This weekend we have a story in the shape of a product review, from the inimitable Evan Lavender-Smith. A review as much of a parent as of a bag. You can purchase Lavender-Smith’s books here. –Matt Salesses, Good Men Project Fiction Editor
Bought this bag for my son, now in his second year of little league, in order for him to consolidate his glove, cap, cup and jockstrap, cleats, baseballs, bat, batting gloves, helmet, sunglasses, water bottle, sunflower seeds, etc., in a central location where they would be readily available in the moments preceding our having to rush out of the house to make it on time to his practices and games. Figured if he had a cool-looking equipment bag like I’ve seen some of his teammates carrying around we could potentially eliminate one full set of weekly blowouts, which we’ve been in the process of attempting to curb as it’s all gotten to be a bit much lately given the many extra-curricular activities going on around here— baseball (son, three times per week: T and Th plus a game on the weekends), chess (son, once per week: F), piano (son and daughter, both once per week: T and Th, respectively), Girl Scouts (daughter, once per week: Th), and swimming (daughter, three/four times per week: M, T, W and occasionally F)—all this combined with both kids’ seemingly innate and irresolvable inability to have all their stuff ready to go before we have to leave the house in order to make it to everything on time. A while back bought an equipment bag for our daughter’s swimming—Speedo Deluxe Mesh Equipment Bag (Pink), $15.38, see my review —in order to consolidate her swimsuit, change of dry clothes, towel, goggles, swim caps, flippers, kickboard, noseplugs, diving rings, sunscreen, water bottle, etc., which turned out to be a very wise decision, one that went a long way toward eliminating another set of weekly blowouts. My first impulse, with respect to the baseball bag, was to try to track one down at a local sporting goods store, but, as with the swim bag, prices at Big 5 and Dick’s were exorbitant, more than 350% higher than they are on here. As I know many of you do, I bring my phone along with me on my comparison-shopping outings around town in order to check local prices against online prices, and, as I know many of you are, I’m averse to the idea of not supporting the local economy as well as to online retailers’ use of obnoxiously oversized cardboard boxes, shrink wrap, foam peanuts, brown crinkled paper, bubble pack, etc., not to mention all the gas used by the airplanes and UPS trucks, but I’m afraid that at this point in our lives we just can’t have it any other way: I’m not working at present, and my wife, a tenured university professor, brings home, after health insurance and retirement, right around two times the Federal Minimum Wage, so we’re always looking for ways to pinch pennies while still sort of pretending to live a relatively comfortable upper-middle-class existence that would accommodate things like a totally crammed extra-curricular schedule for the kids. Chose the Franklin bag over others for a variety of reasons, first being the price, which, at the time of purchase, was marked down from $59.99 to $16.21. I see now that it’s back up to $18.34. The few times I’ve checked it recently, the price has seemed to hover, with minor variations, in the $18–$19 range. Noticed another reviewer paid over $30 for it. This bag, while a perfectly fine junior baseball equipment bag in many respects, is not worth $30. I’d say go for it if you can get it for $19 or less, but I’d be wary of paying any more than that. The $59.99 MSRP is outrageous, also right around what they were asking for comparable bags at Big 5 and Dick’s. What a truly colossal mistake it was to take my son with me on my comparison shopping outing. The bag had become something of an idée fixe in his mind during the weeks preceding our final purchase of it, ever since I initially mentioned the acquisition of the bag as a way to aid in his troubles with keeping all his stuff together and preempt our weekly blowouts, so leaving Big 5 and Dick’s having looked at and touched and closely scrutinized a number of bags but not having purchased one did not go over very well with him, to say the least. While there he discovered any number of other baseball-related items—new glove, pitching machine, rubber bases, new bat, several hats and jerseys, new batting helmet, new batting gloves, pitch return net, catcher’s gear, etc.