Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Day After: Why 42 Still Matters

This photo is here bc research says you'll read more w pics.
April 15 is a bad day for a lot of reasons. It's Tax Day. Lincoln died. Boston was bombed. The Titanic sank. Harley Proctor introduced Ivory Soap. But it's also the day that Jackie Robinson first set foot on a Major League Baseball field.

I'm fortunate enough to have grown up in an age when the kind of attitudes held by Kennesaw Mountain Landis, baseball's first commissioner responsible for imposing the ban on people with greater amounts of melanin in their skin, were generally not allowed by law and societal progress. Yet, as a suburban youth from Southwest Ohio, I was largely unexposed to other races. I had a black friend in elementary school; when we reached junior high, she made friends with other black kids and I with other white kids and we never talked after that. In high school, black and white kids didn't mix too much. Miami University had a 4% minority rate when I went there. I had an Asian friend. An. One. When I was a junior in Europe, the French and Germans were "exotic" until I got used to them. They became "Europeans," which were distinct from "Americans." "The West" only referred to the block of countries that had opposed the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

After college I enlisted in the Army to travel and learn a language and be a peacekeeper as expressed in the Army's stated mission during the Clinton years. The Army had far more African-Americans than I had ever been exposed to, appropriate given that the Army had really been the first institution to integrate. I was sent to the rather elite Defense Language Institute and put into Arabic classes with mostly white students. Yet I was exposed to another race for the first time - Arabs - a group of people who would become a big part of my life. In 2003 I moved to Washington, a city that at the time had a majority black population (it has since evened out), as well as a sizeable Latino population. That never stopped me from saying, "No one is from Washington," and "DC is a transient city," because in my white world, people had come to our nation's capital from all over. I was 26 at the time, probably too old to be so naive but young enough not to be molded into one way of thinking. Fortunately, I realized that my naive assessments of the "transient city" were incorrect.

I took a job in the Middle East department at an international development organization, a place where I was happy until I was denied a promotion by my third boss in four years. During the happy time, we had a core of happy hour goers consisting of the following: a Russian, a Czech, an Iraqi-American, an African-American, an Uzbek, and a couple of us white mutt type Americans. I lived in the historically black Shaw neighborhood, a block from where Josh Gibson had hit monster homers with the Grays at Griffith Stadium. I learned about "Black Broadway," Duke Ellington, and the riots that wrecked DC after Dr. King was killed. The ghosts were still in the neighborhood; as I watched the gentrification of the area I felt the history and soul fleeing with little attempt to stop it. After I had been denied the promotion, I decided to leave the job, my neighborhood, and DC, and spend some time traveling. I didn't have too much money saved, so I chose to spend time in a poor (read: cheap) country, Bulgaria, where, in addition to Bulgarians, I hung out with an English ecologist who was walking from the UK to Palestine and a Japanese guy who was hired by the local university to teach Japanese to Bulgarian students.

Eventually I was hired by a Lebanon-oriented organization and got to live in Beirut during a few years of relative stability. Beirut became my adopted home. There I witnessed firsthand the psychological and social scars of a people in perpetual conflict. Though a decade earlier I'd had an internship at a peace and reconciliation center in Ireland, the Irish conflict had largely abated, and people were actively going through the healing process. In Lebanon, people avoid talking about their conflict, unless politicians pay it lip service, politicians who are nothing more than tribal chieftains leading their flocks astray. The start of the Syrian war and the threat of eventual spillover into Lebanon ended my residence there, and I returned to DC changed by my experiences. I've been floating ever since. 

But that's the key, you see. Experience. Walking a mile in another person's shoes. Americans looked at me like I was crazy for wanting to be in Beirut, unable to fathom that with the exception of being on the Mediterranean Sea and having Roman ruins and a few bullet-riddled buildings, Beirut wasn't any different than your average American city of two million people. I mean, seriously, people, I don't know what you think other places in the world look like. I ate Subway, drank Caribou Coffee, and bought H&M clothes in my neighborhood of Hamra in Beirut.

You may wonder why I am writing about myself here when I should be writing about Jackie. Well, I can't write anything about Jackie that someone else hasn't written, and this is not about me, anyway. It's about the way we are programmed to think one way or another and we believe that's just the way things are and how, by virtue of experience, we can overcome our biases. The people who yelled nasty, racist things at Jackie probably weren't evil people, though their actions were evil. They didn't know any better. They'd grown up in a white-dominated world where black people were seen as inferior and had no business doing anything but serving their white masters, and they never thought to question it. Jackie Robinson invaded their world and showed them they were wrong, but instead of marveling at the athleticism of a great man and appreciating his baseball feats, they embraced their ingrained ideas of "the other." People cling to their trivial, artificial differences, be it religion, ethnicity, nationality, race, etc., purporting to be superior to groups that don't conform to their own tribal notions. Fear of difference used to be a survival tactic; now, it's a symptom of a diseased mind.

We left that vile world for awhile, drove the KKK into hiding, shamed racists and bigots and gave people equal voting rights and MLK his own holiday and patted ourselves on the backs for doing so, but it never went away. It festered beneath the surface and grew in small towns and suburbs and affluent city neighborhoods and in our justice system and our education system and it slinked and slid its way back into our political system, led by pundits and politicians whose ideologies are so putrid that they are now trying to deny voting rights to people and they've made laws that say you can shoot people if you are scared of them. You even have people who think celebrating Jackie Robinson Day is having "civil rights shoved down our throats" and complaints run rampant about the tradition of wearing Jackie's 42, some wondering why we don't also wear the numbers of Nomo or Clemente to commemorate their debuts.

We celebrate Jackie exactly because ignorance like this persists.

Do you think that because you clap for Brandon Phillips' hits and listen to rap music that racism is over? Do you think that because America elected as POTUS a dark-skinned man with a funny name - twice - that racism is over? Can you not look at our prison populations and our inner city schools and our political discourse and not understand how bad things are right now?

More than ever we need to celebrate Jackie, to teach kids and to remind ourselves of who he was, what he did, and why it was significant. We live in an age of uncivil discourse, fueled by the anonymity and ease of the internet, cable news and talk radio, rampant narcissism, and an appalling lack of empathy for other human beings. If we don't like what we hear, we can just block it or change the channel, ensuring that people stay in a bubble. Americans don't travel and have no exposure to other cultures. We reside in largely segregated neighborhoods, go to segregated schools, buy segregated music, live segregated lives. Ours is an unprecedented age of connectivity, yet we seem to be more disconnected than ever.

Atlanta celebrated the anniversary of Hank Aaron's 755 last week and USA Today published an interview after it. What happened next? A deluge of racist letters and death threats arrived, addressed to Aaron, just as they had when he was chasing Ruth's record. THIS WAS LAST WEEK. We don't have Hank Aaron Day, but what Hank did took as much courage as Jackie had. Why does he have to live it again? What's more, why did the leading talk radio host, who is greatly responsible for that hate mail, ignite a flame war in the first place? For ratings? Are ratings more important than human beings? Don't answer that.

The bottom line is we shouldn't have to celebrate Jackie Robinson. We shouldn't don 42 on our jerseys or hear players say, "If it weren't for Jackie, I wouldn't be here today." That we do is both a testament to both the greatness of our country and the tragedy of it. Jackie should have always been allowed to play ball. Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston, Buck Leonard, Cool Papa Bell...they all should have played Major League Baseball. But the evils of fear and bigotry held our country hostage, and courageous Americans like Jackie, Branch Rickey, and Dr. King helped guide us through that shameful part of our nation's history. We overcame it; it's worth celebrating.

It's our world; we can change it, but only if we get off our couches and do something, experience life, pop those bubbles of ignorance in which too many people stay. I sure am glad I left mine.

