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April 1, 2017

Ray Fosse, a man who almost certainly suffered brain damage and has a moustache, said just the other day that baseball is the only sport that exists simultaneously in the past, the present and the future.

 

I like the sound of that.  Somewhere back in the mists of time, this site was my outlet for writing about sports in a comically irreverent way.  No one really read what I wrote, but that was okay. Like a thirty-two year old Minor League lefty second baseman with speed but no power toiling away Tuscaloosa, the written word is written for the love of the writing, and not so much for the five thousands fan there for Taylor Swift night.

 

Today, at least, it’s my outlet again. A little cup of tea for my brain amidst the grading and the lesson planning and the procrastinating from doing the first two.

 

Baseball starts again in two days, and there’s no greater trope than the renewal that baseball brings. That’s good. I’m need of renewal.

 

The heady days of youth have given way to the sore knees days of late-stage physical peak. The responsibilities are just a little greater, and the stakes are just a little higher. It becomes less and less possible to justify time and energy spent consuming stories of men playing childrens game. It’s just not what we do anymore.


Certainly my ability to track the ups-and-downs of a baseball team every day for six months are gone. If i’m lucky, I’ll be able to tell you division leaders in August. I definitely won’t know about the wild card race, or which rookies have burst onto the scene, or any of the other minutae that make up a baseball season.


My good friend Max likes to say that every baseball season is an odessey. He’s right, but in more ways than he knows. Every baseball season is an epic journey, and like The Odyssey, it’s written in foreign symbols that take dedication to learn. Hr/FB%, K%, BABIP, wrC+, S/CS, LD%, GB%. Each year is a ritual submission to the power of data to complicate simplicity, but when you do submit and let the numbers wash over you, the game changes, and like Neo in the matrix, you can see clearer than ever before.

 

That’s the renewal I seek, year after year. A moment of seeing clearly.

 

My particular denomination in the Oakland Athletics. We are not going to be good.

 

+++

 

You could have a worse life than Rajai Davis. A childhood in Connecticut spent crafting his body into prime physical shape. A few years at the local university showing that he had preternatural talent for his aspiring profession. Drafted into a major league organization, where the journey really begins. Six years of generating sweat and doubt before he breaks through to the promised land and tries to make his mark.

 

Built like a ballet impresario, his work is speed and grace under pressure, and he does it admirably. Unfortunately, his oaken peers play the game of power and domination, and so his skill set is misunderstood.

 

He breaks through in Oakland where he plays every day and wins the crowd with hustle and determination. His weaknesses are clear but by now he has confidence and he believes that he belongs. The doubt now belongs to others, because he knows who he is and what he can do.

 

After eight years of grinding and growing and proving himself again and again he finds himself in the most unlikely place: standing in the batters box in the deciding game of the World Series, with an opportunity to tie this game with one swing of his bat.

 

And like the boy who dreams of doing the improbably thing, he hits the home-run in the bottom of the 9th to tie to world series and bring hope to his heroes.

 

So it could be worse.

 

Which is important to remember, because he didn’t end up winning that world series, and the team he was on decided he wasn’t good enough to keep around, and so now 8 years later he’s back in Oakland, where he just might be the biggest star on the diamond.

 

Rajai is the spiritual replacement for one Coco Crisp, the man who knew how to channel the spirit of the crowd into a great afro and timely hits and a weird neck piercing. Rajai can run, and maybe he can lead the league in steals again, which would be great,  because this is the year we’re naming the field RIckey Henderson field, and wouldn’t that be appropriate?

 

It’s a homecoming for Rajai because we knew him when he was young (in baseball terms) and he’s come back to us now that he’s old (in baseball terms).

 

Rajai is a good conduit for understanding the 2017 Oakland Athletics. We’re going to generate a lot of sweat and doubt.

 

+++

 

There are other old friends returning. Adam Rosales, he of the frequent flier miles between Arlington and Oakland, has come back for another season of bucktoothed slap-hitting middle-infield patrolling

 

Santiago Castilla thought he’d hit the big-time with the Giants across the Bay, only to become the vessel of their perennial incompetence (except for those years they win the World Series). We welcome him back with open arms.

 

Our longest serving member, whether by days or torturous bone-hours is Stephen Vogt. VOgt for Victory, as they say, but in reality i’m happy to Vogt for 65 games and a trade for assets.

 

Jed Lowrie is still on the team, though I’m pretty sure he has a club foot.

