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Some thoughts about the game.

“I believe in the Church of Baseball. I’ve tried all the major religions and most of the minor ones. I’ve worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms and Isadora Duncan… The only Church that truly feeds the soul, day in and day out, is the Church of Baseball.” —Annie Savoy in the film “Bull Durham.”

Those who’ve paid any attention perceive that taste, values, ideas, style and behavior are dispensable criteria of class. Donald Trump is an instructive specimen in this regard. Overall, class structure is one hell of a thing. It defines who we are from the cars we drive, the television shows we watch, the clothes we wear, the neighborhoods we live in, even the food we eat. I thought nothing about these things as a child, hell, who does? You wake from a slumber, go to school, come home, eat some macaroni and cheese, play baseball until the sun goes down, and then repeat…ad infinitum. ( you can throw a few ass whippings in there for good measure; i was a rebellious spirit)

And like every other red-blooded American boy, I idolized baseball players, never questioning the ethics or morals of my heroes. How could they be so “bad?” I knew nothing about drug use, (Darryl Strawberry, Josh Hamilton) D.U.I.’S, ( Miguel Cabrera, Coco Crisp, Adam Kennedy) wife-beating, ( Milton Bradley, Alberto Callaspo, Brett Myers) tax evasion ( Darryl Strawberry, Pete Rose) or even murder ( Julio Machado, Ugueth Urbina) These things were done by OTHER people who weren’t associated with me and my family, and never the twain shall meet. I learned quite quickly through the buying and trading of baseball cards about the true nature of the human condition. (of which my parents weren’t exempt) These little pieces of cardboard had taught me deceit, unfair business practices, price manipulation, collusion, restraint of trade, extortions, pay- offs, bribes, plagiarism, and false hype. Soon thereafter, as I entered my early teens I started to understand privilege, advantage and wealth as the Yankees had started to define it in ways that were bigger than the world of baseball: my life consisted of old, out of style clothes, pot pies for dinner and late night parental arguments over bills.

I would like to thank baseball for teaching me these valuable lessons. The beautiful game is rich with juxtapositions and historical aspects that go beyond stats, OBP’s, WHIPS, and World Series titles. It is a game that teaches you to slow down, as it can be played in the mind as well as on the field. It is a game of anticipation, a game that erupts in a sudden explosion of action, then slows down again, giving us time to savor what we have seen, and to give us time to think about what we are going to see. It shows you that you are not perfect, and that you don’t have to be. It also teaches you to enjoy your lot in life whether you be a HOF er or a .220 hitter. It teaches you that no matter how much you think you know, you should always learn MORE. It teaches you to love and cherish something that was loved and cherished by a father or grandfather, and that you love and cherish in return.  I have long since stopped putting these guys on a gold pedestal, and it has enriched my life in ways no home run ball, autograph, or season ticket could ever match.

Mark McGwire and heshers from the past.

Now that we know the baseball card craze of the 80’s/90’s was a facade with no chance of anyone (besides the industry itself) making profit, we can laugh at the 100’s of dollars wasted, sleepless nights and tell our stories of woe.

There are many people out there who still think their collections are worth something, yet these bumbling dolts don’t understand supply and demand, and no doubt don’t understand much of anything else either. I recently bought a Mark McGwire 1987 Donruss “rated rookie” for 3 dollars. This is almost unheard of for a guy who once held the single season home run record, and is 10th all time. I felt no nostalgia, and with a “meh” I threw it in a box.

……and then I remembered

I was 12 years old (still a few years away from my first “kegger,” which was with a guy named Kevin Ballard who wore a Metallica shirt everyday. He only broke up the monotony on occasion with a Anthrax t shirt, who I personally thought sucked the bag.) The McGwire card was one of THE hottest properties for a young boy in Northern California, and people wouldn’t trade it for ANYTHING. Eventually, through hours of wheeling and dealing, I had acquired a few of these by the time Jr. High came rolling around. One day in wood shop, a very large, greasy, hispanic rocker type named Billy (who turned out to be a great hitter, but I wouldn’t know that until high school freshman try-outs) offered to trade me a cassette for ONE single, thin cardboard McGwire. I jumped at the chance! I had a large stack of them and welcomed the opportunity to talk to someone “cool” who would take the time and effort out of their exciting heavy metal life to make a tape for a nerd like me. ( I was a freckle faced, Opie looking kid who wouldn’t grow into my 6’2 frame until my sophomore year in high school.) Billy brought me the tape the next day and with a nod says,

“You needed to listen to Slayer.”