Monday, April 14, 2014

BASE BALL MATCH - White House Lawn

By the time Lincoln took office, a New York volunteer firefighter with the Knickerbocker Engine Company No. 12 had already drawn up the rules on which our modern game of baseball is based, and more than 50 baseball teams were in existence. That firefighter and bank clerk, Alexander Cartwright, had laid out the field in a diamond-shape, created foul territories, limited defense to nine players and games to nine innings, and prohibited the practice of throwing balls at runners for outs. Imagine Aroldis Chapman or Stephen Strasburg throwing baseballs at runners - they'd kill someone!

Lincoln's passion for baseball is shrouded in mythology. However, there is much credible evidence that he was, in fact, a fan of the game and that not only did he play in his hometown of Springfield, but he continued to play and watch when he arrived to Washington in 1861. Baseball was played on a part of the White House lawn known as the "White Lot," now called the "Ellipse," where baseball, among other games, is still played.

http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=F10717FA3E5D14738DDDA90A94D9415B818EF1D3
To view full article, click on the image

A grandson of Francis Preston Blair, he of Blair House (the official state guest house) fame, said:
"We boys hailed [Lincoln's] coming with delight because he would always join us on the lawn. I remember vividly how he ran, how long were his strides, how his coattails stuck out behind." 
I marvel at stories of presidents roaming Washington without the army of security that must follow them these days. The White House had no fence around it when Lincoln was in office, so access to the White Lot was easy. Of course, we all know what happened at Ford's Theater and how security measures became necessary, but sometimes when I happen to walk by the White House, I wonder how it would be to see POTUS wandering around the yard instead of being trapped inside.

During his campaign in 1860, a political cartoon showed Lincoln standing on home plate, ball in hand, saying, "You must have a good bat and strike a fair ball to make a clean score and homerun." His bat, which is actually a fence rail, says, "Equal rights and fair territory."


Washington had two baseball teams at the time, the Nationals and the Potomacs, made up of mostly government clerks until the war began. One of the Nationals' founders, Arthur Gorman, was a Senate staffer who later became a Senator from Maryland. The Nationals played at the Capitol grounds while the Potomacs played on the White Lot. The first match between the two teams was played on the White Lot on May 5, 1860, with the Nationals routing the Potomacs 35-15.

We have the Civil War to thank for baseball becoming the national pastime; soldiers arriving from New York, where Cartwright's rules had become standard, played Washington teams, and by most accounts, crushed them. Some say the Yankees-Dodgers rivalry was born on the fields in Washington. An announcement in the National Republican on June 28, 1861, informed:

"BASE BALL MATCH - There will be a match played at Camp Wool on tomorrow afternoon at 4 o'clock, between the first nine of the Baldwin B.B. Club (Co. D) and the first nine of the Steers B.B. Club (Co. E). Those interested in the noble game of base ball are invited to witness the contest. As the above clubs are composed of some of the best players of Brooklyn and New York, it is expected that the game will be very interesting."

Whole baseball teams sometimes enlisted together, ensuring games were competitive. The game was so popular that the owners of the Willard's and Ebbitt's taverns worried they would lose business to baseball. These establishments were the predecessors to today's famous Willard Hotel and Old Ebbitt Grill. Their worries were obviously unfounded.

I imagine Lincoln would have been a White Sox fan had Major League Baseball existed during his time. While it could have been possible to be a Cubs or Cardinals fan given his Springfield locale, I think The Railsplitter would have followed a team associated with the working class. But I'm sure he saw his fair share of Nationals and Potomacs games.

Though supplies were scarce during the war, and fence poles and rolled up rags were often used as bats and balls, baseball sustained the soldiers' morale, doing for them what the game still does for us today - give us momentary respite from the travails of our daily lives.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

That white little sphere

I was sixteen years old when I touched a real Major League baseball for the first time. Of course, I had seen other baseballs, and I'd been playing softball since I was eight or so, but to hold a genuine Major League baseball was to hold something precious, something far more valuable than its price tag indicated.  I had been given the beautiful sphere by a friend of my grandfather who owned a local sporting goods store; it was a gift to have signed because I had won a celebrity bat girl contest and was allowed on the field for Reds batting practice at Riverfront Stadium. The Reds also gave me a ball. Suddenly I had two of the beautiful things - one I had signed by Barry Larkin and the other I stored in a box to keep it in pristine condition.

A couple of years later I snagged a foul ball off the bat of Joe Girardi, then a catcher with the Rockies, and this one had the scars of battle smeared on its side. Scuffed and dirty, it was as perfect as the other two genuine Major League balls in my collection. My collection remained at three for seven or eight years, when I bought one of the balls they had specially made for Ripken's streak. I collected other baseballs, too, commemorative balls, balls from every stadium I visited, balls with the logos of teams I liked, but they weren't genuine Major League baseballs, crafted to perfection by the hands of skilled (though underpaid) workers. Then one day Ryan Zimmerman was supposed to be at one of those winter caravan events, so I took the precious, clean ball out of its box and brought another, cheaper ball for the other guys. (What? You do it, too!) Zimmerman didn't show up, so the pretty white sphere went back in the box.

I got it out when the Reds came to town in 2007 and I stalked the players at their hotel. Ha! I merely had lunch sitting next to manager Pete Mackanin and his wife and watched the team arrive to the hotel and hang out in the lobby. I saved that pristine ball until the right player came along and then Brandon Phillips enthusiastically signed for me before the Lobby Nazi told me I couldn't ask them for autographs anymore. No matter. My ball was inked by one of my favorite players.

I had saved that ball for fifteen years.

Recent studies have been conducted on young children about delayed gratification. This was never a thing when I was traipsing the concourses of Riverfront Stadium. You could go to a store and not see a child throwing a tantrum because his mother wouldn't buy him a new toy, or if you did encounter one, his mother would likely say no. This was about the time when the buds of the Age of The Spoiled Child first sprouted, when SoundScan divided music - and us - into genres, when cable news shouted at us twenty-four hours a day, and when luxury boxes ensured that our childhood playgrounds would be imploded and our beloved game would become less accessible to us common folk.

Then came the internet.

The Reds website in November 1998

I remember the first time I used the internet, or rather, one of the first times, as it all blends together now. Netscape, the browser was called. I had a university email address and then discovered I could have a Netscape address and I thought email the greatest invention in the world except few people I knew actually had an email address. I don't remember any particular website, though I know I'd laugh if I saw them now. As more people joined the wonders of the world wide web, we thought we had reached the peak of technological advancement. Then came MySpace.

That was the beginning of the end of the civil web. Now strangers in vast numbers could connect with like-minded strangers who shared their interests and dislikes. As technology progressed, discourse declined. Blogs appeared, beginning with writers and thought leaders before spreading to the - how should I put it - lesser informed populace. Internet commenting fell into ruin - anyone with a keyboard could say whatever they wanted regardless (or irregardless, as many would say) of his level of knowledge about a particular topic. Conversely, one could choose not to engage with those who held differing views at all, ensuring he remained in a bubble as like-minded individuals reinforced the ingrained notions he harbored. Finally, we moved into the age of Facebook and Twitter, real-time forums where success means discarding all notions of delayed gratification. We've moved into the age of Now.

Show me a youth who'd put a baseball away in a box for fifteen years to save it for the perfect time. Why, when he can get his mother to go out and buy another one in the age of Now? We have movies on demand, road rage, fast food and microwave meals, even line-jump passes at Disneyland. Everything is so fast that no one takes the team to do research, frame an argument, or check his emotions. We're all guilty. Social media destroyed this blog, distracting me from writing while pulling readers away from what's now called long-form. How many people who start to read this have even gotten this far? And what has all of this Now brought us? Misinformation, SHOUTING MATCHES, fired employees, and unabridged hysterics in all realms, especially in baseball, a sport that is played nearly every day for half of each year, mostly outside, in all geographies.