 

+++

 

Our hope comes in form of our youth, but like youth movements in every sport every year, results may vary. The hope is that the names of 2017 — Sean Manea, Jharrel Cotton, Matt Champan, Chad Pinder, Franklin Baretto — are ones that soon correspond to a whimsically comic bobble head and an air of reverence amongst the under 15 set, the way that Giambi and Tejada and Ellis and Hudson and Zito and Mulder do for me, the Greatest Players EverⒸ.

 

Young players are ragged. Inconsistent and choppy, studly in one moment and then lost in the next. It’s okay; in Oakland we’re used to youth, and its spurts and yaws. We adore it, actually. In Oakland we don’t get players pleading their careers to us and raising their kids in the community and then settling down to sell used cars. We get players too young to know who they are, or players so broken by the game that they’ve forgotten. We nurse them back to health with chants and cowbells and an optimism that knows only the bounds of our imaginations. Then, after  fawning over them and giving them nicknames and buying shirseys, we cry silently.

 

They grow up and move beyond us. We’ll always love you, we whisper into the balsa-wood spoon of our malt, as the seagulls patrol above ready to pick at and scraps of food or dreams of an eternal bond.

 

There’s no way that these kids know that now. They’re excited to be with the club, awed with the size of the stadium and the size of the foul territory, and fueled with a passion to prove that they belong. “We know you belong,” we tell them with our cheers.  “You belong with us, always,” we say excitedly as they share their early mistakes and failures with us. “You’re not perfect, but neither are we!” we say with every cap we buy and box score we check.

 

“You are us,” we say as we turn on the radio every night from now through September. And we hope that after they’ve moved on they’ll remember what we said, and as they play they’ll say back to us “Thank you.”

Viewed through that lens, perhaps 2017 is the start of something beautiful. It certainly is a chance for renewal.

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MLS Live Blog

March 15, 2014
Fred,

Just for funsies I thought I’d catch the first half of the Toronto FC – Seattle Sounders clash this afternoon. I’ve never really watched an MLS game, aside from a few snippets here and there while channel surfing. 

I like the idea of the MLS because it’s fun to have been around for a league that has grown along with me. I was 7 for World Cup ‘94, which was a really fun age to become aware of soccer. At 7 I was just starting to realize the world exists, and that one of the things in the world was soccer. I remember Dad taking us to a Brazil open practice. I feel like I got close to Ronaldo, but maybe it was a 3rd string Ronaldo that everyone has forgotten about. 

MLS has been a success in the last 19 years. It’s certainly here to stay. People in England talk about it like it’s a real league. That’s all new, something I feel like has only existed in the last five years or less. Franchises now have some history and the league has enough fan involvement to add some of the requisite local flavor that any good soccer league needs. I definitely feel like MLS has gone through some serious evolutions, and I think this is a huge year for them. If the USMNT team gets out of the group stage, the MLS might actually be able to leverage itself into something that is more than an immediately dismissed joke in American popular culture.

Still, the first thing the announcer says is that this game may be the most “anticipated regular season game in the entire history of the MLS.” There’s still some growing to do. 

But whatever. I’m down for a some lads kicking the footy around the pitch. Toronto FC just…reloaded? Can you reload something that was never full to begin with? They added Michael Bradley (baldy on the USMNT) and Jermain Defoe, the latest aging European striker to come make some easy cash in the American game.

Seattle has Clint Dempsey, captain of the USMNT. I irrationally hate Clint Dempsey. I don’t like his style, I don’t like his moves, and I really hate what he represents about American soccer. This saddens me, as I think Seattle is the coolest fan base in American soccer, or at least competitive with Portland. I don’t know why the Pacific Northwest has taken to the game so hard, but I’m glad they have. I want to like Seattle, but I have to side with Toronto in this one.

The following is Live-Blog style:

The Seattle crowd is really interesting. They’re hardcore insofar as they are they showed up, and there’s a lot of them. 40,000 in the Seahawks stadium, and it looks pretty cool. There’s a nice bit of coordinated chanting, traditions, etc. And yet…

There’s always this ‘And Yet’ with the MLS. Not sure what it is. You can just tell that this game isn’t in our blood yet. The crowd is trying really hard. I guess that’s what you have to do when you’re a soccer fan in America. 

