Sunday, September 29, 2013

Is Baseball D.O.A.?

We don't write letters anymore, we tweet. We don't wait for things to boil or cook, we want instant. We don't take the time to stop and smell the roses, we have too much to do.

We are a society bombarded with sights and sounds at ever rising decibels. The art of reflection is disappearing. And so is the romance of a game that in this day and age can be agonizingly slow.

It arrives in late spring and doesn't leave until the winter coats have been pulled from the closet. It has too much time from one staccato piece of action that may take a second to complete to the next, too many pitching changes, too much standing around. It is most often now a late night exercise, no longer allowing the warm sun of a summer afternoon to radiate upon one's face. It doesn't scream, it talks.  It is not frantic but calm. It doesn't demand our attention. It is not very much 21st century.

Football and basketball have time clocks. There is frenetic movement of large bodies of people. Music often assaults the senses from loudspeakers that won't permit contemplation and rest. These are endeavors that lend themselves to video games with their immediacy and their intensity.

I may be one of a dying breed of lovers of the game of baseball. Yes, I am often distracted and may be even occasionally disinterested while in attendance. So what is the allure?

Maybe it is just me trying to hold onto the smell of a new leather glove, of putting a rubber band tight around it to bend it into shape. Maybe it is just me clinging to the memory of my father, standing in the third base coaching box as I hold the bat firmly in hand and await the opportunity to show him what I am capable of accomplishing.

Maybe it is just that I like the chance this game permits me to have my now grown children in a place where we can focus on one another and not all the distractions of the universe. Maybe this is an oasis where there is nowhere I have to go, nothing calling my name, no next, only this moment and these people, at our speed and our pleasure.

Whether intended or not, there is clear double meaning in the title of this piece. "Is the game over?" reflects an impatience on our part that is perhaps an inevitability in today's increasingly fast paced world. 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

3 Days

Three days with only your own thoughts. 72 hours. 4320 minutes.25920 seconds.

As we prepare to drop our son's friend at a 3 day retreat filled only with meditation, contemplation and silence, I reflect on how I might handle this. It is not a pretty sight.

I have developed a nervous tic, an involuntary response to the Android phone that never rests more than a nano-second away from my hand. Like a gunfighter practicing  his trade, I reach for my connection to the 21st century constantly. The mere passing thought of trying to take that away from me for more than an entire weekend and I am beginning to twitch.

I don't find myself particularly interesting even in the best of circumstances. I don't remember  many jokes. How many times can I ask myself  "How do you make a tissue dance"? I am not very creative so I don't think I could envision the sticks and stones before me as weekend playmates. My attention span is woefully short on oxygen.

Left to my own devices, would I be compelled to turn my focus to political issues to entertain me? No, that would be far too depressing. How about my beloved Yankees or the painfully woeful football Giants? Not this year. Could I break down my golf swing and reinvent it? That would just be putting nasty on top of ugly. Certainly, there is enough going on in my work days to fill the void. I would rather amputate my small toe than spend these moments revisiting those moments.

Do I look to universal issues of human kindness, compassion and grace and examine where I have been, and where I intend to go? Too much for my feebled self to deal with. Can I strike up a conversation with a God whom I have not been on speaking terms with for a very long time? Not likely.

Where would I find myself on such a journey?  I fear that after 15 minutes I would start talking in tongues and within an hour be baying at the moon.

Maybe I could try to retrieve some of those verses of Shakespeare that I learned so many years in my past. Oh yes, "Tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day." No, the Bard of Avon provides no solace.

I am sadly, a very poor candidate for consideration. Too antsy, too unfocused, too much of too many things and clearly not enough of others.

No, these coming days for me will not be spent in self-reflection but self absorption. Not enlightenment but entertainment. Not considering higher purposes but higher prices.

Three days, 72 hours, 4320 minutes, 25920 seconds. For some, a path to a higher being. For me, just a very long weekend.

Friday, September 27, 2013


It was perhaps their most unimportant game in nearly two decades. And yet the stadium was packed.

For me, and most of those assembled, there was an utter irrelevance to the early innings.

And then he began those familiar stretching exercises and we understood why we were there. The crowd turned its eyes away from the action on the field, and we waited for the call for one last time.

When it came, in the eighth, the battle on the diamond had long since been decided. But we focused only on his trot, and tried to cram a lifetime of memories in.

It felt nothing like the final innings of the final home encounter of a dismal season. This was its own universe.

When has a rival team ever applauded the entrance of a foe? When have all these grown men, weary from a season that lasts from here to forever, stood as one in their dugouts and in their bullpens? When has there ever been such appreciation for greatness?

As the screams swelled, the outs were made and the inning ended. We caught our breath, regenerating  for one last frame and everything it would mean.

My daughter was standing next to me, tears welling up in her eyes.

