Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Guest Blogger: The Outraged Sports Moralist

(Good morning. With the Yankees enjoying a day off, I thought I'd make it through yesterday without watching any sports. Wrong! Somehow, I forgot that Monday is Puerto Rican Fight Night in South Park Slope. Each of the past three Mondays since I moved to the area, I've witnessed this vibrant, nontraditional display of pugilistic acumen. 'Why Monday?' you might ask. I don't know, dude. I don't know.

The festivities start at around 2:30am, directly outside my window, kicking off with an extended shouting match. This lasts anywhere between ten minutes and a half hour, and the audience is encouraged to participate. They do so, lustily. As the vocal jousts diminish, a brief scuffle ensues. Unlike a more professional fighting event, competitors are known to scream and beg the other man to let them go. If the opponent chooses to comply, a second round of shouting commences. The pattern continues well into the late hours, until the referee, clad in a policeman's uniform, declares a loser.

Yesterday was ladies' night, and one of the more boisterous events of the year. Since it culminated at 5am, and the participants stayed around until six to discuss the bout, I'm a bit too tired to write a post. In fact, if I had one of those "current mood" features on this blog, today's entry might say "vexed." So I'm turning over the blog to a good friend, Marcel Arson Douglas.

I've known Marcel since grade school, and he's one of the few perpetually angry people I know. He's also a great sports fan. Every day, he chooses one article from ESPN, usually something that would seem pretty innocuous to you or I, and totally lambastes the writer. He doesn't even publish these rants; he prints them out, hangs them on the walls in his house- he's married with four kids- and highlights his favorite parts. His place has become a sort of museum, although I don't like to visit too often since Marcel is kind of a bummer to be around for long periods. Also, his wife has arthritis issues and is pretty cranky herself.

But today, I thought I'd do him a favor and give him a forum for his rants. Quick warning: Marcel is pretty conservative, and sometimes his writings bend pretty hard to the right. As usual, all punctuation quirks and misspellings and opinions are his own, not mine. Enjoy.)

Okay, folks, I am completely FURIOUS today, so grab your belts and find a COMFORTABLE CHAIR. Just when I thought the THOUGHT MONOPOLY over at ESPN couldn't reach their seedy hands any deeper into our private lives, they come out with this ABSOLUTE GEM from the NBA section.

Pacers Won't Pick Up Daniels' Option

Before you continue here, you might want to read the UTTER TRIPE in its entirety (three short paragraphs). Smartly, ESPN has not listed a writer, since the INCITEFUL HATESPEAK in the article would get him or her BOMBARDED by mail from HONEST AMERICANS. Instead, the byline says only "Associated Press."


This one really has got to be read to be believed, so let's take it sentence by sentence. The first one is a real DOOZY:

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indiana Pacers will not exercise their team option on guard Marquis Daniels.

Uhhhhh, hey ESPN: try not revealing your EXTREME SOCIALIST AGENDA in the opening line. We get it: the Pacers are a BIG, BAD, CAPITALIST organization hellbent on destroying POOR LITTLE MARQUIS DANIELS. I guess it never occurred to the Stalinists in Bristol that maybe, just maybe, MARQUIS DANIELS IS A TERRIBLE PERSON. Check this out, from Wikipedia:

Daniels' tattoos range from an extremely detailed map of Florida that covers his entire back, a disturbing caricature of a man blowing off his head with a shotgun on his lower right arm, and Chinese characters on his other arm which were apparently intended to represent his initials, but when translated into English, it actually reads "big women standing on the roof."

I'll let you guess how many times ESPN mentions his HATEFUL, VIOLENT TATTOOS. Here's a hint: the number rhymes with "hero," something Marquis Daniels is MOST DEFINITELY NOT. The article continues:

Daniels' agent, Glenn Schwartzman, told The Associated Press in an e-mail on Monday that the Pacers have indicated that they will not pay the final year of the deal.

Oh, okay ESPN, now I get it: APPARENTLY, ALL AGENTS ARE JEWISH. This one would be easy to miss, but did you wonder why the writer feels the need to write the agent's ENTIRE NAME? It's because they're ANTI-SEMITIC FASCISTS who want to imply that corporate Jewish entities are harming regular folks like POOR LITTLE MARQUIS DANIELS. Oh no, he won't get the final year of his deal! CRY ME A RIVER. Start setting an example for kids, and maybe I'll start caring about you, Mr. SHOTGUN SUICIDE TATTOO. You jerk. You phony. ESPN really owes the world an apology on this one.

Daniels would have made $7.3 million next season, but now he's an unrestricted free agent.

WAH WAH WAH. You know who else was UNRESTRICTED? THE GUY IN HIS TATTOO BLOWING HIS OWN HEAD OFF WITH A SHOTGUN. Don't get me wrong, I think every American should own a gun, but COME ON. WHAT'S GOOD FOR THE GOOSE IS GOOD FOR THE GANDER! Sorry, Marquis. You brought this one on yourself. Maybe you should your tattoo of Florida to find your way to DISNEY WORLD, because this story is PURE MICKEY MOUSE.

Daniels averaged a career-high 13.6 points per game last season, but Brandon Rush emerged late and is the favorite to start at shooting guard next season.

What is the point of this paragraph, ESPN? Hmmm, I don't know, could it be...to IMPLY THAT IT'S WRONG for the Pacers to ACTUALLY CHOOSE THE BEST PLAYER? This is OBSCENE. They're actually turning Brandon Rush into a villain, or at least a collaborator. I guess I missed the memo: apparently Americans have to apologize for HARD WORK now. Thanks, OBAMA.

Daniels has been successful during his three years as a Pacer, but he missed 73 games the past three seasons with an assortment of injuries.

73 GAMES? Looks like another LAZY FREELOADER ABUSING THE DISABILITY ACT. This nation has gone down the SHITTER ever since FDR gave all the power to COMMIE LABOR UNIONS. Gee, I wonder why Daniels was injured so much? Maybe he was too busy standing ON THE ROOF WITH BIG WOMEN, AND HE FELL OFF!!!! (tattoo reference) Sorry guys, I COULDN'T RESIST.

A Pacers spokesman says the team cannot comment on the situation until free agency officially begins Wednesday.

