s supposed to make them jealous or something.

Until your obituary goes viral, of course. But you’re about 800 miles from the nearest WiFi router so it’s not like you can browse the internet on your open-air toilet anyway.

Also, jokes on those people because do you know what is a real bathroom status symbol? A toilet closet! That’s luxury, my friends. That’s living right.


My favorite stories of 2020

Last year was a tough one as a sports reporter, but there were still stories I wrote that stood out to me. Here’s a look at my favorites:

Briggs Beats Cancer: Wylie family prepares for extra celebrations this Thanksgiving weekend


Two years after helping to restart softball team at Martinsville High School, Bulldogs’ senior Trinity Gravely commits to PHCC softball


Martinsville’s Jeff Hensley celebrates fourth Martinsville Speedway win, prepares for NASCAR Trucks championship


Stories from Martinsville Speedway: Always take the tunnel into the infield


Stories from Martinsville Speedway: Jimmie Johnson looks back his most memorable Martinsville victories


Stories from Martinsville Speedway: A pole win a cherished memory for local NASCAR racer Jimmy Hensley


ELECTION 2020: Teachers stress critical thinking with students excited about joining the political process


Stories from Martinsville Speedway: NASCAR writer Steve Waid recalls stories from his early reporting days


Stories from Martinsville Speedway: Fox Sports analyst Larry McReynolds recalls winning his only trophy at The Paperclip


SRSC welcomes NC Fusion lacrosse tournament as a “blueprint” for how to handle youth sports in the age of coronavirus


Henry County’s best using each other to stay in baseball shape


Cooper: Bubba Wallace continues to impress off the track


Keselowski pit crew looking for another perfect day at Martinsville Speedway


Miles in Martinsville brings together runners from 8,000 miles away for a virtual race


Hanging With Miss Cooper: Angela Tincher and the greatest game I ever saw


WATCH NOW: Martinsville’s class of 2020 celebrates untraditional graduation day


WATCH NOW: The day the track stood still


High school football teams staying connected from afar


Wood Brothers Racing generates fans’ support to donate iPads to help nursing home residents


Bassett high school cross-country runner Jake Arnold has won races already against autism and epilepsy


CARA COOPER: Kobe’s death is a horrible loss for the women athletes he supported so staunchly


Grind of a Season Leads to Big Rewards for JR Motorsports Late Model Program

Wendell Scott Trailblazer Award Winner Gracie Trotter Enjoys Success After Taking the Next Step in 2020

‘I’m Living Out My Childhood Dream’: 42-year-old Shawn Labelle Surprised Even Himself in His First Season of Racing at Edmonton International Raceway

55 Years Later, Bob Finan Still In Love With his ‘Desert Oasis’ at Riverhead Raceway

‘It’s a Family Thing. That’s What it’s All About’: Shive Family Brings Big Crowd to Pits at Salina Highbanks Speedway

‘I Never Leave My House Without My Camera Bag’: Lisa Andresen Reflects on Long Photography Career at Bethel Motor Speedway

Frank Noiles Jr. a Part of Beech Ridge Speedway’s History and Future

‘I Know That She’s Watching Me’: Annabeth Barnes Crum Brings Extra Motivation to Hickory Motor Speedway

Gina Schild-Knowles Working to Keep Racing Going at Houston Motorsports Park

‘We Sort of Grew Together’: Ernie Saxton set to begin his 53rd year Grandview Speedway

My favorite music of 2020

Every December I try to do a list of my favorite songs from that year. I like to pretend I’m the type of person with good musical taste others can come to when they need a playlist made.

There was just a tiny problem when it came to making my favorite songs of 2020 list – I didn’t listen to  much new music this year.

One reason was because at the beginning of the pandemic I decided it was finally time to finish writing my musical based on the song “Goodbye Earl” by The Chicks. For that reason, I only listened to the band formerly known as the Dixie Chicks for like three months. (I’m in the top 1% of the band’s listeners on Spotify, not to brag.)