I waited with anticipation for school to let out and then popped that fucker into my Kmart cassette player. Best trade I ever made and changed my life forever. Thanks, dude.

The Baseball Gods have a message, and they have a sense of humor.

And as I crossed the Sacramento River towards the stadium, perhaps the baseball gods had a message for me with their semi-divine detachment?

I’ve been to 100’s of baseball games in my life, but perhaps the “miraculous strangeness of life” came into play recently as I recently attended a minor league AAA game between the Sacramento River Cats and the Reno Aces. (both teams are affiliated with a N.L. team, I am unpledged to any N.L. team except the Dodgers.)

It was Sunday; there there were hordes of annoying children and even more annoying non-baseball fans out for a sun drenched day–unable to simply figure out the Dewey Decimal system and standing around awkwardly with blank stares, metaphorically taking us back to the primeval seas as protozoa. Kudos to the drunk guy yelling “down in front!” to the yuppies, completely unaware that they had breached the unwritten baseball rule of finding your seat quickly and getting your ass out of the way.

Game facts: there was a grand slam. An event I can’t remember ever seeing live. I had also never come close to a foul ball, instantly disappointed as I dropped one, (bare and one-handed) that had such an unexpected force that my right hand was bee-stung for a few minutes afterward. I had to watch an old guy from the post-war generation two seats in front of me take a picture with my ball. That said, I still cringe when I see a grown man try to catch a ball and recoil like a coward at the last moment. I had just tidied myself with a 12 dollar beer in the 5th when the game was stopped because of a small snake on the infield. This is something I have never seen and perhaps will never see again.

Baseball season represents an infinite cloud of future potentialities, and as I walked in my door and flipped on the tube the Cubs and Yankees were playing an eventual 18 inning affair that broke the ML record for strikeouts in a game. This game has been played professionally since 1876.

Eat a dick, indeed.

 

 

Day game at the Coliseum.

The ‘Fro agrees with this fan’s assessment of the “split caps.”

We unload off of the BART train like a herd of cattle and enter the dingy station with a mixture of part excitement and part bovine expression. The afternoon glaze was the perfect California day in the mind’s eye of a dreamer from Detroit during a December snowstorm. Shorts and tank top weather. We cross the bridge en masse and in the distance a towering block of cement surrounded by barbed wire looms. This place doesn’t look like anything the Romans would build and is more akin to the prison Tim Robbin’s innocent and charmingly rebellious accountant had to face in the Shawshank Redemption. There are musicians trying to make a quick buck, and “vendors” wearing dashikis hawking unlicensed merchandise for both the working class parents who can’t afford the “real” thing and the renegade who has a predilection for quirky hand-screened memorabilia; both the former and latter seeming to be a Oakland tradition harking back to the radical, working class pamphlets of the late 1960’s. This is the embroidery of the Oakland Coliseum.

The conversations that rise above the herd can be astounding.
“Elvis didn’t steal black music, man. Music belongs to everybody.”
“Drinking decaf is like being shot by a government death squad.”
“What did people do before the internet?”
“I’m not sure why he didn’t come to work today. I had a low-grade hangover and I showed up.”
Marijuana smoke fills the air and an older couple complains loudly. Obviously the signals between the generations are irrevocably jammed and covered with goo. It makes me feel good, however, when I curl up to read a book at night knowing that people have some sort of right to use a substance that has been worshiped, degraded and used as racist propaganda,”media poisoned” and finally seen as medicinal and taxed throughout its modern existence in the social structure.

We have come here to see the flawed product known as the Oakland A’s: a team with a menagerie of flawed cast-offs, miscreants, and starry-eyed, fresh-faced youngsters.
When the June heat swooned and the losses mounted we were more hypersensitive to the terrible ownership than ever before and perhaps even felt ill about our place as fans. 11,000 and change entered the turnstiles this afternoon, perhaps echoing that disconcerting mood. On this day, however, baby-faced rookie Jharel Cotton dazzled the Halos by pitching a two hit gem through 6–the only blemish being a home run by C.J. Cron, one of those modern-day, perpetually uninspiring and average hitting first baseman. Cotton left to a standing ovation, walking along the freshly painted football lines and doffing his cap. Sure, this was a lineup with the notable absences of Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, but it was also a feather in the cap of the downtrodden, a feast in a month of famine for the homeless and forgotten.