What I think is happening to fans of many teams is suffocation by Now. Now destroys our perspectives, eradicates pause, occupies our reason and dulls our senses. Now is the reason fans of some teams, including the Reds, are throwing in the proverbial towel on the season. The less eloquent among us say, "This team sucks" or let out uncivilized expletives for a lack of skill in expressing ourselves. Others use sarcasm or what they think is sarcasm, while some try to justify their cynicism with numbers they've thrown together as quickly as they can.

I go back to that delayed gratification study of preschoolers. The study found that the happiest children were those who were able to wait for a treat - marshmallows, I think. They learned that there was, indeed, a future that was much more rewarding than immediate gratification. One hundred and sixty-two games make up a Major League Baseball season, not seven games, not twenty games, not eighty-one games. By succumbing to Now, the hysterical are zapping all the joy out of baseball. Negative energy rubs off on all around you, and it will rub off on the teams you purport to love.

Do me a favor. Go find a baseball, a genuine Major League baseball, and hold it in your hand. Smell its leather. Rub its 108 raised red stitches. Mimic a throw, or better, throw it, let it hit someone's glove, hear that pop. Experience baseball. Take a breath. Relax. Some of us are still getting snow. We haven't even started yet, so stop your whining and enjoy the damn game!

Monday, April 07, 2014

Evolution of Night

I've been a Reds fan since birth. Dressed in Reds gear from head to toe, I was exposed to my first game at age one when the Reds came to San Diego's Jack Murphy stadium in 1978. Both parents were from the Dayton area, and Reds fandom in my family goes back generations. At the time of my birth, the Big Red Machine were World Series Champs, the last championship for the greatest team in baseball history. I count myself lucky in that the Reds won a World Series in my lifetime and I was just old enough to appreciate it.

Naturally, Opening Day is a holiday in my heart, and the Reds are second to none in the day's festivities. I've missed watching the Reds on Opening Day very few times in my life - once when I was abroad (no MLB.TV in 1998) and twice when I was in the Army and couldn't take the day off. I even flew to Cyprus in 2010 and stayed in a five-star hotel when I was living in Beirut just to make sure I had a good enough internet connection to watch the game. Unlike a lot of Reds fans, the E$PN Sunday-Night-Game-Before-Opening-Day and the overseas series don't bother me. Everyone knows the true Opening Day is on the Monday when the Red play their first baseball game, and I don't need to wax poetic to convey how special it is.

Still, the magic of Opening Day is present in other cities whose teams don't get to start at home every year. But, like I can never know what English sounds like to one who doesn't speak it, I'll never truly know what Opening Day feels like to a fan of another team when their Opening Day occurs a week into the season. Sure, I've gone to half of the Nationals home openers since that wonderful first one back in 2005, but it just doesn't fill my heart with the same level of joy as that of my beloved Reds. We are what we grow up with.

I didn't attend the Nats home opener this year, due to budgetary constraints and a recently-developed aversion to precipitation. (I think the winter scarred me.) But thanks to ScoreBig.com, I got to go to Game 2 and sit in these awesome seats:


The process was easy. I just went to ScoreBig.com, typed in "Nationals," and the games came up instantly. I put in a bid for less than face value and learned I won the tickets in less than five minutes - all I had to do was print them out and I was good to go. I probably could have just used my phone to scan the tickets at the gate, but I have an irrational fear that my tickets won't work every time I go to an event, and I'm old enough not to wholeheartedly trust technology. My fear extends to printed tickets, too. Once I got screwed on U2 tickets that I got from Craig's List and only the kindness of a stranger with an extra ticket got me into the show. But you don't have to worry about fake tickets if you use ScoreBig, as the tickets are guaranteed. And there are NO fees. They don't charge you to use your own ink and paper like the team does. What's more, there's no creepy ticket oak growing in your backyard.

I woke up Saturday morning with first-game-of-the-season jitters, wondering if the winter of our extreme discontent were truly over, if I really could see a baseball game in the evening, but I had a Reds game to watch before it was time to go to the ballpark. I headed to the Metro soon after Hoover gave up that game-ending grand slam to Ike Davis. Ugh. Ike Davis? Really? Anyway, I love living on the Green Line - it's so simple to get to the ballpark, and one of the best experiences in all of MLB (at least of the fifteen MLB parks I've been to) is coming out of the Metro and catching sight of the stadium and all the excitement of the crowds. The pre-game buzz is intoxicating. As in any ballpark, the first glimpse of that oh-so-verdant field after you enter a ballpark is spellbinding. I wanted to hug the whole world when I saw this:



I don't know how many times I've been to this ballpark, but I leisurely strolled the long way to my seats, making sure I took in everything as if it were my first, not fiftieth, visit. A new crab cake stand - awesome. The old Washington baseball history collages - fantastic. The tribute to the Negro Leagues - ok, so that's still as tacky as ever. It looks like it belongs on a county fair ride. Still, the Nats do a decent job of honoring the Grays, including Josh Gibson in the trio of statues that greet (scare?) fans at the main gate, Gibson and Buck Leonard banners in the stadium, and equal space for the Grays in the Washington baseball history collages. They should - the Grays outdrew the Senators in attendance at Griffith Stadium back when Washington was "First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League."

When I finally sat down, it was just about game time. Wow, was it cold. The wind was fierce, and I worried I hadn't brought enough layers. It wasn't the coldest game I've ever been to - that treacherous Game 5 of the NLDS versus the hated Taint Louis Deadbirds was pretty darn cold, and it snowed on Opening Day in Cincinnati a few years ago when I attended, though I had brought a thermal sleeping bag for the latter game and was the envy of all around me. 

Fortunately, the wind died down, and then it was somewhat pleasant, at least with the amount of clothing I had on. The game started off well enough. I have never witnessed in person a homer that traveled as far as the LaRoche bomb to the upper deck. I do not exaggerate when I say my mouth dropped when I saw it sail so high above me. I believe holy-something came out of my mouth. The crowd roared, the fireworks went off, and I was in love with baseball all over again.


I happened to be sitting in a spot where you could see the Washington Monument, and it seemed as if I were sitting in a painting. The evolution of night was rather breathtaking.






But, as the sun went down, so, too, did the Nats' good fortune. Strasburg's pitching devolved, and he was chased from the game in the fifth inning. I don't think it's a coincidence that the National Cherry Blossom festival fireworks were going off as he had his meltdown. They certainly were loud and distracting. The Barves took the lead and never looked back, winning the game 6-2. Yet the outcome didn't really matter to me that night. I was just ecstatic that I finally was able to see a baseball game, especially after our dreadful winter.

I recommend using ScoreBig.com to get great seats like these. I'll probably go again on the next homestand. Now, if only they could get us discounts on the beer!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Another game

We moved to Ohio, where my parents are from, when I was five years old. My mother and father divorced, and my two sisters and I went to live with my grandparents in Englewood with my mother. We'd been born in California and had lived near San Diego for all of our brief lives. It's where I got my need for beach, I'm convinced.

The 1941 University of Dayton athletic board
My mother came from a Catholic family in Dayton, which meant that my grandparents had attended Catholic high schools - my grandfather went to Chaminade and my grandmother Julienne, back when they were segregated by gender. Now it's one high school - Chaminade-Julienne. I don't know if my great grandfather, Merle P. Smith, went to Chaminade, but he did go to University of Dayton, from where he graduated in 1925 as class president. He went on to become a professor of English and Journalism at UD. I feel proud of that, knowing that writing runs in our family. But he went beyond that. He was an officer in the alumni association, and he was on the UD athletic board in 1941. A love for sports runs in our family, too.

