Sunday, September 28, 2014

Ugly

This was a summer when Reds baseball wasn't my summer. It's not totally the Reds' fault, but it mostly is.

I'm going to say this all started February 10, 2000. That was one of the best days of a Reds fan's life, the day when Junior came home. Who could have imagined the disappointment of the next decade? Is disappointment even the right word? How about devastation?

The next decade, as any real baseball fan knows, was one of utter heartbreak. Few teams have won more pennants than the Reds; no city has had professional baseball for as long as Cincinnati has.* Real baseball fans know this and know that the first decade of this millennium was an aberration. The casual fan looked upon the Reds as they did the Royals, Pirates, or any of another of underperforming teams - with disinterest. The media powers that be ignored Cincinnati completely - there were seasons when they didn't appear on national television once.

A few seasons of mediocrity may not have been a terrible thing, for the losing kind of forced a change in ownership. Bob Castellini's tenure as majority owner has seen baseball in Cincinnati restored; the Reds are respected once again. Of course, going to the post season three of the last five years has helped.

But it hasn't been enough for me. Going to the playoffs was like drinking salt water in the desert. It just makes you thirstier. From getting no hit in our first playoffs in fifteen years to blowing a two games to none lead in the NLDS two years later and then having to settle for a Wild Card death the next year, well, it's almost just a tease. The Reds haven't addressed the obvious holes in all of these years of winning, but no recent season was as bad as this one. The failure to do anything to improve the team was more disappointing than the team's play. I know it sounds ridiculous to say, but it feels like starting the year with eight guys on the DL was enough for Walt and Bob to throw in the towel when the team moved north in April.

What an ugly, ugly season.

How does one think a lineup that features Ryan Ludwick, Zack Cozart, a declining Brandon Phillips, an untested rookie in Billy Hamilton, a first baseman that is prone to lengthy times on the DL (with no backup), and a bench that features the likes of Ramon Santiago and whatever other mediocre roster spot started the season on the team. I don't even remember anymore, because that's how much of an impact they had on the team.

What was good about this season?

Johnny Cueto. The Reds wasted a hell of a year by the most underrated pitcher in baseball. Couldn't even bother to score enough runs for him to win his 20th game. [Update: Thankfully, this didn't come true. Reverse psychology...]

Devin Mesoraco. Now we know why Yasmani Grandel and Ryan Hanigan were let go. A catcher with a .900 OPS playing in Cincy? What is this, 1975?

Billy Hamilton. He could be better, but I think he exceeded our expectations. He can only get better, right?

Todd Frazier. A real power hitting third baseman. I'll take it. Also, it was cool to have a Reds player in the Home Run Derby.

Aroldis Chapman. The most exciting player in the game. It's actually fun to watch him pitch.

That's it. Everything else was really, really shitty.

I can't decide which is the shittiest thing to happen this season - Votto's mysterious injury, Homer's ridiculous contract, Bruce's inability to hit a baseball, the utter stupidity on the basepaths, Hoover continuing to be on the major league roster and being USED...no, I know what the shittiest thing was - the complete lack of roster moves that would improve the team, especially when Votto went down and no attempt to get him a backup was made.

I stopped watching. It was sometime in August. I listened to a few games on the radio but I no longer planned my evenings around Reds games, and I rarely bothered to ask the managers at Lou's City Bar to turn a screen to the Reds game. I didn't even make the effort to go to Baltimore when they came to town. No, I'm not a fairweathered fan. Heartbroken is the word. I cut the Reds from my life

Time for a roster purge. Keep Votto, Cueto, Chapman, Frazier, Mesoraco, and Hamilton, and get rid of the rest. That core is good enough, but they need a supporting cast. I hope to god Walt doesn't sit on his hands this year.

One last thought: Don't blame Price for this season. He was hardly given anything to work with.




Friday, August 15, 2014

No Nats fans, it's not your turn for an All Star Game (and why the O's should get 2016)

Washington, DC, my home for most of the last eleven years, is a strange place. Literally made up of land taken from two states, its suburbs are all in different states and sometimes feel like another world. The city itself consists of people from here and not from here, much of that divided along racial lines, with many people like myself moving here for the political or international aspect of the place. According to this study, only 37% of the population of DC were born here, and an additional 8% were born in neighboring Virginia or Maryland. That's not even half of the population of the city that comes from the area. Sixteen percent come from outside the United States, with a sizable percentage of those coming from Central America and East Africa.

All of this migration means that DC is a transient town. A great amount of transience makes it tough to build a consistent fanbase for a sports team. Of course, the football team has undying devotion, partly because their team was good while the baseball team was so very, very bad, and partly because they were the only game in town when baseball left. DC has lost three baseball teams in the past (1899, 1960, 1971). Those teams were mostly awful (#1924), but Harmon Killebrew and the Twins would go on to post 90+ wins in 1962 and 1963 in Minnesota before going to the World Series in 1965. They finished second in '66 and '67, then won the AL West in '69 and '70.

All Senators fans had to do was be patient, but they didn't go to games and missed out on all the winning. Attendance in the last year of the Griffith DC franchise was 743,404, dead last in baseball. In '59 it was 615,372. In '58 it was 475,288. Yes, 475,288. In '57: 457,079. '56: 431,647. '55: 425,238. Dead last, dead last, dead last.

Geesh.

While Washington is a different city today, attendance problems are still prevalent for a market of this size and wealth. The bandwagoners who joined the fanbase in 2012 (a significant percentage of Nats fandom, in my not-so-humble opinion) have caused an uptick in attendance, sending the team into the top ten in the National League for the last three years, with the greatest attendance having come in 2013 after the 2012 NL East title. Before that, they finished 14th of 16, 14th, 13th, 13th, 14th, 14th. The new team brought a 9th place finish in attendance in 2005, and some newness allowed for an 11th place finish the following year, but the attendance just hasn't been there consistently, despite DC having weathered much of the economic storm that affected attendance in other cities in recent years. The money has been here. The fans, not so much. If the Nats can garner some consistency in attendance, then we can consider holding the Mid-Summer Classic here.

But attendance is not the only factor that should be considered in awarding an All Star Game to a city. The length of time between ASGs for a team should and does weigh heavily in the decision. Look below at how long teams have waited for ASGs. (I am looking at teams in their current incarnations, not as franchises that moved to other cities. Teams in cities that had multiple teams are denoted with an additional letter. I've gone back to cover every current MLB team. It should be noted that Miami and Tampa Bay have never held an All Star Game.)

2015 CIN  Last ASG: 1988. Time elapsed: 27 years
2014 MIN Last ASG: 1985. Time elapsed: 29 years
2013 NYM Last ASG: 1964. Time elapsed: 48 years
2012 KCR Last ASG: 1973. Time elapsed: 39 years
2011 ARZ Last ASG: (never, but 13 years since establishment)
2010 LAA Last ASG: 1989. Time elapsed: 21 years
2009 STLC Last ASG: 1966. Time elapsed: 43 years
2008 NYY Last ASG: 1977. Time elapsed: 31 years
2007 SFG Last ASG: 1984. Time elapsed: 23 years
2006 PIT Last ASG: 1994. Time elapsed: 12 years
2005 DET Last ASG: 1971. Time elapsed: 34 years
2004 HOUA Last ASG: 1986. Time elapsed: 18 years
2003 CHW Last ASG: 1983. Time elapsed: 20 years
2002 MILB Last ASG: 1975. Time elapsed: 27 years
2001 SEAM Last ASG: 1979. Time elapsed: 22 years
2000 ATL Last ASG: 1972. Time elapsed: 28 years
1999 BOSX Last ASG: 1961. Time elapsed: 33 years
1998 COL Last ASG: (never, but 5 years since establishment)
1997 CLEI Last ASG: 1981. Time elapsed: 16 years
1996 PHIP Last ASG: 1976. Time elapsed: 20 years
1995 TEX Last ASG: (never, but 23 years since establishment)
1994 PIT Last ASG: 1974. Time elapsed: 20 years
1993 BAL Last ASG: 1958. Time elapsed: 35 years
1992 SDP Last ASG: 1978. Time elapsed: 16 years
1991 TOR Last ASG: (never, but 14 years since establishment)
1990 CHC Last ASG: 1962. Time elapsed: 28 years
1989 ANA Last ASG: 1967. Time elapsed: 22 years
1988 CIN Last ASG: 1970. Time elapsed: 18 years
1987 OAK Last ASG: (never, but 19 years since establishment)
...
1980 LAD Last ASG: 1959. Time elapsed: 21 years

Going back to 1994 when baseball realigned, simply because I need to go back to some time, teams are averaging 25 years between ASGs. Of course, there are wild outliers - 48 years for the Mets? But at least that gives us some picture of the wait time a team should have before getting an ASG.

You'll notice, of course, the extreme outlier - Pusburgh's mere 12 year wait. Pusburgh should have never been awarded the game. They were the worst team in baseball with no attendance and no good players. The only thing that franchise had going for it was that ballpark, which is among the best in baseball. I swear they got the game more because Ben Rapelesberger's Super Bowl Champ Pusburgh Steelers worked to get it there than any baseball-related reason. Ugh.

