Monday, August 31, 2009

Walk Up, Walk Off

Hello again. Vacation over, back at the office. Not. An. Easy. Day.

A lot of stuff happened over the week.

1) Robbie Cano walked it off the old-fashioned way Friday against the (White) Sox. Yanks swept to avenge the miserable weekend in Chicago a month ago and win the season series 4-3. Magic number to win the division is 27.

2) The Little League World Series happened. The main thing I took from this is that I really hate Moises Arias, the young sideline reporter from Hannah Montana or something. Also, these fucking kids are awesome. I have memories of old LLWS where basically every other grounder would produce an error, but the class of '09 were legit in the field. They also have great hitters top to bottom, so the era of the tall fat kid striking out 18 by throwing only fastballs is over. The best pitchers this time were the ones who mixed in breaking balls and changes, and the ones who stuck obstinately to the 70+ mph fastball got touched the second time through the order.

The kids are also crying less, which is verrry interesting. I think it represents a trend, because the same thing happened at this year's spelling bee. What's with all this poise? The only ones to shed any tears were the players from the affluent American teams like Mercer Island. I didn't see one foreigner cry, and the grittier American squads, like the Italians from Staten Island or the Hispanic kids from the eventual champs, Chula Vista, California, seemed to have a precocious toughness. It sorta makes me wish I'd grown up as a poor city kid. As it is, I cry if my stapler isn't full in the morning. And I'm 26.

3) I think I had a third thing, but I forget now. Sorry for the short and late entry today. I came in and had all the usual make-up stuff to do. But I'm back in the saddle. Speaking of that, I leave you with some words from Eli Cash, "the James Joyce of the west."

"The crickets and the rust-beetles scuttled among the nettles of the sage thicket. "VĂ¡monos, amigos," he whispered, and threw the busted leather flintcraw over the loose weave of the saddlecock. And they rode on in the friscalating dusklight."

Friday, August 21, 2009

The City Needs a Yankee Victory To Heal

At about 8pm yesterday, as I lay in bed wondering if my mattress might have bed bugs,* I heard seven distinct, very loud noises that sounded just about exactly like gunshots (and just about exactly outside my window). They came in two bursts, with a brief pause in between. I sat up, and waited for what movies and tv trained me to recognize as the aftermath of urban shootings: screaming women, crying babies, shouting men, and general public commotion followed by immediate sirens. When none of these reactions transpired, I reasoned that it must have been fireworks or a cap gun, and collapsed on my pillow.

But then the pitter-patter of running feet began, in my apartment and outside. It still wasn't anything overt or conclusive, but I picked up enough extrasensory disturbance to justify getting out of bed and wandering downstairs.

On the corner, a small group had gathered. Strobe police lights, their source invisible up the street, swept across every face. A young couple pushing a baby in a stroller stood in front, flanked by two horrified Asian women, a smattering of kids, and a small woman with short hair, a nose ring, and a solid, curveless physique who I (immediately) chastised myself for thinking might be a lesbian. When I asked what happened, she was the one who spoke. Her name was Laurie, and she had witnessed firsthand what I'll call 'the altercation.' After just a touch of encouragement, she recounted the tale with that particular type of reserved eagerness people summon when they don't want to seem over-excited, because that wouldn't be cool or worldly, but holy fucking shit there was a shooting right outside our fucking building!

I found out later that Laurie had actually been the one to call the police, and here's what she told me:

1) A young, Hispanic male had sprinted madly down our street (Laurie and I lived across from each other) and fired a handgun seven times at a cluster of two males standing on the sidewalk. Every shot missed. Laurie, who had been watering her plants on the balcony, estimated the distance between shooter and targets as "20-30 feet," which seems absurdly close and probably wrong. But anyway.

2) The shooter sprinted away after firing, and hot on the heels of his departure, two other young Hispanic males jumped in a van that was pulling away. Laurie, who I need to point out acted like a very good citizen, actually memorized the license plate on the van and called the police. A block away, that same van was now stopped in the middle of the road, surrounded by four police cars.

I made my way to this scene, and here I found a group of my Hispanic apartment-mates and their friends standing on the sidewalk behind a cop car, watching the proceedings. They didn't seem extremely happy at my presence, so I approached on the right side of the nicest one, a kid who's maybe 16 with a really thin neck and a gentle disposition. I can't remember his name, so I'll call him David, because why not? I asked him what happened, and he looked at the cops and said "they got the wrong guys."

Indeed, the discourse between the police (about seven of them) and the five Hispanic men lined up outside the van (all wearing plain white t-shirts, very bright, which my 100% untrained mind couldn't help but think looked choreographed in a vaguely gang-related way) seemed pretty laid back, as if initial suspicions had worn off and certain necessary acts were being carried out for unfortunate policy purposes.

I gently pressed David for information, and it turned out he'd been on the stoop when it happened. "You must have been scared shitless," I said. "No," he said, followed quickly by "yeah, I was pretty scared. I tried to run inside, but the door was locked." I laughed at this, because a really annoying thing about my apartment is that the outside door never locks. Except, apparently, if there's gunfire and you really, really need to get the fuck inside. David laughed too, but wasn't forthcoming with much more information. When I asked if he'd known the shooter, he looked away and said "nah" in a voice almost too quiet to hear. I moved off to the side, and stood leaning against an outdoor ATM. The cops let the detained men smoke, and they scoured the van's interior with flashlights. A good percentage of these cops and the ones I'd see later were bullish men, with big chests and protruding guts that looked more powerful than fat.

While I watched, Laurie came back. She admitted that she'd been the one to call the police, but then it occurred to me that the van had been stopped only one block away, and it was pretty impossible for the police to respond to a phone call, dispatch officers, and find the van in the time it took for the driver to advance about forty feet. Laurie recognized this too, and admitted that the police must have been close by and picked them up independent of her call. You could tell this realization came as a blow; cutting out the middle man, as it were. And it didn't help when I gently informed her that the people in the van were not, in all likelihood, involved in the shooting. She crossed her arms and took comfort in the one spectatorial involvement nobody could take away: "I saw actual fire coming from the gun. (dramatic pause) It's not something I ever want to see again."

A quick note about Laurie's abode: it's a 'luxury' condo, probably twenty stories high, put up a year and a half ago, that blots out a good portion of the southern view for people in the vicinity of my building. It is not the street's most popular building, and is the only one rising higher than the typical three floors.

The tone around the scene now was somewhat hushed, especially because the policy had tried to shoo us away at one point (not happening), but Laurie only knew one volume. And she started talking about the condo-neighborhood dynamic in a loudish voice, which, all due respect, didn't seem germane to the shooting. "It was never a big deal. We know they didn't like when it went up. They didn't like that there were...people with money around. Okay, I get it."

I direct your attention to the ellipsis in the previous sentence, and posit that Laurie came dangerously close to saying "white people" instead of "people with money." My hispanic apartment-mates could hear the conversation, and this was the first of four times when I became acutely conscious of my whiteness. Laurie went on to say "they used to break in and steal some stuff, fine, it was never a huge problem. But this is crazy." And again, this had nothing to do with the damn condo, and even though there may have been grains of truth to whatever she was saying, I felt the eyes of the non-white people in the gathering (almost everyone else) burning holes in me, and I wished Laurie would leave. And then she did.

The second time I felt highly aware of my race came when an old white man drove by the scene. He went really slowly, craning and gaping out the driver-side window (exactly what I would have done), and nearly came to a complete stop. Behind him, a horn sounded. The man, startled, drove on, and behind him a black woman leaned out of her window and shouted "stop being so goddamn nosy!" Everyone laughed, a little too intently, and I think some even looked pointedly in my direction.

When the rubbernecker drove away, the nosy outsider designation fell squarely on me, and the socially petrified remnants of my inner child insisted that I leave the scene in a hurry. But a far greater part of my being, the unrepentant gawker (I'm convinced I'll one day get my ass kicked by a crazy guy for staring at a beautiful woman too long, and it won't be my fault because I stare at everyone, though I admit I probably stare at beautiful women for longer than my overall average), told that guy to bugger off home, and I stayed.

When some of my neighbors wandered closer to me, I had the overwhelming desire to insinuate myself into the group, to distinguish myself from the outsiders. "Bad news, guys," I said. "Fireworks are canceled for tonight." A few laughs, but entirely too tepid for my taste. "It's just not the right time." The follow-up didn't even get a smile.

