Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Dread the end

So we've reached Game Six. 

I think most of us are rooting for Game Seven.  That’s all I wanted to see. Come 2015, I’ll probably have forgotten half the Royals lineup, these overachievers, given that I rarely see them play and that I’ll be focused on the Reds and Nats. We’ll all be back to rooting for our teams so rudely excluded from October by misfortune or incompetence.

It’s going to be a long winter. It always is. November. December. January. February. No baseball. Cold, colder, coldest, cold cold cold…we’ll descend into winter’s darkness, a condition probably brought about by no baseball. The color will be drained from the world, the life, the warmth, all gone. Ballparks will stand empty, desolate. Our souls will hibernate. Are there diversions? Sure - hockey, football, Christmas - but no crack of the bat, no thump of a fastball, no verdant diamond or little white sphere or collective breath holding as a ball sails towards a fence. Eventually, baseball will bloom, but when it’s absent, it feels like it will never return. January is the longest month. Winter is the longest season.

Grab it now, embrace it, this Game Six. Grab it so tightly that a Game Seven comes. Because come Thursday, baseball is gone.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Marry us, baseball

Chris and I watched Game 2 the other night at the usual bar. Half price drafts made for a guilt-free beer event. The bar was full but not crowded, and we had seats in the front row.

I'm noticing something.

Several years ago, it was a struggle just to get the playoffs or World Series on. You often had to ask to get a screen turned from some talking head moving his mouth on mute. Forget it if it were Sunday - the football behemoth swallowed everything. That's how I came to dislike football. (That, and the fact that so many of the players are wife beaters and criminals.) I hated Sundays - hid from Sundays - and rooted for the cancellation of the NFL season when that was a possibility, because football usurped attention from baseball.

But the postseason is on now, no asking necessary. Even a screen or two is tuned in when a game falls on a Sunday. What's more, people are watching. Not just the KC or SF expats gathering to watch their teams from half a world away, but others, too, people enjoying baseball. And they're talking about it when the games aren't on. Water cooler stuff. The bar was full of people who wanted to be there to watch baseball, who were rooting for teams that were not their own, who groaned when players erred or umps couldn't keep a consistent strikezone.

DC is hardly a controlled lab for baseball fandom experiments, given that baseball was absent for so long. The increased general interest in the city where I've lived for a dozen years could be a result of a decade of growing interest in the local team. But I look at the numbers from around the country, the increasing attendance, the dominance of television ratings in most markets, the online jabber from fans of every team everywhere, and I have to think the physical observations I've made are not simply the result of Washingtonians learning to love baseball because they have a good team now, but are part of a growing phenomenon of Americans falling in love with America's pastime again.

I only hope it's true.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

World Serious

This article on Fay Vincent jolted my memory of the 1989 World Series and baseball Before The Strike. It included video footage of the ABC broadcast with Al Michaels and Tim McCarver.

I watched the video with curiosity, wondering if the broadcast in my memory was how it really had happened. The human memory is a funny thing, faulty, warped with time and colored by the bias of our experiences, but I swore that what I remembered about this particular moment in history was right, so I hit play.

It was exactly as I had remembered it.

I was in seventh grade when it happened, that massive quake, the shifting tectonics, the collapse of bridges, the death, destruction, and postponement of the World Series. My mother was hosting a Home Interiors party in our Englewood apartment, so I was allowed to move a small television into my bedroom to watch the game, which added to my enthusiasm for the event. (Why she decided to host an HI party during a World Series game is something I can't answer. Haha.)

I loved that Oakland A's team. I can still recall the players as if they were on a current roster - The Bash Brothers, Rickey, Dave Henderson, Carney Lansford, Terry Steinback, Mike Gallego, Walt Weiss, Stan Javier, an aged Dave Parker, Dave Stewart, Bob Welsh (RIP), Eck...I had asked for and received an A's hat, one of the mesh variety, that I wore everywhere that summer. The highlight of the season was a trip to Cleveland with my grandparents where we and about five thousand other people watched the A's play the Indians in Memorial Stadium, which was anything but memorable. The A's lost, but they were already well on their way to the fall classic.

I don't remember if I was wearing my A's hat when I ran out of my bedroom and announced to the party that San Francisco had just had a major earthquake. I probably sounded like I was announcing the end of the world. The quake had quite an effect on me - for weeks I cut out every article about it that I found in the Dayton Daily News or whatever magazine happened to come my way and pasted it into a spiral notebook. I read about some of the people who had died and others who had gotten off the bridge just in time, the BABIP of life. I read about collapsed buildings and those that had burned to the ground and those that had staved off damage, including Candlestick. And I read every tidbit about the World Series, wondering, as did everyone, if it would be cancelled.

It wasn't, and San Francisco survived, but at the time, I didn't think it would. I was just becoming cognizant of the world at that age; the quake seemed like the worst thing that had ever happened because I had seen it happen. It was real. Other disasters I had read about were just passages in history books. That moment when Al Michaels realized what was going on was surreal, scary, even, and the effect was such that I have formed a perfect memory of the moment.

What are the chances that a quake like that would happen when both area teams were about to play in the World Series? Think about it. Quakes are rare as it is. There were 26 teams at the time; that those two were meeting for only the second time in franchise history makes it even weirder. And at that time, too, before they started the game rather than in the middle of it. I mean, what are the chances?

Turns out, experts say that the having the World Series in the Bay Area may have saved lives, that people had stayed home to watch the game and weren't out on the roads. The Series, when it resumed, had a healing power, too, as baseball is wont to do, as if baseball were a divine game. For a twelve year old kid in Southwest Ohio, the resumption showed that life goes on after disasters, that repairs are made, people healed, and this, too, shall pass.

Monday, October 13, 2014

And his friends, family, neighbors, and strangers as well...

This is the story of Chris, age 53, Washington Nationals fan.

Chris is a townie. I'm not sure I had ever befriended a native Washingtonian before I met him. I had called Washington, DC a transient town, where people whose home states had nothing to offer them came to live, work, and increase the cost of living, but Chris grew up in Rockville, Maryland and I was suddenly thrown into a world where everyone was from this area. (We can get into semantics about who is allowed to be called a Washingtonian, arguing over whether or not the suburbs and exurbs count, but Chris has lived or worked in DC for most of his adult life, so the term suits.)

This Italian-Irish family with ten children were a family of sports and music. Baseball was important; they were Senators fans, with Chris coming into this world in the first year of the expansion version, the one that saw none of the stars who would win more often than not in the vast expanse of Minnesota and the Ice Palace. No, this was the new version, another awful rendition of a baseball team for the annuls of Washington's less than stellar baseball history. Frank Howard was perhaps the lone saving grace of the short-lived Washington redux, that massive man who hit the massive home runs and had a massive effect on a loud-mouthed kid from Rockville. That kid saw his first Major League home run fly off the bat of that man who hit moonshots to the upper echelons of the Washington stratosphere, his spaceman feats still marked by faded white paint within the confines of the aged Robert Fitzgerald Kennedy Stadium.

Ten year old Chris lost his baseball team, too, but none came to replace it.

But this was a family of baseball fans, and there was another team slightly further away, a team that had just defeated the infant Big Red Machine in the 1970 World Series, and their allegiance migrated to the Baltimore Orioles, themselves having broken the hearts of kids in the swampy-aired town of Saint Louis, Missouri by moving away. This was the team of Brooks and Jim and Boog and later Cal and Eddie and Robbie for a spell. That was their baseball team then. That was Washington's team. There were some pennants and World Series and division wins over the years. Hall of Famers passed through. A streak made history. An Orioles team store was located on Farragut Square downtown DC. This was Birdland, too.

This is the story of Chris, age 53, native Washingtonian and Baltimore Orioles fan.

Chris has this joke he made up long before the Nationals came into existence. "Don't blame Angelos - he's doing asbestos he can." Angelos has always been a Grade A Jerk. He ran that storied franchise into the ground to garner sympathy for losing part of his market, and Orioles fans never deserved it. As a fan of a Reds team whose past ownership also ran a franchise into the ground, I know exactly how it felt to be an O's fans in those years of losing. We were losing, too. At the same time. Frankly, it sucked. Peter Angelos is something O's fans have to endure - something baseball fans have to endure, and they are not to blame.

Chris and his family became Nationals fans upon the team's immigration to America, as many Senators-turned-Orioles fans did. That ten year old boy was in his forties then; he had endured. He had survived the turmoil and the heartbreak of losing his favorite team to the adult realities of greed and indifference. He had been an Orioles fan and he had loved that team as his own. There were many like him. Had the Orioles not been so awful for the previous half decade plus, perhaps it would have been more difficult for some people who'd been watching the O's for decades to switch allegiance to the Nats. But the baseball fans in Washington, DC had something new to spice up that losing, something that should have been there all along, a baseball team in the capital of the nation, and they were playing in the Senators' old stomping grounds where so many childhood memories had been made and so many kids had learned the joys of a game called baseball. Three words couldn't have had more meaning: Baseball is back.