Nats fans use the "new stadium" excuse. Pusburgh, as I said, was awarded the ASG because of its stadium. It is a special stadium, a beautiful stadium. Nats Park is neither of those things. Nats Park looks like a corporate office from the outside. It has a view of parking garages in the outfield that it tries to hide with outdated banners. Shipping containers that look like dumpsters greet visitors as they walk towards the centerfield gate. While there are more places around the park than there used to be, the area is still under development. It's not a bad park. It's just not special, and it's not ready to host an All Star Game.

Dartboard Field hosted the 2014 ASG. Shitty Field hosted the 2013 ASG. Both were four years old. However, the Twins waited 29 years between ASGs, and the Mets, as mentioned above, waited 48 years. The Reds are hosting next year at their 12 year old "new" ballpark after waiting 27 years for the game to return to Cincinnati. Taint Louis's new park was 3 years old when they hosted in 2009, but they waited 43 years between ASGs. The Giant's "new" park was 7 years old, but they waited 23 years, and Detroit's park was 5 years old, but they waited 34 years. You see a pattern here?

The truth is, choosing the ASG has little to do with "new" parks, as 24 of the 30 ballparks in MLB have been built since 1992. They're ALL new.

Nats Park is in its seventh season. The Nats themselves are in their tenth. (Forget franchises - an All Star Game belongs to a city and the fanbase of the team that plays there. Forget that the corporate franchise last had an ASG in 1982.) Of the last four teams that have been added, two have never hosted. One waited 13 years to host. The Rockies waited five. The Rockies also had more three million people - nearly four - coming to the ballpark and had been first in attendance in the NL for five years running. Texas waited 23 years from establishment to host their only ASG. Toronto waited 14 years, Oakland waited 19 years.

The Nats shouldn't get an All Star Game for at least another seven or eight years. It's about fairness. There is nothing about the Nationals, their ballpark, or their fanbase that warrants special treatment. I know the politicos think they can have anything they want, but this is baseball. It belongs to our nation, not to the nation's capital.

So who should get the next few All Star Games?

The Orioles, who have waited 21 years, have seen increasing attendance thanks to a reemergence of success, have a great baseball history and tradition, and have one of the best ballparks in baseball are a good candidate, and they want the game to come to Baltimore. I vote they get the 2016 ASG.

The Dodgers should ask for it and get it upon demand. It's been 35 years since they've hosted the Mid-Summer Classic, and despite being one of the most storied franchises, they've only hosted it three times total, a mere once while in Brooklyn. Dodger Stadium, if you can believe it, is the third oldest park in baseball. I've never been there, but it looks pretty beautiful. Only thing is, the Dodgers don't seem to want the ASG. Of course, they did just go through the messy divorce. Maybe Magic will change things.

The Cubs should hold it again in the next five years. It's been 24 years, and Wrigley being Wrigley deserves all the attention it can get. The fanbase, for mystical reasons, is consistent, and the team looks to be pretty good in the next few years, making for an exciting setting. Plus it's Chicago, and even though the White Sox hosted in 2003, fifteen or sixteen years is too long to go without the ASG in such a baseball city.

Petco Park has never hosted an ASG, and its been 22 years since the Padres hosted. Although attendance is down and the team is, well, not that great, San Diego is a travel destination with a park worthy of baseball's greats. (I've never been to Petco, but I have been to Jack Murphy twice. In fact, I saw my first Reds game there at age one.)

Toronto! They've only hosted one ASG, and that was 23 years ago. The team has some great young players and with the O's running away with things, they could still get a Wild Card. This makes for some baseball excitement in the city, and Joey Votto's leg might be healed by the time the game would be played - say 2017 or 2018.

Philadelphia, the city of otherly love, has a ballpark that is a decade old but has never seen an ASG. Give it a few years and it will be time. Of course, the geriatric ward that is their team will be kaput, and they'll be rebuilding soon, but Phils phans are true fans and don't abandon their team when it's down.

The A's recently signed a deal to stay at the hideous Oakland Coliseum, but they can leave any time after 2017 with two year's notice. I doubt they'll pursue an ASG at the medusa of ballparks, but give them the game as soon as the new park opens. They've waited 27 years. They deserve it.

So there you have it. These teams should host an All Star Game before the Nats do. The true baseball fan will appreciate the fairness involved in one of America's great traditions.

Btw, I'm going to Cincy next year whether or not I have a ticket, just to be around the atmosphere. Truth be told, I'd probably enjoy it on a boat on the river almost as much as the actual game itself, as long as I can watch it on a mobile device!

*UPDATE* Someone said my argument has holes since there hasn't been an ASG in DC for 45 years. Well, there was no team for 32 years, so it's more like it's only been 12 years without an ASG, which would still make 7-8 years about right. When you lose two teams due to lack of interest, you don't get any slack.


Monday, July 07, 2014

I hate soccer

No, I don't. But every four years a vocal contingent of Americans lose their minds because other Americans are participating in the world's most popular event.

The rational person, when faced with the daunting task of being in a minority, asks himself what he is missing, why he doesn't feel the same way about a topic that most others do not. In some cases, he may find justification for his views. A pepperoni pizza, beloved in America, might be too greasy for his tastes. But at least he has tasted the pizza.

In contrast, the irrational person sees others enjoying the pizza, but because he prefers sausage as a topping, refuses to taste the pizza and condemns those who do like it. This person is far too common in America.

The rational person has tried soccer - really tried, not just turned on the tube for a couple of minutes, found no goals, and dismissed it - but tried to figure out what was going on, what the appeal is, etc. He has tried it not merely in the lonely confines of his living room, but has gathered with friends, which is the way it is meant to be viewed. He is surrounded by people who can help him learn the things he doesn't understand.

I have this untestable theory that the reason the NFL and college football have exploded in popularity in recent years - not that it wasn't already America's most popular sport since the sixties - is because of the camaraderie aspect of it. It's limited in scope, held for only 16+ weeks of the year, mostly on one day of the week, making it not merely a sport, but an event, ripe for being shared with friends and family. Bars are packed on Sundays. Why? Because people want to watch football with other people.

Baseball, on the other hand, happens every day for half a year. You know how eggnog is so good because you only have it at Christmas, or pumpkin pie because Thanksgiving, or anything else that is special because it only happens in a limited time frame? Yeah, that. Baseball is not an event because it's always there.

That's what the World Cup is. That thing that is more rare than a blue moon. And it's meant to be shared in the company of others, like eggnog at a Christmas party.

The irrational person says things like, "all they do is kick a ball around." I'm reminded of non-baseball fans who think baseball is simply throwing a ball and swinging a bat, or people who don't understand American football who can't see the game beyond the stoppages ever few seconds. You sound llike a moron when you say "all they do is just kick a ball around." Soccer is a game of geometry, with the players as the end points of line segments. There is always something going on. You just have to know what you're looking at.

The irrational person says, "soccer players aren't athletes," or worse, "if the US's best athletes played soccer, we'd win the World Cup every year." Good lord. The average soccer player runs 9.5 miles a game. That's 22 guys running a combined 154 miles, if that's the kind of stat you need to understand what's going on. Lebron James, cited by these same arrogant jerks as an example of America's best athletes, can't finish basketball games due to leg cramps. He'd never last on a soccer pitch, which, by the way, is much larger than an American football field. Perhaps the sedentary lifestyle of a good percentage of Americans renders them incapable of comprehending just how much running that is, how hard that is on the human body.

Furthermore, these haters make much ado about how soccer players are sissies for getting hurt so frequently. Granted, there is a lot of flopping going on (something you see frequently in the NBA as well), but you try getting kneed in the thight, kicked in the shins, and elbowed in the face repeatedly over the course of 90+ minutes without padding, aside from thin plastic shin guards which slows the process of bruising by mere milliseconds, I"m sure. Do you know how it feels to stop a ball traveling 70-80 mph? Ask anyone who's ever had a bruise in the shape of soccer ball patches. And headers? God knows how many players play with concussions after absorbing the full impact of a ball to the head. Headers can make you see stars.

The irrational person complains about the use of feet. This one actually floors me. Your hands are designed to use tools. Your feet are designed to walk. This game requires feet to use a tool. Controlling a soccer ball with your foot is HARD. Touches are everything in a game. Catching a ball with your hands is easy for the dexterous among us. If you have a problem with the use of feet in a game, well, you just don't have a clue. Even shooting a ball at the goal is difficult. You have to hit it on the right part of your foot and calculate the speed and angle you're going to need to get it past the keeper, who is always a giant of a man in the case of professional soccer. (At 5'3", I was not a giant of a keeper. But I managed to do pretty well (I held that state record for seven damn years, Rebecca Roggelin of Oregon Cardinal Stritch. Haha. By the way, number ten on on that career saves list learned everything from me when I was goalkeeper coach for the team. Ha.) I'd love to see these soccer haters try to kick a ball.

While we're on the subject of feet, it takes a certain density of the mind to have a problem with calling a sport that uses its feet "football," while defending calling a sport where the use of feet is minor by the same name. Once could argue that running is the foot part of the sport, but no one uses that argument. Instead, kickoffs, punting, and field goals are used as justification. Wat?

