Tuesday, June 05, 2012

MLB.TV Strikes Out

I've been an MLB.TV subscriber in most years since 2004, with the exception of 2008 and 2011 when I was in Ohio for the summers. It has ALWAYS been fraught with problems, from the billing process to the technical process. This season, however, has been the worst.

It starts with Verizon internet service in Columbia Heights, DC. We pay for the highest available speed at 1000 kbps. To get a game on MLB.TV, you need to have a speed of 768 kbps. Seems ok, right? Except it rarely comes in at that speed. More often than not in the evenings, you know, when baseball games are played, the speed runs from 650-800.

But it's not just Verizon that is the problem. I don't mind watching the games on the lowest quality. However, the video quality control on the MLB.TV media player simply doesn't work. It doesn't let you set your own quality despite having a box you can uncheck to control the quality yourself. It tries to detect the best quality for you. Now, because my connection speed fluctuates, I can't have it detect the best quality for me because it comes in fast sometimes and then comes in at a crawl. This confuses the media player and causes a lot of buffering because it keeps trying to adjust the quality. But the box won't stay unchecked. It keeps going right back to trying to detect the best quality even after I've unchecked it. That's in addition to the frequency of Adobe Flash Player crashing.

Talk to customer service, you say? I have. By some miracle, every time I call Verizon, the speed is by some "miracle" topped out at an unwavering 1000. They even take over your computer remotely to "prove" it. And MLB.TV? They assume we're all idiots and tell us the usual stuff - clear your cache, run your virus software, reboot your computer, reboot your router, is your software updated...YES YES YES. The service is FULL of bugs. You'd think that after a decade of offering the service, they'd have perfected it. But no. They are so busy introducing new features each season that require an ever increasing amount of bandwidth that the service, which could be a considered a miracle of life if it actually worked correctly, is frustrating more than it is pleasant. How often have I given up and headed over to Lou's bar to ask them to play the Reds game? At least once a week.

And no, it isn't my computer. It happens on my work computer as well. I take care of my computer, constantly checking for updates, regularly cleaning it up, etc.

So yes, this is a rant. I love the thought of being able to watch the Reds anywhere in the world. I just wish it worked properly.

Friday, June 01, 2012


On the second day of our whirlwind NYC trip, we saw the Reds play at Yankee Stadium. Though it wasn't old Yankee Stadium, it still had soul. After opera man and I made a visit to the Met and had some overpriced oysters near Lincoln Center, we hopped a cab to the ballpark, a trip that took much longer than we had anticipated on account of it being Friday rush hour and all. The cabbie almost made us get out because I thought he was taking us the wrong way.

We missed the first two innings and spent the next two roaming around the stadium before taking our nosebleed seats for the second half of the game. It was so high I was afraid to even stand up. The stadium seats 50K and it feels HUGE. Yankees fans yelled at us, and one told opera man he'd see him in the parking lot. They were an obnoxious bunch by the end of the game. Reds lost but it was still great to be there. A few photos:

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

NYC musings

We woke at 6am and tried to hail a cab but no cabs would come. Really? No cabs to bring people to work in the morning? That's DC for you. We hopped a bus instead, one that stopped at every corner, as if it were too difficult to cut the number of bus stops in half and make people walk one extra block to get there. By the time we finally arrived at Union Station, we were in something of a panic. But we made the bus that was bound for New York City.

We arrived at Penn, took a train to eternity, dropped our stuff at a hotel in Brooklyn, and took a $30 meterless cab to Citi Field, arriving just after first pitch. I tried to take some photos of the park but realized my memory card was in my laptop back in Washington, so I had to settle for my low quality BlackBerry camera. That's what you see here. It's ok, though, because the ballpark is really nothing special. It has no soul to it, no character, none of that baseball magic that you find in some of baseball's other cathedrals. Still, it was baseball, and more importantly, it was Reds baseball.

We couldn't figure out how to get into the ballpark so we entered through the MacFadden's Pub that is attached to the stadium. Of course, we had to pick up a couple of beers before we went through the gate, but oops, can't bring beers in that way. Dumb, but oh well. We had to watch the first inning from the bar. I had purchased the cheap seats with no intention of getting any nosebleeds. We wandered around the park and took in the game from various angles. Everything seemed to be going well until the Reds gave it away in the late innings. Bummer. We finally settled into the centerfield seats for the last few innings and caught some rays. Even though the Reds lost, it was a good time. It was baseball.

