Friday, December 13, 2013

Thinking about bandwagons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Baseball and the Canaanites

As I was writing a blog piece on what amounts to the end of chapters of happiness in our lives, I began to think about the changing seasons, which naturally led to thoughts of baseball seasons.

My 2010 was a good one, a protracted one which ended not on December 31, 2010, as is the convention, but a whole season later on March 31, 2011. The year began with me being shipped to Beirut for four months from January to May. I watched the Reds on Opening Day from a four-star hotel in Nicosia, Cyprus, and I was able to catch the day games form a a hotel bar in my neighborhood in Beirut until I went home for the summer. Lebanon actually had a government that year and there was some semblance of stability, so there were reasons to be more hopeful than usual.

At the risk of making conflict sound trivial, I held a similar kind of hope for the baseball season. The young Reds prospects had a few seasons under their belts, we had just won the bidding war for Aroldis Chapman, and the shouting heads in sports media often picked the Reds to win the division. I sublet an apartment that summer and MLB Extra Innings came with it, which is how I watched most of the Reds games that season.

I had reached a point in my life when I could afford to take vacations, and in September I took on to Paris and Beirut, which I had planned much earlier in the year. I watched the Bruce homer make those media predictions a reality in that same hotel bar in Beirut. Our decade-long nightmare was over. Life seemed nearly perfect. When I returned, my life started to crumble. The Reds being swept out of the first round of the playoffs was a precursor of things to come. My organization lost its funding that week; I was out of a job soon after that. It seemed as if as the Reds go, so goes my life.

Rather than mope, I made the decision to go back to Beirut to continue the work I had started and to find new consulting opportunities. It was winter, anyway, the off season of both baseball and mental contentment, and why live in winter when you can have the Mediterranean sun instead? I didn't miss the snow and cold, that's for sure. My return flight was set for March 30, 2011. I could have stayed a few weeks longer on my visa, but I chose the date for a reason: Opening Day was April 1, and the Lebanese internet had deteriorated enough that I could no longer stream games, so I HAD to go home to see it!

When the time came, my flight had been pushed back a day, and I wouldn't get back to the US until April 1. It would be close, but I thought I could make it on time for first pitch. I ended up having a 19 hour layover in London, so I spent a melancholic day wandering its streets rather than sitting in the hell that is Heathrow.

As I was flying to Denver on April 2, I chose a hotel near National Airport from where I'd leave rather than Dulles where I'd be landing. Dulles is truly a pain in the ass. I know how to slyly push my way past all the people with more money than I have who sit in front of me on the planes. I know to stand in the front of the transport car to the terminal no matter how many times we are asked to move to the back, because the customs line can be forever long. I know how to dodge people in the airport to get to the Washington Flyer bus back to Washington like I'm a pro-Bowl running back. But you can't predict the Flyer schedule, and you can't predict the Metro schedule (!), and you can't predict the accuracy of the hotel statements that say "Near Metro" on their websites, and you can't predict there will be taxis at the Huntington Metro Station, and so by the time I connected to the Reds game, I had missed the first inning.

But it was only one inning.

In the span of 48 hours I had stepped foot in three capital cities on three continents, and there I sat in a Ramada Inn in a suburb of Virginia, watching a baseball game, with no job or no place to live. The absurdity of it all.

That week, I experienced my first snowout at a baseball game at Coors Field as well as a seventy degree Rockies game TWO DAYS LATER. I spent the summer in Ohio and attended several Reds games at home, but the season was a bust. So, too, was the new job I got that August. But that's a story for another day.

If you enjoyed this post, please head over to From Beirut to Jupiter to read a reflection on the changing seasons of our lives.

*The land of Canaan in the Bible is present day southern Lebanon. The Canaanites were know as the Phoenicians in Greek, the civilization that invented the alphabet.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


Oh yeah, I was livid when I heard the news that the rich bastards who own the Nationals wanting to put a roof on the ballpark. Not only that, but they wanted to use $300 million in TAXPAYER money. I don't think that's going to happen; the council members who voted to use taxpayer money to fund the building of the ballpark were voted out of office the next election. Approving a $300 million roof would be political suicide, and we're due for a mayoral election next year.

But the roof could happen anyway, if they come up with some alternate source of funding.

What a crime.

Baseball is an outdoor game. It is the essence of summer, invoking memories of carefree days of childhood, when we were free from the confines of school for a few months each year. Mine was the first generation to grow up in the new indoors-focused world. We still played outside. We still went to camp. But we longed to be inside watching television or playing video games until we were forced to go out and let our imaginations keep us occupied. It was the time right before parents became paranoid that a boogeyman lurked in every corner waiting to snatch their precious snowflakes. The internet was not yet public, computers were too expensive for many families, and the cordless telephone was a device to marvel.