Then there are the completely insane diatribes. Soccer is a hipster sport. Soccer is a liberal sport. Sorry, Thom Loverro, but you just don't know what a hipster is. I think the term you were looking for was "people younger than you." Which is a sizable chunk of the population. But I still like your baseball columns. Just recognize that what you said was ridiculous.

I probably shouldn't even mention famed psychobitch Ann Coulter here, but in a twisted sort of way - not pretzel twisted but tornado, no, sharknado short of way - one could make that argument. Liberal-minded people - now, don't get your panties in bunches, folks, I'm talking about the real term, not the political one - tend to have more worldly experience, which exposes them to "foreign" things, as soccer is viewed by many of these haters.

My last point is in regard to US soccer fans and the way they are viewed by the haters. Haters think soccer fans are trying to shove soccer down their throats. If you were subjected to a constant barrage of insults towards the thing you love, you'd become defensive, too. If you hadn't opened your mouth to disparage the game, a soccer fan wouldn't feel the need to persuade you to change your mind. But you did open it, again and again, until that fan couldn't stand it anymore. Because that's what you do when you love something. You defend it. God knows how often I do it with baseball.

I've written this post in a notebook that has a metric conversion chart inside it. We're the only morons left in the world who cling to our nonsensical, outdated system of weights and measures. Ask any American how many feet are in a mile, and chances are, he won't know. We'd rather be stupid than adopt something "foreign." There's such a disconnect to any other part of the world, it astounds me. It's the same mentality that allows so many Americans to shrug their shoulders when we go off to another war. And they wonder why people fly planes into our buildings...

The haters just can't stand the fact that the World Cup games have had such great ratings.They lost their minds when the US numbers showed higher ratings than all college football games but the BCS and Rose Bowl and all the NBA finals games. They tried to say it was apples and oranges, that it only happens every four years, that people were only rooting for the country and don't like soccer, that the ratings lied. Of course, the low Olympic ratings, which only happen every four years and are country-oriented, disproved their arguments, but that didn't stop them from arguing anyway.

A lot of sports media ate their words. Many found themselves reluctantly getting on board, like Cincinnati's Mo Eggers and Paul Daugherty of the local radio station. Many Americans watched the first soccer games of their lives - and they liked it. On a personal note, Chris, aged 52, Washington Football Team supporter for life, was floored by how excited he was to watch the games and how he couldn't take his eyes from the screen for the full 90+ minutes. We got to the bar one or two hours early just to get a seat for all of the US games. Many others told me they had never watched a soccer game and expressed their amazement that they were so into it. That Americans were finally participating in something with the rest of the world was simply beautiful. That's what I miss most about the US team being out of it, that sense of global camaraderie.

The fact is, anyone who says soccer didn't win over fans or will never take root in America is just in denial. Will it be as popular as American football or baseball? No. Those games are interwoven into the fabric of our society. But every four years we see we were not wrong in saying that soccer continues to make its way into our sports psyche. It's time we stop talking about the "four major sports in America." There are five.

So no, I don't hate soccer. But I hate the same tired whininess that crops up every four years by people whose heads are so far up Uncle Sam's ass that they can't participate in something beloved by the rest of the world. Because...shh...don't tell them...the rest of the world is not inferior to America. These Americans who reject the rest of the world, however, sure are inferior to them.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Thoughts on the nearly half-way point

I thought, I'm on Twitter so much on my phone, why not use the phone to write on the old blog? I don't have an Android phone, so I don't have a great mobile app, but the html is fine, though the auto correct is beyond annoying. Still necessary, though, as I make a lot of typos on the phone.

We've nearly reached the halfway point of the 2014 season, so I thought I'd put a few thoughts down about the Reds. One word can sum up the season at this point: disappointing. The team just hasn't been firing on all cylinders for most of the season. Granted, injuries had a lot to do with it; having eight players on the DL on Opening Day, including much of your bullpen, is devastating, but come on. Even those who weren't hurt struggled. Offense? It didn't exist until recently.

There are, of course, blinding bright spots: Cueto, Simon, Chapman, Broxton, Hamilton, Mesoraco, and Frazier are all worthy of all star selection. The first three will probably go, but I doubt there is room for the others, especially since the hated Taint Louis Deadbirds get to choose the team. With that many players worthy of selection, you'd think this team would be better than .500. But here we sit, reaching .500 then losing it by walking in the wining run against the hated Pissburgh Pyrites. It was such a typical kind of loss; a few stupid things happen, and that's that.

Marty said something that got a few folks outraged around Cincy parts, an outrage that was unwarranted. He criticized the players' baseball intellect. Those who were outraged either don't watch the team make boneheaded decisions time and time again, or they're so blinded by their hipster hate for the establishment that they were outraged because they are outraged every time Marty opens his mouth. Todd Frazier getting picked off in extra innings today is just the latest example of the brainfarts that continue to plague this team.

There are some encouraging signs that the team is about to make up some ground in the standings. They took two of three against the Sausages and two of three against Pissburgh while the offense has started to score runs. Reaching .500 was very important; even with the loss today we're still right there. A nice four or five game winning streak could help them take off. Luckily, we have the Chubs coming up, always a nice team to play when a winning streak is in order.

This team makes me want to throw things sometimes, but then they'll do something good and I'm happy all day long. Consistency is lacking; that's the key to a great second half. We can still win this thing, so keep a positive attitude and cheer on the Reds!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Day After: Why 42 Still Matters

This photo is here bc research says you'll read more w pics.
April 15 is a bad day for a lot of reasons. It's Tax Day. Lincoln died. Boston was bombed. The Titanic sank. Harley Proctor introduced Ivory Soap. But it's also the day that Jackie Robinson first set foot on a Major League Baseball field.

I'm fortunate enough to have grown up in an age when the kind of attitudes held by Kennesaw Mountain Landis, baseball's first commissioner responsible for imposing the ban on people with greater amounts of melanin in their skin, were generally not allowed by law and societal progress. Yet, as a suburban youth from Southwest Ohio, I was largely unexposed to other races. I had a black friend in elementary school; when we reached junior high, she made friends with other black kids and I with other white kids and we never talked after that. In high school, black and white kids didn't mix too much. Miami University had a 4% minority rate when I went there. I had an Asian friend. An. One. When I was a junior in Europe, the French and Germans were "exotic" until I got used to them. They became "Europeans," which were distinct from "Americans." "The West" only referred to the block of countries that had opposed the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

After college I enlisted in the Army to travel and learn a language and be a peacekeeper as expressed in the Army's stated mission during the Clinton years. The Army had far more African-Americans than I had ever been exposed to, appropriate given that the Army had really been the first institution to integrate. I was sent to the rather elite Defense Language Institute and put into Arabic classes with mostly white students. Yet I was exposed to another race for the first time - Arabs - a group of people who would become a big part of my life. In 2003 I moved to Washington, a city that at the time had a majority black population (it has since evened out), as well as a sizeable Latino population. That never stopped me from saying, "No one is from Washington," and "DC is a transient city," because in my white world, people had come to our nation's capital from all over. I was 26 at the time, probably too old to be so naive but young enough not to be molded into one way of thinking. Fortunately, I realized that my naive assessments of the "transient city" were incorrect.

I took a job in the Middle East department at an international development organization, a place where I was happy until I was denied a promotion by my third boss in four years. During the happy time, we had a core of happy hour goers consisting of the following: a Russian, a Czech, an Iraqi-American, an African-American, an Uzbek, and a couple of us white mutt type Americans. I lived in the historically black Shaw neighborhood, a block from where Josh Gibson had hit monster homers with the Grays at Griffith Stadium. I learned about "Black Broadway," Duke Ellington, and the riots that wrecked DC after Dr. King was killed. The ghosts were still in the neighborhood; as I watched the gentrification of the area I felt the history and soul fleeing with little attempt to stop it. After I had been denied the promotion, I decided to leave the job, my neighborhood, and DC, and spend some time traveling. I didn't have too much money saved, so I chose to spend time in a poor (read: cheap) country, Bulgaria, where, in addition to Bulgarians, I hung out with an English ecologist who was walking from the UK to Palestine and a Japanese guy who was hired by the local university to teach Japanese to Bulgarian students.

Eventually I was hired by a Lebanon-oriented organization and got to live in Beirut during a few years of relative stability. Beirut became my adopted home. There I witnessed firsthand the psychological and social scars of a people in perpetual conflict. Though a decade earlier I'd had an internship at a peace and reconciliation center in Ireland, the Irish conflict had largely abated, and people were actively going through the healing process. In Lebanon, people avoid talking about their conflict, unless politicians pay it lip service, politicians who are nothing more than tribal chieftains leading their flocks astray. The start of the Syrian war and the threat of eventual spillover into Lebanon ended my residence there, and I returned to DC changed by my experiences. I've been floating ever since. 

But that's the key, you see. Experience. Walking a mile in another person's shoes. Americans looked at me like I was crazy for wanting to be in Beirut, unable to fathom that with the exception of being on the Mediterranean Sea and having Roman ruins and a few bullet-riddled buildings, Beirut wasn't any different than your average American city of two million people. I mean, seriously, people, I don't know what you think other places in the world look like. I ate Subway, drank Caribou Coffee, and bought H&M clothes in my neighborhood of Hamra in Beirut.

