Saturday, October 30, 2010


Thoughts while watching Game 3 of the World Series:

— I have a friend who always complains that TV networks pepper their coverage of major sporting events in Texas with very stereotypically Texan images. So far tonight, they've shown a rodeo and a longhorn rubbing its neck against a tree. There are rodeos in DFW, of course. And there are longhorns. But for better or worse, the place is mostly suburban now. You could show a bar or restaurant every now and again. Or maybe the arts district. I'll monitor this the rest of the night.

— Tim McCarver just suggested a runner should have tried to score on a ground ball, when that attempt would have been one of the dumbest base-running moves in recent memory. This is just to say that the world is much as we left it: Tim McCarver is a moronic gasbag.

— Joe Buck, in the bottom of the 6th: "Colby Lewis is doing what Rangers fans have come to expect." If you had asked me for the meaning of this sentence before this year, I would have gotten it very wrong.

— Darren Oliver is getting warm in the Rangers bullpen. In the mid-'90s, when I was regularly going to games in Texas, Oliver was a starting pitcher in his mid-20s. Since then, he has had a thoroughly mediocre — and sometimes worse — career. He's now 40, and the last three seasons have arguably been his best. I'm telling you: when the nuclear winter comes, the only things to survive will be cockroaches and left-handed pitchers.

— It's really the whole Fox team that stinks. If you said I had to spend the next five years in a bunker with my choice of McCarver, Joe Buck or Ken Rosenthal, I would likely ask you if there was a cyanide-pill option.

— Jeremy Affeldt is pitching for the Giants. Only 31 years old, he's still a great Exhibit B in the left-hander argument. He came up as a promising prospect with the Royals in 2002. He had a very good year in 2009 for San Francisco, but in any other profession, we wouldn't have been around long enough to have that very good year.

— Those necklaces so many players wear these days look ridiculous. This site says they're titanium necklaces, and is pretty candid about how they "work": "Baseball players report better control, less pain, and more stamina from wearing this special neckwear and bracelet designed in Japan. Aqua Titanium has been popular among Japanese baseball players for years, and even though there is some scientific debate as to its effectiveness, players can't do without them. Given that baseball is a sport surrounded by superstition . . . it doesn't matter whether the Phiten Titanium Necklace can make you better on the field, considering Yogi Berra's immortal quote on how much of the game is mental. Make sure to order your titanium necklace before next year's baseball season..."

— Cody Ross is a great story, having been picked up by the Giants late in the year, when no one else wanted him, and becoming their best hitter in the playoffs. He also seems to have quickly become a jerk about it. He's had the body language tonight of Kevin Garnett. Humble thyself, dude.

— Rangers closer Neftali Feliz is pretty electric, stupid necklace or no. Unlike some people I could name, at least he doesn't have an asinine beard. Looks like this could be a series yet.

— They close the broadcast with an aerial view of Six Flags, which is right next to the ballpark. Don't know if that's better than the rodeo or not.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Back at the Movies With Dad

It's been way too long since I shared some of my dad's thoughts about the movies. He keeps sending them, but I've been bad about posting them. (If you're interested in past entries, click on the tag at the bottom of this post -- "Dad at the multiplex.") I had to pass along this brief note from this morning, which made me laugh:
Have I mentioned Secretariat? It was as inaccurate as it gets and Hollywood always screws up sports stories, but it did work on some level. I'll give it some more thought but I think that level is Diane Lane.


Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Triumph of the Strangers

I wasn’t there in time to see that Texas-centric scoreboard, but I wish I had been. It looks pretty great in that picture, and in this one, too. It was taken down in 1984.

My family moved to Texas in June 1988, and it wasn’t long before we went to a Rangers game at the old Arlington Stadium. It might be football country down there, but it was summer, and we were recently transplanted from Long Island, with our sporting priorities straight. We were ushered to our seats by a smiling college-aged brunette who dusted our seats for us. The crowd was polite, even calm. The air was dry but very hot. This isn’t what I had remembered from New York, where fans were passionate about their baseball, but not exactly kid-friendly, and a breeze occasionally stirred.