One out and then a second. No hits allowed. The only thing missing was a broken bat.

From the dugout arose two figures, Derek and Andy, with jackets covering their numbers if not their identities. They would be together on the mound for one last moment, the last vestige of something unique.

His head buried into the shoulder of the pitcher who had come to fetch him, the gravity of it all seeming to finally overwhelm him.

When he walked off the mound, and removed his cap, he tried the best he knew  to return the love pouring over him.

And when it was over,  there was one final trip taken to the hill. A fistful of dirt was gathered, a piece of his life held firmly in the palm of his hand.

Now there is but one. As we left, the tears of the thousands may have been in the sadness of saying goodbye not only to the best there ever was but to everything that seems to be slipping away.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Mean Games You Ham- and a Dream of a Cruz Awakening

(Background- Ted Cruz, while he hogged the floor of the Senate, read Green Eggs and Ham- In that story, the main character first hates these foods but later decides he loves them and would eat them anywhere. Below is a tale of my response to the disaster that is Mr. Cruz and of his similar imagined transformation)

I do not like these games you ham
I do not like them mad I am

I do not like them in this house
I do not like them from a louse
I do not like them so don't dare
I do so like Obamacare

Not in this house
Not from this mouse
I would unseat you here and now
I would unseat if I knew how

I would unseat you if I could
I would unseat, you do no good
I would unseat you little louse
I would unseat you are a mouse

I do not like these games you play
I do not like them any day
I do not like them in this house
I do not like them from a louse
I do not like them near or far
I do not like them in a jar

Not on a train or in a tree
Not in a box
Not from a fox

You're in the dark
How could you, would you, not a lark
Not in the park or on a bench
Not in the dark with your fist clench

I do not like these games you ham
I do not like them, mad I am

And I would take this to a vote
And I would warn you not to gloat
And I would tell you to beware
And I would tell you not to dare

What's that you say?

I do so like you I do so much
I do so like the folks you touch
I do so like you now and then
I do so like you even when

I do so like Obamacare
I do so like it that we share
I do so like it that you care
I do so like you anywhere!

I do so like you
I know you can
Thank you!
Thank you,
Glad I am.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Art of Babysitting

As Yogi Berra would say, this was deja vu all over again.

It was February of 1981. A first time father was left with the task of babysitting his then 6 week old son. It was his first attempt at flying solo as a parent.

Pacing the floor in the "P" line 5th floor apartment, his debut was a disaster. The baby cried and all the tricks he knew, which were almost none, proved futile. This was so much harder than advertised.

A frantic call was made to the dance studio where the new mother was trying to exercise away the physical reminders of the last 9 months. The laughter on the other end of the phone was infuriating, and when the young father's words were repeated to the assembled, it was almost too much for him to bear. "Come home right now, and you are NEVER going out again".

Were it not for the efforts of a pregnant friend who lived down the hall, who knows whether the overwhelmed dad, or the marriage, would have survived.

Last night a now very much older, if not much wiser, man and his wife returned to that building. On the same "P" line but 2 floors higher, a 7 month child awaited. His parents knew not of the ghosts that lingered in these hallways.

The email from the baby's grandfather outlined the do's of the evening. Instructions were given on how to hold, where to go, what worked best. If all went according to this plan, there would be kicking of the arms and flailing of the legs in glee.

As if such assistance was necessary.

This was almost too easy a task, especially for two. Come up with something harder.

The first part of the evening went without hiccup. The 21st century pictorial of events forwarded to the anxious parents showed their son contentedly looking at the universe while at the pizza parlor, almost angelic in his interaction with his toys on the floor and, in the final piece de resistance, beautiful and quiet, sound asleep in his stroller. Along with this last photo was a self-congratulatory message: "We are good."

But then he woke up.

Where was the shut off button on this thing? Where was the pregnant neighbor down the hall? Where was that list of tricks the grandfather had sent?

Turn off the lights. Turn down the sound on the TV. Turn on the lights. Turn up the sound on the TV. Lie with him on the bed. Get up from the bed. Read him a story. Give him a little more bottle. Change his diaper. Rub his back.

What time was it and where were his parents?

Could that call possibly be made telling them to come home, and if they laughed would they be told that they were not going out again, NEVER, ever.

Finally, there was quiet. The young exhausted ward lay on the couch from back to front, his head ever so slightly leaning over the edge.

The key jostled in the hole and the front door opened slowly and quietly. The sight of their glorious young child resting peacefully, if slightly awkwardly, in such an unexpected spot, was almost overwhelming.

I couldn't tell them the tale of ghosts of 1981. I was just thankful that the dance studio long ago closed its doors.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Another A-Bomb

He is a dead man walking on a team that is barely breathing. Thus, the setting for maybe one last A-Bomb from A-Rod.

