Categotry Archives: Let’s Go M’s

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Five-Hundred

Categories: A Day in the Life, Let's Go M's, Tags: ,

The Mariners shake hands in celebration of winning their 17th game of the year, 11-6, in Philadelphia. They are now 17-17, at .500 for the first time this season.

My friend Matt Frese posted, despondently, last night on Facebook, after the Washington Capitals’ 2-0 Game 7 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL quarterfinals. He asked the following simple question, in the form of a statement:

Not sure why I sports.

This is a question I’ve meditated on periodically, most recently last August, when I concluded that sports (and Mariners baseball in particular) were bad for my mental health. In that post, I repeated something from April 2015, which is my ultimate answer to this issue:

Sports are objectively stupid. They take valuable energy and resources away from fixing our problems, offering little beyond the value of pure entertainment, already an overrated pursuit in our society. I have made my peace with the fact that baseball is wasteful and unhelpful and still I love it and can’t help myself. I will always pursue it, always invest time and emotion and energy better suited for nobler things into the crack of the bat and the dive of the catch and the eruption of tens of thousands as a ball clears a wall. It’s silly. It’s nostalgic and beautiful and heart-rending and strategic, but it’s also silly.

But I also suggested this answer to Frese last night:

To flavor your life with arbitrary turns of euphoria and tragedy.

The exaggerative nature of those words is, of course, deliberate. Sports have a way of feeling completely disproportionately important, impacting moods and whole world-views at an almost unrivaled level. People cheer, they dance, they celebrate, they fly across the country for a single game. They also throw things at their TVs or computers, cry, yell, scream, and fall on the bare floor in anguish. And while much of the joy and sadness is shared with other like-minded fans, the emotional reality is individually felt and experienced. It’s about a single fan’s relationship with their team.

My team, of course, more than any other, is and remains the Seattle Mariners. And in the last two days, they both swept the Philadelphia Phillies in a short two-game series and got word that a fourth of their starting five pitchers was joining the other three on the Disabled List (DL). It was only their second sweep of the year, after a 4-game series against the Rangers that took them from an almost-DOA record of 2-8 to an almost-tolerable 6-8. But the loss of Hisashi Iwakuma to injury means that the only starting pitcher from our intended opening day rotation healthy enough to still play is Yovani Gallardo, our #5 starter. He threw yesterday. We are entering a 4-game set in Toronto which will feature none of our original starting pitchers, with the great Felix Hernandez, breakout James Paxton, and new Mariner (who has yet to throw for Seattle) Drew Smyly sidelined.

I watched all of yesterday’s game and the last couple innings of the game before. Alex and I saw a movie the night before last, so I asked her to check the M’s score when we were on our way from there to Lowe’s. She put the phone away quietly after checking and didn’t answer my question. I assumed they were down 11 runs or something for her to deny me the score with such summary judgment. “No,” she responded, “but they’re down 9-5.”

“Oh, just four runs? What inning?”

“The sixth.”

I waved it away. “That’s not even bad. Not great, but not bad.”

My cavalier response here was because the Mariners, unlike years of Mariners teams since the record-breaking 2001 season, are long on offense to go with their shortness on pitching. They have scored more runs than almost any other AL team, sport three of the top ten hitters in the league by batting average, including batting leader Jean Segura, and seem capable of putting up a big inning with ease. Unfortunately, the bullpen is terrible and most of the starters are hurt, so we’re fielding something like last year’s AA pitching staff, with predictable results. Sure enough, though, by the time we left Lowe’s, the M’s had tied the score at 9 apiece. We listened to the next inning on the way home, then switched to the computer and MLB.tv in time to see Motter’s game-winning double (scoring Segura) in the top of the 9th and watch Eddie Diaz shut it down in the bottom. Mariners 10, Phillies 9.

Yesterday, on the other hand, was a laugher. The M’s were up 11-3 after a five-run 7th and a three-run 8th. The game had been tied at 3 for several innings, so the breakout was wonderful because it enabled the game to be both close and a blowout, maximizing fan enjoyment. Of course, then the bullpen pitched in the 8th and 9th, so we only won 11-6 ultimately, giving even the Phils fans some meaningless homers to cheer for before we got out of things. Thankfully, it didn’t lead to somehow coughing up a 9-1 lead for a 10-9 loss like back in game 7, when I first gave up on the M’s this year (they’d had a 9-1 lead in a game early after a really tough start to the season; the loss clinched a sweep-loss to the Angels, who are not great this year, and put our record at 1-6).

One and six feels like a distant memory now, though, as does 2-8. For the first time all year, the M’s are .500, winning as much as they lose, having gone 15-9 since 2-8. 17-17 is not just a PIN that I’ve used in the past, it’s a record that promises that things could go up from here. Of course, the health of our pitching staff portends trouble on that horizon. But if you score a double-digit number of runs each game, you can afford to have no pitching. Like Blazers teams in the early 90s that used to beat people 140-135, you just run up the score enough to make up for your total lack of defense.

This is also like the Mariner teams in the mid-to-late 90s, when we used to make the playoffs in the bandbox known as the Kingdome. The team was laden with offensive All-Stars: Griffey, A-Rod, Edgar, Jay Buhner. The team had, really, exactly one pitcher, Randy Johnson, and a bunch of also-rans who gave up just few enough runs to hold the lead our team would build. But that was part of the magic of ’95: no lead was insurmountable because their staff was never safe from the runs our team could score. I’ve talked about how ’95 being the seminal year in my sports fandom has created unrealistic expectations for the future. Coming back from one of the largest deficits in history has made Mariners fans feel like all future deficits are bridgeable, even though most of the last few seasons have resulted in near-misses, extending baseball’s longest streak of standing outside the expanding playoff picture.

But 17-17 is a reset. It’s .500. It means we could start winning even more now, especially since we’ve erased a dismal start.

.500 means something else, too, of course. It means watching a game is a roulette wheel, a perfectly even bet. Red or black? Win or lose? They’re equally likely.

This is the contract we sign whenever we, as devoted fans, start watching a game. We are about to have our day made or ruined. And we choose to do this to ourselves, voluntarily. Do we think the benefits of the day being made outweigh the negative potential of it being ruined? Maybe. Not necessarily, though. I don’t think we think about it rationally at all. We watch because we are fans and we accept the 50/50 because we have no other choice. Sure, we can try to put on just the right hat or do just the right series of actions to maintain a winning streak. But it’s 50/50 at the end of the day. Or, yesterday, as a Mariners fan, at the end of yesterday.

They’re riding a 4-game winning streak. In their last homestand, they went 4-2 with both losses being in extra innings (11 and 13 innings, respectively). These are promising, positive signs. But it’s 50/50 every time, a crapshoot, a spin of the wheel. And I sign away my mood an my outlook, free of charge. Because maybe it will be that amazing comeback, or that close game-turned-laugher. Maybe we have the lineup to make the deep run this year. Or maybe I just wanna believe.

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Seventeen Years of Blogging

Categories: A Day in the Life, Adventures in Uber, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, Let's Go M's, Marching to New Orleans, Metablogging, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Quick Updates, Read it and Weep, Telling Stories, Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Here are two relatively unflattering portraits of me, seventeen years apart. What can I say – blogging hasn’t always been pretty.

Yesterday was the seventeenth anniversary of Introspection, my first blog. It lasted for just seven years and change before the daily short-format gave way to this more haphazard long format, now nearly ten years into process. My first post was mostly about dreams and teeth. My first post on StoreyTelling was mostly about Introspection, but also my larger history with blogging and the web. Today’s post will be about neither, really, but it felt like an anniversary to mark, not least because of the significance the number 17 plays in my life. But I haven’t posted in a while and that’s partially because I’ve had only a bunch of micro-post ideas flitting around in my head and that reminds me of Introspection and its flitty, flighty, one-liner format. So here we go:

-Mardi Gras was great for parades and great for Uber and kind of terrible for Uber. I gave multiple $150 rides and also had half-hours where I went six blocks without a rider the whole time and wanted to tear the steering wheel out of the car. Ultimately, it was still a very very good couple of weeks. I got pretty Zen about the traffic once I saw just how much I was making on most of the rides that I actually was able to give. I’ve also never had so many cancellations and frustrations since both Uber and especially Lyft had no real idea how to line people up with a pickup spot that made sense given parade routing. Driving during the parades was the worst; just after was much better.

-After a fantastic January for writing, February and March so far have been dismal. I partially blame Mardi Gras, but also wedding planning and also that it’s just flipping hard to focus on writing and anything else. Like yes, Uber is both a pretty easy casual job and the subject of my book, but it still consumes 35-45 hours a week, depending, and that’s time that really needs to be close to empty for me to write effectively. And/or I am also wrestling with too many internal confidence demons to really commit to writing fully and effectively. And/or there is too much variation and too little routine? I am inclined to think they are all factors, in the order presented. The book remains half-finished, but feels over the tipping point and should still be available to my loyal friend readers by summer at the latest (no whammy).

-Today was one of the first times I’ve ever delivered rolled change to the bank and they didn’t kind of whimsically roll their eyes at me. This is kind of a thing that I do regularly, in part because I find rolling change relaxing and re-ordering for me. I was almost heartbroken when Capital One briefly decided they weren’t accepting rolled change anymore and had me actually unwrap and unceremoniously dump all my change into a bucket so it could be fed into their automatic coin-sorter. By the next time I was ready to turn my change into electronically tracked currency, however, their coin sorting machine was out in the shop, perhaps indefinitely, and they were back to asking me to roll it. The bankers are always kind of bemused by me bringing in rolled change like I’m some sort of crank, but then again, most all commercially available change starts in rolls – someone is doing it somewhere, regularly, to keep the economy going, right? Is it so weird?

-Another relaxing and re-ordering practice for me is reading, which has been even more dismal all year than writing in the last forty days. I blame my ambition as a reader – I’ve spent most of the year allegedly reading The Familiar, vol. 1, a gigantic graphically bedecked book that looks like an elaborate prank. It was a mistake to try to read this, especially at a time when I want to be writing, but I really liked House of Leaves by the same author. The last renewal ran out at the library today and I returned it, having done about 160 pages in two months. I’m sure it’s brilliant in some way and I found some of the characters intriguing, but it just hadn’t spoken to me sufficiently to make it worth the work. I need to be reading regularly, though, and it needs to feel like a joy and not a chore. I may return to it someday, but long after I’ve written a couple more books.

-I am so insanely jealous of the folks living in the path of the snowstorm that’s about to batter the eastern seaboard. There’s a lot I don’t love about the northeastern United States, but the regular access to blizzards is not among them. I keep repeating the promise to myself that someday I will live in a place where I don’t have to anxiously anticipate snow, but it will be a regular occurrence with no possibility of not happening. I worry that places that used to be on this list are starting to fall off of the list, but no matter. Next year in Murmansk.

-Was there ever a more short-sighted decision than to decline to name that British ship Boaty McBoatface? Now the yellow sub they allowed to be called by said moniker is getting all kinds of press its expedition never would otherwise. Sometimes you have to steer into the curve. People are so often their own undoing by taking themselves too seriously.

-The Louisiana state government is having massive budget shortfalls this year because gas prices are low. This prompted them to try to charge state taxes from me from 2014 on all of my New Jersey-earned income. My only Louisiana income that year were some poker winnings from a large payout at Harrah’s. They sent me a bill for nearly $2,000 a few months back, including fees for failing to file and interest (as though interest were something that exists in the world these days). They sent multiple threats via certified letter. After three responses from me, all also sent certified, they sent me a check this weekend for $108, which was actually what they owed me for taking too much out of the poker payout in the first place. I was happy to let this money go in exchange for not filing a Louisiana return back in 2014. But they wanted to push it, so I’m happy to make them pay. Of course, in reality, it all feels like a huge waste – of state employee time, of my time, of the certified mail system. But I know to them it’s not a waste, because like all made-up bills, 80% of people probably just get scared and pay them no questions asked. And we wonder how the poor are kept poor in our system.

-Something I have been doing a lot lately is play chess. It’s not quite as relaxing as reading or walking or even writing sometimes, but it’s good for me. The problem is that I should spend more time between chess club “tournaments” practicing, but that would cut into time potentially writing or driving. This is actually an argument that cuts into a lot of things lately, including a pretty successful video-game moratorium I’ve put on myself for all of 2017 till the book is finished. Chess, like all games, is great patience practice, even the fifteen-minute games I favor and we play on Monday nights. The problem is that I still am spending more time looking at my mistakes and how to get out of them than not making them in the first place.

-I lost about an eighth of a tooth the other day. I think I swallowed it. I have an impacting wisdom tooth that’s pushing its neighbor on a tilt out of position, and I’ve just realized that this has made my bite sufficiently uneven so as to hammer into the tooth below with every chew. As a result, the top corner of the tooth below finally gave way. Luckily the root was not exposed; unluckily I have not had dental insurance since 2014. Trying to get into the LSU dental clinic is proving to be a chore, but at least after three days my tongue toughened up enough so that the newly jagged tooth edge stopped serrating it. It was an ugly couple days at first adjusting to the new reality.

-The Mariners lost their Spring Training game today by a score of 24-3. That said, all their best players are at the World Baseball Classic. They were doing really well before the WBC started. I am irrationally exuberant for the lineup of Dyson, Segura, Cano, Cruz, and Seager.

-Peak Trump Outrage seems to have passed. I know a lot of people want everyone to stay angry and vigilant, but I feel like Trump has slowed down into a kind of plodding pace of not being able to get any of his agenda done. I had long predicted that a President without either party really behind him would have a lot of trouble getting anything done and I think that’s coming to fruition. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stay vigilant or react strongly to the truly bad stuff that comes out of the administration, but a half-assed tweak on a bad healthcare law to make it slightly worse doesn’t pass muster on that for me. Especially when the best analysts don’t think they even want it to pass in the first place.

-Speaking of which, “Get Out” is one of the most flawlessly executed movies in recent memory. Right up there with “Arrival”. However, the former’s third act is its weakest point while the latter’s third act is its best, so just keep that in mind. “Weakest” in this context, however, is still mighty strong.

-I feel supremely lucky to live in a time when the Lumineers can be as popular a band as they are. The Lumineers being popular feels like one of those things that shouldn’t be able to happen – they defy all the tropes of what you’d expect of rock music success. And yet, there they are. Alex and I saw them ten days ago in the UNO basketball stadium and it was incredible. They seemed to express the same kind of incredulity at their success and following that I felt. At one point, referencing the time that they used to spend playing in living rooms and similar tiny venues, they came out into a literal pop-up stage in the center of the arena, closer to our seats, and played part of their set there. It was magical. The Lumineers feel magical in the way that New Orleans does when it’s at its simplest, most historical, and most charming. They seem like they shouldn’t be real. They aren’t passing Counting Crows or anything, but I forget how transporting and inspiring music can be sometimes. It can get so habitual and dull or so processed and rote. The discovery of music, the reimagining of it, makes me supremely sad that I didn’t end up in music somehow even though I have no natural ability there whatsoever…

Submarines
Flowers in Your Hair
Ho Hey
Cleopatra
Gun Song
Dead Sea
Classy Girls
Where the Skies are Blue
Charlie Boy
Slow it Down
Sleep on the Floor
Angela
Ophelia
Big Parade
In the Light
My Eyes

Long Way from Home
Subterranean Homesick Blues
Stubborn Love

-Nothing compares to the magic of having by far and away your favorite song from a band close the encore. Especially the first time you see them. You’ve spent the entire show wondering if they’ll play that song or not, with the drama increasing the whole way. And then finally it happens and it’s their sign-off and you don’t even want them to keep playing after because it’s too perfect. I think this has literally only happened to me one other time, the first time I saw Counting Crows. That was in November 1999, notably just more than seventeen years ago. You would think that means you can’t read what I thought of it at the time online now. You would be wrong.

