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.

Monday, March 12, 2012

“I believe in the Church of Baseball. I’ve tried all the major religions, and most of the minor ones. I’ve worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms, and Isadora Duncan. I know things. For instance, there are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball. When I heard that, I gave Jesus a chance. But it just didn’t work out between us. The Lord laid too much guilt on me. I prefer metaphysics to theology. You see, there’s no guilt in baseball, and it’s never boring… which makes it like sex. There’s never been a ballplayer slept with me who didn’t have the best year of his career. Making love is like hitting a baseball: you just gotta relax and concentrate. Besides, I’d never sleep with a player hitting under .250… not unless he had a lot of RBIs and was a great glove man up the middle. You see, there’s a certain amount of life wisdom I give these boys. I can expand their minds. Sometimes when I’ve got a ballplayer alone, I’ll just read Emily Dickinson or Walt Whitman to him, and the guys are so sweet, they always stay and listen. ‘Course, a guy’ll listen to anything if he thinks it’s foreplay. I make them feel confident, and they make me feel safe, and pretty. ‘Course, what I give them lasts a lifetime; what they give me lasts 142 games. Sometimes it seems like a bad trade. But bad trades are part of baseball - now who can forget Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas, for God’s sake? It’s a long season and you gotta trust it. I’ve tried ‘em all, I really have, and the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball.”
— Annie Savoy

Saturday, March 10, 2012


I have some sort of cosmic connection to the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals, some parallel pathway to fate with them, like some astrological force keeps sticking me with this team in some metaphysical room in the universe. It has to be true, for before they followed me to DC, I was one of very few people on this planet who watched Les Expos on television. "Why?" you might ask, bewildered by my confession, or perhaps you think I am lying to be "cool" like those people who buy Expos jerseys and caps to wear to RFK (losers!) Nope, sorry, that bandwagon garbage isn't for me.

It was September 1998, my senior year of an all too short college journey. I had spent the previous best-year-of-my-life-thus-far in Luxembourg, where I had learned to appreciate the art of food, good beer, and that glorious gift us English-speaking folk call life. I had developed a modest level of proficiency in la lingua franca ancienne, enough to be able to watch Rodger Brulotte call baseball for Les Expos.

That September gifted us with baseball memories as luminous as the autumn trees that lined the cobblestone streets of Oxford, where I watched them all unfold. It was a time when the whole country was watching, when baseball became our nation's pasttime again, when the man who gave home runs their magic was roused from his eternal slumber to stand in the shadows of two mighty sluggers. Oh, and Roger Maris, too. Proving that God is a baseball fan once again, the teams of the two sluggers played each other on the night the Babe decided it was time to step aside. I can't forget it. Skipping yet another social engagement for baseball, I spread books and papers across the floor of my room as if I actually thought I would study. But I couldn't. I couldn't take my eyes from the television, not wanting to miss a second of this moment in American history, a moment that could end up as legendary as Mr. George Herman himself.

Number 62 was not a thing of beauty; indeed, the mighty slugger in red missed first base as he rounded it. Still, the country had fallen in love with baseball again. I couldn't get enough, that's for sure, and that's when I began watching Les Expos. Yes, it was only a month of baseball, but my brain took rolls and rolls of film during those weeks, and even as many of those pictures fade from my mortal mind, some of them will be there when the last vestiges of my vitality melt away with time and my intellect succumbs to the gray senility of age.

Guerrero frappe un circuit et les Expos gagnent le match! I learned a lot of baseball terms in French by watching those games, though I've forgotten most of them by now. But I can't forget Rodger Brulotte's "Bonsoir elle est partie!" as a Vlad Guerrero ball sailed into the Quebecois night. (And it did that '98 season - they had to play outdoors since pieces of the roof of Stade Olympique kept falling off.) Thirty-eight coups de circuit that year, his first full year in the Majors.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Baseball, more than any other sport, is nostalgia in motion. Even as it’s occurring in real-time, you’re already imagining the moment as a memory, and are contextualizing it as epic.

—Elissa Goldstone, BOMBlog 2012,

Thursday, March 08, 2012


Found this article "Retweets becoming digital version of autographs."

"It's almost like capturing a photo of yourself with that person," said Chris Abraham, senior vice president at Social Ally, a social media firm. "For a second there, you've breached their celebrity. They've actually allowed you to come over and take a camera shot of you two together, and you can share it with all your friends."

I don't think all of us are as detached from reality as that guy. You can't replace experience with a hashtag. Imagine an adult saying, "I remember that retweet like it was yesterday." Won't happen. But meeting a player and getting an autograph or a photo? That's a memory people tend to keep.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

It's Time

MLB.TV subscription renewed? Check.

Can of Skyline Chili for Opening Day lunch? Check.

Talked to the bartender at the local bar about watching Reds games there? Check.

Pocket schedule? I need one! Or a couple! I need one for the wallet and one for work.

Some thoughts:

Maybe the worst thing about the Reds moving Spring Training to Arizona is the time difference. I've been listening to the games at work but it's such a long wait until 3pm and the games aren't over by quitting time.

I'm intrigued by this Donald Lutz character, mostly because he's from Germany and he didn't start playing baseball until he was 16 years old. Seems he can mash.

Jay Bruce and Joey Votto. Yay!

Missed 30 Clubs in 30 Days last night on MLB Network because I was watching the GOP circus on CNN. Hope MLB Network will replay it.

Bronson Arroyo needs to go-go.

Less than a month to go!