I had arrived to Washington by that time, frequenting those grounds, perhaps at the same time as some of those Italian-Irish folks from Rockville long before they had entered my life and I had entered theirs. Boy, were those days fun. It was baseball, that's all it was. No look-at-me-fly-by-night members of the Washington ego class, no Johnny-come-lately bandwagoners, just people who loved the game. That the team played well for much of the first season was a bonus, and you know Angelos was cursing every time he heard about another Nationals win. The baseball blogosphere was fun, too, back before social media rendered the world incapable of reading more than 140 characters at a time. Blogs like Oleanders and Morning Glories, Distinguished Senators, and Capitol Punishment were part of my daily reads. Granted, there wasn't much to cheer about, but it was baseball, and that's all that mattered.

The winning in recent years by both of the BWI teams has made for an interesting baseball atmosphere. As a baseball fan, I couldn't dream of a better postseason environment than having not one, but TWO area teams in the playoffs, despite the uninspiring season had by my beloved Reds. I revel in the fact that I get two baseball games on television every night, that local bars will put both of them on, that there are fans of both riding on the same trains and walking the same streets. It's a baseball fan's paradise. And it's unique. It's not like Chicago, where both teams have basically been around since the baseball hour glass began. It's not like New York, which saw two of its storied franchises divorce the East Coast and move in with California. It's not like LA, whose teams have so much concrete between them that they might as well be in different time zones. The Baltimore-Washington situation most closely resembles the Bay Area, especially in its white collar-blue collar divide. But it's not really that close, as both Bay Area franchises have been around for an eternity, and even in their current incarnations, they both have a lot of winning in their histories. Baltimore baseball is simply part of Washington baseball, whether new fans like it or not.

This is the story of Chris, age 10, Washington Senators fan.

When Major League Baseball wanted to relocate Les Expos to the capital of the nation that invented - or at least perfected - baseball, the MLB powers that be let Angelos bully them into a sweet deal for himself. Allen Drank-too-much-Bud Selig, owner's best friend, handed Angelos control over Nats television rights. The issue is a mess right now, as most baseball fans know, and the Orioles owe the Nationals $300 million. But this has not impoverished the Nationals, as some fans would lead you to believe. It's as if these Nats fans think that Peter Angelos is the reason the Nats didn't advance to the NLCS. If the Nats were short anything this season, it's because the Lerners are cheap bastards who would rather let a local university pay to keep Metro open late during the playoffs than fork over the money themselves, not because they couldn't afford to pay for impact players. Did Angelos try to block the move to Washington? Of course. Any businessman would take measures to protect himself from competition. That's capitalism. It is the ugly side of baseball, the corporate side, and it breaks hearts sometimes more than the game itself. It broke ten-year-old Chris's heart when his team left - it broke the hearts of so many in the Washington area. I'm sure my great great great grandfather was heartbroken when George and Harry Wright moved the first professional baseball team from Cincinnati to Boston in 1870. Professional baseball has always been a business first.

But baseball did come back to Washington, and Chris, the Senators fan, became a Nationals fan. You know what? He still has an Orioles shirt. You know what else? He's rooting hard for the Baltimore Orioles, because he was once an O's fan, because he is still an O's fan, because he is a baseball fan.

The twenty-somethings new to baseball and a few disgruntled others would have you believe that all of Washington is rooting against the Orioles. It simply isn't true. Baseball has existed in its professional form since 1869, when that other set of Wright Brothers took the field in Cincinnati, Ohio. Baseball did not begin in 2005, not even in Washington, DC. In fact, there is a long tradition of baseball here, and that, for three decades, at least, includes the Baltimore Orioles.

This is the story of Chris, age 53, baseball fan.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

A Baseball Story

It was dilemma.

What a start time, 5:30 on a Thursday, the time when most of the people that live in the faded cities of Baltimore and Detroit go home from work. Why did baseball schedule the best matchup in the LCS at such an hour when the second game doesn't start until 9pm? (One could argue that the Taint Louis-LAD matchup is better. I prefer to disregard that scarlet bird team although if I face reality I know it's probably true.) (Before I get too far, I must say this. I like the Tigers. I have since I was exposed to them in 1984. Read about it if you want.)

I have fallen in love with this Orioles team.

I've had an affinity for the O's since...well, I was going to say 2003 when I first moved to Washington and that was the Major League Baseball team near here, but I have an Orioles hat that I bought in 1996, the year after my Reds were so rudely dispelled from the NLCS by the hated Barves, a year when I needed a team to root for in the post season to get over yet another disappointment. That was the Jeffrey Maier Year, the one in which a tenth man, er, boy, changed everything, or at least it seemed that way, judging from the wild hand gestures of an irate future Hall of Famer. I did like that team. I did like the idea of the Orioles, and I don't know why I felt connected to them. I remember as a kid getting Orioles baseball cards - the 1987 Topps set stands out - and not understanding what or where "Baltimore" was or why it was a city or why it had a baseball team. I'm not sure I even knew what state it was in. It was a weird word, all the way over there on the "East Coast," and it sounded more like a foreign country than anything American. Even when I took my first trip to Washington - during my sophomore year in college - the entire state of Maryland seemed like a fake place, a place that only existed in primary school social studies textbooks when you were learning the capitals and had to know of a city called "Annapolis." It was October 1996, and I said aloud to other people on the trip, "I've never been to New England before!" as we entered the state of Maryland. I was promptly corrected by a girl from Connecticut.

But...I knew of the Baltimore baseball team, and I knew it was a good one once, and I knew they had "stolen" Frank Robinson (I'd later learn the harsh truth about his departure and the worst trade in baseball history even to this day, but, you know, innocence and all. Milt Pappas? Annie Savoy was right.) I knew that they had beaten the Reds in the '70 World Series during the infancy of the Big Red Machine, and I remember being kind of mad at them about that. I respected the franchise even though I suppose I thought it existed in space, just floating there above the "East Coast." It's funny to think about now, but aren't all the things you thought when you were a kid? I once had a Jim Palmer baseball card, a card from his twilight years when the underwear commercials had dried up and he was still pretending he was young enough to pitch, and I remember when my mother saw it and told me he had been a great pitcher and I knew it was true from the look of him on the card. I think he had retired by the time I acquired it so I couldn't even watch him pitch.

Though there was such thing as the "world wide web" in 1996, I don't remember Major League Baseball having a website that year. I had a subscription to the literally made-of-paper New York Times and I remember a picture of some Serbian kids on the front page and instead of thinking about why they were protesting, I was fascinated by the fact that one of them was wearing a New York Yankees hat. I think it was the first time I truly understood the phenomenon called "globalization" and to this day I remember that picture. I also corrected a guy in class after the professor asked what the big deal was about the Yankees being in the playoffs because the student had given the incorrect date of the last time, which was a glorious 14 years, though I didn't think it glorious then. It was a great series with the Orioles and it stands out in my mind more than most, but I never would have guessed that I would one day have a direct connection to the Baltimore Orioles or Maryland or that I'd learn how to eat crabs and Old Bay.

When I packed up my car in 2003 and drove it across the country to start a new life in our nation's capital, Spring Training was underway and almost over and our Holy Opening Day was approaching. I had spent the previous two baseball seasons rooting for Barry Bonds and the San Francisco Giants (when the Reds weren't playing them,) having lived in Monterey, California, but I was a baseball fan, and I had no problem driving up to Baltimore several times that summer and the next. That Orioles hat came in handy. The team wasn't particularly good either of those first two seasons or several after that, and the most exciting thing to watch was Rafael Palmero's homers. That was in 2004, before steroids ruined the idea of him.

The Nats arrived in 2005, and though I still drove up to Baltimore a few times that summer, it was AWESOME to be able to get on a train and go to a ballpark, a dream, really. It was the first time in my life that it was so easy to see baseball, having grown up near Dayton (45 minutes from Cincinnati) and in Sidney (1.5 hours from Cincy.) I still watched the Orioles when they didn't interfere with the Reds and Nats games, but I got away from them a bit. My visits dwindled to once or twice a year, then none at all, and I only watched when one or two or both of the others had an off day or game time was different.

The 2005 Nats team was fun until they fell off a cliff that August. I even rooted against the Reds when they came to town late that season, as their season had ended long before and the Nats were still clinging to wild card hopes, albeit desperately. That was tough. So was putting up with all the losing for the next many years. But I still went, and I still cheered, and I still was considered one of those in the Nats inner circle of fandom as an early adopter of the team. I was given a season ticket package from my family as a 30th birthday present in 2007; the stadium was so empty most of the time that I moved from my seats in the upper deck to somewhere closer to home plate on the lower. RFK was a dump, a relic from another time, but the ghosts still roamed through it, and though they had seen a lot of losing, those ghosts still made the baseball experience wonderful.

I wasn't in DC during the inaugural season of Nats Park, so it wasn't until 2009 that I saw my first game there. I was less than impressed. It was a mall. It couldn't decide which history to embrace. Was it the city's baseball history or the corporate side of things? They couldn't even get the view right, choosing parking garages over the Capitol Dome. One thing they did get right was the idea to put a statue of Josh Gibson in a spot equal to Walter Johnson and Frank Howard. But they blew it by approving such a hideous design.

Being on the East Coast makes it easy to go to a lot of different ballparks. I covered them all - The Beautiful Relic, The House that Jeter Killed, The House that Jeter Shopped In, The Blue Dump in Flushing, Shitty Field, Citizen's Prank, and even further west, that pretty aberration in Pusburgh. In those years I went to all of them as well as Big Box Store Field, Ivy Drunkard Paradise, Beer Park West, and probably some others that I'm leaving out. Every one of them was a better baseball experience than Nats Park.