The stadium had been built in 1965 as a minor league park (here’s an aerial shot of the original). When the Rangers moved in seating was significantly expanded, but the stadium still had a distinctly modest, just-a-bowl feel to it. (Another aerial shot, this one giving the general idea of the revised setup, though it’s from a time when that great old scoreboard was still up.) The Rangers’ shortstop in 1988 was a scrawny guy named Scott Fletcher. Their catcher was a gentleman with a tremendous mustache named Geno Petralli. Their best pitcher was 40-year-old knuckleballer Charlie Hough, who already seemed grandfatherly.

The rest of the pitching staff was full of guys in their mid-20s who had futures ahead of them that ranged from thoroughly mediocre to nonexistent. Two of them were Paul Kilgus, who I always thought looked like his name sounded, and Bobby Witt, who I quickly came to think of as being a prototypical Texan, even looking a bit like Texas initially felt -- square-jawed, no-nonsense, tough and maybe a little thickheaded. (Never mind that he was born in the wrong Arlington -- Virginia -- to properly qualify.)

The Rangers finished 70-91 that year, 33 1/2 games behind the division-winning Oakland A’s. If I were the type to embrace lovable losers, I would have quickly drawn the Rangers to my bosom. Such as it was, my attachment to the Yankees was unshakable. They hadn’t won anything to that point in my life, either, but still. I felt a strong loyalty to my New York teams.

Over the years, the Rangers improved. They also moved into a beautiful new park in 1994. That give things a whole new feel, a truly major-league feel.

They always had a steady stream of big bats. The first couple of years I was there, the heavies were in the homer-or-strikeout mold of guys like Pete Incaviglia, the brute pictured at left. But soon, the team had an entire lineup of fearsomely talented hitters -- Ruben Sierra, Juan Gonzalez, Pudge Rodriguez, Rafael Palmeiro.

The pitching always stunk. When the team finally made the playoffs in 1996, it did so with three of five starting pitchers sporting ERAs over 5.00. The Rangers won the division again in 1998, with two starters under 5.00 and the other four rotating members of the staff at 5.68, 5.90, 6.53, and 7.66. The ‘99 playoff team was much the same. Not very surprisingly, the Rangers went a combined 1-9 in the playoffs those years, losing all three first-round series. To the Yankees.

At this point, I was reveling in the newness of Yankees thrills. I was 22 when they won it all in 1996, and I’m not looking for any tears, trust me. But I had been a big fan from the age of seven or so, and winning was sweet. I would go to those series in Arlington proudly wearing my Yankees hat, rooting hard for the opposition.

All of that is baseball. But baseball is also tied up with life, as all the purple-prose writers who love the sport are constantly reminding us. So without getting purple (I hope), it’s safe to say that even though I never took the team to my heart, the experience of going to the park -- which I must have done a hundred times or more in the time I lived in Texas -- left me with a lot of memories (and there will be more, I’m sure). At first, it was just me and my dad. It would be mostly us at the games over the years, but in the beginning there weren’t even really options for company, as I was 14 years old, new to the area, not yet in school, and, well, how do I put this, friendless.

My first friend would soon appear, and it was no accident that he was a sports nut -- more like a walking sports encyclopedia. Curtis would go to many games with us. The two of us were (are?) purists, and no matter how many times we heard it, we would always turn to each other with looks of disgust when the stadium P.A. played "Cotton-Eyed Joe" during the 7th inning stretch instead of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." (This was the folksy "Joe" on the fiddle, not the techno-drivel version they play in stadiums today.) One of the best nights at the park involved me and Curt going up to the "fantasy announcing" booth to broadcast an inning. We got to take home the tape, which I have to hope is still around somewhere. Today, Curt is a professional sportscaster.

I saw some great games over the years, but a lot of the most memorable moments were not game-related. Some were almost game-related, like Nolan Ryan famously beating the hell out of Robin Ventura. We were there for that one. Or one night when the power went out and only some of the neon lights in the new stadium were visible. That was eerie but beautiful. Then there was June 17, 1994. It was a Friday night, and the Rangers lost to the A’s 4-2 (according to some online research). Early on that night, my friend Jason returned from the concession stand to say I had to come check something out -- O. J. Simpson was going nuts, leading the cops on a wild-goose chase. We spent most of the night, along with hundreds of other fans, standing up on the concourse, without a view of the field, watching the surreal hot pursuit. (The concourse TVs were also showing Game 5 of that year’s NBA finals between the Knicks and Houston Rockets, but that was put on a tiny split screen, underneath the freeway action.)

