Wednesday, September 29, 2010

For the Love of the Game

As I watched the last part of the Ken Burns' "The Tenth Inning" it struck me how baseball is, in it's most basic sense, a marriage between game and fan. For better or for worse, in sickness and in health.

It is a ceremony in which we said "I do" the first time we smelled the glove's leather, or slid into second, or cheered on a teammate. We were smitten the first time we walked into the stadium, the first hot dog we ate with the mustard running down our sleeves, the first day the sun beat down on us relentlessly. We were drawn in by our father, or our mother, our big brother or our sister.

We committed knowing there would be bad times. When the bad times came, when the sport seemed sick we did not abandon it. When our team disappointed we did not seek another. We didn't commit for the moment, but for all the moments.

When the good times arrived there were sights and sounds that made us not only thrill in the instant but also seemed to connect us to the first catch with our dads or the first radio broadcast we listened to and imagined the arc of the winning home run. We fell in love day after day and year after year.

As players came and went, as scandals created headlines, as stadiums got torn apart, we remained steadfast. For me, and others like me, baseball was and is, not a game but a feeling. 'Til death do us part.

Monday, September 27, 2010

An Uphill Climb

As I walked along the highway with the cars whizzing by at 50 mile per hour I thought to myself that this was definitely not where I had expected to be at that moment.

Let me rewind about 90 minutes. Richie, Alex and I decided to take a short hike in the woods. We drove to a spot where our walk would take us past a pond and into a thick forest. In my simple mind, I envisioned being back in the car before I could break a sweat.

As the trail meandered up a hill, the sounds of the cars below became faint. While none of us had been up this road less traveled, I trusted that what goes up must of necessity come down.

We were the only human beings in these environs. In fact, as our journey continued it felt as if we were the only members of the animal kingdom here. I recall not a tweet of a bird, not a slither or a snap of a twig. Nothing but our breathing, and the weight of our steps broke the silence.

Our first course was north, but this ended in relatively short order. As Richie advised, a double blue marking on a tree informed us that a distinct change in course was imminent. Only this time it didn't take us down and south. Instead we found ourselves going further up and south. Yet, on we trudged, anticipating that just around the bend lay the path home.

Being highly neurotic, I soon began to think about those things that could be waiting around the bend. I wondered whether bears inhabited these woods. Do I stand still, do I curl up into fetal position, or was I to create such a commotion that the bear would be scared into retreat? While still only several hundred feet above where I started, I had taken myself to a place where Daniel Boone once resided. I was now a mountain man.

Richie pointed out that the entire forest was changing before our eyes. Whereas the trees were initially mature, thick and tall, we soon were in a place where you could put your hand around the entire circumference of each young tree. Alex and I posed and Richie snapped a photo from his phone. If we never made it out of here alive, at least Joanne would have a lasting image of us in our final hours.

We questioned whether we had missed a turn along the way. We were still following the blue triangles, but maybe there was one that had pointed us back to civilization, and we had just been distracted at that instant. We reasoned it would be foolish to retrace our steps, as an exit had to be close by.

Minutes turned into an hour and every arrow was still sending us where we didn't want to go. Then, when I was just about to fall into despair, we spotted a white triangle, and a sign. We were entering a different protected area, one which seemed to at least be heading down. Within a short period, the sounds and sights of the rest of humanity appeared.

Exiting from the jungle, to my consternation, but to no one's surprise, we found ourselves no where near the place of beginning. Now, at the back of a community center, we were about a mile down the highway from where our car sat and waited.

So, here I was walking along that highway. Richie had called Joanne and she was trying to come to my rescue from her remote location. Within several hundred yards of my destination, I spotted her car. Finally, safe from the traffic and in comfort, I relaxed.

Today's lesson is that no matter how certain you are of life's course, you may suddenly find yourself with an unexpected uphill climb, or feel like the world is whizzing by you out of control. In these most stressful moments, just put one foot in front of the other and trust that your wife and children are there to keep you on the right path and out of harm's way

Sunday, September 26, 2010

When Pigs Fly

I never thought I would see pigs fly but I just watched as a squadron in formation whistled by my window. Thank you Jeff Zeleny (Democrats Unleash Biting Ads Based on Rivals' Pasts), for expanding my horizons by providing an image of the seemingly impossible: Republicans cast as the party of sympathetic victims of unscrupulous personal attacks.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Center Fielder

I always wanted to see Bernie play one more time. Tonight, to a house erupting with chants of "Bernie Williams, Bernie Williams", I got my chance.

