Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Sooner, Boomer

Yup. It's official. Spring training hasn't even started yet and already the San Diego Padres lead the major leagues in one very important category: 40-year-old starting pitchers.

That's right.

On opening day the combined age of Wells, Greg Maddux and relievers Doug Brocail and Trevor Hoffman will be ... wait for it ... wait for it ... 161. 161!!!

While I'm not 100% gung-ho on this signing, I'm not completely against it, either. Will Wells make 30 starts? Ummm ... no. 25? Probably not. I'd be happy with 20 to 22 starts, maybe 10 or 11 wins, and an ERA under 4.00. That would be fine by me.

Let's face it - Boomer's no Jack LaLanne. He's going to be injured at some point. But if his Bambino-sized bravado (and ownership of a wicked hammer) combine with Maddux's encyclopedic knowledge of even the most arcane pitching minutiae to rub off on some of the younger pitchers, then however many millions they end up giving both of these elder statesmen will be more than worth it.

Besides, who needs power at the corner positions when you've got the AARP going two out of every five games?

Friday, January 26, 2007

This is not surprising-- no, not in the least.

Ah, the South. We've spoken about it before. We may speak of it again.

Needless to say, THIS, is not surprising to me. Why? It happened in my hometown. I probably saw these dudes a couple of years ago. We may have had beer in the same field. That's not weird, it's depressing. I don't want to write about this, except, well, I'll probably be walking through their campus visiting folks come summertime.


The best part? This is a school's nickname is the QUAKERS (our college radio stations played a friendly game of kickball every year I was in college-- a few, to be sure).

Man oh man. We got some things to talk about when I get home, Guilford College.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Outside the Aviary: "After the Laughter, Comes the Tears."

Anyone else see Dikembe Mutombo during the State of the Union? Since when do large scale Republican leaders allow black people anywhere near them?

Oh... wait.

(Tommy Jeff doesn't care how much money's in yr grill, 'cause his grill is on the money.)

It was pretty bizarre to see Mutombo enjoying such high company, and being referenced as the American dream in the same breath as failing health care and a global war on terror. It doesn't so much speak for the power of sports as it does the power of distraction.

Case in point, I watched the Saints-Bears game in a bar full of Saints fans. More often than you would believe, I had people telling me how good it would be for New Orleans if the Saints won the Super Bowl. At one point, I had to ask:

'Who would it help, really?"
"Well, you know-- the people."
"How? Help them forget, you mean?"
"No, I mean, it would lift their spirits."
"Oh, yeah. Cool. Call me when it lifts their fucking houses."

I know. I know. This is a bleak world view, and my negativity is in full view of the tens of people who read this blog. You have to admit, though, that the Super Bowl would not have improved funding, increased housing or helped displaced citizens (read: refugees) still unable to get to their original homelands. A win for the Saints would've been a lot of fun, but other than the heightened self-awareness of some anchormen and some feel-good stories about millionaires tossing money on a disaster, how can anyone convince me that sports helps heal wounds?

OK. Having said that, I'm not dismissing the power of escape. Fleeting moments of happiness are a wonderful escape from the drudgery of disaster. And sure, the area could use a break. The Bears win, however, has NO bearing on the healing process overall. When the Red Sox won the world series, my Grandfather (born July 1919, deceased July 2004) was not raised from the dead. He was not magically lifted from my mind as a burden. Nor was he forgotten. The only thing I could do was know that he would've liked to see his team win a World Series. New Orleans would have enjoyed themselves, the city would have felt alive, but Bush's speech tonight would have still needed a mention of their city's reconstruction efforts.

As Chicago celebrated, all I could think of was the 2001 World Series. Baseball fans worldwide were hoping for the Yankees to win, "to ease the burden of the September 11th attacks." When Arizona won, I felt no pity for the players or the denizens of NYC (even now as one of them). I feel no remorse for cheering for the Diamondbacks then, nor putting five bucks on the Bears now. Sports are not the great healer. A Saints Super Bowl victory (like a Yanks World Series win) would've been the equivalent of a "Get Well Soon" card to a terminally ill patient. In my mind, the reopening of the Superdome was a better "feel good" story.