If we were a little late for a game, or left one a little early, we would listen to the radio broadcast by Eric Nadel and Mark Holtz. The memory of those two came back to me strongly tonight when an announcer on ESPN’s radio station mentioned Nadel’s long stint with the team. They were fantastic, a good example of something that has nothing to do with the size of your market. The Yankees radio announcers today are almost unlistenable. Holtz and Nadel are, still, maybe the best I’ve ever heard. Holtz died of leukemia in 1997 at age 51. I read somewhere that Nadel used Holtz’s signature game-ending call -- “Hello win column!” -- for the first time since Holtz’s death when the Rangers clinched their first-round series against Tampa Bay.

(One funny memory returned tonight: listening to the post-game shows driving home, Dad and I would marvel at how the duo put an optimistic spin on everything. “Well, this win moves the Rangers to within 18 games of Oakland in the American League West.” Another early culture shock.)

There was purple stuff, too, of course: Attending games with a couple of girlfriends (not simultaneously), one of whom I would write in on an all-star ballot every year, as a National League outfielder, and the other of whom went to her last game with me just a few nights before I left to move to New York, some time after we’d broken up; driving home from games with various friends, listening to various music; always marking the remainder of the trip home by watching the approach of the Dallas skyline, which represented the halfway point, give or take a few miles.

Not sure why I’m recapping all this. I didn’t have some existential crisis during the series that ended tonight. But if I’m honest, I was at least passively rooting for the Rangers. Not because I feel divided loyalties, but maybe just because, after 15 years of resounding Yankees success, including a title last year, I felt a little bit numb toward them. (Plus, something has felt off about both the team and fans for the past couple of years, though that’s vague and would require a lot more words to parse, and half of you are comatose already. The other half have left to play badminton.) Throughout the series, I wasn’t really rooting for either team. But not rooting, when the Yankees are involved, is very strange for me.

Tonight I’m mostly glad for my friends who are Rangers fans, especially Brad, who went to dozens and dozens of games with me over the years. (And with whom I still call the team the Strangers, one of many verbal jokes we share, but certainly one of the laziest and least substantive.) He was at the game tonight and we exchanged text messages as it wrapped up. Dad might have been there, too, I haven’t asked him yet. I’m pretty certain he was rooting for the Yankees if he was. But I’m also sure he’ll be pulling for the Rangers in the World Series, like I will.

In another forum recently (never mind where), I wrote: “Almost find myself rooting for the TX Rangers against Yanks tonight. Suspect my heart is always where I no longer am. A problem, perhaps.” And that was a regular-season game in August! So, something weird happened the past couple of months, and now I’m just glad it’s over. The Rangers have taken a big step forward. They’ve had a great moment. From now on, when it comes to the Rangers and Yankees, my loyalties will be as clear (and as northern) as they should be.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

5 Years

I just realized that the day recently finished was the fifth anniversary of this blog.

Given the nine posts since the end of August, even more thanks than usual to those of you who still click over to see if things are warming up again around here. I sincerely mean to warm it up soon. A new job and the attempt to keep The Second Pass on at least a simmer have me scrounging for time (and energy).

Monday, October 11, 2010

Happy 10th, Andrew

In my early 20s, I was already a well-established magazine junkie, and I remember looking forward to pieces by Andrew Sullivan in the New Republic and the New York Times Magazine. The pieces were often contrarian, and I was also a well-established contrarian. So when Sullivan started a web site -- just about a year or so after the term “blog” was coined, if Wikipedia is to be trusted -- I started reading it. Ten years later, I still read it. I don’t really visit many sites with regularity, and most of them are functional -- ESPN for sports, the New York Times for news/culture, book blogs to stay up on material for The Second Pass -- but I still consistently visit Sullivan.