The transition to an indoors-only society is nearly complete. The only time many people go outside is to get into their cars. Much has been made about how children spend all their time in front of screens, but it's the same for adults. We as a society have completely lost touch with the natural world, and it's affecting not only our physical health, but our mental health as well. Now we have something called "Nature Deficit Disorder." Medical costs associated with obesity and inactivity are nearly $150 billion a year. Depression and anxiety are common. Mental illness is on the rise.

Americans are terrified of being outside. They demand a controlled environment at all times. It's too hot. It's too cold. I might get wet. I might get sunburnt. I might sweat. Despite our impending energy crisis, people turn on their ACs when the temperature gets above 70 degrees, and their bodies can no longer acclimate to elevated temperatures. Some people want a roof because they don't like being "uncomfortable." Last season, I heard time and time again, "It's too hot to go to the ballgame." Too hot. Why? Because they sit in a refrigerator all day so their bodies can't adjust to the heat. They're afraid of sweat, their body's natural way to cool itself. Natural. Nature. It terrifies them. Bunch of whiners. Superficial bullshit.

Washington, DC does not have an excessively rainy climate. Last season was a bit rainier than usual, and the Nationals had four rainouts and several more rain delays. That hardly justifies spending $300 million to put a roof on a ballpark. But these are wealthy businessmen, so they know that. DC doesn't get excessively hot or cold, either, not like Arizona or Milwaukee. So what is their motive? Some have suggested they want to hold off-season concerts, which would require installing new grass annually. (Have you seen the state of the outfield after the concerts they do have?) Others have said they want to move the team a la the assholes in Barves country. That doesn't seem plausible, either, given that they've invested in developing the area around the ballpark.

Could it be they're just bad at baseball?

Let's examine the evidence.

  • They screwed up the new ballpark. Instead of having iconic views of the Capitol Building in the outfield, they turned the field the wrong way and built ugly parking garages that block what views you could have had. [Check out Deadspin's, "Why Your Stadium Sucks: Nationals Park.]
  • They forced local businesses to pay for that ballpark, not only by taxing them directly but also taxing the utilities they use. With interest, the cost of the ballpark comes close to one BILLION dollars, but the Nationals pay none of that, except for a marginal rent of $5 million. Yeah, million.
  • They shut down their best pitcher instead of figuring out a way to reduce innings during the season, which kept him from pitching in the playoffs, arrogantly assuming they'd be back in the playoffs the next season.
  • They want to spend $300 million on an unnecessary roof but won't pay to keep Metro open past midnight, forcing fans to leave games early or take cabs, of which there are never enough for 15K+ who need transportation. People are sometimes stranded. Again, the rich bastards tried to get the city to pay to keep Metro open for Nats games. It's an ongoing issue that has never been resolved.
  • They cater to fellow rich elites and the Washington powerful. Us peons are merely cash machines. Beers are $9. Try finding a t-shirt for less than $40 in the team shop.

They're not just bad at baseball, they're bad people. It's called corporate welfare. The Lerners take, take, take and what do they provide for the city? A team that breaks your heart more often than not.

People, don't let them put a roof on the ballpark. Get outside. Get some fresh air. Learn that raindrops won't make you melt and sweat won't ruin your life.

I'm tired of writing this, so "The End."

Monday, November 25, 2013

It's All Relativity

It's 35 degrees outside and that's being kind. On days like this you wish your entire city was built underground - I envision everyone having a basement with a door that leads to tunnels to get you where you need to go. Even the weak sunlight is depressing. Artificial lighting seems less oppressive under these conditions. I envy bears who hibernate during these months. This seems impossible:

Swimming youth in Beirut, taken by me April 2010
It's in Beirut, if you're wondering.
One day I found myself on that beach, far away from the United States and the baseball season. I'm not sure that an ocean isn't the same as four months as far as separation goes. Space and time are kind of the same thing, if you know anything about space and time. Physicists have actually combined the terms to form "spacetime" as a singular concept. Well, if not a concept, at least a relationship, sort of like a marriage, as space exists in three dimensions and time is a fourth dimension. In terms of relativity, time can't be separated from the three dimensions of space, because "the observed rate at which time passes for an object depends on the object's velocity relative to the observer and also on the strength of gravitational fields, which can slow the passage of time."

I wonder what a baseball game would be like on the moon. It only has 1/6th of Earth's gravity, so does that mean you can hit it six times further? Maybe if you made the baseball six times heavier you could simulate an Earth game? You probably couldn't throw anything but straight fastballs. The real fun would be trying to field the ball. Ha! And just think, the fastest runner would probably run like Prince Fielder.

And how long would that game take. If gravitational fields slow the passage of time, does that mean you're gonna play a baseball game that is six times as long as an Earth game? Will it take you an average of 18 hours to finish? How long would a game pitched by Clay Buchholz or C.C. Sabathia take? A year?

Baseball on the moon. What a concept.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Time to Fix the Choo Choo

So this is the off-season. Some of you have probably gone into hibernation. It's not a bad decision, really. I envy bears. I mean, think about it, they get to sleep through the entire winter AND wake up skinny? Of all creatures on Earth, bears must be at the very top of the evolutionary chart.