I stayed with the van until it became obvious that the white t-shirt crew had nothing to do with the shooting and would soon be released, and then I went back around the corner to my building. I sat on the neighbor's stoop and watched the police work as it grew almost totally dark. There were seven cops here too, and one of them had a bullet-proof vest. I watched a local woman approach holding a stack of transparent plastic cups. "Here you go," she said, and the cops took the cups and placed one over every spent cartridge (they called them "burnts") in the street. This struck me as highly unsophisticated.

The apartment door opened behind me, and I met my neighbor Jodie, a heavyset white woman, and her friend Claire, a pretty blond whose boyfriend was milling around inside. They had heard the shots too, and I told them what I'd learned. A plain-clothes cop came up to us and asked if we'd seen the shooting. We hadn't. Then he asked if we'd looked out our back window afterward, and seemed annoyed when we answered in the negative. An armored-type police truck drove up to the scene, and its row of stadium-power bulbs above the cab illuminated the street. The cops opened the the cars parked nearby, using an orange wedge-object to create space at the top of the door while a partner maneuvered what looked like a very long, high-tech coat hanger to unlock the car from inside.

In a few minutes the detectives came, looking very sharp in coat-and-tie ensembles, working in a pair just like on tv. They carried themselves in a self-consciously grim manner that made me think they really enjoyed the status of being a detective. They crouched over the 'burnts,' talked with some of the other cops, and left. I was disappointed when they didn't question me.

My Hispanic apartment-mates had congregated on my stoop, and down the street a small white person with a neat mustache emerged from his door. He began half-shouting in their direction. "Once a week is one thing, but this is ridiculous. This is how you choose to live your life?" This seemed to be an act of unfair, lumping racism, and also weirdly courageous in a misguided way. But then I realized he wasn't yelling loud enough to be heard by anyone except us, so actually the bravery was more like angry cowardice. But then I saw that things had become segregated again, which is the third time I was highly aware of my race, so I decided to go back to my stoop.

There, it became clear that one of the cars the cops had opened belonged to the kids who hang around the apartment. One, wearing a Royals hat and who I'll call Eric (because why not?), kept asking the cop if he could get a pack of cigarettes out of the car. Eric's tone was urgent to an almost-panicked extent, and the cops realized just as I did that the inside of the car probably held something far more incriminating than cigarettes. One overzealous cop told him in barked tones to stay behind the police line roping off the stoop (all but meaningless, since people kept walking underneath it) or he'd go to jail. Three other cops searched the inside, but found nothing. Eric surveyed the scene anxiously.

He and his friend told me they'd just bought the car for $1,300, and because it didn't have license plates yet, the cops were going to tow it. This would cost them an additional $250, but they said they might just leave it in the impound lot. When I asked Eric if he was on the stoop for the shooting, he clammed up and acted a little bit surly. David, also with us, didn't want to say anymore either.

I tried to space out my questions, and throw in some vaguely negative comments about the stringent cops in the intervals, but this only succeeded in transforming their responses from "borderline hostile" to "dismissive." Combined, this was the fourth and final instance of acute racial consciousness. I only gleaned two more bits of information, the first probably false, and the second a personal epiphany that arrived gradually over the evening:

1) The shooter may have been "just trying to scare" the target. A third friend told me this, but I think it may have been a strategy to try to get me to stop asking questions and leave. "Did he shoot in the air?" I asked. "Yeah, yeah," came the response. I should mention that none of them made eye contact with me the entire time. I should also mention that normally they're polite and even nice, and helped me move in a couple months ago. My best guess is that something about the crime triggered a tightening of ranks, an instinctual circling of the wagons, which act by definition excluded me. But despite their taciturn bearings, it was obvious that,

2) They knew exactly what happened, including the shooter's identity and his motive.

On the street, the cops scooped up the bullet casings and placed them in a single cup. Without gloves, mind you. Unimpressive to the max. The armored truck with its stadium lights drove away. A single cop car, manned by two officers, stayed across the street. (Fun detail: the Hispanic kids called the cops the 'blue-and-whites,' as in "let the blue-and-whites pay the two-fifty.") A tow truck came for the car. I said goodbye to the stoop crowd, just hoping not to be ignored, and was happy to receive the warmest response of the night. A part of me realized that after two hours of my persistent shadowing, they were just glad to see me go. Still, you take what you can get.

And with that, I segue into the sporting section of the post. Because now, more than ever, this city needs the Yankees to win. After last night's extreme suffering (which, annoyingly, I can't find covered in any newspaper), we need to unite behind a single entity, a group of athletes who can redeem our image in the face of the country. And it certainly can't be the fucking Mets, because they're terrible and their fans are idiots.

Let's go Yanks, sweep the Sawx! Bury them! Anyone who doesn't side with us is a heartless asshole who supports gunplay among teens! Come on, Jeter, CC, AJ, Jorge, Robbie! Justify the terrible violence of this godforsaken urban wasteland!

*I don't think I have bed bugs.**

**Reminder: no blog next week, I'm on vacation.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Nobody Will Be Pleased

This post is a cheapie. First, a warning that there will be no blog next week. I'm on vacation, and the only thing I'll be writing is a love letter to myself (what?). Regular posting will resume on the 31st. If you need sporting news, you can give me a call and I'll tell you what's happening.

So, what to write about today. The Yanks won another series last night, taking down Oakland 3-2. After 7 games of the 10-game road swing, we're 5-2. In an earlier post, I said I'd settle for 5-5. Now, I will not. The last three games are in Fenway, and we'll go in leading the Sox by 6.5 or 7.5, depending on how they do tonight (Yanks are off). If we can win 2 of 3, I'll feel 100% comfortable saying the division is ours. If not, we're still sitting pretty. Not a bad position to be in.

But here at SCSD, we like to deal in the far-fetched, so I declare today the opening of my wildly ambitious...



I alluded to this yesterday, and here's the deal: we're gonna have to really "sell" the voters. Like certain politicians I could mention, our movement has to be based on 'feeling' and ideas like 'grit,' with a delicate shuffle away from the intractable rigor of facts.*

*I wrote this sentence, then realized that people might think I was referring to Obama. FTR, not the case.

Nobody's saying this campaign isn't optimistic. We're reaching for a star here. But impossible? Nay! The following battle plan should be adhered to by all members of "CC's Army"* as we sedulously woo the voters.

*Our new name. Voters like militaristic jargon.

1) Focus on wins. Wins, wins, wins. This should be the first and last word out of your mouth, and a lot of the ones in between, too. Question: what stat is the best measure of a pitcher's ability? If you answered anything but WINS, fall on your sword. This is our bread and butter, baby. CC has 14, which is tied for the league lead with Beckett.

2) Speaking of which, the two go head-to-head on Sunday. This is a tricky situation. Whatever happens, do NOT give ultimatums, as in "this is a must-win." While that may be true, it paints us into an uncomfortable corner if Beckett happens to win. It's entirely possible that CC could lose this game and still lead the league in wins by year's end, in which case our cause is strong! However, it would be a huge propaganda coup if CC were to win, so keep the game in people's minds with vague but persistent sound bites like "we're certainly excited for Sunday's game."

3) De-emphasize strikeouts. CC has 140, which is less than Beckett, Verlander, Halladay, Greinke, and Felix Hernandez. Do not mention this stat in the course of your pitch. If a direct question is asked, give a puzzled smile and recite this line: "I'm actually not that familiar with the totals. I've always felt that strikeouts are flashy, a lot like the half-court shot in basketball, but not relevant to a pitcher's overall talent."

4) Innings pitched! CC is leading the league, so let's really ride this horse. Buzz words like "dependability" and "consistency" should be utilized frequently. With CC's image in mind, I've also invented a new nickname: "The Old Hoss." This has earthy, Americana connotations, and studies show that voters are more likely to support someone with archetypical relatability.

5) Tread a careful line with ERA. Right now, CC is 11th in the league, which isn't great. However, it's possible he could move up as high as 5th, and talking points like "top 5 in ERA" could bolster our position. However, if this doesn't come to pass, we'll want to de-emphasize ERA. For now, try to avoid it, but be even-handed when confronted. "ERA? It's an interesting concept, and I do think we'll be taking a closer look at its viability as a statistic in the coming weeks."

6) Play the race card. There's a strong liberal presence in the Cy Young voting bloc (mostly journalists), and Sabathia is the only non-white candidate besides Felix Hernandez. In the American League, there's been an inconvenient slew of non-white winners in recent years (including CC himself, two years ago), but Pedro Martinez was the last non-white pitcher to win the award in the NL, and that was in 1998. "Did you know," you should tell voters, "that, just to pull an example from thin air, no non-white NL player has won this award in over a decade? Strange, isn't it?" In the case of Hernandez, attack his non-American status and question his national loyalties (CC is from SoCal).

