Wednesday, January 31, 2007

You know you're getting older when...

You are older than all but three players on a Major League roster.

This still cracks me up

Make sure to check out Rehab the Crab, too!


Sunday, January 28, 2007

A Day in the Life of Willie Randolph by Willie Randolph

Hi, my name is Willie. I'm here to talk about my job as Manager of the New York Metropolitans. You know them as the Mets.

I've been Manager since 2005 and I just recently got a contract extension. In my first year, we finished in third place behind the Braves and the Phillies. The Nationals did well that year until the very end, or else we would have finished behind them, too. My bosses spent a lot of money on the team that year and weren't too happy when we finished in third place, so they went out and spent even more money and we won more games than everyone in the National League. We were National League East Champions, but sadly we lost to the St. Louis Deadbirds, who only won 83 games and stunk for most of the season, and we did not make it to the World Series.

Here is where I work. It was built in 1964 and is now a real dump. That's why we're moving into a new stadium in 2009. We get tired of hearing people complain about how their seats are broken or how something fell from the roof and hit them on the head. And those bars between the seats are really annoying. Hopefully the new stadium will turn out ok.

This is where the fans get off to go to the ballpark after a really long ride on the 7 line all the way out to Flushing. The Yankees get a sign that says "Yankee Stadium." We get a generic sign that says "Baseball" because we are the baseball stepchild of New York City - that's why they keep us all the way out in Flushing. Flushing is a mutation of the Dutch name for the place, Vlissingen, which was founded in 1654. I don't know what the Dutch word for baseball is.

In June, we played the Cincinnati Reds, who were only slightly worse than the Deadbirds. At Shea, we charge different prices for tickets based on how good a team is. The Reds were in the cheapest level. It still doesn't prevent scalpers from ripping people off, but caveat emptor, right? I can just imagine the guy who sells bad tickets to some poor family from Ohio going out and buying a week's worth of forties and lying in a gutter for a week after he finished them.

We split the series 2-2. Billy Wagner blew a save during one of the games, and that really made me mad. I heard Mets fans tell some Cincinnati fans to go back to Cincinnati after that one. I wanted them to go back, too, along with the whole Reds team.

This is what the inside of Shea looks way before game time when the Mets are taking batting practice. In the distance there are pictures of our stud third baseball, David Wright, our All-Star shortstop, Jose Reyes, and our killer outfielder, Carlos Beltran. We paid a lot of money for Beltran, more than he's worth, and someday we'll pay outrageous amounts to Wright and Reyes, but right now (ha ha, get it? Wright now!) they are signed to longterm deals that are pretty cheap for us.

Shea Stadium is located near La Guardia Airport, and boy does it get loud there sometimes. You learn to get used to it, but if you're in a bad mood, like if Billy Wagner blows a save or the ump stinks, it can be annoying. The new stadium is being built right next door, so we aren't going to escape the airplanes. It's cool though, cuz it makes us unique.

Here the Reds are taking batting practice on the night they beat us when Billy Wagner blew that save. It's way early so most fans aren't there yet, but a few dedicated maniacs are standing behind the dugouts yelling and screaming and demanding autographs. How would you like it if I came to your office and interrupted your work, hmm? You wouldn't like it at all!

Speaking of harassment, this guy, Zack, harasses us for baseballs all the time. He has collected something like 2000 balls. Don't you think he should have to pay for them? He's been on all sorts of baseball shows, so I guess you could call him famous. He's wearing a Reds hat because he is deceitful to the other team so he can get balls. I don't like liars. I wonder how old he'll be before he stops begging for baseballs.

He has a blog if you want to go and read about his baseball collecting.

Here is Adam Dunn batting. Just look at the beauty of that field glowing under the stadium lights. Is there anything more beautiful than a baseball field? I don't think so. I'd much rather have a picture of a ballfield hanging on my wall than a fancy shmancy painting by some pretentious artist. It really is poetry for the eyes, isn't it? I am blessed to have a baseball field for my office.

Finally, here is a shot of where we come out of the ballpark to go home after a long day at work. We always have to deal with a bunch of crazy fans screaming for autographs. We rarely give them, though, because we're a bunch of overpaid snobs. We hop into our Hummers with their tinted windows, crank up the stereo, and mumble ungratefully about how annoying these people are, even though they are the ones who ultimately pay our salaries.

And that is where I work.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Wherefore art thou, Baseball?

