Tag Archives: baseball

#lonewolftenor

The All Star Game is one of summer’s time-honoured traditions. You don’t even need to say “Baseball’s” All Star Game, but it’s understood that if you just say All Star Game, you’re talking baseball. Sure, other sports have copied baseball, but baseball was the first sport to offer up such a thing. In 1933. At the Chicago World’s Fair. It was supposed to be just a one time fun thing, but like the wise words of  the reverend Dr. P. Denton taught us, “do something twice, and it becomes a tradition” and so it happened every year (except in 1945 due to Nazi infiltration, or something), and people seemed to like it so much baseball actually held two all-star games for a while there in the late ’50s and early ’60s until Kennedy was killed and then a nation, in mourning, went back to the more sensible one game per year model.

But you know what? Many baseball fans, including me, sort of don’t like the all-star game, or the all star break. Sure, it gives the players who are not playing in the game a chance to go to Cabo and hunt Marlin (they are just like us!), and I DO like watching the players come out and get announced, but a whole week without baseball in the middle of summer just feels wrong to me. It makes me uneasy. And who ever thought watching a bunch of guys hit dingers in a competition would be fun? Not me. It’s like watching a bunch of people at a golf driving range hit balls into a field. People don’t do that, do they? AND WE SHOULDN’T, EITHER. And yet, there is a home run derby every year the day before the all star game, and people seem to be really into it. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good home run in context as much as the next guy, but if you are going to a baseball game to just see home runs, you are missing out on 90% of what makes baseball interesting.

But, we are told it is for the fans, and so we must let it happen, because it is TRADITION.

I missed the game last night, as it turns out. I had to work, and co-present a talk on a NEARBY NATURE PARK with an EIGHTY NINE YEAR OLD MAN for whom the park was named. It turned out okay, and might even be blog-post worthy on its own, but the upshot is that I didn’t get to see any of the game. I hear the American League won, which I guess means that’s good for our Jays, but other than that it was a pretty run of the mill all-star game, EXCEPT THAT IT WASN’T.

Apparently the “Tenors” sang “O Canada”, but one of them changed the words to “All Lives Matter” and then, just to make sure the ref wasn’t missed, reached into his jacket and pulled out a sign that said, “All Lives Matter”. This was supposedly done by just one of them, without the knowledge of the others, and as a result the hashtag #lonewolftenor is now trending on Twitter.

WTF, man. You don’t go around CHANGING THE WORDS to a national anthem. If you tried that with the Star Spangled Banner, you’d probably be shot, AND WITH GOOD REASON. I’m not saying there isn’t a place for politics in sport, but just sing the damn anthem as written. ALSO, it’s deeply problematic that you would choose to highlight the “All Lives Matter” phrase, which is seen by many as a counter movement to “Black Lives Matter” activism, dismissing and trivializing their concerns. This isn’t your clever “reinterpretation” of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” that no one wants to hear. You’re not singing a reworked Ron Sexsmith song for the Queen, this is America. This is baseball. Don’t fuck around.

(And as an aside, I’m not sure if this would make a difference, but would the #alllivesmatter people be happier if the #blacklivesmatter group changed their name to #blacklivesmattertoo? or #blacklivesalsomatteralongwithalltheotherkindsoflives? Bit long, but would that make people happy?)

It seems like the “Tenors” (the rest of them) have really disavowed themselves from this action, going so far as to call it disrespectful and embarrassing. And that the guy who did it (I can’t bother to go look up his name), is “suspended” from the “Tenors” until further notice. I’m not saying that the problem is with Tenors, but let’s just say that if there was a group called “The Canadian Baritones”, or “The Canadian Altos”, or even “The Canadian Sopranos”,  this would never have happened.

The best outcome out of this would be if the “Tenors” just went away, all of them.  Does the world really need 4 guys who think they are handsome singing in falsetto anymore? I’ve actually seen these guys in concert. (Not by choice). A few years ago, my uncle and aunt had tickets to a symphony pops concert featuring “The Tenors” and they couldn’t go, so they gave them to my wife and I. Now, this probably sounds snobby, but if I am going to go to a symphony concert, I want to hear something a with a little “oomph” to it. I want to hear a full oratorio, or maybe a Beethoven or Mahler symphony, I’d even take a Mozart piano concerto. I tend to shy away from the Pops concerts (unless it is an evening of John Williams’ music, then: yes please!), but the tickets were going to waste otherwise, so we went.

And yeah, you can imagine the result. I mean, it was OKAY, but lord knows we don’t need another version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” in the world, and it was all a bit too cheesy for my liking. The highlight of the night was driving home and we came across a car accident. It was just one car, and it had wrapped itself around a lamp-post and looked pretty crumpled. We drove by it slowly and my wife said, “The driver is still in there. What should we do?” We didn’t have a cell phone, but we stopped and got out and walked back to car. It was winter, and the driver seemed stunned, but he was conscious. You always hear of stories of cars catching fire after being in accidents, so I was a little fearful of getting to close, but my wife got right in there, opened the door and assessed the situation. I’m not sure what the story was about the driver. A young guy, (OBVIOUSLY), but we weren’t sure if the car was stolen or what. He seemed motivated to get away from the crash scene. He had a friend in Osborne Village that he felt like he needed to get to, and he stumbled out of the car and started to walk away. Alarmed, I said, “Wait, you could be injured. Maybe we should wait for an ambulance?” but he was not interested. Then, my wife: “We could give you a ride. It’s too cold to walk there.”

And so that’s how it came to pass that we left the scene of an accident with the culprit in the backseat after a “Tenors” concert.

We drove him to a corner in Osborne Village and he hopped out, and made his way into a nearby building and we never saw him again.

We went home.

So I always associate “The Tenors” with a car wreck in my mind, which doesn’t make last night’s musical car wreck seem all that unexpected.

 

Advertisements

4 Comments

Filed under blogposts

#Cometogether

“Baseball breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart.” A. Bartlett Giamatti, Commissioner of Baseball

As I write this, the Jays are down 2-0 after the first inning of Game 2 of their ALDS against the Rangers. Yesterday’s game was the first postseason Jays game in 22 years. The same amount of time that Norman Bates spent locked up between Psycho and Psycho II, the same amount of time between now and when I spent 4 months on a psych ward getting treated for Depression. You connect the dots if you like.

October baseball has, in recent memory, been something that Jays fans enjoy from the sidelines. At most, we can cheer for the Yankees or the Red Sox (or the Orioles or the Rays for that matter) to LOSE. Or, we can play the “he was a former Jay” game which is kind of fun but also kind of sad. Or, you get to cheer along your secondary teams, your Minnesota Twins, your Oakland A’s, for example. I enjoy the post-season, but I never had much personally at stake in them.

It’s different this year, of course, because we are actually in them, and it’s a tough adjustment for fans and I can only imagine for players too. Yesterday’s game showed that. David Price looked shakey, and we lost the Bringer of Rain and JoeyBats by the end of the game. Luckily, I understand both those dudes are back in the lineup today, so we’ll see.

GAME UPDATE: We got one back in the bottom of the 1st. 2-1 Rangers in the second.

