Archive for category Sports

A Twins Fan Again!

bremerblyleven

In 1970 at the age of ten I became a serious Twins fan.  I kept a scrapbook, including a story from the Minneapolis Tribune about a 19 year old rookie named Bert Blyleven who looked “too young to shave yet.”   By the time I was 13 I was keeping score and kept a notebook with info from all the games, including who hit homeruns, the pitcher of record, and if there was a save.  I’d listen to Herb Carneal call the game, glued to the radio.

My first live game was  a double header against the Oakland A’s in 1973.  That was the A’s heyday with Reggie Jackson, Sal Bando, Gene Tenace, Catfish Hunter, etc.  The A’s would win their second world series in a row that year, but the Twins had their number, winning 14 of the 18 games they played.  That included the two I saw, with the second being exciting.  After starter Jim Kaat was knocked out of the game early, a rookie named Bill Campbell came in and pitched brilliantly as the Twins caught up.  In the 10th Tony Olivia would double and George Mitterwald hit his second home run of the game to win 7-5!

As a kid I thought the outside of the old Met stadium was absolutely beautiful!

As a kid I thought the outside of the old Met stadium was absolutely beautiful!

In 1987 I was in grad school at the University of Minnesota, following the team as Gary Gaetti, Kirby Puckett, Dan Gladden, Frank Viola, Bert Blyleven, Tom Brunansky and Kent Hrbek led an unexpected drive to the Twins first world championship.  In 1986 they had been last in their division.   Nothing can replicate that experience for Twins fans – the first championship (unless you count when they were the Washington Senators in 1924), unexpected, with a core group that had come up through the farm system and endured some rough years.

Then four years later, in Berlin Germany to do research, I listened to every game of the 1991 series as Vin Scully and Johnny Bench called the play by play carried over Armed Forces radio.   In the wee hours of the morning as Jack Morris pitched ten scoreless innings and Gene Larkin hit a game winner I was jumping around the apartment I was in, thrilled!

This all ended in 1995.  I got a job in Maine, loaded a Ryder truck and took off.  I spent the summer in Europe, and as I threw myself into my new job and home, baseball seemed distant.  Moreover the 1994 strike and cancelled world series left a sour taste in my mouth.   Baseball seemed tarnished.   I was surrounded by Red Sox fans, and soon I lost track of the Twins.  Oh, the years they made the playoffs I would watch.   But I didn’t know the players or feel connected.  But now, 20 years later, I’m finally a Twins fan again.

This year I got Directv’s “extra innings” major league baseball package.  And so far I have managed to watch every one of the Twins first 25 games, albeit a few via DVR.  Dick Bremer and Bert Blyleven are the announcers – the same Blyleven who was a rookie when I first started following the Twins .

Bert Blyleven as a rookie in 1970

Bert Blyleven as a rookie in 1970

It didn’t take long to get to know the team. Watching daily after following them somewhat close in spring training I am learning about each player.  It’s my team again.   The only bummer is a black hole in my Twins memory.  I can recall Steve Braun, Bobby Darwin, Larry Hisle, Ray Corbin, Danny Ford and a host of others former players, some good some utterly forgettable.  But there are twenty years of names – some very important – that are meaningless to me.  Still, I’m even learning those, bit by bit.

The game has changed some.  They’re really strict on the check swing rule now, pitchers are yanked earlier, even when pitching well, and I can’t believe how the fielders are shifting some hitters.   I like how they show the speed of every pitch as well as keeping the pitch count (which I used to do myself).   Still, it’s like coming home, reuniting with an old friend after 20 years, and realizing that you feel as close and connected as ever.

Jack Morris' ten inning shutout of the Braves in game 7 of the 1991 World Series remains one of the most celebrated individual baseball performances.

Jack Morris’ ten inning shutout of the Braves in game 7 of the 1991 World Series remains one of the most celebrated individual baseball performances.

My nine year old son is watching with me quite often.  I explain the game to him and he’s a quick study.  He impressed me after a runner was held at second by a ground out to short.  “Dad,” he said, ” you know, if you have a guy on second you should hit it on the other side, then he’d be able to get to third.”   So cool that my son, on his own, re-discovered one of the fundamentals of baseball.   “Yes,” I said, “that’s right – they say you should hit behind the runner.”  He thought about that and smiled, “I get it!”

It’s not just about baseball, or the Twins, it’s about my youth.  How often did I hear on the radio, “The Minnesota Twins are on the air!”  Followed by the jingle, “We’re going to win Twins, we’re going to score…”  Following Rod Carew’s quest to hit .400, every year thinking “this will be the year!”  Even now when short stop Danny Santana makes eight errors early in the season I think, “wow, he’s fielding like Danny Thompson back in the 70s.”

The 1987 World Series victory is a unique and cherished moment for every Twins fan

The 1987 World Series victory is a unique and cherished moment for every Twins fan

Seeing the fans in the stands at Target Field – a place I have not yet visited, but will with two sons on July 8th – has me remembering many games at the Dome and the old Met.  Back in grad school I’d often on rainy days get a $3 outfield bleacher ticket just to watch the game.

One of the more surreal experiences I had was at the Metrodome. It was 1986 and the Twins led the Angels. Ron Davis, their “ace reliever” (who that year blew almost all his save opportunities) was pitching and a storm outside caused the roof to tear and the dome to start to collapse.  People went running for the exits, one lady screamed and pushed me aside as she dragged her kids down – I stayed on the second deck to watch.    Soon the dome re-inflated, and then the Angels defeated the Twins.  I miss the dome, but am glad they’re playing outdoors again!

Sunday after my son and I batted and played catch for about an hour we went in.  We were watching the Twins together when they loaded the bases.  I had told Dana about what a grand slam is, but he never saw one.   “Maybe you’ll see your first,” I said.  We then watched together as Trevor Plouffe launched a home run to left to give the Twins the lead.   Dana jumped up and down with excitement and I realized that he’s where I was all those years ago, starting to become a fan.  I’m glad I’m back and who knows – maybe this will be the year!

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Could Brady and Belichick Be Innocent in Deflate-gate?