It was by accident that I came upon a discovery which is one of those that kind of changes your outlook on life. I say kind of because there is no way for me to prove the discovery to be factual, yet the circumstances that surround it are so overwhelming in my untrained mind that they have to be explored.

That cornfield in Iowa had never left my mind, but it had become fuzzy like the ghostly opponents in Shoeless Joe. I'd read the book years ago but can't remember whether it was in college or the Army or some lesser defined time in my life. A feathery snow began to fall, lasting for several hours at a temperature just below freezing, enough to cause a few mishaps on the road but not enough to stock up on cans of condensed milk or to contemplate mortality. The first snow had come so late in the winter, about that time when you first realize the days are getting lighter and when restlessness for baseball embeds itself in your soul, and like an alcoholic who is drinking mouthwash because it's the only alcohol available, you watch baseball movies and read baseball books and anxiously rock back and forth in your chair as you stare at the fledgling schedules and decide what games you're going to attend during the season. I went to the library that wintry day, walked there while other cars were sliding off the roads, and I looked for something to read to combat the gray boredom I was feeling, when there it was on a shelf under the "Classics" label next to Kerouac and Kipling, a crumbling, well-creased paperback screaming baseball at me. I had George Orwell and Gabriel Garcia Marquez in my hand, but as soon as I saw the title "Shoeless Joe," I ripped it from the shelf and nearly skipped to the checkout.

I remembered it had been a good book when as a ghost in time I had read it, but I hadn't remembered how well-written it was. Or maybe I hadn't been mature enough to recognize good writing (as it wasn't until I was halfway through college when my soul suddenly renewed a childhood interest in writing.) I read the thing in two days, all 224 pages of it, sucked it down in my hunger for the game, for its passions, its nostalgia, its sensual pleasures of joy and respite, and I marveled at how well it sunk into my conscience, pulling up all sorts of memories and feelings and sensations. As I was imagining Ray Kinsella and his perfect family and his perfect farm, the idea of Holden Caulfield suddenly popped into my head, like maybe Ray on his farm was Holden all grown up.

Ok, the words above are Casey O'Hagan's, the main character in my story In the Big Inning. I've decided since it wasn't going where I wanted it to change it to first person, at least for the second half of the book. I'll see how the rewrite goes. I need to develop the characters much more, reduce the amount of dialogue, and write more narrative on the actual baseball games and gambling. Anyway, the words above are also true, because I did find Shoeless Joe and check it out last weekend. I wrote this on Monday, and it is my response to JD's post at Red Reporter, where he says, "This is the point in the winter when I really start missing baseball..." Me, too, JD, me too.

More from Casey:
It was Ray Kinsella's talk of religion that hooked me on the idea, the same talk that Holden spouts off, the same talk, in fact, that all of Salinger's characters are known for, and Salinger himself has practiced a billion different religions. And you know the cabin that Holden talks about, the one where he wants to raise a family someday, away from the rest of the world? That's the farm. That's the cornfield in Iowa. Ray didn't like the city life, didn't like selling insurance and the whole 9-5 boredom of urban living.

But it makes sense since the man who really wrote that book is J.D. Salinger! Seriously, have you ever read W.P. Kinsella's baseball stories? While the stories themselves are good, the writing is average, especially when compared to Salinger. In addition, the language patterns show Shoeless Joe to be closer to Salinger's writing than Kinsella's, even down to the use of commas. And it is true that the name "Richard Kinsella" appears in The Catcher in the Rye, which is Ray's twin brother's name in Shoeless Joe. The more I study this, the more I am convinced that Salinger had some sort of deal with Bill Kinsella so Salinger wouldn't have to be in the spotlight when the book was published.
And how do we know Salinger is a baseball fan? Well, it is called The CATCHER in the Rye, isn't it? (Wink, wink.)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

One Last Hurrah for the House that Ruth Built

The New York City atmosphere was sticky hot but not as oppressive as a day in New York summer can get. Baseball was in the air - baseball is always in the air in New York - it has brought more joy and more pain than in any other baseball city on Earth. That June morning was peppered with a fine mist that was not a cause of concern for those of us who were blessed with tickets to that evening's contest between the hated Yankees and the AAA Fish.

I had seen the Evil Pinstripes play only a week before in DC, their obnoxious fans with funny accents and funnier modes of dress dominating RFK. The noise was such that one could have mistaken the location of the game for the Big Apple itself, as half of the stadium's 45,000+ were cheering for Jeter and Co. It was the most fun I'd had at a baseball game in quite awhile.