—his desire for which made him want to forego the equipment bag altogether and get something else instead. Told him there was no chance whatsoever of our leaving the store with anything more or other than a baseball equipment bag, thus elevating the import of the bag’s purchase beyond that of its rightful place in his baseball-crazed mind, and turning our immediate acquisition of the bag into the one and only thing capable of countering all the thwarted desire associated with my having denied him everything in the store except the bag. A shouting match ensued, a kid got tugged through the exit by an arm, tears were shed in the parking lot. Often try to remind myself about how other kids and parents have it all over the rest of the world, about how our problems—anxiety over which sports equipment bags to buy, our kids’ conniption fits when we tell them they’re not allowed to go on needless shopping sprees, etc.—how these are definitely first-world problems, upper-middle-class first-world problems at that, how most people in the world would kill for our problems, etc. But, however that may be, these are the problems we’re stuck with. There’s a little hook near the top of the Franklin bag that you might miss if you’re not looking for it: it’s there so your little leaguer can hang the bag from the chainlink fencing in the dugout or on the backstop so it won’t get stepped on or get too dirty from being set down on the ground. A nice little hidden feature of the bag, I’d say, but, in the four weeks we’ve had it—12 practices and games, altogether—my son has turned down my invitation for him to hang the bag from the dugout or the backstop exactly 12 times. Says he prefers the way the bag looks when it’s dirty. Opted for the black bag because it was slightly cheaper than the other colors, by a matter of mere cents, as you can see if you click through the color options: black, red, navy, pink and gray. Black was definitely a mistake, and I’m certain there will come a point in the near future when my son will say the same, once the novelty of a filthy-looking bag wears off. My son’s on the “Los Gigantes,” according to their jerseys—we live in Las Cruces, New Mexico—which are printed in black and orange, same colors worn by the San Francisco Giants, my favorite MLB team, ergo my son’s favorite MLB team. Despite his enthusiasm for his bag’s color pairing up nicely with his team’s colors, we probably should have gone with red. Pink probably shows dirt the least, but pink, of course, was out of the question. Really wish my daughter would’ve responded more positively earlier this year when I encouraged her to join up with her classmate Halley’s T-ball team, the Coyotes. My daughter would have preferred the pink bag, I’m sure, irrespective of her hypothetical team’s color scheme, but I just can’t seem to foist on my daughter an enthusiasm for baseball the way I have my son. Is there a congenital attraction in the minds of young boys to hitting a ball with a stick that does not exist in the minds of young girls? Plenty of girls love baseball, however, which is why the bag is available in pink. Trick to it is probably imagining the necessary conditions for the emergence of baseball mania in very specific relation to the unique consciousness of your kid. Conditions that worked for my son won’t be the same for my daughter, conditions that worked for my kid won’t be the same for yours, etc. Last year, my son’s first in little league, he wasn’t so crazy about it, in part, I think, because he was feeling overwhelmed by the combination of doing both baseball and basketball while not doing particularly well at either. When he decided to quit basketball after the end of the season—12 games and 36 practices over the course of which I don’t believe he ever once touched the basketball to the rim—a weight seemed to lift from his shoulders, and, having occasionally fouled-off pitches at baseball practice, he began to feel that baseball is a sport at which he might excel, if he continued practicing. Between last season and this we often played catch on the driveway. At first had to drag him out there kicking and screaming, but after a few times he began enjoying it, and after a few more, he was the one dragging me. Had to establish and now regularly cite and enforce a family rule banning him from asking me to play catch more than three times per week. My son has a deceptively large head, as do I, necessitating an adult-sized batting helmet—Rawlings Coolflo Metallic Batting Helmet (Black), $17.99, see my review—which makes the Franklin bag rather difficult to zip up. To get the zipper all the way closed we have to follow a strict order of his equipment’s placement into the bag’s main storage compartment: bat first, followed by all the smaller-sized items—cap, cup and jockstrap, baseballs, sunglasses, water bottle, sunflower seeds, etc.