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.