Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Sun Never Sets on this Rock We Call Earth

Two teams marched into a stadium. They were side by side, quiet, the flags of their nations waving next to them. The national anthems played, and the stadium erupted into a thundering chorus for one team as its traveled citizens sang proudly. The other team, silence, its citizens too poor to travel all those miles south to watch a sporting event.

But it isn’t just a sporting event, is it? It’s the only event on the planet where a majority of the world is enjoying the exact same moment, regardless of time zones or religions or races or differences. It’s night in South Africa. It’s day in USA. Ghana, though making great strides in recent years, is still a poor country, while the United States is the richest and most powerful in the world. Day and night, night and day. White stars, Black Stars.

It’s a pitch in Africa. It’s a field in America. It’s football, it’s soccer, it’s a match, it’s a game. It’s crowding around tiny analog tellies with static and lines or giant high definition wonderboxes filled with the beams of satellites. About the only things the two nations have in common is that they were both once colonies of England and that they’re both nations whose citizens are of a hundred ethnicities. Oh, and their football teams are pretty equal.

Equality – an ideal, a goal, a word full of contention by those who keep more of the pie for themselves. To have and to have not. Day and night, night and day. How many of those Ghana players kicked their first football before they owned their first pair of shoes? I can tell you none of the Americans had that problem. Coincidence of birth. Cruelty of fate.

Forty-five minutes passed, a blink in the infinity of time. The have nots were beating the haves, a goal to nil. Another blink, a tie, overtime.

The world is often confused and critical as to why the United States does not like soccer like the rest of the world, why the United States uses a different system of measurement as the rest of the world, why the United States doesn’t have government healthcare like the rest of the world, why the United States doesn’t sign UN Conventions and Treaties and Protocols like the rest of the world.

Let me ask – why does the entire world love an English game?

Five minutes, a goal. The have nots go up on the haves.

The mid-nineteenth century is an interesting time for sports. That’s when games that had been played in various forms began to have rules and organized teams. The evolution of organized association football (yeah, that’s where the word soccer comes from, for those who don’t know) in England is not that different from the evolution of baseball in the United States. In 1848, Cambridge University drafted the Cambridge Rules, which were instrumental in the spread of organized association football. There were other rule drafting efforts, and all of them contributed to the formation of the creatively named Football Association in 1863. (Interesting to note that association football, rugby football, and Victorian rules football, which developed into Australian rules football, were originally part of these meetings, so for those who criticize Americans for calling a game “football” when you don’t use the foot that much, all of these games were called football.) The world’s oldest football competition, the FA cup, was first held in 1872.

At the same time across the Atlantic Ocean, a guy by the name of Alexander Cartwright was “inventing” baseball. In 1845, he drafted the Knickerbocker Rules, and on June 19, 1846, the first organized game of baseball was played. The National Association of Base Ball Players was formed in 1857, and in 1869, the first all professional baseball team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, was formed (my favorite club). The National League was formed in 1876, which permanently established professional baseball in the United States.

Now, neither of these games have their origins in the country where they were organized into professional leagues. Soccer has its origins in Japan and China (we know there was a soccer game played in 611 A.D.), and a version of it was played as far back as the Roman times. Baseball has its origins in France and England, as far as historians can tell. But England perfected soccer and America perfected baseball and the rest is millions of dollars worth of history.

So why did soccer proliferate across the globe and baseball get stuck in one hemisphere?

Well, first, there’s the issue of equipment. Sort of. In soccer, you only need to have something to kick around and some twigs or cans or something to mark goals. In baseball, you need a ball and a bat and some gloves, which can be an impediment in poor countries. Except baseball is the most popular sport in Dominican Republican, one of the poorest of the world’s countries. Kids fashion gloves and balls and bats out of all kinds of things, like milk cartons, for example. It’s not all that different than what kids did in America before parental credit cards. Stickball was popular in the cities. All you needed was a stick and something round (like a wad of aluminum foil), and some jackets or shirts or books or something for bases. Nah, equipment isn’t really the reason.

Look at who the fanbases are. You know what’s amazing about baseball? Some rich guy like Bob Castellini and some homeless guy can root for the same team. But if you look across the globe at soccer fanbases, the same does not hold true. Take, for instance, Buenos Aires, where there are eight different teams representing distinct neighborhoods. You know where someone is from by the team they support. I guess the only thing comparable in baseball is the Cubs-White Sox dichotomy. To some extent, Sox fans are working class and Chub$ fans are yuppie hipsters with money to burn. (Never waste a chance to take a shot at Chub$ fans!) The haves and the have nots. Black and blue.

Oh, and there’s the whole colonialism thing. The Americans were busy killing the natives during expansion in the nineteenth century (and killing each other, too) while the British were “taming” their natives with tea time and football. The empire’s expanse was so great that it prompted the “sun never sets” mantra you hear in history classes. Colonialism. Globalization. The haves and the have nots. Day and night, night and day.