In a way, The Saints loss is a better vehicle to Katrina's calamity. If not as cleansing, at least the city can regain focus. The city can look away from the idyllic millionaire heroes and toward it's own displaced families. Hope is sometimes dangerous in it's ability to destroy realism. Realistically, there is no way for me to believe that the Saints have any bearing on New Orleans other than an excuse to get away from a problem. The same importance was placed tonight on Mr. Mutombo-- forget about the shabbiness of Bush's argument for privatization, debt mongering and failed missions and listen to this fantastic story of triumph. Though it is not as glamorous as victory, regret, failure and remembering are the better ways to combat catastrophe.

Dikembe is a great story. Drew Brees would've been a fantastic distraction. However, the Saints aren't heroes. I don't think they would be in victory either.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Stuart Scott Does the Highlights of My Day

Wuddup, playas? Pretty soon we're gonna be gettin' to some mad - and I don't mean LT goin' off on the Patriots mad, but Belichick straight jackin' a photographer mad - some MAD ill highlights of the Grizz and the Wiz, where Tarheel Antawn Jamison had only two points but they were the most diabolical two points in the history of the Association, but first...

Scott, have you ever hearda this bad mamma-jamma named Phony Gwynn?

Scott Van Pelt says that no, no he has not.

Well, lemme break it down for ya, brutha. Dude's six-feet-five-inches tall, an even 200 pounds, and can straight up rock the spot. Let's get it goin'...

Ok, it's about a quarter to nine here, and my man's all kinda tired 'cause he was up 'til four in the A-M checkin' out the pics on the W4W posts on the casual encounters section of Craigslist. Fo' shizzle.

So he gets up, wipes his mouth, and...oh, there's drool on the other side of the pillow. Now he dun gets his groove on and makes his way into the kitchen. Got some Raisin Bran there and a bagel, and I wonder what he's gonna put on that...YUP! Straight butta! And that must be jam, 'cause jelly don't shake like dat.

Now you gotta watch right herrrrrrrr, Scott, on the long walk to the subway, cuz my man...well, with the Raisin Bran and all the jigglin'...I ain't sayin' nothin', but that ain't right. He tries the Dunkin' Donuts and gets DE-NIED! So he up and flips it like a biscuit, backtracks to White Castle, and breaks off a lot of little somethin' somethins! Like a man smokin' at a gas station, he was about to BLOW UP!

OK, now peep this right here y'all. This man is now at the doctor about to get tested for the St. Deez and the High-V. Because, ya know, we don't see nothin' wrong with a little bump 'n grind. After the wait, he rolls in and the doctor straight tells him to STOP! DROP! Shut it down, Open up SHOP! Which my boy does, since he respectful of all his people and his kin, like Ray-Ray, Pookie, Shaneesha, T'Q'UanaRon'Shon, Dorrell...anyway, he gots to roll over to this other doctor - I know, crazy, right? - and SHE says, Check if you're bleeding...cause you just got TAGGED!

Now he's back home, and decides to pay some bills online...while watching a lil' ASS CLEAVAGE #3. And that's when the Lord says 'You've got to RISE UP!' Oh Scott, this kid...this kid here...he definitely be havin' his mojo workin'! He's doin' it and doin' it and doin' it well, and then...


Uh-oh. Oh no he di'int. See, wha-what had happened, was...well, that's why they call him the Windex Man - he's always cleaning the glass.

We move ahead now to two AM, the man is getting back from getting paid to watch TV - remember, don't hate the playa, hate the game - and pours himself some Johnnie Walker and loads a bowl. Can I get a witness from the congregation? He's straight representin', and now watch him clear his throat...aw, dawg, it's your world, kid. The rest of us just payin' rent. Scott?

Scott Van Pelt looks on, slack-jawed, unable to either comprehend anything that has transpired in the previous two minutes or get those minutes of his life back. He then makes a Tenacious D reference and the show resumes.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

This Is Not the Greatest Post in the World; This is Just a Tribute

We've taken a bit of a Holiday break here at the Pretzel Factory (and all two of you are upset): we know, we know. Drink some Johnnie Walker and down some pills, and it'll all be OK.