-There’s something reductive about watching a soccer game and having an elaborate national anthem ceremony that celebrates America. Relating to our trip to watch Germany V USA in DC, the darkside of American soccer is how ruthlessly nationalistic soccer fandom can get. Perhaps because the MLS is so young I like to imagine that the league could find a way not to embrace that element of soccer culture, but let’s be real: sports in America are always gonna be about America #fuckyeah. 

– I’ve seen a lot of tension-building and stage-setting, and that’s both good and bad. The announcer just reminded us all that many in MLS believe that this is a turning point in the league. There are a lot of expectations on the league, and if this game turns out to blow, then I’m gonna walk away without having had my mind changed. 

– This game has been going for 2 minutes and I can already sense the difference. I once heard an interview with an American tasked with growing soccer in China. He had played in high levels in Europe and then was the first American to play in an top Asian league or something like that. Anyway, he said that the problem Americans have as they develop into soccer players is that from birth they have a fundamentally incorrect relationship with the ball. Americans see a ball and they think they have to kick it as hard as they can in order to prove their worth. We grow up practicing kicking a ball, as we think that kicking the ball is the most important element of soccer. When you see shots go in, it’s because of hard kicks and we like scoring.

This is wrong. In other countries kids grow up dribbling balls too and from school, or dribbling in their room, or the alley, or wherever. They learn how to control and manipulate the ball from a very young age. The ball becomes something that you can have a very nuanced relationship with. It’s the difference between learning the game in a formal setting, with drills and what not vs. playing pickup games. 

This game is just punting back and forth. It’s what I imagine the Championship is like. I suppose it makes sense. American soccer players are going to be physically fit and able to jump up high to get a ball. However, it robs the game of a certain tactical brilliance. I watched Chelsea-Aston Villa this morning and without a doubt Aston Villa would have nearly 70% against either one of these sides. 

-I suppose the theory is that with all the fast players on the field you should just try to get the ball downfield and let the poachers hunt it down, but wow. It would be soooo coool to see you guys try a short pass. 

-Oh, good Clint Dempsey has already tried to start some shit with people. Shut up, Duece. 

– Some actual really nice soccer! A sequence of first touch passing from Seattle sends the ball bouncing around in some really aesthetically pleasing triangles. 

– Maybe a new way to interpret all these long balls is that it’s manifest destiny soccer. It’s all very naive and optimistic. The players aren’t good enough to play incredible lock down defense, so every ball forward means their might be a bobble or a chance created. The ball has a divine right to be downfield, even if that means suffering death at the hands of the elements of untamed savages. Ever westward. 

-ooooooooooooh. A goal, and it comes from totally competent soccer. Toronto gets the ball in the final third and Jermain Defoe is sitting in the little pocket between central defenders. The midfielder scoots a through ball right in front of him and he’s one-on-one with the keeper. Defoe, who could be playing somewhere in Europe, is far too quality to fuck up an easy goal like that. 

-Oh. Wow. Defoe with a second goal. I think he likes playing against MLS defenders. A horrible backpass from Seattle that Defoe intercepts and then he embarrasses the defender. 

– It’s new to watch a game with few luminous players and also some serious dreck. The good players really start assert themselves in a way that you don’t see in the Premiere League, where defenses are good enough that you need passing to unlock things. For some reason it really helps me understand the power of having a playmaker. Makes you wonder what a guy like Andre Pirlo could do in this league. 

-I appreciate that this crowd hasn’t shut up. I don’t think I like Seattle’s team one bit, but I appreciate the vibe. I could also see learning to hate this vibe, in the same way I hate Yankees fans. It’s that hate that emerges from love. 

-End of the first half is 2-0 Toronto. I planned on ending here, but fuck it. I’m gonna go all the way and see what happens. So far Seattle hasn’t done shit. They remind me of Tottenham. Lots of good players, probably can play well on the right day, but this isn’t the right day. Toronto reminds me of Liverpool, with Defoe in the Suarez role. That have a tall lanky guy who could be Daniel Sturridge, and Michael Bradley does a good Steven Gerrard impersonation. 

– I don’t think i’ve given credit to the fact that Toronto has played very smart defense. They’re communicating and protecting space in the middle third really well. I appreciate their work rate and commitment to pressing. Seattle is looking a bit undisciplined at the back. Well, i mean, beyond having given up two goals on stupid defensive mistakes. 

– Players have less of a plan in the MLS. They’re definitely thinking one step ahead, but they have trouble thinking two or more moves ahead and it limits the possibilities for creative soccer. When you look at the German national team you see every player on the field reacting to every pass, shifting around to fill space and create new passing possibilities. Here everything is going in a relatively straight line. The overall offensive intelligence of these two teams is just generally lower. It reminds me of playing FIFA13 on my iPad. The AI just can’t do what is happening at the highest level. 