Thirty minutes pass, a whistle blows. Fans of one nation celebrate a triumph, while the others feel ripped apart by defeat. Three days prior, the nation which so stubbornly refuses to embrace the sport of the rest of the world fell in love with the game. Oh, it was such a high to have been on the brink of elimination, only to stave it off with a stoppage time goal! For a few brief days, America was part of the world, not standing beside it - that is what I will miss the most. A win, a high, glorious sunshine. A loss, a sting, a vacuous darkness.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Let's go all BP on the Deadbirds!

It's 12:05am on a Saturday morning. I'm lying in bed wondering why I still have the air conditioner on when it is a decent night, as relief from the oppressive heat has come to us with the full moon. The machine rattles loudly, violently. The television that came with this apartment is on - I had the Nationals-Orioles debacle on earlier, but that ended an hour ago, and I've turned it to the movie Seven though I am not watching. I turn the volume up, but a commercial comes on and blasts noise across the room, through the walls, down the hall. (Why are they allowed to do that?) I have an empty Sam Adams bottle on the nightstand - I'd get another but I feel comfortable, comforted. The Reds defeated the Indians handedly in what people pointlessly call the Ohio Cup. I did something strange after watching the game online tonight. I turned it to the Deadbirds game.

I'm scoreboard watching in June.

Are we pathetic because we are watching the scoreboard so early in the season (the season is halfway over next weekend)? Is this what winning teams do? Or have we been so deprived that we just forget what winning feels like?

I went to Baseball to see if the 2010 Cincinnati Reds were legit. I mean, we've been in first place during the decade of losing, only to be let down miserably, our hope sucked from our souls and our interest drained from our brains until we just couldn't bear to watch a game in August or September.

You know what I found? We've been in first place or up to 1.5 games back since May 12. It is now June 26. That's 45 days, and 27 of those we've been in first place. (INCLUDING TODAY!)

Dude, that's nearly a whole month!

I mean, we knew our farm system was good, and they have arrived, but it's!

Let's enjoy it and root against the Deadbirds like Big Oil roots against birds and other living creatures and oceans and the planet in general!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Now that's more like it

How does this guy NOT get chosen for the All Star team this year? And how is there not more national attention to a guy who skipped the minor leagues and is still undefeated with a 2.22 ERA? Oh yeah, and he's hitting .417, too. .417. Not a typo.

That was a nice win. Now it's time to head to the ballpark...

Saturday, June 05, 2010

It was a dark and stormy night

Ok, it wasn't stormy, and the incandescent glow of the stadium lights ensured the night was not particularly dark. But dark was the offense. Perhaps that's because whole baseball seasons passed between Livan Hernandez pitches. Perhaps because the dripping heat was an oppressive dictator who whipped and tortured the bats of the Cincinnati Reds Baseball Club. Perhaps it's because I'm back in the country and the Reds have decided to continue to be the team of old. Perhaps it's because of what they saw at Walter Reed earlier in the morning.

And Jonny, oh, Jonny, you have lost two games in a row with your - how should I put it? - shitty, shitty defense. As a hopeful spectator sticking to a leftfield seat, I saw clearly The Play That Ended the Game. It seemed like the life of the team was sucked out as that ball hit the ground. It was Stubbs' ball. It was any centerfielder's ball on any team of any level anywhere on the planet.

Of course, if The Shadow of Aaron Harang hadn't walked Reincarnated Livan Hernandez earlier, the outcome of the game could have been different. Alas, Livan trotted down to first, the Nationals scored a run, and the game was tied, setting the stage for The Play That Ended the Game. I can't say Harang was bad - four runs is not Miltonesque - but his lapses are killing him. Maybe he needs Ritalin. Ok, yes, yes he was bad. Ninety-eight pitches in only four innings.

I hate to say this, but I can't wait for the day Aroldis Chapman replaces him in the rotation this season. We could really get some decent prospects for him come July.

Third baseman Scott Rolen awaits the outcome of third baseman Ryan Zimmerman's at bat. There's some real talent in this picture. I wonder - is Scott Rolen a Hall of Famer? His career line at this point is .284/.370/.500/.870. He is currently four homers shy of 300 (in the Steroid Era). He has 1166 career RBI. Then there are the Gold Gloves - seven of them. Of course, there's the injury factor. I don't know. There are only ten third basemen in the Hall of Fame.

I think Zimmerman will get there.

There's not much else I can say about the game. It was dull. It was hot. It was disappointing. I mean, come on, my first game of the season, the one thing that is supposed to console me after having to return to the US, and Can't Catch Gomes and The Shadow of Aaron Harang had to go and blow it.

Oh, and what is with Nationals fans being so arrogant after a win? The Nationals have sucked for their entire existence save a few months in their 2005 inaugural year. I actually said "Which of these teams is in first place?" to one asshat who felt the need to heckle me on the Metro. Yes, yes, I know the Hated Deadbirds have temporarily recaptured first, but I had to make a point. It's been six years, and DC folks still don't know how to root for a baseball team.