Tom Brady, one of the greatest QBs in history, answering questions about deflated footballs

Tom Brady, one of the greatest QBs in history, answering questions about deflated footballs

When word came out that the footballs the Patriots used in the first half of the AFC Championship game were under-inflated by 2.0 psi, just about everyone assumed that the Patriots cheated.   Then the wild media frenzy began.  Former quarterbacks all said they didn’t believe Brady, and almost every sports columnist or pundit quickly labeled the Patriots as “cheaters.”

One opinion piece at CNN called for the Patriots to be booted out of the Superbowl, others said Brady and Belichick should not be allowed to play or coach in it – and many thought they should both be suspended for a year.   The media lynching of the Patriots Head Coach and quarterback made it sound someone found a smoking gun.  Anyone defending the Patriots was accused of endorsing cheating and not caring about the integrity of the game.

This appears to me a kind of cultural group think.   People reinforce each other’s opinions, pontificate, and it becomes the conventional wisdom, what everyone accepts as true.  The Patriots are cheaters, Brady did it, Belichick must have known, yada yada…

Belichick is a consistent winner - which makes he all that much easier to hate.

Belichick is a consistent winner – which makes he all that much easier to hate.

But what if they aren’t guilty.   What if the quick bandwagon effect of assuming Brady “must have known” is wrong?

Consider:

1.  The lack of evidence.  Yes, the balls were under-inflated.   But there is no evidence that the Patriots did it.  The balls are given to the refs, who test them, make sure they are legal, put them in a ball bag and take that bag out onto the field.   The only time the balls are touched after that is when they enter or leave a game – and that is with 70,000 people and who knows how many cameras watching!   Not only is there no evidence that the Patriots did it intentionally, it’s hard to imagine how they could do it at all!

2.  The strange uniformity of the Psi.  11 of the balls were down exactly 2 psi from the 12.5 they were supposed to be down.  That shows that it couldn’t be a “quick job” by a ball boy sticking in a needle as the balls were exchanged.  If it were done that way, the balls would have varying psi, there would be no time to be precise (and again, all that in front of both fans and cameras).  More likely there is a systemic explanation in the way the balls were handled, prepared or moved.   Since the refs measured them before taking them to the field, it’s questionable whether the Patriots intentionally caused that systemic error.

The celebration didn't last long - Brady has been attacked and demonized all week.

The celebration didn’t last long – Brady has been attacked and demonized all week.

On Saturday Bill Belichick explained the extensive study they used to try to figure out what happened with the balls.  I did chuckle when at one point he said, “I’ve felt dozens of balls this week, and know the different textures…”  But they noted that their preparation and rubdown raises the Psi by 1.0.  They talked about the impact of different aspects of the ball preparation and conditions.

First, it’s clear this is more complex than just air and weather.  While Belichick insisted they were not in a heated room or sauna, could there be something about the ball preparation – something completely legal – that caused 11 of the balls to be the same, low Psi?  Those who want to hate the Pats will of course say that’s his game – shed doubt, don’t reveal anything, and the league can do nothing.   Yet it could indeed be true.

The media attack as been relentless, based only on speculation and conjecture

The media attack as been relentless, based only on speculation and conjecture

3.  Other oddities.   Supposedly the Colts complained about the balls back in November.   Why not check the balls at game time – if there were suspicions, the refs could have done spot tests during the first half.    And if they had suspicions in November, why wait until the AFC Championship to do anything?

Perhaps the league investigation will yield a smoking gun – or at least some real evidence implicating Brady and Belichick – and penalties would be warranted.   I suspect in the end the NFL will not give out any individual penalties because there will be no evidence any particular person did something wrong.   Perhaps they’ll penalize the organization based on circumstantial evidence.  The NFL needs to look at the rules, procedures, and methods of oversight involving game balls.  This kind of thing shouldn’t have happened – and if it happened innocently, the Patriots and their fans are the victims.

For Patriot fans bummed that they joy of the Superbowl preparation is lost to this inane controversy: cheer up.  I’m a Vikings fan.  You’re going to the Superbowl while enduring a scandal.  My team had a losing season while enduring a severe scandal.  Believe me, I’d rather be in your shoes!

Living in New England 20 years I’ve never really become a big Patriots fan.  But after all this media attack on the Pats, I’m starting to become one!   This video – so New England in its humor – sums up a typical Patriot fan response:- ‘they hate us ’cause they ain’t us.’  (Warning, some graphic language in the video)

 

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Obama: the Jackie Robinson of Politics

potus44

“But no president in our nation’s history has ever been castigated, condemned, mocked, insulted, derided, and degraded on a scale even close to the constantly ugly attacks on President Obama. From the day he assumed office — indeed, even before he assumed office — he was subjected to unprecedented insults in often the most hateful terms.

He has been accused of being born in Kenya, of being a “secret Muslim,” of being complicit with the Muslim Brotherhood, of wearing a ring bearing a secret verse from the Koran, of having once been a Black Panther, of refusing to recite the pledge of allegiance, of seeking to confiscate all guns, of lying about just about everything he has ever said, ranging from Benghazi to the Affordable Care Act to immigration, of faking bin Laden’s death, and of funding his campaigns with drug money. It goes on and on and on. Even the President’s family is treated by his political enemies with disrespect and disdain.”Geoffrey Stone, in the Huffington Post

President Obama has been a successful President by almost every measure.  The economy has moved from the deepest point in the recession to sustained job growth.  He has legislative triumphs, foreign policy success, and a relatively scandal-free Presidency.  He was elected twice by relatively large margins.   Yes, his party lost the midterms twice, but this last time had voting turn out at only 36%, meaning probably about 19% voted for the Republicans, hardly enough to counter his victories with a much larger turnout.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t reason to criticize him.  The right certainly disagrees with him on many issues, and the left has been frustrated by his centrism unwillingness to really push on liberal causes.   That goes with the territory of being a pragmatic centrist.

But given the clear racial divide still existing in the US, evidenced by the reaction to numerous cases of unarmed blacks being killed by police with no legal consequence, I believe the response to Obama is motivated in part by enduring racism.

Although nothing in reality supports it, the far right has created a caricature of Obama to ridicule and demean him.

