The lovely and talented artist Chantal Lefebvre has begun a new series of illustrations, and I was fortunate enough to be her first subject. She made me look good, despite my obvious aesthetic disabilities. More here: http://chantallefebvredesign.com/blog/new-collage-series/
The ritual of baseball’s spring training marks the true beginning of the year; a time for reflection, for pause, to consider the errors of years passed, and to be hopeful for a season not yet written. You miss that girl, but maybe it’s time to move on. You regret August, but there’s another coming just after July. You were so close to the postseason, but the postseason never came. For many of us, it’s a way out of the February blahs, from winter’s depression, the sight of crisp untouched diamonds and impossibly high uniform numbers lending promise to possibility. We’re all tied for first. We’re all batting a 1.000. We’re all in love. We have a 21.2 UZR/150.
In so many ways, technology has improved the manner in which we both enjoy and disseminate sport. HD television brings you as close to being there as imaginable. Scores and injury updates fly across the Twittersphere in moments. Fantasy leagues are assembled with friends around the world, not just around the block. I can watch the Habs on my iPhone, in both official languages, and Punjabi. But the advent of the smartphone and a readily accessible supply of infinite information has ruined the art of the discussion, the joy of the bar argument. We have become overly informed, and nowhere is this more evident than in baseball.
While not a Moneyball guy, I appreciate sabermetrics and I understand its role in the game, both in terms of evaluating talent and discussion amongst fans. We’ve evolved, even as casual fans, beyond batting averages and RBIs. I get that. But the beauty of baseball, its essence and charm, has always been in its never-ending narrative. The stories, the romance, the mystery and exposition of baseball cards. Shoeless Joe Jackson. Wally Pipp. Roberto Clemente. Sidd Finch. Morganna the Kissing Bandit. The game where the defense has the ball, where 1921 and 1981 can be measured in conversation, where there is no halftime, no quarters, no clock, no definitive end. Any given game on any given summer day, could possible go on forever.
My god, the doubleheader.
“It’s a great day for a ball game; let’s play two!”
Torii Hunter is an asshole — a vicious, ignorant, weak, and righteous asshole. If I was a Detroit Tiger, I would find it difficult, as a Christian, to have an asshole like Torii Hunter in my clubhouse. Given my Christian teachings and learning, I would find it uncomfortable to share team meals, shower, or take the field, lest his assholeness infect me. If the Lord had wanted us to be tolerant of assholes, he would have explicitly stated as such in the Bible. But he did not, so I could not in good conscience live and work alongside an asshole.
As I remove my tongue from me cheek, let me clarify my lede: Admittedly I’m not a Christian. Probably. I mean, I get gifts from Santa, and hide chocolate eggs from children, but I spend Sundays watching football and nursing hangovers and once used my Bible to serve pie. But I invoke the word of God as Mr. Hunter did recently in a piece in the LA Times about gay athletes in team sports where he claimed that, as a Christian, he would find it difficult to have a homosexual in his clubhouse:
“For me, as a Christian … I will be uncomfortable because in all my teachings and all my learning, biblically, it’s not right… It will be difficult and uncomfortable.”
In June, I wrote an op-ed piece called “Hockey’s Worst Year” about the sport’s complicity in tragic events like the suicides of three enforcers, the abuse of young players by coaches in positions of power, the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl plane crash, concussions, and the downfall of the game itself. Readers flocked to condemn the piece, celebrating the game they loved and failing to believe that the sport could be to blame for deaths, for injuries, for failures, for flaws. NHL fans, especially those in Canada, champion the game to the point of fault. And yet, as a new Cup victor was crowned, and a summer passed, nothing in the sport changed. And over the weekend, as billionaires fought millionaires over percentage points that redefine the trivial, the game, once again, came to a standstill. Eight years after the lost 2004-2005 NHL season, the league locked out its players, and for the foreseeable future there will be no NHL games played, no practices, no Hockey Night in Canada, no Don Cherry. And as fans, fans who so fiercely defend the game, we’re left to ask, why? And the answer is simple.
The NHL hates you.