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Watching (Mariners) Baseball is Bad for My (Mental) Health

Categories: A Day in the Life, Let's Go M's, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , ,

This is getting old.

This is getting old.

I write here a lot about competitiveness. So much so, apparently, that I wrote two posts entitled “Winning and Losing” on this blog, both mostly about RUDU, both in 2010, two posts separated by That Summer. You can read them, one from March 2010 and one from November 2010.

I also write a lot about the Mariners, hapless though they are. When people from Seattle get into my Uber (this happens a lot, especially lately, including a night where two parties from Seattle were in the car in a span of four trips), I describe myself as a “long-suffering Mariners fan”. This immediately establishes my credibility with these individuals, because just describing oneself as a Mariners fan doesn’t indicate that one has really truly committed to the experience. It’s about the suffering. In an ideal world (i.e. 2001), maybe that wouldn’t be true. But just like a Yankees fan identifies conceptually with swagger and a Red Sox fan with redemption, so does a Mariners fan identify with the inevitability of disaster. Even 2001 ended that way, as I misdocumented in 2014. And as I wrote about just about a month ago when Griffey entered the Hall of Fame, maybe 1995 was the only exception to the disaster narrative, since losing the ALCS was so beyond our wildest dreams that it counted as a total success. That said, though, there is something deviously Sisyphean about even that year. Without it, the Mariners would have left for Tampa and we would have been released from our torment forever. Instead, that year preserved our ability to watch this team roll a boulder up a hill, just past the tipping point, and scream “wait till next year” as it went back down the other side.

Am I being too fatalistic? It’s being drummed into me, just like the hope is being drummed out. Last night, the Mariners lost a baseball game in Chicago by the score of 7-6, blowing a 6-3 lead and surrendering the winning run in the bottom of the 9th. It was deja vu all over again. On Sunday, they blew a 6-3 lead over the Milwaukee Brewers entirely in the 9th, losing by a score of 7-6. Last Tuesday, they coughed up two runs in the bottom of the 8th to lose a game to the Angels (who’d lost 11 straight prior to the game) by a score of 7-6. And on the last day of July, they mounted a 6-0 lead in the first three innings against the Cubs, only to lose a walk-off in the bottom of the 12th by a score of … wait for it … 7-6.

Reader, I watched every inning of all of these games.

I have been thinking it’s a privilege of my new flexible schedule and plan that I can be invested in a Mariners season where the games count and the M’s are contenders. Because, despite the 4 gut-punchers (all in the last four weeks, mind you! and two in the last six days!) listed above, the Mariners are playing meaningful baseball in late August. They remain just 7.5 behind Texas in the AL West and 3 games out in the Wild Card, mostly behind a bevy of AL East teams destined to take games from each other and leave a slot open for a non-East team, probably. Of course, had they won just two of those four 7-6 losses, they’d be 5.5 out and 1 back, respectively. And all four? Well, then they’d be in playoff position, with a bit of a lead, and just 3.5 behind the Rangers.

The Mariners have the longest streak in baseball without visiting the playoffs, a stat made possible by the recent success of the Pirates and Blue Jays. Since setting a record for wins in 2001, their embarrassing 5-game exit from the ALCS against the Yankees is our last taste of October baseball. Call it the curse of 9/11. So many things in my life could go by that name.

And it felt like this could be the year to turn it around. I even intimated as much in that post about Griffey, that in ’95 it was Griffey’s return from injury that was the spark and this year, the return of Felix could mean the same. A week later, I briefly gave up on this scenario after the first of those 7-6 disasters. That was objectively the worst of the four – the only one they led 6-0 and the one in which they lost in extra innings after giving up 3 in the 9th with a 6-3 lead and their closer on the hill. They changed closers after that game and August started out amazing despite the last game in July feeling like a negative turning point. They opened August 14-5, which was close to the best record in the game that month, keeping pace with the red-hot Rangers and scratching to within a game of playoff position.

Since then, including two 7-6 blown games, they’re 1-4, dropping a series to the Yankees and losing 3 in a row. The magic seems to be off.

If past years are an indication, I will stop watching them now, giving up on them after just one too many echoey losses, they will start winning in my absence, they will pull me back in, and I will tune in just in time to watch them just miss the playoffs in some sort of epic-tragic way.

This is a privileged and silly problem to have, being a Mariners fan. Compared to being a Syrian refugee or a homeless American or anyone who doesn’t have time for baseball, it’s embarrassing to even worry or complain about. Part of me wants to delete this post, because it’s not about something that has a chance at changing those larger problems. Of course, part of me also recognizes that I depress the heck out of people when I only post about those things and that itself has a slight counter-productivity in some ways.

I think I summed it up best at the start of the 2015 season:

Sports are objectively stupid. They take valuable energy and resources away from fixing our problems, offering little beyond the value of pure entertainment, already an overrated pursuit in our society. I have made my peace with the fact that baseball is wasteful and unhelpful and still I love it and can’t help myself. I will always pursue it, always invest time and emotion and energy better suited for nobler things into the crack of the bat and the dive of the catch and the eruption of tens of thousands as a ball clears a wall. It’s silly. It’s nostalgic and beautiful and heart-rending and strategic, but it’s also silly.

But last night, I was mulling over whether this is really such a good use of time and mental energy. Ceding so much of my emotional investment to a team like the Mariners feels like flipping a slightly tails-heavy coin each day and walking around being really upset if it comes up tails. Of course, I’m awfully elated when it comes up heads. But is it really necessary for a manic-depressive to sign up for an additional emotional binary in each of his days for the duration of the warmer months of the year?

Yes, I’m watching the game tonight. Why do you ask?

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The Kid in the Hall

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Let's Go M's, Tags: , ,

TheKid95

Any Mariners fan knows that 1995 was the most magical year of baseball in our history. The Mariners overcame a 13.5-game deficit (11.5 games on August 24th, with just over a month to go in the season) to catch the California Angels, beat them in a 1-game playoff, come back in the 11th inning to beat the Yankees in the franchise’s first playoff series ever, before finally coughing up the ALCS in 6 games. The comeback is perhaps the most legendary in baseball history, but it has a dirty little secret. While reputed as being a fundamentally miraculous turnaround, it coincided completely with the return of one legendary player from injury, who immediately transformed the team from a plucky .500 club to a team with a world-class centerpiece.

That same person ignited the first game that started the turnaround, which happened to be his first game back from an injury that had befallen him in May. He also scored the winning run in the Yankees series. And from today on, he’s a Hall of Famer.

Ken Griffey, Jr. is known for saving baseball in Seattle. The Kid, as he was called from day one in Seattle, debuted in April 1989 at the age of 19. I was 9 years old, living on the Oregon coast, and in my first full year of baseball fandom. I didn’t root primarily for the M’s at the time, but that season of hearing Dave Niehaus recite the dynamic accomplishments of the rookie was already helping turn me away from the team that would win the championship that season and to a lovable band of perennial losers. Of course, Griffey was determined to change the narrative in Seattle. He didn’t save baseball in the city, he created it.

He didn’t do it alone, surely. Edgar and Randy and all the guys had a big part to play in the 1990s Mariner squads that turned the tide of history for the club and kept them from moving to Tampa Bay, something that was all but a done deal midway through the ’95 campaign. But without Griffey, it’s hard to imagine any of that success. When he went down with his severe wrist injury that May, it seemed like fate was truly out to get the M’s. The 1994 strike had felled a team that had won 9 of their last 10 and was closing in on first, while Griffey was having a career year. Even 1995 was shortened by the strike, with the season getting off to a late start that made The Kid’s absence even more powerful. As soon as he came back, Refuse to Lose was born. So 1995 isn’t just the story of an unbelievable comeback. The comeback is made a little more believable by the infusion of one of the greatest of all-time.

It’s easy to see echoes of 1995 in 2016. Of course, as I’ve said in several of my “Let’s Go M’s” posts on this blog, it’s easy for a Mariners fan to see echoes of 1995 in every season. Once your team has overcome an 11.5 game deficit starting in late August, no lead in the standings feels insurmountable ever after. But after a hot start this year, the M’s have struggled mightily in midsummer, falling back to .500 after a year that promised to finally end our longest-in-baseball playoff drought. Of course, there’s a dirty little secret behind this collapse as well: the injury to Felix Hernandez.

On May 27 of this year (Griffey’s ’95 injury had taken place on May 26 when he crashed into a wall), Felix pitched his last game before going on the Disabled List with a calf injury. At the time, the M’s were 28-19, 1.5 games up on the Rangers in the AL West. In his absence, the team slumped back to .500, going 19-28, an exact mirror image of their hot start with Felix available. On Wednesday, he returned to action, with the team 47-47 and 7.5 games out of first (the team’s deficit peaked at … wait for it … 11.5 games). While his start was shaky, he overcame a rough first inning to keep the game close and the M’s were able to win on a walk-off in the bottom of the 11th. It was a game that looked so much like 1995, it gave me deja vu. The M’s went on to beat the Blue Jays 2-1 and 14-5 before slipping today. They’re 3-1 since Felix’s return and 31-20 overall with him on the roster. And the Rangers have been collapsing, not quite like the ’95 Angels, yet, but enough to let us in the door. Entering play today, the Mariners were just 5.5 out.

Am I reaching too hard for a narrative today, the day that Ken Griffey, Jr. was inducted into the Hall of Fame with the highest vote percentage in the history of the Hall? Perhaps. After all, Felix doesn’t play every day and there’s only so much impact any one pitcher can have on an entire season of games. But as The Kid surely knew in 1995, actual play is only a portion of a superstar’s impact on the team. They also teach and inspire their teammates. And their presence, their active placement on the roster and in the field, makes everyone else believe that greatness is possible. It’s easier to believe you can fight for that comeback when you know Felix is looking on from the dugout, that he’s going to be pitching every five days, that there’s always a chance.

It’s become fashionable in baseball this century to discredit such notions, to believe that baseball players are human beings on the field who are affected by emotions and momentum and environmental factors. I don’t know how these people explain Tiger Woods’ epic collapse that aligned with the collapse of his marriage and his public humiliation in the international media, nor even how they explain Griffey’s rapid deterioration when he left Seattle, let alone every change in approach made by players after trades, signings, and changes of all sorts. I think the real explanation is much more clear: baseball is still played by people, not robots. Sabermetrics may reveal some trends and statistical value where not previously seen, but the biggest determining factor in a player’s performance is still how they feel in that moment. And Griffey was a great not just for his stellar athletic ability. He was an all-time great for elevating everyone around him, making them better than themselves, making them want to be even better than that.

There are a million memories to recount of The Kid, none of which do full justice to him, and all of which are being covered by the mainstream media today as he goes into the Hall. Some I even discussed here when he retired as a Mariner in 2010. By all means, read everything you can about Griffey today.

The city of Seattle and the fans of the Mariners will never be able to do enough to thank Junior for all he did. But the best way to try might just be to make another storied comeback this year. The M’s made the playoffs just twice after he left the team, the first two years he was gone, inspiring the meme that M’s kept getting better without superstars. Randy Johnson was traded in 2000 and the M’s set a record for regular season wins the next year, after losing two Hall of Famers in back-to-back years. Of course, Ichiro had joined the team in 2001 at the peak of his career, so, y’know, we didn’t only lose future denizens of the Hall. But there’s a Mariners cap in Cooperstown, now and forever. My oh my.

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Getting Closer Every Day

Categories: A Day in the Life, Let's Go M's, Quick Updates, Tags: , ,

Think these close games aren't exciting the Mariners?

Think these close games aren’t exciting the Mariners?

Ten days ago, I wrote this post about how close most games have been for the Seattle Mariners during the 2015 season.

I focused on closeness through the traditional metrics for such games – extra inning games, one-run games, walk-offs. You may have read that and figured that the variance would even out soon, that the closeness of their contests would “regress to the mean” as they say. You may have believed that the M’s are a fundamentally mediocre team this year, not one destined to barely win or barely lose night after night.

Let’s look at the results since I posted:

Monday, August 3rd: W, one-run game
Tuesday, August 4th: W
Wednesday, August 5th: L, extra innings, walk-off, two-run game
Thursday, August 6th: off day
Friday, August 7th: W, one-run game
Saturday, August 8th: L, extra innings
Sunday, August 9th: W, two-run game
Monday, August 10th: L, one-run game
Tuesday, August 11th: W, extra innings, walk-off, one-run game

For those of you scoring at home, that’s 4 one-run games, 2 two-run games, 3 extra innings contests, and 2 walk-offs. In eight games.

There was one (1) game that didn’t have at least one of those elements of closeness. And yeah, that Mariner eternal optimist in me kinda wants to focus on the 5-3 record during the span and claim progress. After all, we’re only 8 games out of the lead in an increasingly murky AL West. We’re only 7 out of the Wild Card, though we’re admittedly chasing almost everyone (literally everyone except Oakland and Boston) in that race.

The MLB record of 31 extra-innings games in a season (set by the Red Sox in 1943) is probably still safe – the M’s are trailing with a mere 18 at this point with a month and a half (48 games) to go. We’re on pace to finish with 25.5 games in that category, though if we keep up the pace of the last 8 games, we’ll get the record with 36 total. You can say that’s absurdly unsustainable, but I will call your bluff and raise you 23 years of Mariner fandom and the 1995 comeback season.

Keep your teams with leads in their divisions. I’m all-in with a team that, if they fall short, will only have about 40 games to look back on that they almost won, any few of which would have vaulted them to their first playoff trip in a decade and a half. Isn’t that more satisfying than your “winning”?

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The Closeness of Baseball and the 2015 Seattle Mariners

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Let's Go M's, Tags: , ,

Logan Morrison scores an insurance run in the top of the 11th this afternoon after doubling in the go-ahead run for the M's against the Twins.

Logan Morrison scores an insurance run in the top of the 11th this afternoon after doubling in the go-ahead run for the M’s against the Twins.

The Mariners did something this afternoon they haven’t been doing much lately. They won a game.

Even more surprisingly, they won the game by more than a single run. The final score was 4-1 in their favor. Less surprisingly, it took them 11 innings to get there.

Those of you who read my baseball posts or follow baseball more generally may recall that while the M’s wound up one game shy of the playoffs last year, they had the statistically most exciting regular season last year, by a wide margin, as I ruminated on last October. This year, they’ve captured an almost dominating penchant for a different kind of baseball excitement than being close to the playoffs, and one that makes each inning even more engaging: close games.