Although nothing in reality supports it, the far right has created a caricature of Obama to ridicule and demean him.

That charge generates yelps of indignant “how dare you call me a racist” from Obama foes.   No.  You aren’t a racist if you oppose Obama.   People left and right will oppose the “other side” all the time – that isn’t racism.  What is racist is the way in which some critics of Obama attack his person, trying to denigrate the man, making it seem like he is unfit for the position he holds.

The causes of this are complex.   To some it’s not overtly race, at least consciously.  They see Obama as “different.”  He’s not the kind of person we usually see as President.  Not the wood splitting cowboy Ronald Reagan, or even the good old boy Bill Clinton.  He’s urbane, intelligent, cosmopolitan, and doesn’t seem the type who would split wood or go to the corner bar to scream at the screen while watching football on a Sunday afternoon.

He’s also not a wealthy, respected businessman like Mitt Romney, nor is he even the southern moralist former Navy submarine commander like Jimmy Carter.  He’s different.  He’s black – but that isn’t all of it.

It is, however, part of it.

Obama symbolizes the changing nature of US politics and demographics.  The future will have more Obamas and less Reagans.  White males no longer determine who leads the country, or who sets its values.  And just as many whites fear the rage from inner city youth and who thus try to blame the media and so-called ‘race baiters’ for the protests, they also fear the America that Obama symbolizes.

Robinson had to endure massive abuse, but baseball was never the same afterwards.

Robinson had to endure massive abuse, but baseball was never the same afterwards.

In many ways, Obama is like Jackie Robinson, the man who broke the color barrier in baseball.  He is doing a good job, but subject to unprecedented hate, vitriol and ridicule.  He cannot respond in kind – that would be to play into the low level gutter politics of his opponents.  He just has to do his job and let history make the call.   And he is doing it very well.

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Who Says 1-0 Games Aren’t Riveting?

goetzegoal

For a little over two and a half hours Sunday we were treated to a spectacular finish to an amazing World Cup Tournament, one that even saw Americans showing soccer enthusiasm as the US team made the final sixteen.   My wife and I were on the edge of our seats at a local pub as we’re too cheap to have cable.   We were pulling for Germany and experiencing moments of panic, such as when Toni Kroos messed up a head shot and gave Argentina a clean shot at a goal.  Later it appeared Argentina had scored only to be ruled (correctly) offsides.

What a way to end a career - Miroslav Klose sets the all time World Cup goal record and his German team wins the tournament!

What a way to end a career – Miroslav Klose sets the all time World Cup goal record and his German team wins the tournament!

There were also numerous moments of hope.  Germany handled the ball well, a shot went off the post and passes just missed – Miroslav Klose, the all time World Cup goal leader was just off on handling a pass.   The tension was palpable.  Because games are often won 1-0 at this level, every possible goal is exciting.

It looked, alas, like it was going to be a 0-0 decided by a penalty shoot out.   Then in the second overtime, at minute 113 the incredible happened.

Let me back up.  At minute 87 Miroslav Klose left the game to thunderous applause.  The 36 year old is retiring and this was his last World Cup appearance.   The camera focused in on his replacement, diminutive midfielder Mario Goetze.   At 5’9 and just 145 pounds, the 22 year old from Memmingen Germany who plays for FC Bayern Muenchen looked almost like a child heading into the most important game in four years.   I thought to myself, “wow, they’re removing the all time World Cup goal leader?  But that kid might end up a hero tonight, you never know.”    I was prescient.

Klose leaves the game, greeting Mario Goetze, his sub and soon to be national hero

Klose leaves the game, greeting Mario Goetze, his sub and soon to be national hero.  Despite Klose’s immense skill, fresh legs and young talent proved a winning combination

Goetze’s talents have been known to the German soccer world for some time – he’s one of the brightest up and coming stars.  That night it was only fitting that as Klose’s replacement he’d score the winning goal.  It came at minute 113.   Andre Schuerrle sent a cross pass to Goetze as he closed into the goal.  He skillfully controlled it with his chest and kicked a perfect shot past Sergio Romero, who had been spectacular for Argentina the entire tournament.   Suddenly Germany had a 1-0 lead with only seven minutes to go!

Argentina did get another shot when Lionel Messi, who won the Golden Ball as the World Cup Tournament’s best player, had a chance with a penalty shot.  It sailed over the net, and Germany held on to win.

Christoph Kramer remarkably kept playing after a series head collision - something bothersome to FIFA officials

Christoph Kramer remarkably kept playing after a serious head collision – something bothersome to FIFA officials.  He left the game as it was clear he was disoriented.

Wow!   Schuerrle, who made the pass, had come in earlier in the game to replace Christoph Kramer, who left with a head injury.

Of course, for Germany this victory came on the heels of an unbelievable 7-1 shellacking of the favored Brazilian home team.   At this level games with scores like 7-1 are unheard of.  It was a shock.  The German press didn’t know how to respond the next day.   Americans used to blowouts now and then (Superbowls that end 52-14, or a World Series game that is 10-1) might have thought it was just a bad day for Brazil.  But soccer is a game of such skill and control that at the level of the World Cup semi-finals this just doesn’t happen.  It would be like a 96-6 Super Bowl!

The agony on this woman's face captures the feelings of Brazilians as their team collapsed in the semi-finals

The agony on this woman’s face captures the feelings of Brazilians as their team collapsed in the semi-finals

Brazil lacked two of its regular players, but clearly what happened was more psychological than physical, and involved a kind of collapse that a very disciplined and opportunistic German team could take advantage of.    The trouble started when Miroslav Klose scored to set the World Cup all time goal record, overtaking retired Brazilian hero Ronaldo.  That put Germany up 2-0, which is a huge lead in World Cup level soccer.   It’s hard to score twice, especially if the other team focuses on defense.

For whatever reason, perhaps a momentary lapse due to the fear of letting down the home crowd, Brazil collapsed.   Within the next six minutes Germany scored three more goals (this was all early in the game – Klose’s goal was at minute 23).   Toni Kroos scored twice in a row so fast many thought they were watching a replay of his first goal.  It was a complete breakdown.   Germany scored two more timesin the second half and Brazil finally got a goal near the end, but soccer fans were left realizing there might not be a game like this at the last stages of the World Cup in 50 years.  Or ever.  It also speaks to the level of skill and control soccer players need to demonstrate – and almost always do!