We went to MacFadden's after the loss, where friendly Mets fans bought us beers, me in my Reds jersey and the graying opera singer in his Nationals shirt. There was a little ribbing, but it was good-natured. A good time.

Monday, April 23, 2012

On franchises and cities

Today the Cincinnati Reds franchise won its 10,000th game. That only dates back to 1882 when the team was in the American Association, having been expelled from the National League in 1880 for selling beer and playing games on Sundays. Technically, the Cincinnati Reds team of 10,000 wins is not the same as the Cincinnati Red Stockings team that was expelled after being an original member of the National League, nor is it the same as the first professional baseball team that was founded in 1869. But fans don't care about ownership groups or franchises.

A baseball team belongs to its city.

The Reds - the current franchise - joined only the Cubs, Cardinals, Giants, Dodgers, and Braves as 10,000 game winners. But the city had other teams with more wins. The 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings won 137 games in two seasons. The Cincinnati Red Stockings of the original National League won 125 games over five seasons. (Those were some BAD teams.) They belonged to the city, regardless of the owners. They became a part of the culture of the city.

So annoying when hipster wannabes wear Expos jerseys to Nats games. Senators? Fine. But Washington inhabitants gave not a thought to the Expos when they were in Montreal.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Scènes de la vie de bohème

Gazing out at the contrast between the black night sky and the incandescence of the stadium lights, eyes blurred from seven innings of beer, I felt as if I were in some other world, removed from the serious and surreal life I had been living, the one where Beirut was my home and the Cosmonaut the object of my longing. I stood on the concourse with someone else, a brokenhearted opera singer from another generation, both of us obnoxious in our happy state of being. The night was intoxicating; baseball happened on the verdant diamond below but it was not only baseball that happened. I felt myself transformed from the brooding figure of recent times into the carefree, merry soul that I had been in the fleeting periods of happiness in my life.

It wasn't just the magic of baseball. Anyone who read this blog back in the days when I wrote daily posts knows I used to believe there was something about baseball that felt almost supernatural, almost divine. But then I went to Beirut and I saw the holes in the buildings from the bullets and the bombs and I felt the tension among the Lebanese when some powermongering thug or other threatened the stability in the country and I realized that baseball doesn't matter.  Or so I thought.

But as I looked into the kaleidoscope crowd, the heaving and sighing of huzzah reached my ears and I realized I had once again achieved a kind of zen and this game had brought it to me. Neon signs glowed and glowered around the ballpark and concessions wafted through the vernal air and there was a consistency to it all that I vaguely recognized as something I had once loved. I was in the political capital of the world, far removed from the lazy summer days on the banks of the Ohio, but it was baseball all the same. Somewhere beyond the parking garages and the shiny, soulless buildings that have sprung up in the last few years around the park loomed the grand dome of the temple of democracy. From where we stood, we could not see it. It was just as well. Like so many sacred things in our American lives, that temple has been sullied. So, too, has the game, with its nine dollar beers and forty dollar t-shirts and its hundred million dollar players who, if not indifferent to us, despise us. Consumption had spoiled baseball, but baseball found its way back into my heart anyway - me, a wandering, struggling writer who only wants to embrace the beautiful things in life and share them with the world.

I had a blast on Friday night at Nationals Park with a new friend. That is a beautiful thing. (Though the Reds losing is not!)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Friday, April 13, 2012

Advertising pages in the consumer magazine sector plunged 8.2 percent in the First Quarter of 2012, compared to First Quarter results last year, according to Publishers' Information Bureau (PIB) statistics cited in Folio (www.Foliomag.com). Sporting News (a "TUOL" staff fave during their formative years) suffered an 80.1 percent drop-off in ad pages. Overall, the "women's magazine" category performed badly in the First Quarter, PIB numbers reflect, as titles such as O! The Oprah Magazine, Ladies Home Journal and Better Homes & Gardens all endured fewer ad pages. Marie Claire was a shining exception, boasting a 10 percent increase in ad pages.
I remember getting The Sporting News when it had photos of baseball players on the cover.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

On our holy day

Our baseball gods, who art in a cornfield in Iowa, hallowed be thy game. Thy stadium come, thy will be done, on grass that was made in heaven. Give us this day our daily hot dog bun and forgive our umpires as we forgive those who umpire against us. And lead us not to a second tray of nachos, but deliver us from Deadbirds and Bankees$. Amen.