The Mariners have played 39 one-run games this year, the most in the American League and third-most in baseball. That represents fully 37% of their season being games decided by the closest possible margin. Today’s game was their 15th extra-inning game, also the most in the AL and tied for the most in baseball. They are 20-19 and 8-7 in these two categories respectively, making such close contests basically toss-ups when the M’s play them, better odds than their .453 winning percentage overall (and way better than, say, their .418 winning percentage in games decided by more than one run). No one in the AL has won more 1-runners and only two teams have lost more (the A’s being notably hapless with a 10-25 1-run mark which will both underscore the near-miss potential of “moneyball” and make Oakland fans resentful of any kind of “how close we could have been” message I give the M’s from this post).

By the standard metrics of excitement per game, of memorably close game, the Mariners are at the top. But what happens when we drill a little bit deeper into the data?

The Mariners have been involved in 12 walk-off games (those ending in the very last at-bat), winning 5 and losing 7. For context, they were 2-6 in such contests all of last season (8 games total of 162, contrasted with 12 this season in just 106 so far). Less than a week into the season, they played four straight one-run games, the first three of which also went into extra innings and the last two of which were walk-off losses. In the middle of last month, they again played four straight one-run contests, with the fifth right after being a wild 11-9 win in which they overcome an 8-6 deficit in the top of the 8th with a pinch-hit grand-slam by Franklin Gutierrez, in easily the most exciting pitch of my Mariner fandom this year. I was jumping around the room and scared our rabbit, who has little appreciation for baseball, and the game’s 20 runs and 26 hits took four hours and felt longer than most extra-inning games, coming down to as close a game as a two-run contest can be. They’ve played 21 2-run games (at a disappointing 7-14 clip) and 13 3-run games (much better at 8-5). While they’ve been outscored by 58 runs total in 106 games, they’ve been outscored by just 4 runs total in the 73 of them that have been decided by 3 runs or less. Meaning the remaining 33 have carried a 54-run deficit, in which their record is 13-20. Three of those have been wrenching double-digit losses. Their largest margin of victory, on the other hand, is 7.

I don’t have enough data in front of me to know how some of this compares to other teams or other seasons, but I’ve spent enough years as a fan to know that most baseball isn’t this close, at least not this consistently. Of course, one of the greatest aspects of baseball is its lack of clock and the fact that no game is ever truly over till the last out is recorded. One’s theoretical chance of coming back to win is always in play until this happens, unlike timed games where victory is often long beyond physical reach before their conclusion. There is no being 25 points down with one minute to play in baseball. You may be down 10 runs with one out to go, but people have come back from that kind of deficit before, which can not be said of insurmountable timed leads in basketball, football, soccer, and hockey.

The end result of all this is that while the Mariners languish 10 games below .500 and 12 games out of first place, they feel like they’re in it. Every game is going to go the full nine, maybe the full eleven or twelve, and it seems that, punctuated by a couple embarrassing blowout losses, just about every game is going to be a nail-biter, ending in tragedy or triumph, and often a string of alternating tragedies and triumphs as we match the other team run for run. It is this exactitude, this playing to precisely the level of the other team whether it’s in hitting or pitching or both, that is so confounding about the 2015 Mariners, and simultaneously makes them so entertaining to watch. They did things like winning exactly every other game during the first 12 days in July, going 6-6 without ever doing the same thing in back-to-back contests. After that, they didn’t compile more than a 2-game streak in either direction till a rare sweep loss to Arizona in which only one game was a 1-runner. It was also an extra-inning game, the night after an extra-inning one-run walk-off.

How can you not want to watch this, even if it mostly ends the same way the last 13 seasons of Mariners baseball have, outside the playoffs?

Part of this, of course, is augmented by an irrationality that I think is almost unique to Mariners fans who were avid in the 1995 season. After our first playoff year ever as a franchise (after an 0-18 start in seasonal attempts) came from an unthinkable comeback in the standings, down 11.5 games on August 24th and coming all the way back to force a one-game playoff for the Division title with the Angels, every Mariners deficit seems possible to overcome. The spirit of Refuse to Lose has never left Mariners fans, so we can look at a 12-game deficit in early August and say “meh”. It’s utterly nuts, to make every season into 1995 in our imaginings, a year when the Mariners went 25-11 in their last 36 games, then won a one-game playoff 9-1, then came back from 0-2 in the ALDS to win 3-2. But for me, for I suspect most long-term Mariners fans, we see the glint of ’95 in every shortfall. We are the worst kind of incorrigible optimists, able to make hope out of the feeblest of circumstances. Excitement like that found in each game this year sure doesn’t help.

I have often pondered the role of sports in our lives, as irrational and control-ceding and time-wasting as they can be. But one of the things they add to our lives, for those of us who let ourselves truly care about the teams and their outcomes, is a level of drama, thrill, and uncertainty that is rarely found in the other routines of our modern existences. When it is found, it is often all too real, the drama of a near-miss car accident or the uncertainty of the fate of a loved one. Sports, like amusement parks, offer people a chance to safely let themselves experience these ups and downs, to get emotional over things that are not, ultimately, life and death. And while every sports fan will tell you that what they most want for their team is a championship, there’s something to be said for the excitement along the way. A championship is just a moment, but nail-biting see-sawing one-run games are a little version of that kind of moment, over and over again. Tune in tomorrow night for more lead changes, blown saves, 9th inning homers, and an outcome as unpredictable as life itself.

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The Promise of Spring
(or: Today, It’s Next Year)

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Let's Go M's, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , , , ,

SafecoSpring

It’s fitting that baseball begins in spring.

I’m not much of a spring person myself, having a penchant for difficult times in April and May. I was always with TS Eliot on the whole April question and I probably offer the quote about cruelty each time we get this far around the sun in one form or another. But all that rebirth and Easter spirit, all those flowers and ripening trees, it all culminates in the burst of energetic joy that is the reopening of baseball season. And no matter how trying an April you’re having, you have to love that.

One of my favorite past posts is about the promise of a new debate tournament, a new weekend, the new possibilities unfolding from a weekly reset of contests in which any given one could be won outright. I wrote it in September 2010, at a time when I was hurting deeply and found little faith in any new beginning that did not emanate directly from the chance of my team winning a debate tournament. For the second time in my life, I dug myself out by digging deeply into debate and the hope of having one concrete thing that I unassailably still enjoyed. September is the spring of the debate season, but April is the spring of reality as well as baseball.

Last year ended catastrophically for my beloved Mariners, with the whole year coming down to game 162, the first time in over a decade that the last contest of the season mattered. The M’s won, but so did the A’s, and that wound up being all that mattered. To make matters more heartbreaking, the Wild Card game winners, the Kansas City Royals, charged on to the World Series, a feat still not reached by nearly 40 years of prior M’s squads. Say what you will about the travails of yearning since 1908, Cubs fans, but at least you have a championship to remember. (Okay, “remember” is probably not the right word unless you’re the world’s oldest person, but maybe “read about”.) Four decades is less time to suffer, but in some ways more poignant. There was no apex for Seattle, no fulfillment for the Mariners.

Yet.

But every year dawns anew. For Cubs fans, for Mariners fans, for followers of every team, no matter how hapless. There’s a sense of expectation, to be sure – the M’s are expected to do well this year with new signings and a pitching core poised at a communal peak. There are teams that virtually know they’ll be slated for 100 losses, for whom it is hard to get the gumption of hope and excitement. But even then, is there not a surprise team every year? Is there not some collection of young men for whom doom was predicted who are still contending in July, August, September? The whispers of April always abound, this could be our year. It could be. The record is clean, 0-0. We are tied for first place. There’s no saying we can’t do it.

The M’s were just such a team last year. Predicted to return to the bottom of the heap in the AL West by most (okay, maybe just above Houston), they played 162 games that mattered for their season. Or 161 2/3rds, riding out the last three innings having finally been eliminated. By proving the point, they renewed the promise that even those of you out there with a hopeless band of misfits, with bad contracts and steroids suspensions and management lowering expectations, even you can revel in early April and its universal hope. Even if you like ill-fated three-letter teams like Cubs and Mets, you can lift your spirits this month and dare to dream.

Sports are objectively stupid. They take valuable energy and resources away from fixing our problems, offering little beyond the value of pure entertainment, already an overrated pursuit in our society. I have made my peace with the fact that baseball is wasteful and unhelpful and still I love it and can’t help myself. I will always pursue it, always invest time and emotion and energy better suited for nobler things into the crack of the bat and the dive of the catch and the eruption of tens of thousands as a ball clears a wall. It’s silly. It’s nostalgic and beautiful and heart-rending and strategic, but it’s also silly.

But it does offer us a model for renewal. A model for a place to find joy and rebound even in the darkest times. Sports offer us a metaphor not only for what could literally replace warfare if we came to our senses, but also for the resets that our own lives need from time to time. People can ruin you, they can squash your dignity and stomp on the things you value the most. They can trample your sense of self and punish you for your vulnerability. But they can never impede your love of a team, nor deny the gorgeous reality of that 0-0 record, all the games yet to be played, the possibility unrolling before you like a bright blue tarp on freshly mown grass.

My team is 1-0 now, the hopes redoubled by the unblemished start. Like a new car driving off the lot, that first loss goes so far in dashing these fresh spring hopes. Hold on, now. Hold a bit longer, like the balance of a yoga posture, like the tentative bloom of a flower against the frosty near-freezing chill. A loss is just a loss. 161-1 is a marvelous record, though we’re all going to lose at least 40. We always do. Grip tighter into the ball, into the hope, hold your breath if you have to. Every year is a new chance at everything you’ve ever wanted, no matter how much you’ve lost before.

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In the Ballpark

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Let's Go M's, Tags: , ,

New Orleans has brought me my first-ever NFL game and second- and third-ever NBA games in quick succession (and I have a feeling that, at those ticket prices, we’re going to become Pelicans semi-regulars). But it sadly lacks an MLB team or stadium, though I am excited to check out the AAA team when spring finally arrives in earnest.

But it is March and I just had a mini-debate on Facebook about whether Dodger Stadium is great or just meh (spoiler alert: it’s just meh) and it got me thinking about what the all-time great ballparks are. It also reminded me that I’ve long been meaning to, in one cogent place, compile the list of ballparks I’ve been to for a baseball game, in part to construct the to-do list for the next few years (while I’m taking breaks from training to reprise Rim to Rim to Rim). Though I think I somehow managed to never see one in San Diego despite all the visits to see Fish during his college days, and I overtly skipped my planned trip to Busch in St. Louis to play a poker tournament instead, back in 2011 on the verge of my personal poker revival. It’s hard to be interested in so many things.

I’ve also decided to leave AAA stadiums (and lower) out for now because I think it muddies the waters and makes comparisons more difficult.

BAL1. Oriole Park at Camden Yards
Baltimore Orioles – Baltimore, Maryland
It’s not my favorite team, though it’s up there, but I don’t think anyone’s quite been able to top the original revival of retro-style ballparks. The Warehouse is just magnificent. The skyline is awesome and every seat in the place is great.

SF2. AT&T Park
San Francisco Giants – San Francisco, California
This is a very close second, with the scales possibly tipped by how many times I nearly froze to death in these stands in the early 2000s. The view of the water and the possibility of splash-downs are the highlight here, along with the retro architecture that will dominate the top spots in my list.

SEA3. Safeco Field
Seattle Mariners – Seattle, Washington
Well I wasn’t going to put the home of my favorite team down too far! A classic example of retro style, all the amenities of a top modern ballpark, and the Mariners! Plus the retractable roof is just plain cool, even if you never saw the Kingdome’s falling tiles.

PIT4. PNC Park
Pittsburgh Pirates – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
I know this one will surprise a lot of people, but I’m a sucker for skylines. Pittsburgh as a whole is an impressive and surprising city and the Pirates’ gem of a stadium stands out among the reasons. Plus, tickets were amazingly cheap during their endless losing years.

BOS5. Fenway Park
Boston Red Sox – Boston, Massachusetts
Some classic stadiums will not do well on this list, but Fenway, despite its creaks and quirks, really is magical. It’s hard to argue with the Green Monster or the obstruction poles and it just feels like the 1920s in there as soon as you set foot. Fond memories don’t hurt the ranking here either.

DET6. Comerica Park
Detroit Tigers – Detroit, Michigan
Another surprise to many, but so many cool unique features like the huge scoreboard and the old-school runway between the mound and the plate.

PHL7. Citizens Bank Park
Philadelphia Phillies – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Solid retro feel and cool field shape with great scoreboard and light features. Points off, a bit, for being too far from the Philly skyline to really appreciate it. But good use of brick inside and out.

HOU8. Minute Maid Park
Houston Astros – Houston, Texas
It doesn’t hurt that they’ve gone from repping Enron to repping orange juice, but I was really pleasantly surprised by this park and not just because we had 3rd row seats late in the season. Unique feel, the left field wall is awesome, and I personally like the hill in center field – perhaps because I don’t have to play there.

CHC9. Wrigley Field
Chicago Cubs – Chicago, Illinois
I can hear the purists screaming at me, but there’s something to be said for the feel of a park and this one was a little bit off-putting. Maybe it was all the day-drinking Chicagoans. Chicago and I have always had a rocky relationship at best. Points for Ivy and history, of course.

COL10. Coors Field
Colorado Rockies – Denver, Colorado
A very solid middle-of-the-pack entry, with good amenities and a nice overall feel. It’s huge and usually packed, which adds excitement, but there’s no special standout features other than lots of seats.

TEX11. Globe Life Park
Texas Rangers – Arlington, Texas
When I visited, it wasn’t under that name, but I was really impressed by the retro feel of the park and all the classic brickwork outside the stadium (these pictures fail to capture the beauty of the external buildings). But a little overbuilt in center field.

WSH12. Nationals Park
Washington Nationals – Washington, DC
This one may be getting put a bit lower than it should because a lot of its cool features are patriotic and that leaves me a little cold. The Presidents race is awfully fun, but all the stars and stripes are a little much for me at times. Really, Colorado, Texas, and Washington are very similar and interchangeable. Points for metro access, points off for humid heat.

CHW13. US Cellular Field
Chicago White Sox – Chicago, Illinois
I probably would like this stadium more if it weren’t in Chicago and weren’t named after a cellphone company. We’re allowed our biases in lists like this. I do like the lights a lot.

ANA14. Angel Stadium of Anaheim
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – Anaheim, California
Now we start to turn the corner into subpar parks, and not just because they insist on superfluously adding “of Anaheim” to everything like some weird civic brochure. The random rock structure in left-center just doesn’t do it for me. There’s no skyline because suburban LA. And the years of rivalry with the Angels don’t help anything for me either.

LAD15. Dodger Stadium
Los Angeles Dodgers – Los Angeles, California
Ah, the park that started the whole debate. Samburg’s friend said it felt like stepping into the sixties to visit and that’s exactly why it’s so low on my list. The 60s were the era when America took a hacksaw to architecture and stadium aesthetics. It’s a monument to concrete. There’s nothing actively offensive about this stadium, but nothing particularly good either. Plus, the Dodgers.

FLA16. Pro Player Stadium (defunct)
Florida Marlins – Miami, Florida
This square stadium had really cool ramps on the corners to walk up and down and a bunch of empty red seats to stare at while watching the game. There was really nothing to write home about from debate camp when I went, other than it being kind of amazing that actual Major Leaguers would play in this stadium.