(Also, I did finish my musical, and no, you cannot read it unless you can get it in the hands of a member of The Chicks or someone else in Hollywood and/or Broadway.) (Okay, maybe you, a regular person, can also read it if you ask nicely.)

The other reason I didn’t listen to much new music is because right after the Brandy and Monica Verzuz battle in September I listened to only 90s R&B for basically the entire fall. I was so obsessed with the playlist I made Mary Blige was my third most listened to artist this year on Spotify.

Given all of that, though, there were some artists and songs that I loved this year. Here’s my favorites:

Favorite Album: Dua Lipa, “Future Nostalgia”

You know the sign of a perfect pop album? No ballads. Who needs acoustic guitars or pianos or songs that make you cry? Perfect pop albums that are nonstop dance bangers are exactly what we needed in 2020.

Dua Lipa released an album that was top to bottom so good it had no skips, which is the hardest thing to do on an album but is increasingly important in today’s world when it’s so easy to just cherry pick one or two songs and make your own playlist instead of listening to one artist all the way through. “Future Nostalgia” was perfect for a year when so many of our Saturday nights were spent alone in quarantine and all you wanted was music to listen to while you tried on all the clothes in your closet, trying to make as many weird outfits as possible to dance in front of the mirror and pretend you’re in a teen movie mall montage. (You didn’t do that? You should, I highly recommended it.)

“Future Nostalgia” starts with the title track, a futuristic sounding tune about a “female alpha” confident in the music she is making. Lipa sings about how so few people in music sound like her, which is true. All the biggest pop stars who released music this year (Ariana Grande, Taylor Swift, and Katy Perry, to name a few) stuck more with slowed down, melancholic sounds that may have fit the theme of 2020, but weren’t nearly as fun.

That confident theme is present throughout “Future Nostalgia.” Lipa’s biggest single on the record, “Don’t Start Now,” is an ode to an old love who will likely return to try to get her back. She sings “Don’t start caring about me now” (an incredible line) over a beat that you’d definitely hear in the same club she talks about seeing that ex in.

The futuristic sounds of 808s and club beats remain prevalent on “Physical” and “Levitating,” two of the singles released on the album, and a really good 1-2 punch in the middle.

Lipa’s songs may seem like cheesy electronic dance hits, but they stand up well stripped down too. She did a version of “Love Again” – which masterfully samples White Town’s “I Could Never Be Your Woman” – on NPR’s Tiny Desk with just two guitars and four backup singers that was incredible.

Also, I won’t write too much about my favorite song on the album, “Good in Bed,” because this is a family blog, but, wow, what a punch line.

I knew “Future Nostalgia” was great, but I learned how great it was when Dua Lipa performed on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon just a few weeks after Fallon started doing at-home shows with virtual musical guests. Lipa’s performance of “Break My Heart” in front of a green screen with dancers in the background was so incredibly charming on top of the insane catchiness of the song. A few days later my brother walked through our kitchen singing the same song. This was a big deal because my brother only listens to the Grateful Dead, Grateful Dead cover bands, and bands that sound vaguely like the Grateful Dead. This was also a big deal because my brother has made fun of every song I’ve loved in the last five years and constantly tells me I have bad taste in music. Who has bad taste now, Reed?

More importantly this proved that Dua Lipa is perfect and everyone can love her music.

Favorite new artist – Benee

I won’t lie, I discovered Benee because I saw Charlie Puth tweet about her. I find Charlie Puth to be a reliable source for new music discovery, and he was not wrong about Benee. I can’t remember the last time I heard a new artist and became so obsessed I had to listen to every single song they’ve ever recorded. It was actually really nice.

If you didn’t live under a rock this year, you for sure heard Benee’s breakout hit “Supalonely,” a collaboration with rapper Gus Dapperton that thrives on its simplicity and beachy sound that makes it seem like it could easily fit in a teen movie about Southern California skateboarders. (Benee is 20 years old and from New Zealand so it makes sense that’s what her music would sound like.)