-I suppose and English announcer would call the level of tactical intelligence “A bit crude, overall. But diligent.”

-The goalie for Toronto is on the Brazilian national team. He’s the first ever active member of the Brazilian national team to play in the MLS. That’s cool, in a completely un-ironic way. 

– A theme i havent mentioned: The MLS referees are currently locked-out in a labor dispute. Not sure what refereeing is like in the MLS normally, but right now this replacement ref wont let ANYTHING go down. Grabbing a jersey gets a free kick without hesitation. Seems very U13 style. 

-Haha. In that vein, Clint Dempsey gets away with really cynically laying in a cheap shot on the Spanish player on Toronto. The Spanish player, in classic Spanish player fashion, goes down like he’s shot. I hate to say this, but the MLS needs more flopping. Makes it more theatrical. 

– We need to get kids who end up becoming point guards in basketball to start playing soccer. You can see the MLS players are all vertically obsessed, which has it’s strengths and weaknesses. I bet there are small quick guys who play soccer in America, but few of them are at an elite level yet. When I try to explain soccer athleticism to people, I say that Lebron James would be an amazing soccer player. I would imagine he would play like YaYa Toure. However, we also need some Chris Paul’s/Eden Hazards. Right now the average MLS player is more like David West than Stephen Curry. Don’t ask me to explain that. It makes perfect sense. 

– Goal for Dempsey on the breakaway. Really nicely played counterattack has Dempsey sitting right in the middle of the penalty box with the ball at his feet. It crushes it home. It was a classic cowboy goal, run like hell and shoot anything that moves. It works, and Seattle thinks they’re gonna get back in this game. 

– Oops. NBC has cut me off from watching. NBC exec who’s reading this: If I can watch a EPL game for 48 hours on demands but I can’t watch an MLS game, there’s a problem growing your brand. 

Okay, to recap: A spirited game. Toronto goes on to win 2-1. Hell, I’m not gonna lie. I had a good time. It was real soccer, with some actual thought being put into it. There’s a certainly a style, and that style demands extreme conditioning. Everyone’s running as hard as they can all the time, and that adds a level of excitement to everything. I think perhaps it may lead to some ragged defensive play, and no one really has the first touch to do the things they want while also sprinting down the field full tilt. You rarely see a player stop the ball and hold up play while the rest of the team runs down to join him. No one surveys the landscape, looking to pick out the best pass. It’s gunslinger football. It’s not all together unappealing, and I’m curious to watch other teams to see how much this holds true. 

But seriously, Ozil would destroy this league. 

-Jack

 

 

August 29, 2012

Red Sox Players Meet With Ownership to Lobby For Popeyes, Not KFC; Hopes for Celebratory Postseason Biscuit Dwindle

August 15, 2012

Boston, MA — Red Sox players had sit-down meetings last week with owner John Henry to voice their displeasure at manager Bobby Valentine’s preference for KFC Original Recipe, unnamed sources with knowledge of the meetings told Blernsball.

The summit between player and owner come in the midst of a disappointing season marred by injuries, underperforming stars, and clubhouse tensions related to disagreements about potato wedges.  “The players have had enough of Bobby V’s preference for Appalachian cuisine. They’re Louisiana-flavor obsessed and can’t play for a man who thinks that KFC’s bland and greasy flavor profile has merit.”

There are growing signals that the fued has started to affect performance on the field. Tuesday, first baseman Adrien Gonzalez was mic’d up by MLB.tv and listeners to the live feed  heard him yelling “-Expletive- you, Colonel Sanders. I eat real chicken, not mutant animals without beaks or bones” after striking out a third time.

“It’s a toxic situation, ” said a source who wished to remain anonymous. “Bobby never misses a chance to sell them out to the media. Just lack week he criticized Carl Crawford’s preference for Cajun Fries. Carl was really pissed.”

The same source also speculated that the clubhouse battle between Valentine and the players may have led to the trading of Kevin Youkilis in June.  “Youk has always publicy prefererd red beans and rice and the option to have popcorn shrimp. Bobby V couldn’t handle Youk’s style.”

Sources also report that there’s a growing divide between players and management over Bobby Valentine’s insistence that the clubhouse be stocked exlusively with Bud Light Lime.