The Reds, on the other hand, feel like amoebas sometimes. They have this awesome ability to develop into a higher life-form, and they just don't. They might evolve into an insect of some sort, but a lowly kind of insect, not bees or butterflies or any kind of useful bug like that. And just when they're about to evolve again, they lose a leg. Sure, they can still walk, but it's an awkward walk, limping along with desperate hopes that spring will regenerate that leg.

The firing of Dusty Baker was a massive step in the right direction. Here you have a guy who couldn't light a fire in the team if he was carrying a blow torch. Turned on. And everyone was doused in lighter fluid. That Wild Card You'd think they didn't even care. They should have been jumping up and down in the dugout. They should have been shouting. But it was like they had given up since they dropped all of those games at the end of the season and didn't win the division.

I hope watching Taint Louis in the World Series hurt them.

In recent years, we've had some decent off seasons. Getting Chapman certainly felt like a coup, and the Latos for Steroid Kids deal with the Padres was a good one. Signing Votto, Bruce, and Phillips for multiple years at hefty price tags was good news, too, and then there was the trade for Choo.


Look, when was the last time you can remember the Reds having a leadoff hitter who, you know, got on base? I don't remember one. Stick him in leftfield and let Hamilton cover center. How could you ask for a better outfield? Ludwick would be a great bat off the bench, albeit one with a bigger price tag than what Walt seems willing to pay to decorate the pine. It hasn't worked, Walt. The Izturuses and um...I can't even think of the others because they're all the same...they don't work. Nothing like rallying only to have the Izturuses come up to bat and kill it all. They're like deer hunters on a deer farm. Easy targets!

I sure hope the Reds can evolve over the winter. Sure, getting to the playoffs is nice, but losing in this manner year after year is beyond disappointing. To quote our eminent Reds fan Charlie Sheen, that Wildcard game was "a shameful train wreck filled with blind cuddly puppies."

Monday, August 12, 2013

We want to win it all.

I saw it again.

Scrolling down my feed, there was Reds media berating the fans through social media. It happens frequently. As far as I can tell, the only ones who haven't done it are Mark Sheldon and John Eradi.

Over the weekend, there were a couple of writers involved on Twitter. Last week, it was Jim Day. Paul Daugherty writes whole columns about how awful the fans are. Last year, Jamie Ramsey challenged a guy to a fight or something like that. I don't remember exactly what it was anymore; it was too stupid and I know he was embarrassed about it.

Plenty of idiots exist in the world, and now they can spew their nonsense at the click of a mouse. That doesn't mean you should give them attention, especially if you are using social media in a professional capacity. Attention is what they're seeking, anyway. There's a reason Twitter has a "block" feature. Engaging trolls and other forms of lesser intelligent life is unprofessional and it makes the entire organization look bad. Believe me, I know. I am the social media manager for a political research firm. You guys think you have trolls? Oh. My. God. You don't even know.

The media guys take issue with fans being unhappy with the team's play. Why should we be happy with it? The Reds are hitting .198 over last 14 games, going 6-8 while averaging 3 runs. We got the crap beat out of us twice against the Cardinals at a time when those are supposed to be like playoff games. Because they are, in a sense. This offensive slump is terrible and prolonged. We're supposed to be happy about that?

That's an example, of course. We have other complaints, as you know. Dusty Baker's bullpen management drives many of us crazy. (Who likes to see the same mistakes made over and over again?)  The baserunning blunders? Infuriating and unacceptable at the major league level. The errors seem to come in bunches, but that could be a misperception. Should I mention the bizarre anti-Votto cult that is upset because he doesn't have a high RBI total? No, they're just weirdos. But hey, they are entitled to their opinions, as misguided as they may be! No reason to continually bash them, it just fuels them. Anyway, they're fed by Marty and others continuously. (Talk about a complainer! Marty is public enemy numero uno. Sorry, but it's true.)

Cincinnati has a proud baseball tradition. We love the mythology of being the first professional team. We've won five World Series and nine pennants. We fielded one of the best teams in the history of the game with five three Hall of Famers. We were the dominant team for a decade and many of us have grown up with that legend. Winning is in our blood.

Then came the losing. Nine years of it, as a matter of fact. We watched our beloved team field mediocrity perennially with no real concern from the ownership. We'd weathered the Rose scandal, dealt with Marge Schott, got screwed in the 1994 strike, and lost a one-game playoff after winning 96 games in 1999. But we were never prepared for the losing years.

It wasn't just bad management, though that was a major part of it. These were times when the behemoths of baseball had run over the smaller markets, when ESPN ignored teams with payrolls under $100 million, when the same teams made the playoffs boring every year after using our clubs as a farm system. And then there was Junior.