I’m at work today, so the best I can do is check in on this sketchy “Game Day” interface on my computer.

gameday

All this post season talk really makes one reflect on the last time the Jays were in it, in the early 90s. I’ll be honest with you and say that it was a bit of a weird time for me. I really got into baseball in a big way in the 1985 season, when the Jays went famously “From Worst to First” and won the pennant that year, losing out to the Royals in the ALCS. Up to that point, I liked the idea of baseball, and knew my parents watched it, but that year, the year I was in grade 5, was the first time I could actually talk about the game with my Mom and Dad (especially my Dad) and follow the standings in the paper and learn about such things as pitching rotation, and how the playoffs works and stuff like that. I know it is a cliché to say that fathers and sons can bond over baseball, but I’ll tell you this, I can’t watch the end of “Field of Dreams” without actually tearing up, and I’m okay with that.

My Dad never saw the Jays win the World Series. He left us in 1991, and that autumn his (our) secondary team, the Twins, won the World Series. The next two years, of course, were the years the Jays won it back to back. I don’t actually remember watching those games, if you can believe it. I loved baseball, but for some reason I couldn’t bring myself to watch those games without my Dad. I’ve since absorbed the feelings and moments of those games through secondary osmosis. “Touch ’em all, Joe!”, but if I told you where I was when I watched them, I’d be lying. The second postseason, especially, was when I was losing my real grasp on reality as I slipped into a Depression so I can’t with any authority tell you what I was doing inside my head that autumn. Through sleepless nights and suicidal thoughts, whether Joe touched them all, touched some of them, or decided to just walk in front of a subway train really didn’t matter to me.

GAME UPDATE: All tied up at 3 in the third!

And then of course in 1994, the following year, there WAS no World Series, despite the fact that the Jays and the Expos were leading their respective divisions and could have conceivable resulted in an ALL CANADIAN WORLD SERIES. It would have been too much for the Baseball Gods to allow.

I slowly came back to baseball in the mid-90s, listening to Jerry and Tom call the games when my boss at work would leave the radio on. He liked listening to the “oldies station” during the day, and sometimes he would leave at 5 pm and forget to turn the radio off. At 6 pm the station switched over to carrying the Jays games and I would let the game play. I couldn’t believe I was getting paid to work AND listen to baseball. And the way those two guys could banter and create a word picture and bring you into the experience was remarkable. There are a few great baseball announcers out there, and when you are blessed with a pair that call your own games, you say thanks to the BGs for it. Also, at that time, it felt like enough years had passed from when my Dad died that listening to and following the games no longer felt like a betrayal, it felt like a reconnection, an honouring of sorts.

Now: this season. It’s been brewing ever since the Jays made that trade a couple of years back that brought Dickey and Buerhle over, and continued with the getting of Donaldson and Martin. I love Donaldson, you guys. The bringer of rain! But you know what, I love even more that Oakland took Lawrie off our hands. It still seems like the trade of the century and I still think at some point Billy Beane is going to call up AA and said “You know, I put some fine print in that trade, and so it’s null and void. We want our rain bringer back, you can take your D-Bag.” That can’t happen, can it? And Russell Martin! I love him too. He’s Canadian, to start with, he seems grounded, he can hit, he can throw out guys at second, he seems fun, he seems nice. He has “the good face”. I’m gushing a little here. Don’t get me started on Price and Stroman. SPOILER (I like them too. I actually pretty much like everyone on this team this year. Okay, maybe not Drew Hutchinson, but there’s always THAT ONE GUY anywhere you go, right?)

And that unreal August, where it looked like we might actually get a wild card spot, BUT WAIT, we might actually clinch the division! And we did, and so it was. And that old Rogers Centre had sell out games for the first time in forever, and it was cool to follow the Jays again. I don’t mind all these band wagon jumpers. It’s great to see such full crowds, not just in Toronto but on the road across America. That goofy #cometogether hashtag, the one which I made many vulgar jokes about at the beginning of the season, actually turned into something great, something that I tweet not ironically now.

And you know what? I don’t really care if they are fair weather fans, because baseball isn’t about fair weather. It’s about routs, and losing close games in extra innings, and heartbreaking injuries, and devastating disappointments. It’s an October game, after all, disguised as a summer past-time. It’s bloody hard being a baseball fan, but it’s the only game I care to follow year in and year out. What does that say about me?

But now here we are, and yesterday wasn’t great, but at least it felt normal. It was the only thing we know. Remember, the game is designed to break your heart. I just really want the Jays to win this ALDS and get to the ALCS. At that point, I’m sure we can find out legs and groove and make it to the World Series. I KNOW we can.

GAME UPDATE: Still tied, going into the 4th inning. How am I expected to get any work done today?

Leave a comment

Filed under blogposts

“It ain’t over til it’s over”

“In baseball, you don’t know nothing.” Yogi Berra

Hey gang. You wouldn’t think I’d let something like the passing of baseball great Yogi Berra happen without a little check in from the lighthouse HQ, would you?

And on the first day of autumn, no less. Or is it fall? Nobody knows. The season of mystery, or “of mists and mellow fruitfulness”, if you believe that Keats fellow. No one really knows when Autumn begins, either. Some people think that it is today, the autumnal equinox. Autumnal. What a great word to say out loud. Why not say it with me? Autumnal. Followed by equinox, another nice one to say out loud. Band name! (Called it.) AND YET SOME CULTURES consider this the “Mid-autumn” point. Those cultures would be wrong.

Others see Labour day as the psychological end of summer/beginning of Autumn, while others still think that as soon as we turn the calendar to September 1st IT’S ALL OVER. I’m not even going to mention those sons of bitches “down below” who seem to think Autumn starts in March. I mean, really. What’s next? Telling me that January is beach weather for them?

Autumn also signifies the end of the baseball season, the beginning of the “post season”. So it’s rather appropriate that baseball legend Yogi Berra would pass away on the last day of summer, when the days shorten and the shadows lengthen. September 22. It also happened to be the exactly anniversary of Berra’s first major league appearance, back in 1946. He was 90 years old.

What can I say about Yogi Berra that hasn’t been said better elsewhere? Like for example in today’s NYT obituary? Not much. I mean, the guy had a cartoon bear named after him, for goodness sakes! It wasn’t until I was an adult that I made the connection between Yogi Bear and Yogi Berra. He was also a WWII veteran, serving in the navy and participating in D-Day!

We could talk a little bit about his on field accomplishments: his 10 World Series championships, including catching Don Larsen’s perfect world series game in 1956. Being an All Star for 15 years? Leading the Yankees to two more World Series championships in the late 1970’s? We could go on and on.

Ber4[1]

I forgot he managed the Yankees in the midst of the tumultuous Billy Martin years in the 1980’s, and that even though Steinbrenner made a promise to Berra that wouldn’t fire him that season, guess what? He did. And what was worse was that Steinbrenner didn’t even fire Berra personally, he sent a stooge to do the job for him. This was so hurtful to Berra that he swore to never set foot in Yankee stadium again. He kept his word for 14 years until Steinbrenner went to Berra’s home and apologized in person.