There is little hope that one swing can chase away the demons, put life back into the legs that have betrayed him or resurrect the Yankee's fading playoff chances.

There have been so many Rodriguez sized disappointments in recent memory, from his total collapse in last year's post-season with its attendant humiliating benching, to this year's failure to launch and finally a return saddled with the unseemly appeal from a suspension that, in the baseball life of an old and nearly burnt out star, stretches from here to eternity.

As I stood up from my seat and applauded the historic 24th grand slam, there was a part of me that wanted to see the Yankee fans demand, by their rhythmic clapping, a curtain call.  Tie game, bottom of the seventh, the one time some time hero hobbled physically and mentally and mired in a 1 for 25 slump. The greatest once again. But the moment passed, and Rodriguez remained firmly planted in the dugout.

With one swing, he had surpassed the most iconic of legends in Yankee history, the man whose career and immortal speech stood for everything most decent, most humble, most true and most everything A-Rod has proven he is not. The Iron Horse and the not so Golden Goose linked for one final time. This was a connection that should have been reserved for Jeter and Gehrig, captain to captain, man to man.

I remember not so many years ago, when I only half mockingly longed for Jason Giambi to juice, as the ball no longer cried out in pain when it met his bat, the majestic home runs disappeared, and the team lost a little of its swagger.

In the dying embers of a Yankee season unlike any other since the mythical arrival nearly 20 years before of number 2, Hip-hip Jorge, Andy and Mo, I wondered whether A-Rod could be granted a 10 day reprieve. Could the prisoner be permitted a final wish to swing, one more time, with the aid of artificial stimulants and hoist this team, on his aging shoulders into the playoffs? He had already sold his soul to the devil, so what further harm could there be?

But, as summer gives way to fall, and the leaves turn brilliant for a moment then wither and fade away, so it will be with this damaged team and this diminished player.

A parting shot into the night and nothing more.

Friday, September 20, 2013

A Country at War

("The Crazy Party")

It is interesting that Mr. Krugman refers to this as a "political moment of truth". There is more than a little irony in this statement since there is so little of this commodity found anywhere within sniffing distance of the Republican congressional members.

To cut, to slash, to decimate. These are active, aggressive terms, laced with meaning of intent to injure, to do great damage. It is not a coincidence that these are words applied to the continuing actions of a party who would achieve its goals at the expense of those most in harm's way.  Thus, the relentless drumbeat  to "kill" Obamacare.

No, Mr. Krugman, this is not a moment of truth, but of continuing attack. We are no longer two political parties with competing views, but adversaries at war.  That is the most unfortunate truth of all.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Republican Art of Manufacturing

("The Annual Republican Crisis")

Must we be subjected to more rounds of manufactured drama? It is an obscenity that pro-forma procedures to keep the government functioning and to authorize payment, in the normal course, of this country's obligations have been transformed into weapons.

I would rather that we not be yet again witness of the Republican brand of governing by threat. I would rather that we not be again pushed  to the last moment, and beyond, by those for whom there is no honor in governing. I would rather that we not be yet again give in and give up any of the benefits those most in need of our care and our protection deserve.

The relentless drumbeat to de-fund, destroy and dismember Obamacare is both cruel and outrageous. Obamacare is not an abstract concept but a living breathing being made up of the hearts and souls of millions of people. Last year's concession, by way of the sequestration, has already had a terrible impact not on numbers on a page, but on the poor, the children, the elderly, the ones for whom suffering is an actuality, a reality. They don't demand our pity but our compassion.

I would rather that the adults in the room emerged and the imposters masquerading as leaders of the Republican party disappear deep into the night. But what I would rather matters not and for all of us, the ugly, awful repetition is about to begin once more.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Putin, Good Guy?

What a strange twist to have Mr. Putin as the voice of morality and reason.

This from a  man who with his unfettered support for the brutality of Mr. Assad, has (if the New York Times report of yesterday is accurate) blocked all past efforts to move in the direction now being considered.

This from a man who in his own homeland has treated any dissent as a disease to be punished into extinction, yet has taken in Mr. Snowden  under the guise that he has to protect him and his first amendment freedoms.

This from a man who has made a mockery of the process of the United Nations and has essentially rendered it impotent on the issue of Syria until now, when he can use this body to validate him with its stamp of approval.

And yet much of what Mr. Putin says in his op-ed mirrors the sentiments expressed by a majority of our war weary nation as the debate on a seemingly unsolvable problem has raged.

Mr. Putin, the protector of a beleaguered war torn Syria. Mr Putin, by his last minute intervention able to stop an egregious mistake from happening and prevent the inevitable spillover effect through much of the middle East.

This has the distinct feel of being inside-out, upside down, with Mr. Obama cast in the role of unreasonable war monger, a Nobel peace prize winner who has lost his way and overstepped his bounds.