Bob Castellini changed all that, brought pride back to the city. When he took over, we knew we were building a winner. He made us feel as if we were part of the team, as if he cared that we were there. It wasn't "The Reds" or "they" anymore, it was "we." Ours was the most talked about farm system in baseball. We had Joey Votto and Jay Bruce. We signed a big-name manager. Then came the long-term contracts. Then came the big cable TV deal. Then came the mind-blowing signing of Aroldis Chapman. We came to understand that he was firmly committed to winning. And then it happened. Not only did we finally have a winning season, but we won the division, and for the first time in 15 years, we got to watch baseball in October.

But we were no hit in one game and were swept in the series. Out with a whimper. It was bittersweet. Or just bitter.

That's ok, we had next year, right? We'd been building a team to win for years, so we'd be back. Ah, what a disappointment! Devastated by injuries, we were heartbroken in 2011.

That's ok, we had next year, right? Yes! We soundly won the division, putting 97 wins in the victory column, trailing the Nationals for best record in baseball by only one game. We were gooooood. This was our year. We would be putting another trophy in that gorgeous room in our wonderful Hall of Fame. We ran over the Giants in the first two games of the series and had all the confidence in the world that this was our year. But something had happened. Misfortune came at us like Medusa, and our ace went down in the first inning of the NLDS. Somehow, as if the baseball gods had smited us once more, we dropped three straight games at home, and baseball in October was done for us. Again. The stunned feeling I had when Posey hit that grand slam is still vivid in my mind. Agony.

Yeah, we're in a solid position to get into the playoffs again this year. But we don't want a Wild Card. We want to win the division, damn it! We're the defending NL Central champs! I'm not going to lie and say I won't be disappointed if we get into the playoffs via the WC. We should defend that title! But we're not going to ignore the team if they get in by WC. Geesh.

When the team couldn't hit water if it fell out of a boat, that's cause for concern. If the team looks lifeless, we'll demand life, fire, intensity - what winning teams have. And if someone says "pathetic" during or after a game, that's not throwing in the proverbial towel. That's describing the performance. That's wanting more. We're scoreboard watching and feel like we're not keeping up. We had dropped to seven games out.

How do you, Cincinnati media, not recognize that the complaining you perceive, the whining, is a manifestation of the disappointment we've been feeling for far too long? How can you not understand that our hearts have been broken time and time again? We have learned to recognize the signs of impending disaster, to anticipate the heartbreak. Our faith has been tested continually. We are mistrusting of fortune. We are weary of letdown. Baseball is an emotional game. Ours is a romance that goes back 144 years - can you imagine being married that long?

So stop berating us as a fanbase. Stop telling us how awful we are. We are allowed to be upset when the team underperforms. These players are great. The pitching is fantastic. We have one of the best hitters in baseball. We have the best defensive second baseman in the game. We had two starters in the All Star Game. We have Aroldis Chapman. We expect to win.

And we will.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Welcome to the playoff chase; some of you aren't invited.

We have a small game package to Nats games this year that we split among Chris's siblings. I think there are eight of us who bought the package with decent seats, as you can see in the photo. But because most of his siblings live in the suburbs of Maryland, they can't always make the games, so we've ended up going to more than we originally thought since we live in DC. We've also gone to plenty of other games not in these seats, including all four of the games when the Reds were in town. This is nothing unusual; I've gone to 15-20 games a year since the team moved from Montreal to DC except when I wasn't in DC in 2008, the first year of the new ballpark.

I feel, though, that the frequency of attending games has increased in the last few weeks; we've been to games every weekend they were home since the All Star break. This is due to the sense of urgency I feel at this time of year. You look at the schedule and suddenly you're wondering where the season went, where the summer went, and trying to cram in as many games as possible before time runs out. We're almost to the point where we start talking magic numbers, and we're definitely in the playoff chase part of the year. We're in the haves and have-nots part of the season when some teams have all but been eliminated and some of us are still clinging to playoff hopes. We're in that part of the season when math counts, when irrational hope arises, and when desperation can send you into emotional chaos.

We're also in that part of the season when silly happens. Nats announcers and fans don't want to believe they're out of it, especially after they tasted winning for the first time last year, so they scoreboard watch and hope they can over come a 9 game deficit and overtake 2 teams to grab a Wild Card spot. At least they're not saying they're going to catch Atlanta anymore. But the Wild Card hopes are equally as ridiculous, especially since the team did nothing to improve itself with trades or call ups when its chances were on life support in June/July. Instead, they fired the hitting coach, as if that would solve everything. It's ok, though. I'm still going to cram in as many games as my budget will allow.

Last postseason was a great one, with all my favorite teams getting in. I guess you could say it wasn't great because all my favorite teams lost. Well, the Giants won the whole thing, but they beat the Reds, so that doesn't count as good. The Reds have won the division two of the last three seasons (and will win this year, too) but have been knocked out in the first round both times. While getting to the postseason and losing is better than not getting to the postseason at all, it certainly isn't fun. I feel lucky that I know what winning a World Series feels like, though I was in 8th grade when it happened. Losing in the playoffs just leaves a bittersweet taste in your mouth, and then you have all winter to brood over it followed by a whole season where you wonder if you'll be able to get in again.