So Germany wins its fourth World Cup, the first officially as unified Germany.  The others were in 1954, 1974 and 1990.   Germany would unify in October 1990, and that World Cup victory was in the midst of an amazing transformation – it was just after the wall came down and before unification.  Germany lost to Brazil in 2002 the last time it got close.    Of course, Mario Goetze wasn’t even born when Germany unified or Germany won its last World Cup.

The US was competitive this time, making the top 16 before losing 2-1 to Belgium

The US was competitive this time, making the top 16 before losing 2-1 to Belgium

To be sure, most Americans didn’t really follow the World Cup, especially after the US was eliminated.   Conservative pundit (or jester) Ann Coulter mocked soccer, saying that American Football was a real man’s sport.   Yet if one gives soccer a chance, it’s clear that there is a good reason why this is the world’s most beloved sport.   Perhaps only Quidditch is superior.   And even Coulter would have to admit, soccer players have much more impressive physiques!   And it was nice to watch a sporting event that didn’t take time out for TV commercials.

So the World Cup is over, and tonight I was out practicing soccer with my eight year old son who is on a soccer travel team this fall. He’s already better than me (and knows it), and it’s good to see young Americans finally embracing soccer – or to be accurate, football.

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Proud to be a Vikings Fan!

Rookie Blair Walsh in his first NFL game hits a 55 yard field goal with time expiring to send the game to OT (he’d kick a 38 yarder to ultimately win it).  Walsh is #3, his holder punter Chris Kluwe is #5

Vikings kicker Blair Walsh and punter Chris Kluwe had very good weeks, though in different ways.   Walsh, a rookie playing his first NFL regular season game was called upon to tie the game with a 55 yard field goal as time expired.  He did it.   My youngest son had soccer, so I cheered him on while watching play by play updates appear on my Iphone, meaning I tended to cheer at inappropriate times.

Walsh’s holder was Chris Kluwe, who punted five times for an average of 44.4 yards, keeping returns to 4 yards on average.   Kluwe’s consistency is why he’s been the Vikings punter since 2005.    He’s one of the league’s best.

His biggest contribution of the week was off the field, however.

It started when Baltimore linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo donated two Ravens season tickets to a group supporting the ballot initiative to allow same sex marriage in Maryland.    His support of same sex marriage isn’t new; he wrote about it in 2009 for the Huffington Post and made a video to support the Maryland effort for marriage equality.    This incensed Maryland Democrat Emmett Burns, who serves in the State House of Representatives.    The black veteran of the civil rights movement felt compelled to write to Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti asking him to shut the trouble maker up.

Brendon Ayanbadejo of the Baltimore Ravens

He said he thought it “inconceivable” that an NFL player could support gay marriage (I mean, the NFL is for the tough guys, not the sissies, right?)

“Many of my constituents and your football supporters are appalled and aghast that a member of the Ravens Football Team would step into this controversial divide and try to sway public opinion one way or the other.  Many of your fans are opposed to such a view and feel it has no place in a sport that is strictly for pride, entertainment and excitement,” Burns said, noting that the Ravens should “inhibit such expressions from your employee and that he be ordered to cease and desist such injurious actions.” Instead the linebacker should “concentrate on football and steer clear of dividing the fan base.”

Burns, a 72 year old black Minister might be excused for simply being behind the times.    He’s old, after all.    On the other hand, one wonders what he would have thought if someone had made comments like that about support for blacks during the civil rights movement!

Kluwe, Ayanbadejo and Burns

So Vikings punter Chris Kluwe decided to stand up for his fellow NFL player and wrote an open letter in response, which can be found here: Kluwe’s letter.   It is one of the most refreshingly honest and hard hitting take downs of a politician I can remember, even if you don’t like the “colorful” language.   A tidbit (but read the whole thing):

I can assure you that gay people getting married will have zero effect on your life. They won’t come into your house and steal your children. They won’t magically turn you into a lustful cockmonster. They won’t even overthrow the government in an orgy of hedonistic debauchery because all of a sudden they have the same legal rights as the other 90 percent of our population, rights like Social Security benefits, childcare tax credits, family and medical leave to take care of loved ones, and COBRA health care for spouses and children. You know what having these rights will make gay Americans? Full-fledged citizens, just like everyone else, with the freedom to pursue happiness and all that that entails. Do the civil-rights struggles of the past 200 years mean absolutely nothing to you?

In closing, I would like to say that I hope this letter in some small way causes you to reflect upon the magnitude of the colossal foot-in-mouth clusterfuck you so brazenly unleashed on a man whose only crime was speaking out for something he believed in. Best of luck in the next election; I’m fairly certain you might need it.

P.S. I’ve also been vocal as hell about the issue of gay marriage, so you can take your “I know of no other NFL player who has done what Mr. Ayanbadejo is doing” and shove it in your closed-minded, totally-lacking-in-empathy pie hole.

Kluwe, here with his family, is not afraid to speak his mind – he recently criticized the NFL replacement officials, saying the league should settle the labor dispute

It ends well.   The Ravens stood solidly behind their player.   Others came out in support of Ayanbadejo, showing that the cultural change in attitudes on gay rights is evident even in the macho world of professional football.   Burns has backed down, saying on reflection the first amendment does indeed grant the right for football players and politicians to state their opinions.

Sadly, it seems lost on Burns how ironic it is that he fought for civil rights for blacks while now wanting to deny them to homosexuals.    He’s old physically but that’s no excuse for him to close his mind and hold on to past bigotry.   From his tone, though, it sounds like his contribution to this civil rights movement is to make those on his side look ridiculous.

As a human who believes in equal rights, I applaud Ayanbadejo and Kluwe for speaking out.   As a Viking fan for over forty years, I’m proud that Kluwe puts my team in a good light.   It may be a small story in the grand scheme of things, but it’s symbolic of how our culture is changing.   And with all due respect to Reverend Burns, it’s changing for the better.