OAK17. O.co Coliseum
Oakland Athletics – Oakland, California
Everything that could be wrong with a baseball stadium. Appalling names that change every other year, concrete on top of concrete, too many seats that obstruct any possible view (and aren’t used anyway). Multi-purpose. Ick.

NYY18. Yankee Stadium
New York Yankees – New York, New York
Is it probably technically a little better than Oakland’s stadium? Yes. Do I care? No. The Yankees play here. And it is in every way the most overrated stadium in baseball history. There is nothing aesthetic or cool about this park and it was modeled on a park that was in no way aesthetic or cool. Why? Just, why? Babe Ruth was good at hitting homers, but not so much at building houses.

MIN19. Metrodome (defunct)
Minnesota Twins – Minneapolis, Minnesota
I love the Twins and hate the Yankees, but even I recognize that a dome belongs on the bottom of any sane list of ballparks. Just look at that turf. Look at it! And the weird blue folded-up seats in right field that haunted home-run highlights of early days of ESPN watching? It’s like they weren’t even trying. The roof was soft and had kind of a billowy effect. That was cool, I guess.

SEAKing20. Kingdome (defunct)
Seattle Mariners – Seattle, Washington
This is hard, because my first-ever Major League game was here, and my second and third, and the team that I adore saved baseball in Seattle in playoff games in this place. But it is, objectively, the worst building to ever host a baseball game in the history of humanity. My Little League field with an all-gravel right field and no fence was a better shrine to baseball.

I’m not quite sure I’d realized I’d been to so many parks, though I need to loop back to the replacement fields in Miami and Minneapolis. I’ve seen 17 of the 30 actives, though, which is a pretty cool fact, and really San Diego and Arizona should be easy to pick up to complete the West. And Atlanta while I’m living in the South, and maybe even Tampa Bay, if only to complete the 20s in this list. I think the one I may most want at this point is Milwaukee, which I toured around when last there, but it wasn’t a game day, so I didn’t really get to see it.

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Baseball Roundup

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Let's Go M's, Tags: , ,

Baseball!

Baseball!

For some reason, baseball is most of what I can think of to post about these days. I posted a lot about baseball down the stretch as the Mariners fell one game short of the playoffs, made doubly more frustrating by the fact that the AL Wild Card team (who could easily have been them had the A’s lost game 162) won 8 straight games to get to the World Series. As the Seattle Times just put it, the “Royals’ run should make Mariners fans take notice and dream”. It’s definitely doing that, as well as making me think about Kevin.

So, I feel compelled to write some loose end notes that don’t really conform to a typical streamlined post but still culminate what I’ve been considering during a season when I’ve thought about baseball far more often than my usual (which is already a lot).

You don’t have to take my word for how exciting the Mariners’ season was this year. Grantland has quantitatively measured that they had the most exciting regular season. Granted that some excitement should be reserved for the process of actually, y’know, making the playoffs, but as the article opens, “uncertainty equals excitement.” In their statistical analysis, the M’s were listed as having at least a 10% more exciting season that the next-most-exciting team, which, incidentally, also missed the playoffs (Atlanta). Kansas City was 5th, but I think they pretty clearly take #1 or #2 in terms of post-season… it’s hard to tell whether constantly coming back to win at the last minute is more exciting or just winning all of your games is. I guess, technically, KC has done both.

Speaking of the Royals, the very first box score I ever read in my life depicted a Boston-Kansas City game. We moved to Oregon in summer 1988, but I think it had to be in 1989, the year I truly discovered baseball. The box score was in the traditional format where the linescore was at the top with the city names, then the detailed information about the teams was below with the team names. I assumed, given everything I knew about Boston and Kansas City, that the teams were the Boston Royals and the Kansas City Red Sox. After all, Royals sounded just like what the Bostonians would dub themselves, while Red Sox sounded pedestrian and midwestern, especially with that spelling. This is how little I knew about baseball at the time.

That’s not even the least I ever knew about baseball. That summer, I insisted my parents take me to Little League tryouts. They were very supportive of my youth baseball career, but when I first asked, my parents gave me this kind of sidelong glance that said “Sports? Really? Did we do something wrong?” My Dad definitely prompted me more than once about whether this was something I really wanted to do. My father decided not to invest in a mitt right away, but to first see how tryouts went. They had a bucket of spare gloves for boys just like me. (Incidentally, “tryouts” at this stage was a misnomer – no one was denied their birthright to play Little League baseball.) I went up to the guy manning the bucket and asked for a glove to borrow. He asked if I was a righty or lefty. I said I was right-handed and he promptly handed me a glove. I then tried cramming it on… my right hand. It didn’t fit. I complained to my father and then to bucket-man. Bucket-man rolled his eyes, sighed, and wordlessly switched the glove’s hand. Voila! “But I’m right-handed!” I protested. He pointed out that I throw with the hand I use – admittedly I had tried at least once to throw with the gloved hand with surprisingly poor results.

I had been an A’s fan before either of the above two encounters, and would be until about the time I was leaving Oregon. As mentioned in the prior post, I had spotted a green team (favorite color) with an elephant mascot (one of five favorite animals) and that was kind of a no-brainer. This was actually during the 1988 World Series, of which I saw about two innings, in the hotel lobby on our trip to retrieve our stuff in storage from central California in October 1988. The World Series was probably on in a lot of places, but it was really on everywhere in California, given that it pitted the north against the south in a pivotal matchup. I was enthralled with the mechanics of baseball as I had been in the parks of Washington DC the year before, watching pickup and adult league softball games and plopped right down in front of the TV. The desk clerk asked me who I was rooting for. It took me about three seconds to say “the green team.” And just like that, I was an Oakland fan for the next four years.

This means that I have had a team that was my favorite win a World Series. In the very first full year in which I followed baseball (1989, the earthquake series, when they swept the Giants). That is ridiculously unfair. You could argue I became a Mariners fan as penance. But I didn’t. I became a Mariners fan because I was so obsessed with baseball that I listened to about 140 games/season on the Mariners Radio Network in 1989, 1990, 1991, and 1992, that being the team that was broadcast on the north coast of Oregon. I would root for the A’s when they played the M’s, and this matchup was the first major league game I attended at the Kingdome in Seattle. (The Mariners won; I was sad.) Somewhere around ’92 or ’93, I realized that my loyalties had shifted… I knew a lot more about the Mariners, cared a lot more about their day-to-day, and felt a close kinship with Dave Niehaus, Rick Rizzs, and the team they raised their voice for in the play-by-play. Mark McGwire was still my favorite player, but Ken Griffey Jr. was just behind. I found myself being torn in the A’s/M’s showdowns. By the time I moved to Albuquerque in 1993, my allegiance had changed.

This process was further confused by the fact that my parents bought me a beautiful Baltimore Orioles jacket in 1993 from the Cooperstown collection after we essentially lived in Baltimore during summer 1993. I was attending CTY out there and we had just moved all our stuff down to Albuquerque and then flew to Hawaii and then Baltimore. My Dad spent the summer making pogs of the DC/Baltimore area and trying to bring the new fad to the east coast. I have fond memories of hawking these to people on the steps of Union Station in DC, one of the buildings depicted on his commemorative tourist discs. Like pretty much all of my Dad’s businesses, he was a little ahead of the curve and we basically broke even as I understand it and it was fun. But we also went to a game at the new palace of baseball, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, and my parents, who I’d been dragging into a love of sports and especially baseball, were incredibly impressed. When I showed up to the Academy, it was in an Orioles jacket (well, I guess it wasn’t till October, since the Academy started in August and everyone is in shorts in New Mexico in August). Which made one of my homeroom teachers, Mr. “Bucky” Buck, incredibly excited, because he was an Orioles fan. It was a little hard to explain that the O’s were my second or third favorite team and that I just really liked the jacket and the ballpark from whence it came. But he was an 8th grade teacher who actually came to some of our ballgames when baseball season rolled around, so I was hardly in the mood to correct him.

I think the confusion (natural and understandable, since I wore the O’s jacket about every day of 8th grade it was cold) was part of what prompted me to wear subsequent Mariners jackets so obsessively. I’d already been doing that for some time by the summer of 1995, then the fall of 1995 when the M’s made their historic run to save their first chance at the playoffs (they’d been two games out of the division lead, despite a horrible record, when the strike hit the year before) and even to save baseball in Seattle. All the rumors were that they were strongly considering moving to Tampa Bay in 1996 or 1997, which was promptly silenced forever after the M’s made the ALCS in 1995 and reminded the city that it loved baseball. I was in a huge quandary about how I would feel about the Tampa Bay Mariners and where they would rank in my shifting hierarchy of teams, but fortunately didn’t ever have to worry about that question.

I remember daydreaming in my very early youth about being a major league ballplayer, like pretty much every Little Leaguer who loves the game does, not that I was ever close to the talent necessary to seriously pursue this dream. In more sober moments, I thought about how much I loved the A’s at the time and wondered how I would ever be in a position to regularly attend Oakland games. The irony I felt in remembering this feeling when attending lots of Oakland A’s games when I lived in Oakland and Berkeley from 2002-2009 was pretty serious. Especially in those M’s/A’s series when, once again, it was hostile environment. I think I’ve attended about 20 A’s vs. Mariners games in my life and always been rooting for the road team.

Sports, and rooting for teams, remain totally irrational, as they’ve always been. But they add a ton of vibrance and color to one’s life, not to mention fulfilling a certain competitive drive. It is kind of overwhelming to consider how much mental energy and emotional exuberance (and torment) I’ve put into baseball in my life. Some days, it’s hard not to think about that in terms of opportunity cost. But I guess, as the economists really ought to know, we can’t all be rational, self-interested utility-maximizers. Some of us have to applaud.

by

KC

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Let's Go M's, Tags: , ,

The Kansas City Royals are going to the World Series.

The last time the Kansas City Royals were in the World Series (or, mind you, the playoffs) was in 1985. They won, beating the St. Louis Cardinals, who are now facing a 3-1 deficit in the National League Championship Series to try to get to this World Series for a rematch. The ’85 Series, by all accounts, was a thriller, pitting two Missouri teams against each other for seven games, with a stunning Game 7 blowout for the Royals who had been down 3-1 in the series after the first four games. They were down 1-0 in the bottom of the 9th in Game 6 and came back to win 2-1 in a walk-off, though I don’t think anyone used that term in those days.

I wasn’t a baseball fan in 1985. I lived in Visalia, California, and wouldn’t discover baseball for three more years, unless you count being vaguely enthralled by pickup softball games I would see in the parks of Washington, DC in the fall of 1987 and the spring of ’88. But my future friend, Kevin House, who lived in Wichita, Kansas at the time, was a baseball fan. We wouldn’t meet until third grade in Gearhart, Oregon, a new and foreign land for both of us. But at the time he got to be in Kansas when the City who shared that state’s name and was at least partially within the state, just a couple hours away, won it all. He was a huge fan of George Brett, hero of the Royals, who hit .370 in that series and went on to lead subsequent Royals teams, though not to the same dizzying heights as in 1985.

My recollection is that Kevin and I didn’t take an immediate liking to each other. I remember fast becoming friends with people like Tony Cox, Cisco Treharne, and John Grotz (now Hill) who rode the bus to the same general neighborhood as I did, where I was the first to get picked up in the morning and the last to get dropped off. And then I met Bowen Turetzky, when we were both getting tested for the gifted program if memory serves, and we shared some nerdy interests. Kevin rode the bus too, but was closer to school, always boarded smelling like my grandparents’ house (i.e. smoke), wearing his signature jean jacket and a slightly disgruntled look. He was a little more ornery and standoffish than the people who’d become my friends and I don’t remember exactly what broke the ice between us.

But over time, and not much at that, he proved to be like so many people who initially seem difficult or defensive – a true and loyal friend. We discovered a mutual love of baseball and video games and baseball cards and playing baseball and, well, there was a lot of baseball. He came over often and I would trade him Royals cards for A’s cards (I was admittedly an A’s fan for a few years before the constant listening to Mariners games on the radio all season wore me down and changed my heart – I had decided a team to root for during the 1988 World Series when I saw green uniforms and an elephant on the TV at a point at which I only knew of two teams in the world). We would play 1-on-1 baseball in the front yard or play on my text-based baseball computer game or talk about baseball or listen to baseball or watch baseball. We talked about other things, too, like life and hopes and dreams and all that. But mostly it came down to baseball.

At some point in our Little League careers, we had the enormous good fortune of being on the same team together, a total happenstance as our coaches selected teams in a secret closed-door draft meeting at the outset of each season. Kevin was a second baseman, mostly, but really wanted to be a third baseman like George Brett. His arm wasn’t the best, though. I had been converted to a catcher a year before by my mentor Jim Paino, who dug me out of the right field gravel and taught me how to encourage pitchers, frame a pitch, take care of a catcher’s glove, and throw off my helmet at the first sign of trouble. We never won that many games – I was perennially chosen by losing teams – but there was one doubleheader we played in Cannon Beach against the best team in the league and managed to eke out the second game in the league’s biggest upset all year. I remember Zac Gonzales pitched most, if not all, of the game, and I hadn’t yelled so loudly or exhortedly in my whole life and probably wouldn’t again till a debate tournament years later. And when we got the final out, we celebrated on Cannon Beach’s field like the ’85 Royals. Once the fervor had died down, Kevin promptly asked his mom if he could stay over at my house and we spent the night recounting the play-by-play of our dramatic win.

I only stayed over at – or even went – to Kevin’s house once. His grandparents, the smokers, were quite strict and didn’t really support the notion of sleepovers or even people playing in the house. I think they may have been on a trip when I actually came over. It was late in my time in Oregon, late in the time of our close friendship, and I remember the night vividly. We watched TV and played paper football and I finally saw every one of his George Brett cards, since many of the nicest ones never left his room and I couldn’t get to sleep for the endless ticking of a grandfather clock in the living room that my tired mind simply refused to adapt to. I recall being so surprised that such a small simple noise could wreak such havoc, but I was all too aware when it passed 2, 3, 4 in the morning and it may have been the latest I’d ever stayed up till that point.

Kevin was of course over at the house a few months later when I had my magical snowy birthday in February 1993, a few months before my family moved to Albuquerque and closed that crazy coastal chapter of our Clatsop County lives. Kevin stayed behind, went to Seaside High, graduated, and found his way back to Kansas. Where, in 2000, at twenty years old, he was killed in a car accident.

He was living in Independence, Kansas, somewhere southeast of Wichita and southwest of Kansas City, but he was rushed to the hospital in Wichita and died just four and a half miles from the house in which he’d been born.

He and his girlfriend had visited my parents earlier that year on a roadtrip across the country, I think in part to see his sister Bev, who was living in Tucson. But I hadn’t seen him since we were both 13, though we’d talked a few times and exchanged a little correspondence. A few days after the accident, his mother called the house in tears to give me the news. I debated for a week about going up for a memorial being held in Seaside, ended up not going, and have regretted my absence frequently since. You can read some of my immediate reactions in the very early months of Introspection here.

His full name, as you can see in his obituary, was Kevin Christopher House. He sometimes went by KC.

I haven’t had any friends die of ebola, or terrorism. But I have had a good friend die in that most common of fatalities among the young, the motor vehicle accident. I had always been so upset about his grandparents smoking around him constantly. I remember a medical visit after which he related to me that he had the lungs of a twenty-year smoker when he hadn’t even been alive that long. I was always so sure that this second-hand nicotine was going to contribute to an untimely death.