You may wonder why I am writing about myself here when I should be writing about Jackie. Well, I can't write anything about Jackie that someone else hasn't written, and this is not about me, anyway. It's about the way we are programmed to think one way or another and we believe that's just the way things are and how, by virtue of experience, we can overcome our biases. The people who yelled nasty, racist things at Jackie probably weren't evil people, though their actions were evil. They didn't know any better. They'd grown up in a white-dominated world where black people were seen as inferior and had no business doing anything but serving their white masters, and they never thought to question it. Jackie Robinson invaded their world and showed them they were wrong, but instead of marveling at the athleticism of a great man and appreciating his baseball feats, they embraced their ingrained ideas of "the other." People cling to their trivial, artificial differences, be it religion, ethnicity, nationality, race, etc., purporting to be superior to groups that don't conform to their own tribal notions. Fear of difference used to be a survival tactic; now, it's a symptom of a diseased mind.

We left that vile world for awhile, drove the KKK into hiding, shamed racists and bigots and gave people equal voting rights and MLK his own holiday and patted ourselves on the backs for doing so, but it never went away. It festered beneath the surface and grew in small towns and suburbs and affluent city neighborhoods and in our justice system and our education system and it slinked and slid its way back into our political system, led by pundits and politicians whose ideologies are so putrid that they are now trying to deny voting rights to people and they've made laws that say you can shoot people if you are scared of them. You even have people who think celebrating Jackie Robinson Day is having "civil rights shoved down our throats" and complaints run rampant about the tradition of wearing Jackie's 42, some wondering why we don't also wear the numbers of Nomo or Clemente to commemorate their debuts.

We celebrate Jackie exactly because ignorance like this persists.

Do you think that because you clap for Brandon Phillips' hits and listen to rap music that racism is over? Do you think that because America elected as POTUS a dark-skinned man with a funny name - twice - that racism is over? Can you not look at our prison populations and our inner city schools and our political discourse and not understand how bad things are right now?

More than ever we need to celebrate Jackie, to teach kids and to remind ourselves of who he was, what he did, and why it was significant. We live in an age of uncivil discourse, fueled by the anonymity and ease of the internet, cable news and talk radio, rampant narcissism, and an appalling lack of empathy for other human beings. If we don't like what we hear, we can just block it or change the channel, ensuring that people stay in a bubble. Americans don't travel and have no exposure to other cultures. We reside in largely segregated neighborhoods, go to segregated schools, buy segregated music, live segregated lives. Ours is an unprecedented age of connectivity, yet we seem to be more disconnected than ever.

Atlanta celebrated the anniversary of Hank Aaron's 755 last week and USA Today published an interview after it. What happened next? A deluge of racist letters and death threats arrived, addressed to Aaron, just as they had when he was chasing Ruth's record. THIS WAS LAST WEEK. We don't have Hank Aaron Day, but what Hank did took as much courage as Jackie had. Why does he have to live it again? What's more, why did the leading talk radio host, who is greatly responsible for that hate mail, ignite a flame war in the first place? For ratings? Are ratings more important than human beings? Don't answer that.

The bottom line is we shouldn't have to celebrate Jackie Robinson. We shouldn't don 42 on our jerseys or hear players say, "If it weren't for Jackie, I wouldn't be here today." That we do is both a testament to both the greatness of our country and the tragedy of it. Jackie should have always been allowed to play ball. Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston, Buck Leonard, Cool Papa Bell...they all should have played Major League Baseball. But the evils of fear and bigotry held our country hostage, and courageous Americans like Jackie, Branch Rickey, and Dr. King helped guide us through that shameful part of our nation's history. We overcame it; it's worth celebrating.

It's our world; we can change it, but only if we get off our couches and do something, experience life, pop those bubbles of ignorance in which too many people stay. I sure am glad I left mine.

Monday, April 14, 2014

BASE BALL MATCH - White House Lawn

By the time Lincoln took office, a New York volunteer firefighter with the Knickerbocker Engine Company No. 12 had already drawn up the rules on which our modern game of baseball is based, and more than 50 baseball teams were in existence. That firefighter and bank clerk, Alexander Cartwright, had laid out the field in a diamond-shape, created foul territories, limited defense to nine players and games to nine innings, and prohibited the practice of throwing balls at runners for outs. Imagine Aroldis Chapman or Stephen Strasburg throwing baseballs at runners - they'd kill someone!

Lincoln's passion for baseball is shrouded in mythology. However, there is much credible evidence that he was, in fact, a fan of the game and that not only did he play in his hometown of Springfield, but he continued to play and watch when he arrived to Washington in 1861. Baseball was played on a part of the White House lawn known as the "White Lot," now called the "Ellipse," where baseball, among other games, is still played.

http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=F10717FA3E5D14738DDDA90A94D9415B818EF1D3
To view full article, click on the image

A grandson of Francis Preston Blair, he of Blair House (the official state guest house) fame, said:
"We boys hailed [Lincoln's] coming with delight because he would always join us on the lawn. I remember vividly how he ran, how long were his strides, how his coattails stuck out behind." 
I marvel at stories of presidents roaming Washington without the army of security that must follow them these days. The White House had no fence around it when Lincoln was in office, so access to the White Lot was easy. Of course, we all know what happened at Ford's Theater and how security measures became necessary, but sometimes when I happen to walk by the White House, I wonder how it would be to see POTUS wandering around the yard instead of being trapped inside.

During his campaign in 1860, a political cartoon showed Lincoln standing on home plate, ball in hand, saying, "You must have a good bat and strike a fair ball to make a clean score and homerun." His bat, which is actually a fence rail, says, "Equal rights and fair territory."


Washington had two baseball teams at the time, the Nationals and the Potomacs, made up of mostly government clerks until the war began. One of the Nationals' founders, Arthur Gorman, was a Senate staffer who later became a Senator from Maryland. The Nationals played at the Capitol grounds while the Potomacs played on the White Lot. The first match between the two teams was played on the White Lot on May 5, 1860, with the Nationals routing the Potomacs 35-15.

We have the Civil War to thank for baseball becoming the national pastime; soldiers arriving from New York, where Cartwright's rules had become standard, played Washington teams, and by most accounts, crushed them. Some say the Yankees-Dodgers rivalry was born on the fields in Washington. An announcement in the National Republican on June 28, 1861, informed:

"BASE BALL MATCH - There will be a match played at Camp Wool on tomorrow afternoon at 4 o'clock, between the first nine of the Baldwin B.B. Club (Co. D) and the first nine of the Steers B.B. Club (Co. E). Those interested in the noble game of base ball are invited to witness the contest. As the above clubs are composed of some of the best players of Brooklyn and New York, it is expected that the game will be very interesting."

Whole baseball teams sometimes enlisted together, ensuring games were competitive. The game was so popular that the owners of the Willard's and Ebbitt's taverns worried they would lose business to baseball. These establishments were the predecessors to today's famous Willard Hotel and Old Ebbitt Grill. Their worries were obviously unfounded.

I imagine Lincoln would have been a White Sox fan had Major League Baseball existed during his time. While it could have been possible to be a Cubs or Cardinals fan given his Springfield locale, I think The Railsplitter would have followed a team associated with the working class. But I'm sure he saw his fair share of Nationals and Potomacs games.

Though supplies were scarce during the war, and fence poles and rolled up rags were often used as bats and balls, baseball sustained the soldiers' morale, doing for them what the game still does for us today - give us momentary respite from the travails of our daily lives.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

That white little sphere

I was sixteen years old when I touched a real Major League baseball for the first time. Of course, I had seen other baseballs, and I'd been playing softball since I was eight or so, but to hold a genuine Major League baseball was to hold something precious, something far more valuable than its price tag indicated.  I had been given the beautiful sphere by a friend of my grandfather who owned a local sporting goods store; it was a gift to have signed because I had won a celebrity bat girl contest and was allowed on the field for Reds batting practice at Riverfront Stadium. The Reds also gave me a ball. Suddenly I had two of the beautiful things - one I had signed by Barry Larkin and the other I stored in a box to keep it in pristine condition.

A couple of years later I snagged a foul ball off the bat of Joe Girardi, then a catcher with the Rockies, and this one had the scars of battle smeared on its side. Scuffed and dirty, it was as perfect as the other two genuine Major League balls in my collection. My collection remained at three for seven or eight years, when I bought one of the balls they had specially made for Ripken's streak. I collected other baseballs, too, commemorative balls, balls from every stadium I visited, balls with the logos of teams I liked, but they weren't genuine Major League baseballs, crafted to perfection by the hands of skilled (though underpaid) workers. Then one day Ryan Zimmerman was supposed to be at one of those winter caravan events, so I took the precious, clean ball out of its box and brought another, cheaper ball for the other guys. (What? You do it, too!) Zimmerman didn't show up, so the pretty white sphere went back in the box.