Josh Reddick traded as author almost swallowed by the Pacific.

2016-tsr-322-josh-reddick-tradedThere is nothing like the sensory pleasure of falling off a surfboard into the cold Southern California ocean as you tumble under a wave unmercifully for what seems like an eternity and surface gasping for air. I dragged myself across the sand, chest heaving heavily and amazed to still be in one piece.
“Did you know that most “friendships” are only reciprocal 53 percent of the time?”
A friend had brought the New York Times, a large umbrella and a bottle of vodka. She was definitely not going into the water and apparently this article had caught her attention.
“Hmmm…is this a modern phenomenon?” I asked, still gasping for air.
“I’d say yes, considering it was a modern study.”
I sat for a minute quietly thinking about my own life and the relationships that had come and gone. I supposed that I had never seen any sort of friendship as “forever” because of my own abandonment by my father. Because of this thought, and the anxiety of the inevitable, perhaps I never put the time or the effort into friendships that I should have. I simply exhausted all avenues and then quietly moved on with little care.
“Looks like your favorite player was traded,” she said.
“Josh Reddick!?”
Those bastards, I thought, they went and did it. Well, at least he went to the Dodgers. They’ll love him
here in Los Angeles.

Echoes of the past rumble through my head as I stared at the waves crash in deadly syncopation. I dragged
the surfboard slowly to the water and the thoughts disappeared as suddenly as they came. I didn’t like
re-visiting the past–and the way the waves were looking today perhaps I didn’t have a future either.

An ode to Matt Stairs and his beer belly.

matt stairs artIn case you haven’t noticed lately, some girls are all about that “dad bod”. I hadn’t heard about this body type until my roommate mentioned it. She was attracted to guys she claimed had the beer belly. After observing the guys she found attractive, I came to understand this body type well and was able to identify it. The dad bod is a nice balance between a beer gut and working out. The dad bod says, “I go to the gym occasionally, but I also drink a lot of beer on the weekends and enjoy eating eight slices of pizza at a time.” It’s not an overweight guy, but it isn’t one with washboard abs either.

Matt Stairs was a fan favorite in Oakland and made no apologies for his love for pounding beers and baseballs–the Canadian hit 122 home runs in 5 seasons with the Athletics. A veritable beer keg in motion; Stairs is best known as a pinch hitter, designated hitter, and corner outfielder, but he actually played every position except pitcher, catcher, and shortstop at some point. He also has the most pinch-hit home runs in MLB history.  Edgar Allen Poe could have been speaking of Stairs when he wrote this poem in the late 19th century:

Filled with mingled cream and amber,
I will drain that glass again.
Such hilarious visions clamber
Through the chamber of my brain.
Quaintest thoughts, queerest fancies
Come to life and fade away.
What care I how time advances;
I am drinking ale today.

 

The Oakland A’s and their June swoon.

june swoonI had what can be called a perfect summer evening last night: I watched Star Wars on a 60 foot screen on top of a 6 story building with the stars twinkling brightly above while drinking a wicked batch of sauvignon blanc.

These are the kind of nights that summer is supposed to represent: everyone is dressed casually and comfortably as they enjoyed a night out with friends and family and no cares in the world at that moment. After the movie my acquaintance and I returned to her house for some champagne and a light snack of falafel balls. The great ball of fires close vicinity to the Earth couldn’t ruin this perfect evening and perhaps even enlightened it with its creamy layers of cosmic beauty.

We had small talk for a moment about science fiction novels before “the acquaintance” slides in a DVD of Easy Rider and comments, “Boy, your baseball team sure does stink this year; it must be difficult to find things to write about on that blog of yours.”
“I’m not hypersensitive to it. Perhaps I’ve even given up–which makes me enjoy watching the fiasco all the more. It’s not as if I’m pulling my hair out; there is a sense of calm in losing. Now I know how Cubs fans felt all those years.”
“I find that hard to believe,” she said as she softly tossed her cat off the couch. “Ughh, don’t ever buy anything that eats.”
“Besides, why would I care so deeply about a bunch of millionaires running around in pajamas when I can think about how insignificant my own life is relative to a world that is filled with injustice?”
“I think a lot of the experience of being an adult is: what am I even complaining about?”
“Exactly. So I can be positive and talk about how Danny Valencia and Khris Davis are absolutely raking this season. And Daniel Mengden is a pretty exciting rookie.”