I think about Kevin often, as I think about many of my old friends, though I am Facebook friends with most of them. None of them are particularly close right now, but we keep in touch, comment on each other’s lives, bicker (just the other day) about the role of the military and the nature of war. I have gotten to see how they’ve grown up, all the children they’ve had, the men they’ve become.

But Kevin will forever be a young man, childless and free, so much of his life seeming to be ahead of him.

The Royals are back in the World Series, Kevin. They haven’t lost a game all playoffs. Twenty-nine years since the last time, fourteen since you left the planet. They’re going to play for the title on a cool October night under the western Missouri skies. And I’ll be watching. And wishing you were here.

KC

by

Game 162

Categories: A Day in the Life, Let's Go M's, Tags: ,

Eight days ago, my girlfriend and I traveled to Houston, Texas to watch two baseball games between the Seattle Mariners and the Houston Astros. You can scroll down and read the last two posts on this blog for some context about the Mariners’ 13-year playoff drought and the magnitude of the games we were facing. When we arrived in Houston for last Saturday’s game, Seattle had just won 10-5 on Friday night and stood a half-game out of post-season position. Chasing Kansas City and Oakland as they’ve done for most of September, the Mariners were scoreboard-watching and preparing for one of their best resurgent pitchers, Chris Young, to shut down the Astros.

We were in the best seats I’ve ever been in for a Major League Baseball game, purchased secondhand on the somewhat cheap through StubHub since most Houston fans had given up on one of the lowliest teams in baseball during their penultimate and ultimate home contests. So we had a great view of the field, the M’s dugout, even the out-of-town scoreboard as it piled up good news.

The scoreboard around gametime, featuring a loss by Kansas City and a near-loss by Oakland.

The scoreboard around gametime, featuring a loss by Kansas City and a near-loss by Oakland.

Then, the M’s got drubbed. 10-1. It was horrifying and hopeless as the Astros hit homer after homer after homer, chasing the starter and abusing the long reliever they brought in to mop up. At least we were coming back tomorrow, we knew. And the Royals and A’s lost so we were staying just a game out of the first Wild Card and a half-game out of the second. It was still possible for us to leave Houston in playoff position.

In the Sunday matinee, with the roof closed, the Mariners actually had a lead, 3-2 in the 5th, then carried a slim 4-3 deficit into the bottom of the 7th. Hisashi Iwakuma, their second-best pitcher, had racked up 8 strikeouts even in the absence of the K-meter we were considering making on posterboard for the broadcast. He was in the dugout by the time Yoervis Medina threw a pitch to Jake Marisnick, he grounded it in front of the plate and the catcher threw him out. End of inning.

And then they called it back. The third-base umpire signaled that he thought Marisnick had fouled it off his foot even though the home plate umpire right in front of the play had ruled it fair. The home plate umpire changed his decision, called Marisnick back to the plate, and three pitches later, he hit the ball over the left field wall for a 3-run homer. The M’s wound up losing by a final of 8-3.

We drove home from Houston despondent. The Royals had already won and Alex’s phone told us about halfway back to New Orleans that the A’s had won in a walk-off in extra innings. We had lost ground against one of the worst teams in the AL, lost ground in two great sets of seats in the only live Mariners games we were going to see this year, lost ground when the opportunities were golden with our great pitching staff.

But everything was on the Toronto series. Seven games to go, only a game and a half out. Four in Toronto, three at home against the best team in baseball, the LA Angels of Anaheim (California). Toronto was basically eliminated and giving up. I dutifully watched the first two games of the Toronto series on MLB TV.

Monday: Blue Jays 14, Mariners 4
Tuesday: Blue Jays 10, Mariners 2

In the midst of the 7-run 5th inning in the latter game, I gave up. I made it official, like everything is these days, by putting it on Facebook:

Good season, Mariners. Maybe next year you can handle the pressure of the playoff race in the last week of the season.
-23 September 2014

It had been Felix Hernandez’s start, the man who is all but a mortal lock for his second Cy Young Award this year. It was the worst start of his entire 10-year career. 2,055 innings and he has his worst five in Toronto at what looked like the end of a long-shot playoff race.

It was totally and completely obvious that the pressure had gotten to the M’s. They were pressing. They were trying too hard. They were not having fun, unable to relax. And baseball is, fundamentally, a game. Yes, it requires patience and talent and precision and skill, but it also requires you to treat it like a game. You have to want to be out there, not dreading that every next pitch could spell your doom if you’re not perfect.

Doom it was. I barely even cared about watching Wednesday’s game. It was 0-0 when we went to get food in the 3rd inning and it was still 0-0 in the bottom of the 8th when we got back. The batter at-bat when we came in the door, who we first saw, hit a bloop single and knocked in the first run of the game. It was suddenly 1-0, Jays, spoiling Taijuan Walker’s heroic start of 7 2/3rds shutout innings. The M’s got the first runner on in the top of the 9th, pinch-ran with their speedster and my favorite new Mariner, James Jones, only to have him picked off for the first time this year. I thought that I couldn’t have my heart broken by this team anymore. After all, I’d given up the day before! But somehow, events conspired to break my heart in a game I’d even decided to not really watch. Blue Jays 1, Mariners 0. Chances beyond over.

At that point, the M’s were on the very brink of mathematical elimination. They were 3 games behind both KC and Oakland with 4 games left to play. To win a playoff spot outright, they would have to be perfect and the Royals and A’s would have to lose everything. To tie, there would be one game to give in that equation, exactly one game the M’s could lose OR the Royals/A’s could win.

At that point, I became a lot more circumspect, philosophical, and even detached. The Mariners had lost four straight games by a combined score of 42-10, then capped it with a fifth game of 1-0. They were utterly defeated and hapless. They were on the brink of brinks. The season was over. But I also could read some of the Mariners blogs writing tributes to a surprisingly good season, to unexpectedly good pitching and amazing dividends on the Cano signing, and all these other little factors that objectively made it a way better season than it should have been. And I remembered something that my good friend David Gray told me after the San Francisco Giants’ 103-win season in 1993 in which they missed the playoffs (two years before implementation of the Wild Card would prevent such good teams missing). That he was more invested in baseball and his favorite club that year than any other he could remember, except maybe the 1989 World Series trip, watching such a close race come down to the wire. There is something about baseball as a daily game, a continual opportunity to watch one’s hopes and dreams, and the significance and closeness of how only a baseball game can unfold, that makes one’s entire life in a close race about the team.

And for a Mariners team that hasn’t been in a close race at all since 2007, or this late since 2003, it was worth appreciating. Savor this baseball, keep watching till they’re officially done. You don’t know when, even with a young and talented core of players coming back next year, you’ll have this chance to care this much about baseball again. And caring this much, even with the losses and the heartbreak, is fun. It’s exciting. It matters. It feels like something. And feeling, emotionally, is probably about the only reason I do much of anything. So I decided to watch every inning, just in case.

Alex even asked me why I was watching when she came home to see the game on, asking if I hadn’t given up. I had to explain how epic a comeback would be if they did it, how I couldn’t miss that, just in case. ESPN put the odds of the Mariners making the playoffs at 0.1%. But it was a chance.

Thursday. The Mariners won in Toronto, finally, salvaging a game and avoiding the sweep, 7-5, on the back of two incredibly clutch and exciting home runs from Logan Morrison. Kansas City won, Oakland lost. Two games out, three to play.

Friday. The Mariners jumped out to a 4-0 lead and clung on as the Angels clawed back, ultimately winning 4-3. Meanwhile, Kansas City won and secured their first playoff berth since 1985. I thought of my old friend Kevin House, who passed away 14 years ago, and what he would be going through now after the Royals clinched their first playoffs since their World Series win when he was 5. The A’s, meanwhile, won as well. Now the best we could do was tie. Two games out, two to play. Catching the A’s would mean an extra one-game playoff before a one-game playoff.

And then yesterday. Saturday. The A’s/Rangers game was paced about an hour ahead of the M’s/Angels contest. We got home from a movie marathon day in time for first pitch, watched an intense pitcher’s duel unfold in Seattle. The Angels took the lead on a fluke infield single off Seager’s glove that rolled just far enough away for the runner to score from second. It looked like Taylor, playing behind him, would have fielded the ball cleanly and ended the inning. But we were only down 1. The M’s managed to strand an Angel at third with no outs in the 6th inning with a strikeout, a short lineout, and another strikeout. Still 1-0.

Then came the 7th inning. Still down 1-0. The Rangers were clinging to a 5-4 lead in the 9th inning, with Dave Sims offering more of a play-by-play of that game than the Mariners’ one during the M’s TV broadcast. Seager got to first base on a leadoff walk. Then Sims shouted when nothing happened in Seattle and announced that the Rangers had just won. A minute later, Logan Morrison doubled into the gap in right-center and Seager was waved home rounding third and slid just ahead of the tag, tying the game, 1-1. There was life.

The M’s managed not to score anymore, but then nail-bit their way all the way to the bottom of the 9th, still 1-1. Single. Walk. Pinch-runner (Jones!) on second. Sacrifice bunt that the Angels threw to third, but were too late to get Jones. Bases loaded, nobody out.

I don’t know if you follow baseball, but you probably do if you’re still reading this particular post. Bases loaded, nobody out is basically a lock to score a run. It’s almost impossible to not score. Your odds are something like 85% of scoring in that situation. Usually the pitching team is happy to just try to get a double-play that scores the run to try to avoid a huge inning. Of course, in the bottom of the 9th, any run will do, so they can’t make that trade-off. So the Angels brought an outfielder in to play infield and then watched, tensely, as two Mariners in a row struck out. And then Austin Jackson flew out to right and we’d squandered a chance to walk off in the bottom of the 9th.

The Angels got a runner to 2nd in the 10th, but didn’t score. The M’s had 1st and 2nd, one out in the 10th, but didn’t score. The Angels got the leadoff man aboard in the 11th, but didn’t score.

We got a one-out double from Brad Miller in the 11th. Then a single from Chris Taylor that was just bloopy enough to only advance Miller to third. First and third, one out. A huge scoring chance, but nothing at all compared to bases loaded, none out. But a huge chance still. Austin Jackson up again. Alex yelled at the computer “just don’t hit into a double play!” And then Jackson grounded a pretty perfect double-play ball to second.

Except that he charged down the line as fast as he’s ever run in his life and the shortstop bobbled the ball just a tiny bit in making the transfer to throw to first and Jackson was safe and the Mariners won and it was over.

We had to hold our breath a little as the Mariners mobbed Jackson and fireworks went off in Safeco Field because this is suddenly the age of replay and they could call it back for a tense review. But they didn’t and it was over and now Sunday’s game mattered.

One game out, one to play.

The Mariners need two perfect outcomes today. They need the Rangers to win and they need to win. They are two binary outcomes and they both need to be exact. And if they win, the reward will be playing tomorrow against Oakland, in Seattle, for a chance to get to the Wild Card game. And if they win that, the reward will be playing Tuesday, in Kansas City, for a chance to get to the Division Series. Which will be against these same Angels. Who, if we get there, we will have just swept.

The Mariners have Felix Hernandez, AL Cy Young favorite, pitching today. And the Rangers may choose to send their best pitcher, scratched yesterday because of a migraine, to the hill for their season finale. The Mariners have a lot of momentum and the A’s must surely be pretty freaked out.

The A’s game starts one hour before the M’s. I will watch that hour, then switch over to the M’s broadcast, trusting Dave Sims to keep me apprised.

This is baseball at its very best. There’s a line in Three Nights in August, one of the best baseball books ever, about feeling nervous, shaky, on the verge of a heart attack, and unable to watch, and this being the way you want to feel every day of your life. (I tried to find the precise quote, which is very well written, but Google basically doesn’t work the way it used to for finding anything unadvertised and relevant and I can’t find my copy on my newly disorganized shelves either, so this paraphrase will have to do for now.) Maybe it’s disproportionately effective thinking for someone who has not only consigned himself to be a Mariners fan, but also just recently was a college debate coach and now aspires to play poker professionally, but this feeling of desiring constant nervous tension is endlessly relatable. I will watch, flailing, writhing, clapping, yelling, and churning. And loving every minute, whichever way it goes.

Brad Miller scores the winning run and looks less excited than I did at this moment.

Brad Miller scores the winning run and looks less excited than I did at this moment.

One game to rule them all. The 162nd game of the year.

Let’s go M’s.

Play ball.

by

The Trouble with Memory

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Let's Go M's, Metablogging, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, Tags: , , , ,

Yesterday, I told a story here about the 2001 ALCS and the shadow it’s cast over the next 13 years of my Mariner fandom.

There’s just one problem with the story. It wasn’t entirely true.

It was true as I remembered it at the time. “True to the teller,” I believe the phrase goes. But it was a dangerous combination of real memories and the ironclad realism of the Internet’s record-keeping that actually fabricated a memory in the conflation of 2001 and 2000.

You see, 2001 was not 2000.

The story I told was actually about the year 2000, before 9/11 and all it entailed, and about an entirely different ballgame (literally). I can probably be somewhat forgiven for the confusion from some of the details: both the 2000 and 2001 American League Championship Series (ALCS) pitted the Mariners against the Yankees. Both were won by the Yankees. And both, improbably (or probably, depending on perspective) involved pivotal moments in which Arthur Rhodes came on with a late-inning lead and coughed up a pivotal home run that led to a Yankee victory.

But the story I was trying to tell and picture in my mind’s eye was about Game 6 of the 2000 ALCS, not Game 4 of the 2001 ALCS.

The key detail that got me thinking about this was in mulling my post after writing it and realizing that my most vivid visuals of the night in question were definitely situated in Russ’ senior mod. Russ was a senior in 2001, not 2002 like me. The following year, we lived together, in the same house, the fabled Mep House, which had a TV downstairs in the main room on which we played countless hours of FIFA. Yet I distinctly recalled that we were holed up in Russ’ small room of his mod, upstairs, where the infamous Brandeis debate party of that year’s tournament had been held. And as much as I tried to tell myself a story wherein friends of Russ’ were living in that mod and we went over there to watch the game, it made zero sense. We would have gone downstairs to the Mep House where there was more room.

The other thing that didn’t sit well about my constructed recollection was the image of Lou Piniella tapping his left arm. This is the signal to the bullpen to get the lefty out to the mound, but it is not conventionally done on pitching changes between innings. The manager only goes out to the mound to make this symbolic gesture when making a switch in the middle of an inning. Otherwise, he just has the pitching coach call the bullpen and the pitcher runs in while the grounds crew is raking the infield. So as I was reading the play-by-play of Game 4 of the 2001 ALCS and trying to remember the fateful moment, it seemed bizarre to me that Rhodes had been hauled in between innings. I definitely remember screaming at the television while watching Lou tap his left arm. I believe I was screaming “Don’t you dare touch your left arm, don’t you dare bring Rhodes in right now!” during his mound visit.

If only I had some sort of record of my daily feelings and emotions and actions from that period of time in my life to confirm.

Oh wait, I do.

