Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Ready for some Baseball?


Contributed by Auggie
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The World Series starts tonight. Really. While the FOX network executives are probably swearing under their breath about the match up, there is always something to like if you are a baseball fan. For example:

1. The Yankees are not in it. From a ratings standpoint the Yankees are a big draw, but there is a large segment of the population that are sick of the Yankees (including yours truly) and would prefer to see anyone else. As a humane person I often feel sympathy for the losing playoff teams no matter how hard I rooted against them. But as the Yankee players sat in the dugout with glum faces while the Rangers were about to eliminate them in game six I kept waiting for that feeling to come. I’m still waiting. So long losers!

2. First time for Texas. This is the first World Series for the Texas franchise, in fact, before this year they had never even won a playoff series. It’s always good to see a franchise get its first championship, and it would be nice for the fan base as well. And with the Cowboys sinking faster than the Andrea Doria lets face it, they need something to root for.

[Note: I didn’t mean to disrespect the 49ers with my ‘sinking Cowboys’ comment. The 49ers are sinking even faster; thus, this series is a good diversion for both area fan bases].

An underrated aspect of having Texas in the Series: we all have an excuse to use Texas slang around the house when talking about the game. For example, if the Giants want to walk Hamilton to face Vlad Guerrero we can say “they’ll be sorrier than a one-eyed gofer in a cactus patch”. If the weather is hot in Texas we can say “It's been hotter'n a goat's butt in a pepper patch”. After a dumb move we could say “If dumb were dirt, he’d cover about an acre” or “He couldn’t pour piss out of a boot if you wrote the instructions on the heel”. So there’s that.

3. Weather. With the World Series now concluding in November, there is always the threat of a snow out. That shouldn’t be a problem this year.

4. Giant tradition. The San Francisco Giants have a great tradition, but at the same time they fall under the tortured franchise label. The Giants have not won a Championship since moving to the west coast in 1958, and in fact they have the third longest championship drought behind the more talked about Cubs and Indians. They’ve had their chances. In 1989 they went to their first World Series since moving to San Francisco but they were swept by Oakland, and the massive earthquake in the Bay area overwhelmed any interest in baseball. Then in 2002 they were six outs away before losing games 6 & 7 to the Angels.

Over the years the Giants have had some of baseball’s greatest stars; most notable are Willie Mays, Juan Marichal, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda, Bobby Bonds, Gaylord Perry and of course Bobby’s son, Barry Bonds. While none of those players won a championship with the Giants they helped build a strong tradition and provided great memories for baseball fans everywhere. Ironically, if they win this year it will be without a major superstar, with the possible exception of Tim Lincecum. Speaking of Tim Lincecum . . .

5. Pitching. The Giants are built on pitching and set records this year. (I don’t know exactly what the records are and as a guest blogger I see no reason to verify my assertion). In any case, its pitching is really, really good, and it will be interesting to see if it continues against a good hitting American League club – especially the games in Texas when the DH rule is in effect. On the other side, Cliff Lee has been unbeatable in the postseason and is making history along the way. If he can consistently shut down the Yankees in the post season, he should be in line for a couple no-hitters against the Giants. I predict the scrappy Giants will beat him at least once.

Quick tangent: In September I blogged about the pansies in baseball after yet another inexplicable incident. In hindsight, I should have realized it’s specifically baseball pitchers giving the sport a bad name. Well, San Francisco pitcher Jonathan Sanchez reinforced that notion with his incident in game 6 of the NLCS. In fact, he moved to the head of the class (garden?). Words can’t describe how ridiculous his behavior was so I won’t even try. Back to the blog.

6. Josh Hamilton. Hamilton was once a can’t-miss baseball prospect before his life was nearly ruined by alcoholism. He beat his addiction and not only lived up to his playing potential but possibly exceeded it. He has a good chance to win the AL MVP award this year and is clearly one of the most feared hitters in the game. After the Rangers beat Tampa Bay his teammates were sensitive to his past struggles and sprayed him with ginger ale so he could participate of the celebration. (Of course they were probably drunk when they did it). If you like come-back stories, this is a good one.

I for one am looking forward to an interesting, and hopefully 7-game series.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Beginning of the End of the NFL


Actually, this is probably not the beginning. Although the NFL is commanding higher and higher TV ratings, dominating an ever-increasing share of the pop culture mind, and raking in record breaking revenues, I think the beginning of the end happened a couple of years ago when Chris Henry died in an auto-related accident.

For those imaginary readers not familiar with Chris Henry, he was a young and talented NFL receiver who struggled mightily to curb his penchant for making horrible social decisions. I won't besmirch his name other than to point out that, with so much to lose by his constant brushes with the law, more than one person speculated that he was not completely, cognitively intact. After he died, an autopsy showed that he had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (C.T.E.), a brain disorder caused by repeated blows to the head.

Earlier this year, we read the story of Owen Thomas, an outgoing honor student who was captain of the football team at an Ivy League school. He surprised everyone he knew by going home one afternoon and hanging himself. As with Henry, an autopsy showed C.T.E.