We took our seats and waited with great anticipation.The players took the stage, one by one. The names were not familiar. Instead of Derek or A-Rod, out stepped people like Joel Rosenblatt and Eren Cannata. After the other 8 had jogged to their positions to quiet applause, HE appeared. Looking much the same as I remembered, HE acknowledged the thunderous cheers with a slight smile and a tip of his head.

This was most definitely a different field of dreams. This was not the house that King George built but one that only held several hundred. There were many empty seats. I wondered if this would embarrass HIM. Would HE not play as hard?

The answer came quickly as this team erupted with energy. For the next 2 hours we were enveloped in the sounds and sights of men hard at work. HE was sweating profusely, straining to prove himself to us, much as he had for those 16 years.

As the evening came near a close, the crowd stood as one. Like so many other times when I had been in HIS presence, there were a series of standing ovations. Finally, to a hauntingly beautiful, if somewhat sad version of Take Me Out to the Ballgame, the stage emptied. The last to leave was the star. HE acknowledged the crowd and then HE was gone.

My daughter and I waited by the exit for HIS autograph. We stayed for almost 30 minutes, and then were told HE would not be coming our way. Once outside, we saw the team's bus. We considered waiting, Bernie groupies, but finally decided to leave.

We turned on a cell phone and learned that the Yankees were in the process of losing 10 to 8 to the Red Sox, and falling out of first place. Meanwhile, I envisioned their old center fielder packing up to head, with his guitar and the other jazz musicians in the band, to another small venue in a world where the score of a baseball game mattered not.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Standing Up

It is a time when campaigners know no objective reality, when issues of substance are not part of the discussion. It is a universe where there are seemingly no boundaries to overstep. It is the time of Sharon Angle, Rand Paul and Christine O'Donnell. Now we add Carl Paladino's voice to the cacophony.

"Cuomo's Image as Unstoppable Suffers A Blow" examines the dilemma facing Andrew Cuomo as he considers how to respond to spurious attacks from Mr. Paladino. As those at his side chide Mr. Cuomo to "Stand up and fight the guy- do something", the Times reported that Cuomo confirmed "he would not respond to Mr. Paladino't more outrageous provocations". While his poll numbers slip, Cuomo fiddles around.

It is eerily reminiscent of "The American President". In this political world where fiction passes as fact, why can't a scene from a movie 'come to life'? Let us hear the 'real' Andrew channel President Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas) and admonish his Tea Party opponent that: "Carl, we've got serious problems and we need serious people, and if you want to talk about character you'd better come at me with more than my lack of backbone to face you. If you want to talk about character, just tell me where and I'll show up. Carl, your fifteen minutes are up. My name is Andrew Cuomo and I am the next governor of the great state of New York".

As the Times reported from an anonymous source inside Cuomo's campaign "People want to see Andrew get up and say something". The time to ignore abusive irrational attacks is over. If you want to energize your base, energize yourself. Stand up for yourself so we can stand up and applaud for you.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Art of Cheating

Sports, it seems, condones and even applauds the act of passive wrongdoing. Has there ever been a time in the history of the game where a baseball player corrected an umpire's blown call and said he didn't check his swing, or he didn't steal that base, or he didn't catch that ball? No matter the error of the umpire's subjective opinion, it has been a central element of this sport to allow these mistakes to occur. The theory is evidently that it is not your job to call the plays, but only to play the game.

However, watching Derek Jeter pirouette out of the batter's box in apparent pain from being struck on his arm by a very hard object was far from allowing events to take place in the standard baseball universe. It was an act of creation. As I watched the replay and saw the Oriole manager run from the dugout to vehemently protest the call, I discussed with Richie what was happening. We surmised that although the ball had hit the bat and not the batter, perhaps the impact had caused shooting pains in Jeter's arm. This could not have been an act of intentional deception, not by one who had spent the last 15 years building up a war chest filled with moments of grace, dignity and integrity.

Once the contest was concluded, we waited for a plausible explanation. As Jeter had not been hit, and since, as we later learned, he was not hurt, then certainly this charade would be rationalized by Jeter as having occurred in a moment of panic. It was a close game, the Yankees had been playing terribly of late, Tampa Bay would not disappear, and Jeter would beg forgiveness. But there was no mea culpa. Not from Jeter, not from his manager. Even Showalter, who had been tossed out of the contest for arguing so vociferously, found no fault in the Yankee captain. It was all attributed to the 'win at all costs' philosophy of baseball.

