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“Sports are like the reward for a functioning society.” –Sean Doolittle, Nationals
Is there any reason why we, as a barely functioning society descending into chaos, deserve this “reward?” My feelings heading into the 2020 baseball season are an equal mixture of pure wonder, curiosity and the fetishization of a shit show. 60 games during a pandemic doesn’t really prove anything and is akin to a beer league or a wiffle ball tournament, and I believe that’s where the “wonder and curiosity” stems from. The “shit show” on the other hand should be fairly explanatory to any purist with a semi-open mind, as the winner of the World Series of Corona will be seen in hindsight as *Asterisk Champions (although slightly more legitimate than the Astros nefarious and refutable crown, but this time Manfred will supply a keg for the after party)
There will be cardboard cutouts in the stands and guys wearing masks sans spitting and licking with piped in crowd noise to simulate a good time; and why not throw a few drunk guys in the bleachers for maximum “realness?” How wonderfully psychedelic! How absolutely kitsch! Do we get pizza and snow cones after the game too? And I think we should all take a moment to thank whatever god we worship that at least one tradition–cup readjustment–isn’t going anywhere. Although ass slapping might still be up in the air because there still isn’t any proof the virus does or doesn’t spread through swamp-ass. Perhaps the players can celebrate with a slight nod and half-smile, akin to seeing your ex-girlfriend in a public setting as your current lover stands there, oblivious to the fact.
There is trepidation because of the naked truth that a few players (namely pitchers) that aren’t physically or emotionally ready will be absolutely GOD AWFUL and will single-handedly take away their team’s chances depending on how many times they trudge to the hill. One dreadful closer or set up man (think Jim Johnson in 2014) and your season is kaput, over, doneski, ancient history, yesterday’s news, finito. As you may or may not know, hitting is traditionally ahead of pitching for the first few months of any season. This means there will be many games that will be high scoring, good ol’ fashion “western shootouts” with pitchers in the interview room being quoted through gritted teeth, “I just couldn’t get my breaking shit over.” Remember that debacle in London last year? Get used to it, because there are going to be quite a few fireworks shooting off with the spark drizzle ready to inflame any random dumpster in the general area.
Hot button issues aside, athletes are not deities that are fundamentally different from us, but human beings that live in time and space. It will be interesting to see how they handle the psychological pressure of competition blended with mortality. Both will grip the continual psyche of all of the players in one way or another as the pelota flies out of the yard and the cash registers sing “God Bless America” while grandma quietly gives up the ghost in the next room.
My travel buddy and I decided to take a break from the incessant driving to pause for a moment and take a look at the ominously beautiful and deadly Joshua Tree National Park. The sign at the entrance gave you the true indication of what the desert landscape had in store when it read, “No gas for 42 miles.” The lack of water and an eerie feeling of peacefulness seemed to envelope me, but in the back of my mind there was also the thought that human life in all its totality is not needed and scarcely wanted in this section of the world. It’s almost as if humans take some sort of sadistic pleasure in their environment slowly trying to sap the life out of them. We soaked in the atmosphere while hiking a small trail and enjoyed the lovely desert flora for awhile before heading to Phoenix.
Phoenix was 105 degrees in the shade, and the downtown streets were a veritable ghost town as we searched for Chase Field, home of the Arizona D’Bags. There was obviously no baseball due to the Rampant ‘Rona, but we decided to check out the stadium at any rate so I could cross it off my bucket list since I had never been to Arizona and scarcely had any desire to go to Chase Field before this trip. The park had a very nice early 20th century brick facade but was a little boring besides that and had a noticeable lack of any sort of player statue. (Luis Gonzalez?) I took the opportunity to take a photo with the over-payed, fake tough guy and infamous red-ass, Madison Bumgarner. Bumgarner, unarguably had some great and damn near epic World Series moments, but will always be known by this writer as a guy who screamed at another player, Max Muncy, who apparently didn’t run the bases fast enough after crushing a ball into McCovey Cove. Muncy’s response? “Go get it out of the ocean.” Muncy was apparently so intimidated by Madison “Fake Tough Guy With a Girl’s Name” Bumgarner that he had t-shirts printed of the above response and wore it to the ballpark the very next day.