I got it out when the Reds came to town in 2007 and I stalked the players at their hotel. Ha! I merely had lunch sitting next to manager Pete Mackanin and his wife and watched the team arrive to the hotel and hang out in the lobby. I saved that pristine ball until the right player came along and then Brandon Phillips enthusiastically signed for me before the Lobby Nazi told me I couldn't ask them for autographs anymore. No matter. My ball was inked by one of my favorite players.

I had saved that ball for fifteen years.

Recent studies have been conducted on young children about delayed gratification. This was never a thing when I was traipsing the concourses of Riverfront Stadium. You could go to a store and not see a child throwing a tantrum because his mother wouldn't buy him a new toy, or if you did encounter one, his mother would likely say no. This was about the time when the buds of the Age of The Spoiled Child first sprouted, when SoundScan divided music - and us - into genres, when cable news shouted at us twenty-four hours a day, and when luxury boxes ensured that our childhood playgrounds would be imploded and our beloved game would become less accessible to us common folk.

Then came the internet.

The Reds website in November 1998

I remember the first time I used the internet, or rather, one of the first times, as it all blends together now. Netscape, the browser was called. I had a university email address and then discovered I could have a Netscape address and I thought email the greatest invention in the world except few people I knew actually had an email address. I don't remember any particular website, though I know I'd laugh if I saw them now. As more people joined the wonders of the world wide web, we thought we had reached the peak of technological advancement. Then came MySpace.

That was the beginning of the end of the civil web. Now strangers in vast numbers could connect with like-minded strangers who shared their interests and dislikes. As technology progressed, discourse declined. Blogs appeared, beginning with writers and thought leaders before spreading to the - how should I put it - lesser informed populace. Internet commenting fell into ruin - anyone with a keyboard could say whatever they wanted regardless (or irregardless, as many would say) of his level of knowledge about a particular topic. Conversely, one could choose not to engage with those who held differing views at all, ensuring he remained in a bubble as like-minded individuals reinforced the ingrained notions he harbored. Finally, we moved into the age of Facebook and Twitter, real-time forums where success means discarding all notions of delayed gratification. We've moved into the age of Now.

Show me a youth who'd put a baseball away in a box for fifteen years to save it for the perfect time. Why, when he can get his mother to go out and buy another one in the age of Now? We have movies on demand, road rage, fast food and microwave meals, even line-jump passes at Disneyland. Everything is so fast that no one takes the team to do research, frame an argument, or check his emotions. We're all guilty. Social media destroyed this blog, distracting me from writing while pulling readers away from what's now called long-form. How many people who start to read this have even gotten this far? And what has all of this Now brought us? Misinformation, SHOUTING MATCHES, fired employees, and unabridged hysterics in all realms, especially in baseball, a sport that is played nearly every day for half of each year, mostly outside, in all geographies.

What I think is happening to fans of many teams is suffocation by Now. Now destroys our perspectives, eradicates pause, occupies our reason and dulls our senses. Now is the reason fans of some teams, including the Reds, are throwing in the proverbial towel on the season. The less eloquent among us say, "This team sucks" or let out uncivilized expletives for a lack of skill in expressing ourselves. Others use sarcasm or what they think is sarcasm, while some try to justify their cynicism with numbers they've thrown together as quickly as they can.

I go back to that delayed gratification study of preschoolers. The study found that the happiest children were those who were able to wait for a treat - marshmallows, I think. They learned that there was, indeed, a future that was much more rewarding than immediate gratification. One hundred and sixty-two games make up a Major League Baseball season, not seven games, not twenty games, not eighty-one games. By succumbing to Now, the hysterical are zapping all the joy out of baseball. Negative energy rubs off on all around you, and it will rub off on the teams you purport to love.

Do me a favor. Go find a baseball, a genuine Major League baseball, and hold it in your hand. Smell its leather. Rub its 108 raised red stitches. Mimic a throw, or better, throw it, let it hit someone's glove, hear that pop. Experience baseball. Take a breath. Relax. Some of us are still getting snow. We haven't even started yet, so stop your whining and enjoy the damn game!

Monday, April 07, 2014

Evolution of Night

I've been a Reds fan since birth. Dressed in Reds gear from head to toe, I was exposed to my first game at age one when the Reds came to San Diego's Jack Murphy stadium in 1978. Both parents were from the Dayton area, and Reds fandom in my family goes back generations. At the time of my birth, the Big Red Machine were World Series Champs, the last championship for the greatest team in baseball history. I count myself lucky in that the Reds won a World Series in my lifetime and I was just old enough to appreciate it.

Naturally, Opening Day is a holiday in my heart, and the Reds are second to none in the day's festivities. I've missed watching the Reds on Opening Day very few times in my life - once when I was abroad (no MLB.TV in 1998) and twice when I was in the Army and couldn't take the day off. I even flew to Cyprus in 2010 and stayed in a five-star hotel when I was living in Beirut just to make sure I had a good enough internet connection to watch the game. Unlike a lot of Reds fans, the E$PN Sunday-Night-Game-Before-Opening-Day and the overseas series don't bother me. Everyone knows the true Opening Day is on the Monday when the Red play their first baseball game, and I don't need to wax poetic to convey how special it is.

Still, the magic of Opening Day is present in other cities whose teams don't get to start at home every year. But, like I can never know what English sounds like to one who doesn't speak it, I'll never truly know what Opening Day feels like to a fan of another team when their Opening Day occurs a week into the season. Sure, I've gone to half of the Nationals home openers since that wonderful first one back in 2005, but it just doesn't fill my heart with the same level of joy as that of my beloved Reds. We are what we grow up with.

I didn't attend the Nats home opener this year, due to budgetary constraints and a recently-developed aversion to precipitation. (I think the winter scarred me.) But thanks to ScoreBig.com, I got to go to Game 2 and sit in these awesome seats:


The process was easy. I just went to ScoreBig.com, typed in "Nationals," and the games came up instantly. I put in a bid for less than face value and learned I won the tickets in less than five minutes - all I had to do was print them out and I was good to go. I probably could have just used my phone to scan the tickets at the gate, but I have an irrational fear that my tickets won't work every time I go to an event, and I'm old enough not to wholeheartedly trust technology. My fear extends to printed tickets, too. Once I got screwed on U2 tickets that I got from Craig's List and only the kindness of a stranger with an extra ticket got me into the show. But you don't have to worry about fake tickets if you use ScoreBig, as the tickets are guaranteed. And there are NO fees. They don't charge you to use your own ink and paper like the team does. What's more, there's no creepy ticket oak growing in your backyard.

I woke up Saturday morning with first-game-of-the-season jitters, wondering if the winter of our extreme discontent were truly over, if I really could see a baseball game in the evening, but I had a Reds game to watch before it was time to go to the ballpark. I headed to the Metro soon after Hoover gave up that game-ending grand slam to Ike Davis. Ugh. Ike Davis? Really? Anyway, I love living on the Green Line - it's so simple to get to the ballpark, and one of the best experiences in all of MLB (at least of the fifteen MLB parks I've been to) is coming out of the Metro and catching sight of the stadium and all the excitement of the crowds. The pre-game buzz is intoxicating. As in any ballpark, the first glimpse of that oh-so-verdant field after you enter a ballpark is spellbinding. I wanted to hug the whole world when I saw this:



I don't know how many times I've been to this ballpark, but I leisurely strolled the long way to my seats, making sure I took in everything as if it were my first, not fiftieth, visit. A new crab cake stand - awesome. The old Washington baseball history collages - fantastic. The tribute to the Negro Leagues - ok, so that's still as tacky as ever. It looks like it belongs on a county fair ride. Still, the Nats do a decent job of honoring the Grays, including Josh Gibson in the trio of statues that greet (scare?) fans at the main gate, Gibson and Buck Leonard banners in the stadium, and equal space for the Grays in the Washington baseball history collages. They should - the Grays outdrew the Senators in attendance at Griffith Stadium back when Washington was "First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League."

When I finally sat down, it was just about game time. Wow, was it cold. The wind was fierce, and I worried I hadn't brought enough layers. It wasn't the coldest game I've ever been to - that treacherous Game 5 of the NLDS versus the hated Taint Louis Deadbirds was pretty darn cold, and it snowed on Opening Day in Cincinnati a few years ago when I attended, though I had brought a thermal sleeping bag for the latter game and was the envy of all around me. 

Fortunately, the wind died down, and then it was somewhat pleasant, at least with the amount of clothing I had on. The game started off well enough. I have never witnessed in person a homer that traveled as far as the LaRoche bomb to the upper deck. I do not exaggerate when I say my mouth dropped when I saw it sail so high above me. I believe holy-something came out of my mouth. The crowd roared, the fireworks went off, and I was in love with baseball all over again.


I happened to be sitting in a spot where you could see the Washington Monument, and it seemed as if I were sitting in a painting. The evolution of night was rather breathtaking.






But, as the sun went down, so, too, did the Nats' good fortune. Strasburg's pitching devolved, and he was chased from the game in the fifth inning. I don't think it's a coincidence that the National Cherry Blossom festival fireworks were going off as he had his meltdown. They certainly were loud and distracting. The Barves took the lead and never looked back, winning the game 6-2. Yet the outcome didn't really matter to me that night. I was just ecstatic that I finally was able to see a baseball game, especially after our dreadful winter.