Notice they don't name the Pacers spokesman. God forbid we give any press TO A GOOD, HONEST BUSINESSMAN, unless we're trying to spread an ANTI-SEMITIC CONSPIRACY. The "Worldwide Leader." Ha! YOU MAKE ME SICK, ESPN. Hey, here's an idea for your next story: how about you STOP SPREADING LIES AND PROPAGANDA TO AVERAGE AMERICANS?

Who am I kidding? For that to happen, we'd have to have an actual STRONG PRESIDENT who would hold these folks accountable. THANKS, OBAMA. Or should I say: NO THANKS, NO-BAMA.

Have a nice day, if you can.

Monday, June 29, 2009

500, 3-2, and The Only Game in Town

Let's start with Brazil, 3-2. I'm going to be quick about it, since I feel a little phony playing the 'soccer fan' role, but I'm also going to act like I know more than I do. In other words, a typical blog post.

Yesterday was a reminder of how much fun international soccer can be when it's experienced in a group. Myself and a couple friends tried to make our way into a famous soccer bar in the village called Nevada Smith's, but by 2pm the place was packed to the gills and a humorless Irish person turned us away. The runoff crowd took us to Bar None, which lived up to its name by admitting the bulk of the latecoming riffraff. Here are some things that happened:

*I confirmed my theory that Bud Light only tastes good in the afternoon. Any other time, it's like drinking the flat gingerale your great-grandmother offered you from her cupboard, and you don't recognize the brand name, and you learn by turning the bottle around that it was manufactured before people took stock in things like expiration dates, but your mom is giving you this urgent wide-eyed look like it's more important to be polite to a person living on borrowed time than to protect yourself from diseases the UN finally eradicated during the Reagan years. On a sunny afternoon, though, yeah...Bud Light is good. Especially if you're rocking four different hangovers and need some hair o' the dog. (I'm being paid $500 to post the following picture.)

*Also in the beer department, both US goals were timed to coincide with the moment after my friends and I refilled our glasses. When the ball found the net, the place erupted, we went nuts, and beer spilled everywhere. After goal one, the guy in front of me turned around with a slight smile and pointed out that his back was covered with splashes of Bud Light. After the second goal, he was less amused. In the second half, I accidentally jostled his elbow a few times and then dropped some more brew on his shoulder without a good excuse. Then things got serious: he gave a half-turn, almost looked at me, and pursed his lips. The ultimate sign of passive annoyance- nobody likes to see it.

*Brazil came back from a two-goal deficit to win 3-2, because that's what great teams sometimes do. Still, I don't look at it like a US choke, or a collapse, or anything negative. We got beat by a better team. I think deep down, everyone knows that US Soccer is maybe ten years away from fielding a truly world class team. In the meantime, our big wins are going to be a little bit flukey, relying on grit and luck. And they came out with guns blazing, and scored two great goals before a superior team broke them down. That's good enough for me.

Soccer will never be bigger than basketball or football in America, in my humble opinion, and it will probably never have the country's best athletes. But the passion you find in nooks of the country, along with the growing youth program, have me convinced that it'll grow enough to make us a force in world play. The teams of the past thirty years, then, including the current bunch, should be seen as trailblazers. When we finally win a World Cup, which will happen by 2030, guys like Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey, along with players already retired, will be seen in a clearer light; as pioneers of a sport that struggled, pressed on, and finally established its foothold.

Donovan himself seems like a gutsy guy, and a good representation of what American soccer is all about. He's been a star on the national team, albeit one who's faced his fair share of criticism, and his stints in European league play haven't panned out. But he scored a beautiful goal yesterday, and had the US on the verge of their first win in a FIFA tournament. When the final whistle blew, nobody was more upset at the difficult reversal. He's a grinder, and he embodies the clawing, scrapping character of American soccer. Respect.

Yesterday's big news, and the happy ending to the weekend, came with Mariano Rivera's 500th career save. It wrapped up a weekend sweep of the Mets, and extended the Yankee winning streak to five games. Mariano is only the second human to reach that milestone, and it's just more proof of his legendary status. I wrote more about his career in this post, so today I'll limit myself. But watching him finish off the Mets at Citi Field, a few months shy of his 40th birthday, it was impossible not to feel a kind of familiar affection.

I'm not someone who generally makes too much of the athlete-fan connection, but I've sort of grown up on Mariano. He joined the club in the mid-90s, only a few years after I became a big fan, and he's been with the team ever since. He's put his mark on all the great moments in my Yankee life, and some of the devastating ones as well. But he's always been the closest thing to a surefire proposition you can have in sports, and his quiet manner and tireless ethic (how else could a player possibly maintain such a high level into their 40s?) make him a model athlete. It would be awesome if Mariano Rivera was my dad, and taught me life lessons on camping trips.

(Shit, I told myself I wouldn't go too far.)

Sweeping the Mets was great, no doubt, but late in yesterday's game, I found that I wasn't completely content. Sure, three wins is nice, but what could this missing element be, this vacancy in my satisfaction? Then, when Mariano stepped to the plate in the top of the 9th with the bases loaded and 2 outs, in only his third career at-bat (0-2 lifetime), I remembered: I would like the Mets to have just one moment of pure humiliation. They wouldn't be New York's second team without that defining instant of utter embarrassment, and I craved it. Lucky for me, K-Rod took advantage of the potentially disastrous situation and walked Rivera, the guy who has literally stepped in the batter's box three times in his entire professional career. It forced in a run, gave the Yanks some insurance, and increased Mo's career RBI total to one. Touche, Metropolitans. Even I didn't expect something that bad, but once again you made my night.

Last thing. On a somber note which everybody in the world already knows, Michael Jackson died last week. The one thing I hate the most in life is when people try to piggyback on the grief of others, and so I won't pretend the death had as profound an effect on me as it did on those who were true fans. Really, all I did was scan the stories and resist the impulse, inherited from my dad, I think, to make stupid, dark jokes. Then I came across today's Achewood comic, and for the first time I got a little bit teary-eyed. And that has less to do with Michael Jackson than the comic itself, but I still thought it would be worth sharing.