“Sweet is the memory of past troubles.” –Cicero
My high school career was less than stellar, quite different from Kevin Arnold’s 1970’s middle-class neurosis in The Wonder Years; and it was often a confusing and awkward time for me as it is for any young person who doesn’t follow the rules of engagement. My school was located in one of the poorer neighborhoods so the styles and sophistication of the students echoed that. This was the life equivalent of tasteless, waxy American cheese.
There were minimal cliques in this school–the wannabe gang bangers, (and the real ones) the jocks, the hair-metal kids, the cholas and the cheerleaders. I managed to scrounge up 2 friends, one was a metal head who I had known since elementary school, and the other a punk rock reject that would wear a Dead Kennedys shirt everyday, carry a skateboard everywhere and never let anyone inside his house. In retrospect, there was nothing special about my teenage apathy. Everyone was dealing with the same emotions and questions, but with different parents, cultures, agendas and economic status. There was also a beautiful naivete concerning school shootings: we simply could never conceive of it happening–there was a better chance of aliens populating the earth or Elvis rising from the dead. I was also suffering from a strangulating boredom which I thought was to be my position in life…I was 16 and waiting for it to begin.
Baseball player Steve Sax was sort of a local legend in our little burg as he had attended the only and very same high school that I was attending. During P.E. (my favorite subject, besides lunch) I would stare at Sax’s school records on an amateurish hand-painted board above dented, graffitied, rusted lockers while fights broke out, coaches screamed and evacuations from the putrid sulfur smell of stink bombs were coalescing around me. He owned every single record. I couldn’t fathom that a titan on a baseball card had actually walked these same sweat sock-scented hallways from hell and dominated the very same pock-marked, weed infested ball field that I had played on as a Freshman just one year earlier. He probably thought he was hot shit and had all kinds of bell-bottom clad, Farrah Fawcett- haircut-fashioned girls throwing themselves at him; no doubt changing one letter in his last name as to give him a more studly and epically legendary nickname as his other conquests snickered knowingly with a hint of underlying jealousy.
Sax had a pretty solid career and even won a World Series with the Dodgers until he caught a case of the “yips,” which is a psychological malfunction of the routine play. In this case it was the across the body lob to the first baseman from the second base position. A fairly easy play unless pondered to the point of oblivion. This local hero and World Series winner was fallible and I could relate. I had acquired a case of the life yips at the age of 15 and couldn’t even have a routine conversation without stumbling through it. Girls were impossible as I took navel-gazing to the point of nonexistence. I would contemplate every single nonsensical conversation or see sideways glances as a character assassination. This sort of thought was an unhealthy E-4, something that was scratched on Sax’s scorecard more times than he would’ve liked.
We were worlds apart in every conceivable valuable attribute–with him having all the admirable ones, an enviable cross to bear; but we shared the same thoughts, fears and insecurities that all humans struggle with at one time or another, and with that, the inability to be shielded from the cruel elements that possesses us all.
In lieu of baseball, I’ve been watching a lot of movies; and you’d be surprised by how many flicks there are about nuns possessed by the devil, nazi zombies, and undead sharks. There is even a film, I kid you not, titled “Killer Sofa,” with the protagonist being a piece of furniture with a mean streak. MLB should take note, especially in modern day, about how many diversions are available to a slack-jawed couch potato like me. I’m a hardcore baseball fan in the average age range of your typical MLB consumer and even I don’t care if baseball comes back in 2020. Something is very wrong here. They say Rob Manfred is a lawyer but does that title still have any meaning after the frontal lobotomy?
The Red Sox recently released a statement confirming that some of their deplorable fan base uses racial slurs, which was a great first step in race relations, but doesn’t racism begin at home? The Sox didn’t sign their first black free agent until 1992 (!) and still to this day have NEVER had a black manager. If your fans are a “reflection of larger systemic issues that as an organization we need to address,” than why don’t you start with yourselves and whatever dumb ass policies that you adhered to before June of 2020? My guess is that they were too busy stealing signs to even give a shit…the whole “storied franchise” can burn in hell with now deceased, noted philanthropist (but only if you’re white) and former Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey for all I care.