My grandfather graduated from UD as well, and he had season tickets for UD basketball for many, many years. He used to take us to a few games every year, and those were treasured times. I'd often get to go for my birthday (the only good thing about having an early January birthday. Also, as the oldest child, I feel like I got to go to more games, as there were only four tickets. Sorry, Sandy and Jennifer. :D) The most cherished times were when we'd go to the restaurant above the court before the games where you had to be a member - we felt special when we went up there. Sometimes the women's team would play before the men's and we'd get to watch them through the glass at the restaurant and that was an added bonus. After the games, sometimes we'd stand at the players' entrance and get autographs as the players were leaving the court. It seems funny to me now, but that ink on the programs was priceless then. Going to these games was almost like going to Reds games for us - we didn't distinguish between pro and college because to us they were all men good at sports.

I'm not a big March Madness person. To be honest, I feel like it epitomizes the commercialization of college sports in a way that's unmatched even by the BCS Championship. I mean, there's so much money involved in these kind of events that soon, college athletes will mostly likely be paid to play ball. Don't get me wrong - I used to like it and appreciate the excitement of it all. I just don't personally engage. But I've been watching UD, because it's personal to me. 

I just wanted to mention that.


Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Presidents: John Adams

John Adams played a form of baseball called "One Old Cat" when he was a child. Coming from Boston, he would have been a huge Red Sox fan.


Saturday, March 15, 2014

He played baseball at Valley Forge

I'm launching a new baseball-related project this spring. You'll have to come to DC to participate. Hint: it has something to do with this:

Yes, I made this.


I'll be working out the details this week, so stay tuned...

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Trouble at MLB.TV

I recently got a new phone. I'd had an old BlackBerry for four years and it was getting to the point where nothing was updated and it hardly worked anymore. I was motivated to upgrade by the impending baseball season; I had been jealous of those who were able to use MLB At Bat on their phones like I had a few years ago and thought how wonderful it'd be to watch Reds games from anywhere.

I had already paid for the MLB.TV Premium subscription - I pay $24.99 monthly so I can watch the Reds. MLB At Bat comes with the Premium subscription. When I went to download it on my phone, I discovered that what MLB.TV makes you do is pay for the download, then you have to request a refund or a credit to your Premium account. Annoying, right? So I paid the $16.99 for the download and followed the instructions to get my refund/credit.

Here are the instructions:

*MLB.TV Premium is available on select Blackberry devices. Separate purchase required.
To access At Bat 14 content (including MLB.TV Premium subscription content) on your BlackBerry device, you must purchase the device-specific version of At Bat 14 from BlackBerry World. Current MLB.TV Premium subscribers who purchase At Bat 14 from BlackBerry World are eligible for a refund of the At Bat 14 purchase price. For more information, purchase, download and log into At Bat 14 using your MLB.TV Premium account credentials, then launch MLB.TV Premium content, and follow the instructions by which eligible subscribers may request their refund. Please contact MLB.com Mobile Customer Support at customerservice@website.mlb.com with any questions.

When I purchased the download, I received instructions to contact the above email address and forward my purchase receipt. So I did. A couple of days later, I received this:

Dear Fan,

Thank you for sending your email, as we appreciate the time that you have taken to
contact us.

Please call our toll-free customer service hotline at 1-866-800-1275, as taking this step will allow us to do some additional troubleshooting to attempt to resolve your issue.

Thank you again for taking the time to write!

Sincerely,
Customer Response Team
MLB.com

So they wanted me to call them and waste my time on hold (if you've ever tried to contact MLB.TV customer service, you know how long the wait is. Since I seem to have some sort of billing issue nearly every year, I have experience in this area.)

I sent this response:

You are supposed to send me the refund for MLB at Bat since I am a premium MLB TV subscriber!!! Sending the receipt to your customer service email was in the instructions that you gave us. I shouldn't have to suffer though a phone call to your customer support. Get with it and give me my refund.
Yeah, I was annoyed. That they gave instructions on how to get a refund then couldn't even follow those instructions was ridiculous. But it seems pretty clear that I want a refund for MLB at Bat, right? Since, you know, I state that?

Here's what I received this morning:

Dear Valued Subscriber:

Your request for a refund in connection with your 2014 MLB.TV Premium Monthly Subscription subscription has been approved and a credit in the amount of 24.99 will appear on the statement of the credit card to which you were being billed.

Please allow your credit card company 5 to 7 business days to process the refund. If your credit does not appear after 7 business days or should you have question about your account please contact Customer Support toll-free at 1-866-800-1275.

We thank you for your patronage.

Sincerely,
MLB.com

They cancelled my MLB.TV Premium Subscription instead of giving me a refund for At Bat. Now I can't access anything.

While it was ridiculous they charged us a full month for March, given the limited number of games there are, I still wanted the subscription.

I haven't called the number yet. I fired off a nasty email and will call when I calm down. (I feel bad about it now.)

Update:

It took forty minutes - mostly on hold - to learn that I have to resubscribe and that "corporate" is going to  contact me about the refund/credit for At Bat.  At first I was on a call with what was clearly an outsourced call office. I don't think the woman even knows what baseball is. She couldn't understand that I didn't want anything cancelled, I just wanted the refund/credit that was due to me. She finally transferred me to someone in accounts who was probably in the New York office and at least progressed the issue. (Can "progressed" be transitive?) We'll see how the refund/credit saga goes...

Update 2: Hooray! Situation resolved. Corporate called me when I was still on the phone, left a message. I called back, they comped me a month for my troubles and turned my account back on. Once I got through the first layer, the people were very helpful. Thanks, all!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Gagarin reviews the New York Yankees

Gagarin's observations of the videos he receives on his radio wave transmission machine. Translated from the original Tralfamadorian, the language spoken on planet Tralfamadore.

Unfortunately, sometimes it is days between transmissions and I am left to wonder who won the base-ball games on the planet called Earth. During these gaps, I review video footage I have already received from this alien planet, hoping to discover something I may have missed in prior viewings. Since I am going to review the base-ball team known as the "New York Yankees," I thought I would look at some of the videos about this city called New York, but there are hours and hours of information about this city and I have chosen only the most recent videos. I feel that the city of New York must be the most important city on the planet. However, much of the footage I have acquired is disturbing.

I am particularly curious about the mating habits of Earthlings after watching many hours of a program called "Sex in the City." It focuses on the lives of a particular kind of Earthing called "woman," and there seems to be much difficulty in finding a suitable mate for reproductive purposes. It appears that there are two variations of Earthling necessary for mating, those being "woman" and "man." The particular womans on the program "Sex in the City" can be described as whiny and never content with the things they have, which are many. The dominant woman in this program has an obsession with the painful type of shoe I described in a previous entry. These womans do not seem pleasant and I do hope that not all of the womans on Earth are this disagreeable.

Another program about the city of New York that I have frequently viewed is called "Seinfeld." I do not know what to make of this program. It seems as if the Earthlings in this program are purposely making life difficult for themselves and for other people. One in particular, a short, bald man, is always yelling about things that do not matter. Another, a tall man with strange hair, seems to have some sort of mental deficiency. The one called "Jerry Seinfeld" is something called a "comedian," which consists of standing in front of groups of Earthlings and telling stories. These stories are called "jokes" and seem to please the Earthlings. I do not know if this is a peculiar pastime of New York or if this is common among Earthlings.

Taken together, these two programs make the city of New York seem like an undesirable place. Yet I feel there is a kind of magic about this grand city and that maybe I do not understand these programs. New York has buildings that reach to the heavens, something you cannot find on the planet Tralfamadore, as our atmosphere must be much smaller than that of Earth. No Tralfamadorian could survive in a building as tall as the ones in New York. I think if the Earthlings can build such magnificent towers, they must be better than those featured on the Sex and the City and Seinfeld programs.

In New York there are two Major League Base-ball teams. One is called the Yankees and they are in the American League. The other is called the Mets and they are in the National League. I will get to the Mets later. The Yankees are historically the best team in the Major League Base-ball. They have won twenty-seven of the championships they call the "World Series" that is only played in the region they call "America." They have won the championship as recently as four seasons ago and they could do it again this year, though, as I mentioned, this division called the "American League East" is full of very good teams.