I've been struggling to put why that is into words. It makes me an enemy in certain parts. I suppose I'm long overdue to explain, but I've been trying to write about it for awhile. (That's coming.) The bottom line is that even though I've been to about a quarter of the home games at Nats Park in each of the last six years, aside from 2011 when I spent the summer in Ohio, I don't get that feeling of awe when I'm there, unless something big is happening, like Randy Johnson's 300th win (though they made sure to get their money from us in the rainout game before it) or a playoff game or Opening Day.

At some point, I stopped enjoying baseball.

The Reds may have planted the seeds, being awful with seemingly no end to the losing in sight, which exacerbated the disappointment I felt over their 2010, 2012, and 2013 post season performances. We had waited too long to flame out so quickly and awfully. The Nats were perennial losers except in 2012, as were the Orioles, and though I continued to go to Nats games, I think my heart was breaking. A lot of it had to do with the emergence of social media and the nastiness of people on the internet, too. I had put my heart and soul into this blog about the wonder of the game of baseball, and I think even I couldn't live up to the high standard I had set for the game. But when you create something that a lot of people appreciate, you start to attract those who appreciate nothing, the bullies, the sociopaths, the trolls. I became bitter. (I don't know why I criticize sports journalists who are nasty with fans; I saw what they see for a time.) Then, social media destroyed my ability to write and the audience's ability to read, and my posting became less frequent until it was almost non-existent. 140 characters at a time was all I could muster.

I've been watching the Orioles much more frequently in the last few years. I think it is because I moved to Columbia Heights and started going to Lou's City Bar, which usually has the Nats and O's games on side by side. I often ask for the Reds game, too, so I have three games I'm watching at the same time. I tweet from there quite regularly. But sometimes watching felt like more of an obligation rather than a love.

This post began as a story about my commute, the dysfunctional Metro, working far from where I live, scrambling to get to a television where I can watch a baseball game, and the impetus for it all. This post is about a rediscovery of a lifelong love, a rediscovery that I think happened in the city of Baltimore, at one of the best ballparks to have ever had the privilege of hosting a baseball team, and a development that I desperately needed. When Chris's older brother came to visit his siblings at the end of July, when the Reds had already showed their disinterest in October baseball, we went to an Orioles-Angels game, and I rediscovered the magic of baseball. What a ballpark! What a crowd! What a team! What a history! WHAT A BALLPARK! That game was like playoff baseball, a preview of what could be the ALCS, an extra inning affair in which the team that Angelos didn't seem to care about for many years was victorious over the Angels. Wow. That feeling was never replicated in Nats Park, despite a similar bandwagon rolling down the beltway.

I left the office of my job of a mere three weeks last Thursday on the first bus out of there, worried about missing the first half of the game during my hour and a half commute. Then I remembered MLB At Bat, and as a half hour of my commute is outside, knew I could listen to the radio broadcast. (Young people, let this be a lesson to you: learn to listen to baseball on the radio. You will cherish it forever. And by radio I mean your phone.) I have a twenty minute bus ride to the Silver Line Metro before I suffer an hour and ten to thirty minute train ride. Thursday was one of those longer ones, where you just sit on the tracks for ten minutes at a time, not moving, which feels like an hour or forever. But I realized I didn't have to go home. As one of those "won't cross the river" people in DC, working in Virginia is a new experience, and it had never occurred to me to get off the train in one of those cities along the Metro line. A light bulb. Ballston it was, the first stop under the tunnel, where no radio broadcast would go. I went to the only place I knew - Front Page - where they had the sound on and every screen tuned to baseball.

As it should be. This is America, after all. Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie.

I was excited for playoff baseball that day, but I was particularly excited for Orioles baseball. Though I had been watching the Orioles this and other seasons prior, that one game on a beautiful July night in Camden Yards gave me something that had been missing from my life. I felt the soul of the game again, that awe, that magic. That beautiful ballpark, the Oriole history, the intensity of the players, the excitement and rowdiness of the fans...wow. I had not enjoyed a baseball game like that for a long time. I suppose if you haven't been a baseball fan all your life, you probably can't understand that.

So, Orioles fans, I hope you will accept me as your guest this post season, because I am not from your country but hail from the land of Cincinnatus, one steeped in a grand tradition that even your proud city can't imagine. I am not of the bandwagon crowd. I come from the Church of Baseball, I worship the same saints as you do, the revered Cals and Brookses and Franks and Jims and Earls and all of those who have performed their miracles in your city (in nearly half the time as my beloved Reds sect.) You are baseball fans. You appreciate the game. Your team is damn good. And you're gonna get another one of those divine golden trophies, I'm pretty sure of it.

Note: I will be torn in a Nats-O's World Series, which, from the looks of it, probably won't happen. Chris and I might break up if I root for the O's too loudly in the event it does, but I'll probably root for both at the same time and be satisfied with either outcome. I'm half kidding. Regardless, I want to see good baseball. As long as Taint Louis isn't in it, life will be ok.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Dear Kansas City

Hi. You don't know me. I don't really know you, either, but I have some ideas about you. I call your state "Misery." There are a number of reasons for that. Ferguson, for one. And Taint Louis. And the Missouri Compromise, which declared people with certain melanin levels only part human. And you went from a swing state to blood red in recent years. I can't forgive you for that.

I don't know too much about the city of Kansas City itself, either. As a kid, I thought it was in Kansas; I think most American adults still think that. More than once when I've made the "Misery" comment I've received blank stares. I don't like Kansas, either. They wrote a book about it called "What's the Matter with Kansas?" It was a New York Times bestseller for many weeks.

What I do know about Kansas City is this: you actually love soccer. You were one of the cities with the greatest support and enthusiasm for the World Cup. I find this strange, given your location. Being surrounded by corn-fed, Bible-thumping, xenophobic rednecks would seemingly make you a weak candidate for being a soccer city. But you are. That's great.

I know that you have a football team whose fans use the racist tomahawk chop and that one of your players killed his girlfriend and then himself, perhaps because of the brain damage he suffered while playing football. I can't name a player on your current team at the moment because I don't watch much football, aside from the occasional Washington game. But I do know you have a good team. Good for you.

I know that Ernest Hemingway got his start at the Kansas City Star. That was back when you didn't need a "journalism degree" to work at a newspaper; you just needed to be a good writer. He was one of the greatest of all time in any country in any language. Because of Hemingway, I know a little about what Kansas City was like in the early part of the twentieth century. He liked it for awhile but then he found it dull. I imagine it still is. Sorry.

I know that U2 once made a disaster of your streets while making the video for "Last Night on Earth." The video was amusing. The song was underrated.

I know that your mayor is Sly James. I know because he follows my @BeiruttoJupiter account on Twitter. Or he did at one point. Maybe he still does. I unfollowed most of the politicians I once followed because, well, politicians.

That's not a lot of information that I know. I find myself lacking a desire to learn more when there are so many cities in the world I have never visited, cities and places I'd much rather go. Barcelona, for example. I've never been to Spain and plan on going in the spring. Moscow. Even though Putin's a dick. Tokyo. Bali. Casablanca. Rio. Machu Picchu. Easter Island. I don't know if we could ever be friends because of your location, but we can try. You see, I've come to like your baseball team.

If you had asked me a month ago, I would have struggled to name your lineup. I did, actually, when I was mentioning the possibility of you winning the AL Central to someone who thought I was joking when I said you were leading the division. Salvador Perez was the easy one. Then it got harder. Eric Hosmer came to mind after a moment. Billy Butler. Alex Gordon. Lorenzo Cain.

I didn't know who Dyson was, or Moustakas, or Gore. I know, of course, the well-traveled guys like Infante, Nix, Ibanez, and Willingham, but I didn't realize they were on your team. I couldn't name a pitcher who took the mound for you. I forgot you won the bidding war for James Shields.

I'm a National League fan, for the most part, though I love the Orioles and watch them when I can. As someone who watches two National League teams nearly every night during the season, I can name nearly the full rosters of most NL teams. But you only play the Orioles twice a year, so I don't get to see your team play. That's why I didn't know or care about the 2014 Kansas City Royals.

But there is that 29 years. Now, I like the Tigers, and I'm happy they won the division (but since they're playing the O's, I'm not rooting for them now.) But 29 years. Twenty-nine years ago I was learning multiplication tables for Ms. Ryan's third grade class and wondering why Jessica Palmer had such a difficult time getting past her fours. Twenty-nine years ago Pete Rose was still playing baseball. He's 70 now. Twenty-nine years ago the Soviet Union was undergoing glasnost and perestroika while waging a devastating war against Afghanistan while the US was secretly funding Bin Laden. The Rockies, Marlins, Dbacks, and Rays didn't exist, while the Nationals were Les Expos in Montreal and the Angels represented the entire state of California, apparently. My favorite baseball player of all time, Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, hadn't even played a Major League Baseball game.

I understand 29 years, because the Reds also had a long drought. From 1996-2009, Cincinnati was not a city that hosted baseball in October. Fourteen years without playoff baseball is nearly half of your wait time, but it's still a long time, and we've approached the quarter century mark in terms of World Series victories. A generation of Royals fans has never known October baseball. And so I'm happy for you.