It’s recently come to my attention that some of the “gatekeepers” of baseball writing don’t take kindly to my presence in the grandiose and accolade-laden world of baseball blogging. (insert heavy eye roll here) I’m apparently a pariah among these very same anachronistic baseball writers who learned their trade either by replicating newspaper hacks or idealistic, fluffy poets who want to lovingly reminisce about the “good old days” (ok, Boomer) and never saw the game from a critical perspective. These same writers, who I assume to be literary experts, are compelled to criticize but still can’t pull their eyes away from lil ol’ me. In the end it’s just a pissing contest in which I never wanted to be involved. I started this project for simple enjoyment and to connect with fans of a singular baseball team, not to compare and contrast book deals, MLB connections and dick size. (which I would win anyway because most of you are old, shriveled up fart bags.)
–Support black owned businesses always, and not just during June 2020.
–Read black authors always, and not just nonfiction books about racism.
–Oh my gosh, please just wear a dang mask.
Around 1993-1995 I completely lost interest in baseball. Being in my early 20’s my childhood interests waned and became retrograde, as they tend to do, and in my delusional mind my new interests were a bit more sophisticated and engaging. My interests in music and punk rock in general were blossoming into a near obsession as I decided to join a garage band, and I was also delving into the literary and modern art worlds: doing my duty as a young person trying to “figure it all out” with a speculating, cynical and sometimes critical mind. And as much as I loved to scan the box scores, I just didn’t have time anymore with my band-mates, job, and girlfriend needing my immediate and rapt attention.
F. Scott Fitzgerald thought that one of his pals had invested too much time writing about baseball. “A boys game,” Fitzgerald said, “with no more possibilities in it than a boy could master, a game bounded by walls which kept out novelty or danger, change or adventure.” I couldn’t stomach Fitzgerald’s stuffy writing and disagreed vehemently with this statement. (I valued Descartes opinions much more, and wasn’t his vocation to think about thinking?…the absolute essence of the game) So after reading a tiny smattering of the classics: Genet, Hemingway, Hesse, Volmann, Didion, Auster, I decided one day through a haze of smoke that baseball was indeed a cerebral sport more suited to a literary rather than pictorial culture and returned to it for the ’96 season. The A’s were still the same pile of dung that I had flushed 3 years earlier, finishing 3rd in the West with a 78-84 record, but the game was interesting to me again, even fun. It was a catharsis that I hadn’t seen before.
This was to be Mark McGwire’s last full year with the “Elephants” (his trade the next year was devastating and truly the end of my childhood) and he finished with 52 homers. This was also Jason Giambi’s first full year and he finished with a pathetic (for that time) 20 round-trippers. I attribute this to youth and the lack of steroids–a reputation that would turn out to haunt both players. Terry Steinbach was typically solid behind the dish; and a fan favorite with a funny name, Geronimo Berroa was coming into his own. There was also a curious player, Ernie Young, who hit 19 homers that season, never to hit more than 5 in any other season in his career.
As I enjoyed another season of watching my lovable losers, I had decided that baseball not only doesn’t acknowledge the passage of time, it ignores it. Then began my post-adolescent and lifelong obsession with the game that has taken over my daily existence with mind-boggling statistics and an even stranger anomalistic visual affair. I find that the more I know about this game, the less I know about this game. It keeps unfolding in ways I could never imagine.
Spiritually and morally, everything in life is a compromise. These are the kind of revelations that clank around your grey matter when you are experiencing day 15 of quarantine. I know what you’re thinking: tell that to the people hoarding everything. I haven’t showered in 2 days and my hair can only be described as “putting your fingers in an electric socket.” You can only read books, watch movies or scroll through social media (where the practitioners of uppity, hollow slogans are having a field day) for so long before tediousness stalks you like a hungry coyote. These days are a like a horror movie for a hypochondriac. The stores are out of bread, rice and toilet paper. We must distrust our natural inclinations to go out to eat or drink and socialize. I go for evening strolls and the streets remind me of Vincent Price in Last Man on Earth. And even though, by my estimation, we are all experiencing existential distress on some level or another, I thought I’d share a bit of the media that I’ve been digesting. For some reason or another.
Music: Duran Duran “Rio”– this album is silly, poignant, sexy and stupid. I haven’t listened to much music but this seems just about perfect because of its ability to see life the only way someone who has eaten the red pill can. And palm trees. Lots of palm trees.
TV: The Muppet Show– The jokes are corny and it feels like a psychedelic trip, but damned if you don’t forget that a pandemic is happening as you’re watching 70’s has-beens interact and sing with crazy animals, monsters and umm…Gonzo. Jim Henson was a genius.