Truth is, for one half of this enterprise, it's been a rough couple of weeks. Your team losing a playoff spot at home in overtime to a team they should beat is bad enough; that same team losing its young, talented, starting cornerback in a drive-by later that same night is something that will knock you off your blogging high-horse for a while. Whether it wa
s not wanting to, or having nothing particularly witty or constructive to say, the writer in me didn't feel much like writing.

Until now. Even though it was virtually a lock, and I arranged for a hotel over a month ago, yesterday it became official: my namesake, and erstwhile Favorite Player Growing Up, Tony Gwynn, was elected to the Hall of Fame.

Yet no matter how happy the news made me, all I heard about on the sports talk shows and TV shows was: will Mark McGwire ever get in? Are the reporters just sending Big Mac a message? How the hell does a writer from the Daily Southtown get a Hall of Fame vote, and is he just trying to get some publicity by not turning in his votes?

You know what? I don't care.

People ask me why I'm a San Diego Padres fan who grew up in Denver. The answer is, surprisingly, obvious. The Colorado Rockies didn't come into existence until I was 14, far after any red-blooded young American boy has already made his professional allegiances. But my dad was a huge Braves fan, and we got cable just so he could get TBS and watch his team. Well, one day when I was about 7, the Braves were playing the Padres. My da
d and I were watching, and he said something to the effect of, "Hey, you should watch this rightfielder, Tony Gwynn. He plays the same position as you, he hits the same as you."

And that was that. You follow a player, you follow a team. And I was a young rightfielder with minimal power, who made contact and sprayed the ball all over the field. It seemed like a young David Foster Wallace reading Kurt Vonnegut for the first time. (OK, maybe not so much.) But even when I grew up to be a first baseman/third baseman/pitcher, I still decidedly lacked power. So I had to hit like the Best Hitter Since Ted Williams (SI said it, so it must be true). And, to top it off, I got "19" in roman numerals tattooed on my forearm. It was his number; now it's mine, too. And some variation of his name, team, and number is my password for just about everything on the planet.

True, he didn't hit for much power. But he decided, at some point, that he'd rather hit .350 with 9 homers than .300 with 25 homers. He could still drive in runs, and he always got on base because he struck out about once every paycheck. And he didn't win a World Series, either - he just had the misfortune of going up against two of the best teams of the last quarter-century in the '84 Tigers and '98 Yankees.

And, hey, maybe later in his career he became as infatuated with the fried donuts as with the doughnuts that go over his bat. Yet I don't have to tell you that he won 5 Gold Gloves in his younger days, stole 56 bases in 1987, and still holds the San Diego St. record for assists. In basketball.

The man could ball. And yet, on his most glorious of days, all anybody wanted to talk about was a creatine-bloated slugger with 4 1/2 times as many home runs as Gwynn but barely more than half the hits, and whether or not Cal Ripken, Jr. deserved to go down as the third-best player of all-time, as his vote percentages indicate. The man who wielded his tiny bat like a paintbrush, who used the entire field as his canvas? Who demanded the respect of none other than the Splendid Splinter himself? Yeah, he's a nice guy. But what does the McGwire vote hold for Bonds in a few years?

It's unfair, but that's what you get. To go with the above literary metaphor, Gwynn indulged in nothing but the Breakfast of Champions throughout his career (practice, research, love of the game), yet in the end will be, as always, relegated to the shadows in baseball's version of Infinite Jest.

Like the hole between the third baseman and the shortstop where Gwynn always tried to line a hard single, we can just call this Slaughterhouse-5.5.

That may sound bitter, but in the end, I'll always remember May 4, 1996. Padres at Rockies, Coors Field. A buddy and I go down a couple hours early, and cruise down to the right-centerfield wall. There he is, signing autographs, smiling, being cordial. Finally he comes to me, and - of course - I had forgotten a card or something else epic for him to sign. So I produce a piece of calendar paper that has "19" at the top. He signs it, and I wish him a happy birthday. (His birthday is May 9.) Taken aback, he kind of looks at me for a second, like it's strange that one of his fans would think that much of him, to remember his birthday. I even told him I'd send him a card, which I never did.

Well, now I'm saying Congratulations, Mr. Gwynn. I'll be there on July 30, cheering you on. And I may even have a belated birthday card for you, too.