Maybe that’s why I loved her music so much, because it reminds me of what I loved listening to at that age. Or maybe it was the simplicity of the sound – beat tracks that are reminiscent of a teenager messing around in their bedroom and just spitting out their thoughts in real time.

Benee released a full length album this year, but I suggest listening to her early EPs released last year (“Fire on Marzz” and “Stella & Steve”) first to get a feel for her best stuff.

Favorite songs

Bang! – AJR: A fun fact about this song is the voice of the guy who says “Here We Go!” is the same guy who does the announcements on the New York City subway. They said that on the radio the first time I ever heard this song, which made me want to listen to it.

Hole In The Bottle – Kelsea Ballerini: Country music’s favorite current theme is songs about drinking heavily. Kelsea turns that theme on its head here, but also sounds very old country.

I Hope – Gabby Barrett: The first time I heard this I thought for sure it was Miley Cyrus. I think the highest praise you could give this song comes from Charlie Puth, who released his own remixed version during the summer. Puth has said he only adds his vocals to songs he wishes he would have written. I’m sure there are a lot of artists out there who wish they could write something this good.

Ice Cream – BLACKPINK feat. Selena Gomez: There was one day this fall I listened to this song for like an hour straight while dancing in my bedroom.

Lovin’ On You – Luke Combs: I’m so embarrassed because I will periodically rail on what I call “bro country” and how none of the men in country music make anything as good as the women, but at the same time this was my most played song this year on Spotify. This song follows a common theme in country, but admittedly it’s still very fun.

July – Noah Cyrus feat. Leon Bridges: I love Leon Bridges. I think there are very few artists out there doing what he does. But as great as Leon Bridges is, some of his best work is his collaborations. The only downside to this song is isn’t long enough and ends abruptly, which is probably by design because it leaves me wanting more and I always play it a second or third time.

Let’s Fall In Love For the Night – FINNEAS: FINNEAS is for sure best known as Billie Eillish’s brother and the guy who produced her megahit album that won them both about a hundred Grammy’s last year. But FINNEAS also released a very good solo EP at the end of 2019, of which “Let’s Fall In Love” was the best song. It sounds nothing like anything Billie would ever release.

All About You – The Knocks feat. Foster the People: Whenever you see “The Knocks feat. Foster the People” it’s going to be great. I mentioned earlier I don’t remember the last time I was truly obsessed with an artist, but I know now it was in 2018 when the two groups collaborated on “Ride or Die” and I loved it so much I only listened to The Knocks for an entire summer. I seriously considered moving to California because I loved the sound so much. (Yes, they’re from New York but they sound like California.) “All About You” has the same earworm quality and has me wanting to chase that California sound again.

Champagne Night – Lady A: This song was chosen by Lady A on the show “Songland,” which I cannot recommend enough. It’s an incredibly interesting look at the process of writing and producing songs, and gives a real appreciation for the talent producers have.

Rain On Me – Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande: Of course a song with two of the biggest pop stars in the world is going to be one you need to listen to over and over.

Fooled Around and Fell In Love – Miranda Lambert, Maren Morris, Elle King, Ashley McBryde, Tenille Townes, Caylee Hammack: Yes, this was released in 2019, but it won the Academy of Country Music Award in September 2020, so I’m counting it, mostly because it is incredible and every single person sounds great on it and also because Miranda Lambert may not have technically released any new music in 2020, but I need to put her on the list because I love her and she’s amazing and if we’re being honest is a big part of my music listening every year.

I Love Me – Demi Lovato: I’ve never related to a line in a song more than I relate to “I’m a black belt when I’m beating up on myself, but I’m an expert at giving love to somebody else.” I cried my eyes out the first time I heard this song.