Movies: Bad News Bears– Billy Bob Thornton plays the alcoholic, washed-up, ex-baseball player coach of a bunch of misfit kids on a little league team. A decent, funny remake of the 70’s classic starring Walter Matthau. Disappointingly, BBT never did ask for some french fried potaters mmm-hmmm. (Slingblade will forever be his best role) Highlight of the movie is when coach passes out on the mound while pitching BP.
Green Room– A touring punk rock band gets talked into playing a gig at a nazi skinhead shithole club in the middle of nowhere. Highlight of the movie is when they cover the Dead Kennedys’ “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” throwing the crowd into a hissy-fit. One of the band members stumbles in on a dead skinhead girl and all hell breaks loose in a bloody mess of punks, skins and random weaponry. Patrick Stewart stars as the leader of the fascists in a strange roll that really works for him at this junction in his career– strange that Captain Picard doesn’t anymore.
I was sad to hear about Kenny Rogers floating to the Great Beyond a few days ago. My mother loved “The Gambler” and would proudly wear his tour t-shirt when I was a child. His death was sort of a revelation as I had forgotten about the baseball player Kenny Rogers. My friends and I would always snicker whenever we came across his card in a wax pack. Rogers had a solid season with the Athletics in 1998 going 16-8 and pitching a workhorse-like 232 innings before being shipped to the Mets the next season for Terrence Long. Long, of course, turned out to be a bust while The Gambler (the baseball player) went on to play 9 more seasons before retiring at age 42. Rogers most famous moment on a baseball field came in 1994 when he pitched the 14th perfect game in ML history against the Angels. Kenny Rogers most famous moment came when he did the duet “Islands In the Stream” with Dolly Parton. R.I.P. Kenny. (the singer)
“My, my, my, my Corona.” –sang in the vocal stylings of the Knack’s “My Sharona.”
These are fantastical times. This Corona virus has run the full gamut and has completely taken over my life. I’ve been washing my hands upwards of 30 times a day, and like everything else that becomes an obsession in my life, it is imperative that I know every single detail about the origins and life of this villain. Listening to NPR and reading the NY Times has been vital in comprehensive avoidance and genuine insight to this fiend. This is a time of high anxiety.
All of the major sports have been cancelled and college and high school students have been sent home. I went to the library today and it was all but deserted, the only homeless person within eye-shot was wearing a mask. I went to the grocery store to stock up on food as to not leave the house for at least a few days. We are all pariahs, avoiding each other at all costs and giving anyone a side glance if they so much as come within 3 feet of you.
Whatever you do…don’t. touch. your. face. Donald Trump, notoriously obsessed with germs refuses to shake anyone’s hand, as does anyone in this time of trial. I listened to Trump’s presidential briefing (for the first time in his term) and his bravado and positivity seemed like more posturing even though he called for a national emergency in what can be seen as a hushed tone. After a carousel of “geniuses” were paraded on the mic (each one talking an average of 45 seconds, and included a representative from CVS) VP Mike Pence didn’t hesitate to put Trump on a pedestal in an embarrassing display of window dressing obviously written by someone who understands the President’s psyche. There were many hollow slogans of strength, patriotism and resilience in a fairly standardized ending.
I feel better already. (eyeroll) Let us not forget that Trump once downsized this virus comparing it to the flu and even went so far as to call it a “democratic hoax.” It seems to me that we as the people are going to have to fight this together by learning as much as we can about this virus with our elected officials having very little credibility or competence. Good luck to the readers of this blog and to us all, and as Tom Hanks famously said, “There is no crying in baseball.”
It’s not important that I bring to task a Spring Training update; personally I find them to be tedious, but I suppose I must write something considering that this humble dissemination has over 2,500 followers and people actually read the thing for crissakes.
After last years embarrassing one game playoff loss to the Devil Rays, the following remarks swirled in my mind: pointless, not again, now what?, same old shit…who in the hell is Yandy Diaz? The ever graceful and future ace Sean Manaea blamed himself for the loss although it was a team effort as the offense was anemic and made to look bush-league. Watching the game was every bit the “Babylonian” experience. This squad, however, isn’t a “soft reboot” as the youngsters have aged a year and have playoff experience with the following players expected to have a breakout year: Matt Olson, Sean Manaea, Mark Canha and Ramon Laureano. Little was added or subtracted this off-season because of the aforementioned. The template for most prospective playoff teams is a daily set lineup, (depending on L/R matchups, of course) and this team doesn’t have many question marks. Bob Melvin should only have to do a bit of airbrushing here and there.
