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Category Archives: Athletes

Baseball Midseason / Rivera’s Long Goodbye

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English: Baseball with clock to represent a &q...

Baseball with clock represents a current sports or baseball event. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Baseball fans of my blog might have noticed that posts on that topic have been more sparse than usual this season. I’ve been kind of disinterested this year thanks to the dismal state of Team Yankee—if I’ve written anything on baseball, it’s been about that. A 3-game run against the Boston Red Sox begins Friday, starring the ragtag group I call Strangers on the Field–and here comes the cherry on top of this mess: no Robinson Cano in the series: he was hit by pitch at the All-Star Game (which is why, incidentally, some players don’t attend the ASG). Some might see the situation as pure happenstance, nobody’s fault—but there are a few moves management made that contributed to the situation, like getting rid of Raul Ibanez and Nick Swisher. I know, I know: a lot of fans were in favor of the moves, in particular of dumping Swish. Not me. I’m not big on lateral trades and team re-organization. I need look no further than my own backyard for evidence: the Oakland As are in an eternal state of flux, always doing yet another re-org.

The All-Star Game was played at CitiField this week, with the American League the winner. The big event this year was a farewell to Mariano Rivera. Manager Jim Leyland sent him to the mound in the 8th inning, in case they didn’t play a  9th, to ensure he’d be out there for a planned tribute. When The Sandman reached the mound he was surprised to be the only player out there. The rest of them were in front of the dugouts leading a standing ovation. Rivera later said it was a highlight of his 19-year career, second only to his World Series wins. (More on Rivera’s farewell tour later).

Red Carpet Parade

Red Carpet Parade

Playing host to Major League Baseball, New York pulled out all the stops, beginning with carpets on Times Square for the Red Carpet Parade in which players rode through the Canyon of Heroes.

NPR’s sportscaster (sorry, I never got his name) delivered a mid-season recap starting with the Pittsburgh Pirates, which he defined as the season’s Big Story.  Having paid less attention (i.e., none) to the Pirates than to the Yankees, I hadn’t noticed. It’s true that after 20 losing seasons, they seem to be turning things around. More  Pirates—5 of them–played in the All-Star game than at any time since 1972, and their pitching staff leads the majors in shutouts. Still, his report was somewhat skewed.

AllStar Game logo

For instance, he paid special attention to California, saying our teams aren’t up to snuff, particularly last year’s champions, the SF Giants. We’ve also had poor performances from the Anaheim…excuse me, Los Angeles Angels and the Brooklyn…excuse me, Los Angeles Dodgers. Well? Does anyone else notice a glaring omission? Not one mention of the Oakland A’s, who IMO are as Big a Story as the Pirates: any time a team as poor as the A’s lands on top of their division for most of the season, it’s a Big Story.

Finally, he ignored the Yankees, except to say he “usually talks too much about them” (to me there’s no such thing). And he also ignored the Mets, which is indefensible considering they hosted the ASG, which he was in New York to cover. Arggh! Commentators! 

Rivera’s Long Goodbye

English: Photo courtesy of Keith Allison on Fl...

Photo courtesy of Keith Allison on Flickr. Mariano Rivera  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most fans are no doubt aware of Mariano Rivera’s impending retirement and the way he’s saying his goodbyes. Rivera’s been thinking it over for some time, and with the Yankees’ director of communications, Jason Zillo, came up with a plan to visit the people who work for each team—administrative staff, chefs, janitors, refreshment vendors—doing something different before the games. He delivered a pizza to the offices of the Oakland A’s, sat around in a suite talking baseball in Minnesota with invited guests that included, among others, the team chef , and hung around outside some parks holding baseball rap sessions with local  kids. Reported The New York Times: “With all their money and success, the Yankees may be the most widely disliked team in baseball. A rival executive once branded them the Evil Empire, and few people came to their defense. But in stadium conference rooms and offices, Rivera thanks rival fans, charms them, regales them, awes them. And he turns many Yankees haters into admirers.”

The teams, even arch rivals, (I can hardly wait to see what the Red Sox offer!) are showing enormous respect for the best closer of all time by giving him farewell gifts and donating to the Mariano Rivera Foundation, which focuses on the needs of children in his home country of Panama. As I reported a few days ago, the Twins outdid them all with The Chair of Broken Dreams.