The uniform of the Yankees team is iconic on planet Earth. It consists of a black cap with a white NY stitched upon it and pinstriped shirts and pants. I am considering commissioning our local tailor to fashion such a uniform for me; however, as we don't wear clothing on Tralfamadore, I would probably not wear it, not wanting to draw attention to myself.

There appears to be some disparity in the wealth of teams. "Wealth" is the amount of resources available to the Earthlings to acquire items they do not make themselves. These can be items of necessity, such as the food they must consume to sustain their bodies, or extraneous items that give them pleasure but are not necessary for survival. One of the ugly things about Earthlings that I have discovered after studying many hours of videos is that their lives revolve around the acquisition of such items and that many Earthlings take so much of the available resources that others do not have enough to feed themselves. This is a cause of many conflicts in which they try to destroy each other. I am unable to understand how a civilization that can build such magnificent structures into the sky and invent the great game of base-ball is of insufficient intelligence to avoid such conflicts.

These kinds of inequalities exist everywhere on Earth, including in the great game of base-ball. This is why the New York Yankees have won more championships than all of the other teams - they have more wealth than the other teams and they buy better quality players. Yes, Earthlings buy other Earthlings. The wealthiest of them buy the labor of the less wealthy and they become a part of the wealthiest's wealth. This is a very complicated issue that warrants in-depth study. However, that is not the focus of this entry; I only mention it because the New York Yankees base-ball team has so much wealth and buys players. As a result, their team looks very different from the previous season. They bought these players: Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, Kelly Johnson, Brian Roberts, Alfonso Soriano. Alfonso Soriano was added at the end of last year. This is probably their batting lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. SS Derek Jeter
  3. RF Carlos Beltran
  4. C Brian McCann
  5. 1B Mark Teixeira
  6. DH Alfonso Soriano
  7. 3B Kelly Johnson
  8. 2B Brian Roberts
  9. LF Brett Gardner
It is among the best in the Major League Base-ball and they will score many runs with it.

On the bench are these players: C Francisco Cervelli, OF Ichiro Suzuki, IF Brendan Ryan, IF Scott Sizemore. Ichiro Suzuki used to be one of the best hitters but his body has aged and he no longer has the capability he once had. This is what happens to Earthlings. For the first twenty of their Earth years or so, their bodies are in development. The next ten of their years are the best years and then their bodies begin to age. They only exist for approximately eighty Earth years before ceasing to live. One wonders how they accomplish anything in that short amount of time. Perhaps that is why they remain in perpetual conflict - they have not the time to gain the wisdom to stop before they perish.

A curious thing about the Yankees' starting pitching - they all end with the same letter. I thought this strange and theorized that they did, perhaps, hail from the same area. I was thus astonished to discover that not only did they not hail from the same place, but, indeed, hailed from places very far apart on the planet Earth.
  1. CC Sabathia hails from California, a place within the region of America
  2. Hiroki Kuroda hails from Japan
  3. Masahiro Tanaka hails from Japan
  4. Ivan Nova hails from Dominican
  5. Michael Pineda hails from Dominican
A strange thing about the players from the Japanese tribe is that there is a major league base-ball in their land but they choose to play in the region called America. This is because the Major League Base-ball of America has more wealth than that of Japan. The New York Yankees often buy the services of the best players of the league in Japan because they have more wealth than all of the other teams. Masahiro Tanaka is the latest addition to the team from the league of Japan, and though every team wanted him, the Yankees won a contest to purchase his services because they have the most wealth.

The probable finishing pitchers are David Robertson, Shawn Kelly, Matt Thornton, David Phelps, Dellin Betances, Cesar Cabral, Adam Warren. It should be noted that David Robertson is considered the top finisher and is new. The body of their elder finisher called "Mariano Rivera" grew too aged to continue playing. He was beloved by the citizens of the city of New York and by fans of the great game of base-ball in general. This season's bullpen is probably the weakest part of the Yankees team and might be a problem during the season. Last season it wasn't good aside from Mariano Rivera and the team did not make the post-season.

It should be noted that this team has many fans on planet Earth, the most fans of any of the Major League Base-ball teams. Even Earthlings who do not hail from the city of New York or from the region of America like this team. However, many Earthlings also despise the Yankees. This could be for many reasons, perhaps the predominant one being the inequality exhibited by the wealthy Yankees. From what I can tell, the Yankees use other teams to develop young players and then buy them when they reach their primes.

I will be interested to see if the New York Yankees have, in effect, bought their way into the post-season. Using their vast wealth does not guarantee success; however, it does not hurt their chances.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Gagarin reviews the Boston Red Sox

Gagarin's observations of the videos he receives on his radio wave transmission machine. Translated from the original Tralfamadorian, the language spoken on planet Tralfamadore. 

It has come to my attention that the aliens I have discovered are called "Earthlings" after the planet they live on called "Earth." I have also realized that when you write the names of base-ball players, you must use a different letter at the beginning of each name called a "capital" letter. In my previous entry I have spelled names like "chris davis" but I have learned that I should write them like "Chris Davis." Also, the names of the cities and the teams should be written like "Baltimore Orioles." I do not know why this is the case but I will continue to watch the videos for any clues to the answer.

Today I am going to write about the team from the city of "Boston" that is nicknamed the "Red Sox." They are named after the color of their socks. I do not know why the name "Sox" is spelled differently than the word "socks," which is what these Earthlings wear on their feet under footwear called "shoes." As I have previously mentioned, the Earthling body is very fragile. Their feet are soft and they are unable to walk without these "shoes." There are many types of shoes. Some, as I have discovered, are very practical and serve to protect the feet, while others are for decoration and sometimes even harm the foot of the Earthling. This is a very puzzling aspect of the Earthling. They do very harmful things to their fragile bodies. I do not know what purpose the red socks serve the team from Boston, but I have a theory that their shoes are poorly designed and the socks protect their feet from their shoes. Base-ball players wear special shoes with spikes on the bottom, presumably to dig into the ground to help them run faster. This makes sense, as they are tasked with advancing between the bases, and they must start running from a stationary position.

The city of Boston is one of the oldest cities in that region of their planet Earth, but it is very young in the universe. It has existed for more than four hundred Earth years, which I have calculated to be the equivalent of three hundred and forty-two of Trafalmadore's orbits around our sun. It is something of a sacred city to a tribe called "Americans," the people who created the game of base-ball. From the videos I have seen of the history of this tribe, they have an enemy called "Red Coats." A curious thing, this naming groups of people after the color of their clothing. The people of Boston celebrate an event which is far stranger than naming groups after the color of their clothing. Each year they commemorate a night when their ancestors threw a shipment of an herbal drink called "tea" into the water in a protest that served as something of a catalyst for a great war they fought with these Red Coats. I look forward to learning more about this tea war.

I have learned that not all of the base-ball players are members of this tribe called "Americans," but they hail from different regions on their planet. The physical features of Earthlings are widely varied. Some have different skin colors. Others have eyes of different shapes. The heights of these Earthlings also varies greatly. One of the most prominent members of the team called the "Boston Red Sox," indeed, hails from a tribe called "Domincan." The location of the Dominican tribe is somewhere south of the region of America. The player's name is "David Ortiz," but he is also known as "Big Papi," which tells me that he must be some sort of chieftain. He is, among base-ball players, an elder. He now plays the position of "designated hitter," a position only played in the "American League." I wish to learn more about the reasoning behind having different rules in the two leagues, but none of the videos have revealed this information thus far.

Big Papi won the World Series Most Valuable Player in the previous season for helping the Boston Red Sox win the championship, known as the "World Series." This is also puzzling to me. It appears that Major League Base-ball is limited to the region of the Americans, yet the championship series claims to be a global event. Contrast this with the "World Cup," which is the football game played by the whole world, and you must wonder about the mentality of the American tribe. Do they believe they are better people than the rest of the world? If they do, why?