No Spring Training review is complete without a contrarian view and the second base/bullpen situation must be addressed here. Second base: Franklin Barreto has proven to be impotent, still can’t lay off the slider, and has spent more time in Nashville than Johnny Cash. He has two things going for him: he is young and the A’s front office refuses to get fleeced in the Josh Donaldson trade. Sheldon Neuse should get a look at the position as well because of the big season he had in the desert for Las Vegas. Bullpen: This was definitely a weakest spot as the ‘pen blew more than 25 saves last year with most of the guys being question marks except for Petit and Hendricks. I wouldn’t be surprised if a couple of non-roster guys made the team. Melvin will be working with patchwork and will be criticized many times this year for how he handled it whether it be his fault or not.
I see no reason why this team can’t pull together, win a roll of the dice in the playoffs and haul the “piece of metal” as Ron Manfred so elegantly called the WS trophy. I think the Nats of 2019 proved that miracles can still happen when you have strong pitching and a lineup that works together without one self-absorbed prick mucking up the works.
The Astros pathetic and chicken shit apologies for cheating yesterday were more awkward than teenagers trying to have sex in the backseat of a car after too much drinking at the prom. It was inevitable but ultimately there seemed to be little earnestness and the “apologies” seemed to be the hubris of the entire organization.
But at least it was something…anything.
Josh Reddick, however, in one of the most sanctimonious interviews in baseball history, felt that it was “unnecessary to apologize.” What a douche-bag move and the worst decision of your career. Cody Bellinger told the media on Thursday that the Astros “stole the ring” and that “Altuve stole the MVP from Judge.” You think the players aren’t pissed about this? Do you think it’s going away and people will forget about it? Your legacies are tainted forever. The narrative here is that you’re a self-indulgent prick who doesn’t give a shit about the fans or even your peers–so why should we give a shit about you?
Reddick was a popular and likable player in Oakland at one time, (and this blog) deemed “Spiderman” because of his defensive theatrics, he then became an overpayed afterthought in Houston and now he’s become a completely worthless (still overpayed) ass hat. Take away the ridiculous contractual obligations and it’s debatable that he should even be in the league. The guy couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat.
I don’t know who will lead the league in home runs or RBI but I have a sneaking suspicion that this guy may lead the league in hit by pitches. Here’s to this guy picking himself up off the dirt while grimacing on his way to first base. Many, many times. The guy should have a panic attack every time he steps in the box. You dug your own grave, dude. Now it’s time to jump in.
I woke up late Sunday morning to gallop on down to the local coffee shop when I found a rolled-up cocaine-laden ten dollar bill on the ground. My lucky day, I thought. The neck bearded hipster behind the counter was talking to what I previously thought to be a homeless person about “simulated reality” before the conversation segued into Brad Pitt’s 1999 vehicle Fight Club. I love this violent and political story-(although I find the characters to be juvenile, simplistic and self-serving)-of disenfranchised middle-class masculinity but this wasn’t the time or moment for a conference and debate.
“I highly recommend the movie in addition to the novel. It’s worth the time and it helps put the book into perspective,” said the espresso expert, and moments before I was about to disconnect his head from his flannel wearing body he takes my order of a medium black coffee with a splash of half and half. It was about 1 o’ clock so I headed over to my “baseball buddy” Manny’s house to watch Super Bowl LIV. We decided to play a game of Madden 2019 to kill time and he proceeded to “shart” on himself moments before halftime. Gross. After showering he eventually beat me 27-25. (Did you expect this blog entry to reek of any sort of profundity? The joke’s on you.)
The game itself was a pretty well played, entertaining enterprise and this may be America’s first look at a future super star in Patrick Mahomes. There was laughter at the mostly contrived commercials, debate on the attractiveness and booty mass of J-Lo and Shakira, beer drankin’ and pizza eatin’. Need I say more? The Chiefs eventually pull it out in the 4th quarter in a exciting affair, 31-20. Manny fell asleep and I walked home in a semi-drunken state pondering the game and thinking about the upcoming baseball season with a sort of mild euphoria.
Spring Training starts February 12th.