Mr. Obama is boxed in, unable to secure the assent of Congress, of his usual allies abroad, of the United Nations. Mr. Putin has now arrived as his savior, our savior, the horseman in the white hat.

It is all more than a little confusing and unsettling.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Problem with Syria

("Shadow of a Doubt')

We may be on the precipice of a looking glass moment in Congress where Republicans, reflexively opposed to anything and everything with the Obama stamp of approval on it, find themselves in the very uncomfortable position of agreeing with his decision to bomb, while those Democrats who have been fervent and fierce supporters of the President literally can't pull the trigger for him this time.

The Syria problem is so layered, with myriad concerns as to the repercussions of the decision to do or don't, that it is almost impossible to line up as friend or foe.. This decision is weighed down by past errors, by a lack of an answer to what comes next in Syria, by implications for the broader region, by the lack of support from typical allies. For every good reason not to let the most heinous of all actions go unpunished, for every line in the sand that has been crossed, for every reason to assert that we do have the right and the obligation to answer, there are countervailing justifications for distancing ourselves from yet another continuing implosion in a land we neither control nor fully understand.

Perhaps President Obama has laid this most complex of questions at the feet of Congress to give him cover in the eyes of this nation and the world. Perhaps he is wearied from years of taking the heat here and abroad. Perhaps he is just doing what both the country wants and the Constitution would contemplate, if not mandate.

Wherever this leads, it is undoubtedly a matter filled with pitfalls and with little hope of ultimate solutions. And if Congress does not give the President the green light he has asked for, then what next?

Monday, September 2, 2013

Water Falls

The wallet sat overnight on the windowsill, emptied of its contents. The damp and wrinkled images of Lincoln, Jefferson and Jackson lay next to one another in silent contemplation. The receipt from the bank had disintegrated beyond recognition.

The first raindrops had arrived as our group of six took pictures to celebrate reaching the top of our climb.

Trying to get to the summit, we had encountered the remnants of recent storms. The steep rock scramble, which seemed to stretch almost from beginning to end of our journey, was filled with decisions made more difficult by small rivulets of water.  Many steps were a little more tenuous, a little more considered, as the possibility of an ugly slip and slide was waiting to welcome the first mistake.

Apart from the somewhat constant reminder that much of the trip back would be derriere driven to avoid the nastiest of falls, there was nothing to dampen our spirits and our expectations.

As we gathered at the apex I noticed how much more of my shirt was damp with perspiration than I had anticipated. My wife, diminutive all over, advised that even her cleavage was wet.

Within a few moments after the first  hint of the deluge that was to come, we decided that being on exposed rock at the top of this hill was not, for many reasons, the ideal locale.  Even before we were fully off the crest, the skies opened in earnest. Those large drops that had a moment before been so isolated that you could respond to each one, now arrived in torrents. It was like an invasion.

It was the type of downpour where being soaked is an instantaneous process. The water that fell from the top of my head, down my forehead and into my eyes, came in sheets. My contact lenses were no match and momentarily I was half blind, looking through a haze while trying to calculate my next move. Glasses fogged up and were rendered useless.  And then there were the rocks.

Waterfalls. Waterfalls. It was beautiful, in an ugly kind of way if you were faced with the task of meandering in and around them through a lengthy and deep descent.  The rocks had now become home to a statement of the full meaning of the storm.

We acted as a team,  the better of the climbers going first and shouting directions as to the whys and wherefores. "Go to the left, there is a foothold there, and then sit and slide the rest of the way".  "Hold onto the tree on the right." The rain was not lessening in its enthusiasm.

It is not possible for a photograph to capture the essence of this moment. The descent loses its intensity, the weight of the clothes clinging to the body can't be felt, the strength of the storm  and the cascading waters is diminished and the joy of being in the middle of all this insanity is impossible to locate.

There were the occasional, inevitable, unintended posterior landings.  A few minor bumps here and there, but remarkably few. We managed to weather the worst of it, and by the time we reached the bottom, as if the gods had been watching, the rain stopped and the sun began to peek a boo through.

I noticed how much water had gathered in my shoes. The relatively flat section that took us out to our cars was filled with small reminders of what we had just encountered.  Small streams that we had forded by walking on the rocks and sticks that assisted us a couple of hours before had to be crossed without those now submerged aids. But, being soaked from stem to stern has certain advantages and I walked through without fear of unwanted moisture reaching unintended places.

Driving away, my friend turned on the air conditioning in his car to try, so he reasoned to dry us out. We covered the seats to limit the effects of what we had just been through.  Yet, every inch of each of us understood the details with full clarity.

There is a kind of sadness in recounting this tale only because it necessarily means it is now only part of my recall and historical perspective.  The waterfalls of yesterday  now only cascade in my mind.