I've never been a comics guy, but Achewood is an internet strip that's always smart, weird, and really funny. I try to recommend it as often as possible. The strip below, which I've re-run below in piratical fashion, without any kind of permission, is a typical effort from Chris Onstad- intelligent, strongly character-based, and shot through with an undercurrent of sadness. In my mind, it captures the essence of Jackson's passing better than anything I've seen. And it has the added benefit of featuring Cornelius Bear, the strip's "old" character, in the last two panels. You might have to click it to see the full comic, or something. I don't know how this internet stuff works. Or you can just go visit the Achewood home page.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Lamentations and Regret

Golden State, how could you? Are you some kind of sicko? How the hell could you?

One pick. One pick away, and Golden State was supposed to opt for a big man. When the T-Wolves took Flynn with the 6th, I started the celebrations. Problem Child was coming to NYC, no doubt. I gave him that nickname, you know. Way back. Wayyyyy back. Back before anyone else was using it. And it never caught on.

Combined with Elliot Williams' unexpected transfer from Duke, the Steph Curry disappointment makes this a shitty week in basketball. And now Golden State's going to trade Curry to Phoenix, proving they have no appreciation for the finer things. Knicks fans were ready to build statues, man! Janitors at Penn Station had big signs ready to go up out front that said "The Stephen Curry Train Zone." Dudes selling weed in Washington Square Park were about to call it quits out of respect for the Curry family. Bloomberg had plans to ship the Statue of Liberty back to France and just have a likeness of Stephen holding a basketball to greet the immigrants. The town's nickname was about to change to "The City That Never Sleeps Unless It's Late and Stephen Gets Sick of the Noise."

What a punch in the gut. Even his mom was super good looking.

I think I might be about to go a little off the edge. This blog might become a sort of fantasy thing where I write Knicks recaps as though Stephen is on the team. And then I'll tell stories about hanging out with him in Chelsea and all the hilarious things he says. Every other post will be an open letter asking him uncomfortable personal questions. When his actual team comes to MSG to play the Knicks, security will have pictures of me with the word "Dangerous! Do NOT permit entry! Beware of disguises!" printed below.

We had our hearts set on this! This is NOT FAIR!

And now he's going to play in San Francisco or Phoenix. Places where they're still learning the basics of basketball. If you walk down any street in those cities, you're likely to meet a dude who asks you how many points a foul shot is worth. And if you try to answer, you'll get suckered into a conversation about legalizing marijuana or outlawing front lawns.

Phoenix Fact: Phoenix basically steals drinking water from Michigan. People in the know tell me it's one of those "I drink your milkshake" situations. You can't even get a job in Michigan unless you've got a knack for kicking people out of their homes, but Arizonans want to get thievish with their H2O. That's ugly behavior.

Phoenix Fact: Only the worst old people retire down there. The good ones go to Florida.

Phoenix Fact: The state tree of Arizona is a cactus. The state flower is sand. The state bird is a scorpion. They just don't have any heart. The extreme heat and lack of trees take away their kindness. You know what the state flower of New York is? A rose. Cliche, but at least we've got our head on our shoulders, you know?

I'm trying to get psyched about Jordan Hill. I'd never heard of him before last night, I think. He seems like a good dude, smiles a lot, works hard. I'm ready to embrace him. And Tony Douglas is a badass. I watched him light up Duke on many a winter night. But still...but still.

Enough bellyaching. Life marches on. This weekend, the suddenly hot-hitting Yanks are invading Queens to face a Mets team who keeps finding clever ways to lose. Team USA soccer takes on Brazil in the final of the Confederations Cup on Sunday. The Brazilians are 19-goal favorites, but you never know. I'll probably be watching at a wild soccer bar called Nevada Smith's, just hoping things go right and I can forget yesterday's mess.

Ahhhhhh Stephen! We won't soon forget you.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

This is Now Exclusively a Soccer Blog

Not really. But that was awesome.

After the madness of yesterday's post, it's time to return to the staid comfort of asterisks.

*Dear actual Team USA soccer fans: please prepare the bandwagon. I'm getting on, and I'm bringing a bunch of my fat American friends.

In this particular section, please take everything I say with a grain of salt. I'm not what you might call "knowledgeable" about soccer. One of my ideas for today's post was to write a re-cap of the game in the voice of a totally ignorant American. The main joke was going to be that I would keep saying the players "threw the ball with their feet," as though I didn't know the word 'kick.' Based on that preview, you can be grateful that I took a different route.

Aficionado or not, I allowed myself a long lunch yesterday to watch our match against Spain in the Confederations Cup (a tournament named in honor of the old southern confederacy, I believe), and I must admit it gave me a big thrill. I settled in a so-so midtown bar called The Black Sheep, and was definitely the only American fan on the premises. The rest of the patrons were casually interested Irish folk. I pressed a few of them, and they claimed to be rooting for Team USA. "Where do ya think we pay our taxes?" was one man's refrain. He looked just like this:

When Altidore scored the first goal, I jumped out my seat to cheer. A few people in the booths laughed at me, and bartender walked by and looked up at the tv. "That's unexpected," he said. A man to my left struck up a conversation. "Very remarkable," he said. He seemed affable, so I started peppering him with soccer questions. Would people in Spain really care if they lost this game? (Yes.) Is there an extra stigma involved in losing to the US? (Not anymore.) Have they ever considered changing the off-sides rule? (Once, and it didn't work out.)

He told me that not a single player on Team USA would be asked to play for Spain if they were available. Meaning, I guess, that Spain is superior at every single position. That's what makes soccer so interesting, and also so frustrating: in what other sport could a team with worse talent across the board win? We ended up with two shots on goal, and both went in. Spain had almost ten, and every one went begging.*

*"Went begging" is a wonderful term used by British soccer writers I've read. The one really great thing about soccer is that the writing, especially from those clever Brits, is fantastic. They use words like 'ambitious' or 'inspiring' or 'stubborn' to describe individual ploys, and the entire paradigm is more descriptive and immediate than you're likely to get in a football or basketball recap.

So it's a goofball sport, sure, but there's a whole lot of passion, and yesterday was good fun. I couldn't help feeling somewhat proud of our team, even though I'm convinced we owe almost everything to luck. Anyway, Team Freedom will play in the final on Sunday, hopefully against Brazil (they play South Africa today in the other semi). I might live blog it, just to be a dick to real soccer fans and to try my hand at the descriptive, almost impressionistic, mode of writing.