—then glove, then helmet, which must be positioned at the far end of the bag, the end where the zipper pull ends up when the main storage compartment’s zipper is closed. Didn’t realize this the first week we had it. During the Los Gigantes’ first game against the formidable Missile Rangers, the bag was zipped up only three-quarters of the way, with the bill of his batting helmet sticking out, and the loss of his Easton Youth Typhoon III Batting Gloves—a steal at $8.99, see my review—occurred at some point during the late innings or aftermath of that game, having apparently fallen out from the unzippered portion of the bag’s main storage compartment. The following afternoon my son decided to cash in one of his three allotted weekly baseball catch requests; we headed out to the garage to retrieve his glove and ball from the Franklin bag, upon which time he informed me that his batting gloves were not in the bag. Asked him where they could be. In the bag, he said. But, he added, they’re not there. Told him look again in the bag, which he did, before saying, again, they weren’t in the bag, so we took the bag to the driveway, dumped its contents onto the concrete, searched its every last nook and cranny before concluding that the gloves must have fallen out of the unzippered portion of the bag’s main storage compartment at the baseball complex the previous evening, sometime after his final at-bat in the Los Gigantes’ 22–1 loss to the Missile Rangers. A blowout ensued during which I employed the scary-dad voice, something I’ve been trying not to do lately because I know it scares the kids like crazy, which is precisely why I have, historically, so often employed it. If he didn’t have batting gloves for the following day’s practice, he said, he wouldn’t be able to partake of batting practice, as it would result in blisters on his hands. Told him, employing the scary-dad voice, that blisters would be good for him, as they would serve to remind him of the necessity for greater care and responsibility in ensuring that his baseball equipment was at all times safe and secure. Told him, moreover, that I hoped his blisters bled. Tears were shed on the driveway, apologies were made, hugs and kisses followed. Worked together to discover the order with which his equipment could be placed in the bag to allow its zipping all the way up in order to prevent things from falling out of the bag in the future. Knowing that a new pair of Easton Youth Typhoon III Batting Gloves would not arrive via UPS in time for the following evening’s practice, we hopped in the minivan and headed over to Big 5, whereupon I instructed him to cup his hands on either side of eyes and make a beeline for the batting-glove display, which he agreed to do without complaint, still feeling remorseful over the loss of the batting gloves, I believe, and also perhaps a bit magnanimous following my promise to refrain from employing the scary-dad voice in response to future catastrophes associated with his irresponsible behavior. Coughed up $24.99 for a new pair of Easton Youth Typhoon III Batting Gloves. My son gave me a hug while reiterating both his unbounded love for me and his resolve to never again fail to zip up the Franklin bag all the way. It often seems there are only two surefire ways to get a kid of a certain age to behave: 1) make an obvious and protracted demonstration of our love for that kid (apologies, hugs, etc.); or, 2) drop a huge chunk of change on something that that kid mistakenly feels he or she cannot live without (overpriced batting gloves, rookie cards). My wife and I often lie in bed at night talking about what we’d do if we won the lottery, and she has all these zany ideas about vacations, places we’d live and houses we’d buy, but what I mostly think about are ways that all that money might make our kids behave better. We could hire a full-time personal shopper/developmental psychologist for each kid, someone whose job is to devise a rigorous matrix of available consumer products in relation to each kid’s consumerist desire and carefully schedule the doling out of products in relation to fluctuations in that kid’s behavior. Money can’t buy love, of course, but I don’t see why it couldn’t buy better behavior. There’s a ventilated exterior storage compartment at one end of the bag which is intended to store your little leaguer’s cleats, but unless your kid suffers from pronounced bromodosis, like our daughter does, I would advise against using it for this purpose, as cleats do not require being ready-at-hand during a game like batting gloves do, and it seems to me that that’s the exterior pocket’s very raison d’être. Upon arriving home from Big 5 established a rule that batting gloves must henceforth be stored exclusively in the Franklin bag’s exterior ventilated pocket, a policy the infraction of which will result in my son’s loss of all three of that week’s baseball-catch requests. His throws are improving, happy to say. Still has this extra little wrist motion going on right as he releases the ball resulting in the seams spinning in the manner of screwball or a southpaw’s curve. Tried to help him eliminate the motion but whenever he throws it correctly the ball ends up hitting the minivan over on the far side of the driveway. We play catch on the driveway instead of the backyard because the yard is filled with goatheads, these sharp little