Sunday, April 8, 2012

One strike away

It's the first weekend of the baseball season. For me, there isn't the usual rush of excitement, hope and anticipation. Instead, I'm looking backward to the last game of the Rangers season, which ended with our boys one strike away... One strike away. Maybe that's why I had to step away from the plate, take a timeout and think about my next play. As a sports fan, you are almost always one strike away. It's the gambler's hope: the next card, one more pull on the one-armed bandit, another lottery ticket. We're consumers of hope and dreams, fools easily separated from our money.
Or, maybe not.
There's much to love about attending a baseball game, sitting in a sun-drenched seat along the left field foul line, letting your gaze drift around the diamond, that heavenly, velvety green carpet dotted with the gleaming white bases. Attended in person, the game is not just about winning. It's also about beauty.
Like most true baseball fans, I've always loved this time of year. Growing up in Pittsburgh, I would avidly read the sports section, looking for news about the new hitters and pitchers and seeing how the old veterans were coming along. I was about 11 or 12 when two rookies broke into the starting lineup for the Pirates: Richie Hebner at 3rd base and across the diamond, Al Oliver at first. Bob Prince, the voice of the Buccos, quickly nicknamed Oliver "Scoop" for his uncanny ability to pickup balls thrown in the dirt to first. And he regaled his listeners with stories of how Richie Hebner got strong as a teenager digging graves. My mind reeled in delight imagining Hebner several feet down in the ground, his spade swinging up and over his head, dirt flying.
Years later, after my dad retired, he and mom decided to move to Sun City Center, just east of Tampa, where they joined my Uncle John in the sunny retirement community. For me, it was an opportunity to go to Spring Training. I visited them in the spring of 1987 and I remember going to a game with Dad. It was either in Bradenton or Sarasota -- maybe a half-hour's drive from Sun City. The Pirates were playing the Phillies. We sat in the bleachers along the right field line. At one point, I pointed out to dad that we were watching at least two or three future Hall of Famers: the Phillies hard-hitting third-baseman Mike Schmidt and wicked southpaw, Steve Carlton; and the Pirates superb "five-tool" outfielder Barry Bonds. (It was still more than a decade before the steroids scandals engulfed Bonds.) It was an ordinary, meaningless spring training game -- and yet one so significant to me that I still remember it vividly
25 years later. The game brought Dad and I together, and old-school father whose character was molded by the Great Depression and World War II, and a quick-to-anger son still trying to forge his own identity. Our awkward, volatile relationship was still recent history. The game gave us something to focus on beyond ourselves, a warm, sunny afternoon watching grown boys play a game of baseball.
So that's what I am remembering this weekend, the beginning of the 2012 baseball season. Go Rangers. I won't be watching you on television this year, but I'll be paying attention. Play well.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

With Curt, Terry, Howie and the guys

OK, I'm Curt and we're here in the studio with Terry, Howie, Jimmy, Peter, Paul and John:

Well guys, we all know what's going to happen on the field tonight, but the real question is about this Year Without Sports guy. Who here thinks he's going to go the whole night without watching the SB?

Terry for one is Fired Up! So how about it Terry?

TERRY: Well, Curt: Groundhog Day, Groundhog Day, Groundhog Day.

CURT: Groundhog day?

TERRY: That's right, Curt. You see, when I was a little, itty-bitty boy, I would wait to hear if that ol' Punxsutawney Phil was goin' to see his ol' shadow and give us SIX MORE WEEKS OF WINTER! Oh man! I would get so upset when that miserable, l'il woodchuck would see his miserable, l'il shadow, which meant I'd suffer another six more miserable weeks of winter. It was awful. And that's how it must be for this No Sports Dude. Six weeks of winter and nothin' to break it up. Oh my Godfrey. I can remember that feeling, Curt. I can remember it!

CURT: But Terry, you grew up in Louisiana. Did you really have a winter!

TERRY: Ahhhhha!!! I gotcha Curt. See that? I gotcha, Curt, I gotcha!

JOHN: Booom. You got him good, Terry. Boom. Don't worry about the horse being blind. Always load the wagon. And then BOOM!

