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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Where have you gone baseball?

When I was growing up, baseball (and a few other sports) was something my family could do together.  It wasn't a perfect context by any means.  But, we could usually watch the Braves and be ok for a few hours.

I've always held onto baseball.  I lived in DC pre-Nationals, so I didn't adopt a second team in my time there.  When I moved to L.A., I adopted Honey's Angels (after I met Honey, that is) and continued to root for the Braves.

When I was in graduate school, I had a hard time my first summer finding a job.  I finally landed one with a company that did SAT tutoring in high school students' homes.  I have never before (or since) had such an up-close view of affluent L.A.  Before I started the tutoring (which was mostly a late summer/fall activity, scheduled around the SAT test dates), this company hired me to answer the phone in the office.  The office was in one of the owners' apartments down in a cool part of the city.  I wasn't allowed to do much, just take messages.  The owner, in fact, laid me out when he heard me giving a parent a little information about what they did.  I had repeated a little bit of his spiel verbatim.  I had, after all, heard it a thousand times by that point.

He was an arrogant prick.  Very impressed with his own masculinity and Ivy League degree.  He was also a rabid fantasy baseball player.  He dismissed my curiosity about it.  Women couldn't possibly be interested in baseball at the level fantasy required.  Certainly not mid-Atlantic educated ones, who weren't admitted to an Ivy.  Or a seven sister.  Or...

I worked for them for one SAT season.  Never once did I ever see or experience them backing up one of their employees.  They were perfectly happy to let us line up passively in front of the bus that was angry parents of lazy student's SAT scores.  It was a wretched experience.  If anyone wants the name of the company (they sold out to a national company, but still have the same set-up), do let me know.  I know, given the current economic situation in the U.S., there are lots of people who need jobs.  If you'd like one that will make you feel like shit, let me know and I'll hook you up.

I left the bad company and went to work for a much more pleasant one (who did the same thing(ish) in a mini-mall east of downtown).  Company II was owned by and catered exclusively to Taiwanese immigrants.  Laying the weird meat buns I would sometimes get as gifts aside (but not those lovely red envelopes with money), it was a nice thing to do for the rest of my graduate school summers.

I held onto baseball past that.  I hoped with the Braves every year.  Felt very sad the summer of 1994.  Got back my joy with the Braves World Series of 1995.  Teresa and I went to Angels games, mixed in a Braves/Dodgers game here and there.  We also took time out to go to minor league ball in the Cal League.

My favorite experience was attending a game at the home of the Stockton Ports (now the Mudville Nine) and winning a six pack of pickled peppers.  What was not to like?

The 2002 series was unbelievable.  We breathed in and out with each pitch.  We named our new cat Halo.

Then, a few years ago, Ivy-jerk notwithstanding, I started playing fantasy baseball.  First, I played for free (with strangers) on Yahoo.  Then I joined a money league, ran the blog league and enjoyed myself (mostly).

Last year baseball started to change for me.  The money in the game has been out of control for a while.  Add the drugs.  What have I watched?  The game itself is fine.  MLB far from it.

Was Mark Lemke the last clean player?  Maybe Tim Salmon?  Bob Horner?  Bib Gibson?  Did Bart Giamatti's untimely death ruin it for good?

When I think about my sadness around baseball--and it is surely there--some of it is tied up in fantasy.  The baseball blog league (which was terrifically fun) never attracted enough people to keep it going (unlike it's much healthier sister blogleague football--coming soon for 09!).  The pay league, into which I was invited by my brother, has gone like this:

Year 1:  My dad and I agree to have a team.  He does nothing except pick the team name (with which I am still saddled).  I finish dead dog last.  It cost me real money.

Year 2:  I invite a blog-friend in.  I finish tied for third.  It costs me less money.  Somehow, my dad gets talked into taking a team of his own.  I try to help him on the phone.  I try to help him in person, while we're on vacation.  It's really frustrating.  He finishes last.

Year 3:  For some subconsciously masochistic reason, I agree to be the commissioner.  I like being the commissioner in the blogleagues.  This is not also true of the pay league.  I also switch jobs mid-summer.  Result:  I finish out of the money by 1 point, I spend a lot of time I don't have entering changes for the league.  Mostly though, I have my integrity questioned, am accused of using my commissioner "powers" to cheat and then have a huge fight with my brother.  He tells me in the course of the fight that the guy who said I had cheated had done more for the people in the league than I would ever know.  I decide to quit.

Year 4:  I don't quit.  I think (at the time) that I might get some love of the game back.  Be easy, enjoy yourself.  Today, again, my integrity is questioned because of a lopsided trade I agreed to.  It was lopsided trade designed to help me next year.

But today, I keep thinking about baseball.  And feeling sad. And wondering whether I should play or watch at all next year.  Or the rest of this.

I can think of a few things that might help me feel better--the Ken Burns doc, some Roger Angell, some Stephen J. Gould.  I'd say that I could go to a Rancho Cucamonga Quakes game, but we've had two actual earthquakes in the last three days and somehow I don't want to go to a stadium called the epicenter.  Plus there's that whole--I don't like the Inland Empire much problem.  My university's team is done for the year, so the *pling* of the aluminum bats can be no comfort now.


That's Bronson Arroyo, one of the guys I got in the lopsided trade.  He's curently 6-5 with an ERA of 6.56.  He's 6'5" and goes 195.  I don't think he uses steroids.  That's good, at least.

It's a beautiful game, baseball.  I need to find out how to get back to its beauty.


The dirt's pretty.  So's the ball.  It's everything around it that's suspect.

Cue outro...

"Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio [or insert alt player, as needed]...?"  I'd like some of the joy in Mudville back but am afraid there are too many strikes now.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Bean in the Seat

When I was little, my parents had a succession of cars with which they were largely unsatisfied.  There was much lamentation about the sold VW Beetle--replaced by the unsatisfying AMC Rambler.  They replaced the Beetle because I was born.  The purchase of the Rambler was my fault.  So was the collapse of AMC.  You heard it here first.

The Rambler, in turn, was replaced by a VW 412 which overheated a lot.  The VW was replaced by a Buick Electra Limited, a behemoth whose soft steering was my comfort as I was I learning to drive.  Its landau top was forever the source of family drama because of the sparkler thrown onto it by my brother after an explicit warning not to throw sparklers.

I should note that this car lament/blame had a parallel in a story about the cat who died, because she was let out onto the busy street and run over.  As I was weeks old at the time, it was not I (in the Electra) who ran her down.  It was, nonetheless, my fault.  I was said to be the source of her "freedom" because the African-American woman who helped my mother care for me as an infant had warned that cats will "suck the life out of babies."  Thus, cat outside on busy road, and a bad end.

Anyway, back to the cars.

Got the sequence?


Gave way (because of me) to:


Which wasn't a good car, caused the downfall of AMC (my fault), and was replaced by:


Which overheated a lot.  Did I mention that my brother and I didn't get along as children?  Thusly, one of us had to ride in the "way back" over the overheating engine one summer on a trip from Atlanta to New England.  I can still remember how hot I was.  Hotbox was replaced by:


There were more cars later, including the unfortunate car that became my first (handed down from my mom) and therefore the subject of my early driver accidents...


Have you ever noticed that certain cars never make people wistful for the past?  No one longs to have a fully restored 1980 Chevrolet Citation.  And that is why GM is failing.  You heard it here first.


Between the 412 and the Electra, my dad bought a used car, which he drove for six or nine months.  My excellent internets-based sleuthing has led me to the conclusion that it was a mid-70s Toyota Corona.  (I knew it was a Toyota, I knew approximately when we had it, and then I recognized it while looking at google images of mid-70s Toyotas.  See how clever I am?!)

That Toyota--while otherwise an ordinary car--had one extraordinary feature to my school-age mind.  The headrests of the front seats had openings into which the poles slid.  They functioned fine and the headrests were firmly attached.  Nevertheless, into one of these very small holes, someone had placed a dried bean.


Like that one in the middle there.  I saw very clearly how the bean could have been inserted.  Getting it out was another matter.

I could not, for the life of me, sort out how it might be extracted.  I spent hours contemplating.  I really wanted to figure it out.  Then, my dad sold the car and the bean was gone from my life.  I still thought of it occasionally for years.  The problem I could not solve.  The void filled with bean.

I thought about that bean today.

We spent yesterday with Teresa's parents and their three dogs and our two dogs.  They have a small dog along with whom Biscuit does not get.  (Did you follow that?)  Anyway, Biscuit got into a fight with that dog and as a result, she smelled a little like the pee that dog emitted as a result of the fight.  I should note that non-Biscuit dog started the fight and I later said, "Lulu wrote a check she couldn't cash."  As a result of Lulu's check, Biscuit smelled like Lulu pee.  Oh and chocolate chip cookies.  She smelled like pee and chocolate chip cookies.  We had a fresh chocolate chip cookie in the car on the way home (a result of a coupon at Black Angus.  Don't ask).  So my car smelled of dog, urine, and cookie.

I was taking Biscuit to get groomed this morning.  I was traveling to a part of SoCal I generally avoid.  Biscuit's groomer had moved from a store in the valley in which I live to another north of here.  I programmed my Garmin Nüvi with the address and set out.  When I arrived in far northern valley, I discovered that the store was on a new bit of road that wasn't known to the Nüvi.  I got lost.  I found myself staring at the Nüvi, which was showing my car in a blank space on the map.


It looked like that except there were no roads.  I stopped the car and looked at it.  The Nüvi said I was nowhere.  And yet, I was somewhere.

The where was new space--not in a good sense, mind you.  There I was driving down a new road lined with faux-Spanish facade built around all the expected national chain stores.  Ex-urbs have no soul and may well be the reason for the bad economy.  You heard that here first.

But Biscuit likes Harvey and Biscuit doesn't like many people and Harvey had moved to the PetSmart at the place unknown to the Nüvi.

All of a sudden, staring at my virtual car in a virtual wasteland, I thought of the bean.  I also thought of my nine year old self staring at the bean, trying to get it out of the void.

Then I looked up.  Away from the blank, away from the bean.

I found the store and took Biscuit inside.

(Why does Biscuit's hair cut cost twice as much as mine?  Never mind, I know.  It's because I don't nip and my hairdresser doesn't brush my teeth).

Normally, when I defy the Nüvi's directions, she says "recalculating" in a way I find judgmental.  Today, as she tried to find her way through the blank space, I found her recalculations less judgmental and more bereft.  She seemed (not that I'm anthropomorphizing AT ALL) relieved when I headed home.

When left to pick up Biscuit, I turned the Nüvi back on and directed her back to the blank space. Biscuit didn't smell like pee anymore.  The blank space is now filled in my mind by the exubry stuff that's actually there.

I was listening to Carrie Newcomer as I descended back to the valley that is my home.

I'm the fool whose life's been spent.
Between what's said and what is meant

Or so she sang.

That bean is surely gone now.  Dessicated enough to dry up and blow up and away from its void.  Maybe it's still there.  It's not a problem I need to solve.

So I will wander without fail
In circles that grow ever wide
The sky expands and then exhales...

When I arrived home, the Nüvi said, "arriving at home, on right."  We both felt glad.

(Lyrics from The Geography of Light by Carrie Newcomer, "There is a Tree")