It's a start. Various other statistics should be added to the mix to create a web of mass and confusion. "No blown saves," "no ejections," and "solid earned-run-to-walk ratio" are just a couple examples. Get creative! Let's bring this one home, guys. CC's Army is on the march!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

10,000 Words About Brett Favre

Not really. Here are some more interesting things:

*Last night, my toilet became a cliche the only possible way a toilet can become a cliche: now, in order to quiet its querulous babbles and gurgles, you have to jiggle the handle. Nice, toilet. Real original.

*I came across a website about twenty minutes ago that started off my day with peals of real laughter. It's called "No One Will Ever Believe You," and is full of eyewitness accounts of supposed encounters with the actor Bill Murray. Each one starts with something like "Guys, I swear this is true," or "This one's for the books!" Then there's a story of Bill Murray doing something weird and crazy, and at the end he looks at the person, says "no one will ever believe you," and leaves. That's the entire formula. So what does it say about me that I read at least thirty posts and was so tickled as to be approaching a state of breathlessness the entire time? Possibly that I'm stupid.

No One Will Ever Believe You

*Yankees won, offensive mini-slump over, hoorah! CC looking awesome, tied for the league lead in wins, and he duels Beckett on Sunday, the other league-leader. The next four games will be the difference between steamrolling the division and entering a dog fight, albeit entrenched on high ground.

*And now!

The Prospect Cup, Part 3!

Part 1
Part 2

Despite our hangovers, we the Prospect Bowlers took the field with a good amount of zeal. Part of the point and appeal of the Prospect Cup was for our group to approach an athletic contest with serious intent, and in this respect we didn't disappoint. In hindsight, one of the great things about the game was that there was almost no downplaying of the event by either team, by which I mean to say all twelve of us began the contest fully bent on winning, and self-consciousness about our relative stations on the athletic pecking order (low) didn't detract from that very real desire.

Was there an element of trying to re-live high school days, when the idea of a game would insinuate itself deep into your gut as early as two days before, and become your sole fixation over the final hours? Or at least a sort of envy of actual professional athletes, an attempt to re-create the stakes they live with on game day? Probably, yes, but I would argue that a little bit of that is a good thing, not measurably different from escaping into an artistic mindset or getting lost in a daydream. The game took on significance, and though it was imparted by the players rather than the country, media, or even a small community, it still infused the action with that epic feeling everyone secretly craves. And the process of manufacturing that feeling is something I consider a worthy undertaking if done in moderation, e.g. once a year in April or maybe slightly more often but not enough to become an AAC (amateur athletic cretin).

And so the kickoff sailed down the field, or rather skittered like a Bouncing Betty across the grass, and the IBFL advanced it to the fifty yard line. I watched from the sideline. The teams were 5x5, with one player per team always on the bench. On defense, that player was usually me, since I'm kind of a disaster in man-to-man coverage. The format of the game was a confluence of the two leagues' rules. Briefly: five downs to score (IBFL rule), kickoffs (IBFL rule), no timing (something I had to fight absurdly hard for even though neither league uses a clock), game to 10, win by 1 (Prospect Bowlish), offensive team chooses which ball to use (huge advantage for Prospect Bowl, as we use a smaller ball that travels farther), no mandatory QB rotation (Prospect Bowl rule), etc.

What you need to know about the IBFL:

1) They play an incredibly organized game. They have specific plays that involve semi-complex routes, and are generally effective.

2) They play a cautious game. We knew going in that if we were to lose, it'd be because we took too many chances, and they played steady and took us down by pieces. You won't catch the IBFL making stupid turnovers or rash decisions. Short passes, safe defense, and punting-when-necessary are their trademarks.

3) Their quarterback, Tim, is ridiculously fast. And quick. When I play in their games, and have to guard him (rare enough but not, sadly, hypothetical), it becomes a classic comedy of errors on my part and a display of prowess on his. All he needs is three feet of space, and he will dart around me on a short pass. Of course, if I deny him this space, he'll burn by me for a bomb. It's not a good match-up. He's an accurate passer, too, and over the course of the game we had to commit one of our best defenders, usually Whitney, to the rush.

So, the kickoff sailed or skittered or whatever, they returned it to mid-field, and Tim marched them down the field with short roll-out passes for an easy score. We answered quickly, which was a relief for the first drive. After our decent return, we discovered that they were so fixated on preventing the deep ball that we could run extremely long come-back routes. I found my roommate Kyle on a crossing pattern in the endzone for the first score. 1-1.

Then they scored again. And then, on the next kickoff, my teammate Noah started the return, and out of nowhere, probably because he was gripping the ball too tight, he bobbled it, tried to recover, and batted it directly into the arms of Chris, a friend of mine and an IBFLer, who was on the wrong side of everyone and ran unimpeded into the endzone. 3-1 IBFL, and on the sideline it occurred to me, somewhat in a haze, that "oh, fuck...we could lose."

And so everyone got a little nervous, and tense. We answered more or less easily for the next few drives (on one of them, I threw a deep pass to Geoff that was, I have to admit, somewhat of a "duck," and that he pulled down with great aplomb above an IBFL defender, and we used this as the opportunity for our pre-planned theatrical eruption, which needless to say had the life sort of sucked out of it by how the game was going), but we could not stop their offense. By the time the IBFL was halfway to victory, at 5-3, we realized a key thing: holding them on defense was wholly dependent on field position after the kickoff. If they advanced it to the fifty, their conservative, west-coast offense was perfectly suited to scoring. But buried deeper in their own end, the inability to go deep would make it difficult for them to advance the full length in only five downs.

On the next drive, I decided to go deep the first two plays. On the first, Kyle dropped a pass in the endzone, and on the second I overthrew somebody else by about ten feet. Pinned deep in our endzone, I found Whitney on a long comeback, and we managed to score on fifth down. 5-4, and everyone agreed on halftime.

Our team discussion centered on defense, and I happened to make the mistake of saying something like "just get two stops. The offense will keep scoring." Nate and Noah took particular offense to this, with Noah pointing out that we'd been really lucky to score on the previous drive. Nate made some comments of his own, regarding the ugly pass to Geoff, and it dawned on me that they didn't think I was doing a good job. (Which talking point, by the way, is still brought up to this day by Nate in ways that I'd describe in bitter detail except it would give the outcome away.) This, of course, choked me up with prideful indignation and led me to insist even more dismissively that we would keep scoring, easily, which in turn probably pissed them off right to the hilt.

But anyway. The IBFL continued to not be able to cover our receivers, Whitney and Kyle in particular. And we continued to flail about on D. But with the score 7-6 IBFL, as Tim led his charges and things got very desperate, the long-sought turning point arrived. Nate's absurd ability to catch anything in range finally reared its beautiful head, and he snatched a tipped pass out of the air for a divine interception. We mobbed him, and then tied the game, and then at 8-8 we got our next stop. We took the 9-8 lead on a short field, which guaranteed us one drive to win the game (again, a race to 10, win by 1). The IBFL gamely put up the the tying score, and then we had possession, 9-9, with a chance for the Cup.

But for the first time all game, we didn't score. Nate stumbled on a streak route that would've ended the affair, and then in my nervousness I took unnecessary risks and threw two poor deep balls. We were forced to do the unthinkable (punt), and the IBFL had their chance to triumph. Except we pinned them deep, and Noah shut down their best receiver, like he'd been doing all game, and they too had to punt. So we came back again, and on fourth down I found Nate across the middle, but he dropped the pass in the endzone (which event is never mentioned, mind you, when he makes his periodic quips about my supposed poor play, followed inevitably by a very hollow "just kidding, bud!"), and I fucked up somehow on fifth down at the goal line.

So the IBFL had another chance, but by this time our defense had adjusted. There was one play, though, a halfback option, where Nick threw a deep pass to Tim that just, so slightly, eluded his fingertips. And that would've been the game. But again, their lack of big-play ability forced a punt.

On our third chance, we again reached the goal line by fifth down. I faked a pass to the left-middle and found Geoff in the front corner, and he made a great catch on a ball thrown very hard over a short distance. I screamed "Vamonos!" which means "let's go!" and is pretty inappropriate after you've just ended the game, but luckily the shout was swallowed up in our general joy as we jumped on the receiver and celebrated our narrow, strange, difficult win.