I recommend using ScoreBig.com to get great seats like these. I'll probably go again on the next homestand. Now, if only they could get us discounts on the beer!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Another game

We moved to Ohio, where my parents are from, when I was five years old. My mother and father divorced, and my two sisters and I went to live with my grandparents in Englewood with my mother. We'd been born in California and had lived near San Diego for all of our brief lives. It's where I got my need for beach, I'm convinced.

The 1941 University of Dayton athletic board
My mother came from a Catholic family in Dayton, which meant that my grandparents had attended Catholic high schools - my grandfather went to Chaminade and my grandmother Julienne, back when they were segregated by gender. Now it's one high school - Chaminade-Julienne. I don't know if my great grandfather, Merle P. Smith, went to Chaminade, but he did go to University of Dayton, from where he graduated in 1925 as class president. He went on to become a professor of English and Journalism at UD. I feel proud of that, knowing that writing runs in our family. But he went beyond that. He was an officer in the alumni association, and he was on the UD athletic board in 1941. A love for sports runs in our family, too.

My grandfather graduated from UD as well, and he had season tickets for UD basketball for many, many years. He used to take us to a few games every year, and those were treasured times. I'd often get to go for my birthday (the only good thing about having an early January birthday. Also, as the oldest child, I feel like I got to go to more games, as there were only four tickets. Sorry, Sandy and Jennifer. :D) The most cherished times were when we'd go to the restaurant above the court before the games where you had to be a member - we felt special when we went up there. Sometimes the women's team would play before the men's and we'd get to watch them through the glass at the restaurant and that was an added bonus. After the games, sometimes we'd stand at the players' entrance and get autographs as the players were leaving the court. It seems funny to me now, but that ink on the programs was priceless then. Going to these games was almost like going to Reds games for us - we didn't distinguish between pro and college because to us they were all men good at sports.

I'm not a big March Madness person. To be honest, I feel like it epitomizes the commercialization of college sports in a way that's unmatched even by the BCS Championship. I mean, there's so much money involved in these kind of events that soon, college athletes will mostly likely be paid to play ball. Don't get me wrong - I used to like it and appreciate the excitement of it all. I just don't personally engage. But I've been watching UD, because it's personal to me. 

I just wanted to mention that.


Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Presidents: John Adams

John Adams played a form of baseball called "One Old Cat" when he was a child. Coming from Boston, he would have been a huge Red Sox fan.


Saturday, March 15, 2014

He played baseball at Valley Forge

I'm launching a new baseball-related project this spring. You'll have to come to DC to participate. Hint: it has something to do with this:

Yes, I made this.


I'll be working out the details this week, so stay tuned...

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Trouble at MLB.TV

I recently got a new phone. I'd had an old BlackBerry for four years and it was getting to the point where nothing was updated and it hardly worked anymore. I was motivated to upgrade by the impending baseball season; I had been jealous of those who were able to use MLB At Bat on their phones like I had a few years ago and thought how wonderful it'd be to watch Reds games from anywhere.

I had already paid for the MLB.TV Premium subscription - I pay $24.99 monthly so I can watch the Reds. MLB At Bat comes with the Premium subscription. When I went to download it on my phone, I discovered that what MLB.TV makes you do is pay for the download, then you have to request a refund or a credit to your Premium account. Annoying, right? So I paid the $16.99 for the download and followed the instructions to get my refund/credit.

Here are the instructions:

*MLB.TV Premium is available on select Blackberry devices. Separate purchase required.
To access At Bat 14 content (including MLB.TV Premium subscription content) on your BlackBerry device, you must purchase the device-specific version of At Bat 14 from BlackBerry World. Current MLB.TV Premium subscribers who purchase At Bat 14 from BlackBerry World are eligible for a refund of the At Bat 14 purchase price. For more information, purchase, download and log into At Bat 14 using your MLB.TV Premium account credentials, then launch MLB.TV Premium content, and follow the instructions by which eligible subscribers may request their refund. Please contact MLB.com Mobile Customer Support at customerservice@website.mlb.com with any questions.

When I purchased the download, I received instructions to contact the above email address and forward my purchase receipt. So I did. A couple of days later, I received this:

Dear Fan,

Thank you for sending your email, as we appreciate the time that you have taken to
contact us.

Please call our toll-free customer service hotline at 1-866-800-1275, as taking this step will allow us to do some additional troubleshooting to attempt to resolve your issue.

Thank you again for taking the time to write!

Sincerely,
Customer Response Team
MLB.com

So they wanted me to call them and waste my time on hold (if you've ever tried to contact MLB.TV customer service, you know how long the wait is. Since I seem to have some sort of billing issue nearly every year, I have experience in this area.)

I sent this response:

You are supposed to send me the refund for MLB at Bat since I am a premium MLB TV subscriber!!! Sending the receipt to your customer service email was in the instructions that you gave us. I shouldn't have to suffer though a phone call to your customer support. Get with it and give me my refund.
Yeah, I was annoyed. That they gave instructions on how to get a refund then couldn't even follow those instructions was ridiculous. But it seems pretty clear that I want a refund for MLB at Bat, right? Since, you know, I state that?

Here's what I received this morning:

Dear Valued Subscriber:

Your request for a refund in connection with your 2014 MLB.TV Premium Monthly Subscription subscription has been approved and a credit in the amount of 24.99 will appear on the statement of the credit card to which you were being billed.

Please allow your credit card company 5 to 7 business days to process the refund. If your credit does not appear after 7 business days or should you have question about your account please contact Customer Support toll-free at 1-866-800-1275.

We thank you for your patronage.

Sincerely,
MLB.com

They cancelled my MLB.TV Premium Subscription instead of giving me a refund for At Bat. Now I can't access anything.

While it was ridiculous they charged us a full month for March, given the limited number of games there are, I still wanted the subscription.

I haven't called the number yet. I fired off a nasty email and will call when I calm down. (I feel bad about it now.)

Update:

It took forty minutes - mostly on hold - to learn that I have to resubscribe and that "corporate" is going to  contact me about the refund/credit for At Bat.  At first I was on a call with what was clearly an outsourced call office. I don't think the woman even knows what baseball is. She couldn't understand that I didn't want anything cancelled, I just wanted the refund/credit that was due to me. She finally transferred me to someone in accounts who was probably in the New York office and at least progressed the issue. (Can "progressed" be transitive?) We'll see how the refund/credit saga goes...

Update 2: Hooray! Situation resolved. Corporate called me when I was still on the phone, left a message. I called back, they comped me a month for my troubles and turned my account back on. Once I got through the first layer, the people were very helpful. Thanks, all!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Gagarin reviews the New York Yankees

Gagarin's observations of the videos he receives on his radio wave transmission machine. Translated from the original Tralfamadorian, the language spoken on planet Tralfamadore.

Unfortunately, sometimes it is days between transmissions and I am left to wonder who won the base-ball games on the planet called Earth. During these gaps, I review video footage I have already received from this alien planet, hoping to discover something I may have missed in prior viewings. Since I am going to review the base-ball team known as the "New York Yankees," I thought I would look at some of the videos about this city called New York, but there are hours and hours of information about this city and I have chosen only the most recent videos. I feel that the city of New York must be the most important city on the planet. However, much of the footage I have acquired is disturbing.

I am particularly curious about the mating habits of Earthlings after watching many hours of a program called "Sex in the City." It focuses on the lives of a particular kind of Earthing called "woman," and there seems to be much difficulty in finding a suitable mate for reproductive purposes. It appears that there are two variations of Earthling necessary for mating, those being "woman" and "man." The particular womans on the program "Sex in the City" can be described as whiny and never content with the things they have, which are many. The dominant woman in this program has an obsession with the painful type of shoe I described in a previous entry. These womans do not seem pleasant and I do hope that not all of the womans on Earth are this disagreeable.

Another program about the city of New York that I have frequently viewed is called "Seinfeld." I do not know what to make of this program. It seems as if the Earthlings in this program are purposely making life difficult for themselves and for other people. One in particular, a short, bald man, is always yelling about things that do not matter. Another, a tall man with strange hair, seems to have some sort of mental deficiency. The one called "Jerry Seinfeld" is something called a "comedian," which consists of standing in front of groups of Earthlings and telling stories. These stories are called "jokes" and seem to please the Earthlings. I do not know if this is a peculiar pastime of New York or if this is common among Earthlings.

Taken together, these two programs make the city of New York seem like an undesirable place. Yet I feel there is a kind of magic about this grand city and that maybe I do not understand these programs. New York has buildings that reach to the heavens, something you cannot find on the planet Tralfamadore, as our atmosphere must be much smaller than that of Earth. No Tralfamadorian could survive in a building as tall as the ones in New York. I think if the Earthlings can build such magnificent towers, they must be better than those featured on the Sex and the City and Seinfeld programs.

In New York there are two Major League Base-ball teams. One is called the Yankees and they are in the American League. The other is called the Mets and they are in the National League. I will get to the Mets later. The Yankees are historically the best team in the Major League Base-ball. They have won twenty-seven of the championships they call the "World Series" that is only played in the region they call "America." They have won the championship as recently as four seasons ago and they could do it again this year, though, as I mentioned, this division called the "American League East" is full of very good teams.