Not only does the National Hockey League hate you, but it hates itself. It hates the beautiful game, of whose legacy is its caretaker. It hates its players. It cares not about their skill, their speed, their passion, and their soft skulls, their proclivity towards abuses both physical and substance. Most of all, the NHL hates its fans. It’s a disdainful hate, a righteous hate, a smug and conceited hate. The kind of venomous, vitriolic, ruthless, mercenary hate that is born of an abusive, spiteful, alcohol-soaked relationship, when each partner is seven gin and gin and gin and gin and tonics into an evening. Unnerving. Sad. Egotistical. Childish. Selfish. Petulant. Entitled. The NHL hates its fans more than any other sports league, more than any other sport, and as the CBA expired on Saturday and with no new deal soon to come, the NHL proved once again how much it hates its fans, by locking out the players.
The NFL, the NBA, and Major League Baseball, all make concessions in order to appeal to and placate their fanbases. Not always, and not to the detriment of the games, but rather to perpetuate their financial and cultural stability. The NFL avoided a work stoppage, as both management and players knew that the obscene amount of revenues they shared were enough, and the risk of losing fans wasn’t worth missing games for a few million dollars here and there. The NBA also avoided a lengthy work stoppage, and though the sport is not without its own issues, and its own lack of loyalty to fans (see: Supersonics, Seattle) the sport understood that missing a season might be a void from which it could not return. Baseball caters to and serves its fans like no other. The MLB website is a tribute to fandom, the sport still manages to sell reasonably priced tickets to games, there is a healthy mix of parity and tradition, and when it does tweak the game such as this season’s extra Wild Card playoff teams, it is done so with the fan in mind as well as the sport. Because, at the end of the day, the other leagues realize that the fan and the sport are essentially the same animal, an animal that needs to be coddled at times, and scolded at others, but loved and nurtured throughout.
The NHL, conversely, beats its fans and the sport like a red-headed step-child.
LATE LAST FRIDAY NIGHT, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Boston Red Sox made what is perhaps the largest trade in baseball history, in terms of the contractual obligations involved and the status of the players leaving the chaos of Red Sox Nation for the perhaps once again temple of Chavez Ravine. Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto went west for James Loney, Iván DeJesús, Jr., Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa, and Jerry Sands. It was the kind of massive blockbuster that sport doesn’t see anymore. It was the kind of trade I would have loved reading about as a kid. And it brought the Dodgers back—to me anyway.
I haven’t thought about the Dodgers much in the past 20 years. At some point they slipped away as a my mistress team from way out west. But at times this year, whether by affection for nostalgia or disappointment in the Blue Jays, I’ve found myself checking on them. I like that Don Mattingly is their manager, the ex-Yankee. Donny Baseball. As close as you can get to a Hall of Famer without being one. He missed the Yankee glory years, on both ends of his career. As I write this, the Dodgers are one-and-a-half games out of the wild card, and 3-and-a-half back of the NL West leading rival San Francisco Giants, another west coast franchise that broke New York hearts. Their star pitcher is the impossibly named Clayton Kershaw, titled like a Hemingway character. The team has escaped the failed ownership of Frank and Jamie McCourt, and is now owned by a group that includes longtime MLB exec Stan Kasten and Magic Johnson. They want to win. They’re willing to spend, to take chances. They want to return the Dodgers to past glory.
They want to return to 1988.
WHEN I WAS A KID, my maternal grandmother spent her winters in Vero Beach, Florida. On a few occasions my mum took my sister and I down to visit. There wasn’t much to Vero Beach. A beach stop on the highway. A rail line passing through. A JC Penney, who carried the unavailable-in-Canada “Underwear is Fun to Wear”. Piper Aircraft is based there. Grandmother’s hide from the Canadian winter there. But as a kid, you don’t ask much of your vacation spot. I wasn’t hungry for art galleries, museums, Gap outlets, Tilted Kilts. I just needed a pool. A beach. A store that sold baseball cards and/or comic books. Kraft Dinner reserves. An abundance of colas. Batman briefs. Despite its pedestrian nature, its Everytown, Florida charm or lack thereof, it had something that did set it apart from the Myrtle Beaches, and Pensacolas, and Dunedins. Vero Beach had Dodgertown.