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Twins Win! 25 Years Ago

In 1987 the Twins defeated the St. Louis Cardinals to win their first World Series

Can it really be 25 years since that magical 1987 victory of the Twins over the St. Louis Cardinals?   Going through some old material I found a Twins Yearbook from 1987, and paged through it.    A number of that year’s championship team were born the same year I was: Frank Viola, Kent Hrbek, Steve Lambordozzi, Al Newman and Tom Brunansky.   Over half the team was born within two years of me — that team was my generation of Twins!

It was an amazing year.   Along with a bunch of others at the University of Minnesota I attended home opener and followed the Twins through the year.     On rainy days I’d often buy $3 bleacher seats, sometimes going to the game alone just to watch.     The Twins went 85 – 77 that year, barely enough to win the division championship.   I don’t think I saw them lose a game when I attended;  their home record was 66-25 (road: 29 – 52).    Luckily they had home field advantage in the series, which they won 4-3, losing the three games at St. Louis.  I’m tempted to go watch the tapes I made of the series, but I no longer have a Beta-max to play them on.

What a team!  Gary Gaetti, the efficient third base slugger, Greg Gagne at short stop, Steve Lombardozzi at 2nd and Kent Hrbek at first.   Superb defense!   The outfield was Brunansky in right, Gladden in left and Kirby Puckett in center.  Viola and Bert Blyleven lead the pitching staff, with Jeff Reardon closing out games with brutal efficiency, usually set up by Juan Berenguer.   It’s like it was yesterday.

Alas, time may heal all wounds but it also dampens all worldly joy.   As I googled the names of the players it was clear that their glory days are behind them.   One of the brighter stories belongs to Frank Viola.    Viola, nicknamed “Sweet Music” was one of the most amazing pitchers to watch back in his heyday with the Twins.

When he was on his game, Viola was virtually unhittable

Viola left the Twins before their 1991 World Series season, and had a few good years (and a few mediocre) before he retired with a 176 – 150 lifetime record, with 1844 K’s.   Since then he’s had a nondescript career coaching baseball, currently a pitching coach for the Met’s A team, the Savannah Sand Gnats.   He’s still with the game he loves, but it’s a far cry from winning Game 7 of the World Series.   Still, his daughter Brittany competed in the 2012 London Olympics as a diver.  Though she didn’t win a metal, seeing his daughter perform at that level must be as thrilling as it was for him to pitch in the big leagues.

As her father was an artist on the mound, Brittany Viola is an artistic diver

But some stories are sad.   One that brought tears to my eyes on many levels is that of “The Terminator,” Twins closer Jeff Reardon.   Reardon was rock solid to shut down the opposition when called from the bull pen with a save opportunity.  He is second on the all time save list.  Yet Reardon lost his son Shane to drugs in 2004.    Shane was 20 – my ’87 Twins Yearbook has a picture of the Reardon family with a young Shane.

The Twins would not have made it to the series without the most consistent closer in the business in 1987 – Jeff Reardon.

That is sad in and of itself.   But Reardon could not take the death of his son, he fell into depression, was heavily medicated, and then needed heart surgery.   After that he had a urinary tract infection, and apparently the mix of prescriptions left him out of control.   He tried to rob a store and was arrested.  He had also attempted suicide.

Ultimately he was found not guilty by reason of drug induced insanity, his medications were cut down and from what I can tell he’s doing better.   Still, as a father myself, I really felt for him and what it must have been like losing his son.   Add the psychological issues, medications, and torture he went through, and the glory days were far gone.

A mug shot instead of a baseball card

Perhaps the worst story is that of the all around “good guy” and hero of the Twins, Kirby Puckett.   Nobody was more loved than Puckett who drove in the winning run in game seven of the World Series, and four years later would hit a home run to win game six of the 1991 World Series.    He was generous and well liked, but his career was tragically shortened by contracting glaucoma in 1996 and being forced to retire at age 35.   Later he was arrested amid scandals of his affairs and treatment of women, and he died in 2006 of a brain hemorrhage.

In my 1987 Yearbook Reardon and Puckett’s pages are side by side.

Most Twins fans remember the Puckett who homered to win Game six of the ’91 Series commemorated with a statue at Target Field (Puckett played in the Metrodome)

Most stories are anti-climatic.  Steve Lombardozzi has a son who is also a second baseman, playing for the Washington Nationals.  He was born in 1988, a year after the Twins won their first series.   Many are still in the Twins Cities area, including Kent Hrbek.   Hrbek could have been one of the biggest stars of all time, when he came up he was slender, strong, agile and literally ‘a natural.’   No one could play first base defensively like Herbie.   But he didn’t take care of himself, gained extra weight, had nagging injuries and never dedicated himself to being the best he could be.  But he had fun — and I still remember witnessing some awesome homeruns from him at the Dome.

Kent Hrbek could have been one of the greatest of all time. But I have to respect the fact that he wanted first to have fun. He now does an outdoors show.

Tom Kelly, who became the youngest manager to win a World Series, currently works for the Twins, though he resigned as manager in 2001.   His number 10 uniform will be retired on September 8th this year.  I taped Kelly’s only major league homerun back in 1975, putting my cassette tape recorder up next to the radio speaker as Herb Carneal gave the play by play (I did that with every at bat of every player, then taped over the at bat if he didn’t hit a home run — that gave me a nice ‘home run tape’).

Using Google to find “where are they now,” it was odd to think how fleeting the glory from that World Series was.  As a fan the team is forever young in my mind, the 1987 season and series stands as unchangable event.  In reality, the players moved on, and glory faded.   It’s a reminder that life is more like a marathon than a sprint.

And somehow as I close this post I think it’s fitting to remember Tom Kelly’s baseball philosophy:  stay even, don’t get too high, don’t get too down, just go from one game to the next.    Wise words.

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A Chink in the Armor?

Recently an ESPN headline writer was fired for running a story titled “A Chink in the Armor” which was considered a racial slur against a Chinese player.    Given how often that term is used in sports, I would err to the side of believing it an unintended pun rather than a racially inspired remark, but ESPN didn’t want to risk a PR debacle.  Fair enough.

However, this may go to far: a call to retire  the phrase ‘chink in the armor.’