This is all baseball stuff, and that alone would be enough to make Yogi great, but the wider culture may remember him more for his “Yogi”isms. Despite the fact that he only made it to grade 8, Yogi Berra became known for his little sayings and bits of wisdom dispensed over the years. Some of which pertain to baseball and some of which apply to everyday life. Here’s the kicker though: many of these sayings MAY OR MAY NOT HAVE ACTUALLY BEEN SAID BY HIM. Well, as you well know, one of the tenets of “Mountains Beyond Mountains” is to never let the truth get in the way of a good story, so we are ALL OVER these sayings, whether the great man actually said them or not. In fact, Berra has been quoted as saying, “I never said most of the things I’ve said.” I’m not even sure he said THAT. We’re into lexiconical inception here, people!

Let’s just finish off which some of these gems, as we remember a man who impacted pop culture in such a pervasive and yet unintended way. Like the man said himself, “A lot of guys go, ‘Hey Yog, say a Yosi-ism.’ I tell them, ‘I don’t know any.’ They want me to make one up. I don’t make ’em up. I don’t even know when I say it. They’re the truth. And it is the truth. I don’t know”.

  • When you come to a fork in the road, take it.
  • You can observe a lot by just watching.
  • It’s like deja vu all over again.
  • No one goes there nowadays, it’s too crowded.
  • Baseball is nine percent mental and the other half is physical.
  • The future ain’t what it used to be.
  • All pitchers are liars or crybabies.
  • A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.
  • You better cut the pizza into four pieces because I’m not hungry enough to eat six.
  • You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there.

 

Yogi and the Jeets!

Yogi and the Jeets!

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under blogposts

Ten short years

“I’ve got soul, but I’m not a soldier.” The Killers

I realized this week that this Sunday marks ten years of me singing in our church choir. Ten years! Another way of saying that is a decade, or even a tenth of a century if you want to get fancy. (Who DOESN’T?)

Let’s slip into the ol’ TARDIS and have a looksee, shall we? The Black Eyed Peas were on the radio asking where is all the love, and Gwen Stefani was telling us that the SHIT is bananas. (It really was, back then. That just shows how far we’ve come as a scociety.) I had just bought tickets to see U2 in Milwaukee that upcoming fall, with the hope that I’d finally see “The Killers” open for them. (I was off by one or two dates. By the time the Milwaukee show rolled around, The Killers were replaced by some outfit calling themselves “Dashboard Confessional”. Right? I don’t remember them either.)

But in the spring all things were possible. The Blue Jays had a pretty scrappy team lined up, a team that Joe Torre of the Yankees said he “most feared” of all the teams in the American League East, and we’re talking about the spring after the Red Sox’s historic 86 year ending drought. Let’s just look at those Jays for a second. Gregg Zaun was our catcher, you guys! And Ted Lilly and Shea Hillenbrand were still there. That was before Shea wrote that mean-spirited message on the clubhouse’s chalkboard and before Lilly tried to kill his manager, as I recall. Well the joke’s on HIM, because he is long gone, and his manager? Well, his manager is none other than the CURRENT manager of YOUR 2015 TORONTO BLUE JAYS, JOHN GIBBONS, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN! Also on the team that year? That walking douche bag Eric Hinske and the doomed Corey Koskie (the pride of Anola, Manitoba!). My personal favourite dude on the 2005 Blue Jays? Reed Johnson. That guy knew how to take a pitch, and he got hit by so many of them, I bet Billy Beane still thinks about him. Speaking of Billy Beane, I just googled him to make sure I got his spelling right and you know how Google tries to guess what you are trying to look for? Well the first thing that comes up is “Billy Beane GAY?” [caps added by editor]. Can this be true? I mean, he was married twice to ladies and has a daughter BUT THAT DOESN’T MEAN ANYTHING IN THIS DAY AND AGE. I don’t want to be the one starting rumours, but if you’re reading this Billy, COME OUT OF THAT CLOSET! It’s 2015! You live in the Bay Area, for God’s sake!

But I digress, obviously.

It was the spring of 2005 and I somehow got dragged into ushering one Sunday at this church near our house. We had been attending off and on in the two years previous, but nothing too serious. I had some family connections at that church and that was about it. How I came to be ushering on Palm Sunday remains lost in the mists of time. But I’ll never forget a shortish lady approached me after church and asked me if I could sing. At this point, I hadn’t sung in a choir for over a decade, since high school. The choir director at our old church was a bit of a dick and I didn’t want to be involved full time. I’d join for the odd “big thing” but that was about it. I think I kind of stammered. “Um, yeah. I guess.”

“Well, why don’t you join our choir?” It turned out this shortish lady was Helen, the choir director.

“When do you practice?”

“Thursdays.”

“Oh okay. Well, maybe I’ll think about it and join after Easter.” My old church started practicing Easter stuff way back in January and it would have been unheard of for a “Johnny Come Lately” to join up the week before Easter, on Maundy Thursday, no less.

“Why wait? You could come on Thursday and sing on Easter Sunday.”

My first Sunday in the choir being Easter Sunday with only one practice? It sounded crazy, but you know what?

I did. And that’s how I joined the choir.

At my first practice, a lovely older man, John, came up to me with a twinkle in his eye and introduced himself. He really took me under his wing and got me a folder and asked me if I was tenor or bass. A slight shadow passed over his face when I told him “bass”, but we soon got past it. I learned that my choir debut wasn’t going to be Easter Sunday, but the very next day! Good Friday! John made sure I had a gown that fit me (more or less) and from the very first day I felt loved. I also soon remembered how much fun it is to sing in a choir, and how much I actually missed it.

What I wasn’t expecting was how much this choir would become such a loving source of fun and friendship over the next ten years. [Editor’s Note: This is the part of the blog post where we mention God, so feel free to go to the kitchen and make a sandwich or put the kettle on, or just skip ahead to the next paragraph.] In addition to the challenges and joys of learning new pieces together, it provides an opportunity, for me at least, to connect on a spiritual level to something bigger than me. To God or whatever, as Jesse Thorn might put it. [Editor’s note: you can come back in now. How’s the sandwich?]

A couple of years later, we were doing a combined service with the Anglicans down the road. My wife entered the wrong door, and instead of ending up in the sanctuary, she walked right into the hall where the combined choirs were warming up. That’s all it took for her to join the choir! Before she knew it she was filing onto the chancel . After church, some people approached my wife and expressed amazement that she was in the choir. I don’t think anyone was more amazed than she.

My wife, the more outgoing one, quickly made friends with the altos on either side of her, and those friendships have remained strong to this day, transcending the choir and even the church, despite the fact that my wife hasn’t been able to sing in the choir in a number of years due to her work schedule. She still has a gown, though.

Time is odd. Sometimes an hour-long dental appointment lasts for ever, and other times you can blink and ten years have slipped by. Where will we all be ten years from now? I’m not even 100% sure what I’m having for lunch today. I hope that I still get together with friends for meals and general goofiness, and I hope I’m still singing somewhere, even if it’s just in the shower.

Newsflash! Billy Beane and Reed Johnson were reportedly married in a quiet civil ceremony over the weekend. Vin Scully presiding.

Newsflash! Billy Beane and Reed Johnson were reportedly married in a quiet civil ceremony over the weekend. Vin Scully presiding.

9 Comments

Filed under blogposts

RE2PECT for a “Nothing Game”

I’m not quite ready to let go of Derek Jeter just yet.