Everywhere I’m Goin’ – Maddie & Tae: It was so good Maddie & Tae finally released their second album this year, even though a number of the songs had been previously released on other EPs. “Everywhere I’m Goin” was overshadowed a bit by the (deserved) success of M&T’s biggest hit “Die From a Broken Heart” but I prefer the upbeat love story they describe here better.

Girlfriend – Charlie Puth: Charlie Puth is the thirstiest guy on Instagram, but he is also a music genius and can write a pop hook better than just about any other guy doing it right now.

Love You For a Long Time – Maggie Rogers: I know this song will be used as the first dance in 5 million weddings, but until then I’m going to enjoy it.

Happy Anywhere – Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani: Listen, no one understands Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani. Just, like, how? That being said, they’ve released some very sweet country songs and it’s nice to see Gwen doing something a bit different and so happy.

Diamonds – Sam Smith: Sam Smith makes the kind of music that has to be played loud and makes you want to drive around at night and let the song fill up every inch of the car while you look at city lights. I love them for that.

Golden – Harry Styles: Harry Styles is perfect and I love him and anyone who says a bad thing about him can never speak to me again.

Bad Decisions – The Strokes: Listening to The Strokes is always a good decision. One of my favorite things in 2020 was when John Mulaney hosted Saturday Night Live and The Strokes were the musical guest and Mulaney was absolutely GIDDY about it. He looked like a kid who knows he’s getting a bike for Christmas in every promo. It was the best.

Purple Hat – Sofi Tukker: The first time I heard this song I knew it was the kind of song that would be very cool until some TV network used it for commercials with clips of sitcom actors dancing over it. And then ABC did just that, but I still like the song.

Sunday Best – Surfaces: A perfect song for when you need a pick-me-up when 2020 gets you down.

Level of Concern – Twenty One Pilots: This song sounds nothing like anything Twenty One Pilots has released before, which is a huge compliment.

God Whispered Your Name – Keith Urban: I chuckle a little bit every time I hear Keith Urban do a love song and remember he’s singing about Nicole Kidman.

7 Summers – Morgan Wallen: I refused to listen to Morgan Wallen for the longest time. Again, I don’t like “bro country.” But Maddie & Tae posted this song on their Instagram stories so I thought that was a pretty good endorsement and, oh my gosh. I listened to this song so much I dreamed about it. That’s not an exaggeration. I literally had dreams where this song just played on a loop. Then I woke up and it was in my head again which was great because I loved it that much. I’m willing to admit when I’m wrong and I was very wrong about Morgan Wallen.


Hangin’ with Miss Cooper: ‘Fair Pay to Play’ act could benefit more than just top college athletes

