Sunday, June 27, 2010

Rain Delay, Take Two

I had it all figured out. I bought excellent seats to see the Mets play competitive teams; the Phillies on May 27, the Tigers on June 22 (and the Reds on July 7). Good seats, good teams, and I hoped three interesting posts between Melvin's and my April and July road trips. However, the plan didn't go according to, and I ended up watching the Phillies and Tigers games on television in a bar.

I missed a couple of great games, although both were delayed by rain. The Mets shut out Philadelphia as they did the two previous nights. It was the first series shut-out since Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Nolan Ryan did so for the Miracle Mets of 1969. (A mosaic of Seaver adorns one of the three VIP entrances to Citi Field.) The team picked up three full games against the first place Phils and since they took two out of three in the previous series against the Yankees, went 5-1 against the 2009 league champions.

The Mets scored 14 runs in the game against the Tigers, their highest offensive output in two years. The top of the line-up--SS Jose Reyes, CF Angel Pagan, 3B David Wright, 1B Ike Davis and LF Jason Bay--went a combined 14 for 23 (.609), collecting 12 of the RBI. The Mets would go on to win the series, losing no ground to the Braves, who had replaced the Phillies at the top of the National League East.

The Mets held up their end of my beautiful plan, playing two games I could blog about enthusiastically. Melvin and I have each reported on games we were present for but didn't watch closely. Neither of us have written yet about games we didn't see in person. On top of my disappointment in missing two exciting games was my unrequited desire to write about them.

I crafted (and posted for a day) "'Rain Delay,' a script proposal." Written in an abstracted third-person as a film treatment, it told the story of a Middle-Aged Man (your narrator), His Much Younger Male Friend, His Much Younger Female Friend, The Mets and The Weather; the principal characters who played their parts in the two rain-delayed games I missed. "Byways" usually refers to the geography Melvin and I travel on the way to games, but there are emotional byways as well. Cue Beth Orton; "I wish I never saw the sunshine, and if I never saw the sunshine baby, then maybe, I wouldn't mind the rain."

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Glanville Comes Alive

Doug Glanville appears to be a nice guy. He's a good sport and apparently a dutiful son and husband. He's a thoughtful commentator on how baseball players, who live much of their often-insecure professional lives in a kind of bubble, can be challenged by dealing with the real world in the off-season or in the years after retirement. But he's ultimately a bit of a bore.

Glanville played a number of years for the Cubs, Phillies, and Rangers—a speedy centerfielder with intimations of lead-off ability and occasional power. Ultimately, however, he was inconsistent, perhaps overthoughtful, and out of baseball at 34. He's now 39, lives in Chicago, and has a book out, derived in large measure from his recent columns for The New York Times.

Watson and I saw Glanville at an installment of Mark Bazer's winsomely wonderful Interview Show at the Hideout last week. The show is a low-rent affair in a small space that nonetheless manages to attract some pretty high-wattage figures—this edition featured, among others, Charlie Trotter, Tracy Letts, and Glanville, which for us was pretty much a trifecta: cooking, theater, and baseball. On the downside, there was some agonizing sketch comedy—white people imitating Kurtis Blow at staggering length is, well, less than au courant, plus it only underlined the uncomfortably monochrome nature of the crowd. But Bazer is informed and charming, and he's able to keep his guests very relaxed, to the point where he winds up doing the shilling for them. We got to chat with Glanville afterward, which is when he produced the autograph above, and we learned that while no major-leaguer ever relishes going back to the minors, he did relatively enjoy his time in Des Moines and in the Puerto Rican winter league.

Glanville is remembered well by Cubs fans for his clutch performance in the 2003 postseason—though his heroics were largely eclipsed by the subsequent Bartman incident. (Glanville does a nice job in the book—as he has elsewhere—of taking Bartman off the hook.) But it is a considerable stretch to say that he's one of the greats of his era. He knows this and writes movingly about the precarious nature of a baseball career, in which a player can and will be eclipsed in short order by a younger, stronger, faster one, whom often he has to help train.

The only real flaw with Glanville's book is that it is repetitious as hell. Other reviewers have expressed incredulity at Glanville's relative mildness—he has very few tales of debauchery to tell, let alone to cover up, and his favorite musician of all time is, uh, John Oates. Really.

What strikes me about this is that the qualities that made Glanville something of an outlier in baseball make him quite normal in everyday life. He is one of the few Ivy League graduates to have played in the Major Leagues, but from the reputation he garnered in baseball and the evident pride he takes in his degree (which is mentioned over and over and over again in the book), you would be hard-pressed to believe that somewhere around eleven thousand such degrees are awarded every year. The qualities that make Doug Glanville an appealing emissary from the often dumbass world of professional athletes make him... well, an average guy, if by "average" you mean reasonably educated, conversational, and aware of the world around him.

Photo from www.dougglanville.com

And that's probably enough. Lord knows it's a nice break from thundering dunderheads like Lenny Dykstra (whom Glanville supplanted in the Phillies outfield). Glanville, like our man in Scottsdale, had the great fortune to play an archetypal position in a major American institution for a few years. He's got enough sense to put together a career after that. What more does the man have to do?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Mo Monkey Makes It Mo Monkey

Our pal Ed Von Bergen has supplied a little videotape of the monkey-on-dog-after-sheep action from Gary:

video
Thanks, Ed!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Interspecies Rodeo


Who among us has not at one time or another felt like a spider monkey strapped to the back of a border collie, chasing sheep across a minor-league baseball field in Gary, Indiana? I mean, is that a metaphor for the way life takes you into unexpected situations OR WHAT?