The phrase itself is old, from middle English.  It refers to a fissure or break in the armor worn by knights.   As a metaphor, it rather effectively connotes a very powerful team or player who has a small weakness that potentially could lead to defeat.

Retiring or ‘banning’ phrases within the media is common.   Rare is the word “nigger” heard, usually either from blacks themselves or in a dramatic context — like when an angry and distraught Col. Oliver (a character based on Canadian Gen. Romeo Dallaire) tells Paul Rusesabagina “you’re not even a nigger, you’re an African” in Hotel Rwanda.   That usage dramatizes the apparent racism of the world in refusing to help Rwanda, it isn’t meant to denigrate blacks – it was Oliver’s angry way for characterizing the orders he was receiving.  Otherwise, the once common slur is virtually gone – banned in schools, the media, and public places.

Nick Nolte's use of the word "nigger" served to dramatize how little concern the West has for Africa

Not all groups get equal treatment.   If I were to say “He wants $5000 for the car, but I’m going to jew him down to under $4000,” that would be out of bounds.   It’s a stereotype of Jews being cheap and always going for a better deal.   However, if I say “Hey, I paid too much for this, I got gypped” few people would blink.   Gypsies don’t have many defenders, and most people don’t even know that “gypped” comes from how gypsies (or to be politically correct, the Roma) cheat people.

What if the caption was "How to Jew Down the Price of a Used Car?"

But those words are directly related to the racial group in play.    Chink is not.   Chink is used as a slur against Chinese folk, but it also has a different meaning going back a millennium, and is used as a common phrase.    One might compare it to the use of the word niggardly, which has a whole different heritage and meaning (nothing to do with race).     People have lost their jobs for using that term, especially when people with a poor vocabulary falsely believe it to be uttered as an allusion to race.

Yet unlike “chink in the armor” the word niggardly isn’t common.    Moreover, there is a long history of oppression of blacks – slavery, ghettoization, etc.  While bigotry against Chinese has been common in the US, especially on the West coast where they originally settled, it’s not as horrid a history.

Of course the groups that have suffered the most in US history are the American Indians.   I’ve heard it argued that “Indians” or “Braves” should not be used for team names.      That seems to go too far – after all, you don’t see Norwegians complaining about the use of Viking – and that team is named after a group known for being rapists, murderers and thieves!   (Full disclosure: as I type this I’m wearing a Viking sweatshirt and I’m a Minnesota Vikings fan).

But what about the Redskins?  You know, the team representing our nation’s capital.    It’s one thing to have a name that is respectful – the “Fighting Sioux” from North Dakota actually uses the tribal name rather than the broad term “Indian.”  But “redskins” has always been a racial epithet.     So the worst part of this sentence “The break down in the defense shows a chink in the armor of the Redskins…” is the metaphor “chink in the armor?”   Really?

If "chink in the armor" is bad, what is this?

Like the gypsies, the American Indian nations don’t get much respect or attention, so it’s OK to continue with terms that denigrate them.

Then you get into other terms.    Some want to banish the “R” word – retard.   Long ago mentally retarded children started to be referred to as “special” – education for people with handicaps is now called “special education.”   The result – “special” has become an insult that works exactly as “retard” used to.   Trying to micromanage language usage is ultimately an impossible task.

At base I think people need perspective.  I try to teach my children something that will make life much easier for them: “Do not give other people power over your emotions through their words.”    If someone calls you a name, getting mad at them and being bothered and offended is a self-inflicted wound.   You have chosen to give that other person power over your emotions, you could have decided to ignore them – people call names to arouse a reaction, when you comply, you hand them a victory.

Not that I think terms like “nigger” or “jew him down” or even “gyp” should be used.  In fact, I’m all for changing the name of the Redskins and other obviously derogatory team names.    But we shouldn’t go overboard.  The goal is not to have a language whitewashed of any possibly offensive term, especially not if the term’s meaning and usage is not derived from slurs.  “A chink in their armor” is fine.

Most importantly we have to focus a bit less on the words and language and more on real conditions.    The only reason a slur can sting is because it evokes status differentials in society.    Calling a white anglo saxon a “WASP” isn’t very offensive because it does not harken to some kind of lower status for those people.   Calling an Italian a “dago” or a Japanese a “nip” does.   Some of it may be historical, and if so the longer removed the history the less offensive the term.    The more different groups have equal status the less you’ll see offensive terms used — society will naturally move away from such usage.

Ultimately it’s not the words that sting, it’s the way we take them.  That’s something we can learn from George Carlin.

 

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Pure Beauty

I haven’t posted much lately because I’ve been exceedingly busy.   However, busy need not mean stressed out or overwhelmed.  Today was an example.

At 2:45 PM Tuesday afternoon I got to Mallett school to pick up my sons Ryan and Dana (third grade and Kindergarten) to head to the local mountain, Mt. Titcomb.   Dana’s doing a program put on by the University called “Snow Cats,” teaching kids grades K through 3 to ski.   Ryan skied on his own with his friend Avery.

We had to wait for Avery to arrive by bus (he’s in 4th grade, at the school up the road), and with the snow falling we had a slow drive to the mountain.   Once there it was a bit chaotic.   Get the kids stuff together, make sure we have everything, lug it all to the lodge, stash the skis and poles outside, and then get equipment on.    The lodge was buzzing with activity and kids clomped around in their ski boots and got dressed.    I first got Dana to his group lesson, made sure Ryan and his friend were all set, then I got my equipment from the car so I could ski.

I enjoyed two runs, only to have Ryan and Avery tell me they were hungry and wanted to go in and get a snack.  So I went in, helped them get situated, and then went back out to ski.   “Dad, I need six dollars, and Avery only has $5 and needs one, can you loan him a dollar?”   They were in line and I opened my billfold and handed out the money.   The guy behind the counter laughed, “that’s a good way to get popular.”   Ryan beamed, “I’ve got the best dad.”   I smiled, and convinced the boys were set, went out to ski.

It was marvelous.   I especially enjoyed going up the slow T-bar.   Light snow was falling, but that phrase doesn’t do it justice.   The snow was a pure white, glistening in the lights designed to illuminate the trails.   It was twilight, lending a beautiful bluish aura to the trees, snow and lights.   Alongside that were the sounds of kids having fun, talking, laughing, sometimes screaming…perfect.   Pine trees covered in snow, a layer on the trails, the views…how can it get any better than this?