I imagined what the reaction would have been if it had been A-Rod, not Jeter, in that batter's box. The insults about his lack of integrity would have been endless. Remember when he distracted the player on the other team and caused him to drop a fly ball between second and third base? Remember when he knocked the ball out of the glove of the first baseman, as he tried to do what was needed to reach safely? The crescendo of negative comments would have caused him to go into hiding.

I don't agree with what Jeter did. I don't believe the game was intended to foster the type of action that we saw from him. It diminishes the game, and it diminishes the man.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

A Moment of Consequence

Now that was a home run of consequence. It seemed like A- Rod had spent much of his Yankee career compiling impressive statistics in meaningless moments. He has been harshly criticized for disappearing every post-season. He has been rightly branded an egomaniac, and when he spelled team there has always been a big I in the middle.

In the 9th inning last night, with 2 outs and 2 strikes, 2 runs down and 2 runners on, A- Rod struck a blow that could be felt in Boston and Tampa. The Yankees had lost 8 of the last 10 games in almost every conceivable fashion.It felt like there had been a small army of runners left on base in important situations during this depressing period of time. The great Mariano had even blown a ninth inning lead. Suddenly, the division lead had been surrendered to the Rays. Now we were looking at the schedule to see that there were 2 upcoming series with the Red Sox, who were only 6 games back for the wild card. Swisher was hurt, Gardner was hurting, Derek was suddenly old, Kearns was a hole in the lineup, Posada was no longer able to play every day, Hughes was inconsistent, Burnett was consistent in his troubling slide, Pettite was still not back from his injury and Vasquez had disappeared from view. Could this be the year of the colossal collapse?

Everything seemed to change as the ball ascended in its glorious arc and landed where it should have, in a Yankee victory. A-Rod is now the player who is mentally prepared to deal with the big moments. He had been a star in the post-season march to number 27 last season. As he rounded the bases for the second time last evening, having driven in all the runs in a 4-3 victory, as Tampa was on the way to a one run loss and Boston was imploding at home, the baseball universe suddenly appeared to align.

This year A- Rod has gone about his business in what has seemed a shockingly quiet way. He has driven in an enormous amount of runs (111 and counting, notwithstanding recently spending time on the disabled list) without demanding our attention. Maybe, after all this time, he has finally learned how to spell.

I know there are still 2 weeks left. I understand that a series with Tampa Bay awaits. The Red Sox are still the Red Sox. I am aware that this was just one game and that today it could all start to unravel again. But last evening A-Rod earned his money.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Losing Control

As Democrats contemplate where to go from here with the Tea Party, there is an underlying question that must be answered. Does it matter?

As Nate Silver does his calculations, and tells us the odds that this or that will happen in the House and the Senate, should we care? We have witnessed the breakdown of our government system over the past 2 years. The party in the minority, whoever that may be, now has the seemingly unfettered right to block any attempt at moving legislation forward. Unless there is a 60 seat 'supermajority' in the Senate, we are in a perpetual stalemate. The only governing that is done is not in bold strokes but in painfully slow, often pathetically compromised steps.

Apart from bragging rights, and I told you so's, 51 for you and 49 for me has about as much impact as finesteride has had on my hair growth.

If you thought the last 2 years were filled with inconvenient truths about ineffective government, you ain't seen nothing yet. Wait until we get some Tea Partiers baying at the moon, ranting and raving about nothing in very loud voices.

If you wanted to negate any attempts at doing what is necessary to move this country out of its present morass, then you have come to the right place. For those who proclaim that any government is bad government, you are about to see what bad government is really all about. For those who were mad as hell about something, get ready to be mad as hell about something else.

It is a time of incoherence in politics. People with no experience and no platform other than we don't like the other guy will soon be the other guy.

So, whether we are saddled with 1 Tea Partier or many, the next 2 years will prove to be no one's cup of tea.


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Burning Hatred

If all those who have so vigorously opposed the lower Manhattan Islamic cultural center were surprised, they shouldn't have been. If reports of violence aimed at various mosques around the country didn't give you a sign, they should have. If you think the threatened burning of the Koran is not a natural outgrowth of the venom that has spewed forth, think again. This contemplated "YouTube" moment on September 11 is brought to you not by one nut job, but by the pervasive atmosphere that foments our intolerance, that fosters hatred and fear and that leads to extremists making dangerous statements with potentially severe and tragic consequences.

