Saturday, October 28, 2006

A Completely Perplexing Situation

While we are not completely happy with the 2006 baseball season of the San Diego Padres, we can honestly say this: It was better than a kick in the head.

This team was as hot and cold as the sink in your bathroom. After an opening day gem by Jake Peavy, the Friars promptly lost four in a row. From the last day in April to May 14th they went a scorching 14-1, with only an extra-inning loss to the Brewers uglying up a historic streak. And then? They lost six of the next seven.

On and on this bi-polar team went, winning three and then losing four. Winning two and losing two. But when they needed it - and boy, did they need it - the Padres ended the year by going 28-13 over the last month and a half. They tied the Dodgers for the NL West lead, and won the division based on the head-to-head records.

I remember thinking in early October, in the immortal words of Willie Mays Hayes boarding a seemingly lavish jumbo jet to Milwaukee, "This is good. Real good." The Padres would be facing the Cardinals, a team that was backing into the playoffs so hard you could hear the "beep-beep-beep" from Wichita.

Something happened, though, in the thick October air, something that had happened all year but had never really been publicized because they always seemed to do something to cover it up: the Padres couldn't hit the goddamned ball.

We knew this going in: the Padres would have to pitch very, very well and play solid defense, and maybe pick up a timely hit or two. But here are the facts in their four-game ousting at the hands of the Redbirds: 29 for 129 (.225 AVG) with 0 - yes, zero - home runs. I'd go into detail about their average with runners in scoring position, but I'm on the twelfth floor of a building right now and the windows over there on that wall are big.

So what happens?


Ugh. You know what that "SF" means? Sorry, Fuckers.

I mean, I know there had been grumblings, and I had heard things (I am in New York, remember, where San Diego is usually talked about only when discussing "Anchorman"), but not enough to expect this.

And during the WORLD FREAKING SERIES nonetheless. There are many unwritten rules in baseball, chiefly A) you don't steal a base when up by a large margin, B) you don't bunt to break up a no-hitter, and C) you don't hire a manager during a World Series.

Maybe I'm old-fashioned, I don't know, but this seemed, well, dirty. He's been with the organization almost as long as I've been alive. There's only a handful of professional coaches/managers who had been with their team as long or longer (Bobby Cox, Jerry Sloan, Bill Cowher and Jeff Fisher come to mind - I'm not gonna do the fucking research, though, so if you're curious, do it yourself) and Bruce Bochy, with his strange smile and creepy-ass eyelid, said "San Diego Padres" as much as my man Tony's finely-tuned physique in a Pads jersey and Hoffman running onto the field to the tune of "Hell's Bells."

But now that's gone. Washed away like a sandcastle on the San Diego beach. The image is still there - an imprint, if you will - but the frothy foam has torn it asunder and carried it away to its new life, to be mixed with seashells and sandcrabs and Moises Alou's urine-soaked hands.

Oh, I'll have my memories. Ken Caminiti's steroids, Snickers and IV-infused run to the MVP and division crown in 1996. The quality club that ran into an epic Yankees team in 1998 (that was a strike on that 2-2 pitch, with the bases loaded, to Tino Martinez in the bottom of the seventh of Game One, with the score tied at 2, if you remember; and if you don't, just humor me). These last two division titles, and the subsequent waxing at the hands of the St. Louis squad (and 2006 World Series Champions, by the way). I'll look back at Bruce's tenure fondly, like that cute girlfriend in high school who would let you make out with her behind the small gym, and maybe feel a breast at the movies, but would never let you round third and head for home.

But you know what? He wasn't even a .500 manager (951-975). Sure he delivered four of the five postseason appearances in the franchise's history, but you've got to look forward (and I will, later). What's done is done: he's the Giants manager now, and if Barry Bonds decides to leave, maybe he'll leave behind his gigantic hats for Bruce so the Giants don't have to go through the trouble of bronzing them as a humongous statue outside AT&T Park.

All I know is this: if you re-arrange the letters in "Bruce Bochy" you get "Curb, Beyoch."

Adios, Bruce. It was nice knowin' ya.

See you on April 3rd.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Outside the Aviary: "This Conversation is Ending (Starting Right Now)."

Talking points have destroyed the way the brain processes certain news items. For instance, certain debates have been utterly destroyed by point-counterpoint argumentative stances. Abortion, racism, intolerance, torture, etc.—they have a negative connotation to the idea of rationality. Sports have especially embodied this negativity. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that arguing a point, in the debate format, is a rapidly dying idea. The fragile American psyche has met its match; discourse has destroyed us all.