For the past decade my favorite players were Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera—who together were the Yankees’ closing battery, a team within a team. Posada was pushed out two years ago and I’ve missed him like crazy. Now goes Rivera. (Going soon: Derek Jeter.) I’m not sure how I’m going to withstand the loss.

What Mariano Rivera is doing with his final season is unprecedented—then again, his whole career has been unprecedented. No pitcher in history, as far as I know, ever built a remarkable record with one—count it, one!—kind of pitch. Rivera says God gave him his cutter. As a non-believer, all I can say is what Shakespeare said in Hamlet:

“There are more things on heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Mariano Rivera

(sung to the tune of “Maria”)

Mariano—

I just saw a pitcher named Mariano

And suddenly I see how wonderful a pitch

Can be.

Mariano—

I just saw a closer named

Mariano

And suddenly the game

will never ever be the same to me.

Mariano

Pitch it fast

And they just can’t hit it

Pitch it slow

And the catcher will catch it.

Mariano

I’ll never stop loving

Mariano………

{sing operatically}

Ninth inning–

Mariano!

Yankees 2013: A Ghostly Team

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YankeeStadium

Derek Jeter: Broken ankle still not healed, on 60-day DL. A-Rod: Hip surgery during off-season, on 60-day DL. Curtis Granderson, fractured forearm, on 15-day DL. Mark Teixeira, strained right wrist, 15-day DL. Francisco Cervelli, fractured right hand, playing it day-by-day. Ivan Nova, triceps inflammation, 60-day DL. Joba Chamberlain, strained right oblique, 15-day DL. David Robertson, sore left hamstring, day by day. Kevin YouKillUs (yes, the former Red Sox guy), lumbar spine strain, 15-day DL.

Enough?derek-jeter

Bear in mind that most of these guys have been on the DL since before Opening Day, so they haven’t played yet this year at all. More important, those 15 or 60 DL days are frequently extended once they’re up. Jeter, for instance, spent most of the off-season with his ankle in a brace, riding around his mansion on a scooter.  He was expected to play come April 1st but has yet to swing a bat other than in practice—and after seeing him hanging around the dugout, I think he’d best get himself on a weight reduction plan, stat!

Yesterday, May 4th, I watched a complete game for the first time this season. It took me a month to face the sight of my beloved team replaced by a former Red Sox player and a bunch of strangers. Yankee Stadium was half empty—unprecedented—so apparently I’m not alone. I knew precisely four of the guys in the lineup. It was like watching the A’s—who in fact they were playing—at the start of every new season when they’ve invariably been overhauled. I knew just

Joe Torre

Joe Torre

two of their players–but that’s not unusual. When Joe Torre managed the Yankees I could easily recite the rarely changed lineup. It isn’t my aging brain cells at fault; it’s the players’ aging process. That and demented management.

Despite the Yankees’ decimation-by-injury, they’re doing all right. Except for Nova’s recent injury, the pitching rotation seems to be in good shape. Yesterday Phil Hughes threw eight scoreless innings. The Yankees won 4-2, but the score leaped there from 4-0 as soon as a reliever came in. Joe Girardi did the right thing for once, and immediately called in Mariano Rivera. (He’s got 11 Minnesota Twins v New York Yankeessaves so far in what he’s declared will be his final season.) Robinson Cano is on the top ten MLB home run list  with 8, and he has an OBP of 352 and a 309 average.  They’ve won 17 games and lost 11, putting them in second place in AL East. The Red Sox are ahead with 20 wins, riding the wave of good will in the wake of the intense emotions swirling around Boston. (Not saying they’re doing anything wrong, just that some of the love pouring over Boston after the marathon bombing spills naturally over the Sox, who are so closely identified with the city, state and just about all of New England.)

A few ranting words at management for dumping Nick Swisher and Raoul Ibanez are in order. Instead we now have Lyle Overbay and Travis Hafner, both baseball elders even though we constantly hear that the Yankees desperately

Lyle Overbay

Lyle Overbay

need young blood.