spiky things that have fallen off the hundreds of weeds growing out there. Before getting it in my head to quit my job, we hired a gardener to come out once a month and pull the weeds, but now that I’m not bringing home a paycheck there’s simply no way we can afford to do that anymore. Too lazy to do it myself. Gave up trying to correct my son’s extraneous wrist motion due to two broken minivan windows, the repair of which, as you can imagine, cost a pretty penny. Things have really gone to pot around here. Lock on the deadbolt is busted, security alarm doesn’t work and pretty much all the balance shoes on the windows are broken, which means the windows now require the insertion of a soup can between the casing and sill in order to stay opened and provide our evaporative cooler the necessary means for air circulation, which, honestly, doesn’t matter all that much, because the cooler isn’t working either. Warned both kids dozens of times—under threat of grounding, month-long loss of baseball catch requests, Goodwill donation of every last toy in the house, eBaying of all baseball cards, etc.—not to touch the soup cans, lest their fingers get chopped off by a falling window casing, but, still, often come upon a closed bedroom window with a soup can lying on the floor directly beneath it. No fingers yet. Shoulder strap on bag is of much too great a length for even an alarmingly hefty-sized 10-year-old. This bag will be thumping and slapping against your little leaguer’s back and buttocks and thighs as he or she races from your minivan to make it to the backstop or the dugout in time to preclude his or her having to run ten tardy laps around the baseball diamond. The Los Gigantes’ new coach’s coaching style is somewhat severe, I’d say, and a bit surprising given both the Los Gigantes’ previous coach’s soft-hearted, often insouciant coaching style, as well as the fact that the Los Gigantes belong not to the cutthroat Las Cruces Youth Baseball Association but to our local chapter of the Christian Baseball League. If maintaining the bag’s out-of-box appearance is important to you, and especially if your little leaguer refuses to hang the bag from chainlink using the little hook, you may want to consider spraying the bag’s Franklin logo with a can of polyurethane, if you have one lying around the garage, otherwise the logo’s vinyl lettering will start flaking off and the trunk of your minivan will be filled with thousands of tiny white flecks of vinyl that will cling to anything you put back there. Thankfully the CBL is non-denominational, however, so the religious indoctrination that takes place at games and practices during prayer ceremonies is vague enough for this family to stomach, at least most of the time. Have often asked my son what he thinks about while the kids have their caps off and heads bowed on the diamond as the new coach intones his invocations. Rookie cards, he says, those he most wants me to purchase for him on eBay. He recently decided to store his two favorite cards in the ventilated storage compartment alongside the batting gloves, and he got his first so-called hit of the season during the very next game, so now there’s no chance he’ll ever remove them despite my repeated pleas for him to do so, as the cards, two very expensive rookie cards that I purchased for him individually on eBay, are getting all scuffed up and bent in there. Refuses to store them in their protective plastic sleeves—10 (Ten) Pack Lot of 100 Soft Sleeves / Penny Sleeve for Baseball Cards & Other Sports Cards (Packaging May Vary), $8.99, see my review—because, he says, he likes to rub the pads of his fingers against the shiny cardboard a few times before putting on his batting gloves and heading out to the on-deck circle, claiming it helps him to convince himself that not only will he get a hit during his upcoming at-bat, but also that he will one day play in the Bigs himself, earning, he claims, as much money annually as Buster Posey and Tim Lincecum —the two players featured on his favorite cards—combined. Our little leaguers just don’t understand the way the world works, do they? The so-called hit my son had in the game after first placing the cards in the ventilated storage compartment was a grounder to the Missile Ranger’s shortstop, who nonchalantly proceeded to throw my son out at first base. Many times now to no avail have I attempted to distinguish for my son the difference between a hit and an out. I see reviews on here all the time from parents buying beaucoup baseball gear for their 2- and 3-year-olds, talking about how their toddler is destined for the Bigs, is destined to be the next Tiger Woods of baseball, etc., but none of our kids are really going to play in the Bigs, are they? Nor will any of them become gold-medal-winning Olympic swimmers, as my daughter insists she will. Our kids are great, special in all kinds of distinctive and important