The scariest aspect of the Owen Thomas story is that he had never had a concussion or even a head ache from his years of little league, high school, and college football. Still, the constant, low-grade trauma seemed to be taking its toll. It manifest in sudden, intense depression and probably, a tragically impulsive decision to kill himself. That is consistent with the pattern of poor and impulsive decisions that had followed Chris Henry through his brief adult life.

As these stories multiply and awareness rises about the long term health effects of head trauma, little league football will go away. This will steer the nation's youth to other sports and the quantity and quality of high school football players, after many years, will also recede. As participation and celebration of high school football dwindles, it will decimate the youngest slice of the NFL's fan base and begin to erode the financial prospects for the league. Eventually, college programs will opt for more affordable, lower-risk programs and the NCAA system will feel the effects of less interest in football. As the feeder system collapses on itself, the NFL will face an increasingly educated public that sees it as a senselessly violent undertaking. Like boxing today, the NFL will eventually assume a stripped down form on the outskirts of mainstream pop culture.

I wrote earlier about my fear that an NFL player will be killed on the field of play and fans across the land, like me, will blame ourselves. When I saw the hit on DeSean Jackson last Sunday, I was sure it had happened. He eventually got up but the impact revived my old fears and I felt sick for more than a day.

Escalating violence and a better understanding of brain injuries are conspiring against the future of the NFL. I can't say the end is near, but it is on its way.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Friday, October 15, 2010

Dear Auggie

Apparently the soothing, consolatory tone of my blogs has left people with the impression that I’m a warm-hearted person who will graciously help them with their problems. I’ve never fancied myself as an advice columnist, but I’m not one to turn my back on lost souls in need of guidance. Without further ado, here are some recent letters I’ve received.

Dear Auggie,

I recently set out for my usual Saturday morning golf round with my buddy Jimmy. It was a bad day from the start. First, Jimmy texted me that he was sick and wouldn’t be able to make it so I had to play alone. Then I shanked my first four iron shots of the day. I was so frustrated that I just decided to put the clubs in the bag and head home. When I arrived home and turned into my driveway I saw Jimmy running out my backyard while trying to slip his pants on. I was shocked. I haven’t said anything to my wife yet but I think she senses something is bothering me. What should I do?

Biff

Dear Biff,

This is one of the most difficult things a man has to go through, but you are not alone. Try slowing down your backswing and be sure to maintain a consistent spine angle throughout your swing and you should be hitting great shots in no time. Hope that helps!

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Dear Auggie,

When I met my husband I never told him my family had money because I wanted him to love me for who I am. Now that it’s our first anniversary I would like to surprise him with the nicest set of golf clubs he can imagine. Any advice on what features I should look for?

Wendy,

Dear Wendy,

Just make sure they all have swimming pools. There’s nothing like a refreshing dip after a steamy round of golf.

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Dear Auggie,

My husband has too many golfing days with the boys. What should I do?

Meg

Dear Meg,

This is perfectly natural behavior and it should be encouraged. The man is a hunter and he needs to prove his prowess with other men. Far from being pleasurable experience, a round of golf with the boys is a stressful affair, and getting back to you is a relief for him. Just look back at how emotional and happy he is when he returns to his stable home. The best thing to do is to buy him a new set of Ping custom-made golf clubs

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I think that went well. This advice stuff is not so bad.

Vexation

Contributed by Auggie
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I was going through my notebook the other day and came across these sports related tidbits that annoy the crap out of me. I like to share.

First, I’m tired of hearing so-called pundits give the same tired analysis of Michael Vick while ignoring the obvious fallacy. It goes like this: “Vick needs to learn to stay in the pocket and not rely on his legs . . .” or something to that effect. But I ask - why should he do that? The very quality that makes Vick a dangerous QB is his freakish athletic ability and his knack for turning would-be sacks into 42 yard gains (as good as a 42 yard pass play). He’s basically Gale Sayers with a rocket arm - why mess with it? Let’s consider the QB rating for a moment. I, like other fans without an advanced mathematics degree, do not fully understand the QB rating but I do know this: it’s basically a measure of a quarterbacks passing efficiency and does not consider running statistics (although maybe it should). In that sense, it’s a perfect way to look at Vick because it separates his “quarterbacking” skills from his running skills. Consider that in Vick’s career with Atlanta (before he spent time in the big house) his QB rating averaged 73.4 a season which is mediocre at best. Quarterbacks capable of a 73.4 rating are a dime a dozen. So why is Vick a winning quarterback and considered (by the same pundits) a good quarterback despite his dismal rating? Because the dude can run! A 73.4 quarterback rating without the running ability is called Derek Anderson. So the next time someone suggests he should stay in the pocket and stop running, just zip it.

So I’m watching the Ryder cup and a player leaves a crucial birdie putt short. This triggered the automatic “you should NEVER leave a birdie putt short” response from one of the high-paid analysts. Now I wholeheartedly agree with that statement as it applies to straight putts. But most putts (including the subject putt) are a combination of speed and break, and the combination of these variables determines where the putt will end up. If you are trying to hole the putt then you need to hit the correct speed for the amount of break. If you’re only concern is to ‘not leave it short’ then you’re liable to hit it through the break and still miss. Worse, if you hit too far past the hole you’ll leave yourself with a Danny DeVito just to save par (i.e. a nasty little 5 footer).