He played his last game in pinstripes last night at Yankee Stadium. He also played his last game at short stop. In an interview after last night’s game he said he wanted his view of the field and the stadium from the vantage point of between 2nd and 3rd to be the last one of his career. He’s sure he’ll appear “in some capacity” in the final series of the season in Boston starting tonight, but not short stop. I’m thinking maybe a DH, or perhaps a dramatic late inning pitch hitting situation? For all intents and purposes, we can just about close the book on Derek Jeter’s career. Whatever happens in Boston this weekend in the “away greys” will surely be a footnote compared to the thrilling final chapter that we saw last night.

Twenty seasons. Damn you, Derek Jeter. You made me not hate the Yankees for almost two decades, and I hated myself on the inside a bit because of my conflicted feelings.

I’m a tried and true (some may say tired and true) Toronto Blue Jays fan. I think the best way to love baseball is to choose a team, (it doesn’t matter what team, actually) and just stay faithful to them year after year, learning the players personalities and idiosyncracies, discovering the evolution of the rivalries, and find the fun, human aspect that all teams, even losing teams (maybe even especially losing teams) have. And so generally speaking, the worst enemies of your own team will be the other teams in your division. So in my case, we’re talking about the Red Sox, Orioles, Rays and of course, the fucking New York Yankees. In the 1980’s, I was one of the worst Yankees haterz. (I seem to think of 1988 as the year that I sort of “awoke” to baseball and followed the Jays for the whole year. There were certainly highlights before that. The “worst to first” season of 1985, especially. But if I had to draw a line between a time when I casually liked baseball and when it got under my skin, I’d have to say 1988.) I still remember the hate, the sheer HATE I felt for Dave Winfield when he was a Yankee, and all the weird emotions when he signed with the Blue Jays. I tried to like him, but I just couldn’t. How could he be anything but a Yankee once he was a Yankee?

The fact that the Jays won back to back World Series in 1992 and 1993 took the sting out of the rivalry for a while, and the Atlanta Braves quickly became my worst hated team in all of baseball, and they still remain not even worth mentioning.
Then we had 1994, the strike year. No post season. No chance for the Blue Jays to win 3 World Series in a row (also no chance for our other Canadian team, the Montreal Expos, to make the post season despite leading their division at the time the stadium doors were shackled.)

So in a way when we all came back to baseball, it was a different feeling, like someone had hit the reset button on the hard drive, and now there were these new young guys on the Yankees that weren’t actually total assholes. You had Andy Pettite, a soft-spoken pitcher with a killer fast ball being caught by Jorge Posada, a kind of goofy but lovable and (more importantly) reliable catcher, some relief pitcher that eventually became the Yankees closer, the last player to wear 42 on a regular basis, the Sandman, Mr. Mariano Rivera, (my mom’s favourite player. She was always a secret Yankees fan and I think was happy that her son was showing signs of softening) and some kid from Kalamazoo called Derek Jeter. Derek Jeter? How do you even pronounce that name? It looks like it should be “JETTER” or something. What’s his deal? These four dudes went on to become the “Core Four” who lead the Yankees to 4 World Series wins in 5 years in the late 1990’s and were reunited on the team in 2009 when they won again. A year or so after the arrival and consolidation of the Core Four, the Yankees hired Joe Torre as their manager, and my loyalties were further divided. Joe Torre had a wonderfully calm, unflappable quality to him that I really really liked. Damn it, why couldn’t the Jays hire someone like that? Instead we had some weird dude who tried to inspire his players by making up shit about being in the Viet Nam war. Seriously. And during all that time, Derek Jeter played short stop for the Yankees.

Something weird started to happen to me on the inside in the late 1990’s. I began to not mind if the Yankees were on the top of the American League East. I started to really admire and (god help me) respect how Joe Torre ran this team in the toughest sports city in the world under the more demanding management in major league baseball. Even the ancillary players like Scott Brosius and Paul O’Neill were fun to watch and holy fuck was I becoming a closeted Yankees fan? I mean, I still loved the Blue Jays, I would tune into Tom Cheek and Jerry Howarth as much as I could, and cheer on Carlos Delgado, Shawn Green, and that saucy gypsy Raul Mondesi, but the Yankees just seemed to be more interesting to follow those days. Something about the way Jeter carried himself made me really admire and look up to him. Sure, he may have had his share of tabloidy stories about “dates with the ladies”, but was there ever even a hint of trouble with steroids? Never. And we’re talking about the juiced era of the mid ’90s to the mid ’00s. That’s remarkable in itself, and something to remember.

I made a compromise to myself that I would always pull for the Jays first during the regular season, but once the Jays were eliminated, I could  cheer guilt-free for the Yankees in the Post Season. I told myself I wasn’t cheering for the Yankees because they were the Yankees,  I was pulling for Joe Torre and Derek Jeter who just happened to be employed by the Yankees. If they were with the Houston Astros, it would be no different. (Except that if they were with the Houston Astros, who would give a fuck?) Remember when Andy Pettitte went to the Astros for those 3 seasons? Nah, me neither.

Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to see the “core four” in action in person. I’ve seen Pettitte pitch to Posada in New York in 2007, Mariano close out a game in Toronto in 2002, and in addition to seeing Jeter in both those games, I most recently seeing him play in Minneapolis in 2008 and this past July on his farewell tour. On this last trip, I even got seats along the third base side (against my natural inclination to sit along the first base line, right Jamie?) so that we would have good views of Jeter in the field.

I have been known to wear Yankees caps from time to time, and I even have the odd t-shirt, bought for me by my Mom, who is always hoping I’ll fully convert. She’s the worst.

So, in recent years, the “core four” became the “key three”, and in 2008 Joe Torre went to the Dodgers before taking a desk job with MLB. Posada retired after the 2011 season, and Rivera and Pettitte went last year. In Mariano’s last appearance at Yankee Stadium, Joe Girardi was going to pull Rivera before the end of the game. It wasn’t so much that he needed to go, game wise, but it would give the fans an in game moment to honour him one last time. At the last minute, instead of going out himself to get him, Girardi sent Pettitte and Jeter out to the mound to send him off. It was a sweet and genuine moment that I think baseball fans will be talking about 50 years from now. It brought Mariano to tears on the mound, and I know I shed a few myself that night. After that, only Jeter remained. Jeter. Number 2. The last of the group that made me doubt my loyalties to the Jays, and now he was about to play his last game at home.

I’m not much of a stats guy. I love baseball, but when people start throwing numbers around like “On Base Percentage” and “RISP” (real talk: I don’t actually know what the RISP stat is), my eyes glaze over. I’m sure if you are interested in Jeter’s career stats, there are other places you can find them.

The only stat that I’ll mention here is the number of games in which Jeter played where the Yankees were mathematically eliminated from the post season. In other words, the number of “nothing games” that most teams play at the end of each season. In twenty seasons, before last night, that number was “1”. One! That means that of all the games that Jeter ever played in, aside from one, the Yankees either had a fighting chance to make the playoffs, had clinched a playoff spot, or were in the playoffs. Isn’t that a bit astounding?

I say “before last night”, because the Yankees were eliminated from the wild card race on Wednesday this week, so that number has now doubled to 2 (and will be 5 when you count the upcoming Boston series starting tonight). So no storybook ending for the Yankees this year, and last night’s game meant nothing, statistically speaking. The Baltimore Orioles have clinched first place in the American League East and were only looking to pad their numbers going into the post season.

A nothing game.

But you’d never know it.