*One last soccer thing. I loved this quote from Spanish coach Vicente Del Bosque, after the match:

Del Bosque refused to be too downhearted after the shock reverse in Bloemfontein and insisted: "This is an accident, a little step backward. We have to look forward with optimism."

An "accident." Fantastic. If you're keeping track of analogies, losing to America in soccer is like peeing the bed. Nobody's happy about it, it's pretty embarrassing, but you just gotta move on and hope it never happens again. Not that I'd know, or anything. I haven't peed the bed in like eight months.

*I see the asterisk format got screwed up when I used an actual asterisk above for its intended tangential purpose. To depict this confusion, here's the one photo I like to include each day to make people hate me:

*Everyone knows this by now, but Elliot Williams, my favorite player at Duke, is transferring away. Really fucking depressing. Actually, I can't write about this now. I'll have to dedicate a full post tomorrow, or something. I'm too confused.

*Yanks broke out of the doldrums yesterday! Joba pitched well! Bullpen saved the day! Hitters hit! Girardi showed some passion! I get the feeling our dramatic win against the Braves is the kind that will send us on a winning streak, especially since A-Rod finally hit the ball hard and even got a clutch hit. Is the spiral over? Let's hope.

*At some point this year, I guarantee I'll be writing an ode to back-up catcher Francisco Cervelli. This dude is everything you could want, attitude-wise, in a ballplayer. He's a pleasant surprise in this roller coaster season, and having him on the team has already made a huge difference. Last night, right after Girardi got tossed for arguing a pick-off call at first, he hit his first career home run to tie the game at one. Nothing is better than an athlete with a sense of the moment, and Franco keeps showing a proclivity for coming through in tense situations. I'm thrilled to have him in pinstripes; as you can see, it's gushing season.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Yankee hitting coach Kevin Long's speech to the team, 6/23

(Because of this blog's profound influence in the Yankee world, I'm often invited by upper management into the clubhouse to report on the inner workings of the organization. Usually I refuse, since I think it's important for a blogger to be unaffiliated, but after the recent offensive struggles against low-level National League competition, I couldn't resist yesterday's invite. They flew me down to Atlanta, and I joined the team inside the Turner Field visitor's locker room at about 5pm.

A half hour later, Yankee hitting coach Kevin Long entered. I'd heard he was going to address the team's hitting woes, but I didn't expect him to look so frazzled. He wore a ripped light blue dress shirt that hung almost to his knees, so far that you could barely see the stained khaki shorts beneath. He was barefoot. Sunglasses rested on his forehead, but the right lens was missing. He had two black bags under his eyes, and I could smell liquor on his breath. Girardi gathered the team around, and as they circled up, I managed to blend in between Brett Gardner and Pettitte. What follows is the transcript of Long's speech, from a recorder I hid in my pocket.)

Long: All right. Settle down. I know what you guys are thinking. Hey Kevin, what are you doing here before 7pm?

(nervous laughter)

At least that's what Derek's thinking, right? Yeah, Derek likes to give me a hard time. Hey Derek, here's a joke: what do you call a Michigan queer that lucks his way into four World Series titles?


Hey, I'm kidding. I'm kidding. Derek's the best. The absolute best. King of New York. 'Double Play' Derek. That's what I call him. Affectionate...it's an affectionate term. Jeter, Jeter, 6-4-3-ter.

(general murmur)


(total silence. Long begins to whisper)

I wish we were. I wish to God we were. I wish we were at Derek's funeral. Then I would be happy.

(Girardi stands)

Okay, okay. Hold up, Joe. Hold up a second. I want to talk to the guys. That's what this is about. Can we just...can I talk to the guys? Am I not the manager anymore? Can I not talk to my own guys? My own fucking team?

(clarification from Girardi)

Hitting coach. Yes. You know what I meant. Don't be power hungry.

Okay, listen up. You all know why I'm here. We've been hitting like girls lately. No offense, Derek. But we've been hitting like a bunch of females. Why? Why is that? I don't know. I should be fixing this. This is supposed to be my thing. But I can't be around all the fucking time, guys. That's part of the business, and I really wish you'd adapt.

(total silence)

Derek's thinking, 'this guy's a drunk. He's been drinking. He's filthy with liquor.' Right? Derek's going, 'get this guy out of my locker room. I'm the king of this place. I'm Derek Jeter, the king of the whole locker room.'

Well he's right. I've been drinking. Last night I cut my arm wide the fuck open on a piece of fence over on Martin Luther King Boulevard. Hurt like holy hell. The doc stitched it up, but I don't have health insurance so I had to skedaddle from the hospital. Jumped from a third floor window, fucked up my ankle pretty good. That's why I'm limping. I also forgot my shoes. And my wallet. But here I am. Here I am in the flesh. The drunk, wounded flesh.

(uncomfortable stirring)

Hey Derek, you ever been divorced? Have you?

No. You're too cool for that. You haven't even been married. Not even married, imagine that. Screwing around with college girls instead. Must be nice. It's a little sick, if you ask me. Hey fellas, maybe Derek's a pedophile. Who knows? I'm not here to judge anyone. Don't let him babysit your kids, that's all I'm saying.

I've been married, though. Yes sir. Four times. Each wife uglier than the last. What do you say to that?

(interjection from nearby)


(Girardi comes to the front and puts a hand on Long's shoulder)


(Long bares his teeth, Girardi steps back)

I'm serious, Joe, I got bit by a raccoon in Tampa earlier this year. I don't have rabies, though. It's tetanus or some shit like that. I thought this little room service mamacita from the hotel threw my pencil drawings out, and I was trying to find them in the garbage pile around by the dumpsters. Right when I cleared past some kid's toy bike, the little striped bastard bit me right on the thigh. That's sensitive flesh. Have someone bite you on the thigh if you don't believe me.

I killed him, though. The raccoon. Strangled him right on the spot. It's a real strange kick, watching an animal die. Hell of it was, I found the pencil drawings later in the bathtub. I forgot I hid them there so the maids wouldn't find 'em. They'll steal the hair off your back.