Post-Scripts: The IBFL, good sports to the end, chose Noah as the MVP for his super-solid defense on Nick, one of their best receivers. The bronze medal was draped around his neck, and we all drank Pabst Blue Ribbon out of the small Prospect Cup and made promises about next year.

Our plans for easy glory, the night before, had not come to pass, and the path to victory ended up being roundabout and strewn with interpersonal obstacles most of us would have liked to leave behind, at least for the morning, and which would reappear as spring stretched into summer. But as we packed our things and took last sips from the Cup, I had a warm, expansive, magnanimous feeling that included and absorbed my teammates, and roughly approximated camaraderie. Which, all else aside, is better than a kick in the balls.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Western Jet Lag Doldrums

5 innings of scoreless ball, pitched by Brett Tomko against the Yankees (the same team, incidentally, who DFA'd him with a swift kick in the arse earlier this season), tells you all you need to know about the hardships of playing on the west coast. We're mired in an official, honest-to-God slump, and if we don't get out in a hurry, the Red Sox series this weekend is gonna be a real grind. I chalk it up to fatigue, and that's not going out on a limb. You only had to watch our batters lamely flail for an inning to witness their lack of life.

The rigors of a season deliver such offensive lacunae, but I'm convinced jet lag and travel are the biggest culprits. If there's ever a time to dig deep, though, this is it; should we stagger into Boston with at least a 7-game lead (the current total) and win 2 of 3, the division is 100% wrapped up. Then we can give a big 'screw you' to the MLB schedulers on the next road trip and just send AAA Scranton team out to play.

And by the way, A-Rod is already in postseason form. Last night, with the bases loaded and one out against a struggling Tomko, he swung at the first pitch (an undriveable, low breaking ball) and grounded into the effortless 1-2-3 double play. Absolute stupidity, undermining the momentum in a game where real chances were scarce. I still hate him. I still hate this face:

Okay, on to part 2 of the Prospect Cup narrative. You can read part 1 at the bottom of this post.

Part 2: The Prospect Cup

Before I begin, it's worth noting that my recollections should be considered 'general' rather than 'pinpoint.' This is especially true of the game action, which happened exactly four months ago and wasn't recorded in any kind of official ledger or scorecard. I can vouch for the final score, certain specifics, and the emotional ebb and flow, but other aspects like mid-game scores and exact sequence will have what I like to call 'overarching truth' rather than 'specific accuracy.'

That being said, we left off at Part 1 with the Prospect Bowlers (my team) getting drunk at a bar that I think was called "The Gate," and strategizing. The latter activity consisted of dialogue like the following.

Me: We have to go deep a lot.

Geoff: We're going to absolutely destroy these guys.

Nate (to me): No stupid passes!

Noah: They have basically no chance.

Me: We should win. I'm not going to make any predictions, but we should win.

Nate (to me): Just be consistent!

Kyle: We shouldn't underestimate them. They'll be very organized.

(ten seconds silence)

Geoff: We're going to absolutely destroy these guys.

(general agreement)

We weren't the most humble crew. Which leads me to a detail I forgot in the last installment; we were all wearing shirts and ties, having decided Prospect Cup Eve should be like a formal team dinner. And here's the thing: I really believed the game would be a blow-out. The IBFL (our opponents) were, as Kyle said, really organized. They had plays and defensive schemes and had probably devised something special for the upcoming showdown. But all that considered, I still didn't think they'd be ready for our speed and ability. In short, I expected a blitzkrieg, and I know everyone else on our side had the same confidence.

With that in mind, we spent the night devising a kind of plan totally independent of football content. Here's what we came up with.

1) When we entered the field, we would walk in a single-file line. We would not acknowledge the other team except for a bare-minimum nod, a small concession to polite decorum (I had to fight for this). In fact, we would not even speak to each other except in hand signals and grunts. This, we reasoned, would be intimidating.

2) The first time we spoke would be after the first defensive stop, which we expected would happen right away. At that point, our entire team would explode in an aggressive outburst, piling on the defender in an unexpected eruption of enthusiasm. From then on, we would steamroll the competition.

When we finally called it a night, Kyle beat me in a paper-rock-scissors game for the big sofa at Nate's place, and I had to walk with Noah in uncomfortable shoes across the Gowanus Canal to spend the night on his (admittedly comfortable) couch.

In the morning, we ate at a diner called Daisy's, and I pulled out a bottle of Aspirin and passed it around. The faces on our team resembled those of men who had already played a football game, possibly two, and then held a contest to see who could take more stomach punches without falling over. I still felt enthusiastic, though, and set off for the field ahead of my team to help the IBFL set up. What I discovered in Prospect Park somewhat ruined our intimdiation plan, at least for me.

First off, I was about fifteen minutes late. The field had already been set up, and it looked immaculate. Space can be hard to find at Prospect Park, but the IBFL crew had done an admirable job, and I felt sheepish about my tardiness. But they showed no signs of anger or irritation, instead greeting me with smiles and joking about the upcoming game. Have I mentioned that these are all really, really nice people?

The second main thing that happened totally destroyed any chance of me playing the part of silent warrior. Looking into my bag, I discovered that I'd forgotton my sneakers. Still wearing the jacket, tie, and khakis from the night before, it was apparent that my sole footwear option was the uncomfortable pair of dress shoes toward which I'd developed a significant hatred in the past twelve hours. I called my teammates, but they'd already left for the field. Then Tim G., an IBFL player and extremely kind even by their standards, offered me his size 12 New Balance sneakers (he was wearing football cleats). I sort of hesitated to accept, knowing it would obliterate any chance of supporting my teammates in what looked like an increasingly misguided tough-guy act, but size 12 was perfect and, let's face it, New Balance makes a great sneaker.

About ten minutes later, Nate, Kyle, Noah, Geoff, and Whitney filed in from the west, crossing the grass expanse in a wavering line, their heads bowed in dogged but visibly hung-over comportment, ties loose and askance, stubble dominating all faces. I ran to join the back of their line, and as they followed the script and nodded curtly at the IBFL greetings, I betrayed our cause from behind with a craven smile, throwing up my hands and generally indicating to the IBFL that this was nothing more than the zaniest gag in history, and that we were not, in fact, assholes, and that I truly appreciated the field and the donated shoes on my very comfortable feet, and that they should consider this totally hilarious.

We stretched and took more Aspirin, and then I compounded the backstabbing by slouching back over to the IBFLers for what I claimed was a rule discussion, where I explained our behavioral strategy in revelatory detail lest their slight amused puzzlement cross over into maybe being offended. Then we actually did discuss the rules, and everyone prepared for kick-off.

But I'd irrevocably sandbagged our intimidation tactic, and I can't help but think that I bear some psychic responsibility for what befell us next. Events, I'm afraid, that will be covered tomorrow in Part 3: The Game.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Y.E. Yang and Sweepless In Seattle

First we must bow (traditionally) to the man of the hour.

There are really so many reasons why Yang's victory was extremely cool. Here are a few:

1) Tiger Woods had never lost when leading the final round of a major (14-for-14).

2) No Asian-born player had ever won a major in men's golf.

3) Y.E. Yang himself had only won once on U.S. soil, at the Honda Classic.

4) Tiger's playing partner in majors, particularly on Sunday, usually shits himself, the bed, and anything else within defecatory distance.

On Saturday night, I called my stepfather and catalogued the various reasons, including the above, that Y.E. Yang might reasonably shoot an 80. I even proposed a bet to that effect. Read again: I seriously wanted to wager American dollars that a professional golfer would shoot an 80 or higher. Professionals usually only exceed that ugly score if they're really old, sick, or restricted to using various club-shaped implements that aren't actually clubs. And he wouldn't take the bet. Which was actually really stupid, in hindsight, okay, but you can at least imagine what anyone thought of Yang's chance to actually win the thing.

(Also, quick aside, but was it just me or did Y.E. Yang's name undergo a subtle change from Y.A. Yang at some point on Sunday? I'm almost positive this happened, and I kinda think CBS is trying to gaslight me.)

But win he did, and in a style so emphatic that it made Tiger look like someone Tiger was playing. The only lowlight I remember from Yang's round was a sort of cowardly long putt on 17, but his brilliant iron on the last hole (which will go down in history as an all-time clutch shot) more than made up for that timid error. Tiger took his foot off the gas in a big way on Saturday, and couldn't get anything to fall on Sunday, and it's nice to see that there was at least one professional in the world who had the balls to make him pay for sloppiness. Think about it...Tiger had a two-shot lead going into the last round, and if it wasn't for Yang, he would have won with a 75. And that's actually kinda typical. Yuck. Mr. Yang, the Wanamaker Trophy is yours. Enjoy it in whatever specific Korean way you deem appropriate.