One summer night when I was in college my friends and I were meeting up at Applebees. One good friend was telling us how he had run a 5K that morning and finished second.
“I won $25,” he told us. “But I couldn’t keep it, because it would have been an NCAA violation.”
This friend at the time was on a partial track scholarship at Division II Lenoir Rhyne University in North Carolina. Despite the fact he was running at a Division II school and admittedly had no chance of ever going pro in track, accepting the $25 would have essentially made him a professional athlete, and he would lose his scholarship and wouldn’t be able to run college track anymore.
This made me mad for two reasons.
1. This kid owed me a lot of gas money from throughout the years, and I thought if he had come into a little bit of cash that day he would be the one paying for our half-price appetizers that night.
2. More importantly, what was the big deal? He was running a street race, not wearing a Lenoir Rhyne uniform, and it was $25.
Last week, California passed the “Fair Pay to Play” act that would allow college athletes to make money off of their being athletes. As is the case with any conversation of college athletics and money, this was met with both cheers and jeers.
Where much of the discussion takes place is about whether college athletes should be paid, but it’s important to differentiate between paying college athletes and allowing college athletes to make money.
Paying college athletes an actual paycheck from the school is an extremely nuanced conversation, mostly because while Division I college football and basketball bring in billions of dollars, that is only two of two dozen NCAA sports, most of which don’t bring in any money at all. And while it’s nice to dream on those billions being divvied up between all those athletes, it won’t happen. Who gets how much, and how equal do you divvy? It’s a logistical nightmare to even think about, especially when you consider Title IX.
But allowing college athletes to make money is a much different conversation, and that’s where the Fair Pay to Play act comes in. When the law goes into effect in 2023, athletes in California will be able to make money from endorsements, autograph signings, and anything else someone is willing to pay them for without fear of losing their scholarship. Imagine being a Division III college athlete and having a local car dealership offer you $100 to be in a commercial. That would now be possible, and according to the AP as many as 10 other states are currently drafting legislation to follow California’s lead.
Of course, this law has been met with a lot of backlash. Tim Tebow, best known for winning the Heisman Trophy and two national championships while playing quarterback for the Florida Gators, went on ESPN last month to express his frustration with the idea of allowing athletes to make money, fearing it would make students “selfish.”
“When I was at the University of Florida I think my jersey was one of the top selling jerseys around the world… and I didn’t make a dollar from it,” Tebow said on ESPN’s First Take. “But nor did I want to. Because I knew going into college what it was all about… what makes college sports special, to now it’s not about us it’s about we… it changes what’s special about college football.”
The irony here is that Tebow is one of the better examples for why college athletes should be able to make money. It’s impossible to know how much Florida was able to profit off of Tebow’s play on the field, but it was certainly in the tens, possibly hundreds, of millions when you consider ticket sales, memorabilia, and TV contracts. And Tebow’s best playing days were in college. He lasted just three seasons in the NFL, and was generally considered a bust. The money he made off of endorsements post-college is certainly much less than he would have made during his time with the Gators.
And Tebow was a lucky one, because his personality netted him an on-air job with ESPN, and a chance to give baseball a try in the New York Mets minor league system, so he’s not struggling for money. But many, many college athletes are. While his argument is a sweet thought, and there is something really lovely about the idea of playing sports for the love of sports, that simply isn’t possible for every college athlete in the country.
When people talk about paying college athletes, the focus is often on the Tebows, the Zion Williamsons, the Johnny Manziels, and big names like that. But they’re a very small percentage of college athletes. And Division I athletes are a small percentage of overall players in the NCAA.
The NCAA’s website states, “More than 460,000 NCAA student-athletes – more than ever before – compete in 24 sports every year.” The most recent NCAA statistics show there are roughly 179,000 Division I athletes, 122,000 Division II, and about 190,000 Division III.
Sixty-two percent of Division II student athletes receive some level of athletic aid, according to the NCAA. But in Division III, athletic scholarships are not allowed at that level. More than a third of all NCAA athletes are not able to receive any sort of athletic scholarship money, but are also not allowed to make money off of themselves.
Division II and Division III athletes certainly won’t be able to make life-changing money off of endorsements in the way a Duke basketball player or Alabama football player would, but Duke and Alabama athletes also have the chance to continue making money off of their likeness beyond their college days. For lower level athletes, those four years is likely the only chance they have to make money off of themselves. What’s so bad about letting them keep $25?

(This story originally appeared in The Martinsville Bulletin.)

Hangin’ with Miss Cooper: The line between gamesmanship and cheating

When I was 16 I played travel softball for a really, really good team. Like, stupid good. We finished third in the national world series tournament. Our No. 1 pitcher would sometimes back off her mid-60s fastball and throw a knuckleball. An underhanded knuckleball! I freak out every time I think about it.

I know what you’re thinking. “Wow, Cara played for a really good team. She must have also been really good.”

Not to brag, but yes, I was. And by really good I mean I was always the first one off the bench to pinch run. Unless on our of other incredibly fast players wasn’t playing that game and could pinch run instead.