“Sigh. I’m applying for the job of Seattle Mariners’ manager within the week. When Lou ran us out of the inning with a Dan Wilson-based hit-&-run, I shouted at him not to. Much more importantly, when he brought in Arthur Rhodes, I screamed “noooo” at the top of my lungs. Clearly, I’m far more qualified to guide the team with the greatest potential in baseball to their first World Series. & I’ve been telling everyone all week that Rivera was due. & he was. But the damage had been done by incompetent managing (Lou) & pitching (Arthur). Crudbuckets. March is a long way away.”
-18 October 2000

I definitely watched the other game, though I don’t quite remember if it was with Russ or at Mep House. It was just after the Vassar weekend of “Justice!” with Eric Sirota where we ran the tipping case in his first out-round ever. I was a little more succinct in how I felt at that time:

“Damn Yankees.”
-21 October 2001

In the prior game, Game 6 of the 2000 ALCS, the closest the M’s had ever come to the World Series, Arthur Rhodes entered the game with 2 on and 1 out in the bottom of the 7th. The Mariners led 4-3. He promptly gave up a three-run homer, two more hits and an intentional walk, and left down 8-4 without getting a single batter out.

And that was the decisive game. That was the haunting memory, the one that has stuck with me the longest, almost as deep as Edgar’s double in the bottom of the 11th in 1995 or the 9-1 one-game-playoff against the Angels earlier that year with Randy Johnson’s dominance and Luis Sojo’s improbable run around the bases.

I think it was my haste to make the recent post about the poetry of 13 years of waiting and the promise of fulfillment of all that lost time that led to this mistake between 2000 and 2001, aside from all the other similarities. And if I hadn’t been able to find a game wherein Arthur Rhodes coughed up a key homer late at Yankee Stadium in 2001, I definitely would have caught the mistake before it “went to press,” so to speak.

I periodically go through bouts of thinking that the M’s made the playoffs in 2003 because they had such a good year then, but they finished 3 games back of Oakland that season despite winning 93 games. Their record that year was better than 3 playoff teams, including both Central champions and the NL Wild Card (the 91-71 Florida Marlins, who went on to win the World Series that year). We were 2 back of Boston for the AL Wild Card, having survived almost the entire season to be eliminated on September 23rd with a walk-off loss to the Angels. We had had an 8-game lead in the West in June, but it all went away, like the glorious strike season of 1994 (but this time we got to play it out).

I really fear that we’re facing another 2003 season. For all my optimism in yesterday’s post, Kansas City won last night and a fateful pitching change yielded disaster in our game against the Angels, with Lloyd McClendon (who I generally love) pulling Paxton after a fluke single and error put him behind 1-0 in the 7th after a tightly-matched pitching duel. Lloyd elected to signal for the righty, Danny Farquhar, who promptly coughed up a game-ending (functionally) 3-run homer. We lost, 5-0.

It’s September 18th and we’re 2 behind both wild card spots, Oakland and Kansas City tied therein. We have 4 games left against the Angels, 4 against Toronto, and 3 in Houston this weekend.

I’m hoping to be there to see at least some of the Houston series live. Hopefully that will leave more rock-solid memories 13 years hence.

Arthur Rhoes stares down into the murky sands of memory.

Arthur Rhoes stares down into the murky sands of memory.

by

Diary of a Mariners Fan, Circa September 2014

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Know When to Fold 'Em, Let's Go M's, Tags: , , ,

I wear a Mariners jacket frequently in the cold cold poker rooms I’ve been trying to turn into my office of late. Sometimes I wear a matching hat that attests to my fandom. When I was nearing the money-bubble of the tournament I wound up winning last month in Biloxi, Alex and I were admiring custom card-protectors that an independent vendor was selling. We decided to get a Mariners one if I cashed. But then Alex snuck off and got me the M’s one anyway and plopped it on my table for good luck. Worked pretty well. Now I bring it with me everywhere, even though I’ve now had a bad week that’s starting to make me question the whole project as only poker slumps can so routinely do.

With all this adornment and living in Louisiana now, I frequently get mistaken for a tourist from the northwest. Maybe I always have been, in a way, though my sense of home is receding more and more every day having now added another major region of the US to my list of lived locales. An Atlanta tourist on my left yesterday asked if I lived here and I said I just moved and he said I bet I can say from where and I said you’d be wrong. I’ve actually never lived in Seattle, never been there for more than a week at a stretch, if even that. Probably four days is my longest consecutive stint. People can’t really imagine what someone who hadn’t lived there would be doing with all this Mariners gear, though my interest was of course initially local. I explain “I lived in Oregon when I was growing up and got into sports.” And then people often ask about what it was like to be in Oregon in my teens or twenties and by the time I get to the Bay Area or Jersey on my corrective list, their eyes are glazed from all the movement.

People want to relate to people in a poker room, make a connection. The practice can be almost as solitary as writing sometimes, the struggles with one’s own discipline just as intense. Other people help as a distraction or a buffer, a way of making the idea of sitting at a table with strangers and trying to take their money more pleasant and palatable. And so many people in New Orleans are tourists and hoping to say that they know what your hometown is like too, that they have a past experience that connects with yours. But unless they are Cubs fans, they probably don’t, at least not when it comes to my jacket and card-protector.

In 2001, weeks after September 11th, I holed up with one of my best friends, a Yankees fan (Russ), to watch Game 4 of the American League Championship Series. The Mariners were down 2-1 but had just crushed the Evil Empire 14-3. It wasn’t totally PC to call the team the Evil Empire in the wake of them losing the city’s two tallest buildings the month prior. But after setting an American League record for wins (116) that season after consecutively losing Hall-of-Fame-caliber super-stars Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, and Randy Johnson in three straight seasons, it seemed like the M’s had finally found a way to outwit the perennial favorites, who were sitting on a paltry 95 wins by comparison. The matchup pitted Paul Abbott against Roger Clemens, the back-burners of the rotation for each team that year despite Clemens’ reputation.

The game was a nail-biter to end all nail-biters. Both pitchers escaped danger, gave way to bullpens that did the same. No one scored till the 8th. The M’s scratched a run, Bret Boone belting a homer, Russ threw something, and with the Mariners bullpen that year, it looked like we were bound to tie the series in Yankee Stadium and shades of 1995 were coming back. In 1995, the first year the M’s ever made the playoffs, they lost the first two games of a series with the Yankees only to win 3 in a row, including an 11th inning comeback in the decisive Game 5. Dropping the first two to the Yankees, even at home, was nothing.

And then, at the start of the bottom of the 8th, Lou Piniella went to the bullpen. I couldn’t believe that he was touching his left arm. A smile started to curl on the side of Russ’ face. He was going to get Arthur Rhodes to pitch the 8th.

I love Arthur Rhodes. He’s one of my favorite Mariners of all-time. But that year, he was struggling mightily down the stretch. You could just tell something was wrong with him, every fan could see it. It was the weight of the series with the Yankees or the magnitude of events unfolding in the country that had pushed the ALCS back to October 21st. It was the cold. It was something. And everyone involved with the Mariners knew there was a problem, except for dear Sweet Lou. He blithely stood by his veteran lefty and let the chips fall where they may.

The chips fell in the outfield seats. Bernie Williams clocked a 3-2 pitch out of the Stadium and my yelling at the television since Rhodes had been brought in died down. There was nothing to do anymore but watch.

By the time Kaz Sasaki, record-setter that year for saves by a Mariner, gave up a home-run to Alfonso Soriano, it seemed like I had known the script the whole time. From the moment Lou tapped his left arm or maybe even from the 116th win or maybe from the time the towers fell. This was a Yankees year. You can’t fight destiny. I silently departed Russ’ dorm and he silently let me go, both of us knowing that had the outcome been the opposite we would have been screaming at each other. He’s a sore loser; I’m a sore winner. We are both quiet and contemplative the other way, him seeing winning as his natural state and me the opposite. A lifetime of rooting for baseball franchises with these outcomes.

Game 5 in the series was a formality. The Yankees scored 4 in the 3rd and won by 9. The Mariners have not played a playoff game since.

October 22, 2001.

Two nights ago, I watched the Angels put that kind of a beat-down on Seattle. I made myself watch every inning, every pitch, even when we were down 5-0 early, then 7-0, then 8-0. An 8-1 loss. The M’s are chasing Kansas City for the second wild-card and Oakland for the first wild-card and sort of Detroit, who is winning the AL Central, in case they drop into the wild card. Oakland was off, but Detroit broke a 6-6 tie with 2 in the 9th and won. Kansas City was down 3-0 for most of the game and down 3-2 in the ninth when they used a wild pitch and an infield single to beat the Minnesota closer and win. After spending all summer tempting fans into believing that this could be the year that 13 years of suffering and the memory of Arthur Rhodes end, it looked like one bad night in mid-September was gonna wreck it.

And then there was yesterday.

Yesterday, the M’s were down 2-0 and unable to get any runs. They were getting shut down by another middling starter as they so often do, the bats just refusing to connect with the ball, Seattle looking lost and frustrated. I was deciding how much longer I could watch this series in Anaheim, a matchup with baseball’s best team this year, a series the Mariners desperately need to win if they are to stay in the race. And then, the Angels somewhat inexplicably pulled their pitcher.

It was only the 5th inning.

Walk. Hit by a pitch on an 0-2 count. Bunt that was initially ruled safe at first but overturned on replay. Double, 2-2. Double, 3-2. Pitching change. Strikeout. Double, 4-2. Intentional walk. Groundout.

Okay! This we can work with. The M’s new pitcher, a replacement for Roenis Elias, who had gone down with an injury (because why not?), went 1-2-3 in the bottom of the 5th. Hoping for a little insurance in the 6th…

Single. Double. Single, 5-2. Hit by pitch. Fly out. Single, 6-2. Pitching change. Sacrifice fly, 7-2. Single and a misfired throw to third, 9-2. Single, 10-2. Pitching change. Double. Lineout.

10-2. Holy cow.

The Mariners won 13-2.

Kansas City lost. Oakland lost. Detroit lost.

And suddenly, the Mariners were 1 game out of one playoff spot, 2 games out of a better one, and had remembered how to bat.

That was last night. There are twelve games left in the season.

The Yankees will not be making the playoffs this year. Their biggest star from last year is now a Mariner, though Ichiro Suzuki is still a Yankee. The Mariners have five more games against the best team in baseball. Who they just beat, 13-2. Who fatefully collapsed in 1995 to save baseball in Seattle, leading to the playoffs and the ALCS and eventually blowing up the Kingdome.

Twelve games to decide the fate of thirteen years. Even if the playoffs now can just be one game. A one-game wild card “series” to determine who has the right to play for some real October baseball. Twelve games.

All I can do for now is grab the card-protector, put on the jacket, play my best, and be home for gametime. 9:10 Central. Let’s go M’s.

I know this is stressful, Roenis.  The runs are coming.

I know this is stressful, Roenis. The runs are coming.


NB: This post confused events in the 2001 ALCS with those in the 2000 ALCS, as clarified and corrected in the subsequent post. This original post remains unedited, however, save for this note.

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For the Love of the Game

Categories: A Day in the Life, Know When to Fold 'Em, Let's Go M's, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, The Problem of Being a Person, Video Games Killed the Free Time, Tags: , , , , ,

Me, a little after midnight on the Sunday/Monday border, after winning Event #3 of the Gulf Coast Poker Championship at the Beau Rivage in Biloxi, Mississippi.

Me, a little after midnight on the Sunday/Monday border, after winning Event #3 of the Gulf Coast Poker Championship at the Beau Rivage in Biloxi, Mississippi.

I like competing. I like games. I like situations that produce winners and losers with high regularity. I like this stuff a lot.

But why?

After I posted about my first-ever tournament win of a large poker tournament on Facebook Monday (I won Event #3 of the Gulf Coast Poker Championship, though the prize money ended in a 5-way chop for just under $5k apiece), old friend and Rutgers debater David Reiss queried about how I could reconcile a love of gambling with my political views about equality and the unimportance of wealth. It’s a good question and one that I wrestle with a lot as I try to embark on a run at playing poker more or less full-time.

My first run at a response was this:

“It’s complicated, and probably not entirely resolved like any of the myriad compromises innate to living in this society. A thumbnail sketch is probably that money is pretty much always zero-sum and thus any pay is coming out of someone’s pocket and at least poker is upfront about that fact as opposed to cloaking it. 90-95% of the people who play poker regularly, especially tournaments, can afford to lose what they’re playing with. There are definitely exceptions and I definitely feel bad about that. But I’ve made money off of student loan debt most recently, as well as donations that people intended to go directly to the poor/homeless, so I don’t think you can make money in this world as structured without it carrying some burden of guilt.

And I don’t think it’s a mystery how I feel about competitive strategics being the main basis of how well one does as far as a professional use of time.”

I could certainly write a treatise on the first and primary paragraph of that comment and probably will at some point – the challenges of being a human being in a society structured like modern America and aspiring to do good and not feel guilty all the time are things I explore with regularity internally and, when people will listen, externally. But this post is mostly going to tackle how for-granted I take the latter statement, the love of strategy and competition for their own sake and how competition seems to be its own reward.

There are plenty of semi-rabid type-A people for whom competition as its own reward seems like the obvious order of things. And while I certainly spent much of my youth being a Very Serious Person and extreme grade-skipping had a huge impact of my world-view of myself relative to others, I think I managed pretty well to avoid being a type-A bulldog. I was known during my collegiate debate career as one of the least competitive-driven and forceful people of the top tier of debaters on the circuit, the one far less likely to make novices cry in a round and even less likely to gloat over said outcome, which was seen as a near-virtuous norm for most of my rivals. I still wanted to win, I just didn’t want to make other people feel bad about me winning and I also valued things like discourse and people enjoying the round.

But for a believer in equality, I still get an awful lot of utility out of winning things. To the point that I can look at my middle twenties, between graduating college in mid-2002 and starting coaching college debate in mid-2009, as this kind of desert where I was constantly craving competitive outlets. I took my adult-league kickball team far too seriously in the Bay Area for a couple years, played online video games for vastly more time than I should have, and made a reputation for myself at poker night with friends or game night with the Garin family as the sorest winner and the trashiest talker. Just as Emily was craving the approval of grades, I was constantly seeking ways of winning things or at least riding the roller-coaster of winning and losing that competition breeds. Coaching RUDU felt like this sweet relief, partially for the intellectuality of APDA, but certainly partly just to be on the weekly run of W’s and L’s.

One outlet for this competitive angst that was a constant during that part of my life and dates back to the late 80’s is, of course, my love of baseball. And specifically the Seattle Mariners, another kind of irrational output of energy and emotion and competitive spirit for me. I have wrestled with this part of my personality a lot. Being a sports fan is kind of an objective waste of time in about twenty different ways. These teams are chosen more or less arbitrarily, have no innate value, and the presence of sports in our society puts jocks on a pedestal above those who probably objectively deserve more respect and takes massive amounts of resources away from nobler pursuits. But I absolutely adore baseball and the Mariners and I don’t know how to stop. There is real beauty in the game, there is real love in my heart for the symbols and pageantry and presence of the Mariners and all they represent, their history and their struggles and their logo, and I can’t really justify it any more than I could explain to you why I like cucumbers but not pickles. And I feel bad for it, sometimes, especially when I think about what baseballs are made out of, but I can’t help it. I truly deeply love the Mariners and baseball and will probably never stop watching, no matter how socially dubious the impact of sports is on our society.