(Quick aside #2: In the tired, overcooked class of jokes that following the "______ her? I don't even know her!" formula, 'Wanamaker' might be the shot of fresh blood that revives the dying genre and extend its life as a viable humor staple.

Wanamaker? I don't even know her!)

Which leads us to the absolute best thing about Yang's win. As everyone and their media mother have iterated ad nauseam, there's zero way to measure how huge this championship will be for golf in the Asian world. All you can really imagine is that in fifteen to twenty years, another player from Korea or Japan or Thailand or China or wherever will be leading on Saturday night at Augusta, and when a reporter in the clubhouse asks him how he got started in golf, the player will say: "I was a kid, and it was right after Y.E. Yang beat Tiger Woods at the PGA in 2009."

And that's just cool.

Changing directions, the Yanks had a nice weekend that ended in a kind-of-embarrassing but not really signficant way with Sunday's rout (leading to the hilarious second half of today's blog title). The weekend just proves some things we already knew.

1) The Yankees are really good.
2) We're almost definitely going to make the playoffs.
3) Seattle has a pretty poor offense, except for
4) Ichiro Suzuki, who is officially a robot constructed by genius engineers for the specific purpose of being amazing at baseball.
5) Joba Chamberlain doesn't have the brain to be a reliable starting pitcher, at least this year.

#5 is really irksome. It's honestly like watching that emotionally troubled kid we all knew in Little League, who could throw like 10mph faster than anyone else, but if he gave up a hit or a walk would just totally implode, working too fast, walking everyone, yelling at the coach or any other player who tried to calm him down, and visibly blaming everyone but himself. By sophomore year of high school, this person had given up sports in favor of spending whole days by the tree just off school grounds where the losers smoked, and grabbing his crotch and yelling something awful and possibly damaging in an emotional way whenever a good looking girl passed by.

Still, I hope for good things. Whatever else, he's wickedly talented.

(Part 2 of the Prospect Cup narrative comes tomorrow.)

Friday, August 14, 2009

100 Posts


Okay, enough of that. For now. But thank you to the 33,249 "page loads" (of which probably 3,000 are me, either editing or obsessively checking for errors or admiring my work in a private demonstration of swirling egomania), the 24,151 "unique visitors" (at least 3 of these are me, on different computers), the 20,744 "first time visitors," and the 3,407 of you who saw fit to come back at one time or another to qualify as "returning visitors." The process has been a thing I can loosely identify as fun. Oh, and thank you to this post for accounting for, no joke, probably 10,000 of the total hits. Finally, kudos to myself for actually posting a blog entry every single day that I came into work. Considering my steady track record of laziness, I did not expect this outcome.

But this is a sports blog, and there are some things happening, so let's get to the bullet points.

*Hey, my younger brother started a blog! The basic things you should know about him are:

1) He's 14.

2) He's really good at sports, to the point that he's like really, annoyingly close to being able to beat me 1-on-1 in basketball. I give it about 5-7 months.

3) If I had his writing skills when I was 14, I'd probably have a Pulitzer Prize by now.

Here's his blog: I've Given Up All Hope On Duke and Other Memoirs

*Tiger devoured Hazeltine on Thursday, posting a 5-under 67 and grabbing the outright lead after the first round. I'm getting the feeling that the repressed energy of his 2009 major failures will be henceforth erumpent, bursting out in a typhonic whirlwind that siphons up the competition and displaces them many miles away. A Woods-Harrington Sunday duel would be excellent, but I'm predicting El Tigre wins by 5 strokes.

*As if I needed another reason to despise the Philadelphia Eagles or the raging scumbag named Michael Vick, they've now forged a filthy union.

*Old CC is absolutely dealing these days. He gave the Yanks a fast start last night against Seattle, allowing 1 run on just 3 hits over 8 innings to earn his 13th win. And an emphatic decision it was. If we could somehow sweep this series, or even take 3 of 4, it would be a perfect launching pad for the rest of the ungodly trip. I want to be up at least 8.5 games going into Fenway next weekend. Anyway, the big man's ERA is down to 3.64, and he's now a (very) long shot for the AL Cy Young. He'll need Beckett to get hurt, or start pitching really, really bad, but if that transpires there's a chance he could end up with 20-21 wins and enough strikeouts to outpace someone like Halladay or Greinke with a lower ERA but fewer wins.

Actually, that probably isn't happening. But it's nice to dream. I'll be satisfied with his nasty performances against Boston this year. The man is a locomotive.

Okay, now. What is a milestone without a little (more) self-indulgence? I saw my friend Whitney on the street last night, and he reminded me of one of my most memorable personal athletic moments: a (outcome erased for the sake of dramatic tension) result in the 2009 Prospect Cup. Consider the following Part 1 of the story, to be continued as I see fit over the course of next week.

2009 Prospect Cup (or PCI): The Teams

The Grand Army (Prospect Bowl League) vs. The IBFL

We the Prospect Bowlers, operating under the nom de guerre Grand Army, were apt to consider ourselves somewhat more extreme than our opponents, the long-standing IBFL (I wish I knew what this stood for, but here's my best guess: Inter-Brooklyn Football League). Though we'd only been around two years, starting in the winter of 2008, there existed a grizzled something in our countenance, bearing, and behavior that we felt our enemies lacked. That, and we just thought we were better at football.

(Note: I play with both leagues, though my identity is strongest with the Prospect Bowlers, and can therefore make certain comparative assertions.)

So why this superiority complex?

We only play in the winter. The seasonal nature of our style echoes how real football is played, in harsh, chilly weather. The IBFL plays all year.

B) We do battle on a disgusting, hilly field. 80% of our games are wet, muddy affairs that leave everyone cold and dirty. The IBFL plays on flat ground, with generally better conditions.

C) We only allow one girl to play, and she's hardcore. The IBFL has three to four girls playing on any given weekend. But actually, they're all quite good too. Moot point, except for the fact that our ugly masculine sides make us feel a bit more legitimate in a shallow, possibly sad way. (This is also a moot point because in the Prospect Cup, it was 6 vs. 6, and no girls played.)

D) There are tensions among us. The IBFLers are a generally fun, friendly crowd, defined by sportsmanlike play and gentle demeanors. Weekly Prospect Bowls, on the other hand, always have at least two moments of hostility, and often devolve into verbal fights. Our average age is probably three years younger than our IBFL counterparts, so maybe this accounts for our fiery dispositions. Actually, though, I think the real reason is that we're a collection of competitive people who can sometimes, on extreme occasions (by which I mean 'any occasion involving competition'), become assholes. So when the six of us came together for Prospect Cup 2009, it was more like an actual team coming together. On a real team, you don't get to choose your teammates. If things go well, you have a grudging respect for each other's talent, and your skills coagulate into something effective and meaningful during the game. In contrast, the IBFL is better defined as a 'collection of friends.'

E) We are fast. I am not fast, mind you. But we have two people, Whitney and Kyle, who can really burn. And then there's Geoff and Noah, who have deceptive speed, and the former happens to be ridiculously good on defense. And then there's Nate, who isn't as fast but who might be the best receiver because he has a preternatural ability to catch any object falling within a fifteen yard radius. This can become very frustrating if you're playing otherwise solid defense against him. As for me, I can throw the ball very, very far with weird accuracy. Way more accuracy, in fact, than I'm able to employ on short passes. The basketball equivalent of my quarterbacking skills is someone who can make 80% of their half-court shots but struggles with lay-ups.

F) Our style is geared toward offense. I've played games with the IBFL where the final score is something like 3-1 (each touchdown being worth one point). This is especially frequent in the winter. In Prospect Bowl, though, at least 12 touchdowns are scored by the winning team. This disparity is somewhat contingent on rule differences (IBFL gives you 5 downs to score a TD, while Prospect Bowl allows 4 downs to just reach the halfway mark, and then 4 more to score), but going into PCI, we also held the firm belief that we played a bolder style, with deeper passes and more skill and speed in the receiver positions.

Prospect Cup Eve

The night before the game (April 17, 2009), the six of us went and got pretty drunk, with most of our time being spent at a bar that I can't exactly remember because I didn't live in Park Slope at the time, but which I think is called "The Gate." The game was set to begin at 10am the next day, but so confident of victory were our stolid ranks that we thought nothing of the potential hangover that might visit us in the morning. Actually, not strictly true: in some perverse way, we actively sought it out. One of the cornerstones of Prospect Bowl is that most of the players show up beaten down by alcohol. It's a big reason why we start at 1pm instead of 10am like the IBFL. They, older, more mature, wiser, and with families and wives, are better able to function at such early weekend hours. We are not so blessed.