This New York game would be different, though. This game would be held in the exalted Yankee Stadium, a sacred cathedral where the ghosts of legends amble across the cool of the grass and where October glory floats through the air, even in June. There is no escaping awe as you step off the 4 or the B or the D at 161st Street and River Avenue and see the stadium lights hovering like a mirage above the train station, an oasis shining magically above a bad neighborhood. An electric excitement races through you as you step outside of time and space to a place where only baseball, glorious baseball, matters, matters like religion or politics or love, or matters because it is those things, is life, a breathing, beating organism whose heart pounds a bit harder here in this house of spirits. (And a smile passes my lips as I think about how the only team to be better than the '27 Yankees, the Big Red Machine, took two games here on its way to a sweep of the Pinstripes in 1976.)

There it stood as it had for 83 years, as rapturous and as holy as Notre Dame or even St. Peter's, its enormous bat standing like a giant cross to be worshiped by those whose souls are moved by the sight of a screaming emerald diamond or the sound of ash or maple smacking a white leather sphere with 108 red stitches or by eating a hot dog under a July sun with forty thousand others cheering their hearts out. Ticket in hand, you enter to worship as a hundred million other pilgrims have, eyes wide, heart fluttering (unless you're carrying a backpack and have to go check it at the bowling alley. Stupid Yankees.)

It doesn't matter that the beers are $8 or that the concessions are in leaky old tunnels, nor does it matter that A-Rod jerseys - lucky number 13 - drape the backs of every tenth person. There is too much magic, too many spirits to be bothered by such trivialities.

Monument park was like a graveyard for gods, sacrificial temples to immortals like The Babe and The Mick and The Iron Horse, men whose faults and mistakes have long since been swallowed in the process of deification. I stood in line in eager anticipation to touch what seemed like headstones, and indeed, the spirits of those ballplayers roamed the stadium, but once I was there, I could not touch these shrines for fear they would dissipate and I'd be sent back to the reality of free agency, the designated hitter, and the Yankees payroll. It was one of the best baseball experiences I've ever had.

The pain of knowing that this stadium, the Kaaba of baseball, has only two seasons of breath is almost unbearable to those whose religion is baseball, even Red Sox fans. Steinbrenner should be tarred and feathered and then paraded around the Bronx on streets several blocks from Yankee Stadium, streets one would not roam alone at night. Major League Baseball did the right thing in awarding the 2008 All-Star Game to the Yanks. I'm going to do my damnedest to get tickets for it.

That being said, we don't need another World Series there.

Monday, January 22, 2007

A kid who's just seen Santa

Remember when you were a kid and you stood in line waiting for Major League Baseball players' autographs while thumbing your baseball or your card or your 8X10 like the players were some sort of gods, immortals who could shoot laser beams out of their eyes or fly in the air or hit a home run that would go to the ocean even when you were in the Midwestern part of the country? That was me, today, taking a long lunch so I could get autographs from Major League Baseball players. It was a bittersweet experience.

I walked 12 East-West blocks (those are the long ones in DC) under the gray, newly arrived winter sky to a sporting goods store to buy an official Rawlings Major League baseball so Ryan "Brooks" Zimmerman's name could grace its magical cover. Oh, it was a beautiful thing, smooth white leather with 108 red stitches that chased each other around the sphere, a miniature planet that held a life all of its own. I took it out of its plastic case, held it to my nose, and bewitched my olfactory senses with a smell only God and Costa Ricans can create. "Official Major League Baseball, Allen H. Selig, Commissioner" it says, and only the Allen H. Selig allows any negative thought to pass through my mind (and lots of them, might I add.) I hold it in my hand as if it were glass, as if it would fall to pieces if I squeezed too hard. It is a life form in itself, a work of art, a sweet obedient child who never gets up and runs around a restaurant. I've fallen in love with the ball. Which cost $16.99 plus tax. What?!? The last time I bought such a beautiful ball, it was $7.99, came in a cardboard box, and sprouted Barry Larkin's signature (after an incredible experience that I can't believe I haven't written about here.) $16.99 for some dead cow in a plastic cube!?! Give me a break!

I probably would not care had the purpose of the ball been fulfilled. See, Major League Baseball teams have this marketing gimmick called the Winter Caravan, and I was taking an extra long lunch to get Ryan Zimmerman's autograph. I bought another ball for the other players, one that cost $1.99, but for the next Brooks Robinson, I could only have the real thing. The Nationals had advertised that Zimmerman was part of the caravan. I figured that during the only autograph session in DC, he'd show up.