My daughter and I tuned into the game last night (because: history!) and Yankee Stadium was packed. The energy in that place was unreal. The Yankees were out, but you’d never know it. Even after the Orioles first two batters hit back to back home runs in the top of the first (ruining Jeter’s final “roll call” from the bleacher creatures), you could still see the fire in Jeter’s eyes. His first at bat resulted in an RBI double and he eventually came around to score, tying the game at 2. The Yankees went ahead 5-2 but the Orioles made a game of it and tied it 5-5. It all came down to the bottom of the 9th. You can’t make this stuff up. Anything can happen in Baseball. With one on, Jeter hit a nice solid reliable clutch single into right field, (his signature specialty), causing the winning run to come home. His arms were raised above his head somewhere between first and second, like we’ve seen him do so many times in the post season over the past 20 years. It’s over. The Yankees win. And this is what makes baseball great: you know who is managing the Orioles? Buck Showalter. Buck Showalter used to manager the Yankees in the mid ’90s and he was Jeter’s first major league manager, so how appropriate, how “full circle”-esque is it to have Jeter’s first manager present and active in his last game, albeit for the other team? If this was fiction, you’d say, “come ON.”

And who was waiting for him once the initial cheering and jumping around eased off? Four guys: Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and my beloved Joe Torre. The core four and the manager that led them, reunited on the field one last time.

The game meant nothing, but this moment was everything.

Did I mention I fucking love baseball?

RE2PECT

Leave a comment

Filed under blogposts

The Thrill of the Grass

“There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” Robert Kennedy.

A few days ago, I attended my first baseball game of the season. It was a spontaneous spur-of-the-monent kind of thing. That’s often the best way to attend a ball game. You wake up one day, the weather seems right, you phone or get phoned by someone who suggests a game and you’re off. It felt great to be back in the old ballpark, and it was a double-header to boot. The previous night’s game was rained out, so we got a toofer. (In our team’s league, double header’s are seven inning affairs, so not quite two full games, but way more baseball that one would normally expect). It didn’t even matter that the home team, our team, lost both games. It was the being there that was important: the sights, sounds, and smells of the ball park.

And the grass. That green grass. The thrill of the grass, as W.P. Kinsella put it. My friend and I are kindred spirits when it comes to baseball. Sure, we like stats as much as the next guy, but it’s the poetry of the game, the history, the tradition, the unspoken rules and code that appeal to us more than anything else. The idea that foul lines diverge into infinity, and that we are always standing in a ballpark, somewhere, somehow. In fact, we are always standing in all ballparks, at all times, if you think about it.

Think about it.

Woah.

Back to my storyt: It wasn’t long before I saw another familiar face: my cousin Aiden. His Dad, Cal, was my first cousin. I think I may have mentioned him once or twice in these posts. He was my favourite cousin, period. At family gatherings I always tried to sit next to him, to get his attention, to hang out with him. And he was always great with me, even though he was 15 years older. He was the one who introduced me to the best band in the world, U2, when I was in grade 7, so I owe him that in the very least. He was one of those guys who was always interested in hearing what was going on with you, and always had something interesting to contribute. He always had a joke or a wry observation about the way of the world, I think I got a lot of my love of humour from hanging around him.

So here was his son, Aiden, selling beer at the ballpark.

Beer.

Is it even possible that Aiden was old enough to sell beer? I guess he’s 18 now, and I felt old. It didn’t escape me that I am the same age now (39) that Cal was when he died., killed in a car accident 15 years ago. Tempus Fugit, as my grade 10 english teacher used to remind us.

We had a little chat, and I really wanted to buy a beer from my cuz, but it was kind of a chilly night and I didn’t really feel like anything right then, so he moved on to do his rounds. Maybe I’d catch him later.

One of the nice things about our ballpark is that local and chain businesses are allowed to rent concession space in the park. You can get generic hotdogs and hamburgers, sure, but if you feel like a slice of Boston Pizza, or a donut from Robin’s Donuts, or something from Salisbury House, those things are available to you.

And Arby’s.

Regular readers of this blog will know of my possibly unnatural love of Arby’s, and what a major role it has played in my life so far, and so having the ability to chomp on a Beef ‘n Cheddar or some curly fries while sitting out and watching a little baseball may not be heaven, but it’s close enough, am I right?

So before too long, my friend and I decided to take a little stroll along the concourse and get a couple of Beef ‘n Cheddars to take back to our seats. I wasn’t really thinking, and had already eaten a Beef Dip at a nearby pub before the game, but that wasn’t going to stop me.

As we made our way around the park, we noticed a few new concessions; one of which was “Taco Time”. It seemed like a pretty decent addition to the line up, but for some reason it wasn’t open. The big metal sliding door was all the way down, and we took a picture of my friend standing by the “Please Place Order Here” sign. It was just a bit of fun, and we were going to tweet the pic with a line saying something like, “Those Tacos are sure taking a LONG time” or something like that. Just some fun, right?

photo 2[1]

We well almost got the end of the concessions, when we both had the same thought.

“Where is the Arby’s?”

We retraced our steps, and came to the horrible conclusion that Taco Time took over Arby’s spot! If you looked closely, you could almost make out the chipped paint where the Arby’s sign used to hang, partially covered up by the new Taco Time signage. And to add insult to injury, the bloody Taco Time wasn’t even open. Not only were we denied Beef ‘n Cheddars, an important part of our ballpark experience, but it was replaced with nothing. Just a shuttered kiosk.

The sad reality sets in.

The sad reality sets in.

The final insult was on the side door of the former Arby’s, current Taco Time. You could clearly make out the outline of Mitt, Arby’s oven mitt mascot. It was almost like a chalk outline around a murder victim, but the real victims here were the enthusiasts of slow roasted, freshly sliced roast beef within fresh onion buns and delectable cheese sauce.

Mitt without his binders full of women.

So long, Mitt!

I’ve been known to exaggerate on here, but I am not lying when I say that we were both in some form of mild shock.

Crime Scene

Crime Scene

“First St. James, now this.”

There was even a bit of crazy talk of leaving the game and driving to Transcona to the last remaining stand-alone Arby’s to satisfy our cravings. Instead, we made our way back to our seats, and en route we bumped into my cousin, Aiden, again.

“Aiden. The Arby’s is gone. What happened?”

He looked solemn and said, “You know a lot of people have been asking about that.”

“Really???”

“No, you’re the first. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever even had anything from there.”

This news fell hard upon the first disappointment. I could only imagine what his father would have said.

“Look Aiden, Arby’s was wonderful. You could get these delicious Beef ‘n Cheddar sandwiches….” and I went on to describle the different things you could get there, like I was a sales rep, or maybe just a deranged, low-end foodie.

“You know, that does sound pretty good. I think maybe I had the curly fries from there one time,” but I could tell he was only humouring us.

What is it about Arby’s that has caused it to languish where other fast food chains flourish? My friend and I talked about this a few days later, and we’ve decided that they haven’t diversified enough. McDonalds and Burger King still sling burgers, of course,  but you can get chicken nuggets, or even terrible salads if that’s your game. Arby’s? Well, if you’re not into Beef ‘n Cheddars, you probably won’t be headed there, will you? I mean, if you have a picky eater in your group, chances are that picky eater wouldn’t find anything to their liking. It’s a sad, hard truth.