The infield of the Boston Red Sox base-ball team consists of these players: Mike Napoli is firstbaseman, Dustin Pedroia is secondbaseman, Xander Bogaerts is shortstop, and Will Middlebrooks is thirdbaseman. Of these, Will Middlebrooks is the weakest player, with a history of being just average, though he has not played very much in the Major League Base-ball. Mike Napoli is an above average player and can hit twenty home-runs during a season, which is good, not great, but more than adequate for a good base-ball team. Dustin Pedroia is one of the best secondbasemans in base-ball, having once won the American League Most Valuable Player award, which is the most prestigious award a player can win. Xander Bogaerts only played in 18 Major League Base-ball games, but he is considered a future star, and the Boston Red Sox Base-ball team has what Americans call "high hopes" for him. All in all, this is a very good infield for the defending "world" champions.

As for the outfield, this is a question mark. The team had a very good outfielder called "Jacoby Ellsbury," but he left to play on another team. Instead, players called "Grady Sizemore" and "Jackie Bradley" will compete for playing time. Grady Sizemore was once an excellent player for the team known as the "Cleveland Indians," but his body broke down and he has never been the same player. A young player called "Daniel Nava" will play leftfielder. He hit above .300 last year, which has traditionally been the mark of a good hitter, though there is some disagreement about whether that is an accurate measurement. One day I will talk about the statistics of baseball, but it is complicated and I am still trying to understand it myself. Some of their statistics seem to be arbitrary and without scientific analysis. Back to the outfield, at rightfielder will be Shane Victorino, an above average player who hits first in the lineup. Hitting first in the lineup means a player is fast and gets on base frequently. It is called "batting leadoff."

Pitching-wise, the Boston Red Sox team has a very good starting pitcher rotation. The pitchers are called Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Jake Peavy, and Felix Doubrant. Jake Peavy joined the team at the end of last season. As for the finishers of the game, two are called Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa, who hail from the tribe of people called "Japanese." This land is far away from the land of the Americans and they speak a different language with a way of writing that is vastly different. I discovered, however, that many Earthlings are capable of speaking other languages that are found on the planet. However, the American tribe appears to be limited in its own capabilities, though members of other tribes frequently have learned to converse in the American language. These two Japanese players, however, appear to be limited to their own language and use an interpreter to speak on the videos. Further investigation is warranted.

To return to the finishers, called the "bullpen" as noted in an earlier diary entry, a man from a tribe called "Venezuela" is counted on to help bring relief to the starting pitchers. Venezuela is located even further south than the land of the Dominicans. The other bullpen pitchers are Craig Breslow, Andrew Miller, Burke Badenhop, and Chris Capuano.

These pitchers will throw to catchers called "A.J. Pierzynski" and "David Ross." A curious name, this "Pierzynski." The spelling of the name does not fit the conventional spelling patterns of other members of the American tribe. I would like to know more about this name and hope to find answers in videos I may receive in the future.

One of the vital aspects of the great game of base-ball that I neglected to mention in my entry about the Baltimore Orioles is what is called the "bench." These players literally sit on a bench on the side of the field while the others play the game, then, when a certain situation arises, they may be substituted for the players, either in the field or at bat. I have mentioned two centerfielders and two catchers above. Whichever two who aren't playing will sit on the bench until they are needed. Others of these bench players are called Mike Carp, Jonny Gomes, and Jonathan Herrera.

The Boston Red Sox base-ball team is once again very good and could make it to the post-season, but as I said in the Baltimore Orioles entry, this is a very good and difficult division, so there are no guarantees.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Gagarin reviews the Baltimore Orioles

Gagarin's observations of the videos he receives on his radio wave transmission machine. Translated from the original Tralfamadorian, the language spoken on planet Tralfamadore.

Still a long time until the great game season starts. I have been documenting my observations based on the radio wave transmissions I have been receiving from an alien planet that is billions of lightyears from Tralfamadore, and I thought I should give a review of each of the teams in what we have come to know as the game of "base-ball," named for the stations, called "bases," that players run between when trying to score points for their team, called "runs." From what I have gathered, I see that there are thirty of these "base-ball" teams in the most important league on this planet, called "major league base-ball." They have divided this major league into halves, calling one the "american league" and one the "national league." These leagues are divided further into three divisions each. I am still trying to determine what these names mean, but the leagues and divisions appear to be useful in determining a champion at the end of the season.

One of the teams comes from a city called "baltimore." They have a nickname, the "orioles" like a kind of bird on their planet and they wear black and orange uniforms. I have done some research on this city "baltimore" based on the available videos I have received through my machine and this is what I have discovered: it is a city that is located along a large body of water that leads to an ocean, so water transportation is important to the city. A base-ball deity called "babe ruth" hailed from the city, though he was associated with another team from a different city called "newyork." The city of baltimore is known for producing doctors and other positions associated with maintaining the well-being of the civilization on the planet. [A side note: the people from this planet seem to have fragile bodies, perhaps as a result of their destructive tendencies. I plan to conduct a thorough assessment of the state of their well-being in the future.] Baltimore suffers from much violence, as I have learned from videos of the city which are labeled "the wire." These videos show a frightening picture of this civilization, including the voluntary use of chemical substances which leads to many negative consequences, such as the destruction of the body and increased violent tendencies. The videos, which I have kept secret from the Tralfamadore public, are in stark contrast to the beautiful diamond on which the orioles play the game of base-ball, which we broadcast into the homes of every Tralfamadorian.

As the orioles prepare for the season, they have a large list of players that could potentially be on the team. Some of them are guaranteed to be on the team, while others are competing with each other to make what is called a "roster." One of these players is called "chris davis." This player hails from a different city called "longviewtexas" but he is beloved by the baltimore civilization because he hits the ball over the fence more than all of the other players. This is called a "home-run" and gives the team an automatic point, plus points are given if there are any runners on the bases. When he plays in the field as the other team bats, he plays the position called "firstbaseman." Some people wonder if he will hit as many balls over the fence as he did last year, because last year he surprised everyone by hitting so many of them. But he is still expected to hit a lot of them.

At the position they call "secondbaseman," they have a player called "jemile weeks" from "orlandoflorida." He has not played very much in the major league base-ball but he was considered good at the minor league base-ball, which is where players learn and become good enough for the major league. Another player called "ryan flaherty" from "portlandmain" could also be the secondbaseman. Those two players may split playing time. The player who used to play secondbaseman called "brian roberts" from "durhamnorthcarolina" has decided to play for a different team. Next to the secondbaseman at the position called "shortstop" is a player called "j j hardy" from "tucsonarizona." He is a good shortstop though far from the best shortstop. I do not know why the position is called "shortstop" but it is a position that fills the gap in the infield because the players known as "basemans" do not stand on the base that they are named for. At the position they call "thirdbaseman" is a very good young player called "manny machado" from "miamiflorida." He had a very serious injury that required the use of the doctors to repair his body so he could play base-ball this year. He does not hit a lot of balls over the fence but some people say he could hit more over the fence because he hits a lot of doubles and he is young and his body is not a fully grown body of this alien race, and when a body becomes fully grown it gets stronger. One question about this manny machado is if he will start the season on time because that body may not be ready.

In base-ball, there are three positions they call "outfielder." They are divided based on where they stand in the outfield. One is the "leftfielder," one is "centerfielder," and the other is "rightfielder." On the orioles, the rightfielder is a player called "nick markakis" from "glencovenewyork." He is a good player who can be counted on to be consistent. Next to him is a very good young player called "adam jones" from "sandiegocalifornia." He hits many balls over the fence and he is also very fast, which is a valuable combination to have in the major league base-ball. At this point, we are unsure who will play the leftfielder position. This is because a player called "nate mcclouth" from "muskegonmichigan"will play for another team. The orioles must replace him with another player, and two possibilities are called "david lough" from "akronohio" and "nolan reimold" from "greenvillepennsylvania." I do not know very much about either of these players. David lough has not played very much in the major league base-ball and nolan reimold has not had much success in the major league. Henry urrutia or delmon young could also play the position of leftfielder. I do not know from where they hail.