If all those who questioned whether President Obama was a Muslim think this is not an outgrowth of that moment, then take a deep breath and follow the dots. To all those who blame our problems on the illegal immigrants, on the gays, on the Jews or on the Muslims, as easy scapegoats, understand that yours is a path that ends at the front door of the Koran burning ceremony. If bigotry is an accepted part of your psyche, and tough times are a basis to assign blame for everything that has seemingly gone wrong, then you are in a world where reason is in short supply. You are in that world where all Muslims are "of the devil."

For those in leadership roles who have been so vocal in support of our troops but now stand mute on this most egregious of contemplated acts, know that your silence is putting those troops in even greater danger.

September 11th has served as an excuse for so many bad choices over the past 9 years. It has given a green light for the unthinking to despise not 19 men but an entire religion and to believe that we can divide and somehow grow stronger. In so doing, it has allowed some to look for the worst in others and has brought out the worst in some of us. It has given us Terry Jones.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Art of the Tea Brewer

To Brew-
To boil, to concoct, to devise, to foment, to infuse

Basics to Tea Brewing
Simple and straightforward-
The best tea is only as good as the water with which it is prepared
Preheat the pot or cup
Steep for the proper length of time- White 2 to 5 minutes
Some White Teas are good for multiple infusions

Storing Tea-
The enemies of tea are air, light and odors from other foods

Governor Jan Brewer and the Tea Party- A perfect blend

Thursday, September 2, 2010


As Jim Furyk overslept, as Dustin Johnson grounded his club in an imaginary bunker and as a young 14 year old handed back his winner's trophy when he discovered there were one too many clubs in his bag, we ask whether golf is a search for the highest form of ourselves or an idiotic amalgam of mandates. Are the rules of golf heaven or hell?

No less a player than Phil Mickelson came out strongly against the disqualification of Mr. Furyk for essentially having a faulty alarm clock and missing his starting time by 5 minutes for a non-mandatory pro-am. Fortunately for the game, and unfortunately for Mr. Furyk, the rule which he broke was stricken from the books immediately after his transgression.

As to Johnson, and our young 14 year old who reportedly said he couldn't have lived with himself had he not reported his error, what efforts did they make to undermine the integrity of the game or take undue advantage? None. Shouldn't the punishment have any relation to the crime? If there is no intent of wrongdoing, and if the alleged infraction did not result in any change in the outcome, what are we doing? Why is golf the setting for a morality play?

How about if we applied the golf code of conduct to other sports? I know we like to watch the players hit batting practice. If A-Rod decided to skip this particular activity, should he be suspended from the game that day? If we said that each batter could only have 6 bats in his personal bat rack but he discovered at the end of the game that he had 7, does his team lose the game?

For years I have been playing golf each Saturday with a number of my friends. We are guided by a set of rules not handed down from above, like commandments given to Moses. Rather, as the self- appointed commissioner, I have established a slightly more flexible way of policing our actions. 2 tee shots off the first tee, one floating mulligan, gimme putts of varying lengths depending on your mood at the moment , limits on the score on any particular hole, treating out of bounds shots and lost balls as if they were located (one shot later) at about where you wanted them to land, all but part of the morally corrupt way in which we chase our egos each week. We would, in the eyes of the purists, be unfit to put a spikeless shoe on the green.

The PGA has set rules in an imaginary world while I have established guidelines for application in a place we actually inhabit. I am not suggesting that the PGA adopt Robert's Rules of Order, but I do think that they should establish a code of conduct that allows for subjective determinations where necessary, and penalties that are not abusive. To the PGA, I say, take a mulligan.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Body Count

On this day when we officially leave behind the war that was but shouldn't have been, it is most striking that we can't even agree upon the damage left in its wake.

While our own troop count of dead and wounded sit like a Scarlet Letter on our heads, we see the following conflicting reports from the New York Times:

"The war... claimed the lives of more than 4,400 American soldiers and more than 70,000 Iraqis, according to United States and Iraqi government figures" ('Obama Declares An End to Iraq Combat Mission')

" For this day, it was worth dwelling on this milestone in Iraq and on some grim numbers: more than 4,400 American dead...and on one number that American politicians are loath to mention: at least 100,000 Iraqis dead" ('The War in Iraq' - editorial comment)

If ever there was a moment in the history of this conflict when the New York Times should be certain of its statements (even if the governments of the US and Iraq are not) this is it. Next time (and the next time will be when we are waving goodbye to Afghanistan) let's give all of those who perished the same level of respect and commitment to accuracy in reporting.