(Long laughs to himself)

Hey, listen up. Things aren't going well for us. Hitting a baseball should be easy. But it's not. So let's start hitting better. Did I mention you look like a bunch of girls out there? It's true. And I'm so sick of women, man. So sick. They cry if you even look at 'em funny. And you can't lay a finger on them without it being a misdemeanor, you know? But that's a story for another day.

I should probably give some real hitting advice. Well, here we go: Derek, a baseball bat is different from that other long thing you hold in your hand every night, and I think you know what I'm-

(loud yelling, fracas, physical confrontation)


(Long breathes heavily and stares at the floor)

You never invited me to your parties, man. I always wanted to go. I always did. They're the coolest parties in the whole world. Everyone says it.

(long, awkward silence. Long begins to cry)

No, I don't quit. Hey Joe, did you hear me? I don't quit. God, I gotta take a dump so bad. This is hell. This whole world is hell. Don't fire me, please. I swear to God, I'll hit a home run. Put me in the game, I'll do it. I'll hit a home run.

(Long limps toward the showers)

Nobody understands me.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Echoes of Goran

I took my lunch hour yesterday to coincide with the conclusion of the rain-delayed US Open, and was surprised to see David Duval in the mix. At one point, with three holes to play, he was just one off the lead. Duval and his wrap-around sunglasses held prodigy status back in the day, stopping a mere half-step below Tiger's burgeoning legend. At one point, he shot a rare 59 and set the golf world abuzz. Then his back gave out, or something, and he disappeared for a few years. I don't really know. Shit happens.

Anyway, Duval didn't win. But for a while, his efforts echoed those of another downtrodden athlete: the Croatian tennis player Goran Ivanisevic. In 2001, without a Grand Slam title to his name and in the last gasp of his career, Goran earned a wild card berth in Wimbledon. The stunning fortnight that followed saw him advance through a field of top contenders and reach the Championship match. As with yesterday's Open, rain had forced the final action to Monday.

Ivanisevic was a character, to put it mildly. I remember hating him as a kid, mostly because he carried himself with extreme arrogance and played the part of a volatile playboy. He was the biggest server of his time, and still holds the record for most aces in a year. In 1994, he reached #2 in the world behind Pete Sampras, but until 2001 he never won a Grand Slam. He did reach the Wimbledon final on three occasions, but Goran was known as a choke artist when the moment got too big, and he couldn't shed that image in London.

What I didn't realize, as a child, was that Goran's eccentric behavior, including his frequent jokes and temper tantrums (he was known for smashing rackets on the court), masked a person at war with himself. Amid the confrontations with umpires, the impromptu dances, the extended self-reprimands, the open-arm appeals to God and the booming serves stood a young man coming to terms with the lonely isolation of tennis. There was a healthy egotism involved, yes, but also insecurity, and it was all contained within the defiant mold of a very free spirit.

In the summer of 2001, I was better able to appreciate his quirks. I'd just graduated high school, and in the first weeks of June I'd been denied a raise at my golf course maintenance job. I quit in anger, and decided to drive to Ocean City, Maryland with my friend Kyle and surprise my vacationing family. My stepfather was furious about me running out on the job I'd held for three summers, and would barely talk to me, and all the strife and nerves of my imminent trip to college placed me in a mindset conducive to Goran-mania. He seemed to embody the anger, excitement, fear, and rebellion I felt in myself.

By then, he'd faded to 125th place in the world. Injuries that would end his career in the very near future had already hindered his ability, and he only merited a wild card to Wimbledon based on his three prior appearances in the finals. As his improbable march through the draw played out, there was the very distinct sense that this would be Crazy Goran's final chance at a Grand Slam. It was his best surface, his whipping serve was in top form, and a young hopeful named Roger Federer had taken Pete Sampras down in the fourth round, opening up the draw. When Goran triumphed over local favorite Tim Henman in the semi-finals, in front of a highly partisan crowd, his march began to seem like destiny, if destiny were a time bomb.

To get a better sense of Goran's personality, it helps to read his famous quotes. Here are some of my favorites. For this section, I've stood on the shoulders of Wikipedia.

*"The trouble with me is that every match I play against five opponents: umpire, crowd, ball boys, court, and myself."

*"I think it's interesting, you have three movies in one match: horror, comedy, drama. It's fun. I enjoy it. I am like that. I don't like to change. And if I could choose, I would be the same again. Just me, and I like who I am."

*"In every game I play there are three players in me that could surface anytime, Good Goran, Bad Goran, Crazy Goran! They can all serve aces."

*"I'll go kill myself." (after losing the Wimbledon 1998 final against Pete Sampras)

*"I have so many runner-up cups that I am thinking of starting my own tea shop."

*"I woke up at 2 and went back to sleep at 3, I woke at 4 and went back to sleep. At 5, when I next woke, the Teletubbies were on TV, so I thought it must be time to get up." (on his night's sleep before the 2001 Final)

When Wimbledon stretches to an extra day, they call it "People's Monday," and give cheaper tickets out to a more general audience. This meant that Centre Court was packed with Croatians and Australians (Goran's opponent was Patrick Rafter), two nationalities not known for demure behavior. Instead of the usual stuffy British audience, the backdrop of this championship was replete with passionate, ecstatic fans jumping in the aisles and waving giant flags.

The chair umpire had a miserable time keeping everyone quiet, and after a while he mostly gave up, settling for something resembling calm in the moment before a serve. Appropriately, the match stretched to five sets, elongating and augmenting the tension. As the players battled in the fifth, Goran held himself together in moments where he'd faltered in the past. Finally, at 7-all, he broke the Australian with a wicked cross-court forehand and gave himself a chance to serve for the match. On Championship Point, when Rafter's return hit the net, Goran collapsed to the grass and the stadium erupted. The wild lefty had conquered Wimbledon.

And he did so without altering his personality, other than some moderate exhortations to keep his temper and emotions in check. Someone with Goran's disposition was never destined to be a great champion; he lacked the single-minded focus of a Sampras or Federer. But the indelible marks of character propelled him on a journey that's every bit as intriguing, and for it to culminate in a championship is a real-life happy ending.

Inuries after that title kept him from returning to the upper echelons of the game, and this final quote encapsulates the humor, pathos, and narrative arc of Goran Ivanisevic better than any other:

"I said to God, 'If I win this one, I don't care if I ever play again.' I guess he was listening."