I work in a place where discussion is the root of everything. I discuss the merit of books, the knowledge of high and low art, and most of all sports. Are sports a force that give us meaning? No. They provide a convenient escape without real distraction. They are more abstract than television or movies (high artistic quality) and provide the base instinctual derivatives we crave (low artistic quality). Debating sports is both necessary and futile. There is little to be truly “right” about, yet so much to discuss. The normal debate axis centers on people with little to no sense of understanding insofar as they are idols. Their talent supercedes their humanity. Discussing the personality of a sportsman is as pointless as analyzing daytime television.

For example, I went to military school with Plaxico Burress (and Chris Perry). I know for a fact that he is a vapid soulless man that, at least a decade ago, used more derogatory terms than an imaginary meeting between Ty Cobb and Jesse Jackson could produce. Every Sunday, however, I hear his praises from on high. People cheer their hearts out, and I sit in a dejected corner sipping whiskey and coke. When Plex nabbed an Eli Manning pass to defeat the Eagles this year, I screamed and knocked over a chair. I had on a Redskins shirt. When Giants’ well-wishers inquired as to my rage, I replied, fuming, “I know him. I lived a floor above him and he would spit on your faces just as soon as hand you a quarter.”

Granted, this is a biased argument. Personally knowing a sports figure doesn’t give me license to say that all of them are worthless or degenerative. It does, however, give me license to remind the sports-viewing audience that when they delve into the personalities of their culture, sports will always prove at least one thing: cheering for a uniform is better than encapsulating the personage of the players. For every Reggie White or scrappy David Eckstein there will be a million idiotic boat parties, paternity suits, players who quit on their coaches, alcoholic ne’er do wells, coaches abusing their pulpits, or Leonard Little types getting third chances. And we will cheer.

The discourse, then, needs to shift a bit. Inasmuch as we need to invade the lives of these individuals, we can easily remember why we don’t want to. More sordid than politics, more unsavory than the world of hip-hop, the world of the athlete revolves special treatment and intolerance more than any other field. Re-examining the thought processes of a world of excess will ALWAYS produce results. The sports outlets of the world will have materials as long as the privilege of sports heroism is condoned. A rule of thumb: a large percentage of athletes have no extensive knowledge past their sport. This is fine. Their profession is to excel in sports, and ours is not. The public discourse should, then, stop at accomplishments. Otherwise, disappointment and fan-player relations will continue to decline (beer throwing fans and field tackles of first base coaches, anyone?).

Sports talk has always had the possibility of combining the rational and rugged—fans of every type can talk about their teams’ chances without having to wonder if their wide-receiver has a self destructive problem. This transcends the logics of point-counterpoint asthetic (shhhh, don't tell DISNESPN). Unlike music or celebrity, the personality of a player barely matters. The inner-monologue and outside lives of the modern sportsman is unimportant. Like celebrities, assume that your life is different and leave it at that. When the human angle dissipates, the statistical and normal escapes that we desire will still be there. The heroics may seem a little more involved and less prosaic—less the work of a collection of assholes than (albeit privileged) superior athletes.

Besides, it’s hard enough watching this Redskins season without having to worry about the undeniable stupidity of Sean Taylor. I am willing to forgive Plexico for what he is while cheering against him all the same. His uniform is a different color than I like. That’s all the reason I need.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Outside the Aviary: "Hate It Or Love It..."

Detroit's success in the postseason has been a limited affair for one reason or another since the Sparky Anderson days, but they handled their two series victories with the grace and effectiveness that ALL underdogs seem to. Their quotes were boring hat tips to their opponents and accreditation of their pitching staff. Emotion and pride were left to shots of the celebration and the typical managerial humility. The players acted surprised. This is the burden of the modern athlete. When is one supposed to be brash and confident? When are the rules of humility and civility to change? When are emotions too affected to matter?

Why, then, does this have to be labeled, "an emotional win" at all? When Detroit got into the playoffs, they exhibited the same amount of emotive behavior and choked up "hardships" than they did after the Yankee/Oakland collapses. As the playoffs began, the front page of, Jim Leyland stood in an "arms crossed" manner with a banner advertising his toughness and implausible upbringing in the same breath as his managerial style. So, his familial situation affects whether or not he decides to pinch-hit when a lefty comes in? His father's "hardassery" affects when he gives speeches to his team? Aren't all managers "impossible to please?"