The Name

The best moment of the night (for me) came when we tried to decide on a special team name for the Prospect Cup. The debate raged on for about 20 minutes, with no irresistible suggestions. I leaned over to Kyle, my roommate at the time, and asked him this: "is there any one answer that people will agree on? I mean that seriously: does the right name exist? Is there one thing I could say that would be embraced without question?" He laughed and ventured that no, there was not.

Then I thought of Grand Army Plaza, the open green with the great arch at the north end of Prospect Park, and the entrance to our field. "What about 'The Grand Army,'" I said. After a pregnant pause, the idea was embraced without hesitation, to the extent that Nate's excitement compelled him to bounce back and forth like an upside-down pendulum, impacting Geoff and Noah alternately, and repeating "Grand Army" in a really loud voice. I gave Kyle an extended, satisfied look that was somewhat like a smug pat on my own back.

And the self-anointed future victors imbibed long into the night.

End Part 1. Happy Weekend. Happy 100.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Pie Chronicles: Cano Edition









Okay. Some items, a la bullet point.

*As you can probably tell from the fireworks above, Robinson Cano got the game-winning single yesterday to give the Yanks a 2-1 series win over the Jays. A pretty important W, I think, because a) it proves there is no lingering let-down from the Boston sweep and b) Boston all the sudden looks really good and c) we now go on a brutal 10-game road trip that starts in the west coast and ends in Fenway, during which we have one day off that will be used for traveling across the country on a plane.

*The west coast sucks. And what I mean by that is, playing baseball on the west coast sucks if you're a team from the east coast. The west coast itself, independent of athletic and traveling concerns, is pretty awesome. By all accounts, anyway; I've still never been. The Yankees have been, though, and by some ridiculous scheduling anomaly they have to go twice more in the final month of the season. Boston, meanwhile, is finished traveling west. The disparity there is good for maybe two games, maybe more. It's not the best situation.

*In the upcoming 10-game swing, I'm hoping for 5-5. If the Yanks surprise and win more, great, but these trips are just brutal. And playing Boston immediately following seven games on the coast and a long trip home is a punch to the vitals. Here's what I'm envisioning: 2-2 against Seattle, 1-2 against Oakland, 2-1 against Boston. And we come home tired, but happy.

*The PGA Tour starts today. This is basically make-or-break time for Tiger. He's winning tournaments galore, but he's admitted in the past that a year without a major title is something of a disappointment. Fortunately, he's peaking at the right time, having won two tournaments in a row coming into this week. I put him as the odds-on favorite, but in golf that only means so much. Still, something to keep an eye on over the weekend.

*Two days ago, Kevin Youkilis had an altercation with Detroit pitcher Rick Porcello after the latter plunked him in the shoulder. You can watch the video here:

Youkilis v. Porcello.

My analysis:

1) Kudos to Youkilis for not hesitating. He makes his choice instantaneously and acts. Indecisive charges are a universal disgrace.

2) Throwing the helmet at Porcello can be seen in a number of ways. The gut reaction is: "that's kind of a bitch move." This feeling is supported by the effeminate, arms-restricted, lips-pursed style in which Youk tosses it by the bill. However, it's also important to remember that Porcello just threw a baseball at him really, really hard, an infinitely more dangerous act. Tit for tat? Perhaps, but the last consideration is that the helmet maneuver comes in the very instant before the scuffle, so it's designed to give an advantage in the fight. So it's still kind of a bitch move. It'd be like throwing sand in someone's eyes and then punching them in the groin while they groped.

3) Immediately after the pitch hits Youkilis, Porcello looks to the sky in a frustrated manner, which is either really good acting or a genuine expression of vexation at his mistake. I'm leaning toward the second conclusion; I don't think he beaned Youk on purpose. Still, considering the recent history between the teams, I can see where this would be hard for the Red Sox first baseman to process in the angry, painful moment following the pitch.

4) When Porcello looks down and sees the onset of the bull-rush, he throws his hands up in a "whoa! whoa! hold up!" gesture, and takes two slide steps backward and off the mound. He wants absolutely no part of what's about to happen. You can't see his facial expression, but it's easy to imagine. If you pause the video at the 4-second mark, there's Porcello with his arms extended, still holding out some hope that he's not about to be destroyed by a furious, mustachioed, muscle-bound man, who now has his head down and his arms chugging in full-sprint mode, looking for all the world like someone who knows exactly what violence he's about to visit on the transgressing pitcher, while in the background the catcher starts way too late in pursuit and the somewhat rotund umpire is in mid-jog, his face a canvas of surprise and fat-man's fatigue, far too slow to affect this outcome in any way. Meanwhile, a woman in the front row claps both hands over her mouth in shock. It is by far the most comic moment of the fracas.

5) Once Youkilis reaches the pitcher's mound, he has the total advantage. He has both force and momentum, while Porcello backs away frantically at a speed that is not nearly sufficient to escape his attacker. This is where Youk makes his crucial mistake: throwing the helmet. In order to remove the head-piece, aim, and release, he must sacrifice a fraction of his greatest strength: velocity. There's a hitch in his gait, and by the time the feckless throw hits Porcello, his speed advantage is somewhat nullified.

6) But not totally. He's still moving at a greater rate than Porcello. All he has to do is continue his chase, lower his head, and lunge into the pitcher, preferably at the waist or below. In this scenario, it's likely he'll drive the Detroit Tiger into the grass, at which point the rest of the team will mob them and end the fight. He will have made his point, and be declared the winner. Instead, Youkilis makes his second huge error: instead of plowing ahead, he leaps at Porcello. Going for his upper body is a mistake, because any human is stronger there and less likely to lose his balance.

7) And miraculously, Porcello times a backward jump to coincide almost perfectly with Youk's attempted bear hug. It negates the driving power of the aggressor's tactic, and will prove to be the fight's decisive moment.

8) Because when Youk lands from his mini-leap, it is imperative for him that Porcello fall under his weight. When this fails to materialize, he is like dead weight hanging from the pitcher's body. Picture yourself jumping three feet up on a branch-less tree, but with your legs hanging limply behind (to simulate Porcello's backward movement, preventing Youk from wrapping him up), and how you'd slowly slip down the trunk.

9) From here, it's a short journey to Porcello's coup de grace, when he's able to twist, brace his left leg, and use it as a tripping mechanism while throwing Youkilis to the ground. His posture on the take-down allows him to roll on top of the fallen slugger, and he maintains this position as the swarming hordes overrun them. The fight is history.

10) Victory: Porcello.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Tuesdays With (Memento) Mori

Yesterday, I started reading a book called A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, by David Foster Wallace. For those who aren't familiar, Wallace hung himself last September, touching off a round of literary mourning that had its base (seemingly) on the internet. I had never read Infinite Jest, his colossal novel, and wasn't otherwise familiar with much of his writing. The sadness didn't touch me at the time.

But at some point in the midst of reading his essay "E Unibus Pluram" in A Supposedly Fun Thing..., it hit me that I was in the hands of a really, really great thinker. It's one thing to have a mastery of words and plot and structure and etc. But to turn an eye on American culture (the essay is about the way television has affected behavior and fiction) without becoming cynical, ironic, or pretentious, is an impressive and rare feat. Wallace's real coup, though, is that throughout his brilliant meanderings, he manages to be fun. I try to read a lot of good books, or books that are supposed to be good, but I can't remember being more engaged in a single work than I was with "E Unibus Pluram" over the last two days.

So, great; a recommendation. But what does that have to do with sports? Well, I've linked this article before, but it's probably worth doing it again. Foster Wallace took on the subject of Roger Federer, and by extension his rivalry with Nadal, in August of 2006. The article was written for the short-lived magazine Play, a sporting offshoot of the New York Times. It's something you can read in an hour or so, or throughout an office day, and it'll give you an idea of the incisive brain power Foster Wallace brings to a subject.

And I'm kinda bummed about DFW now. I'm wondering what it means when someone that smart kills themselves. I have this sort of idea in my head, based on nothing, that the smartest people in the world are able to reconcile themselves with depression or heartbreak or whatever, and find the mental wherewithal to go about their lives, plucking a bit of happiness here and there. The ones who commit suicide, by my theory, simply couldn't broaden their minds sufficiently to get around their own hang-ups. Even previously smart people who ended up taking their lives seemed to have a fatal flaw in outlook. Hemingway, for instance, threw himself so fully into the idea of uncompromised masculinity that when he grew old and stopped being able to "perform," it robbed him of his identity and led him to blow his head off in a final manly hurrah.