Hopefully Leake will get it right tonight.

A few more photos:

Friday, June 04, 2010

Out, out, brief candle

Stalking the Reds players in their hotel when they are in Washington has become an annual ritual. With the exception of 2008 when I was in Ohio, I have done it every year since whatever year Pete McKanin was manager (the years of mediocrity blend together.) I go to the hotel to eat an overpriced lunch and see what the players look like out of uniform. The first time I went, I got a scorecard full of autographs until the Nazi Rat Lady who works at the hotel told me to stop harassing the players. For the next few years I didn't bother the players - just watched them. Today, though, before I left the hotel, I bothered Coco Cordero for an autograph; then, as I was leaving the hotel, Gomes walked in, so I bothered him for one, too. He was extremely nice and seemed like a very genuine guy.

The most thought provoking moment, however, came as I walked down the sidewalk to go home. A very tall man came towards me and I knew right away who it was. "Hi, Logan, will you sign my ball?" I asked this very tall man. He obliged.

I hope I made his day. As a rookie reliever who's only made a handful of Major League appearances, I wonder what he thought about someone actually knowing who he was and stopping him on the street for an autograph. It must be tough sometimes to see other players on your team getting all of the attention while no one knows who you are. Baseball is a team sport, yes, but it is a team made up of individuals of varying degrees of talent and importance. True, the weakest link sometimes rises to the ranks of hero, but when you play 162 games a season, it's the strong who make or break a team.

Dusty Baker came over to me to shake my hand because he realized I was a Reds fan (no - I wasn't that big of a dork that I had on Reds clothing. Ok, so I had on Reds socks. He couldn't see them.) I said hi to Mike Leake and he smiled. The others I saw: Hatcher, Cairo, Ramon, Harang, Danny Ray, Lecure, Corky Miller, and I think Heisey.

Here are my tweets from the outing:

# Scored Gomes and Coco ink then ran into Ondrusek onstreet so he signed my ball too. Must be a cool feeling for a rook to be stopped on st about 2 hours ago via Twitter for BlackBerry®

# It looks much less ridiculous in real life. "@jinazreds: @churchofbasebal I think you have to be a badass to pull off that mustache." about 2 hours ago via Twitter for BlackBerry®

# Badass Rhodes just walked in. about 2 hours ago via Twitter for BlackBerry®

# Corky Miller looks like a badass in real life. And Ondrusek is taaalll. about 3 hours ago via Twitter for BlackBerry®

# Just saw a bunch of Reds come in-Harang, Herrera, Ramon, Lecure. Ramon went to the bank. about 3 hours ago via Twitter for BlackBerry®

# Owings is sitting next to me w a blond woman about 3 hours ago via Twitter for BlackBerry®

# Looks like the flow of Reds has dried up. Looks like it's back to work for me. After I finish this last Sam Adams (1st in 4 months!) about 3 hours ago via Twitter for BlackBerry®

# Reds trainer is at air space museum. Makes me think abt baseball travel. After going 2 same cities every yr, must run out of things to do about 3 hours ago via Twitter for BlackBerry®

# Can't tell if I just saw Heisey, Masset, or Lecure. All white people look the same. Ha! about 3 hours ago via Twitter for BlackBerry®

# Just saw Gomes. Kinda cute up close. about 3 hours ago via Twitter for BlackBerry®

# Having lunch at Reds hotel in DC. Met Dusty, said hi to Leake, am sitting next to Coco, Cairo, and Hatch. about 4 hours ago via Twitter for BlackBerry®

Thursday, June 03, 2010

The Noise Machine

By now, everyone on the entire baseball planet (and some who don't know a thing about the game) have made their opinions about the botched call known. Here's my take:
People don't understand that the umpires are not getting worse, but technology is getting better. When you have things like X-mo and Super X-Mo and all of those other technologies that make time nearly stop so you can see every millisecond of a play, of course you're going to notice that umpires are human beings.

Umpires make errors just as players make errors. I, for one, think the human element is one reason baseball is a beautiful game. I hate the idea of instant replay. For as many calls that go against your team throughout the season, you probably get about that many that go FOR your team. It stinks that Joyce had to mess up on such an important play, but in baseball, as in life, shit happens, and people just need to get over it. Galaraga has. (What a classy guy, too.)
I have no problem with the idea of Emperor Selig reversing the call.

I also want to write something on Griffey, but I'm wiped out this evening (I'm mentally still on Beirut time and it's nearly 6am there.) Seeing as how I'll be seeing the Reds three times in the next three days, I probably won't get around to it. (I've done it before - click on the Griffey label link.) I'm very excited to see the Reds live. Look for a ton of photos here!

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Blackberry Baseball

I'm makiing my first blog post by Blackberry while sitting in a park in Washington. Now that I'm back from Beirut, I should be able to post more frequently. I'm really looking forward to seeing the Reds live for three games this weekend! Stay tuned...