The civilization of baltimore rejoiced recently when they put a new pitcher on the team called "ubaldo jimenez" from "naguadominicanrepublic" who has had much success in the major league base-ball. In base-ball, you have five pitchers to start the games, and they only pitch once every five games. This is because, as I said before, the bodies of this alien race are fragile, and if they pitch too much, their arms break. Ubaldo jimenez will be the best pitcher on the team. The others are called "chris tillman," "wei-yin chen," "bud norris," and "miguel gonzalez." I do not know from where they hail, as the videos have not revealed this information to me. This is not a very great rotation of pitchers, but it is serviceable. The orioles had a very good pitcher called "jason hammel" but he left to play on another team. These five pitchers are not sure to start the games. Others who could start the games are called "kevin gausman," "suk-min yoon," "brian matusz," or "zach britton," or even another pitcher who is not on the team yet, like "irvin santana," who might end up on the team.

As I mentioned, these aliens cannot pitch a lot or their arms will break, so they have other pitchers to finish the games if they throw the ball too much. These finishers are collectively called "the bullpen." I have not learned why they are named after the place where a kind of animal dwells. I will continue to try to learn the reason for this as I watch more of the videos. The bullpen could be a problem for the orioles team. They had one bullpen called "jim johnson," but he left to play on another team. He was the only consistent one in the last season. The bullpen players are called "tommy hunter," who is supposed to be the top finisher, "darren oday," "ryan webb," "brian matusz," "edgmer escalona," "brad brach," and "steve johnson." There are other bullpen players who may make the team, but these who I mention lead the list, according to the video I watched called "major league base-ball network."

There is one other position I have neglected to mention. It is the position that is the receiver of the throws of the pitcher called "catcher." The orioles team has a good catcher called "matt wieters" from "charlestonsouthcarolina." He did not play as well last year as he was expected to, but he is still very young and will probably improve. He is a good player to have on your team.

That is my summary of the baltimore orioles base-ball team. Personally, I am rooting for the orioles above the other teams in this division called the "american league east," which is based on geographic location of the teams. They are very good but the other teams in their division are very good, too. These are called "newyork yankees," "boston redsox," "tampabay rays," and "toronto bluejays." I will record my observations about these teams at a later date.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Meet Gagarin from Tralfamadore

Translated from the original Tralfamadorian, the language spoken on planet Tralfamadore. 

Greetings. My name is Gagarin. I am a scientist on the planet Tralfamadore. Recently I invented a machine that allows me to pick up radiowaves billions of light years away. At first, it was just noise that my machine received and I had no way to interpret it. I had to tinker with the machine, adding a screen to view the data that I was getting, and what I discovered was nothing more than astounding. I had discovered an entire civilization existed on a distant planet somewhere in the universe.

The noises they made were gibberish to me, but I developed an algorithm that allowed me to translate their language into Tralfamadorian so I could understand what they were talking about. After watching several days worth of their videos, I learned that they spoke not one, but many languages, some of them very similar to each other but others being very different, even using entirely distinct alphabets or symbols to write their languages. I found this interesting, as we speak only Tralfamadorian on our planet despite our population of seven billion people. What communication problems these aliens must have! It's no wonder they try to destroy each other, as I learned from their videos.

Initially, I thought them hostile and vile beings due to their violent nature, but then I began to see their soft side, the one where they love, laugh, and and exhibit tender displays of empathy and compassion, sentiments that are not very common on my planet. I began to enjoy these kinds of videos, and then I began to dream of what their planet must be like. It certainly looks beautiful, though they don't seem to appreciate that.

It was in one of these moments of daydreaming when I first discovered their sports. How fascinating that they spend so much time playing games! By far the most popular sport is the one where they kick around a little ball. I have gathered from many hours of watching such programs, that one of the biggest events on their planet is this "football" tournament in which all of their people are engaged, with the notable exception of one part of their planet, a people who seem to be the bullies and take pride in not cooperating with the rest of the people in their world.

Lest you think these are bad people, they aren't. Perhaps "misguided" may be the appropriate term. These people seem to be among some of the most creative on their planet. Indeed, most of the videos I receive come from this one part of the world. It is in this land where they have perfected a game in which I have become completely enthralled, enamored, even, a game played with a stick and a little white sphere on a verdant field they call a diamond, like the sparkling rock they frequently fight over. There is a man they call a "pitcher" and another called a "batter" and this pitcher tries to throw the sphere past the batter, who, in turn, tries to hit it where men called "fielders" are not standing. There is something beautifully simple about this game, something that reminds you of the innocence of childhood.

A new season of this game is about to begin. On their planet, temperatures become cold during a portion of the year, and they can't play the game until it gets warm again. Because of the way their planet orbits their sun, there are certain parts of the planet that are warmer than others. This is why the players of this game travel to more southern parts of the region to practice and prepare for the season. They will move north to their various cities after the vernal equinox. I look forward to the beginning of this season.

I have won many prestigious awards for my invention, but I feel guilty. Until now, my invention has been held in secret, and only I knew about the existence of this alien civilization. When I discovered this game, I knew I had to share it with our world. I have not shared other videos; I do not want my planet to know how the civilization regularly attempts to destroy itself and its planet. No, I prefer to let them believe this civilization is great, as demonstrated by this beautiful game. We broadcast the games into the homes of our people; there is not one person on our planet who does not tune into our broadcasts.

This is my diary. I will be writing in it throughout the season so that future generations may know about this great game in the event that the civilization finally succeeds in destroying itself. I have a countdown calendar on my wall that I have created based on my calculations for how long their days and nights are. I can hardly contain my excitement for what they call "Opening Day."

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Hiber Nation

It's cold today.

Sometimes it feels as if this winter will never end, as if we'll never see flowers again and we'll be confined to coats and hats and scarves and gloves and that our four walls will forever keep us indoors. At this time of year baseball fans are keeping countdowns and looking at schedules, and if they're lucky enough, have purchased their tickets to Florida or Arizona to steal an early glimpse of spring, but it's so cold outside and the days are still so short that I have to wonder if the spring will ever come.

In this winter when only hibernation is the correct reaction, I've taken a strong liking to the Washington Capitals, moreso than ever before, and I watch most of the games on television, though with half the games of MLB, it feels like there are too many off days. I finally went to a game this season at about the start of a very bad month of losing. Go ahead, blame me. It'll be hard to root against Ovi during the Olympics but maybe I can force my brain to put Putin's head on Ovi's body and then it won't be so hard. Of course, Ovi and too many Russians are fans of their dictator-lite, and I see shades of the political rivalry that our two nations held for so long. Things are not the same, however. A decade of wars and the rape of any respect for our government by our citizens has weakened the US while Russia is on the rise. Capitalism has triumphed in the sense that corporations have taken control of our minds (BUY! BUY! BUY!) while the Russians look to government to solve their problems and succeed in a warped sort of way, as they only had up to go. The Olympics are supposed to be a "Look at us, United States!" kind of event. It's pretty transparent. Some magazine - was it Forbes? - called Putin "the most powerful man in the world." Ha. What has he done? They gave him credit for Syria. Where's the success in that? They gave him credit for Iran. So why is Iran sending warships to our maritime borders? I remember he ate lunch in the building I worked several years ago, and I wanted to go down there and spit on him just as I do now. I can't stand human rights abusers.