Monday, June 22, 2009

Mononucleosis Monday

Here's the sound of a narcoleptic head hitting a keyboard:


That was authentic, too. I wanted to see what would actually appear on screen if I just let my head drop on the keys. The first two times it met with emptiness, since I guess there's a default mechanism that types nothing if more than ten keys are pressed. The third time, I put my forehead near the caps lock key and sort of dragged it left to right in a sort of braying motion, creating the sequence above. Are you starting to understand what life is like for me?

Way back in the summer of '06, my first here in New York, I came down with a viral disease known as mononucleosis, aka mono, aka the 'kissing disease.' Except I didn't know I had anything, and the one doctor I saw in June refused to give me a blood test, insisting I had a severe flu (in September, a different doctor confirmed that I had mono, and that the disease had almost run its course). So for about three months, I slept all the time, didn't eat anything, and wondered what kind of fucking devil flu had taken over my body. The lowlight came when I couldn't even summon the energy to get out of bed on July 4th and see my favorite band, Belle & Sebastian, at Battery Park. I know there are a lot of you who want to make fun of me for the last part of that sentence, and this picture should help:

I remember being totally psyched for the World Cup that summer, and even though it took every ounce of energy to pull myself out of bed just to slouch toward work in the morning (after which I'd routinely sleep for about 13 hours), I still dragged myself to a bar called Nevada Smith's on the weekends to be around the partisans and experience the high drama of World Cup soccer. Once there, I'd have a beer, which is the worst thing you can do with mono other than running a marathon, and I'd immediately feel like hell and wonder why I wasn't having a good time.

World Cup '06 was probably the worst sporting events of my life. Not only did Team America gag on the big stage; incompetent refs took control of the entire tournament, and the one team that faked injuries the best (the eminently hatable Italians) won. Everyone who complained about the officiating in the NBA playoffs this year should watch footage of WC '06 to see how bad things can really get. The only good part of the whole tournament was when Zidane put the Italian dude on his ass with a vicious head-butt, and that ended up costing France the title.

Before the tournament, I thought of soccer as a slow but passionate game full of intricate ebbs and flows that subtly influenced the tenor, and eventually the outcome, of a match. When it was over, I thought of it as a tremendously boring sport where, past a certain skill level, the winner of any given contest was fairly arbitrary, and depended on who could cheat the most effectively.

That perception combined with the foggy viral outlook of the day, and created a viscous, frustration-based mental goop that became associated with "The Beautiful Game." I'd never been a really huge soccer fan, but after suffering through the Azzurri con artists' celebration in Germany, I don't think I watched ten consecutive minutes in two years. Then EuroCup 2008 came around, and I got suckered in again. This time, though, a very fun and deserving Spanish team took the title, and somewhat saved the sport's image in my mercurial brain.

So it was curious this morning, as I woke up with an extreme fatigue redolent of the Mono Era, when the most interesting item on ESPN was the US Soccer team advancing in something called the Confederations Cup. The headline merited a click because we'd lost the previous two group matches, to Brazil and Italy, and advancing to the semis required beating Egypt by three goals and having Brazil drop the same margin on the Italians. A long shot, but it happened, which I guess gives us the right to lose to Spain on Wednesday. Still, it's nice to see some international success for Team USA, even if it came in a typically soccer-like fashion; 100% lucky and about 70% undeserved. I had to laugh at Michael Bradley's post-game quote from this article:

"All of the critics in America who said we were no good after losing to Italy and Brazil, let's see what they say now," Michael Bradley said.

Well, Michael, I bet those critics are saying that you lost to the only two high-quality opponents you faced, and that if you lose to Spain, you'll have proven once again that the US isn't up to par with the cream of the international crop. But I'm no expert.

I don't know why I'm writing about soccer, but I do want to make this clear: if the morning's strange coincidences somehow signal a relapse into the mononucleotic abyss, I give up on life.

(Please, please, please let me get hungry at lunch time.)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Bad Friday

The first order of business, before I get to whining, is to direct your attention to the New York Times Sunday Magazine, where Cynthia Gorney writes a fantastic article on Rafael Nadal. It tracks his rise through the tennis world, visits his childhood, and features illuminating interviews with close friends and family. There's also an examination of his recent injuries, and how they might affect the trajectory of his career. This lengthy piece could be called the answer to David Foster Wallace's 2006 treatise on Federer. Gorney doesn't quite approach the poetry of Foster Wallace, but there's substance galore. You'll have to excuse the awful title:

Ripped. (Or Torn Up?)

It's interesting, though, that both Foster Wallace and Gorney published their articles as the subject found himself at the onset of a slight decline. After his shocking loss in the French, and following the revelation of severe tendonitis in both knees, Rafa lost a grass exhibition match to Lleyton Hewitt yesterday. All reports had him a "step slow." He has one more against Stanislaus Wawrinka, today, and if he loses again it's likely he'll withdraw from Monday's first round at Wimbledon. That would be extremely sad, both for Rafa and tennis fans, and would completely re-define the summer Grand Slam circuit. Even if he chooses to play, the question of his health lingers. How long can he be expected to survive?

Regardless, Gorney's article is worth the time.

A certain New York baseball team, however, is not worth my time, and thus I officially declare the year's second Yankee Hiatus. As if Wednesday's humiliating two-run performance against a rookie pitcher wasn't bad enough, last night we were shut out by Craig Stammen and the Washington Nationals bullpen. Shut. Out. The reasons are the same as always; arrogance pervaded the line-up, and the Yanks operated under the illusion that they could swing for the fences and chase Stammen early. Instead, the entire team is slumping at the same time and the free swinging approach gave another mediocre pitcher an easy night. When Stammen left in the seventh inning, he'd thrown a mere 82 pitches. We showed no commitment to actually working, going deep in counts in the hope that it paid dividends later. Instead, the second time through the order, most batters hadn't yet seen more than two or three pitches.

Meanwhile, Joba keeps proving that he doesn't have the brain to be a starter. And maybe not the velocity, either; the days of 98 mile per hour fastballs seem a long way off, and their flat, motionless 92mph derivative is causing severe insecurity that results in debilitating walks. He lacks the confidence to challenge big hitters, and pitching around entire line-ups is like walking on a high wire in a wind storm; it's only a matter of time before disaster.