The uniform of the Yankees team is iconic on planet Earth. It consists of a black cap with a white NY stitched upon it and pinstriped shirts and pants. I am considering commissioning our local tailor to fashion such a uniform for me; however, as we don't wear clothing on Tralfamadore, I would probably not wear it, not wanting to draw attention to myself.

There appears to be some disparity in the wealth of teams. "Wealth" is the amount of resources available to the Earthlings to acquire items they do not make themselves. These can be items of necessity, such as the food they must consume to sustain their bodies, or extraneous items that give them pleasure but are not necessary for survival. One of the ugly things about Earthlings that I have discovered after studying many hours of videos is that their lives revolve around the acquisition of such items and that many Earthlings take so much of the available resources that others do not have enough to feed themselves. This is a cause of many conflicts in which they try to destroy each other. I am unable to understand how a civilization that can build such magnificent structures into the sky and invent the great game of base-ball is of insufficient intelligence to avoid such conflicts.

These kinds of inequalities exist everywhere on Earth, including in the great game of base-ball. This is why the New York Yankees have won more championships than all of the other teams - they have more wealth than the other teams and they buy better quality players. Yes, Earthlings buy other Earthlings. The wealthiest of them buy the labor of the less wealthy and they become a part of the wealthiest's wealth. This is a very complicated issue that warrants in-depth study. However, that is not the focus of this entry; I only mention it because the New York Yankees base-ball team has so much wealth and buys players. As a result, their team looks very different from the previous season. They bought these players: Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, Kelly Johnson, Brian Roberts, Alfonso Soriano. Alfonso Soriano was added at the end of last year. This is probably their batting lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. SS Derek Jeter
  3. RF Carlos Beltran
  4. C Brian McCann
  5. 1B Mark Teixeira
  6. DH Alfonso Soriano
  7. 3B Kelly Johnson
  8. 2B Brian Roberts
  9. LF Brett Gardner
It is among the best in the Major League Base-ball and they will score many runs with it.

On the bench are these players: C Francisco Cervelli, OF Ichiro Suzuki, IF Brendan Ryan, IF Scott Sizemore. Ichiro Suzuki used to be one of the best hitters but his body has aged and he no longer has the capability he once had. This is what happens to Earthlings. For the first twenty of their Earth years or so, their bodies are in development. The next ten of their years are the best years and then their bodies begin to age. They only exist for approximately eighty Earth years before ceasing to live. One wonders how they accomplish anything in that short amount of time. Perhaps that is why they remain in perpetual conflict - they have not the time to gain the wisdom to stop before they perish.

A curious thing about the Yankees' starting pitching - they all end with the same letter. I thought this strange and theorized that they did, perhaps, hail from the same area. I was thus astonished to discover that not only did they not hail from the same place, but, indeed, hailed from places very far apart on the planet Earth.
  1. CC Sabathia hails from California, a place within the region of America
  2. Hiroki Kuroda hails from Japan
  3. Masahiro Tanaka hails from Japan
  4. Ivan Nova hails from Dominican
  5. Michael Pineda hails from Dominican
A strange thing about the players from the Japanese tribe is that there is a major league base-ball in their land but they choose to play in the region called America. This is because the Major League Base-ball of America has more wealth than that of Japan. The New York Yankees often buy the services of the best players of the league in Japan because they have more wealth than all of the other teams. Masahiro Tanaka is the latest addition to the team from the league of Japan, and though every team wanted him, the Yankees won a contest to purchase his services because they have the most wealth.

The probable finishing pitchers are David Robertson, Shawn Kelly, Matt Thornton, David Phelps, Dellin Betances, Cesar Cabral, Adam Warren. It should be noted that David Robertson is considered the top finisher and is new. The body of their elder finisher called "Mariano Rivera" grew too aged to continue playing. He was beloved by the citizens of the city of New York and by fans of the great game of base-ball in general. This season's bullpen is probably the weakest part of the Yankees team and might be a problem during the season. Last season it wasn't good aside from Mariano Rivera and the team did not make the post-season.

It should be noted that this team has many fans on planet Earth, the most fans of any of the Major League Base-ball teams. Even Earthlings who do not hail from the city of New York or from the region of America like this team. However, many Earthlings also despise the Yankees. This could be for many reasons, perhaps the predominant one being the inequality exhibited by the wealthy Yankees. From what I can tell, the Yankees use other teams to develop young players and then buy them when they reach their primes.

I will be interested to see if the New York Yankees have, in effect, bought their way into the post-season. Using their vast wealth does not guarantee success; however, it does not hurt their chances.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Gagarin reviews the Boston Red Sox

Gagarin's observations of the videos he receives on his radio wave transmission machine. Translated from the original Tralfamadorian, the language spoken on planet Tralfamadore. 

It has come to my attention that the aliens I have discovered are called "Earthlings" after the planet they live on called "Earth." I have also realized that when you write the names of base-ball players, you must use a different letter at the beginning of each name called a "capital" letter. In my previous entry I have spelled names like "chris davis" but I have learned that I should write them like "Chris Davis." Also, the names of the cities and the teams should be written like "Baltimore Orioles." I do not know why this is the case but I will continue to watch the videos for any clues to the answer.

Today I am going to write about the team from the city of "Boston" that is nicknamed the "Red Sox." They are named after the color of their socks. I do not know why the name "Sox" is spelled differently than the word "socks," which is what these Earthlings wear on their feet under footwear called "shoes." As I have previously mentioned, the Earthling body is very fragile. Their feet are soft and they are unable to walk without these "shoes." There are many types of shoes. Some, as I have discovered, are very practical and serve to protect the feet, while others are for decoration and sometimes even harm the foot of the Earthling. This is a very puzzling aspect of the Earthling. They do very harmful things to their fragile bodies. I do not know what purpose the red socks serve the team from Boston, but I have a theory that their shoes are poorly designed and the socks protect their feet from their shoes. Base-ball players wear special shoes with spikes on the bottom, presumably to dig into the ground to help them run faster. This makes sense, as they are tasked with advancing between the bases, and they must start running from a stationary position.

The city of Boston is one of the oldest cities in that region of their planet Earth, but it is very young in the universe. It has existed for more than four hundred Earth years, which I have calculated to be the equivalent of three hundred and forty-two of Trafalmadore's orbits around our sun. It is something of a sacred city to a tribe called "Americans," the people who created the game of base-ball. From the videos I have seen of the history of this tribe, they have an enemy called "Red Coats." A curious thing, this naming groups of people after the color of their clothing. The people of Boston celebrate an event which is far stranger than naming groups after the color of their clothing. Each year they commemorate a night when their ancestors threw a shipment of an herbal drink called "tea" into the water in a protest that served as something of a catalyst for a great war they fought with these Red Coats. I look forward to learning more about this tea war.

I have learned that not all of the base-ball players are members of this tribe called "Americans," but they hail from different regions on their planet. The physical features of Earthlings are widely varied. Some have different skin colors. Others have eyes of different shapes. The heights of these Earthlings also varies greatly. One of the most prominent members of the team called the "Boston Red Sox," indeed, hails from a tribe called "Domincan." The location of the Dominican tribe is somewhere south of the region of America. The player's name is "David Ortiz," but he is also known as "Big Papi," which tells me that he must be some sort of chieftain. He is, among base-ball players, an elder. He now plays the position of "designated hitter," a position only played in the "American League." I wish to learn more about the reasoning behind having different rules in the two leagues, but none of the videos have revealed this information thus far.

Big Papi won the World Series Most Valuable Player in the previous season for helping the Boston Red Sox win the championship, known as the "World Series." This is also puzzling to me. It appears that Major League Base-ball is limited to the region of the Americans, yet the championship series claims to be a global event. Contrast this with the "World Cup," which is the football game played by the whole world, and you must wonder about the mentality of the American tribe. Do they believe they are better people than the rest of the world? If they do, why?

The infield of the Boston Red Sox base-ball team consists of these players: Mike Napoli is firstbaseman, Dustin Pedroia is secondbaseman, Xander Bogaerts is shortstop, and Will Middlebrooks is thirdbaseman. Of these, Will Middlebrooks is the weakest player, with a history of being just average, though he has not played very much in the Major League Base-ball. Mike Napoli is an above average player and can hit twenty home-runs during a season, which is good, not great, but more than adequate for a good base-ball team. Dustin Pedroia is one of the best secondbasemans in base-ball, having once won the American League Most Valuable Player award, which is the most prestigious award a player can win. Xander Bogaerts only played in 18 Major League Base-ball games, but he is considered a future star, and the Boston Red Sox Base-ball team has what Americans call "high hopes" for him. All in all, this is a very good infield for the defending "world" champions.