Still, if the guys can do as well as they are with a Red Sox and strangers, just imagine what’ll happen when the Old Guard returns, well rested and ready to kick ass!

English: Cap logo of the New York Yankees

SF Giants Sweep Detroit Tigers to Become 2012 World Series Champs

 

Giants Win

After Game 1, all bets were off. I never expected them to win, or come anywhere near winning, that first game. When Detroit announced Justin Verlander as their first starting pitcher—no surprise—I  mentally crossed off Game One. This was even before I knew Zito was the opposing pitcher—when I learned that, the deal was sealed. So when the Giants turned out to be the only team in the Majors that can actually hit Verlander, nothing was etched in stone anymore. Then again, with baseball it never is.

As much as I wanted the Giants to win here at home, and as much as I wanted to see Barry Zito give another sterling performance, losing two games might have demoralized them and stopped their incredible drive to victory, so I rooted for the final win in Detroit last night—and got it. That was another magical event in this series: nobody expected the Giants to beat Detroit in their own house. When they left San Francisco on Monday, a lot of fans prepared themselves for a possible loss or two by looking forward to the win and celebration next Tuesday. Then we got it last night; the team was geographically far away, but still in our hearts, as well as on a Jumbotron in Civic Center. I wonder if other cities televise their teams’ games in big public plazas? If I’d forgotten SF is special, I was reminded of it last night.

About that magic: the Giants were inexplicably sensational. Every time they hit a home run it was a stunning surprise, maybe ‘cause they just kept hitting them. Every time they put a Tiger out of business, the play was so unlikely that its victim recoiled in disbelief and stomped, scowling, off the field. Magic: Pablo Sandoval hit three—count ‘em, 3—home runs in Game One, becoming the fourth player in the history of the game to do so; the others are Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson, and Albert Pujols. That’s Pablo Panda Kung Fu, the guy who contributed hardly anything to the 2010 series and was so out of shape he was told to deal with it…or else. Magic: Barry Zito, left out of the 2010 World Series, was front and center this time and pitched the best game of his life. Magic: The same pitcher who rarely hits, did hit two of Verlander’s unhittables at key moments.

The Elite World Series Triple-Home Run Club: Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson, Albert Pujols, Pablo Sandoval

 

Victory is sweet. The SF Giants are World Champions for the second time in 3 seasons, and they’re the only players who can hit Justin Verlander! Word is he was last seen checking into some kind of rest home to get over the trauma.

Body & (Don’t Forget) Soul

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Nearly everyone’s got Olympic fever—except me. Once in awhile I turn it on and, if my timing’s good, I catch a swimming event, or get blown away by gymnastics.  Sometimes I’m inspired by an athlete’s story. No matter how much I might enjoy what I see, though, I never really have a compulsion to keep tabs on the schedule, or check it for a particular event. And when I do happen to tune in, sooner or later I grow weary of the national jingoism.

More interesting to me are the side stories, the lesser known background info surrounding the Olympics. I just learned of a whole new dimension to them: poetry competitions were once a substantial, integrated part of the games. “The relationship between poetry and the Olympics,” says The New York Times “goes back to the very origins of the Games. In ancient Greece, literary events were an indispensable part of athletic festivals, where fully clothed writers could be as popular with the crowd as the buff athletes who strutted about in the nude, gleaming with olive oil.” More recently, the 1924 Paris Olympics gold ring for literature went to Géo-Charles, a nom de plume of Charles Louis Prosper Guyot, for “Jeux Olympiques,” an evocation of the hammer-throwing and foot races:

The runners bend, tense flowers. . .

A shot: A violent word!

And suddenly
Necks extended, forward
like stalks
faces like pale snatched
apples,

teeth and jaws rushing into
space.

As heartening as it is to learn of poetry’s lost heritage, that it is lost shows a lack of respect not seen towards athletes. Most of the competing poems and their creators have mysteriously vanished; sports historians are still trying to track down poems only known by their titles.