The lowlight of Joba's evening came in the top of the 4th, when Will Nieves came up with two outs and the bases loaded. Nieves is a fine defensive catcher, but he can't hit his way out of a wet paper bag. If nothing else, he needed to be challenged with fastballs. But Joba the Dim started throwing junk; outside sliders, fading change-ups. On 3-2, he could not summon the courage to throw a strike- in a defining moment of wilting character, he walked the Nationals' worst hitter, forcing in a run. It's the kind of mental mistake good pitchers just don't make, and it may be time to question just how suited Chamberlain is, intellectually, to be starting major league baseball games.

The upshot is that we just lost two of three to the worst team in baseball, at home. No matter what happens the rest of the way, it's hard to imagine last night won't be the season's nadir. And that calls for a hiatus.

So this weekend will be spent at other diversions. If the rain holds off, as it appears to be doing today, the US Open might actually go off. We'll see. At the moment, Tiger is on the 12th hole and three shots off the pace, but the USGA hopes to play two rounds by sunset, so the leaderboard should undergo some drastic changes.

Enjoy the weekend, see you Monday.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Robbie Cano He Didn't!

You know how in kid's movies, when only one specific action can lead to a bad outcome, the 'smart' character warns the dumb character in a very specific way?

"Whatever you do, DON'T let the dog near water, cuz water makes him go crazy and then the whole town's in trouble!"

And of course the idiot leads the dog to a lake or something. This is probably a terrible example, and I'm not sure I'm even making sense. But this should clear it up:

Yesterday, playing the WASHINGTON FUCKING NATIONALS, the Yanks had men on first and third with one out, down a run, bottom of the ninth. Robbie Cano at the plate.

"Robbie, striking out or popping up to the infield is pretty bad here, because it costs us an out, but at least we'll have another chance with the next batter. Pretty much anything else you do will score a run, and we'll probably win after that. But whatever you do, DON'T ground into a game-ending double play."

That crazy Robbie, he went and got himself a 6-4-3! So we lost to the Nationals, a team who shouldn't come within eight runs of us, and now today's game will probably get rained out and we'll have split the series. Glorious.

Robbie's batting average: .308
Robbie's average with 2 outs and runners in scoring position: .212


I have insane amounts of work to catch up on after my little two-day hiatus. The US Open is in Long Island this weekend, but this awful weather is in danger of raining the whole thing out. Luckily, the Yanks play in Florida, so we should have some baseball, which is nice since going outside might be impossible.

Time for a sweet punch line:


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sick Day #2, always the better sick day

No work for me again today, so damned if all your change ain't gonna be short, feel me?

The basics: it's 1:21am, I'm about to go to sleep. The Yanks beat the Nats, but somehow didn't score 300 runs. CC looked swell. What else?

According to the Old Gray Lady, Yankee fans outnumber Met fans in NYC by 9 percentage points.

How about this: I've written some essays for McSweeney's Internet Tendency, a sort of "literary humor" website, and two of them are sports related. Those will be the remainder of today's filler, and tomorrow (Thursday) I'm back at work and back in the blog saddle, whipping the hell out of the blog horse until it gets so run down they have to shoot it with the blog gun.

Famous Authors Predict the Outcome of Super Bowl XLII (The one between the Pats and Giants)

Recovered Scenes From the Tragedy Plaxico By William Shakespeare

Here's a picture of a Doric column just sort of floating. See you Thursday.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Definitive Photographic Tour of the New Yankee Stadium

(Seth Curry Saves Duke is taking some sick time on this uncertain Tuesday. For the morning's post, I'll be borrowing content from a facebook album I created in April. The following 23 pictures and captions were posted after visiting Yankee Stadium for the first time to see the Yanks-Cubs preseason exhibition. Enjoy!)

A view of one of the concourses near the stadium's outfield. The rafters are absolutely fascinating, evoking both construction sites and Moravian-Era Post-Revivalist Triangle Art in one fell swoop.

Another concourse view. The pillars and ceiling are a wonderful shade of ash-gray which puts a delirious new spin on Soviet industrial architecture. It's difficult to ascertain the full effect from a photo; it truly must be seen to be believed.

A view of the Johnny Rockets concession stand. The pipes above blend seamlessly with the yellowish beam, putting the entire focus on the spectacular logo, and the understated but elegantly minimalistic "Shakes" sign.

A wider view. The 'Fries' addendum, fresh and unexpected, is simply stunning in person.

Aluminum trash cans "litter"ally dot the concourses all around the stadium. Putting them in clusters like this was a stroke of communal genius.

A view in different light of the trash cans. There's an openness about the cylinders that indisputably emanates from the small porous covers, functioning as circular bridges to the stadium proper. Call it "ComPost-Modernism."

Wider view of the trash cans. They're artfully placed to blend in with the steel escalator, another structural coup.

Wide view of the trash cans, using a flash. I couldn't get the gaping imbecile behind them to move. I could have killed him, I was so furious.

The sign for the first aid station. I couldn't get in to the station itself without some sort of medical emergency, and by the time I thought to manufacture one, it wasn't really believable. The sign itself, though, is a masterpiece of font and symbol.

At first glance, the water fountains are rather traditional, but when you consider that water is the purest substance on earth, unadorned and essential, shouldn't the fountains, too, be reduced to a level of dignified simplicity?

Nathan's famous hot dogs concession stand. An ultimately successful integration of outside commerce into the pristine interior of baseball's foremost organization.

The urinals are a nod to the classical restroom movement pioneered in the late 1930s. Gone is the impersonal 'trough' structure which has simultaneously socialized and alienated modern bathroom-goers for twenty-odd years.

I used the one on the left.

A 'Fresh Lemonade' stand, hearkening back to the imagined innocence of post-war America, when blossoming suburbs produced such spontaneous shows of what I term 'community capitalism.' To my disappointment, the stand was not run by precocious children, but rather by two nondescript Hispanic workers.

A sign indicating the direction of the Yankees Team Store. Close readers will notice the winking allusion to the First Aid sign. It's as though the architects are equating consumerism with an ailing nation. Gallows humor, indeed, and I say 'well done!'