I would see Dana with his group, just turned six but master of the mountain.   Ryan and his friend Avery would go over jumps or trails through the woods.   I’d ski down, enjoying the mix of speed, control and beauty all around.

The light puffy snow kept falling the whole time, a fairy tale like atmosphere.    No wind, reasonably warm temperatures (mid 20’s), an absolutely perfect evening.   Part of the atmosphere was the sense of community that defines Titcomb.  It might be going up the lift with Pete who was there with his family, or Clarissa who was there with hers, or with a stranger carrying a huge drill bit, joking he was a dentist  (He had a walkie talkie and was apparently heading to repair something).   There were hellos and quick exchanges with other parents, and then a quick financial transaction with Niki to support the PTA fundraising effort (among other things I’m chair of our PTA fundraising committee).    She caught me taking equipment back to the car at the end and in the falling snow wrote a check in the parking lot before we went to coral our respective kids.     Farmington, skiing together.

At 6:00 it was over.    Chaos again, get the kids together, lug equipment to the car almost falling in the icy parking lot, dealing with rambunctious kids full of energy despite over two hours of skiing.   Then after leaving I had to turn around and go back because in the haste I’d left my helmet in the lodge.   It was there, the cleaners pointed it out to me.    In the car the talk turned to video games, Pokemon trades, and the like.   The mood was happy though, the kids had fun.

Those four hours from 3:00 PM to almost 7:00 PM were perfect.   Not that nothing went wrong…sometimes the T-bar stopped because a young kid fell off, my toes were a bit cold at times, and lugging equipment can be a pain.    It was perfect because it was such a joyful experience.  The pure beauty of the evening, the snow, the woods, the mountain, the people.

As I was going up the T-bar on one run I thought to myself, “there is nowhere I’d rather be right now, and this moment is as good as it can get” – even though objectively I was simply being hauled up the mountain by a t-bar.   “This makes life worth living,” I was thinking cruising down the mountain, even though it was just one of many runs.  I can’t explain the emotion, it comes from all the ingredients together – community, beauty, movement, friends and family.   They permeated every aspect of the evening, even granting magic to a boring t-bar ride.

Sometimes life is just absolutely wonderful.

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Ski Magic

I’ve skied every day this year.   Granted, the year is two days old (probably three by the time I post this), so that’s not saying much.    Moreover, I did so despite the fact that we still have no snow on the ground and outside temperatures have been warm.   That’s because our local mountain, Mt. Titcomb, invested in massively upgrading their snow making equipment this year — and it was worth it.

The Farmington Ski Club formed in 1939 and continues to run the mountain to this day.   It is one of the few “club” owned ski centers, and as such is not a ‘for profit’ business.   It’s dedicated to serving skiers and families in the community.   People volunteer to run the snack bar, attend the lifts and otherwise help out, thereby keeping costs down.   This means a family can buy a pass for both Alpine and cross country skiing (when there is snow they have excellent trails) for less than $200 a person.  It’s actually not buying a pass but joining the club.

If you go up to Sugarloaf it’s nearly $100 for one day!   To be sure, the mountain is small, there is no chair lift but only a toe rope and two T-bars, but it has a number of excellent runs (most aren’t yet open due to lack of snow), some extremely challenging and you can have a lot of fun skiing there.   I certainly don’t get bored!

Once you get used to the T-bars, they're not so bad

The ski club also sponsors a ski swap sale early in the season.  I volunteered to help with clean up after the sale this year and it enjoyable.   Another couple had volunteered and we found we had mutual friends (we’d each been to their piano concert in Waterville the night before) and joked around the whole time.     The conversations I overheard were interesting:   People out of work struggling to find anything (it’s a bad economy when you can’t even get a job as a Walmart greeter!),  talk of church related events, who the kids have as teachers this year (‘really, she’s so old! I had her back when I was in 2nd grade’ said a mom who looked just out of high school), etc.

Paper records are kept of every item to be sold and every sale.  The workers (volunteers) physically match these up and then when the sale is over you come in and find out if your item has been sold.   If so you join a long line waiting for one man to write a check in the amount of the purchase.   If not you have to pick up your rejected equipment.   I’m sure someday at the time of purchase money will transfer to the seller’s account with an alert sent to a smartphone.  But now there’s still the man writing checks one by one.    And nobody’s complaining about the wait.

When you have growing children it’s a necessity to have something like this; they need new boots every year and new skis every two or three years.  Mt. Titcomb and the Farmington Ski Club are very special; families with modest means can spend a winter skiing and socializing.  It’s not about profit and commercialization, it’s about community (collectivism rocks!)

For kids it’s a great place to go after school to meet up with friends.    People know each other, watch out for each others’ kids, and as a parent I felt no qualms about letting my eldest simply take off and ski when he was only five years old and I stayed in the warming house with his then 3 year old brother.    They also have events, programs for racing, youth programs to learn to ski, etc.   The snack bar is what a snack bar should be — greasy and delicious.    None of this fast food efficiency or sterile blandness.   My pizza slice today was probably about 45 minutes old and warmed a few seconds in the microwave.  Yet it was ten times better than Pizza Hut!   The kids like the red hot dogs.

I can't find a photo to do justice to how beautiful this place is, nestled in the foothills with a comfortable old fashioned warming lodge.

Now our eldest is 8 and the youngest just turned six — and both can ski down the hill as fast if not faster than me.   Last year the eldest mastered trails I avoided.   That amazes me.   In much of the country skiing is for rich folk.   I didn’t ski until I was 19, and my friends that did ski when I was growing up were my rich friends.  Skiing meant going to a ressort or traveling long distances when you lived in South Dakota.   The local ski area where I grew up, a kind of ‘bump on the prairie’ wasn’t cheap either.   To think my kindergartner can zoom down the slopes with confidence gives me a kind of a rush!