But aside from being possibly stupid in an inherent way, this idea is clearly spurious in the case of DFW. No diagnosis of stunted perspective can be applied here. Depression bludgeoned its way past his genius, eventually storming the gates and forcing his hand. DFW once compared suicide to a person in the top stories of a burning building being forced to the window ledge. No human in his right mind wants to take the leap into thin air, but at some point it just gets too hot inside.

MORRRRBID!!! Lest you misinterpret this post, Seth Curry Saves Duke! is not interested in such premature endings, being too wholly narcissistic and convinced of his own prodigious ability. I just thought it was worth contemplating, for no other reason than that I just read a really good essay, and there's not much to talk about in the world of sports today. I'm having a severe let-down after the Boston series, to the point that I didn't actually care if the Yanks beat Toronto yesterday. In a weird, maybe idiotic way, I thought maybe they deserved the relief of a loss.

The game wasn't something I could watch, needing a day off myself, so I went to Chelsea and saw my favorite improv group, The Improvised Shakespeare Company, at the Hudson Guild Theatre (hey guys and gals of NYC, this troupe is in town from Chicago for the week, performing every night, and are ridiculously talented...don't let the Shakespeare label scare you, this is highly funny stuff and not at all high-falutin' or esoteric...if you don't go see them, you are fucking scum). When I got home, it was with a certain amount of comfort that I read the final score. As though losing a baseball game constitutes a 'break.' I guess what this means is, I need to regain my focus. We have to win the next two, and the good news is that better pitchers will be on the mound.

No worries, no worries at all. Regularly scheduled programming resumes tomorrow.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Divine Reversal

To visually express the fact that the New York Yankees just swept Boston in a 4-game series, I require the best possible broom picture on the internet:

Point = Made.

Next, I want to quote a poster on the website, who wrote this enviable little gem immediately after Damon and Teixeira went back-to-back (and belly-to-belly) to take the lead in the bottom of the 8th last night:

"The Yankee strippers, Mystique and Aura, have returned."

Next, I would like to point out that the New York Yankees are currently The Best Team In Baseball. We are on pace for 100 wins (100.7, actually). With 51 games remaining, our lead in the AL East is 6.5 games. Not insurmountable, by any means, but secure.

The best news, though, is the pitching. I was at Thursday's game, where the woeful Anthony Clagget entered in the top of the 9th for clean-up duty. He gave up two runs on consecutive singles by Ellsbury and Pedroia. If you'd told me then that the next runs the Red Sox would score wouldn't come until the 8th inning on Sunday, I would have been a jubilant fellow. Despite strong efforts by Beckett and Lester, AJ Burnett and CC Sabathia pitched the best games of the series, each shutting down the Boston offense for seven and two-thirds innings. Pettitte followed up with a gem of his own, and bam, a sweep. Which proves something we've known all along: you need great pitching.

It doesn't matter that your offense is formiddable, ridiculous, wildly talented, etc. When Beckett and Lester and all pitchers of that ilk are "dealing," you won't hit them. In 14 innings against those two, we scored one run. Granted, we created a lot of opportunities against Beckett that went begging, and if Girardi wasn't so diametrically opposed to the well-timed bunt, the game wouldn't have lasted 5 hours.

But the point remains: against the best pitchers in the league, you're lucky if you can chip away a few runs, or hit the odd solo shot, but you absolutely need great pitching of your own. For eight years, the Yanks have come up short in that department. What this weekend meant, more than revenge against Boston, more than prime position for the stretch run, and even more than a much-needed shot of confidence, was that we finally have some pitchers with some fucking nuts.

AJ and CC have earned their stripes; they're badasses who can pitch under pressure. Pettitte proved (in this start and his last three) that he's not too old for the game, and we already know what he can do in the big games. I feel really good about this trio as a playoff rotation. I feel really good about the bullpen. And our offense is great, too, and not just great statistically. We're winning the close games, getting timely hits in the 3-2 affairs. A-Rod is actually thriving under pressure, which is a sentence I didn't think I'd ever type. Teixeira is just an immediate overwhelming success, entirely justifying all the cash we spent. Up and down, we're a dominant force. A World Series type force (knock on wood).

Last Wednesday, I predicted that Tampa Bay would be only .5 games back of Boston for the Wild Card by today. They didn't hold up their end in Seattle, so that total is 1.5 games, but they're still knocking on the door. Texas, though, is even with the Sox. The prognosis for our woebegone rivals is not good. Their assets are two great pitchers, a few good hitters who can't possibly stay mired in their current slump, a very good bullpen, and a smart manager. Their drawbacks are poor 3-5 starters, old age and light-hitting youth creating holes in the line-up, and being from Boston. The outlook is hazy, at best.

Speaking of managers, I have some Girardi complaints. One, not bunting in two separate innings with men on first and second and no outs against Beckett. Two, leaving friggin' Phil Coke, a lefty specialist, in against Victor Martinez and Kevin Youkilis last night. The guy thrives on getting lefties out, but is pretty miserable against power hitters who can line up on the right. Apparently Hughes was unavailable since he threw four pitches Saturday, and Aceves had back pains, but I would've taken Brian Bruney in a heartbeat. Or, even better, Mariano for five outs. Damon and Tex really bailed our skipper out; a loss last night would've left a very sour taste.

That'll do. I feel like I should have gloated a bit more, but hey, when your team has Mystique and Aura gyrating on the poles, ain't no cause to let the next man know his humble station. Word.

Friday, August 7, 2009


The Yankees finally beat Boston. It took five months, and a healthy amount of self-loathing, but it happened. Right now, I feel like some tiny Caribbean nation (St. Vincent and the Grenadines? sure!) that went 100 years without beating America in soccer. Now that it happened, there's an explosion of feeling, and anything is possible. I imagine politicians in New York will try to piggyback on the emotion from last night's win for their next campaign (The city's Republican Party will change its name to "The Hour of Our Glory August the 6th People's Movement"). Fights will be about to break out in the Bronx, and one guy will go "hey man, wait a second...the Yanks beat Boston." And the other guy will pause, nod slowly, let his lips curl into a slight smile, and say "yeah man...they did." And that fight won't happen.

Of course, Red Sox fans at the Stadium reacted exactly as you'd imagine, and exactly as Americans would react in the above scenario. "Great, congratulations, you beat us one time." But when Posada didn't slide (why, Jorge?), costing us a run, and when Pedroia and Kotchman went deep for the early 3-1 lead, little two-man islands of red stood up all over the stadium, lifting both hands in that trademark gesture of Boston smugness, pointing at various fans who'd heckled them along the way, knowing in their seedy little hearts that the SAWX had an engimatic something that the Yanks just couldn't match. Oh, you could see it in their smiling Irish eyes: they owned us.

Until they didn't, HOMES. The good guys dropped an 8-bomb in the bottom of the 4th, and that was that. The rest of the night was a celebration. Conclusions to be drawn from the game:

1) The Yankee line-up is just cruising. These guys are laying sweet lumber on anything white and round in a five mile vicinity. It's getting so you can't buy an onion in Brooklyn without Mark Teixeira coming up out of nowhere to smash it to pieces. (Afterward he feels bad and gives you a few bucks and says to come see him if you ever go to a game.)

2) John Smoltz is not a viable option, RSN. Sorry. His fastball has less movement than David Ortiz after he eats a pound of Vermont Cheddar (they call me Rick Reilly with attitude).

3) The Joba big game questions linger. Not an impressive performance last night. He got knocked around through five, giving up big hits and getting rattled into walks. You could spot him 10mph and make the Sox use wiffleball bats, and he still wouldn't have gotten Pedroia or Youkilis out. You hate to see it, because before all is said and done we will be calling on him to beat the Sox again. And in the future, we won't have Smoltz to kick around.

4) The Sawx are in trouble. I risk invoking the jinx here, but these guys are down to a few good players. Kotchman and Vic the Slick will help, but that line-up has holes galore. They badly need Buchholz or someone to step up and become a quality pitcher, and they better hope this Wakefield injury is mild. The Rays are only 2.5 back in the Wild Card, and they have youth on their side.