Join us in DC at Lou's bar in Columbia Heights for an Opening Day party with fellow Reds fans!  4pm

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Blast from the Past: Where's the Pete?

Bud Selig: Worst Commissioner Ever

Selig shows no sign of thaw in Rose's final year of eligibility
The Hall of Fame's doors will remain shut to Pete Rose, who won't appear on the baseball writers' ballot in his final year of eligibility.

Commissioner Bud Selig will not rule on Rose's application for reinstatement before the 2006 ballot is released Nov. 29, according to Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer.
September 11, 1985. I was an eight year old celebrating my grandfather's birthday with my family. Eric Show was pitching for the Padres. Ty Cobb was about to become #2. Cheers erupted from the Cincinnati crowd, fireworks exploded, and the game was stopped for more than ten minutes as a red Corvette was driven out to the field. Pete Rose, a.k.a. Charlie Hustle, had just hit #4192.

Cincinnati fans forgave Pete long ago. Baseball fans forgave him during the All-Century team ceremony, when he stepped onto a Major League Baseball field for the first time in a decade and received several minutes of a standing ovation. But Selig can't forgive him? Why? Because Selig blames him for the death of his friend, Bart Giamanti, who died of a heart attack in the midst of the gambling investigation.

The guy had 4256 hits in his career. He played the game harder than anyone who ever played the game. So he had personal problems? Everyone does. Remember Steve Howe? He was banned for life for his personal problems, but he was forgiven and reinstated. People make mistakes. Pete has paid more than enough for his.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Blast from the Past: Baseball after Katrina

Floodwaters Pour Into New Orleans Again
Katrina-Weakened Levees Fail in Two Places Today

And we are just hitting peak season. As I sit in a nearly empty house that I rent, I have come to appreciate even more my lack of thirst for possessions. I've seen how devastated people have been after losing everything they owned, and I am glad I don't have a material dependency. I simply don't own much, nor do I want to.

I think the devastation has made a lot of us in this country think about what is really important. I've seen unbelievable generosity and compassion, something that has been conspicuously absent in the last several years of American discourse. I think we've been forced to reevaluate our priorities in life. It's too short and too precious to waste. (Of course, if can't wait to go straight to the Pearly Gates or a place with 72 virgins, you probably don't appreciate how delicate real life is.)

Is it that Mother Nature, God, Allah, Yahweh, Atum, Shiva, Insertgodhere wanted to show that she/he/it/they have more power over all of us? The Higher Being has succeeded in sewing our country back together by ripping it apart. Will the threads last, or will we go back to the same irrational discourse that has plagued this country for the past few years? Are we so helpless? All of the bombs in the world can't fight Nature.

Of course, there are those people whose ideologies are still blinding them to reality, but those people will never be saved. Their hatred burns deep and shows in their "they deserve it" attitude that I've seen splashed all over cyberspace. Those people have been shouting for too long, making it seem like there were more of them than there actually were. Their voices have grown weak, and the din of reason has finally begun to drown them out.

I bought a hot dog and a beer yesterday at the Nationals game. I wasn't going to do it because I didn't want to spend the money, but I sat there watching a meaningless game, burning with a passion for the sport and the joyful days of summer that it represents, and those things are the taste of the game. One's eyes are doused by the verdant field as it dances from fence to fence, forcing every color in the stadium to compete with it for the brightest spot, while the outside summer air allows you to breathe and forget the stifling atmosphere of everyday life. We were programmed at an early age to see summer as a season of play, and baseball represents that sense of carefree youth. I watched desperately with a fond nostalgia for another summer gone, and I contemplated the erasure of time that plagues a mortal soul. I foolishly and romantically longed for the days of innocence. Only in innocence are we truly free.