Amar’e injures hand, expresses existential grief; Nation laughs.

May 2, 2012

As Amar’e Stoudemire, a human being who plays professional basketball, sat alone in his Manhattan high rise apartment looking over the sleeping city, silently weeping as he cradled his maimed hand, the nation collectively laughed at his pain and struggle. He stared glassy eyed out the window, contemplating the year behind him, a year in which he saw his ability to earn a living in his chosen profession threatened by serious knee, back, and eye injuries, his role in the workplace become unclear due to mismanagement by executives, and the unexpected death of his brother in horrific car accident. He reflected on the years of unseen hard work and sacrifice he had endured, the unyielding and unrelenting insecurity he felt about his own ability, and the tireless demands placed on his energies. He looked within his soul at the deep anger he felt towards his body for betraying him prematurely and Yaweh for creating a world full of such trial and pain. He looked down at his hand, his hand that represented so much of his self-worth, not to mention his financial earning power. He looked at the scar caused by the fire extinguisher that he had struck in profound anger as he felt the sting of yet another high profile public failure at a time of such doubt and unease. He cried a single tear and attempted to sleep, to regenerate his aching body for yet another punishing endurance contest that would once again guarantee public failure. Meanwhile, the nation enjoyed a hearty chortle at his foibles and went back to handicapping Grizzlies-Clippers.

Ron Artest Launches Charity Supporting Aging Wing Players Who’ve Lost The Ability To Hit Open Threes

February 28, 2012

February 26th, 2012-
Using the media frenzy surrounding the NBA All-Star Weekend as a springboard, Los Angeles Lakers forward and celebrity advocate for mental health Meta World Peace announced his latest public relations campaign. Known until 6 months ago by the name Ron Artest, World Peace announced that he would be launching a charity program designed to help aging small- and power-forwards who had lost the ability to hit open three point shots.

“When I won the NBA Championship, I was able to use my celebrity status to bring attention to a problem that I had been afflicted with,” said World Peace at a press conference Sunday, referring to his time as a poster child for the recuperative powers of therapy.

“I want to do that again,” World Peace said with a delirious grin on his face.

The Meta World Peace Foundation for Forwards Who Can’t Hit an Open 3 (MWPFSWCHO3) will run a public awareness campaign for aging basketball players who are slowly losing relevance. The campaign will include daily positive affirmation texts sent by Mr. World Peace, a hotline for depression, and free shooting clinics in every NBA city. The foundation will also help players unable to rehab by making connections to local TV broadcasters, forwarding information about assistant coaching vacancies, or in the case of Rashard Lewis, euthanasia.

When asked why he was launching a campaign for a problem that he himself was still currently battling, Mr. World Peace said, “When I won an NBA championship I thanked my therapist for helping me. It’s not my fault y’all thought it meant I was cured. I’m still bat shit insane!” before launching 17 missed three pointers in a row.

News In Brief: Budinger Confirms Belief That White People Can’t Dunk

February 28, 2012

February 25th, 2012 –
After his horrendous showing in the 2012 Sprite® Slam Dunk Contest, Houston Rockets Forward Chase Budinger confirmed what many basketball historians have long suspected, that white people are unable to produce rim-rattling earth-stopping dunks .

“It’s not like his actual game is wack,” said NBA Legend Darryl “Chocolate Thunder” Dawkins, “but his ‘dunks’ were the worst kind of culturally white tripe. I’m surprised he didn’t try to dunk while sipping a latte.”

While there is in fact a historical precedent set by Brent Barry, a white basketball player who won the 1996 dunk contest with a Dr. J-inspired free-throw line dunk, many experts believe that Barry was the outlier.

“Every now and then, sure, you’ll have a gangly guy who can dunk a little, sure, but [Brent] Barry retired known as a jump shooter,” said NBA Analyst and former NBA player Chris Webber. “Also, if you watch the tape from ’96, you’ll see that [Brent] did the same dunk twice. His lack of originality and creativity strike me as very white. ”

“I believe in Chase’s ability to bring value to a franchise as an athletic slasher,” said Houston Rockets GM Darryl Morrey, “but I can’t help but wonder if Chase’s decision to copy Cedric Ceballos’ blindfolded dunk had something to do with the fact that the dunk required only the bare minimum of athletic ability

“Dunking over P-Diddy? Could he have picked a whiter rapper? Did he not realize that Lil’ Wayne was in the building?” added Dawkins.

Chase Budinger