Then there's the team itself. How can you not like them? There's such a thing as "wanting it." You can see the fire in them. They're too young to know bitter disappointment. You can look into their eyes and see the intensity. I like their speed, too, and the single digit numbers on their uniforms. They are fun.

I am enjoying watching the Kansas City Royals baseball team. I am enjoying them immensely. (It doesn't hurt that Pujols and Hamilton, two of baseball's greater demons, play for the ironically named Angels.) No, I'm not jumping on the bandwagon, but I'm rooting for you in this first round until you play the Orioles. Because man, has this been some fun baseball. So permit me to say thanks for your hospitality.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

I didn't know what to call this but it's about the playoffs. And nostalgia. And being a baseball fan.

The memories of coveted trips to Riverfront Stadium during the eighties grow fuzzier with each passing year, but the feeling of awe that I felt as a child when I was there is just as strong as ever. That stadium is long gone now, replaced by one of the more underrated of the new ballparks, and with Riverfront's destruction went a little piece of our identities. We grew up in that ballpark, us Cincinnatians and Daytonians and whatever you call people from Middletown. Even some Columbus...onians? called that ugly old cookie cutter their playground.

If you were a kid in Southwest Ohio in the eighties, you learned the mythology of the Big Red Machine. You were taught to be proud to be a Reds fan, that your team was steeped in tradition, that professional baseball started on the banks of the Ohio River back when our broken nation was trying to put itself together again. Cincinnati was a divided town during the Civil War, owing to its location on the line between tribes who clung to geographical estrangement and different definitions of racism and economics. I don't really know why George and Harry Wright chose to start pro ball in such a town; if they were in love with Cincinnati, they didn't show it, fleeing a mere two years after the founding of the Cincinnati Red Stockings for greener pastures in Boston. But the fact remains that it did happen in Cincinnati, and though it is merely a historical coincidence in our lives, as Reds fans we remain proud of that fact.

As for the Big Red Machine, well, who but the densest of fans can deny that Bob Howsam assembled two of the top teams in baseball of all time, teams that would have given the '27 Yankees a run for their money. I am of the opinion that the '76 Reds would have beaten that hallowed team of yesteryear, that Rose, Bench, Morgan, Perez, Concepcion, Foster, Griffey, and Geronimo would have sent Ruth, Gehrig, Collins, Lazzeri, Koenig, Dugan, Meusel, and Combs home for the winter with thoughts of what could have been. I have in my mind been prone to daydream of this matchup from time to time.

But I was a child of the eighties, not the seventies. I was born two months after the Big Red Machine had won their last World Series. I knew of Pete Rose, because who didn't know Pete Rose, but I was confused about his Phillies attire. Indeed, free agency and the strike of 1981 dawned an era of mediocrity for my beloved Reds, but, armed with the mythology of the Big Red Machine, they were still the greatest team in the world.

There were a lot of second place finishes that decade. The Phillies had stolen our team and won a World Series and then we got two of them back, battered, bruised, and aged. It didn't matter. They were ours, and they belonged in the Queen City. Of course, the end of that decade was disastrous, and Pete Rose the myth became Pete Rose the man. The whole world was in chaos; the Soviet Union collapsed, Germans with sledgehammers tore down a wall, the United States was embroiled in the first of its now regular campaigns in Iraq, and Osama Bin Laden was riding victorious after leading the Afghans against the Russians, all with US funding, of course. The destruction of a hometown hero was just par for the course.

Somehow, though Cincinnati baseball had been brought to its knees, we won. We won it all. We never even spent a day in second place in that first year of a new decade. We won with a team that lacked superstars, though one would become a Hall of Famer. We won and that was my childhood as a Reds fan. I entered high school the next year.

Once you taste that winning, once you see that golden trophy hoisted into the air, you know nothing will ever be the same again. I was 12 when it happened. Winning became expected for awhile. We had a couple bad seasons and Marge Schott's ordeal, a good middle of the decade run that included getting screwed again by a strike, and an end-of-decade 96 wins that just wasn't good enough for October. In those years without Reds baseball, I watched the post-season with excitement anyway, discovering an ability to detach myself from my beloved team, because I was a baseball fan. I loved the game, loved its history, loved its geometry and the proverbial poetry. I loved the ghosts at Yankee Stadium and the legend of Josh Gibson and the Curse of the Goat and the fan riots over burning disco records. I didn't cry in August 1994 because the Reds were getting screwed out of another post season. I cried because we were all getting screwed out of a post season. It still breaks my heart to think about, and it always will.

You'll find plenty of people these days who mock the romanticism of baseball, seemingly soulless creatures who look at the world as a spreadsheet or who view sentimentality with disdain, as if emotions weren't what make us human. You'll find others who are members of the history police, never failing to point out to those of us who embrace the nostalgia of the game that baseball was a segregated sport and who'll find racism in the statement "the way the game was meant to be played." The game was meant to be played as a game, to be enjoyed outdoors, to celebrate the warmth and light of summer, to savor the company of friends, and to relish the fruits of one's labor: October glory. That's what games are. That's why we call baseball a game before we call it a sport.

The other night, Kansas City played a game for the ages. Our hearts raced. We threw our hands in the air. We stayed up much too late. And, like we do time and time again, we fell in love with the game all over. Was it pretty baseball? No. Technically, there were many official and unofficial errors, missed opportunities, and terrible pitches. But it was beautiful baseball. The hero had been entirely clueless for much of the night. Yet, herein lies one of baseball's greatest marvels. It only takes one to change everything. One at bat. One pitch. One inch. One guy. The goat becomes the hero. We fundamentally knew why our hearts raced and our voices raised, even if we didn't consciously state it. That's life. We can screw up everything and our world may be falling apart, but this, too, shall pass. Ah, but it's just a game. A glorious game. Divine.

The goat becomes the hero. One guy. One hit. One team's 29 year drought ended by a monsoon of joy, real joy, the kind you find at births and weddings. That priceless shot of George Brett, aged hero, putting his hands on his head in happy disbelief. That woman who is getting a dog. The beaming faces of those youth in royal blue. Joy. October. Baseball.

Sunday, September 28, 2014


This was a summer when Reds baseball wasn't my summer. It's not totally the Reds' fault, but it mostly is.

I'm going to say this all started February 10, 2000. That was one of the best days of a Reds fan's life, the day when Junior came home. Who could have imagined the disappointment of the next decade? Is disappointment even the right word? How about devastation?

The next decade, as any real baseball fan knows, was one of utter heartbreak. Few teams have won more pennants than the Reds; no city has had professional baseball for as long as Cincinnati has.* Real baseball fans know this and know that the first decade of this millennium was an aberration. The casual fan looked upon the Reds as they did the Royals, Pirates, or any of another of underperforming teams - with disinterest. The media powers that be ignored Cincinnati completely - there were seasons when they didn't appear on national television once.

A few seasons of mediocrity may not have been a terrible thing, for the losing kind of forced a change in ownership. Bob Castellini's tenure as majority owner has seen baseball in Cincinnati restored; the Reds are respected once again. Of course, going to the post season three of the last five years has helped.

But it hasn't been enough for me. Going to the playoffs was like drinking salt water in the desert. It just makes you thirstier. From getting no hit in our first playoffs in fifteen years to blowing a two games to none lead in the NLDS two years later and then having to settle for a Wild Card death the next year, well, it's almost just a tease. The Reds haven't addressed the obvious holes in all of these years of winning, but no recent season was as bad as this one. The failure to do anything to improve the team was more disappointing than the team's play. I know it sounds ridiculous to say, but it feels like starting the year with eight guys on the DL was enough for Walt and Bob to throw in the towel when the team moved north in April.

What an ugly, ugly season.

How does one think a lineup that features Ryan Ludwick, Zack Cozart, a declining Brandon Phillips, an untested rookie in Billy Hamilton, a first baseman that is prone to lengthy times on the DL (with no backup), and a bench that features the likes of Ramon Santiago and whatever other mediocre roster spot started the season on the team. I don't even remember anymore, because that's how much of an impact they had on the team.

What was good about this season?

Johnny Cueto. The Reds wasted a hell of a year by the most underrated pitcher in baseball. Couldn't even bother to score enough runs for him to win his 20th game. [Update: Thankfully, this didn't come true. Reverse psychology...]

Devin Mesoraco. Now we know why Yasmani Grandel and Ryan Hanigan were let go. A catcher with a .900 OPS playing in Cincy? What is this, 1975?

Billy Hamilton. He could be better, but I think he exceeded our expectations. He can only get better, right?

Todd Frazier. A real power hitting third baseman. I'll take it. Also, it was cool to have a Reds player in the Home Run Derby.

Aroldis Chapman. The most exciting player in the game. It's actually fun to watch him pitch.

That's it. Everything else was really, really shitty.

I can't decide which is the shittiest thing to happen this season - Votto's mysterious injury, Homer's ridiculous contract, Bruce's inability to hit a baseball, the utter stupidity on the basepaths, Hoover continuing to be on the major league roster and being USED...no, I know what the shittiest thing was - the complete lack of roster moves that would improve the team, especially when Votto went down and no attempt to get him a backup was made.