I ended up going to the regular concessions, resigning myself to a generic hotdog. On their menu, however, was pulled pork on a bun.

“Well, that sounds promising!” I said to myself. But the person behind the counter told me they were all out of pork.

“We can make it with turkey,” she said helpfully.

“Sure, why not? What do I have to lose?”

So I had pulled turkey on a bun, and returned to the action of the game. I wasn’t at all surprised to see that in that short time it took us to look for Arbys, see it was gone, complained about it and found secondary food, the visiting team scored 5 runs on us and went on to win not only the game but the series.

It was as if the baseball gods were in sympathy with the roast beef gods, and why not? Anything can happen in baseball.

Leave a comment

Filed under blogposts

Rubbed the RIGHT Way

The Blue Jays came to town!

Well, three of them did, anyway.

This was part of their “Winter Tour”, and although I have a vague memory of them doing this other off seasons, it is the first time they included our town on the schedule. The Blue Jays are Canada’s team. They are Canada’s team because they are Canada’s only team. But even when Canada had two teams, it was always the Blue Jays for me. No offence to the dozen or so self-identified Expos fans out there, but Expos baseball just felt…..off. Maybe it was the clown like ball caps, or the weird stylized “M” on the front that doesn’t look at all like an “M” to me. Maybe it was because it seemed like you could only get the games on the French language CBC and they called batters “frappeurs” and what not. Maybe it was the ridiculously cavernous Olympic Stadium, where you couldn’t really ever feel close to the action. A friend of ours lived in Montreal in the 1980’s, and even then The Expos had a hard time drawing a crowd. Our friend told us that they had this deal that for $5 you could get a ticket to the game and a free return trip on the Metro. He and his friends would often do that on a weeknight: not to watch the game, LORD no, they would go because apparently there was this amazing falafel place in the concourse and they would just go to eat.

It probably wasn’t The Expos fault, really. I mean, the baseball gods always had them pegged as losers. It’s no coincidence that in 1981 and 1994, two years in which The Expos were actually leading their division, both times the seasons ended in lock outs. The baseball gods were not going to take any chances. It’s comforting though to see that a mediocre team North of the border has transitioned nicely into a mediocre team South of the border. There’s something to be said for consistency.

Okay, having said all that, Gary Carter was amazing!

Okay, having said all that, Gary Carter was amazing!

But enough about The Expos. Let’s get back to the Jays!

We found out that three Blue Jays, pitchers Brett Cecil and Aaron Loup, and all-star outfielder and home run king José Bautista would be signing autographs at a local mall.

Although this is the first time the Jays came to town on their winter tour, I have a distinct memory of the Blue Jays coming to town when I was a kid, back in the 1980s to play some exhibition game at our old football stadium. I can’t imagine what team they would have played. Maybe some kind of national junior team, or an Olympic team or something? The weird thing is that I can’t find any evidence of said game online or anywhere else. Is it possible it was all a fevered fantasy, like something out of a W.P. Kinsella short story? It’s possible, I guess. Although I clearly remember Cecil Fielder hitting a home run and my parents and brother and me, we had to crane our necks every time a pitch was made, because we were so high up and the sight lines to home plate were so terrible.

But back to the signing:

My friend Steve, who loves baseball like I do, and I decided we had to go. Was it weird that two grown men in their late 30s would line up to get autographs from baseball players? We didn’t really think about it. We just decided to go. I mentioned it to my Mom, and she got all excited for us. She has a great sense of adventure and began to ask me what I was going to get signed. “Do you have a cap? Maybe a ball? How about a baseball card?” I DID have a cap, as it turned out. Picked up at the Rogers Centre last spring, new logo and everything! But the thing about getting clothing signed is that you have to sort of wear it gently, and I was hoping to work my new ball cap into a regular rotation in the summer. It didn’t really happen last summer, and if I got it signed, I’d feel like I’d just like to put it up high somewhere and look as it from time to time. A ball or a card would be ideal, but I didn’t really have time to sort all that out.

My Mom, the adventure lover, came by a couple of days before the signing. She had gone around to various sports collectibles places and came up with three blue jays’ stamped baseballs, a pennant(?), a José Bautista t-shirt, and the coolest thing of all, in my opinion: A Topps José Bautista baseball card!

“You won’t believe what I had to do to get that card!” she said. Before I could conjure some horrible imagery, she told me that she visited a couple of card shops but that they were all sold out of Bautistas. But one nice older man, “I think he LIKED me!” told my Mom that he had a few boxes at home and that he’d go through them that night and if he found a Bautista, he would call. Sure enough, the next day at work my Mom got a call and she bustled right on over and picked it up. My Mom gave the man a toonie for his trouble (the card was $1), but he insisted on giving correct change. I sense a LOVE CONNECTION!

I almost didn’t have the heart to tell my Mom that it was one signature per person per player. “Oh, well. Maybe I’ll go myself!” she said cheerily and off she went.

The morning of the signing, Steve picked me up. It was decided that Steve would get three signatures on one of the blue jays balls, I would get two signatures on the other blue jays ball, and get José to sign his card.

The force was strong with us that morning, because the entrance to the mall that we chose happened to be the one that was opened a half hour before all the others. There was a small crowd of people with Jays’ gear, so we knew we were in the right spot. I counted about six security guards when they opened the gates and told us the rules. “No leaving the line, no running, and no cuts. If you let someone in, you’re both gone.” Harsh, but fair, I guess.

We were ushered into line and it turned out there were only about 15 people ahead of us. A little while later, a second rush of people joined the line, then a third. I guess all the other doors were slowly being opened.

“Hi guys!”

It was my Mom. “Boy, I guess I sure chose the wrong entrance! I thought I could sneak through the Starbucks, but no luck. You guys sure got a good spot.”

I could almost not look my Mom in the eye. I certainly couldn’t look Steve in the eye. How could I not offer my Mom cuts? Yet if I did I would be putting our own position in jeopardy. Happily, my Mom never made any attempt to gain an advantage. “I’m way back there, but I’ve made some friends. They are such a nice group of young people. We’re all going to go out for coffee afterwards. Do you need a Sharpie?”

My Mom may very well have been Lord Baden-Powell in a previous life, because she was always ready. I’m sure they had pens up there, but I took the Sharpie anyway. Apparently her man friend, the card collector, told her that Sharpie was the way to go. She produced the third ball, and a mysterious fourth ball that didn’t seem to have any markings on it at all, and she vanished into the crowd.

We had a few minutes to survey the crowd before the Jays arrived. We didn’t feel out-of-place. There were people of all ages around, some with kids, but a lot without. There was this one dude in front of us who had an old timey leather-bound autograph book. I wondered aloud what kinds of signatures he may have had in there, and Steve was about to ask him when I got all shy and thought what if it was filled with embarrassing things like wrestlers and pornstars? “Even better!” thought Steve, but we never inquired. I sort of regret that now.

“Hi guys!”

This time it was our friend Jackie, who had been at the mall for totally unrelated business and happened to spot us in line. She was mildly interested in what was going on until she saw that we would be given Jays’ toques after the signing. She debated about cutting in line, and Steve and I told her the score. “If you get caught, we don’t know you!” She mulled it over, and then chose the perfect moment.

Before long a cheer went up near the end of the line and the Jays were marched in, led by two mounties in full red serge. It was like the Queen was here!