I tell you what - even though I believe the Reds are still going to win the division, I'm relieved that they are in a comfortable Wild Card spot. You know, just in case.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

The Vibes, Man, The Vibes

Well, it didn't work. Though I was shocked that the virtual voodoo doll of Andrew McCutchen kept him out of the starting lineup (that was it, I'm sure!), the magic only lasted seven innings before McCutchen pinch hit and played a key role in yet another Pissburgh Pyrites victory. In doing so, the Reds dropped to a season high SEVEN games behind first even though none of them picked up a baseball today. Just when I was starting to feel the comeback.

The Marlins were cruising with a 4-0 lead in the seventh inning when they suddenly remembered they were the Marlins and decided to hand over the entire lead to the Pyrites. They played like soggy fishsticks, led by the soggiest of all, Brad Qualls, who pitched like the ball was covered with putrid tartar sauce that had been sitting out in desert sun for a week. Wait, that would be Chad Qualls. Forgive me for getting the name confused, for the pitcher now known as Qualls is not the same one as he who was an excellent reliever with the Asstros and the Douchebacks for the first six years of his Major League career. Now he's a steaming pile of putrid tartar sauce that has been left out in the desert sun for the last four years.

Why all the animosity towards a less-than-mediocre middle reliever? Well, see, it has to do with the putrid stench of the tartar sauce getting in the way of the power of the voodoo, which was so bad that it added half a game to the Pissburgh Pyrites division lead. Also, it probably has something to do with the Cuban voting block that still can't get over the fact Castro took their land all those decades ago and they're never getting it back. The vibes, man, the vibes. All sorts of negative energy going on in all things Miami, including the hideousness of the Fishstick unis, all orangy and blinding and stuff.

I need to work on stronger voodoo magic.

Voodoo Time

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Dear Diary: Stop the Noise. Stop the Pyrites. Stop Mediocrity.

I'm writing something here even though I don't have anything well-thought out to say. That's really the problem here. I always wondered how beat writers do it, how they write every day. I suppose that's why beat articles have become so formulaic. How did guys like Hal McCoy churn out great game articles day after day?

I suppose it's because they have to. They don't have full-time jobs that prevent them from churning out articles - it's what they get paid to do. The rest of us have to make time to write, and I'm a slooooooow writer. I don't have a linear brain; I can't write from the beginning of an article to end. I've tried outlines, but the truth is I can't write them. Half the time I only have a vague idea of what I want to say - basically I have a point I want to make and have to figure out how to get there. The thing is, I want every word to be right, and that's just not the nature of blogs, at least those that are written every day. I'm also not very disciplined. I envy the rare writer who can put something together every day that isn't gibberish or rehashed ideas from somewhere else. The longest lasting blogs have often survived because they took on multiple writers. I never wanted to do that. My blog was like a story, each post with a different chapter, and having someone else participate on my blog or joining someone else's wasn't what I wanted.

I was looking up baseball blogs that I used to read back when I read blogs, before social media destroyed our collective attention span and our individual ones, too. I knew what to expect and was disappointed to find I was right, that many of them are dead. This one barely breathes. I've tried to revive it many times and wonder how I ever had the time to create something every day. Then the weird thought occurs to me about how I seemed to be more enthusiastic about the 2006 Reds than I am about the current team. I don't think that's true, but what is true is that I don't participate in online activity at the same rate as I did back then. Of course, the internet is completely different now, not just the tools you can use but the people, too. Back at the peak of personal blogs, the people who wrote them had intelligent things to say. Now the loudmouths tend to get in the way of intelligent discourse. I guess you can say the great unwashed masses discovered the internet.

Whatever. The tools changed everything, killing much long-form writing. 140 characters rule now. For whatever reason, everyone thinks his opinion is equal to others. Morons tell players how to play. Idiots tell scientists about science. Ignorami tell doctors how to doctor. And college students think they know more than professionals. Hello? You're in college. You're there because you DON'T know things.

The Reds won today. I don't really doubt they're going to the playoffs. But after winning the division for two of the last three years, it's hard to accept anything else. And I'm sitting here glued to the scoreboard, wondering why the useless Marlins can't score a run to tie it. At least the Taint Louis Dreadbirds are losing.

Since Pittsburgh may now be worthy of a nickname, and Pittifulsburgh isn't accurate, I've taken to calling them the Pyrites. Pyrite is a rock that is also known as Fools Gold. I think it's appropriate. Pyrite fans think their team is going to win the World Series. They aren't. The team is not as good as their record. Pitching is good, offense is weak. Fools Gold. Fake gold. Another possibility is Vampirates. Blood suckers. But vampires are too well liked in today's American culture. I like the Pyrites. I think I'll stick with it.

I don't want a Wild Card. Even if we get into the playoffs that way, it will be disappointing. We play the Pyrites six more times and Taint Louis seven more times, so the Reds' destiny is up to them.