A bespectacled idiot obscures my picture of what I believe is an Aetna insurance ad. Whether or not you are insured, you can be ensured that I chased this vagabond down the concourse and gave him a thorough dressing-down.

A pretzel vendor caught in a moment of reflection. His hat is perched with glib insouciance, yet still one can read in his face the sort of extreme pride which is almost always evident in Yankee employees.

The stadium produces in newcomers the touching impulse to pose for photographs with loved ones. Here, I capture such an incident. I only regret that the bright green in the upper-right somewhat ruins the dim beauty of this 'found art.'

A folding chair in the rear sections of the second tier. Here, comfort and style mesh into a dynamic unity that both defers to and augments the stadium's 'epic duality.'

A guard rail near the lower level. Never has a life-saving device been rendered with such delicate strokes. It is as durable as a wooden moose, and as fragile as a faberge egg. Breathtaking.

With some regret, I must admit that this exit sign did not meet my expectations. Though the choice of a traditional design is bold in its self-conscious-yet-revolutionary retrogression, still I found that it did not live up to the consistently innovative motif of its brethren, such as the trash cans.

A stolen snapshot of the Nathan's kitchen. The bustle gave me quite a thrill, and I nearly fell over when this poor woman hurried past with her delectable frankfurters.

Probably the absolute height of architecture inside the stadium. The pretzel racks are a 'delicious' blend of looped prongs and parallel support structure. If I had come across the designer after beholding this miracle, I would have eagerly fallen to his or her feet in fervent worship.

An unfortunately blurry photo of my section's usher. I believe his name was Menendez, or Velasquez, or something of that nature. Although I found him slightly inattentive when I began asking him my list of fifty questions, he did wish me a pleasant day with something like grace upon my departure in the second inning.

A Curious Case of the Dropsies

Dear Luis Castillo,

You poor, poor man. Thanks.

-The New York Yankees

Ridiculous, absurd, improbable. I could spend the next eighty years watching professional baseball and never see a game end that way again. For those who missed it, on Friday night the Yanks and Mets played the first game of an inter-league series. It was a vacillating affair, and the Yanks blew about seven different leads along the way. In the bottom of the ninth, down one, we had guys on first and second with two outs. A-Rod waltzed to the plate, inspiring zero confidence. Nobody at the stadium or watching on tv thought he'd do anything other than hit an infield fly or a weak grounder. Not one to buck expectations, our favorite choke artist delivered, skying one toward second base and smashing his bat in frustration.

But as our hero, the venerable Mr. Castillo, faded to his right, a wicked wind swept through the Metropolitan orbit. The ball made its precarious descent, rattled both sides of the second baseman's glove like a pinball, and dropped safely to the earth. Castillo compounded the error by throwing to second, and Mark Teixeira mounted his horse and scored from first. Game over.

I was watching with my new roommate, a Red Sox fan, and her friend. Both females. When the ball went in the air, I felt a surge of sullen bad feeling toward A-Rod, but since the outcome of that particular at-bat was so expected, and I felt so drained by the disastrous Red Sox series, there was also a streak of comic apathy at play. "Jinx jinx jinx!" I yelled at Castillo, not thinking for a moment that he'd make such a decisive error. Then he took his fateful, awkward stumble. I sprung from my couch, watched Teixeira score, started shouting (I think "holy fuck" was the exclamation of choice), sprinted into my bedroom and jumped onto the mattress.

Then I undertook another circle of the apartment, ignoring the fact that the two girls barely knew me, one of them was the lease-holder, and that I might have to start looking for a new apartment the next day. But their reaction? They smiled tolerantly at my theatrics, but felt sorry for Luis Castillo. Of course they did.

It's probably a credit to them, as people. But my whole being hummed with glee. I pointed at his face on the tv and said "you dumb bastard!" Then I jumped on my bed again.

(I also tried to convince them that A-Rod was actually clutch, because the best players can use the bat to put a tricky spin on their pop-ups, making it really hard for the fielder to catch. They were not buying it. I was, of course, joking, but when my stepfather called the next day and said it should have been scored a hit since A-Rod hit the ball extremely high, I think he was serious. There will never be a better A-Rod apologist in the universe.)

There are thirty teams in major league baseball, but Friday's ending could have happened to just one: The New York Mets. For a team with real talent and a high payroll, they have the most amazing combination of bad luck, ineptitude, and collapse potential of any sporting organization in America. It's really something to see. At night, I'll sometimes turn on WFAN 660AM, New York's sports talk radio station, and when I went to sleep Friday the discourse was fantastic. Disgruntled Mets fans called in by the hundreds, and the ones who made the air with Steve Somers all sang the same hysterical tune: "This is it. This is absolutely it. I'm never watching this team again. I've given them too much of my time, Steve, waited too long for these morons to get things together, but this is the last straw. They are pathetic."

And the rest of the series couldn't have been more heartbreaking for the Metropolitans. On Saturday, a minor league talent named Fernando Nieve gave them a moment of hope by shutting the Yankees down for seven innings, and the Mets came away with a preserving win.

(By the way, this always happens to the Yankees...Nieve was waived by the Houston Astros, which means he wasn't even good enough to make their starting rotation. But when the Yanks face an unknown quantity, the game follows the same formula: the pitcher throws mostly fastballs, our guys think we can chase him early with pure hitting, don't bother working the count, and end up looking totally befuddled. The announcers wait until the third inning before they start raving about the pitcher like he's the second coming of Walter Johnson, and the bad mojo builds into a loss. Three starts later, the pitcher's inevitably back in Triple-A.)

That set up the series rubber match on Sunday, with the Yanks sending AJ Burnett to mound against Johan Santana. AJ, for his part, has faced the ace of an opposing staff at least five times this year, and looked awful in each start. He's consistently out-duelled, owing largely to a predilection for losing focus in costly one inning chunks. Meanwhile, Santana is one of the best pitchers in baseball, a legitimate Cy Young contender. Mets fans had to like their chance for a series win, and in terms of psychological recovery it was almost a necessity. So what happens? AJ goes lights out, and the Yanks hang 9 earned runs on Santana (his worst result ever) en route to a 15-0 mauling.

Empirical conclusion: it sucks to be a fan of New York's second team. Happy Monday, Metropolitans. Don't ever change.