As for the outfield, this is a question mark. The team had a very good outfielder called "Jacoby Ellsbury," but he left to play on another team. Instead, players called "Grady Sizemore" and "Jackie Bradley" will compete for playing time. Grady Sizemore was once an excellent player for the team known as the "Cleveland Indians," but his body broke down and he has never been the same player. A young player called "Daniel Nava" will play leftfielder. He hit above .300 last year, which has traditionally been the mark of a good hitter, though there is some disagreement about whether that is an accurate measurement. One day I will talk about the statistics of baseball, but it is complicated and I am still trying to understand it myself. Some of their statistics seem to be arbitrary and without scientific analysis. Back to the outfield, at rightfielder will be Shane Victorino, an above average player who hits first in the lineup. Hitting first in the lineup means a player is fast and gets on base frequently. It is called "batting leadoff."

Pitching-wise, the Boston Red Sox team has a very good starting pitcher rotation. The pitchers are called Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Jake Peavy, and Felix Doubrant. Jake Peavy joined the team at the end of last season. As for the finishers of the game, two are called Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa, who hail from the tribe of people called "Japanese." This land is far away from the land of the Americans and they speak a different language with a way of writing that is vastly different. I discovered, however, that many Earthlings are capable of speaking other languages that are found on the planet. However, the American tribe appears to be limited in its own capabilities, though members of other tribes frequently have learned to converse in the American language. These two Japanese players, however, appear to be limited to their own language and use an interpreter to speak on the videos. Further investigation is warranted.

To return to the finishers, called the "bullpen" as noted in an earlier diary entry, a man from a tribe called "Venezuela" is counted on to help bring relief to the starting pitchers. Venezuela is located even further south than the land of the Dominicans. The other bullpen pitchers are Craig Breslow, Andrew Miller, Burke Badenhop, and Chris Capuano.

These pitchers will throw to catchers called "A.J. Pierzynski" and "David Ross." A curious name, this "Pierzynski." The spelling of the name does not fit the conventional spelling patterns of other members of the American tribe. I would like to know more about this name and hope to find answers in videos I may receive in the future.

One of the vital aspects of the great game of base-ball that I neglected to mention in my entry about the Baltimore Orioles is what is called the "bench." These players literally sit on a bench on the side of the field while the others play the game, then, when a certain situation arises, they may be substituted for the players, either in the field or at bat. I have mentioned two centerfielders and two catchers above. Whichever two who aren't playing will sit on the bench until they are needed. Others of these bench players are called Mike Carp, Jonny Gomes, and Jonathan Herrera.

The Boston Red Sox base-ball team is once again very good and could make it to the post-season, but as I said in the Baltimore Orioles entry, this is a very good and difficult division, so there are no guarantees.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Gagarin reviews the Baltimore Orioles

Gagarin's observations of the videos he receives on his radio wave transmission machine. Translated from the original Tralfamadorian, the language spoken on planet Tralfamadore.

Still a long time until the great game season starts. I have been documenting my observations based on the radio wave transmissions I have been receiving from an alien planet that is billions of lightyears from Tralfamadore, and I thought I should give a review of each of the teams in what we have come to know as the game of "base-ball," named for the stations, called "bases," that players run between when trying to score points for their team, called "runs." From what I have gathered, I see that there are thirty of these "base-ball" teams in the most important league on this planet, called "major league base-ball." They have divided this major league into halves, calling one the "american league" and one the "national league." These leagues are divided further into three divisions each. I am still trying to determine what these names mean, but the leagues and divisions appear to be useful in determining a champion at the end of the season.

One of the teams comes from a city called "baltimore." They have a nickname, the "orioles" like a kind of bird on their planet and they wear black and orange uniforms. I have done some research on this city "baltimore" based on the available videos I have received through my machine and this is what I have discovered: it is a city that is located along a large body of water that leads to an ocean, so water transportation is important to the city. A base-ball deity called "babe ruth" hailed from the city, though he was associated with another team from a different city called "newyork." The city of baltimore is known for producing doctors and other positions associated with maintaining the well-being of the civilization on the planet. [A side note: the people from this planet seem to have fragile bodies, perhaps as a result of their destructive tendencies. I plan to conduct a thorough assessment of the state of their well-being in the future.] Baltimore suffers from much violence, as I have learned from videos of the city which are labeled "the wire." These videos show a frightening picture of this civilization, including the voluntary use of chemical substances which leads to many negative consequences, such as the destruction of the body and increased violent tendencies. The videos, which I have kept secret from the Tralfamadore public, are in stark contrast to the beautiful diamond on which the orioles play the game of base-ball, which we broadcast into the homes of every Tralfamadorian.

As the orioles prepare for the season, they have a large list of players that could potentially be on the team. Some of them are guaranteed to be on the team, while others are competing with each other to make what is called a "roster." One of these players is called "chris davis." This player hails from a different city called "longviewtexas" but he is beloved by the baltimore civilization because he hits the ball over the fence more than all of the other players. This is called a "home-run" and gives the team an automatic point, plus points are given if there are any runners on the bases. When he plays in the field as the other team bats, he plays the position called "firstbaseman." Some people wonder if he will hit as many balls over the fence as he did last year, because last year he surprised everyone by hitting so many of them. But he is still expected to hit a lot of them.

At the position they call "secondbaseman," they have a player called "jemile weeks" from "orlandoflorida." He has not played very much in the major league base-ball but he was considered good at the minor league base-ball, which is where players learn and become good enough for the major league. Another player called "ryan flaherty" from "portlandmain" could also be the secondbaseman. Those two players may split playing time. The player who used to play secondbaseman called "brian roberts" from "durhamnorthcarolina" has decided to play for a different team. Next to the secondbaseman at the position called "shortstop" is a player called "j j hardy" from "tucsonarizona." He is a good shortstop though far from the best shortstop. I do not know why the position is called "shortstop" but it is a position that fills the gap in the infield because the players known as "basemans" do not stand on the base that they are named for. At the position they call "thirdbaseman" is a very good young player called "manny machado" from "miamiflorida." He had a very serious injury that required the use of the doctors to repair his body so he could play base-ball this year. He does not hit a lot of balls over the fence but some people say he could hit more over the fence because he hits a lot of doubles and he is young and his body is not a fully grown body of this alien race, and when a body becomes fully grown it gets stronger. One question about this manny machado is if he will start the season on time because that body may not be ready.

In base-ball, there are three positions they call "outfielder." They are divided based on where they stand in the outfield. One is the "leftfielder," one is "centerfielder," and the other is "rightfielder." On the orioles, the rightfielder is a player called "nick markakis" from "glencovenewyork." He is a good player who can be counted on to be consistent. Next to him is a very good young player called "adam jones" from "sandiegocalifornia." He hits many balls over the fence and he is also very fast, which is a valuable combination to have in the major league base-ball. At this point, we are unsure who will play the leftfielder position. This is because a player called "nate mcclouth" from "muskegonmichigan"will play for another team. The orioles must replace him with another player, and two possibilities are called "david lough" from "akronohio" and "nolan reimold" from "greenvillepennsylvania." I do not know very much about either of these players. David lough has not played very much in the major league base-ball and nolan reimold has not had much success in the major league. Henry urrutia or delmon young could also play the position of leftfielder. I do not know from where they hail.

The civilization of baltimore rejoiced recently when they put a new pitcher on the team called "ubaldo jimenez" from "naguadominicanrepublic" who has had much success in the major league base-ball. In base-ball, you have five pitchers to start the games, and they only pitch once every five games. This is because, as I said before, the bodies of this alien race are fragile, and if they pitch too much, their arms break. Ubaldo jimenez will be the best pitcher on the team. The others are called "chris tillman," "wei-yin chen," "bud norris," and "miguel gonzalez." I do not know from where they hail, as the videos have not revealed this information to me. This is not a very great rotation of pitchers, but it is serviceable. The orioles had a very good pitcher called "jason hammel" but he left to play on another team. These five pitchers are not sure to start the games. Others who could start the games are called "kevin gausman," "suk-min yoon," "brian matusz," or "zach britton," or even another pitcher who is not on the team yet, like "irvin santana," who might end up on the team.

As I mentioned, these aliens cannot pitch a lot or their arms will break, so they have other pitchers to finish the games if they throw the ball too much. These finishers are collectively called "the bullpen." I have not learned why they are named after the place where a kind of animal dwells. I will continue to try to learn the reason for this as I watch more of the videos. The bullpen could be a problem for the orioles team. They had one bullpen called "jim johnson," but he left to play on another team. He was the only consistent one in the last season. The bullpen players are called "tommy hunter," who is supposed to be the top finisher, "darren oday," "ryan webb," "brian matusz," "edgmer escalona," "brad brach," and "steve johnson." There are other bullpen players who may make the team, but these who I mention lead the list, according to the video I watched called "major league base-ball network."

There is one other position I have neglected to mention. It is the position that is the receiver of the throws of the pitcher called "catcher." The orioles team has a good catcher called "matt wieters" from "charlestonsouthcarolina." He did not play as well last year as he was expected to, but he is still very young and will probably improve. He is a good player to have on your team.

That is my summary of the baltimore orioles base-ball team. Personally, I am rooting for the orioles above the other teams in this division called the "american league east," which is based on geographic location of the teams. They are very good but the other teams in their division are very good, too. These are called "newyork yankees," "boston redsox," "tampabay rays," and "toronto bluejays." I will record my observations about these teams at a later date.