Thursday, July 25, 2013


I love living in a place where there are two baseball teams to watch. I have the Orioles game on, since the Reds play tonight and the Nats played today.

I was thinking about how I used to go to Orioles games during 2003 and 2004 before there was a team in DC. Prior to that I had no interest in the Orioles. I'm having a vague recollection of the foreign feeling I had when I'd open packs of baseball cards and got players on the Orioles and other American League teams. People who grew up with team cable packages and interleague play wouldn't get it - you never saw the American League in Southwest Ohio. Even when I was in sixth grade and wearing a mesh A's baseball cap for the Bash Brothers, I never really got to see them play. Once my grandparents took us to see them play the Indians in Cleveland at the old stadium. It was the time when they made Major League and the Indians were the joke of baseball and there was no one in the stadium. So I can say I saw Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire play when they were clean and everyone loved them and there was no Twitter for one of them to show his crazy.

The Orioles were the second team I rooted for when I lived somewhere other than Ohio. The first was the Giants when I lived in Monterey and could drive up to San Francisco on the weekends. That was when I had the good fortune to watch Barry Bonds become the best hitter who ever lived with or without PEDs. This was before MLB.TV so I watched Giants games on television since I couldn't see the Reds and if you saw him play day in and day out you'd forget about the PEDs and the fact that he was a jerk because when he came to bat it was magic. I saw Game 5 of the 2002 World Series at Pac Bell Park and they won and we all thought they'd win the World Series but then the magic ran out and they lost and I moved to Washington for the next baseball season.

The Orioles were awful during those two years before the Nationals came but the ballpark was so wonderful that I didn't mind the losing. The team sort of grew on me and I became something of a fan, though not like in San Francisco because there just wasn't that much to root for. But I've kept an eye on the team ever since and was really rooting for them last year despite Peter Angelos whose name should be Devilos. In Washington you get both Nationals and Orioles broadcasts so if the Nats aren't playing I can watch them on TV. They have wonderful announcers, not like those clowns in DC who are near the bottom of the pack when it comes to rating baseball broadcasters.

In 2003 they invented MLB.TV and in 2004 I got a subscription and have had one ever since except in 2008 when I lived in Ohio and didn't need it. It's strange to think about living in another place where I can't go to Reds games and not getting to watch them every day. We live in a strange time.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Here we go again

Arise, ye hypocrites.

Roids are back in the news, thanks to the Biogenesis scandal and the subsequent suspensions, and with them comes righteous indignation and faux outrage.

Ryan Braun is an asshole, not only because he cheated, but because he turned a guy’s life upside down with his lies, having the audacity to say he lived by honor, integrity, and dignity because he thought he got away with his transgression. Indeed, any athlete who uses PEDs is an asshole, plagued with the vileness of selfishness, greed, and an utter lack of integrity.

But what do you expect in our me, me, me society?

Steroids are not a baseball problem or a sports problem. Steroids are a symptom of a greater societal problem. We are taught early on in life that individual achievement is key - whether it is winning a race or scoring the highest on a paper. We have widespread inequality and a winner-take-all philosophy. Concepts like honor and integrity and community are unknown to far too many Americans; it’s all about getting what’s mine, regardless of who or what gets hurt in the process. Sports are but one industry where cheating occurs to get ahead, to be the best, and to get more money.

Take a look at Wall Street. Bankers brought the global economy to a halt by cheating.  One survey of 500 financial professionals found these sad results about the banking industry:

·         26 percent said they had observed or had firsthand knowledge of wrongdoing in the workplace.
·         39 percent believe that it’s likely that their competitors who have succeeded did so by bending or breaking the rules.
·         24 percent said they thought that the rules may need to be broken in order to be successful.
·         16 percent said they would commit insider trading in order to make $10 million if they could get away with it.

(Hell, bankers can’t even stay loyal to their spouses. This survey shows 72% of bankers commit adultery.)

Cheating is rampant in schools, both in high school and in college. It is an acceptable means of getting ahead to young people. According to many studies, 80 to 95 percent of high school students admitted to cheating at least once in a year. MBA students are the worst, with this study showing 56 percent of them have cheated, compared with 54 percent in engineering, 48 percent in education, and 45 percent in law school. Academics is a competitive realm; students have no problem using dishonest means to beat out their peers. Parents and teachers even encourage it. Along those lines, cheating is also prevalent among educators to improve their rankings and to meet standardized test expectations. It’s all about getting ahead.

This is not different than athletes cheating at sports. One study shows that cheating at sports starts at an early age, with parents encouraging their children to cheat. Yet we expect them to be saints when they become pros?

And Corporate America. Good lord. Enron. Worldcom. Halliburton. Need I say more?

Doctors take bounties to get patients into clinical trials. Journalists and writers plagiarize or publish fiction as truth. Overbilling is a standard practice in the legal profession.

So why the righteous indignation and faux outage at Braun and co? They’re typical Americans, cheating their way to getting ahead.