Is it ludicrous to talk about trivialities such as baseball in the same post as disaster? At first, it may seem that way. But- my point is that we need to learn not to take life and freedom and joy for granted, because at any senseless moment, it could be gone.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

My Reds souvenir cup collection

Remember the days running up and down the seats in Riverfront, picking up souvenir cups that were left behind? I kept so many of them. :)

Monday, March 19, 2012

Same old...

Scene: Girl is enjoying a baseball game, eating a hot dog, drinking a beer, and watching her team take a comfortable 5-0 lead. Suddenly, it is the eighth inning and she collapses. They take her to the hospital, but the doctors are puzzled.

House: Have we ruled out leukemia?

Omar Epps: Yes, all of the tests have come back negative.

The girl: Well, what about a tumor?

The Aussie: It's not a tumor.

House: Well, have you checked out the ballpark? Maybe she got metal poisoning from the seat.

The three lesser doctors hang their heads and go check out the ballpark.

The Aussie: There's nothing here.

The girl: It must be something else.

Omar Epps: It could be [insert lengthy medical term here.]

The go on running all sorts of tests. Then, as House sits in his apartment, his oncologist friend comes in and House suddenly has an idea. He hurries to the hospital and asks Omar Epps to get a newspaper in Cutty's presence. She looks at him like he's crazy and he's going to be wrong.

House: That's it! Look, the bullpen nearly blew another lead! She just needs a prescription for a CLOSER and she'll be fine.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Baseball in Ireland

"Anything up to the level of 'Holy crap, I'm getting soaked' is playable." - Cormac Eklof, pitcher for the Irish National Baseball Team

You didn't see them in the World Baseball Classic, but the Irish National Baseball Team exists. Indeed, they've been playing the American pastime on the Emerald Isle, since an Irish-American from St. Louis noticed a bumper sticker promoting an Irish softball recreational league in Dublin. Mike Kindle knocked on the window of the startled driver to get some info on the league, and Baseball Ireland was born.

The Emerald Diamond, a documentary directed and produced by baseball worshipper John J. Fitzgerald, chronicles the development of baseball in Ireland from that bumper sticker to the national team's bronze medal in the 2004 European Pool B Championship. The film screened Tuesday at the E Street Theater in DC as part of a nationwide tour of 20 major US cities. (The DVD will be out later this year, and I highly recommend it.) In the traditional Irish fashion, the after party was announced before the start of the movie, and that's where I spoke with Fitzgerald about the film over Guinness and Boru Vodka, the film's sponsor.

Donning a Padres cap, Fitzgerald is a Mets fan by birth whose eyes burn with a passion for baseball, and his affable manner and love of the game was such that I could have talked to him all night about the baseball religion. He would have played for the national team, but his grandmother was born in New York, rendering him inelligible. Rather than moping about it, he made a great film about the team. We discussed team loyalties, Soriwhino, and players like David Wright, guys who just love to put on the uniform and don't complain or cause problems in the clubhouse. I asked him questions about the film and Irish baseball in general.

In the film, we get a history of Irish competition, or in the early years, the lack of it in the European Pool B Championship. Team Ireland's very first game against the Czech Republic resulted in a 23-2 loss, but hey, at least they scored, right? The team grabbed its first victory in international competition when it defeated Yugoslavia in the tournament. They ended the tournament outscored by a margin of 77-18 with 35 errors, but the film gave us a sense of that positive outlook on negative things with which the Irish are blessed and the wit of a people who gave us Oscar Wilde.

The Irish celebrated July 4, 1998 in a truly American fashion by officially opening their first baseball field, O'Malley Field, whose namesake Peter O'Malley, Dodgers owner, had financed. Until then, the team had practiced on patches of swampy grass, using whatever materials they could find or "borrow" from construction sites as backstops.

Murphy's Law was enforced on their way to Zaghreb for the 2000 European Pool B Championship as the team watched its equipment being unloaded through the window of the plane on which they sat in Dublin before take off, but the team was in good spirits as they took the field for the opening ceremonies in the clothes on their backs. Some Irish luck graced them when almost all of their equipment arrived in time for the first game. The 2002 tournament saw closer games and allowed bronze medal thoughts to tease their minds until they were walloped by the Croatians. Even though they had to play a good Hungarian team the next day, the team reacted to the loss in the way the Irish react to everything - drink. They weren't feeling too well when they took the field the next day, but this "unique strategy," as catcher Sean Mitchell put it, paid off - the team defeated Hungary. They finished fourth.