“I have no idea what you are talking about.”

“Neither do I,” I said as the opening credits to Easy Rider spread across the screen. I really do like Dennis Hopper in this movie I thought.

Ben Sheets got me drunk.

 

ben sheets suds artOn January 26, 2010, Ben Sheets agreed to a one year, $10 million with an additional $2 million in incentives, contract with the Oakland Athletics. “Ok,” I thought, “he was hurt last year and this is his comeback.” I knew Ben was injury prone as he had just undergone Tommy John surgery the year before and sat out the entire 2009 season to rehab. It seemed at the time a high risk/reward signing, but I put it out of my mind because of the fact that I had other things to do. You see, it was my day off and I was supposed to meet a nice young lady for some beers and some games of pool at one of those newly opened, posh “gastropubs”. The date goes fine, we drink some nice brews, play some pool and I nod my head at all the crucial moments. Everything is going great until we step out on the back patio to smoke a joint… and then it hits me. Didn’t I see this guy pitch in the minor leagues? 

I can hear the readers screaming, “this guy is having a great time with this woman and he’s thinking about a fucking baseball player!” Well yes, I was, and even worse…I was thinking about the ex-girlfriend that had accompanied me to a baseball game. This is date suicide, I know, but bear with me–all of the thoughts below were fully compartmentalized within two minutes or so. (and it’s not as if it’s an epic, Homer-like story) That’s only about 3-4 head nods and a couple “mmm hmmm’s.”

It’s 1999. I had been wanting to go to a California League game for quite a while. Stockton, Ca. was the closest city to where I was living so it was the logical choice. The Stockton Ports were an (A) team for the Milwaukee Brewers, and I had a little rooting interest for the “Brew Crew;” I thought they were a scrappy, fun bunch. My girlfriend and I hop on the freeway and drive an half an hour south of Sacramento to the murderous, unemployed shit-heap known as Stockton.

Billy Hebert Field was in a sketchy neighborhood in the middle of a park. It was a bit old and had metal bleachers down the third/first base lines. The ballpark had opened in 1953, yet supposedly the land that was/is the field has been used for baseball since the late 19th century, and as legend says, the exact location where the poem “Casey at the bat” had taken place. We grab our beers and peanuts and sit on the third base line. The crowd is sparse, yet I’m enjoying myself.

billy hebert this one

Minor league games tend to have wacky promotions, yet this one was right out of the Bill Veeck hand book. The PA announcer tells the crowd that so and so from the opposing team would be the game’s “beer batter.” This meant that every time the batter in question struck out beer would be half off for 10 minutes. On the mound for the Ports that day was their newly signed “bonus baby,” Ben Sheets. Sheets proceeded to strike out the “beer batter” 4 times; and since there was barely a crowd, I would slowly walk to the concession stand and get a few beers for half off. The first few times were novelty, and then as the innings went by and the suds kicked in it became a sort of a right of passage and celebration of this young man’s talent. I was “three SHEETS to the wind” by the end of the game.

Times have changed. The Ports moved into a new, modern ballpark in 2005, leaving Billy Hebert unattended. They are now an affiliate of the Oakland A’s. Ben Sheets retired in 2012. He couldn’t shake off the injury bug that had hampered his career. I don’t speak to either woman anymore in this story. We had great times, yet that rolling stone keeps on moving. This isn’t a special story….it’s  just another baseball fan’s testament, and a story that will all too soon fade away.

LaRussa and the Hall of Fame

larussa

vegetarian, renaissance man, and originator of one of the most over-rated positions in sports: the one inning “closer.”