I mean, sure. Sports are a place where diversity is celebrated, especially baseball as probably the truly most diverse sport, and ideally and eventually sports should replace wars, and there is a social outlet and recreational outlet for people and I guess sports-consciousness fights obesity in theory, though probably not in practice. I guess it’s not like holding on to some sort of love of weaponry or slaughterhouses, quite. But all of those are probably pretty flimsy justifications in the face of cities who fund huge stadiums for millionaires to cavort in but won’t build more housing for their homeless.

Now obviously being a Mariners fan since 2001 has been heartbreaking (as though 2001 itself weren’t heartbreaking enough, when the M’s set an American League record for wins and then couldn’t even make the World Series) and this leads to another aspect of competition that bears questioning. Why voluntarily put so much emotional energy into the hands of something out of one’s control? And why invest so much time into observing something that will result in upsetting you at least 40% of the time and often, with the M’s, closer to 60% of the time? Isn’t that definitively crazy? I know “fan” is short for “fanatic”, which sort of implies some instability, but why put so much of your mood in the hands of something so iffy? Is it just because everyone else is doing it?

I thought about this a bit in that mid-twenties period and really even experimented with letting go of baseball fandom and the Mariners a bit more, even while still wearing M’s jackets and hats more days than not. It didn’t take. I still wanted to watch most of their games, even in the down seasons, still followed their players like they were friends of mine. And it’s not like I was raised on this from an early age. My Dad gets a little competitive when playing Risk, but both of my parents kind of blinked at me when I told them I wanted to play Little League. They carried this “Sports?? Really?” look around for about a year or so, while still being supportive of my interest, until they’d gone to enough games to kind of fall in love with baseball along with me. I went out and found and chose this all on my own and now it’s just deeply embedded.

I don’t think this post ends with a neat little bow, some tie-in conclusion that explains it all or offers up just the right balance of reflection and thought-provocation. Truth is, I got nothing. I feel like competitive outlets are somewhere between water and food in my daily priority list, but I have no idea why. And I know that a lot of what I most loved about debate, both as a competitor and a coach, is found in poker as well, which is the strategic aspect. The constant intellectual stimulation, the dynamism of all these different personalities and perspectives vying for the same goals and taking different routes to it, and trying to outsmart everyone and get as much control of the situation as possible. This is found in good board games as well, in most of the competitive outlets I have. It’s entirely absent in baseball, of course, except vicariously. Real players and managers get to enjoy the game on that level, but the rest of us can only watch. Then again, despite my clear preference for intellectual pursuits to athletic ones, I still mostly wanted to be a major leaguer from early Little League to late high school. The competitive drive is deeply ingrained and fierce.

Obviously, if I can keep winning tournaments at poker, this monstrous competitive drive within will be sufficiently quenched that I don’t need to keep finding more things to feed it with. That said, one of my first thoughts upon winning and internalizing how much money had been at stake was that I could now seriously consider flying to Seattle if the Mariners make the playoffs this season for the first time in 13 years.

Maybe it’s all just a form of love. If I’ve learned anything in three and a half decades on Earth, it’s that love is the most irrational thing of all.

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Baseball and Society

Categories: A Day in the Life, Let's Go M's, Metablogging, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: , , ,

There are days that I don’t know what this blog is supposed to be about. That’s okay. Life is like that too.

People have divergent interests and the odds that all those interests line up with any given reader’s interests are pretty low, given the diversity of the world. I’ve always been a little distrustful of blogs that focus on one very specific thing as though that were the only dimension of the personality doing the writing, or perhaps the only dimension they’d be willing to show to the public. I understand that those are the blogs most people like and read and follow these days, that it’s easier to say “I’m going to follow this woman writing about the Mariners” or “I’m going to read this guy’s knitting blog” than to actually holistically get into everything a person is doing and thinking and feeling.

And it’s understandable why. Unless you know a person personally, and consider them a friend, it’s just very hard to forgive them all their trespasses and embrace them in toto. I encountered this in reading about one of my literary heroes earlier this summer, but it happens all the time, even with friends. You’re going along with someone’s opinions on a baseball team or knitting and suddenly they start talking about how much they love George W. Bush or that all people of a certain inborn category are not to be trusted and you want to immediately stop reading, undo hours of past reading, and dissociate yourself entirely from anything to do with that person. In a friend, you could argue with this person and weigh the balance of a lifetime of time or the feeling of a lifetime’s worth of connection with that person against these transgressions, but with semi-anonymous online presences, it’s easy to press the discard button.

Heck, not to dredge up the national obsession of the last few weeks (already discussed it too much), but I have seen more references to unfriending people on Facebook over a socio-political issue in the past week to ten days than in probably all previous time on the site combined. Increasingly, it seems that the media-driven cause of exacerbating friction and deep divisions over apparent controversies and wedge issues has gained real traction in the daily lives of people I know. People not only are trying to self-select into the echo-chambers of people who feel and believe as they do, they increasingly are inclined to detach, defriend, and (by extension) dehumanize those who disagree. Which, again, given the diversity of thought innate to any person who is actually trying to think in a nuanced way about issues and not simply regurgitate a party line, becomes pretty isolating pretty quickly if one is going to stick to it. The number of people who believe exactly as you do is small.

Which, I suppose, is why people find it more marketable and advantageous to only talk about one or two things, to put their best foot forward into the world and hide those other less comely appendages. There’s less chance of exposure as being a real human being and more chance that they’ll just love your doily patterns and keep coming back. Which, I guess, is why friends or at least positive acquaintances are the biggest readers of personal blogs and why friendship remains one of the most essential concepts to a functioning society. It’s the only way we can give each other space to be who we are without railing against it all the time in a non-accepting manner.

Before this week, I might have added the caveat here that I just feel more judgmental than most and that there are others who can forgive anyone anything, any thought or deed and just accept them for, gosh darnit, being a beautiful complicated messy human being. I know a couple people like that, used to know a couple more, people who are so enamored with the species and its infinite sophistication that they just can’t find it in their heart to be judgmental of people beyond Hitler and Stalin and, okay, George W. Bush. I know I sound like I’m lampooning these people, but I do have a genuine respect and mild awe for their capabilities here. Part of me thinks making judgments about people is the essential backbone of morality. But I also have room to feel real admiration for the people who just accept everyone, messy and problematic as they are. After all, that’s kind of the Jesus model and he’s seen as pretty cool by a couple folks.

But after this week, I feel pretty non-judgmental on the overall scale. Which for me is a rare feat indeed. As a debate coach and someone who makes his living on the nuance of digging deep into both sides of an issue, into conceptual complexity, I feel like I’m one of the only people who isn’t ready to punt half the people from the country tomorrow.

Which may, admittedly, be because I don’t care as much as others about who deigns to be in this country as opposed to somewhere else on the planet. It’s no great honor to be an American in my perspective, and increasingly is becoming quite a shame. And yet I’m constantly barraged with a contrasting perspective, the knee-jerk patriotism of a nation that can see its descent ahead of it and is desperately trying to paper over a slow decline with the propaganda of hyperbolic empire. Most recently last night on the television, when watching Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game.

During the Iraq War, I went to a lot of baseball games. And they’d always be started by the national anthem, our ode to killing for a flag. And I refused to stand up, refused to remove my cap, refused in any way to pay homage to a society so in love with itself that it couldn’t see the cruelty of its own actions. I try not to stand to this day for patriotic anthems and tributes, though there have probably been a couple instances where I’ve felt vaguely shamed into doing so by people I was with and made a difficult judgment call about their comfort vs. mine and got off my feet, though I tried to look upset about it. There have been a few times when I’ve tried to quietly duck out to bathrooms or concession stands as a compromise between my feelings and making too much of an overt protest with someone who might be upset by it.

I was continually shocked, especially at San Francisco Giants games, by how basically no one else ever took similar (lack of) stands. And I get why – there’s this whole sinner/sins dichotomy that people have tried to cleave out. It’s one of the reasons the anti-war movement was so ineffective this time around as it kept tripping over itself to “support the troops” while decrying their every move. As I always would ask these people, what do you support the troops doing? Is it the killing you support? The volunteering to kill? The torture? The containment of people? The Americanization? And if you support zero of a person’s decisions or actions, how could you possibly call that support? And of course they had to appear pro-American, not wanting to confuse dissent with rebellion of some kind. But again, if America’s every move and decision seemed to be for ill, what did supporting America mean?

But everyone dutifully got up and doffed caps and sang their hearts out and felt really good about the stars and stripes for a couple minutes. While I fumed and sulked and prepared to give up. Sometimes in the company of a few friends who did the same.

I’ve been feeling like a crazy person, or a sane person in a nuthouse, about all this till I read this article that a former debater posted on Facebook, which dredged up my whole idea to make “Don’t Stand for It” a campaign to get everyone to sit during anthems at major events a part of my old vaguely failed One Million Blogs for Peace effort. The article, a brilliant work by sports writer Howard Bryant, carefully analyzes the corporate-government alliance that has made sports a bastion of a very specific politics, namely those of blind and adulating patriotism. And he calls for a little neutrality, a little circumspection, or at least recognizing that the mentality wherein we live every second like it’s September 12, 2001 should possibly stop by 2020.

Watching the All-Star Game last night was like watching a full-fledged exposition of the phenomena Bryant so thoroughly critiqued. The game felt more like a military rally than baseball with the announcers active participants in the flag-waving rather than sober or objective observers of the activity. It has occurred to me more than once that one of my childhood dreams of being a baseball announcer would probably have ended in disaster anyway as I choked on one more series of inane tributes to our “defenders of freedom” who voluntarily drop bombs on whatever kids their superiors tell them to drop bombs on. And here they were trotted out to stand on basepaths, flags were distributed, songs were sung. In the 7th inning, it was “God Bless America”. In the 8th inning, it was “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond himself (refusing to play ball with those who wanted to sing along), which seemed cute and fun for once until it was explained as solidarity with Boston, a city that lost 3 people earlier this year. I don’t recall everyone adopting a Rockies tradition for the rest of the season after Aurora or even a Red Sox (perhaps Yankees?) tradition after Newtown, but apparently we’re so conditioned to accept white American men firing the guns that these things do not trigger the same fears or solidarities in us. Perhaps we have to be restrained from cheering for their actions too, stopping only when we see that they are not in the correct uniform.

And of course, as Bryant recognizes in alluding to the gladiatorial roots of sports as spectacle, I have to question my own tendencies toward patriotism in the context of such relentless jingoistic displays. I criticize irrational adoration of a country, right or wrong, simply because one was born there. But what does it mean to be a sports fan, especially of one team? Is that no less insane? To choose the colors, emblems, and traditions of one entity within the pantheon, to devote countless hours and attentions to their rises and falls, forsaking all others and emotional stability in the process… is this not just as nuts? Surely I wouldn’t kill for the Mariners, but my exhortations at their successes and failures leave almost every other action for them on the table. Is not the patriotic bombast of Major League Baseball merely an extension of the devotion expected of (and granted by) any worthy fan?

It’s a thing I struggle with, deeply. It’s not that I’m worried I’m going to commit violence for the M’s or that my devotion to them is fully clouding my judgment. But this kind of loyalty to an utterly arbitrary entity and the time and energy that follow are obviously irrational. They are a waste in all senses except the human (especially contemporary American) need for fun and recreation. And I have mixed feelings nagging at me about baseball as well. While I adore the sport and its every hallmark (except for the aforementioned ties to nationalism), it’s based on the slaughter of tons of large mammals. And not just to feed its nationalistic masses, but to actually play the game, they harvest the skin of cows and horses. I find this highly problematic and usually convenient to push such thoughts to the recesses of my mind, only to jar me every time the announcer says “leather,” a word I’ve conditioned myself to be repelled by. There’s a part of me, a big part, that feels it would be most sensible to just go cold-turkey from baseball and perhaps sports altogether. To stop rooting, cheering, attending, subscribing, obsessing over a group of men assembled by the wealthy for the ostensible entertainment and unity of Seattle, Washington.

And if I’m unable to do that, if I aver and say to the critical voice in my head “but I like baseball and I like the Mariners and it’s not doing any real disproportionate harm,” am I any different than the jingoists I criticize? Perhaps in degree, with that whole killing thing, but really in kind?

I struggle with it. I struggle a lot. There are so many things I object to and take issue with and feel burdened by in the way society is structured and basic expectations that it can be exhausting to even process, let alone do something about. There are times that I wish, back to the blogging thing from the top, that I were a single-issue person, that there were just one thing about this country that needed tweaking and I could devote all my energy and angst to that and feel that if it were changed or overhauled, we’d really have gotten somewhere. And while I guess violence holistically is close to that thing, I could probably name 100 egregious violations of the way I think things should be in our society that are wholly unrelated to violence. It’s a lot of why I’m unimpressed with gradual change as a model and why it’s hard for me to fight my fatalism a lot of the time. The idea that I will ever live somewhere where I’m not constantly critiquing and sighing is unfathomable to me, at least if Russ is wrong about us being infused with immortal jellyfish DNA within our previously expected lifetimes.

So I guess I’ll keep rooting for the Mariners and watching baseball, if only to have that brief suspension of disbelief, that brief solace, that brief comfort that someone has designed something that, while inhumane, is beautiful in its way. And if I can ignore leather, I can ignore the flags and the uniforms and the willing masses of the gung-ho. And in those moments get from the fresh-mown grass and turn of a double-play what others must get from drugs, that moment of feeling a little less alone in a world of insanity, of feeling like something must be a little bit right if these things are happening as they are, if the species got together to put effort into this. Despite all its flaws that I’ll think about a second later, inevitably, no matter.

And then I get to add to the list of things I worry about being wrong that the Mariners’ front office used to be so incompetent, especially as I watch Adam Jones start in the All-Star Game and know that Chris Tillman will probably be in one soon. Not that the M’s don’t still have stars of their own.

Here are the Mariners’ 2013 All-Stars. They hail, respectively, from Venezuela and Japan. I wonder what they think of all this American propaganda and pride.
HernandezIwakuma

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Monday Fun Facts

Categories: A Day in the Life, From the Road, Let's Go M's, Quick Updates, TH'HEAT 2011, Tags: , , , ,

1. I am in Kansas!
2. Kansas is not as flat as you think it is.
3. I am going to Manhattan, Kansas this evening, which I’m afraid will be very dull. It was really fun when I was there in 1987. I was an impressionable 7-year-old.
4. The Seattle Mariners have lost fifteen (15) games in a row.
5. I have not seen anyone I know for thirty-two (32) hours. It will be even longer before I see someone I know again.
6. I will be in Topeka tomorrow, a key setting in Loosely Based. I have not been there since I wrote said novel.
7. I used to regularly compare things to “the size of Topeka” to indicate their largeness.
8. “Largeness” is probably not a word, but Firefox has not red-squiggleyed it for spelling. Firefox has now chosen to red-squiggley “squiggleyed”. And “squiggley”.
9. I get a little punchy on the road. This mood is preferable to the incredibly sad/angry spells I get at least once an hour when on the road alone these days.
10. This list has more than ten facts.

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What Do You Expect?