Through the tournament, the Croatioan surroundings were never lost on the Irish players, who know a thing or two about conflict. Fitzgerald did a good job of capturing the idea that although baseball seems like it is life, it is just a game, and the real world is always lurking behind a dugout or an outfield fence. I think for a lot of us baseball worshippers, the game provides us with a respite from the harsh realities that plague our planet, and the ballpark is a little taste of Heaven, a place that offers refuge from the evil that causes humanity to rip itself to shreds with bullets and bombs. The film talked about the Belfast league where players from both sides came to play baseball together, leaving the Troubles outside of the park. As one player in the film said, "I just want to play baseball." Maybe baseball can save the world...

2004 was a thrilling year for the Irish National Team. Some of the original guys hung up their spikes, and some new blood pumped fresh talent into the team. One of the exciting developments in Irish baseball came in the form of a catcher called Rory Murphy, the first homegrown player that has caught the eye of Major League scouts. He has a sweet swing, speed, and natural talent that has all of Ireland, at least its baseball fans, hoping he can make the Majors, which would make Irish baseball explode in popularity, according to Fitzgerald. There is one potential problem, however, that was not mentioned in the film. Rory Murphy is also a skilled rugby player. Will he choose the quick route to Irish rugby fame or the slow journey through college and minor league ball to play in the Show?

Other additions to the 2004 roster were several Americans. Fitzgerald says that without the American pitching, the team could not compete. See, the thing is that the Irish play lots of sports with bats, but none of their sports involve throwing. About 25% of the Irish team is American born players, thanks to the grandmother rule on citizenship.

If the World Baseball Classic taught us anything, it is that small ball wins championships. Ireland has no sluggers, so they have to win with small ball. Fitzgerald estimates that it will be at least ten years until the team is good enough to compete in the Classic. There is a huge obstacle, however.

One of the casulties of the Olympic Committee's decision to pull baseball from the Games is funding for national programs. A decade and a half of developing young players could be threatened by losing half of its funding, which went not only to the National Team, but also to youth programs across the island. One casulty of this is the Belfast youth league, which no longer exists. MLB is not helpful in this regard, as it does little to grow baseball in other countries aside from paying for host families and plane fares for American coaches. In a time when baseball as an international sport has never been more popular, and in the wake of the success of the WBC, one would think that MLB could step up its international program. (Hey, maybe when they sell the Nats they can give some money to Baseball Ireland! ;) )

All of European baseball will suffer from the IOC's decision. Teams in Pool A like Italy, Netherlands, and England will survive, but for Pool B teams, it will be a struggle. Perhaps we can pressure National Disgrace to increase funding for MLB International. We can write letters to his office, write letters to editors of major US newspapers, heck, even bring signs to ballgames.

Above all, the film was simply enjoyable. The theater laughed out loud throughout, as Fitzgerald knew what was good entertainment. But the best thing about this movie was the sheer passion these players had for the game, a deep love without the complications we see too often in MLB, and an incredible lust for life. The film gets to the soul of the game and is a truly spiritual journey through the religion of baseball.

For more information on baseball in Ireland, please visit Baseball Ireland.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

“I cherish a theory I once heard propounded by G.Q. Durham that professional baseball is inherently antiwar. The most overlooked cause of war, his theory runs, is that it’s so damned interesting. It takes hard effort, skill, love and a little luck to make times of peace consistently interesting. About all it takes to make war interesting is a life. The appeal of trying to kill others without being killed yourself, according to Gale, is that it brings suspense, terror, honor, disgrace, rage, tragedy, treachery and occasionally even heroism within range of guys who, in times of peace, might lead lives of unmitigated blandness. But baseball, he says, is one activity that is able to generate suspense and excitement on a national scale, just like war. And baseball can only be played in peace. Hence G.Q.’s thesis that pro ball-players—little as some of them may want to hear it—are basically just a bunch of unusually well-coordinated guys working hard and artfully to prevent wars, by making peace more interesting.”
— David James Duncan, The Brothers K