Still not convinced? Hey, David Callahan wrote a whole book about our cheating culture. And check out the website

We should use this opportunity as a society to take a look in the mirror. Chances are, you’re as guilty as Braun.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Number 6 shouldn't be a number

I have the faux dirt-stained t-shirt, the one the team gave out as a promotion, the one-size-fits-all that is too big for me to wear. I couldn’t wear it now even if it did fit. The shirt represents the all-out style of play that came to characterize its honoree, a style of play that may have killed him.

New research by the CDC shows that suicide rates among Americans aged 35-64 years increased substantially from 1999 to 2010, making suicide a more prevalent cause of death than motor vehicle crashes. An article in yesterday’s Washington Post attempts to enumerate the possible reasons for the dramatic spike in suicides among these baby boomers, including the era of individual freedom and possibility in which they grew up, the modern culture of youth worship and lack of reverence for elders, and mental and physical health issues that have led to a take-a-pill-to-make-it-better way of life.

Baby boomers…have struggled more with existential questions of purpose and meaning.” We landed on the moon, cured polio, and could have sex without babies as they were coming of age. Free love, man, free love. Except it wasn’t free. It came with a steep price. The “illusion of choice,” says Barry Jacobs, director of behavioral sciences at the Crozer-Keystone Family Medicine Residency Program. Turns out, the moon isn’t made of cheese, and no man is a tropical island paradise, no matter how much he thinks so or how many pills he takes to pretend he is.

So where is the support system to help find purpose and meaning? Community has been discarded in the name of “individualism.” As a result, boomers are isolated from others far more than the previous generation. (I don’t know if the current level of vitriol on the internet has anything to do with boomers raising their children in this kind of isolation, but I’m willing to speculate.) They often live in Stepford Wives suburbs where everything looks the same. Even if they appear to have many friends, there is the pressure to “keep up with the Joneses;” materialism is the end all, and failure to live up to the myth of the American Dream is seen as a failure in being a human being. Depression is common, as are stress-related chronic illnesses, but too often, people face these issues by themselves, whether out of pride, embarrassment, fear, or other reason.

No one knows what was going on in Ryan Freel’s head on December 22, 2012. He was always a strange guy; one has to wonder if the voice in his head he called “Farney” was more reality than joke. No doubt multiple concussions he sustained in his style of play contributed to his declining mental state. (Freel’s family donated his brain tissue to test for chronic traumatic encephalopathy, that degenerative disease responsible for suicides of several former NFL players.) But the concussions alone aren’t the whole picture. Freel was known to suffer symptoms of mental illness – depression and alcoholic tendencies among them. Family, friends, and teammates said he’d have periods of isolation, when he’d cut himself off from the world. When he suffered a head injury where he was carted off the field by ambulance, teammates said they didn’t hear from him for weeks after the incident. Baseball seemed to be the only thing that sustained him, and when he could no longer play, it was the end of him.

Freel retired from baseball in 2009 after several subpar seasons with the Orioles, Cubs, Rangers, and Royals. After retirement, he spent time coaching youth baseball players in an organization called BLD Baseball (Big League Development.) One must wonder how those kids felt when they heard the news, but that’s nothing compared to what his three little girls (ages 4, 7, and 9) must have experienced. There is no more selfish act in humanity than suicide. But it’s also selfish of us not to fight for better mental health programs and better support systems for those who feel that life is a bigger burden than they can carry. It shouldn’t be. Life is too precious to waste, too wondrous, full of seemingly impossible things that happen against all odds. But we can’t face it alone. We're not supposed to; we're social creatures with an unlimited capacity for awe.

Self-inflicted gunshot wound, they call it. In 2010, 19,932 people left this world in that manner. Study after study shows that gun availability is a risk factor for suicide. This study showed clear empirical evidence that reducing access to firearms led to a decrease in suicide rate. Despite this, it’s a topic that is largely ignored in the current gun control debate. Some can’t make the connection, and the worst among us say, “Let them kill themselves.” Do you think Ryan Freel’s little girls feel this way? How about those kids he coached or all those people whose lives he touched?

Our country has a suicide problem. It’s partly an outcome of our warped sense of values, where we have to buy, buy, buy to keep ourselves happy, and when we can’t, we take pills to make things better. Far more importantly, however, is that we’ve lost our support structure, our sense of community, and mental illness is a stigma that we don’t talk about, no matter how many times we see those prescription drug ads with the umbrellas that rain on the inside. I feel like the internet is bringing some of that community back and look to the example of the community on blogs like Red Reporter, which has greatly facilitated meeting other Reds fans in real life in multiple cities across America and the globe. Here’s to hoping the new generation can overcome the isolation of the last and that we can reestablish the concept of community on which this nation is built. Besides, there’s far too much baseball to watch together.

Friday, May 31, 2013

After the things are destroyed and scattered...