1986 And The Rest Is History…….. by Scott Guilmette
You can’t really fault Jackie Moore, the 1986 Opening Day Manager of the Oakland Athletics; the pitching on that team was suspect at best. The Athletics had a decent hitting team, with eventual Rookie of the Year Jose Canseco leading the way. Dave “ King Kong “ Kingman was playing his last season and the natives were getting restless, so a change needed to be made……Bring in one Anthony “ Tony “ LaRussa to guide this team of rookies, scrap heap rejects and players who’s better days have long been in the rear-view mirror. La Russa, who had spent 7 years managing the ChiSox was a great pickup by the Athletics after the ChiSox axed him three weeks earlier and he proved it in his first game as manager. The Athletics were in Boston to play the RedSox and he chose seldom used long reliever Dave Stewart to start that night against Roger Clemens and of course Smoke beat that ass!!!!! He started a trend that night that Clemens wished he was never part of…….NO LUCK AGAINST THE ATHLETICS OR STEWART……
LaRussa has a Degree in Law and I always thought of him as a smooth snake in the grass lawyer as to how he managed the game….he always seemed in control, no matter what the situation was, and he always seemed classy in doing it. He was just what the Athletics needed at that time in their history…..after it was all said and done in Oakland, LaRussa was the winningest manager in Oakland Athletic’s club history with 798, one World Series Championship ( 4-0 Sweep against the sorry asses from across the Bay ) and two Manager of the Year Awards. He is 3rd on the All Time wins- list with 2,728, behind only John McGraw and All Time Leader Connie Mack.  Not bad Athletics fans, some of us have had the good fortune to see one of the greatest managers of all time!!!!!
LaRussa will forever be linked to the shady past of the game of baseball known as the Steroid Era……It was during his watch that the Athletics clubhouse exploded with brawn, and it seemed that he did nothing about it…..you might as well put ALL of MLB’s managers, front office personnel and the Commissioner in that boat too because NO ONE did a damn thing to stop it from happening. It’s not the first time in this games’ illustrious history that there been a shadow cast on it and it won’t be the last either. It’s not LaRussa’s fault……but the haters will hate… oh well, get in line because he’s in the Hall of Fame now. He made it easy for me, a life long Athletics fan to follow him and the St. Louis Cardinals after he left the Athletics when Walter Haas, Jr. passed away.
So CONGRATS Tony, I’m glad I had the opportunity to watch you manage this game I truly Love…….

Jimmie Foxx…greatest Athletics hitter of all time.

1985-topps-circle-k-7-jimmie-foxx-baseball-cards-n-2e8a X is the first
Of two x’s in Foxx
Who was right behind Ruth
With his powerful soxx.

Ogden Nash, Sport Magazine 

In the 1930’s, Jimmie Foxx socked more homers than any other player. A fearsome power hitter whose strength earned him the moniker “The Beast”, Jimmie Foxx was the anchor of an intimidating Philadelphia Athletics lineup that produced pennant winners from 1929-31. The second batter in history to top 500 home runs, Foxx belted 30 or more homers in 12 consecutive seasons and drove in more than 100 runs 13 consecutive years, including a career-best 175 with Boston in 1938. He won back-to-back MVP Awards in 1932 and ’33, capturing the Triple Crown in the latter year. Called “the right-handed Babe Ruth.” Foxx became a baseball legend because of his enormous strength. In Comiskey Park, he hit a ball over the double-decked stands, clearing 34th Street. His gigantic clout in Cleveland won the 1935 all-star Game. In Yankee Stadium, he hit one into the left field upper deck where it broke a seat! A strong, powerful hitter, he was menacing looking at the plate.

He had great powerful arms, and he used to wear his sleeves cut off way up, and when he dug in and raised that bat, his muscles would bulge and ripple.   

After years in Philadelphia playing under the penurious Connie Mack, he finally started making good when he was traded to Boston. Tom Yawkey, who always paid his players well, even gave Foxx a share in gate receipts. Universally liked, almost everyone loved him, from Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth to Ted Williams. (Ted Williams even claimed that Jimmie could drink 15 glasses of scotch whisky and not be affected) He always went out of the way to befriend new teammates and rookies.

In July of 1967, after years of bad investments and ill health, Foxx died on the way to the hospital after he choked on a piece of meat in the backyard of his brother. By that time, he was a beaten and broken man, and those close to him felt that Jimmie had finally just given up, and did not have the will to live anymore. It was a very sad ending to a simply great guy. 

jimmies grave