In all the excitement, when everyone’s attention was on the Jays taking their seats, Jackie slipped under the ribbon and then two became three. We didn’t tell her til afterwards that we banished my Mom to the back of line for fear of reprisal.

I was the first one through the line. Our plan was that Steve would take pictures of me getting things signed, and then I would get pictures of him.

The first player, Brett Cecil, said, “Hey man!” He addressed my like I was just a regular guy or something. I presented my ball and he asked me if I wanted a Sharpie or blue pen? I asked him what he thought was better and he thought the Sharpie would yellow on the leather over time, so I went with pen. I don’t even remember what I said to him otherwise. Isn’t that crazy? It all happened so fast, just a few seconds really. I think I told the next player, Loup, that we were hoping to drive down to the States and see a few games this year, and I think he liked that.

Next up, Bautista! I smiled at him and slid my card across the table to him. I don’t think I even said, “Hi” or anything. A bit rude, but this wasn’t his first rodeo. He surprised me with his first comment.

“Did you rub it?”

“What?”

“Did you rub it? Rub the card?”

“Um, No. Was I supposed to?”

I had no idea what José was talking about, but then I realized that the card was a little bit glossy so maybe he meant I should have roughed up the surface a bit so the marker would stick better? He reached out with his right hand and started rubbing it with his thumb. At the exact same moment my brain said, “This guy is a superstar and a future hall of famer. He shouldn’t have to rub his own cards. I should have pre-rubbed that thing. Maybe quietly at home, or maybe furtively in the car on the way here, but not out in the open like this. It’s embarrassing!” I reached out to take the card and get it nicely rubbed for him, but like I said, he had already began to rub it himself. The result was that for a moment I touched his hand with my own. It wasn’t a manly handshake, reader. It was a weird, almost tender touch. My left hand on his right hand. I’m going to go so far as to call it a “caress” but there was definitely “skin on skin” contact.

I am SERIOUSLY considering starting a Tumblr called "Men with nice beards".

I am SERIOUSLY considering starting a Tumblr called “Men with nice beards”.

I quickly withdrew my hand and he proceeded to sign it and off I went. I’m not sure if I even said thanks. I was pretty shaken by the whole exchange. So shaken in fact that I totally forgot to take a picture of Steve with José. This blurry piece of business was the best I could muster. José isn’t even in the frame, but I can assure you that to the right and down a bit the home run king was conversing with Jackie.

Anne Leibowitz, eat your heart out.

Anne Leibowitz, eat your heart out.

I think Steve was a bit like me. Tongue tied. But Jackie, who 10 minutes before was happily shopping for an iPhone, didn’t have the baggage or the investment to get all worked up. She had a great question. She asked  each player if they had any predictions for the upcoming year. Both Cecil and Loup had variations on “It’s going to be a great year, or it’s already a great year with all the off-season signings and tradings”. José, though, simply said, “I don’t make predictions.” I would like to think his mind was still on our little bit of  “touching” that had just happened.

You will not BELIEVE what I had to go through to get these signed.

You will not BELIEVE what I had to go through to get these signed.

In addition to being one of the Jays’ star players, he is also a spokesperson for “Booster Juice”. In the summertime you can see billboards around town with José holding up a delicious fruity beverage and the caption says: “Bats right. Throws right. Lives right.” You can now add “RUBS right” to that list, am I right?

boosterjuice

Leave a comment

Filed under blogposts

The Great One

Okay, so this is going to be my 99th post.

99, everybody! 99th post, getting posted on January NINE. The effects of ragnarok are still being felt. Let’s just let that sink in for a bit…………all right. Enough.

So I guess whenever you think about 99 you can go three ways (threeway! heyo.) You can go the luftballoon route, you can go the Occupy route (we are the 99%, bitches), or you can go hockey.

I don’t know what a luft balloon is. But here’s the video. Maybe we’ll learn something.

Anything? I got nothin’. Or maybe “Ich habe nichts”, right?

And the occupy movement had its moments, but this is 2013 people. If you want to protest something, #idlenomore is where it’s at.

So that leaves us with hockey.

***Silence*** ***Crickets*** ***More Silence***

Okay, so it’s not that I don’t like hockey. It’s just that it feels like I only have room in my head and heart for one sport, and that sport, happens to be baseball. I don’t know how that happened. I mean, I live in Canada, I should be into hockey, right? Why did baseball plant itself in my heart first? It’s true that my Dad loved baseball, and my love probably stems from that. I remember lots of nights as an early teen about to go out and meet my friends and I would pass my Dad who was sitting in the living room in front of the tv watching most likely the Blue Jays but sometimes possibly the Expos. He’d said, “You sure you want to head out right now? There’s a bit of a barn burner on right now”. “Barn burner” was my Dad’s term for a baseball game that was close and in the late innings. I’m sure he didn’t invent it, but he used it so much that I also attribute it to him. Sure enough, the game would be in a late inning (7, 8 or 9, or maybe extras) and it would be tied or within one run or something. And against my better judgment more times than not I would sit down and finish it off with him. How could I go out? There was romance, history, drama, comedy, excitement and disappointment all waiting in the wings. I was often late to meet my friends in those days.

I’m not saying that hockey doesn’t have all that too, it’s just that I don’t feel it the same way. My Mom loves it, and is a lifelong Toronto Maple Leafs fan. She would listen to the games on the radio before her family even had TV, and I get it. I know what it means and how it feels to be passionate about something, and I do feel a bit bad I don’t feel the same way. I guess maybe I was born without the hockey gene.

Just yesterday it was announced that the owners and the players had reached an agreement and that there will be an NHL season this year after all. Most likely it would start on January 19 and most likely it would be 48 games.

Paradoxically, I am actually more excited by this shortened season that I have been for regular season hockey most other years. Maybe it’s not that I don’t like hockey, per se. Maybe it’s the length of the season that gets to me. I feel like if you’re able to cut your lawn outside, you shouldn’t be inside watching hockey playoffs. Call me old fashioned.

I love Olympic hockey, but that’s only for two weeks every four years and may have as much to do about my deeply held patriotism than with the game itself. So maybe this is the season that I become a hockey fan.

Did I ever tell you about the time that I was walking through the mall and I noticed a small line outside the Cole’s bookstore? I went in to investigate and wouldn’t you know Jean Beliveau was there, signing copies of his autobiography. The only thing I knew about Jean Beliveau was that he appeared in a lyric from a Jane Siberry song. I’ve got a link to the song below. WARNING: she uses the “f” word. I didn’t know a thing about the history of hockey, but somehow I bought a copy and got in line. He signed it, “To Trevor, Best Wishes, Jean Beliveau”.

Well, I felt like a bit of a phony after that, and so I thought I owed it to myself and to Jean to read his book and I was fascinated by it. I loved hearing about all these legends and about the early days. I loved the story of how Guy Lafleur approached Beliveau at the end of Beliveau’s career and asked if he could wear Beliveau’s number 4. In the book, Beliveau said, “No Guy. You see, children all over Quebec wear the #4 because of Beliveau. It wouldn’t be fair to them. You will be a superstar one day, and you need to choose your own number, and one day children all over Quebec will wear that number for Guy Lafleur.” And that’s why Lafleur wore #10. After that, I became a Montreal Canadiens fan, the same way that some people became Oakland A’s fans after reading or seeing “Moneyball”, or so I’m told.