5) Victor Martinez pulled, I must admit, a pretty cool move in the 2nd. While Jorge Posada ran home, he stood casually, giving no indication that there would be a play at the plate. The deception worked, and Jorge jogged in, thinking he didn't need to slide. Meanwhile, Pedroia threw an absolute dart on the relay, and Victor applied the sudden tag. Really just an amazing play all-around, requiring precision, trickery, and perfect timing. At the time, this was totally demoralizing. And then Pedroia led off the next inning with a solo shot. I may have said something like "this game is over" to my stepfather. I can't remember.

Okay, before I go into the rest of the post, quick link. Yesterday I read a pretty cool article about US soccer. It was more like a diary, or something, but it covers the national team as they try to qualify for the World Cup. I remember reading an SI article a few years back about this same topic, and it was just as fascinating then. Americans tend to ignore this part of the process, but it's worth recognizing that the team has to bounce around the very unfriendly confines of Latin America in order to earn a berth in the WC. They endure slurs, thrown batteries, threats, etc. And then they come to play at home, and it's still like an away game, because all the Honduran or Costa Rican or Colombian nationals pack the US stadiums. Not an easy road. But a good story, so check it out.

Okey doke. Since I'm really slaying the sports world with predictions lately, I conclude today's post with some premature (short) recaps of the next three games.

Friday, August 7: Yankees 12, Red sox 0

AJ Burnett's perfect game highlighted another strong Yankee performance in the Bronx on Friday. The Red Sox had no answer for the right-hander's impressive arsenal, and only Nick Green managed to hit a ball into the outfield. Robinson Cano led New York's offense, hitting for the cycle twice and scoring 8 of the 12 Yankee runs. Before the game, David Ortiz admitted to using steroids as recently as 2008, and told reporters that he's no longer able to achieve an erection.

Saturday, August 8: Yankees 14, Red Sox 0

For the first time in history, a team had back-to-back perfect games, as CC Sabathia followed up Burnett's gem with one of his own. The big lefty was so overpowering that the only Red Sox player to make contact was Nick Green, who threw himself over the plate in the ninth inning, was hit in the head, and called out for leaning. Robinson Cano led the Yankee offense, hitting a record-tying six home runs, including three in one inning. Before the game, David Ortiz admitted to wearing a brassiere, and told reporters that his favorite soap opera is Guiding Light.

Sunday, August 9: Yankees 27, Red Sox 0

Andy Pettitte out-dueled Jon Lester, throwing a perfect game and completing a four-game sweep of the Red Sox. The Texan southpaw was so dominant that only Nick Green managed to even swing the bat, attempting to bunt on a 0-2 pitch in the dirt. Robinson Cano led the Yankee offense with thirteen triples, a record sure to stand forever. Before the game, David Ortiz tried to sexually assault a male reporter, but quickly lost his breath and fell on the locker room floor, where Terry Francona rubbed his head, sang "You Are My Sunshine" in soothing tones, and fed him a Snickers.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Black and White, and Red is Over


By hook or by crook, I tell ye. Red Stockings march o'er the land. Yassir, they must be driven from whence they come!

Ain't no kindness nor light aflow from yon harbor towne.

Have we e'er kept ye beguiled? An honest land, this, of honest folk. We canna brook the idle or intolerant, and we shan't cotton to the weak. O, New York! Thou art humble, aye, yet glory-built. Darkness ne'er descends upon thy visage.

From penumbra to aurora, from subterrene to firmament:





(the whistle in the yard blows twenty-seven notes, twenty-seven crows perch on the wire)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

It's Better To Be Lucky Than Halladay

I almost feel the need to apologize for last night's game. The Yanks plated two runs on the first (one by error), disappeared for seven innings, and then hit three home runs because Toronto doesn't have reliable relief pitching. On the other side, the Jays must have hit at least eight line drives that scorched their way directly into the gloves of the Yankee infield. Final score, 5-3 Yanks, and a victory over Doc Halladay. Like a group of petty burglars in a Citgo who search every customer and discover a million unmarked dollars inside the knapsack of a drug kingpin's bagman...we will take it.

They needed thirteen innings, but Tampa finally took Boston down at the Trop. That means our lead swells to 1.5 games, and we're guaranteed first place when the Sox come to town Thursday. This is by far the biggest series of the year, and I'll probably do some kind of preview tomorrow. I'm trying to decide on my expectations. The demanding Yankee fan in me wants to make ultimatums like "win 3 of 4 or this series is a failure." The reasonable human in me thinks "just take 2, it proves we can compete with them, and it's a moral victory." And the scared child thinks "please just win 1 game, please prove we can actually beat this team, please, please, don't get swept."

I'm going to make a bold prediction, since I've been having a little luck on the seer front lately. First, Tampa beats Boston again tonight (Price v. Penny), and then sweeps the Mariners over the weekend. The Yanks take the mini-series from Toronto, and 3 of 4 from the Sox. By Monday, the standings look like so:

BOS 4.5
TAM 5.0

And from then on, the Sox and Rays are in a dog fight for the wild card as Texas fades down the stretch.

Yanks-Sox is something you feel in your bones, and I'm already tingling. I'll be at the game Thursday, and hopefully Friday as well. Meanwhile, here are some true facts about Boston's starting line-up and rotation. I got a copy of some features that didn't end up going in the 2009 media guide, so I thought I'd reprint them here. Have a good Wednesday.


Jason Varitek: Once made a dress from eggshells and wore it to a stranger's Bar Mitzvah.

Kevin Youkilis: Keeps a black lab named "Royal Oil" chained in his basement. Comes home drunk three times a week and beats the shit out of it.

Dustin Pedroia: Considers himself in the "top one percent of all Americans" at the Crane Game.

Nick Green: Gets an erection during double plays.

David Ortiz: Owes all his success in professional baseball to steroids.

J.D. Drew: Voted "Team's Most Boring Person" three years in a row by Terry Francona.

Mike Lowell: Thinks it's attractive to females when he puts one leg up on a table, stool, or chair, in the Captain Morgan style.

Jacoby Ellsbury: When nobody's looking, walks straight into the outfield wall hoping that he'll fade and disappear like in 'Field of Dreams.' Hugely depressed.

Josh Beckett: Spends at least four hours a day feeling pissed off that somebody wrote "fuk u" on his locker in 2005.

Clay Buchholz: Publishes a daily newsletter that only Nick Green still feels guilty enough to read.

Dice K: Has a huge artistic collage of Big Mac wrappers in his locker meant to mock American greed. Youkilis thinks it's "pretty fucken rad."

Jon Lester: Idly scratches interlocking "NY" symbols in the mound with his foot. When the Sox and Yankees play, asks Jeter questions like "is Broadway pretty legit?"

Tim Wakefield: Wrote "fuk u" on Josh Beckett's locker in 2005.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Halladay We No Scare of You

Tonight, the Yankees face Roy Halladay, American League Cy Young candidate. Andy Pettitte takes the hill for the good guys.









This man will probably own our souls tonight:


Monday, August 3, 2009

There Will Be No Blog Post Today

Sorry guys, no blog post today. It's crazy, thus far I've made a post every single day that I've been at work. It's been quite a streak, but everything ends, and today the blogging shoes stay in their cubby hole.

It's not like there's nothing to blog about. If I was so inclined, I could create a series of bullet points discussing sporting news that happened over the weekend. Such as:

*Melky Cabrera's cycle yesterday. After losing three in a row to the White Sox, in a variety of irritating ways, we needed something more than a victory on Sunday. 'Leche' provided the fireworks, hitting a dramatic triple in the ninth to finish the cycle and provide the team some insurance. If I were writing about this, I'd mention how the Melk-Man always seems to have a sense of the moment, and shares the honor of 'Clutchiest Yankee Batsman' with Jeter. And then I'd post a photo:

*In the post-game interview, Robinson Cano translated for his friend. Come on, Melk, learn English. I don't think I'm being unreasonable. You've been in the bigs for three years, and can't even give a sound bite at the end of a game? Again, I'm not holding you to a double standard. If I played a professional sport in Mexico, or France, I would learn the language. It's not like you don't have time. I can excuse Asian ballplayers, because their native tongues don't share a Latin root with English. But as a Dominican, Melky, you should at least have enough to get by.

*The Red Sox dined out on that godawful product Baltimore calls baseball, creeping up to within a half game of our division lead. The Yanks face Halladay on Tuesday, and the Sox play two with the Rays. We should be neck and neck going into the weekend series, and I've got an appetite for revenge.

I could've talked about any of those points, if I'd posted a blog today. But it wasn't meant to be. Here's a picture of A.J. Burnett and Melky doing a weird high-five. It would've concluded today's post.