I got to the ESPN Zone an hour and fifteen minutes early, thinking that although the weather was bad and the thing was being held at two in the afternoon when people had to work -- like the Nationals are purposely trying not to have any fans -- there might be a line. I needed to eat lunch anyway, so I ordered some food and waited around.

At 2pm, the Nationals showed up, the Nationals being Manny Acta, the new manager, Mike O'Connor, an injured pitcher, and Nook Logan, the guy who was just named starting centerfielder above the accursed Ryan Church.

It didn't matter much, though, because even though I was disappointed that Zimmerman didn't show up, I still felt like Santa Claus had arrived when the ink from the three Nats settled into my $1.99 ball. After all, these guys are Major League Baseball players, the top 1% of all who try baseball in the world, and they carry the magic of the game with them wherever they go.

Still, when the magic settles and I look at my ball tomorrow with the eyes of an informed adult who is frustrated with how the business side of baseball has taken over the game, I will curse the Nationals and the way Major League Baseball continues to alienate fans at every chance they get. Why wasn't at least one of the bigger names there? These guys get paid millions of dollars a year to play a game. The least they could do is volunteer to give something back to those who pay their salaries -- us fans.

I told Mike O'Connor to get better, Manny Acta we were excited that he's on board, and Nook Logan congrats for being named centerfielder. Mike seemed interested in conversation, Manny like he had practiced responses in a mirror, and Nook like he was being tortured.

I am still thrilled with my autographed ball. God, it smells like Heaven.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Thoughts on baseball cold and white

There is this white stuff falling from the sky right now, something I vaguely recall seeing before, though I don't feel the animosity I had for it in the past. As long as it continues and gets worse tonight so I don't have to go to work tomorrow, it's fine.

The baseball restlessness has begun. I rented "For Love of the Game" last night in a fit of desire for baseball. There are so many great baseball movies out there, and this is one of the best. It shows how much the game can mean to someone, and it shows why that meaning exists. As Billy Chapel is pitching the game of his life and what ultimately turns out to be the last of his career, memories of playing catch with his father keep popping into his mind. That is the essence of baseball.

The fictional Billy Chapel played for the Detroit Tigers during his entire 19 year career. I wonder when Biggio and Jeter retire if there will ever be another player who stays on one team. As long as the gross economic disparities of the game exist, only teams like the hated Yankees, the anti-Yankees, and the Cubs, perhaps, will be able to afford to keep a player for the duration of his career. This is all hinted at in the movie.

Perhaps those of us who long for the old days romanticize about the past far too much, forgetting that the business of the game has prevented it from ever being perfect. Baseball has a dark history of abuse by greedy owners who treated their players like livestock. But the players got greedy, too. With the state of free agency and arbitration, the greed is spiraling out of control. Mediocre and bad players should not be paid the exorbitant amounts of money they are sucking down faster than a Randy Johnson fastball. Kyle Lohse, for example, should not be earning $4.5 million a year, and Eric Milton is not worth a quarter of his $9 million or whatever it is for 2007. Teams like the Reds shouldn't be forced to stick to a crappy roster just because the salaries of mediocre players have helped to skyrocket the cost of good players, rendering them unaffordable.

This is what we have to dwell on during the offseason when white stuff falls from the sky, a chill wraps itself around our bones, and our longing for the warmth and glory of baseball makes us crazy with restlessness. We have 38 days before we can hear Marty call another Reds game. Until then, I'll pull my fleece over my head, my cap down to my eyes, and dream of baseball as I want to see it - a romantic game filled with passion and nostalgia and a kind of warm perfection that exists only in literature and film and in the hearts of those of us who truly love the game.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

There's a Bush leaguer for you...

It was a bad day at work, and had I known the entire Deadbirds team was three blocks from my office today, it would have been even worse. Or perhaps their black karma was what was making my day bad.

Stupid Deadbirds.

Stupid Flanders.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Get cold!

Well, winter has disappeared again, replaced by the false warmth of a mid-January spring, with mid-sixties temperatures that resemble game-of-catch weather. I slept with an open window last night, let in some of the fresh, spring training-like air, and I dreamed of real winter, with soaking snow and blustery winds and ice that makes road travel treacherous. I recall with a certain longing the drear and misery that winter brings, because I know that is how it is supposed to be, that something is incredibly wrong with the state of the world for this to be happening. And how will I feel when March rolls around and the weather is just like this, and I haven't had that wintry depression to come out of, and a beautiful spring day is just another day on the speeding calendar? (Ahh, but my handy Reds Desktop Weather tells me winter is on its way this evening, so perhaps I will grab my glove and take advantage of this day after all!)