While major-league parks do their best to makes sure that no between-innings moment goes unfilled with noise and spectacle, minor-league parks tend to have a larger range of antics and far more on-field activity. The events generally fall into a few categories: team promotion (e.g., T-shirt cannons), local boosterism (e.g., first pitches by local “celebrities”), fun for kids (e.g., mascot shenanigans), and fun for drunks (e.g., dizzy-bat races and Thirsty Thursdays). There are some stalwarts of shtick on the minor-league circuit, like Myron Noodleman, Zooperstars, Birdzerk, the Famous Chicken, and so on—most of which boil down to people in costumes doing a series of pantomime and dance routines. (Whether those people are actually men or women can be a diverting question—hint: if there’s just a lot of shuffling and arm waving, it’s a guy.)

Muddy the [Toledo] Mudhen

A little of this goes a long way—especially of the circuit-riders. Although I suppose if you’re nine years old or younger, you might have a different opinion. So it was both a refreshing change and something of a shock to see an act at the Gary SouthShore Railcats / Winnipeg Goldeyes game on June 1 that not only was much too short but was also not at all interested in whipping up the fans to cheer for the Railcats.*

For me, Team Ghost Riders—spider monkeys, riding dogs, herding sheep up first into a pen, then up onto the cab of a pickup—raises a lot of questions. Among them:

  1. Why “Ghost Riders”? I realize the term predates Nicolas Cage's use of it (and Gary Friedrich's for that matter), but how does it apply here? “Nightmare Riders,” I could understand—let me repeat, we’re talking about monkeys careening around on dogs here. That could turn to carnage in a moment. Does it perhaps, in the sense of “ghost-riding the whip,” reference the fact that the monkeys are not actually in charge of the things they’re riding?
  2. Are the monkeys strapped on to the dogs? They certainly appear to be. If so, is that for their safety, our safety, or the mental well-being of the dogs? Would you want to be guided by a monkey in a cowboy outfit?
  3. Why monkeys anyway? Are they the only species small enough to stay on the dogs and placid enough to put up with the Rodeo Slut Barbie stylings?
  4. Seriously, what do the dogs make of this? They’re working out there, damn it!
  5. Is this a viable business? Rob noticed that the man behind this operation, Tim Lepard, is also the rodeo clown that we saw perform motorcycle tricks and the like in Steamboat Springs last year. He’s got a big-ass trailer (presumably the home-away-from-home for the monkeys, dogs, and sheep) that can’t be cheap to operate. Which is the side act, the clowning or the interspecies mayhem? Lepard does seem to have a number of other acts, including a trick bison.
  6. Lepard claims to be inspired by his brother, who told him he could do anything he set his mind to. We can debate whether that’s good advice or not; what’s inarguable is that taking that generic sentiment as a green light to buy some monkey harnesses and hit the road is, well, unusual.
  7. This is an intensely patriotic act, with flags all around. Lepard gives a little speech about his brother and about his love of this great country. Is that what the founders had in mind?
  8. Last, what on earth does any of this have to do with baseball? I ask more of out of perplexity than criticism.

If this act really is the product of Tim Lepard’s faith in himself and in of his ability to train animals to do pretty amusing yet apparently harmless things, then god bless him. A man's got to have a calling, after all. But I can't quite shed the suspicion that he might just be playing us for chimps.

*The Railcats beat the Goldeyes 3-2 in the first game of a nighttime doubleheader (seven innings each). The defense on each side was appalling. Also, the Goldeyes' logo includes a depiction of the namesake fish, which appears to be a piranha crossed with a guppy.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

And Then There Were None

Photo: Brenda Kayzar

This blog is a labor of love—or perhaps just a by-product of a low-order mania. It's not something we do with an eye toward the riches and glory that will accrue from it. This is good, because to date we have failed to "monetize" this operation or even promote it in even the most cursory of ways. As a result, we have managed to accrue exactly one follower.

But what a follower he was: In his time, Roger was an urban geographer, motorcycle enthusiast, film nerd, Scandinavophile, animé lover, connoisseur of exotic liquors and coffee, recorder player, hippie, rogue, gastronome, medical disaster area, reader, enthusiast, critic, advisor, and friend. He changed my perception of life significantly simply by living his own life of professional and intellectual satisfaction, emotional richness, and fun.

One thing he was not was a baseball fan. He was, however, a passionate traveler. And when he died last Sunday, it was from injuries sustained in a crash on day 2 of what should have been a six-week round-the-country motorcycle tour. He had stayed with me and Watson the night before, and we'd spent it eating, drinking, and talking about books. (Among other things, he'd wanted to know if he should continue with Infinite Jest.) He left behind a partner, a son, and countless shocked and grieving colleagues, students, and friends.

Goodbye, Roger. You were following us here, but I was following you in many other ways. I'll think of you often along the many byways still to be explored.