I stopped watching. It was sometime in August. I listened to a few games on the radio but I no longer planned my evenings around Reds games, and I rarely bothered to ask the managers at Lou's City Bar to turn a screen to the Reds game. I didn't even make the effort to go to Baltimore when they came to town. No, I'm not a fairweathered fan. Heartbroken is the word. I cut the Reds from my life

Time for a roster purge. Keep Votto, Cueto, Chapman, Frazier, Mesoraco, and Hamilton, and get rid of the rest. That core is good enough, but they need a supporting cast. I hope to god Walt doesn't sit on his hands this year.

One last thought: Don't blame Price for this season. He was hardly given anything to work with.

Friday, August 15, 2014

No Nats fans, it's not your turn for an All Star Game (and why the O's should get 2016)

Washington, DC, my home for most of the last eleven years, is a strange place. Literally made up of land taken from two states, its suburbs are all in different states and sometimes feel like another world. The city itself consists of people from here and not from here, much of that divided along racial lines, with many people like myself moving here for the political or international aspect of the place. According to this study, only 37% of the population of DC were born here, and an additional 8% were born in neighboring Virginia or Maryland. That's not even half of the population of the city that comes from the area. Sixteen percent come from outside the United States, with a sizable percentage of those coming from Central America and East Africa.

All of this migration means that DC is a transient town. A great amount of transience makes it tough to build a consistent fanbase for a sports team. Of course, the football team has undying devotion, partly because their team was good while the baseball team was so very, very bad, and partly because they were the only game in town when baseball left. DC has lost three baseball teams in the past (1899, 1960, 1971). Those teams were mostly awful (#1924), but Harmon Killebrew and the Twins would go on to post 90+ wins in 1962 and 1963 in Minnesota before going to the World Series in 1965. They finished second in '66 and '67, then won the AL West in '69 and '70.

All Senators fans had to do was be patient, but they didn't go to games and missed out on all the winning. Attendance in the last year of the Griffith DC franchise was 743,404, dead last in baseball. In '59 it was 615,372. In '58 it was 475,288. Yes, 475,288. In '57: 457,079. '56: 431,647. '55: 425,238. Dead last, dead last, dead last.


While Washington is a different city today, attendance problems are still prevalent for a market of this size and wealth. The bandwagoners who joined the fanbase in 2012 (a significant percentage of Nats fandom, in my not-so-humble opinion) have caused an uptick in attendance, sending the team into the top ten in the National League for the last three years, with the greatest attendance having come in 2013 after the 2012 NL East title. Before that, they finished 14th of 16, 14th, 13th, 13th, 14th, 14th. The new team brought a 9th place finish in attendance in 2005, and some newness allowed for an 11th place finish the following year, but the attendance just hasn't been there consistently, despite DC having weathered much of the economic storm that affected attendance in other cities in recent years. The money has been here. The fans, not so much. If the Nats can garner some consistency in attendance, then we can consider holding the Mid-Summer Classic here.

But attendance is not the only factor that should be considered in awarding an All Star Game to a city. The length of time between ASGs for a team should and does weigh heavily in the decision. Look below at how long teams have waited for ASGs. (I am looking at teams in their current incarnations, not as franchises that moved to other cities. Teams in cities that had multiple teams are denoted with an additional letter. I've gone back to cover every current MLB team. It should be noted that Miami and Tampa Bay have never held an All Star Game.)

2015 CIN  Last ASG: 1988. Time elapsed: 27 years
2014 MIN Last ASG: 1985. Time elapsed: 29 years
2013 NYM Last ASG: 1964. Time elapsed: 48 years
2012 KCR Last ASG: 1973. Time elapsed: 39 years
2011 ARZ Last ASG: (never, but 13 years since establishment)
2010 LAA Last ASG: 1989. Time elapsed: 21 years
2009 STLC Last ASG: 1966. Time elapsed: 43 years
2008 NYY Last ASG: 1977. Time elapsed: 31 years
2007 SFG Last ASG: 1984. Time elapsed: 23 years
2006 PIT Last ASG: 1994. Time elapsed: 12 years
2005 DET Last ASG: 1971. Time elapsed: 34 years
2004 HOUA Last ASG: 1986. Time elapsed: 18 years
2003 CHW Last ASG: 1983. Time elapsed: 20 years
2002 MILB Last ASG: 1975. Time elapsed: 27 years
2001 SEAM Last ASG: 1979. Time elapsed: 22 years
2000 ATL Last ASG: 1972. Time elapsed: 28 years
1999 BOSX Last ASG: 1961. Time elapsed: 33 years
1998 COL Last ASG: (never, but 5 years since establishment)
1997 CLEI Last ASG: 1981. Time elapsed: 16 years
1996 PHIP Last ASG: 1976. Time elapsed: 20 years
1995 TEX Last ASG: (never, but 23 years since establishment)
1994 PIT Last ASG: 1974. Time elapsed: 20 years
1993 BAL Last ASG: 1958. Time elapsed: 35 years
1992 SDP Last ASG: 1978. Time elapsed: 16 years
1991 TOR Last ASG: (never, but 14 years since establishment)
1990 CHC Last ASG: 1962. Time elapsed: 28 years
1989 ANA Last ASG: 1967. Time elapsed: 22 years
1988 CIN Last ASG: 1970. Time elapsed: 18 years
1987 OAK Last ASG: (never, but 19 years since establishment)
1980 LAD Last ASG: 1959. Time elapsed: 21 years

Going back to 1994 when baseball realigned, simply because I need to go back to some time, teams are averaging 25 years between ASGs. Of course, there are wild outliers - 48 years for the Mets? But at least that gives us some picture of the wait time a team should have before getting an ASG.

You'll notice, of course, the extreme outlier - Pusburgh's mere 12 year wait. Pusburgh should have never been awarded the game. They were the worst team in baseball with no attendance and no good players. The only thing that franchise had going for it was that ballpark, which is among the best in baseball. I swear they got the game more because Ben Rapelesberger's Super Bowl Champ Pusburgh Steelers worked to get it there than any baseball-related reason. Ugh.

Nats fans use the "new stadium" excuse. Pusburgh, as I said, was awarded the ASG because of its stadium. It is a special stadium, a beautiful stadium. Nats Park is neither of those things. Nats Park looks like a corporate office from the outside. It has a view of parking garages in the outfield that it tries to hide with outdated banners. Shipping containers that look like dumpsters greet visitors as they walk towards the centerfield gate. While there are more places around the park than there used to be, the area is still under development. It's not a bad park. It's just not special, and it's not ready to host an All Star Game.

Dartboard Field hosted the 2014 ASG. Shitty Field hosted the 2013 ASG. Both were four years old. However, the Twins waited 29 years between ASGs, and the Mets, as mentioned above, waited 48 years. The Reds are hosting next year at their 12 year old "new" ballpark after waiting 27 years for the game to return to Cincinnati. Taint Louis's new park was 3 years old when they hosted in 2009, but they waited 43 years between ASGs. The Giant's "new" park was 7 years old, but they waited 23 years, and Detroit's park was 5 years old, but they waited 34 years. You see a pattern here?

The truth is, choosing the ASG has little to do with "new" parks, as 24 of the 30 ballparks in MLB have been built since 1992. They're ALL new.

Nats Park is in its seventh season. The Nats themselves are in their tenth. (Forget franchises - an All Star Game belongs to a city and the fanbase of the team that plays there. Forget that the corporate franchise last had an ASG in 1982.) Of the last four teams that have been added, two have never hosted. One waited 13 years to host. The Rockies waited five. The Rockies also had more three million people - nearly four - coming to the ballpark and had been first in attendance in the NL for five years running. Texas waited 23 years from establishment to host their only ASG. Toronto waited 14 years, Oakland waited 19 years.

The Nats shouldn't get an All Star Game for at least another seven or eight years. It's about fairness. There is nothing about the Nationals, their ballpark, or their fanbase that warrants special treatment. I know the politicos think they can have anything they want, but this is baseball. It belongs to our nation, not to the nation's capital.

So who should get the next few All Star Games?

The Orioles, who have waited 21 years, have seen increasing attendance thanks to a reemergence of success, have a great baseball history and tradition, and have one of the best ballparks in baseball are a good candidate, and they want the game to come to Baltimore. I vote they get the 2016 ASG.

The Dodgers should ask for it and get it upon demand. It's been 35 years since they've hosted the Mid-Summer Classic, and despite being one of the most storied franchises, they've only hosted it three times total, a mere once while in Brooklyn. Dodger Stadium, if you can believe it, is the third oldest park in baseball. I've never been there, but it looks pretty beautiful. Only thing is, the Dodgers don't seem to want the ASG. Of course, they did just go through the messy divorce. Maybe Magic will change things.

The Cubs should hold it again in the next five years. It's been 24 years, and Wrigley being Wrigley deserves all the attention it can get. The fanbase, for mystical reasons, is consistent, and the team looks to be pretty good in the next few years, making for an exciting setting. Plus it's Chicago, and even though the White Sox hosted in 2003, fifteen or sixteen years is too long to go without the ASG in such a baseball city.

Petco Park has never hosted an ASG, and its been 22 years since the Padres hosted. Although attendance is down and the team is, well, not that great, San Diego is a travel destination with a park worthy of baseball's greats. (I've never been to Petco, but I have been to Jack Murphy twice. In fact, I saw my first Reds game there at age one.)