Anyways, there was one game we played in the quarterfinals of that world series. Games in these summer tournaments are almost always played with a time limit, usually around 90 minutes or so. If the team that is winning is up to bat when the timer ends, the game ends right there. If the team that’s losing is up to bat when it ends, they’re allowed to finish that half inning.

So, my team was up like one or two runs, and it was late in the game. I had pinch run a few innings earlier.

We quickly got an out in what would be our final at-bat when my coach told me to pinch hit.

Again, not to brag, but the girl pitching for the other team was committed to play at University of Kentucky, and (not to brag) I hit a double off of her.

As soon as I stepped on second the coach of the other team walked out of the dugout and up to the umpire, looking at his lineup card. They talked for a minute or so before the umpire points at me and tells me I’m out.

I’m upset, but I look over at my coach and he isn’t saying anything, isn’t fighting it. He just has a sly smile on his face.

The next girl on my team steps into the batter’s box, and after a pitch or two the buzzer goes off to tell us time is up. We won.

After celebrating we all had the same question for my coach – why was I out?

Well, since I had pinch run earlier in the game, I couldn’t pinch hit because then I was batting out of order. But it wasn’t a mistake on my coach’s part. He did that on purpose.

“I checked and saw there was just a few minutes left on the clock, so I knew once the other coach realized we batted out of order he would go out and argue with the umpire and take up more time and they wouldn’t be able to start another at-bat.”

I was upset because I felt cheated out of my only hit of the tournament (I wasn’t very good…), but I guess I understood. You play to win the game.

Playing for this team was the first time I realized there’s so much more to sports than just being good at sports. At the start of every game our first base coach would come in the dugout and tell us what to listen for while batting. If he said “Let’s go,” that meant the catcher was lined up inside. If he said “Get a hit,” that meant the catcher was lined up outside.

That was fine. I never understood why some shifty players never quickly turned their head in the second before a pitch to see where a catcher set up, anyway. I think that would be possible? Who knows. But anyways, it’s easy to see where a catcher is lined up, so a coach telling you seemed innocent enough.

But usually an inning or two into the game that same coach would gather us in the dugout and say “O.K., I’ve got their signs. If I clap, that means it’s a fastball. If I pat my legs, it’s offspeed.”

This felt less innocent. A little shady if I’m being honest. It wasn’t cheating, I guess. More like icky gamesmanship. You play to win the game, though, right?

At least once a tournament an opposing coach would figure out our coach’s scheme and get all up in arms about it, marching out of the dugout yelling, “They’re stealing signs!” And then they’d complain to the umpire who was always like, “I don’t know what to tell you.” And my coach would fight it and protest and say “No we’re not!” before eventually conceding and saying “If you don’t want your signs stolen, don’t make them so easy to steal.”

There was a girl on this team who hit bombs. Like several home runs a tournament. You were never out of a game when she got up to bat. And after the game she would always say “Well, I saw the pitch and knew it was a curveball coming inside so I knew I had to wait on it,” or give a perfect description of the pitch and location of the balls she hit.

I was always blown away by that. I know it’s not crazy to think batters can pick up on that kind of stuff in the moment, but I also realized that she probably only knew the pitch because someone told her. And I realized that while she was very good she was also very good at gaming the system.

The Houston Astros are facing allegations that they devised several different methods to steal signs from other teams. Allegations that go as far as saying the team had cameras set up in the outfield and someone in the clubhouse watching live videos and hitting trash cans to relay pitches to batters.

The Astros aren’t the only team to face allegations of sign stealing, though these are certainly the most concrete. It seems obvious setting up cameras goes way over the line into cheating, but some fans insist it’s just gamesmanship. Getting an edge. You play to win the game.

That softball team I played for was incredibly good. (An underhanded knuckleball!) And the Houston Astros the last few years have been incredibly good, with a roster full of MVPs and future hall of famers.

I know it’s a naive way of thinking, but what ever happened to winning the game by simply being better than your opponent?

(This story originally appeared in The Martinsville Bulletin.)