ways, but professional athletic success is simply not in the cards for them, I’m afraid. They’ll toil and struggle and achieve moderate, non-athletic professional success, and then they’ll have to quash the very same delusions of grandeur in their own kids that we had to quash in them. Main problem, I’d say, is success in life has become associated with certain capitalist paradigms concerning the fulfillment of consumerist desire, and the graceful movements of athletes’ bodies on television and computer screens is now one of the more immediately recognizable figures for this association, especially in the mind of a child who doesn’t yet perceive those even more nefarious and alluring figures of capitalist self-worth such as the yacht-owning and prostitute-frequenting CEO, or the disheveled and 8-ball-snorting upstart millionaire stock-broker, but who, the child, nonetheless possesses a nascent and often seemingly congenital attraction to the association of self-worth with the immediate fulfillment of his or her consumerist acquisitiveness. Nylon bag handle seems sturdy. I’m the one doing most of the carrying of the bag, as it’s always so loaded down with stuff that my son claims it’s going to strain his throwing arm and shoulder if he carries it, an eventuality which would, he says, undermine that component of the rationale behind our acquisition of the bag on which he now primarily focuses—that a successful baseball player must own the appropriate high-end baseball equipment—rather than the major, original rationale, which was to preempt one set of weekly blowouts. And this despite my also having to carry to and from every game three collapsible chairs—Coleman Camping Broadband Quad Chair with Mesh Back and Seat, $31.57 ea., see my review—a portable cooler loaded down with a bag of crushed ice and typically eight 20-oz. Powerade Zeros—Coleman 16- Can Soft Cooler with Hard Liner, a bargain at $17.48, see my review—a massive collapsible umbrella—Wondershade Portable Sun Shade (Red), $40.85, see my review—and my man purse, which I purchased on a different site, as I’m always left on my own with all this stuff as soon as we roll up to the baseball complex because my wife and daughter have to make a mad dash from the minivan across the parking lot in order to sprint through the complex and use their bodies to reserve us a spot beyond the fence next to the left-field foul-line from which our digital camera—Nikon D7000 16.2MP DX-Format CMOS Digital SLR, $911.89, see my review—can focus in on the batter’s box and my son’s whiffing or fouling or grounding-out with that amount of detail worthy of any given photograph’s eternal digital preservation. Last season the Los Gigantes’ coach, the insouciant one, designated me as official team photographer after espying the obsessiveness and seeming expertise with which I photographed my son’s every at-bat and fielding attempt with a big expensive-looking camera, upon which the instantly recognizable Nikon logo appears, so this season I’ve attempted to keep my photography substantially more low-key, notably via 1) the recent purchase of a zoom lens of much greater power—Nikon 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR AF-S DX Nikkor Zoom Lens for Nikon Digital SLR, $396.95, see my review—that would allow us to sit way off by the outfield foul-line in a spot where I don’t imagine the new coach, the tyrannous one, would often look, as none of the Los Gigantes or any of the members of the other CBL teams, save the Missile Rangers, possesses the upper-body strength to hit the ball that far, and 2) a small length of generic black electrical tape I’ve recently placed over our DSLR’s Nikon logo in order to hide it from the new coach’s sight. Directly beneath the zipper of the bag’s main storage compartment on the interior side of the bag is a large piece of cloth used as a backer for the printing of the Franklin logo on the bag’s exterior. The edges of the cloth backer may start fraying and the little strands of cloth will get wedged between the zipper teeth and the zipper pull if your little leaguer isn’t diligent about pushing the frayed strands out of the path of the zipper before zipping the bag up each time. Took us approximately 15 minutes on three separate occasions to get the zipper unstuck due to this ill-placed cloth backer. Third time the zipper got stuck, a few nights ago, I became so angry and frustrated that not only did I employ the scary-dad voice, threatening my son with all manner of cruel and unusual punishments were it to happen again, but I actually grabbed and lifted him—4’ 10”, 92 lbs.