Toronto! They've only hosted one ASG, and that was 23 years ago. The team has some great young players and with the O's running away with things, they could still get a Wild Card. This makes for some baseball excitement in the city, and Joey Votto's leg might be healed by the time the game would be played - say 2017 or 2018.

Philadelphia, the city of otherly love, has a ballpark that is a decade old but has never seen an ASG. Give it a few years and it will be time. Of course, the geriatric ward that is their team will be kaput, and they'll be rebuilding soon, but Phils phans are true fans and don't abandon their team when it's down.

The A's recently signed a deal to stay at the hideous Oakland Coliseum, but they can leave any time after 2017 with two year's notice. I doubt they'll pursue an ASG at the medusa of ballparks, but give them the game as soon as the new park opens. They've waited 27 years. They deserve it.

So there you have it. These teams should host an All Star Game before the Nats do. The true baseball fan will appreciate the fairness involved in one of America's great traditions.

Btw, I'm going to Cincy next year whether or not I have a ticket, just to be around the atmosphere. Truth be told, I'd probably enjoy it on a boat on the river almost as much as the actual game itself, as long as I can watch it on a mobile device!

*UPDATE* Someone said my argument has holes since there hasn't been an ASG in DC for 45 years. Well, there was no team for 32 years, so it's more like it's only been 12 years without an ASG, which would still make 7-8 years about right. When you lose two teams due to lack of interest, you don't get any slack.

Monday, July 07, 2014

I hate soccer

No, I don't. But every four years a vocal contingent of Americans lose their minds because other Americans are participating in the world's most popular event.

The rational person, when faced with the daunting task of being in a minority, asks himself what he is missing, why he doesn't feel the same way about a topic that most others do not. In some cases, he may find justification for his views. A pepperoni pizza, beloved in America, might be too greasy for his tastes. But at least he has tasted the pizza.

In contrast, the irrational person sees others enjoying the pizza, but because he prefers sausage as a topping, refuses to taste the pizza and condemns those who do like it. This person is far too common in America.

The rational person has tried soccer - really tried, not just turned on the tube for a couple of minutes, found no goals, and dismissed it - but tried to figure out what was going on, what the appeal is, etc. He has tried it not merely in the lonely confines of his living room, but has gathered with friends, which is the way it is meant to be viewed. He is surrounded by people who can help him learn the things he doesn't understand.

I have this untestable theory that the reason the NFL and college football have exploded in popularity in recent years - not that it wasn't already America's most popular sport since the sixties - is because of the camaraderie aspect of it. It's limited in scope, held for only 16+ weeks of the year, mostly on one day of the week, making it not merely a sport, but an event, ripe for being shared with friends and family. Bars are packed on Sundays. Why? Because people want to watch football with other people.

Baseball, on the other hand, happens every day for half a year. You know how eggnog is so good because you only have it at Christmas, or pumpkin pie because Thanksgiving, or anything else that is special because it only happens in a limited time frame? Yeah, that. Baseball is not an event because it's always there.

That's what the World Cup is. That thing that is more rare than a blue moon. And it's meant to be shared in the company of others, like eggnog at a Christmas party.

The irrational person says things like, "all they do is kick a ball around." I'm reminded of non-baseball fans who think baseball is simply throwing a ball and swinging a bat, or people who don't understand American football who can't see the game beyond the stoppages ever few seconds. You sound llike a moron when you say "all they do is just kick a ball around." Soccer is a game of geometry, with the players as the end points of line segments. There is always something going on. You just have to know what you're looking at.

The irrational person says, "soccer players aren't athletes," or worse, "if the US's best athletes played soccer, we'd win the World Cup every year." Good lord. The average soccer player runs 9.5 miles a game. That's 22 guys running a combined 154 miles, if that's the kind of stat you need to understand what's going on. Lebron James, cited by these same arrogant jerks as an example of America's best athletes, can't finish basketball games due to leg cramps. He'd never last on a soccer pitch, which, by the way, is much larger than an American football field. Perhaps the sedentary lifestyle of a good percentage of Americans renders them incapable of comprehending just how much running that is, how hard that is on the human body.

Furthermore, these haters make much ado about how soccer players are sissies for getting hurt so frequently. Granted, there is a lot of flopping going on (something you see frequently in the NBA as well), but you try getting kneed in the thight, kicked in the shins, and elbowed in the face repeatedly over the course of 90+ minutes without padding, aside from thin plastic shin guards which slows the process of bruising by mere milliseconds, I"m sure. Do you know how it feels to stop a ball traveling 70-80 mph? Ask anyone who's ever had a bruise in the shape of soccer ball patches. And headers? God knows how many players play with concussions after absorbing the full impact of a ball to the head. Headers can make you see stars.

The irrational person complains about the use of feet. This one actually floors me. Your hands are designed to use tools. Your feet are designed to walk. This game requires feet to use a tool. Controlling a soccer ball with your foot is HARD. Touches are everything in a game. Catching a ball with your hands is easy for the dexterous among us. If you have a problem with the use of feet in a game, well, you just don't have a clue. Even shooting a ball at the goal is difficult. You have to hit it on the right part of your foot and calculate the speed and angle you're going to need to get it past the keeper, who is always a giant of a man in the case of professional soccer. (At 5'3", I was not a giant of a keeper. But I managed to do pretty well (I held that state record for seven damn years, Rebecca Roggelin of Oregon Cardinal Stritch. Haha. By the way, number ten on on that career saves list learned everything from me when I was goalkeeper coach for the team. Ha.) I'd love to see these soccer haters try to kick a ball.

While we're on the subject of feet, it takes a certain density of the mind to have a problem with calling a sport that uses its feet "football," while defending calling a sport where the use of feet is minor by the same name. Once could argue that running is the foot part of the sport, but no one uses that argument. Instead, kickoffs, punting, and field goals are used as justification. Wat?

Then there are the completely insane diatribes. Soccer is a hipster sport. Soccer is a liberal sport. Sorry, Thom Loverro, but you just don't know what a hipster is. I think the term you were looking for was "people younger than you." Which is a sizable chunk of the population. But I still like your baseball columns. Just recognize that what you said was ridiculous.

I probably shouldn't even mention famed psychobitch Ann Coulter here, but in a twisted sort of way - not pretzel twisted but tornado, no, sharknado short of way - one could make that argument. Liberal-minded people - now, don't get your panties in bunches, folks, I'm talking about the real term, not the political one - tend to have more worldly experience, which exposes them to "foreign" things, as soccer is viewed by many of these haters.

My last point is in regard to US soccer fans and the way they are viewed by the haters. Haters think soccer fans are trying to shove soccer down their throats. If you were subjected to a constant barrage of insults towards the thing you love, you'd become defensive, too. If you hadn't opened your mouth to disparage the game, a soccer fan wouldn't feel the need to persuade you to change your mind. But you did open it, again and again, until that fan couldn't stand it anymore. Because that's what you do when you love something. You defend it. God knows how often I do it with baseball.

I've written this post in a notebook that has a metric conversion chart inside it. We're the only morons left in the world who cling to our nonsensical, outdated system of weights and measures. Ask any American how many feet are in a mile, and chances are, he won't know. We'd rather be stupid than adopt something "foreign." There's such a disconnect to any other part of the world, it astounds me. It's the same mentality that allows so many Americans to shrug their shoulders when we go off to another war. And they wonder why people fly planes into our buildings...

The haters just can't stand the fact that the World Cup games have had such great ratings.They lost their minds when the US numbers showed higher ratings than all college football games but the BCS and Rose Bowl and all the NBA finals games. They tried to say it was apples and oranges, that it only happens every four years, that people were only rooting for the country and don't like soccer, that the ratings lied. Of course, the low Olympic ratings, which only happen every four years and are country-oriented, disproved their arguments, but that didn't stop them from arguing anyway.

A lot of sports media ate their words. Many found themselves reluctantly getting on board, like Cincinnati's Mo Eggers and Paul Daugherty of the local radio station. Many Americans watched the first soccer games of their lives - and they liked it. On a personal note, Chris, aged 52, Washington Football Team supporter for life, was floored by how excited he was to watch the games and how he couldn't take his eyes from the screen for the full 90+ minutes. We got to the bar one or two hours early just to get a seat for all of the US games. Many others told me they had never watched a soccer game and expressed their amazement that they were so into it. That Americans were finally participating in something with the rest of the world was simply beautiful. That's what I miss most about the US team being out of it, that sense of global camaraderie.

The fact is, anyone who says soccer didn't win over fans or will never take root in America is just in denial. Will it be as popular as American football or baseball? No. Those games are interwoven into the fabric of our society. But every four years we see we were not wrong in saying that soccer continues to make its way into our sports psyche. It's time we stop talking about the "four major sports in America." There are five.

So no, I don't hate soccer. But I hate the same tired whininess that crops up every four years by people whose heads are so far up Uncle Sam's ass that they can't participate in something beloved by the rest of the world. Because...shh...don't tell them...the rest of the world is not inferior to America. These Americans who reject the rest of the world, however, sure are inferior to them.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Thoughts on the nearly half-way point

I thought, I'm on Twitter so much on my phone, why not use the phone to write on the old blog? I don't have an Android phone, so I don't have a great mobile app, but the html is fine, though the auto correct is beyond annoying. Still necessary, though, as I make a lot of typos on the phone.