When Homer Bailey made his Major League debut, the power went out in my house in the third or fourth inning. In a move that bordered on desperation, I grabbed a transistor radio that I had for emergencies and turned the dial to 700 as we once did back in Ohio. Sure, it was a longshot, but WLW had one of the strongest radio signals in the country. It turned out to be a good night for the signal, as Marty’s voice broke through the static and I listened to the Reds on radio all the way in Washington, DC.

Chris has a transistor radio that he listens to constantly. While the rest of us living in the 21st century rely on devices we still call phones, he carries around this ode to nostalgia, the incessant drone of sports talk radio crackling from its antiquated speakers. Yet there’s something whimsically romantic about it, about that crackle, a sort of symphony of radiowaves that reminds us of the past while transmitting realtime events. It’s not like Instagram, with its faux retro scheme, but a genuine artifact of simpler times in the realm of media.

The temperature was wonderfully warm a couple of nights ago; as soon as I arrived home from work I ventured out to our garden to redo part of the rock border, as rain had covered some of the rocks with dirt and birds had displaced others (as well as knocking off marigold blossoms!) While our internet signal reaches to the garden and I have watched a couple of Reds games out there, I was rather enjoying the peace of the evening devoid of screens and technology and chose to leave the laptop inside and savor the tranquility in being among the plants and nature. Soon, Chris came home with his transistor radio, and we listened to the Nationals-Orioles game while drinking summer beers and playing with rocks. We passed a simple, happy moment fringed with nostalgia, the good kind of nostalgia, full of the pleasure of happy memories and warmth, firmly rooted in realtime.

Unfortunately, much of the psychological research on nostalgia is located behind the paywalls of scholarly journals I cannot afford, and much of that has been limited to the field of consumer psychology, that field that researches ways to fool you into buying something you don’t need while appealing to your sense of nostalgia. However, my personal Google machine tells me that until recently, nostalgia was associated with an unhealthy emotional state. Indeed, the term itself is derived from the Greek words for “return” and “suffering.” Recent research suggests nostalgia can be a healthy emotion that eases loneliness, helps people get through difficult periods in their lives, and gives them a sense of stability through changing times. Feeling nostalgic is a way to maintain one’s sense of identity.

Of course, these are only psychological studies. The human brain is a vastly mysterious entity about which we know little, and empirical neurological research on nostalgia is scarce. I found this rather interesting article “Nostalgia: the similarities between immunological and neurologicalmemory” by Lawrence Steinman of Beckman Center for Molecular Medicine at Stanford in which he discusses the importance of memory in both the immune system and the nervous system. I particularly like Steinman’s reference to Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past,” from which he quotes “Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.” He talks briefly about how neurological memory shapes our personalities and goes on to discuss what our neurological and immune memories have in common. The article raises curiosity in my mind about nostalgia’s links to identity and the failure to recognize self as does one who is afflicted with prosopagnosia, a neurological phenomenon that shares features with autoimmune diseases when there is a failure of recognition of self. I’m not a neurologist or a psychologist, so I can only naively speculate and puzzle over the marvels and possibilities of the brain. I wonder if diseases such as Alzheimer’s actually make nostalgia come to life, and if that is the case, can’t too much nostalgia among seemingly healthy people be unhealthy? Isn’t dwelling on the past detrimental to a sound mental state?

Proust also wrote, “When from the distant past nothing remains, after the beings have died, after the things are destroyed and scattered, still, alone, more fragile, yet more vital, more insubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us, waiting and hoping for their moment, amid the ruins of everything else; and bear unfaltering, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the immense architecture of memory.

The smell and taste of things. Smells bring back emotional memories better than the other senses because the olfactory bulb is part of the emotional center of the brain and has strong input into the amygdala, where emotions are processed. The sensory cues around us are also integral to how our brains map our movement through space. We have neurons called “place cells” that help us find our way in the world. While reading this article on The Atlantic Cities about how understanding our brain’s mapping capabilities can help us to better design city spaces, I began to wonder how our brains, whose place cell neurons have each learned how to care for one particular place, deal with the loss of those places, like when a ballpark is imploded out of existence.

These place cells are located within the brain’s hippocampus, which has its own memory system with unique characteristic functions. However, when it comes to emotional situations, the hippocampus interacts with the amygdala and acts in concert when memory and emotion meet. Knowing this, I couldn’t help but wonder if those neurons play any part in developing emotional attachments and if the destruction of places that have become a part of our identities (after the things are destroyed and scattered), like Riverfront Stadium was a part of mine (is, perhaps), has a disconcerting or detrimental effect on our brains. If a place like Riverfront Stadium, a place that was so important in my childhood, no longer exists, what happens to that neuron whose sole job was to know Riverfront Stadium? And why do I feel a longing to go to a baseball game there but I have no deep emotional connection to Riverfront’s replacement ballpark?

Marty Brennaman’s voice was not coming out of that transistor radio the other night, but the crackle of baseball was. It certainly fired up the part of my brain that produces nostalgia. Remembrance of things past and which can never be again. I suppose that’s simply a part of baseball. A part of life.