He’s celebrating his blog’s 10th anniversary with a series of toasts and roasts from other bloggers. He’s certainly not hiding from the roasts. One reader wrote: “This is a man for whom great art is embodied by the Pet Shop Boys, South Park, and some of the most dreary Sunday-devotional verse and essays ever reduced to fair-use excerpts that don’t violate copyright law.” And some of the other criticisms from readers have echoed those of people I know who stopped reading Sullivan with regularity -- they mostly tired, I think, of what they consider his hyper-emotionalism and his dog-with-a-bone tendency to fixate on a subject to the exclusion of much else. Fair enough.

What I continue to like about Sullivan is that, whatever you think of his more patent complexities (gay Catholic, Obama-supporting Thatcher worshipper, etc.), they do reflect the fact that, unlike so many public voices, he is not a cheerleader for one side or another. Yes, he can chew on issues long after they are flavorless. (You won’t find someone more petrified of Sarah Palin than me -- well, unless you find Sullivan -- but there were times when the torrent of posts about her temporarily drove me away.) But even on divisive subjects about which he holds strong opinions -- torture, gay marriage, the legalization of marriage (about all of which I happen to agree with him, so there’s that) -- he can be remarkably un-strident, even too gracious to the other side.

If I had to guess, I think this stems from his history with debate, which he has mentioned on occasion. He debated in high school, and became the president of the Oxford Union, the famous debating society. My own experience with debate was far briefer and far more modest -- a couple of years at a suburban Texas high school. But I do think that experience lastingly affected the way I see disagreements (when they are substantive). Sullivan has admitted, “I took the losing side, as I always tried to in Oxford debates (far more fun to lose well than to win easily).” I think that in most cases, either side of a debate could “win,” depending on who’s doing the arguing. This is not just because style comes into it -- not just a case of some slickster being able to sell anything -- but because there’s normally a reason why each side feels the way it does, some logical structure beneath the more emotional manifestations of support.

The benefit of thinking this way could be called open-mindedness, though without the mushy Benetton-ad self-congratulation that the term often carries with it. The drawback, of course, is that it can lead to a sort of un-mindedness, a kind of if-anything-is-worth-believing-then-nothing-is-worth-believing cynicism or confusion. Sometimes I think Sullivan fumes about something that isn’t really a debate -- i.e., “Sarah Palin is not fit to bestride the free world.” Other times, as with the Iraq war, I think the debater in him takes whichever side he is defending and defends it to the teeth, rather than trying to see both sides simultaneously. But again -- and I’m not sure why I’m going on at this length -- I think the debater in him more often appears in the way he respects the other side. I have straight friends who are far more shrill about their support for gay marriage than Sullivan is. I might be one of them. He tends to talk about even emotional issues, in which he has a personal stake, in a way that assumes the best of the opposite argument, not the worst or easiest of it. That’s not nothing.

But on the anniversary of Sullivan’s blog, I can’t go without mentioning what I set out to talk about in the first place before rambling. (I stay away from the blog for a while, and this is what happens. I’m like a city dog that just hopped out of the car in the country.) Andrew Sullivan routinely gets a million visitors a month. Or more. I think my blog’s high-water month was probably something like 20,000 visits in a month, and significantly less than that in recent months, as activity has dwindled. But in October 2005, when I started this blog, Sullivan’s variety, voice, and pace -- though different from my variety, voice, and pace -- were inspirations.

As Hendrik Hertzberg said in a note about the anniversary: “I have a profound professional admiration for the Dish as an editorial enterprise. . . . I find that it orients me in cyberspace. It fends off motion sickness. It gives pleasure. I almost always feel a little better after paying it a visit, even when the news of the day is unusually depressing.” I always say that for someone who operates more than one web site, I’m a bit of a technophobe. I agree completely with Hertzberg’s motion sickness comment. For one thing, speaking of comments, Sullivan doesn’t have them -- he curates reader response instead. I think this is a great unsung reason for his site’s success. There is a sense of a controlling intelligence at the Dish, not the anarchic -- and, let’s face it, ignorant and vicious -- community that normally springs up beneath the fold at such popular sites.

On more than one occasion, Sullivan or his colleagues have linked to a post here, or at The Second Pass. I believe in each case I had sent them an e-mail pointing to the post in question. But still, in each case the link was a thrill, a cup of coffee in the big leagues. So in addition to thanking Sullivan for the decade of enjoyable reading, I thank him for the support. I know thousands of other minor-league bloggers like me have reason to do the same.