CURT: That's funny guys. Madden, what are you doing here?


what to do on Super Bowl Sunday

Sharon (the wife) says that she'll be glad when today is over because I've spent the last three months wondering what I'm going to do on Super Bowl Sunday. The problem is I've got too many stipulations. 1) It must be something that rises to the occasion in excitement. So that would rule out those ordinary activities that I usually do on Sunday, including taking the dogs for a walk, riding my bike, reading a book, taking a nap, puttering around the yard. 2)It can't be something too frou-frou. So that would rule out going to see that big fashion exhibition at the Dallas Museum of Art, something that Sharon and Natalie really want to do. 3) It can be something I do with the family, because spending time with the family is a valuable alternative to sports-watching. (So should I suck it up and go to the Gaultier exhibition at the DMA?). 4)Ideally, it would be something manly like salt-water fishing or rock-climbing. Of course, I'm eight hours from the ocean and there aren't many rock outcrops around Arlington. The wife is now suggesting yoga followed by watercolor painting-- something that she clearly wants to do, since I do neither. I haven't talked to the dogs yet, but they always have the same suggestion: Walky? Walky? Or Squirrel! Squirrel! So, I'm still up in the air. Stay tuned.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Sunday Without Steelers

This is going to be hard. It's 12:46 pm. The Steelers are in the playoffs and playing against the Broncos. It should be an easy win. And I don't have a plan yet. I've got to figure out what to do instead of watching the game. Museum? Movie? Read a book? Nothing sounds too appealing right now. I might have to fall back on that old Sunday favorite: a nap.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Your brain on sports

From Grantland, the sports web site, here's a link to a story that tries to explain the brain science behind our addiction to sports:
"If you were watching World Series Game 6 when David Freese hit his game-saving two-run triple on a 3-2 pitch in the bottom of the ninth, you may have jumped out of your seat, sloshed beer down your chest, and spewed half-chewed nachos toward the screen. But unbeknownst to you, as the beer fizzed, your brain leapt up, stretched your left arm nearly out of its socket trying to close the air between ball and glove ..."

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Do domestic abuse calls go up after big football games?

That was a question that came up in an interesting conversation I had with my office neighbor, Sue Goetinck. Sue is the science writer at The Dallas Morning News. She said that she remembers another science writer years ago writing a story about the increase of domestic violence calls after the Cowboys lost. Or, more generally, after any big home-team loss. That got us talking about the science behind watching sports. Sue remembers seeing a science show, maybe Nova, that addressed this very issue. The conclusion was that there is a scientific basis for why men are more interested in watching sports games than women. She thinks it has something to do with the mirror neurons in a man's brain. Maybe that explains why the WNBA has never really taken off -- because women don't really like to watch sports (generally speaking) as much as men do. This may also explain why video gamers are predominantly male. Food for thought, and I think I'm going to explore this further.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Thanksgiving without sports

YWS: The Thanksgiving Edition

In which our hero must navigate the treacherous waters of Thanksgiving Day and all its attendant temptations. (I kept notes on scraps of paper and then got wildly busy between Thanksgiving and Christmas. So that's why I'm late with this blog post. Also, my dog ate my homework.)

Thanksgiving is the quintessential American holiday, combining two of the nation’s greatest obsessions: food and sports. If we didn’t have a Thanksgiving holiday, we’d have to invent one just like it. Only the Super Bowl more intensely combines our mania for food and sports.
I’m on a diet from one of those (see earlier posts) and it’s not food. So the object of the game is to get through the day, enjoying the traditional delights — the turkey and mashed potatoes, the creamed-bean casserole, the southwestern corn puddin’ and a dish called Ambrosia, which consists of a cocktail of mixed fruit and lots of mini-marshmallows. I think the marshmallow industry must make three-quarters of its profit between Thanksgiving and Christmas, which is the time when people eat dishes like sweet potatoes capped with mini-marshmallows, hot chocolate (with marshmallows) and the afore-mentioned “Ambrosia.”
As often is the case, the Tarrant platoon – Sharon, I and the two kiddos, Jackson and Natalie— are joining forces with my wife’s side of the family: The Kilday clan. The assembly point is my Austin in-laws house, home of Patti and Jeff. It’s large enough to comfortably seat 20-to-30 guests, yet it never feels crowded. The Thanksgiving dinner group runs the gamut from our 88-year-old matriarch, Betty Kilday, to a couple of young nieces in elementary school. In the middle are a range of Kilday men and bros-in-law, which are rabid sports fans, particularly when it comes to the Texas Longhorns. These are the guys I’m worried about. Their reaction to my YWS adventure is stupefaction bordering on querulous disdain.