We've nearly reached the halfway point of the 2014 season, so I thought I'd put a few thoughts down about the Reds. One word can sum up the season at this point: disappointing. The team just hasn't been firing on all cylinders for most of the season. Granted, injuries had a lot to do with it; having eight players on the DL on Opening Day, including much of your bullpen, is devastating, but come on. Even those who weren't hurt struggled. Offense? It didn't exist until recently.

There are, of course, blinding bright spots: Cueto, Simon, Chapman, Broxton, Hamilton, Mesoraco, and Frazier are all worthy of all star selection. The first three will probably go, but I doubt there is room for the others, especially since the hated Taint Louis Deadbirds get to choose the team. With that many players worthy of selection, you'd think this team would be better than .500. But here we sit, reaching .500 then losing it by walking in the wining run against the hated Pissburgh Pyrites. It was such a typical kind of loss; a few stupid things happen, and that's that.

Marty said something that got a few folks outraged around Cincy parts, an outrage that was unwarranted. He criticized the players' baseball intellect. Those who were outraged either don't watch the team make boneheaded decisions time and time again, or they're so blinded by their hipster hate for the establishment that they were outraged because they are outraged every time Marty opens his mouth. Todd Frazier getting picked off in extra innings today is just the latest example of the brainfarts that continue to plague this team.

There are some encouraging signs that the team is about to make up some ground in the standings. They took two of three against the Sausages and two of three against Pissburgh while the offense has started to score runs. Reaching .500 was very important; even with the loss today we're still right there. A nice four or five game winning streak could help them take off. Luckily, we have the Chubs coming up, always a nice team to play when a winning streak is in order.

This team makes me want to throw things sometimes, but then they'll do something good and I'm happy all day long. Consistency is lacking; that's the key to a great second half. We can still win this thing, so keep a positive attitude and cheer on the Reds!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Day After: Why 42 Still Matters

This photo is here bc research says you'll read more w pics.
April 15 is a bad day for a lot of reasons. It's Tax Day. Lincoln died. Boston was bombed. The Titanic sank. Harley Proctor introduced Ivory Soap. But it's also the day that Jackie Robinson first set foot on a Major League Baseball field.

I'm fortunate enough to have grown up in an age when the kind of attitudes held by Kennesaw Mountain Landis, baseball's first commissioner responsible for imposing the ban on people with greater amounts of melanin in their skin, were generally not allowed by law and societal progress. Yet, as a suburban youth from Southwest Ohio, I was largely unexposed to other races. I had a black friend in elementary school; when we reached junior high, she made friends with other black kids and I with other white kids and we never talked after that. In high school, black and white kids didn't mix too much. Miami University had a 4% minority rate when I went there. I had an Asian friend. An. One. When I was a junior in Europe, the French and Germans were "exotic" until I got used to them. They became "Europeans," which were distinct from "Americans." "The West" only referred to the block of countries that had opposed the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

After college I enlisted in the Army to travel and learn a language and be a peacekeeper as expressed in the Army's stated mission during the Clinton years. The Army had far more African-Americans than I had ever been exposed to, appropriate given that the Army had really been the first institution to integrate. I was sent to the rather elite Defense Language Institute and put into Arabic classes with mostly white students. Yet I was exposed to another race for the first time - Arabs - a group of people who would become a big part of my life. In 2003 I moved to Washington, a city that at the time had a majority black population (it has since evened out), as well as a sizeable Latino population. That never stopped me from saying, "No one is from Washington," and "DC is a transient city," because in my white world, people had come to our nation's capital from all over. I was 26 at the time, probably too old to be so naive but young enough not to be molded into one way of thinking. Fortunately, I realized that my naive assessments of the "transient city" were incorrect.

I took a job in the Middle East department at an international development organization, a place where I was happy until I was denied a promotion by my third boss in four years. During the happy time, we had a core of happy hour goers consisting of the following: a Russian, a Czech, an Iraqi-American, an African-American, an Uzbek, and a couple of us white mutt type Americans. I lived in the historically black Shaw neighborhood, a block from where Josh Gibson had hit monster homers with the Grays at Griffith Stadium. I learned about "Black Broadway," Duke Ellington, and the riots that wrecked DC after Dr. King was killed. The ghosts were still in the neighborhood; as I watched the gentrification of the area I felt the history and soul fleeing with little attempt to stop it. After I had been denied the promotion, I decided to leave the job, my neighborhood, and DC, and spend some time traveling. I didn't have too much money saved, so I chose to spend time in a poor (read: cheap) country, Bulgaria, where, in addition to Bulgarians, I hung out with an English ecologist who was walking from the UK to Palestine and a Japanese guy who was hired by the local university to teach Japanese to Bulgarian students.

Eventually I was hired by a Lebanon-oriented organization and got to live in Beirut during a few years of relative stability. Beirut became my adopted home. There I witnessed firsthand the psychological and social scars of a people in perpetual conflict. Though a decade earlier I'd had an internship at a peace and reconciliation center in Ireland, the Irish conflict had largely abated, and people were actively going through the healing process. In Lebanon, people avoid talking about their conflict, unless politicians pay it lip service, politicians who are nothing more than tribal chieftains leading their flocks astray. The start of the Syrian war and the threat of eventual spillover into Lebanon ended my residence there, and I returned to DC changed by my experiences. I've been floating ever since. 

But that's the key, you see. Experience. Walking a mile in another person's shoes. Americans looked at me like I was crazy for wanting to be in Beirut, unable to fathom that with the exception of being on the Mediterranean Sea and having Roman ruins and a few bullet-riddled buildings, Beirut wasn't any different than your average American city of two million people. I mean, seriously, people, I don't know what you think other places in the world look like. I ate Subway, drank Caribou Coffee, and bought H&M clothes in my neighborhood of Hamra in Beirut.

You may wonder why I am writing about myself here when I should be writing about Jackie. Well, I can't write anything about Jackie that someone else hasn't written, and this is not about me, anyway. It's about the way we are programmed to think one way or another and we believe that's just the way things are and how, by virtue of experience, we can overcome our biases. The people who yelled nasty, racist things at Jackie probably weren't evil people, though their actions were evil. They didn't know any better. They'd grown up in a white-dominated world where black people were seen as inferior and had no business doing anything but serving their white masters, and they never thought to question it. Jackie Robinson invaded their world and showed them they were wrong, but instead of marveling at the athleticism of a great man and appreciating his baseball feats, they embraced their ingrained ideas of "the other." People cling to their trivial, artificial differences, be it religion, ethnicity, nationality, race, etc., purporting to be superior to groups that don't conform to their own tribal notions. Fear of difference used to be a survival tactic; now, it's a symptom of a diseased mind.

We left that vile world for awhile, drove the KKK into hiding, shamed racists and bigots and gave people equal voting rights and MLK his own holiday and patted ourselves on the backs for doing so, but it never went away. It festered beneath the surface and grew in small towns and suburbs and affluent city neighborhoods and in our justice system and our education system and it slinked and slid its way back into our political system, led by pundits and politicians whose ideologies are so putrid that they are now trying to deny voting rights to people and they've made laws that say you can shoot people if you are scared of them. You even have people who think celebrating Jackie Robinson Day is having "civil rights shoved down our throats" and complaints run rampant about the tradition of wearing Jackie's 42, some wondering why we don't also wear the numbers of Nomo or Clemente to commemorate their debuts.

We celebrate Jackie exactly because ignorance like this persists.

Do you think that because you clap for Brandon Phillips' hits and listen to rap music that racism is over? Do you think that because America elected as POTUS a dark-skinned man with a funny name - twice - that racism is over? Can you not look at our prison populations and our inner city schools and our political discourse and not understand how bad things are right now?

More than ever we need to celebrate Jackie, to teach kids and to remind ourselves of who he was, what he did, and why it was significant. We live in an age of uncivil discourse, fueled by the anonymity and ease of the internet, cable news and talk radio, rampant narcissism, and an appalling lack of empathy for other human beings. If we don't like what we hear, we can just block it or change the channel, ensuring that people stay in a bubble. Americans don't travel and have no exposure to other cultures. We reside in largely segregated neighborhoods, go to segregated schools, buy segregated music, live segregated lives. Ours is an unprecedented age of connectivity, yet we seem to be more disconnected than ever.

Atlanta celebrated the anniversary of Hank Aaron's 755 last week and USA Today published an interview after it. What happened next? A deluge of racist letters and death threats arrived, addressed to Aaron, just as they had when he was chasing Ruth's record. THIS WAS LAST WEEK. We don't have Hank Aaron Day, but what Hank did took as much courage as Jackie had. Why does he have to live it again? What's more, why did the leading talk radio host, who is greatly responsible for that hate mail, ignite a flame war in the first place? For ratings? Are ratings more important than human beings? Don't answer that.

The bottom line is we shouldn't have to celebrate Jackie Robinson. We shouldn't don 42 on our jerseys or hear players say, "If it weren't for Jackie, I wouldn't be here today." That we do is both a testament to both the greatness of our country and the tragedy of it. Jackie should have always been allowed to play ball. Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston, Buck Leonard, Cool Papa Bell...they all should have played Major League Baseball. But the evils of fear and bigotry held our country hostage, and courageous Americans like Jackie, Branch Rickey, and Dr. King helped guide us through that shameful part of our nation's history. We overcame it; it's worth celebrating.