The good news is, poetry’s making a comeback this time around. In the above referenced article,

Tony Perrottet wrote:

” International poets have converged on London to orate in 50 languages…with 100,000 copies of their collected work to be dropped by helicopter on the venue by the Thames… “The Written World” will feature a poem from each of the 204 competing Olympic countries read live and broadcast daily by the BBC. And verse has been engraved on plaques of stone, metal and wood emblazoned at strategic points throughout the Olympic Park…”

Naturally, I’m delighted. Among other things, I’m tickled to find myself so in sync with the gestalt, having posted several blogs here on Dirty Laundry that draw parallels between the lives of athletes and writers:

Uncommon Laborers: Poets and Players

Curt Flood and the Fight for Free Agency

Baseball and literature share many commonalities. First of all, baseball is the sport that’s most written about in all of  American literature. Several baseball players have tried their hand at writing, just as writers try playing ball; it’s not for me to say which group does better! Professional baseball inspires writers, evidenced by the many books and movies glorifying and celebrating players as world class heroes.

We also share the struggle it takes to move up enough to earn a living in our chosen fields (pun not intended!). The starving writer is legendary, but most people don’t even know about the starving athlete, what with so many of them making tons of money. What people don’t realize is that high paid players are in the minority: not everyone who enters the minor leagues makes it to the majors, and even if they get there, they don’t necessarily get paid like A-Rod or Verlander. Once upon a time, baseball players had it so bad they had to hold down other jobs both in and out of season.

It goes without saying that Olympian competitors have it even harder than professional ball players. Many of these kids depend on family and home town supporters to scrape together the money to fund their airfare. Of course, it’s worth everything for the exhilaration of playing, or of reading one’s poetry, in front of a world audience.

In honor of poetry’s return to the Olympics, National Public Radio has woven the theme into their own games-and-contests format, with Morning Edition inviting submissions of poems celebrating the Games. Here the everyday listener can play Judge and vote for the winner. If  that’s too much work, just go and enjoy the poems. Here’s a sample:

Lifting

by Ouyang Yu

For years
I have been dreaming
of turning
writing into a sport
in the Olympic Games
that is called, tentatively

Wordlifting

in which I’d give
my simplest performance
by lifting
the lightest and the liveliest
word: Love

till it flies
lifting me, weightless
into a sky
of loving
eyes.

Still Here

I’m Still Here….

As my idol Barbra Streisand sings, “Good times/bad times/sometimes a kick in the rear/but I’m here.” Just because I haven’t been recording my life for posterity doesn’t mean my life isnt still happening….or so I tell myself. I do wonder about that sometimes. In any case, since my last post – Labor Day! more than a month ago! – I finished ghosting Connecting With The IN Crowd, which was published with my name under the boss’s, so I guess I’m not a ghost anymore; I went to a Book Launch at the St. Francis Hotel with it and my novel  Halfway to the Stars; I started another ghost gig; made plans to go to Costa Rica next month; and, as always, watched the world go by.


Yankees Still Playing….

In the world of baseball/Yankees, Jeter made his 3000th hit, Rivera made his 600th save, Posada was publicly humiliated and just as publicly resurrected; pitchers had meltdowns and freeze-ups; and at this moment the Division Series are in progress. Moneyball hit the screen and I still haven’t seen it – I hope to today. Billy Beane now thinks he’s as hot as Brad Pitt, and on the basis of the movie he’s been making the rounds on the financial speaker circuit — which should tell you something about sabermetrics and his baseball philosophy. Meanwhile, the Oakland A’s can apparently rot in hell as far as he’s concerned. Time for a new manager? It was time for a new manager at least three years ago!

And The Kids Are In The Street!

We seem to be in the throes of revolution, and I don’t mean Arab Spring. Wall Street protests are spawning demonstrations all over the country. They’re finding their platforms as they gather, making it up as they go along. This is, I think, for real: first of all, Karl Marx said that capitalism would implode on itself when it was no longer working. Secondly, all my life I’ve heard that the way to foment revolution is to let things get so bad the country hits bottom. And finally, electing someone we thought would make a difference, then being bitterly betrayed by him, showed people it’s the system, not who’s in charge of it, that has to change. So here we are. I wonder if this movement is strong enough to go the distance, or if the government, media, and corporations will find a way to defeat it. So far, it’s still here.

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