It’s also a nice foil to the video game world we live in.   I have to admit, I do not see the appeal of video games.   It’s not a technology thing either.  I don’t understand why people like puzzles, crossword puzzles, or rubics cubes.   All that work and effort for what, to get a cube with all the colors the same on each side?   Words written in blocks up, down and across on a paper?   What value is that?  If I’m going spend time on effort on something, there has to be some kind of pay off – ‘leveling up’ in a game just doesn’t do it for me.   I’d need cash.

To be sure, blogging fulfills a similar function for me, I gain nothing from games but like to be creative.   Yet my kids love games.   My just turned six year old will regale me detailed information about Pokemon battles (including the moves, names, and types), talk about his spell and pets on Wizard 101, or go into a Gamestop store and get on an XBox and quickly master whatever game is being displayed.   The fact that we don’t have an XBox slows him only a tad.    He also doesn’t seem to comprehend that I’m not at all interested in the fact his Pokemon just evolved, or that his wizard has a new pet piggle.  I’ve learned from his detailed descriptions that these games slightly more complicated than particle physics.

The boys can play for hours, calling each other over to see when some new event or special battle takes place.  That’s convenient when I have lots of work to do, but I’ve heard that letting your kids play videos sunrise to sunset is frowned upon.   ‘You got your son a DSi for his sixth birthday?’ asked a friend in horror crunching her nose in contempt.   Well, she actually said “oh, I’m sure he likes that,” but I knew what she was thinking!

And as I’m learning with Wizard 101, the games are designed to make money.   They start free, but soon kids ask to buy crowns in order to do special things.   2500 crowns for $5?  Sure, it’ll make the kids happy.   Now they’re wanting to wipe out their bank accounts to buy more crowns to furnish their mansions (which they bought because their original dorms were too small).   I mean, huh?

Yet compare the time they spend on this with the time they spend with often much more expensive toys that just sit around (hey, what about this air hockey table we got for Christmas – why has nobody played it since December 26th?), and I can’t say it’s a waste of money.   Having an real object opposed to a virtual one is meaningless if the real one just sits  there – at least the virtual stuff gets attention.

Then there’s skiing.   Both boys love it, they’re in the sun, having fun, exercising and learning that Maine tradition of wanting snow — and not just for a school day.   Even on the few runs open due to the limits of snowmaking the views are awesome and skiing remains the closest physical approximation of a religious experience (well, maybe the second closest) – speed, beauty, movement and serenity wrapped together.

And if after a day of skiing they want to play a video game or watch Futurama (yes, my six year old watches Futurama – stop crunching your noses in contempt!) that’s OK.  Skiing is magic, and here in Farmington, Maine, it’s the way life should be.

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The Way Life Should Be

It’s been a busy month, as the lowered number of blog entries this October shows.  Today, nothing heavy — just a short bit of praise for life in Maine.

Saturday the neighbors have an old fashioned “Big Squeeze” party, turning apples into cider.  We spent a few hours on a beautiful autumn day drinking some cider and chatting about various things, with the kids running around with other kids having fun.   The neighbors have a beautiful rural Maine yard, with some sheep, right on the woods, and the setting and socializing was relaxing and enjoyable.

Sunday was soccer, as kids Kindergarten through sixth grade play, learning the game, taught by high school coaches every Sunday in September and October.   They have their uniforms, cleats, shin guards and play pretty good.   The Kindergarteners have their own learning sessions, while the rest are in two divisions — the younger (grades 1 through 3) and older (grades 4 through 6).  They play four ten minute quarters, and all together just under 200 kids are involved.  We mingle and talk to friends and other parents, as people good naturedly cheer on their teams.

After soccer, we decide to go to the local theater to watch “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.”   Tickets are $5 for adults, and $3 for children.  Popcorn is $2.   The seats are big and comfortable, reclining slightly — the best movie theater seats I’ve ever experienced.  The leg room is exceptional.   The movie is fun.   When we arrive we see the college soccer game over in the nearby fields — a series of ball and soccer fields next to the river.  It’s tempting to go watch, but of course the movie is starting soon.

Monday is the first day of soccer playoffs.  It feels almost like a Norman Rockwell painting as the kids sit listening to the local high school coach praise their efforts.  The sun is setting — it’s 5:30, but it is a warm autumn night, about 50 degrees.  The lights are on for the field, kids are laughing, and though its past peak, the autumn leaves on the trees are blowing around.   They start with the national anthem, a recording played as people look on to the flag out on the far end of the field.   The kids are told they can put their hand on their hearts “if they want to,” but they should be quiet.  The coach wants them to demonstrate being quiet by asking “do you understand me” and having them be silent.  He tries about ten times, but the kids never get it.  First they yell “yes,” and then “no,” thinking that’s what he wants…and finally the recording starts playing and the children become quiet.

Ryan’s team wins 1-0 to advance to the semi-finals, thanks to some really good players on the team (Ryan is unafraid, but inexperienced — he’s lucky to be on a good team), but the parents are good natured on both sides.  The teams have fun, and now that it’s cold after dark, the bigger kids take the field for their game.  The kids are laughing and enjoying themselves.   A few are disappointed that their season ended tonight, but that’s one of the lessons of sports — you don’t win all the time.   Semi-finals on Wednesday.

Tuesday evening I decide to try to give Ryan some practice so I pick the boys up from day care/after school care, and after grabbing a snack at the local down town market, head to the school.   We get out the soccer ball and run around.  Other kids are there, and for awhile they play a game of anarchical soccer — no goals or rules, just having fun.   They take a break and play on the playground with some other kids, I play monster for three year old Dana who is laughing hysterically as we run around.   The other kids leave, it’s after 6:00, and the boys are still kicking around the soccer ball, as it gets darker and darker.   Though it’s getting chilly, they refuse their coats.  Finally, they’re tired and it’s time to go home.

At some point tonight as I watched them run around, and thought about this weekend, I realized that at least for this small town, the Maine motto “the way life should be” rings true.  The community putting together a soccer program that creates real fun and learning for young children, the cheap but comfortable movie theater, the glorious beauty of autumn.  Having fun with neighbors, children laughing playing outside, this is magical.  In a world where it’s easy to feel nostalgic about the past, or spend time planning and worrying about the future, I spent this weekend basking in and enjoying the present.

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