A similar thing happened with Gretzky. He wanted to wear #9, in honour of his hockey hero Gordie Howe, but #9 was taken. He tried a couple of other numbers but wasn’t satisfied. His coach said, “Well if you can’t have one, why not wear two? 99?” Gretzky thought that would be a bit pretentious and that the other team would take shots at him for it. His coach apparently said, “Kid, you’re fast but you’re small. They’re going to be taking shots at you ANYWAY.” And the rest was history.

So yeah, hockey. Shortened season. Bring it on! The best part of a shortened hockey season is that catchers and pitchers report in six weeks, am I right?

Nah, I’m just foolin’ witcha. And to show that I’m not hatin’ on all y’all hockey lovers, here’s a lovely video showing why Gretzky was “The Great One”, set to music by “My Chemical Romance”. Apparently this video brought Kevin Smith to tears, but I think he was on the “marijuana” when he watched it, so all bets are off.

Toodles, and Happy New Year!

"This book was signed by Jean Beliveau so don't fuckin' tell me where to fuckin' go."

“This book was signed by Jean Beliveau so don’t fuckin’ tell me where to fuckin’ go.”

1 Comment

Filed under blogposts

Is this heaven? No, it’s Iowa.

“It’s hard not to be romantic about baseball.” Brad Pitt as Billy Beane, Moneyball. 

I had the great pleasure of seeing Moneyball this past weekend. On the surface, it tells the story of Billy Beane, the GM of the Oakland Athletics, and how he introduced a new way of evaluating players’ skills. In a sport where payrolls are hopelessly unequal between clubs, Billy Beane’s adoption of some of Bill James’ methods is met with a response of confusion, defiance and open hostility. The movie also addresses wider issues such as what we value in society, second chances, and making decisions based on factors other than money. There’s a lovely dynamic between Brad Pitt’s Beane and Beane’s assistant played by Jonah Hill. I loved it, and thought that it surely would fit nicely somewhere in my top 5 baseball movies. Only problem was, I didn’t really have a top five list of baseball movies. Who does, really? I’ve had fun today thinking about which five movies would make the cut.

So what follows is my personal list of my top five favourite baseball movies, or scenes about baseball in non-baseball movies. Does this make sense?

5. The Pride of the Yankees (1942) Baseball seems to lend itself to incredible stories of heroism and romance, more so than any other sport. TPOTY is the story of Lou Gehrig. The Iron Horse. He never missed a game. I mean never. He played in 2130 consecutive games. This record would not be broken until the mid 1990’s by Cal Ripken Jr, and will never be broken again. Back in the day, your number was the order you hit. Babe Ruth hit third, so he wore 3. Gehrig hit fourth, so he wore 4. Simpler times. Then, one day, he wasn’t feeling so great and took himself out of the line up. This was in 1939. Gehrig was only 35 at the time. Turns out he had ALS, a degenerative motor-neuron disease, which subsequently became known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”. I used to like the joke that it was terrible luck that Lou Gehrig would actually get Lou Gehrig’s disease, but then last year, Pat, a dear friend of my wife, got ALS and I saw her slow decline first hand and realized there was nothing at all funny about it. In addition to his consecutive game streak and his illness, he’ll be remembered for his farewell speech given at Yankee Stadium. I linked to the actual speech, not the movie version, because nothing beats the real thing.

4. Damn Yankees (1958) Whew, that first one got a little heavier than I thought. Let’s lighten things up with a musical! A hapless fan of the Washington Senators makes a deal with the devil to become a great long ball hitter and finally beat the “Damn Yankees”. Plus, there’s singing and dancing! What’s not to love? Gwen Verdon owns the role of Lola, but is it too much to hope for a Broadway revival featuring Sutton Foster?

3. A League of their Own (1992) This little gem of a movie tells the story of the first women’s professional baseball league, created out of necessity during WWII. Many of the big professional male baseball stars were sent overseas to fight, leaving baseball in a precarious position. Penny Marshall’s movie is full of wonderful moments, including the now famous  “there’s no crying in baseball” scene.

2. Fever Pitch (2005) I love this movie because of the way serendipity worked during the filming process. This movie is a remake of a 1997 film of the same name. That movie, in turn, was based on a semi-autobiographical book by Nick Hornby. Hornby’s original story is about a teacher who is an obsessed Arsenal FC fan and who must ultimately choose between football and his girlfriend. The original movie has Colin Firth, and for those of us who suffer from Firth Fever, that’s all one needs to know. I understand the original movie is far superior to the remake on my list, but we’re not here to talk about Colin Firth, are we? (Or are we?) Let’s just gaze upon his countenance for just a moment…

Mr. Darcy, I presume?

Right. Where were we? Oh yes. Fever Pitch. The non-Firthified version. Well, the Farrelly brothers, who up to this point made a number of forgettable comedies, got the rights to this story and decided to change the game from soccer to baseball, and the club from Arsenal to the Boston Red Sox. Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon were cast in the leads, and the movie began filming in the spring of 2004. What the film-makers didn’t know at the time was that the Red Sox would go on to win the World Series for the first time in 86 years that season. This was the hugest deal for the people of Boston. The Farrelly brothers had to do rewrites to the script as the drama on the field spilled over into the screenplay, going so far as to have Fallon and Barrymore travel to St. Louis for the final game and celebration, and actually filming scenes for the movie as the celebration took place in real-time. It was inspired, fun and unique and the best thing that the Farrelly brothers have ever done. As I like to say, “Anything can happen in baseball”.

1. Field of Dreams (1989). Well it has to be number one, doesn’t it? Can you be a baseball fan and NOT have this movie at the top? It was on TV just the other night, we caught it about 20 minutes in, just at the point when Shoeless Joe appears for the first time. I own the movie on DVD, seen it dozens of times, and yet I couldn’t turn it off. I watched the whole damn thing, and the final scene ALWAYS makes me cry. No exception. Each time I think to myself “I won’t cry this time”, and its hopeless. I’m genetically pre-disposed to cry when I hear, “I could have sworn this was heaven”. I hesitate to link to a clip, because if you watch this scene without having seen the whole movie, I’m afraid it may come across as corny and forced, but I don’t care. This is my “It’s a wonderful life” and I’m okay with crying every time.

Honourable mentions.

I just wanted to mention a couple of baseball scenes in non-baseball movies that I love.

Brewster’s Millions (1985) Richard Pryor and John Candy are a pitcher and catcher, respectively, for the minor league Hackensack Bulls. Their ball field is so low rent that there are railway tracks in the outfield and periodically the umpires have to call time to let a train through. The movie opens during a game and time is called for a train. John Candy runs out to the mound and says (and I’m paraphrasing here). “What’s wrong? You seem distracted.” Richard Pryor’s response? “You’re damn right I’m distracted, there’s a goddamn freight train in the outfield!” That line always cracks me up.

City Slickers (1991) A group of guys try to explain to Helen Slater what baseball means to them.

The Untouchables (1987) Al Capone uses baseball as a metaphor to teach his men a lesson.

Good Will Hunting (1997). Robin Williams’ character describes when he knew his wife was to be “the one”. Also known as the Game Six scene.

1 Comment

Filed under blogposts