Categories: A Day in the Life, Let's Go M's, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Read it and Weep, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , , , , ,

Mariners’ record this year: 2-2
Mariners’ record this year with me watching: 0-2
Mariners’ record this year without me watching: 2-0

I might want to keep track of this over the course of a season, but it might be too depressing. There’s something very 2010-feeling about the above statistics, making the whole thing seem retrograde and unfortunate. I’m still getting mail from the Law Office of Trudi G. Manfredo, slowly training me to not let my heart leap when I see a large envelope or package waiting for me by the mailbox. No wonder so many adults used to hate getting mail. No wonder people have so robustly embraced e-mail and the postal service is having to run pyramid schemes to stay afloat.

Dissolution. There’s an apt word for you. The solution is getting dissed. Amen.

Got my copy of The Pale King today, the first new book I’ve let myself purchase since I started getting mail from Trudi. I am palpably excited about it, despite the fact that I know it won’t finish, perhaps especially because, since David Foster Wallace’s books never really finish and often almost die mid-sentence. They are about the journey and the exploration and in this case, about the descent into madness that accompanies a final chapter, a final submission, the narrative into suicide. Which is not to say, of course, that this book killed him, but it probably didn’t help. Electro-convulsive therapy is what killed him, of course, which I’ve discussed before. I’m now faced with a dilemma about abandoning or suspending my progress through Underworld to pick up the new tome, which feels somewhat compelling because my interest in DeLillo only came from running out of Wallace to read. However, there’s something to be said for savoring and delaying things, especially when they are the last of things. Once I get through The Pale King, there will be no more Wallace fiction in this lifetime.

What of apprehension, then, of surprise, of anticipation, of expectation? I have been on a new mantra lately, a big kick, something that stems from my interactions with Trudi and friends, yes, but also a longer scope of life writ large. It’s that what we can see coming is never that scary. Dental visits, deadlines, interviews, departures. We build them up in our minds to be cataclysmic moments of potential doom, but rarely does the actual moment even push the meter of our stress levels. They may not always be pleasant, may not always turn out, but not a one of them ranks as the top fifty worst days of any of our lives. It’s the surprises that count against us, the things we don’t see coming, the car accidents and sudden deaths and blindsidings and phone calls in the dead of night. There’s some relaxation and sobriety to be gained from all this, and I’m not even certain the sum of the information is reassuring. On the one hand, we’d be well served by just calming down about everything we dread. On the other, we must constantly look skyward in a more overarching dread for the calamities which may fall therefrom.

Of course the nature of surprise is that it can’t be anticipated, so the idea of this creating an overall aura of creeping dread seems silly in some ways. One could ruin every day one has remaining caught up in negative anticipation of death and I know many who do it (or would, or start whenever they come close). Some people even mistake my own hyper-awareness of mortality for this, though it’s actually the opposite – it’s a comfort with the concept designed to fuel energy into the living days, not a draining dread instead. (Incidentally, I know I keep overusing the word “dread” instead of synonyms, but it’s to hammer it home… and isn’t there an onomatopoetic beauty to the word? Does anything sound like “dread” so much as that solemn dead syllable itself?) No wonder we love surprise parties and surprise gifts and surprise whirlwind trips to the Bahamas. It corrects our vision of where the badness comes from, reminds us that positives can come from traditionally negative sources. That the clear blue sky is not just waiting to kill us, but perhaps also to elate us, that the random cacophony of wills involved in shaping our world can be on our side as well. No wonder I chose to delay telling the Rutgers team some particularly excellent news I have for them tonight so they could savor the nature of positive anticipation as well, so they could suspend their lack of faith in the notion of surprise.

Of course this last is a dual-sided sword, for in having time to anticipate so-called surprises, there is the inevitable churn of disappointment that correlates quite cleanly to the relief of surviving dreaded events. How many Christmases, birthdays, long-planned dates lived up to the expectation, the savory sweetness of mental pre-hyperbole? If someone tells you to go into a room and imagine the best thing you can, what are the odds of that getting exceeded? We are an imaginative species and capitalism trains us to be disappointed with whatever we actually have available to us in the face of what we could have. This is why we are so unhappy as a society. This is why we have drug and alcohol problems. This is why, yes, marriages so often dissolve into mailed paperwork as a replacement for one-time dreams. Reality is almost always short of our expectations, our best hopes. And it is all too easy to trade in reality for a lottery ticket, literal or figurative, suspending the idea that one’s chronic disappointment is a product of the very nature of expectation itself rather than merely unlucky circumstances that could hypothetically be changed. All too often, the unhappiest people learn far too late that it is their mindset, not their means, that have led them to disappointment.

My creative pursuits have found massive suspension against the backdrop of unexpected employment and intensified responsibility. The May 15th deadline for the fourth novel is entirely laughable at this juncture, long ago mentally erased if not literally so on my year-long plastic wall calendar. The summer arises as a possible boon to the creative and imaginative pursuits, a resurrection of quizzes and novels and the things I spend my life promising myself to do while usually getting caught up in more directly personable and interactive pursuits. Is it against my nature to sequester and write, to scribble and shun in order to communicate in a wider, broader, more explicable way? Should I be more comfortable with the 1-on-1, the 1-on-10, the small-scale but somehow attainable pursuits of change? Is this my true calling, in spite of what my ten-year-old self concluded? My ten-year-old self was sick of people, felt rejected and isolated. Every year since, with only romantic exceptions, I’ve felt more welcomed and included and inspired by the people in my life. Perhaps it is there, in iteration and not stagnant text, that I have the most to offer. Or perhaps it is a balance, as feedback rolls in from the prior two tomes of my own, perhaps there is something quality in scaling these pursuits against each other, in alternation, in the much vaunted middle ground.

I can’t even update Duck and Cover on a regular basis these days, it seems… today all but destined to be another gap in the already reduced weekday schedule. Part of this is a logistical paper problem – I’ve worn out the month of Oscar themes, but need some supplies to rejoin the regular tread of the other eleven months. Of course I feel an additional disconnect when facing the political world, however, namely an inability to relate to the events of the world around me. The US has become a hyper-militaristic state, never flinching from a conflict where anonymous bombing can destroy buildings, lives, and morality. And all the people I warned about Obama starting a war, I wrangled with about his Afghanistan comments and said he would find countries to invade in his tenure, that it’s become almost required action from each Presidential term, they can’t wait to sign up as being “in” on the Obama campaign on Facebook, can’t wait to commit to four more years of death by sky. There are no Democratic or Republican ideals, there is only a commitment to big business, big war, big money, big death. This is America’s role and influence on the world and the only hope is that someone eventually gets sick of it. But it won’t come from within, that’s increasingly clear. The next generation has been co-opted, far too susceptible to the idea that whoever America replaces bad leaders with will be better even in the face of plethoric counter-evidence everywhere in the world. The simple notion that killing can lead to progress has done more harm than any other single concept, and yet it remains close to its most pervasive at this very moment in history. Six-thousand years, no real progress. Just flashy machines and technological advancements to bring us our books from far away, our mail from law offices, our bodies to one continent or another, while our minds and emotions fail to keep up.

It’s no coincidence that the most satisfying aspects of our lives are the most ancient. Yoga, oral discussion, the warm feeling of connection to another human soul. It is at our most rooted that we are the most secure, happy, able to trust and hope. Put away the phone, unless it is really helping you communicate directly and robustly. Put away the screens, the bells, the whistles. Sit. Think. Read, maybe, or maybe just talk, even to yourself. The core of our experiences are no different than they were 6,000 years ago, or maybe longer. The best hope for progress may, in fact, be regress.

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It’s Wednesday

Categories: A Day in the Life, Let's Go M's, Quick Updates, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, Tags: , , ,

Truly random musings, because it’s that kind of day and I’m in that kind of mood:

1. Life is a lot better when one isn’t in chronic tooth pain.
2. I’m really wildly excited about our tournament, now just nine days away. You should check out how much fun we’re having with our theme.
3. Yoga can be quite painful, especially for one’s head/neck. I am not trying to play with headstands any more.
4. In related news, I think there’s something wrong with my system when it’s held upside-down. I’ve always hated upside-down roller-coasters and last night my head felt much like it does after going on one. This may be related to migraines or just having a thin skull or something.
5. Baseball season is likely to increase quality of life soon. At least, until the M’s are 20 below .500, which will probably be about late May or mid-June.
6. I have/get to spend the weekend on the Princeton campus. This should be… interesting.
7. Computers seem to corrode my discipline. Showers enhance it. Food is a crapshoot.
8. I need to find a place to feed ducks regularly when spring comes. This is one of those random little aspects of life, like having an armchair or burning candles regularly or talking to people more, that is really easy to do and really ups my attitude about everything. I think at the end of life, it’s easy to ask why we didn’t fill our days with more tiny little enjoyable activities.
9. Most things seem worse in advance than they actually are. This should be the basis for fearlessness, especially in accumulation. Look back on all the things you dreaded and got through. Is life really worth dreading?
10. I think whenever I next get a pet, which could be years from now, it will be a rabbit. Preferably an English Spot:

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Thank You, Mr. Niehaus

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Let's Go M's, Tags: , ,

Dave Niehaus died last night at the age of 75. Most of you probably don’t even know who he is, but the picture above might give you a running start. He was the man who single-handedly (or voicedly) convinced me to be a Mariners fan. He was the shepherd of my audio youth, the man who may have first inspired me to take an interest in public speaking. Indeed, it was an aspiration of mine to be a baseball radio announcer long before a speaker or debater. Although I guess drama had something to do with that evolution as well.

A lot of what I would want to say about Dave Niehaus today is what I already said about him when Ken Griffey Jr. retired earlier this year. Read that post and you’ll see how inextricable the influence of Dave Niehaus as the lead broadcaster for the Seattle Mariners was from my growing to love the team, from my love of all the players whose names he called amid the excitement of “My oh my!”, “Fly away!”, and “Grand salami!” He was the consummate broadcaster, warm, friendly, approachable, prone to enthusiasm at all the right moments. And of course he was on the call when the greatest moment in Mariner history happened, that fateful fall of 1995:

In recent years, I’d gotten a chance to reconnect with Niehaus during his early-inning stints on the TV broadcasts and late-inning stints on radio, both available in California and Jersey through the magic of the Internet. He’d been wearying a bit, laboring under the strains of a septuagenarian body running through a much younger man’s schedule. They were giving him breaks in the middle innings. But in 2008, he finally was inducted into the Hall of Fame, and the lift in his voice that came in the final two years thereafter was clearly audible.

It is thus tragic, but somehow almost fitting, that the M’s lost 101 games in his final year with the team, with the planet. The Mariners have never been about winning, not really, not even when they set the record for wins in 2001 only to fall short of a World Series. The Mariners of 1977 that Niehaus first broadcasted lost 98 games. They went on to have six seasons worse than that, including 2010, and one equally bad (1992). They didn’t even get above .500 once until 1991, by which time Niehaus was well on his way to converting me away from the A’s and into a lifetime of love for Seattle. And the next year they still lost 98 games.

Listening to a Mariners game will never be the same. Dave Niehaus has announced nearly every one of their games in franchise history. No one knows what it’s like to be aware that the M’s are playing and not know that somewhere, whether directly audible or not, Mr. Niehaus is plying his craft in the booth, musing and screaming with every pitch and swing.

Thanks for everything, Dave. Fly away.

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Sun Cracks Horizon Dawn

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, Keepin' it Cryptic, Let's Go M's, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , , , , ,

Forgive the use of the Star Warsy sounding subtitle in the new logo up top, but it’s really the most accurate thing I can convey. There’s a reason that film was a smash hit, and if you go back and look at it, it wasn’t because of the acting, dialogue, or even the special effects. I’m going with title.

Explanations, you ask? No one ever called me an enemy of the sine-curve. And since there was nowhere to go but up a few days back, the universe promptly complied. Or I dug myself out. Whatever narrative you prefer, based on your accordance of free-will, control, fate, or what have you. As soon as I can resolve the paradoxes of absolute free will and the benevolent safety-net of the universe, I’ll let you know.

Suffice it to say that I’ve had the best 50 hours of my last 2,500. It’s been over a hundred days since the crisis began, and it feels like I’ve been truly happy in a sustainable (read: more than a few hours) way for the first time in that whole duration.

Some causes:

1. UPenn vastly surpassed Maryland (which was only two weeks ago, and the last competition we attended) as the best tournament in RUDU club history (caveating again the legends of early-1990’s teams that were comparable and technically organized as a different club). Dave & Kyle won the tournament, the first tourney win in the 10-year history of RUDU. Farhan & Chris broke for the first time as a team, including Farhan’s first-ever break, won quarters on a 3-0, and then barely dropped semis on a 3-2, finishing 3rd overall. First and third. Needless to say, the team was euphoric all weekend and everyone was just beaming at the team dinner as we basked in the glow of having come a ballot short of closing out finals. And Krishna & Bhargavi were in a bubble round to boot. As the post that will go up on the debate side will attest (once we get an image unloaded off someone’s camera to display atop the site), Rutgers is now 5th-ranked in the country, breaking our all-time high from two weeks ago, and Dave & Kyle are the 4th-ranked partnership in the country. Yeah. It was a pretty good weekend.

2. Today I got a call about a job interview for one that I’d applied to long enough ago that I’d given up on it. Turns out that they were sifting through 400 resumes and I’m one of three (3) finalists getting interviewed in the next couple days. It’s in NYC, four days a week, wrapping pretty neatly around debate. It looks like I can get monthly train passes that keep the transportation costs from being prohibitive, and carry the added bonus of giving me a marginal-cost-free ticket into New York whenever I want. There’s no guarantee, but I’m feeling pretty good about it. And even if I don’t get it, it bodes well for future such applications. My interview’s tomorrow.

3. The San Francisco Giants, long my second-favorite team in baseball and my favorite NL team, are one win away from the World Series title, their first in the city I used to work in. While my obsession with their playoff run has been limited to listening on the computer due to not having a TV and generally being lower energy for much of October, I’m still elated to see them on the verge of this milestone, especially coming at the expense of Texas. I can’t imagine how Gris must be feeling right about now.

4. There has been another development which I will refrain from overtly discussing, probably for a long time depending on how things go. But it’s good and has helped turn things around in conjunction with the above.

Happy? Yeah, I’ve been happy lately. For real. Today especially, with that job interview coming in on top. I can look at these four things and think they might not look like much. You might even say they were all obviously inevitable. But in the throes of the last hundred days, not a one of them, let alone all four, felt even likely. That’s the nature of a tunnel.

It’s far too early to declare any sort of emergence from the tunnel and it’s clear that all four of these things are tenuous (well, probably not debate, since that’s pretty well established and no one can undo the accomplishments of the past nor deny the momentum it implies for the future). But it’s a big fat start. And there’s enough factors that even if one or two collapse completely, there’s a lot to build on. It’s rally time, kids. Get your caps on.


Postscript:

Cleaning up my place today and doing the surprisingly enjoyable laundry (having it in the basement instead of down the road or at the laundromat is remarkably fun – this is the closest I’ve lived to a washer/dryer since living at home in high school), I was listening to Pandora. And paying close attention when a song I’d never heard came on.

It was Tom Petty’s new “Something Good Coming”, and I submit it to you as the best encapsulation expressible of my current mood:
Listen to/watch “Something Good Coming” here.

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