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Happy Baseball to ME!

It's finally winter, the blustery kind of winter where the wind whips under your coat and everywhere else, and you're cold, oh so cold, no matter what kind of weathery protection you attempt to take. I hate winter, but I welcome this bluster, as it is a return to something that resembles normal, that horrendous period of darkened freeze that we must go through every year, and the contrast between the freeze and the thaw is such that when spring arrives, it brings a sort of grateful joy, and we can appreciate the warmth and the light and the start of baseball that much more because we have winter to compare it to. It's just over a month before pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, and already I'm dreaming of baseball, more so today than usual. Why? Because today, this January 10, 2007, is the day I turn the big 3-0 (with much disbelief and maybe a bit of flat out denial), and I was given the gift of baseball in the form of a Nationals partial season ticket plan. Oh, yes, I've become something that seemed so magical as a child, as mythical as perhaps Santa himself, a **glittering fairy dust floats down from the sky** SEASON TICKET HOLDER.

Imagine going to the ballpark three or four times a month, your big, shiny, blue and red season tickets in hand, entering through the same gate each time knowing exactly where you're heading, climbing the concrete ramps to YOUR seat, where the beer guy and you get to know each other a little (to be fair, I did go to RFK enough last year to get to the point where the Miller Lite guy recognized me and chatted a little!) Others around you are also SEASON TICKET HOLDERS, and you get to know each other to the point that you have inside jokes about so and so's annoying batting stance or some reliever's ridiculous facial hair or the manager's insistence on playing some second rate shortstop because he "plays the game the right way" or because of his "veteran presence." You are so used to your viewing angle that you no longer are fooled by a fly ball that other, less fortunate souls think could be a home run. You're in the know, and it feels wonderful.

The amazing thing about this package is that nearly every game I had picked out prior to achieving my coveted status as SEASON TICKET HOLDER was included. I poured over the schedule intently as soon as I was released from the confines of a horrendously busy workday, memorizing the dates I would attend to the best of my aging memory's ability. I wanted to see the Orioles, always a fun series because O's fans are so obnoxious (and some idiots in DC still insist on screaming "O" during the National Anthem) and because Peter Angelos is one of the biggest asses in the game - I got May 19. I wanted to see the Indians - I got June 23. I wanted to see Jim Hendry's Traveling Bank Account - I got July 3. I wanted to see the Deadbirds so I could give them the evil eye that would lead to their destruction - I got August 3. I wanted to see the Giants, a team dear to me whom I go to see once or twice every year - I got September 1, right about the time Barry could eclipse Henry. And yes, I got the Reds - August 1 (and I'll be seeing the other games as well.)

I'll be getting to know the AAA Fish quite well, as I'll see them four times, including April 4, my first game. (I won't be attending Opening Day this year, as it starts at the same time as the Reds game, which I refuse to miss.) I'll be sure to heckle Dan Ugly and Handiman Ramirez, the latter who stole the ROY away from Ryan "Brooks" Zimmerman. Stupid fish.

The anticipation of putting on that red cap with the curly W, packing up my bag of magic peanuts, and heading to the ballpark keeps me warm on this (finally) cold winter night, a mere 80 days from that holiest of days - Opening Day. I can already feel the slickness of the coveted tickets in my hand - it's hard to believe that bits of processed trees can bring such joy, such excitement, such wonderfully sensual pleasure.

When I was 10, I received a great bike for my birthday. When I was 12, I received a Nintendo and all of the Super Mario Brothers fun I could handle. When I was 16, I received my first stereo, and it was my first CD player. I've received some great birthday gifts in my life, but this, well, this could just be the best birthday gift ever. Thanks, Mom, Mark, Sandy, and Jennifer!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Was I really in Ohio?

I went shopping at the Dayton Mall on Friday and went into all of the sports stores to look at Reds stuff. There was none, really.

There were Yankees flags and Red Sox shirts,
And loads of Deadbirds gear - that hurts!
One window display had the new Reds uni,
But the girl hanging them said their Reds gear was puny.
There was a lone pennant with the years the Reds won,
But several Yankees pennants like it hung.
Statues of Jeter and Manny were sold,
But nothing in a Griffey or Adam Dunn mold.
Oh why, oh why was Reds gear quite lacking,
While Yankees and Red Sox and Deadbirds had backing.
This was, after all, the home of the Reds,
I shouldn't have seen Pujols bobbleheads.