It's our world; we can change it, but only if we get off our couches and do something, experience life, pop those bubbles of ignorance in which too many people stay. I sure am glad I left mine.

Monday, April 14, 2014

BASE BALL MATCH - White House Lawn

By the time Lincoln took office, a New York volunteer firefighter with the Knickerbocker Engine Company No. 12 had already drawn up the rules on which our modern game of baseball is based, and more than 50 baseball teams were in existence. That firefighter and bank clerk, Alexander Cartwright, had laid out the field in a diamond-shape, created foul territories, limited defense to nine players and games to nine innings, and prohibited the practice of throwing balls at runners for outs. Imagine Aroldis Chapman or Stephen Strasburg throwing baseballs at runners - they'd kill someone!

Lincoln's passion for baseball is shrouded in mythology. However, there is much credible evidence that he was, in fact, a fan of the game and that not only did he play in his hometown of Springfield, but he continued to play and watch when he arrived to Washington in 1861. Baseball was played on a part of the White House lawn known as the "White Lot," now called the "Ellipse," where baseball, among other games, is still played.

To view full article, click on the image

A grandson of Francis Preston Blair, he of Blair House (the official state guest house) fame, said:
"We boys hailed [Lincoln's] coming with delight because he would always join us on the lawn. I remember vividly how he ran, how long were his strides, how his coattails stuck out behind." 
I marvel at stories of presidents roaming Washington without the army of security that must follow them these days. The White House had no fence around it when Lincoln was in office, so access to the White Lot was easy. Of course, we all know what happened at Ford's Theater and how security measures became necessary, but sometimes when I happen to walk by the White House, I wonder how it would be to see POTUS wandering around the yard instead of being trapped inside.

During his campaign in 1860, a political cartoon showed Lincoln standing on home plate, ball in hand, saying, "You must have a good bat and strike a fair ball to make a clean score and homerun." His bat, which is actually a fence rail, says, "Equal rights and fair territory."

Washington had two baseball teams at the time, the Nationals and the Potomacs, made up of mostly government clerks until the war began. One of the Nationals' founders, Arthur Gorman, was a Senate staffer who later became a Senator from Maryland. The Nationals played at the Capitol grounds while the Potomacs played on the White Lot. The first match between the two teams was played on the White Lot on May 5, 1860, with the Nationals routing the Potomacs 35-15.

We have the Civil War to thank for baseball becoming the national pastime; soldiers arriving from New York, where Cartwright's rules had become standard, played Washington teams, and by most accounts, crushed them. Some say the Yankees-Dodgers rivalry was born on the fields in Washington. An announcement in the National Republican on June 28, 1861, informed:

"BASE BALL MATCH - There will be a match played at Camp Wool on tomorrow afternoon at 4 o'clock, between the first nine of the Baldwin B.B. Club (Co. D) and the first nine of the Steers B.B. Club (Co. E). Those interested in the noble game of base ball are invited to witness the contest. As the above clubs are composed of some of the best players of Brooklyn and New York, it is expected that the game will be very interesting."

Whole baseball teams sometimes enlisted together, ensuring games were competitive. The game was so popular that the owners of the Willard's and Ebbitt's taverns worried they would lose business to baseball. These establishments were the predecessors to today's famous Willard Hotel and Old Ebbitt Grill. Their worries were obviously unfounded.

I imagine Lincoln would have been a White Sox fan had Major League Baseball existed during his time. While it could have been possible to be a Cubs or Cardinals fan given his Springfield locale, I think The Railsplitter would have followed a team associated with the working class. But I'm sure he saw his fair share of Nationals and Potomacs games.

Though supplies were scarce during the war, and fence poles and rolled up rags were often used as bats and balls, baseball sustained the soldiers' morale, doing for them what the game still does for us today - give us momentary respite from the travails of our daily lives.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

That white little sphere

I was sixteen years old when I touched a real Major League baseball for the first time. Of course, I had seen other baseballs, and I'd been playing softball since I was eight or so, but to hold a genuine Major League baseball was to hold something precious, something far more valuable than its price tag indicated.  I had been given the beautiful sphere by a friend of my grandfather who owned a local sporting goods store; it was a gift to have signed because I had won a celebrity bat girl contest and was allowed on the field for Reds batting practice at Riverfront Stadium. The Reds also gave me a ball. Suddenly I had two of the beautiful things - one I had signed by Barry Larkin and the other I stored in a box to keep it in pristine condition.

A couple of years later I snagged a foul ball off the bat of Joe Girardi, then a catcher with the Rockies, and this one had the scars of battle smeared on its side. Scuffed and dirty, it was as perfect as the other two genuine Major League balls in my collection. My collection remained at three for seven or eight years, when I bought one of the balls they had specially made for Ripken's streak. I collected other baseballs, too, commemorative balls, balls from every stadium I visited, balls with the logos of teams I liked, but they weren't genuine Major League baseballs, crafted to perfection by the hands of skilled (though underpaid) workers. Then one day Ryan Zimmerman was supposed to be at one of those winter caravan events, so I took the precious, clean ball out of its box and brought another, cheaper ball for the other guys. (What? You do it, too!) Zimmerman didn't show up, so the pretty white sphere went back in the box.

I got it out when the Reds came to town in 2007 and I stalked the players at their hotel. Ha! I merely had lunch sitting next to manager Pete Mackanin and his wife and watched the team arrive to the hotel and hang out in the lobby. I saved that pristine ball until the right player came along and then Brandon Phillips enthusiastically signed for me before the Lobby Nazi told me I couldn't ask them for autographs anymore. No matter. My ball was inked by one of my favorite players.

I had saved that ball for fifteen years.

Recent studies have been conducted on young children about delayed gratification. This was never a thing when I was traipsing the concourses of Riverfront Stadium. You could go to a store and not see a child throwing a tantrum because his mother wouldn't buy him a new toy, or if you did encounter one, his mother would likely say no. This was about the time when the buds of the Age of The Spoiled Child first sprouted, when SoundScan divided music - and us - into genres, when cable news shouted at us twenty-four hours a day, and when luxury boxes ensured that our childhood playgrounds would be imploded and our beloved game would become less accessible to us common folk.

Then came the internet.

The Reds website in November 1998

I remember the first time I used the internet, or rather, one of the first times, as it all blends together now. Netscape, the browser was called. I had a university email address and then discovered I could have a Netscape address and I thought email the greatest invention in the world except few people I knew actually had an email address. I don't remember any particular website, though I know I'd laugh if I saw them now. As more people joined the wonders of the world wide web, we thought we had reached the peak of technological advancement. Then came MySpace.

That was the beginning of the end of the civil web. Now strangers in vast numbers could connect with like-minded strangers who shared their interests and dislikes. As technology progressed, discourse declined. Blogs appeared, beginning with writers and thought leaders before spreading to the - how should I put it - lesser informed populace. Internet commenting fell into ruin - anyone with a keyboard could say whatever they wanted regardless (or irregardless, as many would say) of his level of knowledge about a particular topic. Conversely, one could choose not to engage with those who held differing views at all, ensuring he remained in a bubble as like-minded individuals reinforced the ingrained notions he harbored. Finally, we moved into the age of Facebook and Twitter, real-time forums where success means discarding all notions of delayed gratification. We've moved into the age of Now.

Show me a youth who'd put a baseball away in a box for fifteen years to save it for the perfect time. Why, when he can get his mother to go out and buy another one in the age of Now? We have movies on demand, road rage, fast food and microwave meals, even line-jump passes at Disneyland. Everything is so fast that no one takes the team to do research, frame an argument, or check his emotions. We're all guilty. Social media destroyed this blog, distracting me from writing while pulling readers away from what's now called long-form. How many people who start to read this have even gotten this far? And what has all of this Now brought us? Misinformation, SHOUTING MATCHES, fired employees, and unabridged hysterics in all realms, especially in baseball, a sport that is played nearly every day for half of each year, mostly outside, in all geographies.

What I think is happening to fans of many teams is suffocation by Now. Now destroys our perspectives, eradicates pause, occupies our reason and dulls our senses. Now is the reason fans of some teams, including the Reds, are throwing in the proverbial towel on the season. The less eloquent among us say, "This team sucks" or let out uncivilized expletives for a lack of skill in expressing ourselves. Others use sarcasm or what they think is sarcasm, while some try to justify their cynicism with numbers they've thrown together as quickly as they can.

I go back to that delayed gratification study of preschoolers. The study found that the happiest children were those who were able to wait for a treat - marshmallows, I think. They learned that there was, indeed, a future that was much more rewarding than immediate gratification. One hundred and sixty-two games make up a Major League Baseball season, not seven games, not twenty games, not eighty-one games. By succumbing to Now, the hysterical are zapping all the joy out of baseball. Negative energy rubs off on all around you, and it will rub off on the teams you purport to love.

Do me a favor. Go find a baseball, a genuine Major League baseball, and hold it in your hand. Smell its leather. Rub its 108 raised red stitches. Mimic a throw, or better, throw it, let it hit someone's glove, hear that pop. Experience baseball. Take a breath. Relax. Some of us are still getting snow. We haven't even started yet, so stop your whining and enjoy the damn game!