Tony Sparano annoys me. Why does he wear sunglasses at night and indoors? Is it a sensitive eye condition? Does he think he looks cool? Throw in the 70s porn mustache and I really don’t know what he is thinking. If he is going for the dorky-professional-poker-player look then he nailed it. How can you take that guy seriously? Dork!

Does Fox really need six high-paid analysts for the NFL pre-game and half-time shows? Naturally they all want to talk, and they usually do at the same time. And who can understand Shannon Sharpe even when he has the floor? The first time I heard him I thought he had just come from a root canal and the novocain hadn’t worn off, but apparently that’s his normal speech. Half time is only 12 minutes long and 8 of those are commercials promoting other Fox shows so that doesn’t leave much time for the boys to feed their egos. Brent Musburger and Irv Cross used to handle everything just fine. I can’t wait for the Hollywood Squares set arrangement when they have a different analyst assigned to each game with a host lighting up their square when it’s their turn in the spotlight.

Why do tennis players always fall to the ground and put their hands on their head after winning a match? There has to be an alternate celebration routine out there. I’m still waiting for someone with originality to break the mold.

I could go on but I’m starting to annoy myself.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Best Moment of MLB 2010

I didn't watch much baseball this year but I followed the season's headlines and I am aware of the major plot lines. One story that got lots of press, essentially all angry or at least negative, also spawned my choice for the season's best moment.

The story is of Armando Galarraga, a young pitcher who took a perfect game through 8 and 2/3 innings and needed only to retire the final hitter to record one of the rarest and most haloed feats in the game. He then induced a ground ball to the right side, hustled over to cover first base himself, and took a throw from the first baseman for the greatest out in his career. Only problem: the umpire called the runner safe and the perfect game was blown.

The story became the umpire, Jim Joyce, and how he had robbed the pitcher, robbed the fans, and robbed history with a blown call. He took it like a man, admitted his mistake, apologized to Galarraga, and prepared for a lifetime of angry reminders from unforgiving fans.

During the ensuing 24 hours, the national media magnified the mistake and did its best to whip baseball fans into a frenzied mob, setting the scene for more "made for TV drama" when Joyce took his position behind home plate for the next game.

The drama was there, but not really in a way that many expected. Joyce took the field with visible emotions, ready for the boos and the wrath of the Detroit Tigers, whom he had robbed of a milestone achievement the evening before. When it was time for the managers to bring out the line-up cards, out came Galarraga, with a forgiving smile and an encouraging pat on the back. Joyce cried. Best moment of the year.

Here's the video:

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Decade of Parenthood

So the oldest turns 10 today which means I now have a decade of parenthood under my belt. If you had asked me ten years ago to predict how much I would know about parenting by the time I had been on the job for this long, I would have way over-estimated myself.

I am sure that, among the mass of imaginary readers, there are experts on this topic who might weigh in with real expertise, but to get it started, here are the top things I think I learned each year along the way:

Year 1: If your infant's nasal passages are completely clogged with mucous and you use that big turkey baster contraption to try to clear them, never "check the results" by peering into the pointy end and squeezing the bulb.

Year 2: If you make up a really good bedtime story with a two-headed dog and twisting, funny plot, all of your future stories may be harshly compared to that standard by a disappointed child with high expectations.

Year 3: With the addition of a second child you must question the math you learned as a kid. Caring for two should be twice as hard as caring for one. But it's not. It's six times as hard.

Year 4: Whenever one kid does something inappropriate and must be reprimanded, the other kid will be behind you to witness the irrepressible smile that crosses your face when you turn away from the one you just scolded. This will set you back several years in teaching right from wrong.

Year 5: TV is bad for the mind and stunts creative thinking blah blah blah...when you are single parenting and you need to make a phone call or use the bathroom, the TV is like a magical friend with limitless power to captivate your kids.

Year 6: No form of birth control is perfect. (Third child joins the family.)

Year 7: Little boys pee differently than little girls. Even imaginary readers know that. However, it takes some parenting experience to know that a good pair of goggles at the changing table can preserve your eyesight.

Year 8: If you make eye contact with your child and ask them, in a clear, loud voice, to perform some chore, they probably won't hear you. But the sound you make biting into a marshmallow from the confines of the kitchen pantry, will wake them from a sound sleep and prompt a request for a marshmallow of their own.

Year 9: Kids today are smarter than we were. Example: We were smart to figure out that, if we swore, we got in trouble with mom. Kids today know that, if they swear, Dad gets in trouble with mom.

Year 10: Nothing compares to parenthood in terms of its capacity to fill you with sheer joy and a profound sense of purpose.

There you have it. I welcome all tips on instilling discipline, explaining war, getting vegetables consumed, and refuting the "unfair" claim.