In fact, the one storyline laid bare in all this is Detroit's complete collapse down the stretch, and everyone writing them off. Most experts had them going out in four—at BEST. Full disclosure, I had them out in five simply due to the Yankee pleasure in breaking hearts (and the home field advantage). I knew, however, that the Yankees had no chance to sweep with Jaret Wright or Kyle Farnsworth having ANYTHING to do with the outcome. How is it, then, that Detroit went from media darling of the playoffs—baseball fans cheering them against the "evil empire"—to the underdogs with no chance, to the victor and commander of their own destinies? Moreover, how did they become darlings in the first place? In effect, their pitching—the best staff in the league—should have affronted them at least one HUGE weapon in a series marked by a Yankee team that hasn't been successful in signing a front-line starter since Mussina, Clemens or Wells in the nineties. Clearly, the pundits aren't blind enough to write off their own media blitz are they? They are when it involves the one word that strikes fear into sportswriters and gamblers alike: parity.

Thus is the nature of the sports writing conundrum. What makes the Tigers a phenomenon is their complete lack of appeal. Leyland’s “harsh” upbringing is hardly a story, the team is humble and unspectacular, their leaders are no-nonsense anti-Bonds types with emotional outbursts at all the right times, and their demeanor is one of self-effacing candor in the face of victory and defeat. In effect, they are my father’s baseball heroes. Of course their manager is a hardass, of course they follow the old school rules of civility, and their answer to emotional outburst timing is simple: after something dramatic happens.

Example: earlier in the year, they stormed out of the gates. Then they stumbled. Whether it was overconfidence or underwhelming play, Leyland had the all-too-typical “closed door yell-fest” and said afterward that he wasn’t going to watch his team screw up the season (paraphrasing). Unlike some players who would reveal certain details, I remember the players essentially repeating their manager’s Orwellian mantra: “we will work harder.” This is the reason it should not have been so amazing that they beat the Yanks. Their work ethic was, as far as we know, indestructible. We don’t know because they projected their workmanship and ignored their individual efforts.

Detroit’s mantra is also the reason they were so boring. “We will work harder” is the ultimate way to fly under the radar. Downplaying the drama of the clubhouse and counteracting their own problems by concentrating on the game made Detroit the antithesis of their two opponents—the Yankees being a collection of assholes and the A’s being the baby Beanes. From players to media to ownership (whose names I never knew and still don’t), theirs is a completely unknown circle. They lack star power (minus Pudge). They don’t quote well. They’re young in a lot of key positions. They were completely futile recently. In retrospect, they are the parity that baseball has searched for—the Marlins, Diamondbacks, Red Sox, and White Sox not being built for the long run—a young team with staying power in a city that clamors for a chance to cheer.

As the underdogs continue to come up the conundrums continue to topple. The bloated payrolls and big media targets fall to the wayside year after year. The steroid era players are retiring and re-injuring themselves and the other rabid fan bases are getting their turns at the helm. The other half of New York City, Detroit, St. Louis and to a lesser extent Minnesota and Oakland are terrific sports cities, and with big name free agents becoming more risk than reward (read: Gary Sheffield, Matt Clement, Carl Pavano, Adrian Beltre, etc.) these cities forcibly made gambles on smaller or “washed-up” names and minor leaguers with something to prove (read: Joe Mauer, Frank Thomas, Jermaine Dye, Magglio Ordonez, etc.). Now, the major forces are re-upping in their own respective ways. This, friends, is parity, and it’s awesome.

It’s going to make the sports writing and team ethics of the future one boring misstep following another, but it will make for a fantastic series of chases and bi-lines. Cities will cheer—hopefully droning out the talking heads and talking points of the media conglomerates. Detroit is another in the long list of benefactors. They may not say it, but they have a chance to become a mainstay in our collective subconscious—the new “watch out for” team on a yearly basis. I’m sure Leyland and the boys would downplay that. Perhaps their humbleness makes them that much more boring. I say it makes them innately more interesting. No, their players aren’t high profile, imprisoned, or brash and outspoken, but they did make the World Series. I say they’ll probably win it, and still, “they will work harder.”

Oh, and in case you’re interested: and are also stupid enough to have me aboard.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A Completely Hearty Welcome And, After That, A Tiny Observation

First and foremost, We (ahh, it's good to say that) welcome with open space bars Business or Leisure?, a truly great and fantastic individual.