—by his biceps and with no small amount of manual pressure exerted against his arms and shoulders carried him kicking and screaming into the hallway bathroom, where I dropped him onto the toilet seat and slammed shut the door to begin admonishing and berating him employing the scary-dad voice for several minutes over his irresponsibility in failing to push the cloth backer’s frayed strands out of the path of the bag’s main storage compartment’s zipper pull. He listened quietly until I finally paused to catch my breath, upon which time he calmly suggested that maybe if I’d purchased him the equipment bag he’d wanted, at Big 5—Easton Walk-Off Bat Bag II (Black), $52.90 on here, $159.99 at Big 5 and Dick’s—then maybe we wouldn’t be having all these problems with the bag, and maybe, he said, if I hadn’t quit my job then we’d be able to afford to purchase nicer things for him, things that were designed to last, like the Easton Walk-Off Bag, whereupon I raised my hand, reared back my shoulder, swung my arm forward and, for the first time in my life, slapped with an open palm a person’s face, an act which, I should say, is not at all in keeping with the fairly militant anti-violence, anti-domestic-abuse personal ideology I have long held and often preached, but, still, all the same, I slapped him. The striking of my hand against the skin of my son’s cheek made a sound not unlike a batter’s foul tip. Tears formed on his eyes, his body started quivering, wails for his mother commenced. How, you ask, parents of little leaguers yourselves, could I have done something so abominable as to slap a little leaguer’s face? It was his mention of the Easton bag, first and foremost, the single most expensive baseball bag we saw at Big 5 and Dick’s on the day I took him along with me on my comparison-shopping outing, and, second, his mention of my having quit my job, his association of that fact with our inability or unwillingness to purchase more expensive and well-made things for him, and that combined with my certain knowledge that no matter how good my writing might be—that’s why I quit my job, by the way, to focus on my writing—there’s pretty much no chance of it eventuating in some future resolve on my part to discontinue my obsessive bargain shopping, because I’m not that kind of writer, and, moreover, because I’m not that kind of consumer. In this day and age it’s simply inconceivable for a mature, responsible adult of any conceivable tax bracket to stroll into a store and buy something without first considering its local, brick-and-mortar price in careful relation to its real-world, online price. Likewise, it is simply not possible for a serious writer to quit his oppressive, soul-crushing teaching job and still expect his family to go on acting as if all these cutting corners re the online purchasing of cheap-ass staple consumer products is par for the course. Red handprint formed on his cheek. Retrieved from the medicine cabinet Icy Hot Pain Relieving Cream, Extra Strength, 3- Ounce Package—$9.98/2-pack, see my review—and smeared some on his face. Told him I was very sorry, promised to never slap him again as long as I lived, and would he please stop calling for Mom. Replied that he was going to call the cops on me. Offered to purchase him Franklin Sports MLB Power Pitcher Pro Machine—a total ripoff at $59.26, see my review— if he forgave me. Got down on my knees, retrieved phone from pocket, brought up the pitching machine’s page, added it to cart, handed him the phone while inviting him to go ahead and press the Buy Now button if he wanted, which he immediately proceeded to do. Apologies were made and accepted, hugs and kisses followed. Together we headed out to the kitchen, grabbed a pair of shears—Wüsthof 5558-1 Come Apart Kitchen Shears, $17.99, see my review—then returned to the garage and used them to cut back the frayed edge of the bag’s cloth backer. The backer no longer presents a problem when zipping up the bag. Detracting one full star for the manufacturer’s failure to anticipate that the length of the flimsy cloth backer would eventuate in its frayed edge becoming stuck in zipper teeth. Detracting another half-star for manufacturer’s failure to make the shoulder strap of appropriate length for use by a child. Detracting a full star for the heartache, both my son’s and mine, associated with the one and hopefully the only time in my life I will slap a little leaguer’s face.
Update (10-19-2012): The Missile Rangers defeated the Los Gigantes 14–0 in the CBL Championship Game. Tyrannous coach had my son benched for some reason, except for in the very last inning when he was brought in as a pinch-hitter. Struck out on three straight pitches.
Update (10-22-2012): Little swiveling push-back plastic hook thing connecting the shoulder strap to the bag broke during our trip to the batting cages today. Detracting two stars. Going to take bag out to driveway, hose it down, let dry in sun, try to make it look as new as possible, repackage it—we always save everything’s box out in the garage—and attempt to return for refund/credit.
Update (11-27-2012): Received credit, purchased different bag: Easton Walk-Off Bat Bag II (Black), $52.90, see my review.