But at least we have the Olympics to keep us occupied in the coming weeks, and then there is Spring Training. (I just got a new phone so I'll be able to stream games from anywhere. Already downloaded MLB at Bat.) I'll be hoping for another post season for the Capitals, but if they don't figure it out soon, that won't happen. I was thinking about boycotting the Olympics but thought, "What good would that do?" because I'm not going to buy anything just because the sponsors tell me to. I buy what I buy, which isn't a lot, and no amount of advertising will persuade me to buy something I don't need. I feel like Fry on that episode of Futurama when he's the only one in the universe whose thoughts can't be read by the Dark Ones.

I try to imagine a world in which we aren't bombarded by advertising and how differently we would live. Our whole economic system would be different, heck, our whole planet would be different. I'm not sure I can even imagine it in a few minutes for a blog post - that would be something to tackle in a novel. Most people can't imagine it at all because what we have is all they know and understand. Go ahead and give it a try. Imagine baseball without advertising. Imagine players playing for love of the game rather than exorbitant salaries. Imagine not having your childhood memories ripped apart when some greedy owner decides that he needs a new stadium. Imagine not buying a different player's jersey every year after the one you wore last year left in free agency. Imagine all the people living life in peace. Woo oo oooo. You may say that I'm a dreamer...but I'm not the only one...

By the way, in case you didn't know, hiber is Latin for winter. The Romans used to call Ireland "Hibernia" because they thought it was so cold. They didn't even try to invade, according to most accounts. I think it is safe to say that we can call ourselves the United States of Hibernia after this winter. March can't come soon enough.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Ballplayers at war?

Today's Date in History: 1942 - Cleveland Indians pitcher Bob Feller reports to Norfolk, Virginia for duty in the United States Navy. Feller, who led the American League in victories in three previous seasons, will miss this season, as well as the 1943 and 1944 seasons before returning for nine games in 1945. Despite missing the time due to the World War II effort, Feller will lead the league in wins 1946, 1947, and 1951, amassing 266 victories during an 18-year major league career. - Baseball Hall of Fame

Every time I see a story about baseball players going off to war, I marvel at how much we've changed as a country. It used to be a duty to serve your country; now, Americans think they're patriotic if they sing God Bless America at baseball games while mooching their freedom off the service of others. Indeed, with the vitriol spewed against our government and paying taxes, it's almost as if many Americans hate their country. It's ask me not to do anything for my country, let someone else do it.

Imagine today's ballplayer being asked to serve. Sure, it's a nice gesture giving free tickets to military families or donating money to wounded warriors, but what would they do if our country was attacked or if we faced a threat to humanity of the magnitude of Nazism? I find it difficult to believe many of them would enlist to defend the freedom that gives them the opportunity to play a game for a living. It's easy to sign a check when you're making millions of dollars a year. How many athletes enlisted when we were attacked on 9/11? Is Pat Tillman the only one?

We've been at war for generations now; we spend $700 billion annually on war costs, drying up the treasury for programs that would help our own citizens. Families have been ripped apart like the bodies we've sent overseas. Yet you never see a ballplayer standing up and doing the one thing that would support the troops the most: opposing incessant warfare. World War I was supposed to be "the war to end all wars" and World War II was supposed to take down the psychopathic dictator who interrupted that idea. But we've never stopped fighting wars since.

#oilatstake

Friday, December 13, 2013

Thinking about bandwagons

Chris is the weird guy at the end of the bar listening to opera with no headphones on a transistor radio. When opera isn't on, that radio is tuned into whatever manner of sports talk radio he can find, or he's watching it on the television, or both at the same time. I am constantly subjected to those shouting heads who prove that we award far too many college degrees in this country. Because of it, I hear information about sports other than baseball, even the spectacle that is known as the NBA. One outcome of this subjugation is that it has made me realize how much of a superfan I am when it comes to baseball.

I have rooted for the Capitals and Redskins for awhile, having lived in DC for most of the last ten years, the Capitals more than the Redskins as I like hockey more than football. But I had no emotional investment in those teams or those sports. I went to Caps games back when you could get $10 tickets and move down because no one went to games in the pre-Ovi days and the NHL was hurting from the 2004-2005 lockout. Still, I didn't watch the games on TV unless they were on in a bar and there wasn't anything to talk about. I didn't much notice the cancellation of the hockey season in 2004-2005. However, by the time of the 2012-2013 lockout, I did notice. Ovi had made hockey fun to watch, and I actually missed seeing the Caps play. The annual trip to the playoffs didn't hurt, either. I was on the bandwagon.

This season, we actually go out with the purpose of watching the Caps games. I'm looking forward to tonight's game and plan to make an event of it at Lou's. They haven't played since Tuesday, and I find myself contrasting the weird NHL schedule to the MLB schedule, where off days are rare. In hockey, you can play two or three games in a row then have three or four days off, and it seems like it's a momentum killer at times. This may be the first season that I've actually noticed that.

I've also noticed that I don't know a lot of the rules of hockey. I recently learned about the overtime rules and how you get one point in the standings for just making it to overtime, a very basic rule that determines playoff positions. I don't know most of the opposing NHL players, and I don't usually watch hockey games if the Caps aren't playing, unlike in baseball when I can name at least half of the rosters of every team and know some of their prospects, too. That's starting to change, as I find myself glancing at the screens of hockey when the Caps aren't playing, and two nights ago I actually watched the entire Blackhawks-Flyers game. I still had to look up the standings to find out what division those teams played in. I suspected the Flyers were in the Caps' division but I didn't have any idea how good they are this year. Contrast that with baseball, when after the All-Star break I can name the place in the standings of every team in baseball.

This must be how many Americans view baseball. I know there are far more baseball fans than hockey fans in this country, and the length of the season exposes us to the game for twice as long as the icy sport, but how can I snicker at the person who sits behind me at a baseball game and asks questions to clarify certain rules? I'm sure the odd Caps fan has overheard me ask stupid questions about hockey, rolling his eyes and lamenting the Caps "bandwagon." And what happens when the Caps stop being a good team? Will I lose interest and jump off the bandwagon?

I don't know. If the Redskins are any indication, that answer is probably no, at least not while I live in DC. (It took years for me to stop paying attention to the Giants when I moved from California, and I still have a soft spot in my heart for them, except when they're beating the Reds in the playoffs.) Sure, I stopped watching the Redskins when it was clear there were no playoffs this year, but even diehard fans jumped ship on this disaster of a season. Sure, I pay attention when they're doing well, but who wants to watch the biggest joke in the NFL? I'll watch next year. I mean, I lose interest in the Reds when they're out of contention in August; it's natural, right?

For so long I mocked the Nats bandwagon fans, but I think that is more because they carry that same Washington arrogance that I can't stand about this city more than that they were becoming fans. It was the know-it-all attitude (and the often incorrect information they stated about the team and the game of baseball) that I came to despise. It was being told to sit down when the team was rallying. It was thinking a guy like Adam LaRoche could be MVP and then being offended when I pointed out he wasn't as good as it seemed, or being ridiculed for saying he was not worth that big contract that he was given. It was the arrogance in crowning the Nats World Series champs in February 2013, in thinking it was ok to shut down the top pitcher on the staff because the team would just run over everyone in the playoffs, in criticizing future HOF manager Davey Johnson when things didn't go as they planned.

I don't find myself doing the same kind of stuff when it comes to the Caps. I know I don't know a lot about hockey, and I'm certainly not going to tell someone who's been a fan for 36 years that they don't know what they're talking about as Nats fans did to me (how'd LaRoche do this season, suckers?) We didn't have an NHL team in Ohio when I grew up, but my mother did take us to Dayton Bombers games, and I went to most of the hockey games at Miami University when I was there, so I did have some exposure to the sport. But it wasn't until I moved to Washington when I had a team I could root for. So I'm not sure if my Caps fandom counts as bandwagon or not. All I know is that I'm developing a hatred for the Rangers and the Penguins and I think that is an important step in any relationship with a sports team.