A quick list of some of his accomplishments:

- Summited Mt. Everest while reading "Into Thin Air" and listening to Pink Floyd's "Fearless" on endless repeat. Also, while wearing only adidas basketball shorts, a white t-shirt, and flip-flops.
- Feeds stray cats.
- Clinton Portis's first media-day alter ego, Southeast Jerome, loosely based on him.
- Wears a lot of headbands because, well, he JUST FUCKING CAN.
- Has a TV sitting on top of another TV but is not, remarkably, a redneck.
- Single-handedly defeated Napoleonic forces at Waterloo, using only a candle and some seashells.
- Invented gravity.
- Dumped Jessica Alba when she became, in his words, "too needy."
- Those six-foot-long party subs? That's a snack, man. A snack.
- Caused the Cardinals' collapse Monday night against the Bears by calmly remarking, "They'll fuck it up somehow."
- Realized that the infinite mind can only comprehend that which does not contain it; all time intervals can subsequently be split in half, so that the past, present, and future are essentially as one; and that while humans make up less than .00000000000000000001 of one-trillionth of one percent of the entire population of the universe, the cruel irony is that we are the only ones who can comprehend its scope AND write poetry about it. And he did this while watching "Punk'd."
- Plans to name his first-born son "Inferno."

So there you have it. Read his intro post - you won't be disappointed.

And, on to the observation...

I had jury duty today. They showed a video (hosted by Ed Bradley and Diane Sawyer, no less) which said, basically, Hollywood dramatizes courtroom events because in real life, it's boring.

No shit.

But isn't that how everything is? The hospital is not filled with a bunch of hot, young, one-lining doctors. There just aren't that many high-profile murder cases to go around. All life is mundane and tedious and needs sprucing up.

All, that is, except sports. The first true reality television. If you go to jury duty, you sit in a room and read. And then you get assigned to a I-slipped-on-a-grape-in-your-store civil suit, which has all the sexiness and charisma and excitement of a down syndrome spelling bee.

But if you and some buddies get together to play hoops, or touch football, or whatever? There's ten tons of drama. You're yelling. Screaming. Talking ungodly amounts of trash. And it's always, always fun.

That is all. Again, read below. You'll like it.

Seymour: An Introduction

First and foremost, I am not named Seymour. I just wanted to sound literary for a moment. It should also be noted that I have NO IDEA what I'm doing writing for a sports blog (other than my fascination with cultural trends—old and new). Mainly, I was approached due to my candor and belligerence surrounding the idea of sports. I have a proclivity for noting trends and ridiculous patterns well after everyone else. For example, Eli Manning has a facial tick where when he is confused he shakes his head no, searches for eye contact, and repeats the process all the way to the sideline. This happens every time the Giants' offense doesn't score. I'm sure you already read about this, but I just noticed this week.

In fact, I'll start with the faults: I cannot predict games, I am no good with exact stats, and I rarely make sense when trying to eloquently state my position regarding certain instances, teams or players. I can neither tell you why we or I watch sports nor can I describe the emotions involved therein. I am not very funny. I was never all too fantastic at sports. I don't know where or how to break any "journalistic" stories. I miss events the first time around. My observational skills are vapid and weak.

This leaves me with precious little to expound. I'm an outsider. Instead of relying on keen observational skills, I'm going to rely on time and thought. I'll be reporting not from the sidelines, but from the empty bleachers one week later—articles and notes from the end of the dilemma rather than the moment they occur. Once a week, you'll hear from "Outside the Aviary." Referential to a ludicrous and nameless degree (like the title itself), the articles you'll get every Tuesday or Wednesday are an experiment. We'll see how long it lasts.

Here goes.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

A Completely Logical Thing To Do Right Now

Firstly, I was on vacation in the computer netherworld of my family's various homes in Colorado. So sorry for the absence. And, yes, if you must know, the mexican food and microbrews are doing JUST fine without me.
But now? Ohhh, boy.

That's right. It's time.

For Game One on Tuesday, I wore a non-descript shirt and my blue SD hat.

We lost.

For Game Two on Thursday I wore a non-descript shirt and my brown Cooperstown Collection swingin' friar hat (and backwards, at that).

We lost. Again.

At this point it was one - 1! - run in 18 innings. Something had to be done. Extreme measures were to be taken.

So yesterday, for Game Three, I wore my 3/4 sleeve shirt with the Padres cursive and gold SD above it. And no hat.

Lo and behold, a former freaking Devil Ray hits a two-run triple, Hoffy gets to actually pitch in a damn game and now, where once life was gone, life was now visible. Albeit barely.

So, because A) I'm a superstitious freak, and B) I got lucky last night, I am wearing the exact same thing as yesterday. It is the only thing that will work.

(I guess now maybe I should mention that I watched Games One and Two and didn't watch a single pitch of Three, but I'm going to watch tonight. You know what? Bug off. I had to work yesterday.)

All right, so the superstitious voodoo mojo now stands at 1-all. Hence this post, and the picture above and to the right.

But know this, Cardinals fans: right now - at this very second - I am winking my right eye, waving my right hand, and clinching my left buttock.

That's right. In one hour, it is ON.