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Cardboard on my mind redux

The pinging had ceased for the day, dirt was beginning to settle, and the little ballplayers who donned shirts with "Bob Evans," "Areawide Services," or "Tollhouse Tavern" ran to buy their postgame treats at the concession stand. It was the eighties in Englewood, Ohio, and Little League was thriving in a time when kids could just play ball and weren't pushed by parents with big league dollar signs in their eyes. We were all alloted 50 cents to spend after each game, and some bought Swedish Fish, others wanted Big League Chew. Dusty hands grabbed Sour Patch Kids, Lemonheads, Atomic Fireballs, Pixie Sticks, Fun Dips, Sugar Daddies, Blow Pops, and other stuff that makes my teeth rot just thinking about it. No candy for me, though. I was a ten year old girl who wanted 1987 Topps Baseball Cards. Nice wooden looking border. Hideous uniforms on the pictures. The smell of that gum and the wax. The thrill of getting the occasional Red. Lots of Kal Daniels, Ron Oester, Nick Esasky, though the Eric Davis cards were more difficult to find. I can picture them all - Soto, Browning, even Eddie Milner. The 87 Topps cards, my first baseball cards, were also my first exposure to the American League. Sure, I could name all the teams and I knew who was in the World Series, but I never really knew the players until I got my hands on those cards, players like Robin Yount and Paul Molitor, Graig Nettles, Dwight Evans, Eddie Murray, players who had spent their best years in the AL.

The next year, I collected the entire 1988 Topps set and then some, more than 1000 cards of a set that only had 792 in it. They were plain cards, kind of boring, and I always wondered why the Reds team name was in yellow at the top of the cards instead of red. My mother took my sisters and I to a lot of card shows, especially those who had players signing. I have more Paul O'Neill, Chris Sabo, Joe Oliver, Herm Winningham, and Dave Collins autographs than I can count. In those days, you could get the autographs for free. All you had to do was bring something to sign.

When I was in eighth grade I had a friend who would come over on occasion to trade cards, but you know, it’s difficult for a 13 year old girl to be rational when a 13 year old boy is paying her attention. Sure, I’ll take that 1988 Topps Ryne Sandberg for my 1989 Topps Traded Griffey, Jr. It will give me three of them and will look nice in my plastic page. And yes, I’ll take your two Paul O’Neill cards for my Bonds rookie card. I like Bonilla better anyway. [cringe]

One player I never gave up, though, was Jose Canseco. (Why, God, why?) I suppose at the time he was a “future Hall of Famer,” but why didn’t I like McGwire more! I’ll tell you why – it was because Jose was much better looking! I still have the mesh A’s hat I wore around during the Bash Brother days until about 1990, when the Reds went to their first and only World Series in my lifetime. (I was born when the Big Red Machine were still considered World Champs, but they would never be again.)

I still collected in high school, though towards the end I thought I was too old for the cards. I gave away a shoebox full of “commons” to a cousin at a time when it looked like Sammy Sosa would not amount to anything and Joey Belle was going to be the greatest player in Indian’s history, so you could say that my definition of “common” wasn’t entirely accurate. But hey, you know what they say about hindsight, right? It can make foresight see like Ray Charles.

I had already decided to collect only Topps because my best friend’s dad did that and it seemed to make sense in a time when they were starting to make “inserts” made of leather, plastic, and real wood. He was a diehard Reds fan and a baseball coach who knew a bunch of former Reds players. I can remember once spending the weekend at their house when Doug Flynn was staying there, and I tell you what, it was the coolest thing to sit around listening to his tales about The Show.

By my senior year of high school, I had only a handful of 94 Topps cards and can’t even remember what the 95 Topps looked like, but in the late 90s I suffered a renewed interest in the hobby. I went to all sorts of card shows and bought a few cards I had always wanted but never had the money for, but soon I had to choose between the cards and beer, and well, it was college. Since then, I’ve bought a few Reds team sets and a Nats set from the inaugural season, along with a few packs of Topps here and there, but that’s it. The card companies ruined the hobby for me with their greed, and they ruined their industry, too. You know what I want to do with my cards someday, what I’ve wanted to do with them since high school? I want to open a sports bar in Cincinnati, more like a baseball museum, and I want to put them under glass on the tables and on the bar. I knew it would look cool, but I didn’t realize how cool until I went to Red Foley’s Pub in NYC, where he had done the same thing. Only I won’t use staples in my cards.