“Are you allowed to play sports?” my nephew, Peter, asks? He’s in his mid-20s now, and at 6-4 and he still looks like the competitive high school football and basketball player he was. Peter went on to Rhodes College where he continued playing basketball for a couple of years. He’s also a skilled skier, sailor and generally all-round athlete. I can understand his concern, even though my own athletic endeavors are pretty much confined to bike riding these days.
“Yes,” I said. “I can play sports. "
Actually, when it comes to this Year Without Sports endeavor, I’m pretty much making it up as I go along. Basically, I’ve decided to not watch sports on TV. So it’s more of a sports media fast.
For 50 years I’ve been a typical obsessive fan, utterly devoted to my teams. It started with the Pirates and Steelers — I rooted for them as a kid growing up in Pittsburgh — and continued with the Dallas Mavericks and Texas Rangers, the teams I adopted after moving to Dallas (Not the Cowboys. Never!).
During baseball season, I spent evenings watching three-hour-long games almost every night. During football season, I spent afternoons and/or evenings watching the Steelers and other pro-football games. Hell, it got so bad I even watched the Cowboys if nothing else was on. I justified this by saying I was in the news business, and in Dallas the Cowboys were big news.
But it got to the saturation point — and then some, as my previous posts attest. I’d love to totally unplug, but I’m not there yet. I check the scores – which takes only a few minutes. I subscribe to Sports Illustrated - there’s no way I’m going without those great narrative tales by Gary Smith and others.
And, then there’s my stupid fantasy football league, which I can’t seem to completely divorce myself from — even though I’m in last place. I know. It’s embarrassing.
Anyway, the men in my wife’s family are as sports-obsessed as I am. But they are definitely not just couch potatoes. Peter’s parents, Jeff and Patti, do everything from running and swimming to deep sea sailing and fishing to hot and cold yoga. Today, Thanksgiving Day, they ran the Austin Turkey Trot.
They have Thanksgiving dinner early enough so we can digest while watching the traditional games that run that day: the Dallas Cowboys versus some other NFL team and the Longhorns against the Aggies. Interest is stronger than usual in the latter game, even though both teams have mediocre records. With the Aggies heading off next year to the Southeastern Conference, the century-old rivalry with the Longhorns is ending.
Thanksgiving Day arrived and a covey of Kildays flew out the door and to join the Turkey Trot. I wasn’t registered and didn’t feel like standing in a very long line of same-day registrant. I decided against running amok — unregistered. (Bill Kilday, Sharon’s younger brother, says the proceeds go to a great cause — a well-run food bank that has been doing brisk business in this recession.) But I also felt like I was missing the point of this blog if I didn’t get outside on what was a pretty nice day. So I borrowed Jeff’s bike and rode along with the runners. As it turned out, I would have been better off running unregistered. For now, I was neither registered, nor running. I was just this odd guy who was for some reason riding very slowly on a bike along with the middle of the crowd, which seemed for the most part to not be running. For the most part they seemed to be families out for leisurely Thanksgiving stroll while completely decked out in running clothes. Only in America, right?
I didn’t really have a plan for the post-Thanksgiving Dinner time, which consisted of back-to-back football games. The first featured the Miami Dolphins against the Dallas Cowboys, who were rather surprisingly carrying a three-game winning streak and playing at home. The second game would be the harder one to miss: The Longhorns against the Aggies. At College Station. Aggieland. It was one of college football’s oldest and greatest rivalries and now it was ending. The Aggies had chosen to secede from the Big 12 and go to the Southeastern Conference. There was bitterness galore to an already bitter rivalry. I really wanted to see it just for the news value — and I probably should have. Instead, I punted. I took a nap. That’s right. I did what any all-American male does when he has a bellyful of grub. I slept.
A few hours later, I awoke to the sound of laughter and true merriment. It wasn’t coming from the living room where the game was on. Instead it was coming from the dining room, where a group of Kilday sisters and youngsters — including my Jackson and Natalie — were playing a board game called Bananas. I’m not familiar with the game -- it looks something like Scrabble -- but it was an old-fashioned hoot because there was a lot of loud talking and laughter and, of course, arguing. This is an Irish-American family, after all. So, in the end, I kept my promise not to watch any games. But I had missed out on a nice alternative: Bananas. Still, a nap is never a bad thing. Especially on Thanksgiving Day.