Monthly Archive for March, 2012

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Sleep Through Opening Day

Nine days ago, I wrote the following passage:

From the airport window, I can see the gray buildings block the horizon where the pavement touches the pavement-colored sky.  The sports pages are riddled with so many copies of Peyton Manning’s face that they look like advertisements.  There’s the usual static interference of the NCAA tournament, where the same four teams (in my mind) advance loudly to the Final Four each year.  Up until yesterday I’d spent the last six months student teaching, arriving at work under the cover of darkness and leaving under similar conditions.  Yesterday morning I woke up to snow on the ground.

I’m dimly aware of the fact that, somewhere, baseball is happening.  There have been people complaining about Chipper Jones, and making fun of the New York Mets, and I’ve missed out on all of it.  I missed an entire Hong Chih-Kuo era, perhaps the last.  Coming back, I’ve been going through the baseball equivalent of culture shock.  Fragments of news flit through my consciousness: Ryan Braun is a villain who is unjustly accused, or a hero who escaped his horrible crimes through a technicality.  Albert Pujols is an Angel.  Leo Nunez is Juan Oviedo.  Fausto Carmona is Roberto Hernandez.  Roberto Hernandez is still retired.  It’s all too much.

Nine days haven’t changed much.  Yesterday morning, I set the alarm clock on my cellular phone and laid it on top of the dresser, out of arm’s reach, next to my battery-powered radio.  I woke up angry, in one of those thoughtless bestial rages that have no real purpose or target, not even Bud Selig.  In the dense, periwinkle moments that followed, I had maneuvered to the dresser, studied the radio on all six faces for several minutes in search of its on switch, and crawled back into bed.  But ultimately baseball could not penetrate the multiple layers of quilt, and when I woke again I found myself mysteriously several hours older, and untroubled by the sounds of the radio which, somehow, I must have shut off in my sleep. Fortunately, Eric was there to provide the insights I was incapable of forming.

I’m not ready for baseball.   After the rigorous, life-halting activity known as student teaching ended a week and a half ago, I spent the following week in Atlanta visiting my in-laws. There I witnessed, as the whole of its sports culture, a single Atlanta Hawks billboard making a pun about the visiting New Jersey Nets.  From there I travelled inward/coastward to Savannah, its downtown so surrealistically divorced from the world of sports (among other worlds) that my encounters with it there totaled an Alex Smith 49ers jersey selling for forty dollars in a comic book store, and a stoned Braves fan staring intently into an antique telephone receiver in a museum.

Since I’ve been back, my life has been fixing coat racks and checking off task lists.  The trees haven’t even begun to bud.  The world and my mind have been in tandem rejecting the concept of spring.  My own team faces the possibility of another 100-loss season.  My fantasy team relies on a closing tandem of Javy Guerra, Jim Johnson and Grant Balfour.  I haven’t been able to let go of this winter, the stress and the worry and the cold.  I haven’t allowed myself to sit down for three hours, even to enjoy a game of baseball.  At some point, I have to.

What better time to start than two in the morning?

At least, that’s what I thought until 1:30, when the hours caught up to me and the rationalization began.  It shouldn’t have to be this hard, I thought to myself, before nodding off for the third time.  This wasn’t Thomas Boswell; this wasn’t Opening Day. Bud Selig and I are both trying too hard. So instead I awoke at seven and scanned the box score.  The Mariners got three-hit, Balfour earned a cheap one-inning save, and little green buds have appeared on the cherry tree outside.  Things are going to be fine.

It’s 3 a.m. I Must be Baseball a.ka. Scattered Reflections from Opening Day

I woke up at 2 a.m. and trekked to my friend Kenneth’s house to watch the Mariner’s and A’s kick off the season in Tokyo. Here are some things I noticed and wrote down.

The Tokyo Dome gives the impression that you are playing in the 1970s. The deep, blueish green of the astroturf, and its general expansiveness (no dirt infield) create a quaint throwbacky feel.

Dave Sims and Mike Blowers calling the game from back in Bellevue. I imagine that without a ballpark to stimulate their interest, these two will put one another to sleep by the fourth inning.

This astroturf is SO astroturfy.

It still feels like a spring training game. I think part of that is the relatively subdued atmosphere in the stadium and the general lack of pomp and circumstance surrounding the game. In other words, the only bunting is the kind that Bob Melvin demands from his players for no reason.

Yeonis Cespedes is amazing. His body language is fearsome. He is the best even though he might not actually be the best. At every moment, he looks ready to tackle a mountain lion and then possibly eat it raw. He is going to hit some gorgeous home runs.

Michael Saunders singles in his first at-bat! My favorite spring training moment is a radio interview I heard with Saunders where he talked about zen and his approach to the plate in an extremely Canadian accent. I really hope he puts it all together.

Mariners promo/highlight video showing Alex Rios getting thrown out at second trying to steal. Baseball.

Sideline reporter Jenn Muller on concessions at the Tokyo Dome. They have Bento Boxes. Stacks of them.

Josh Reddick’s angular face and high/tight mullet make me wonder what his deal is.  I feel like he probably listens to P.O.D. Between Reddick, Yeonis, Coco Crisp, Eric Sogard’s 12-year-old nerd deal, the A’s might be the most stylistically diverse team in baseball.

Exchange rate graphic!

Miguel Olive is a grandpa? Kenneth informs me. He is surprisingly bald.

It’s 4:18 a.m. I just opened a box of cracker jacks.

Is that a baby on that wall-ad in the RF corner? Yes. Yes it is. There is also a nearby advertisement with a box with a diagonal exclamation point in it.

Dustin Ackley hits like a left fielder. He stands tall and he’s so relaxed at the plate. Him and Ichiro are a great stylistic contrast. Him and Figgins are a great productivity contrast.

More ad discussion: There is a massive yellow poster with Ichiro’s face above the seats in left field. He is holding something up and there is lots of clutter around him. I wonder what the product is? He hasn’t played in Japan in a dozen years.  It’s easy to forget how famous he still is there.

Further ad discussion: Bunny rabbit with stars next to it. Possibly playing baseball possibly throwing a star in the air.

Kenneth where’s Mark Ellis? Eric: He’s the Dodgers starting second baseman and number two hitter. Magic Johnson can’t fix everything.

Mariners commercials are the best. Even when they don’t work, they work because they are Mariners commercials.

Wikipedia excerpt on the Tokyo Dome: “Tokyo Dome’s original nickname was “The Big Egg”, with some calling it the “Tokyo Big Egg”. Its dome-shaped roof is an air-supported structure, a flexible membrane held up by slightly pressurizing the inside of the stadium.”

Product alert: Pocari Sweat. Google tells me that this is a sugary Japanese sports drink meant for Ion-replacement. It has a mild grapefruit aftertaste.

Yeonis Cespedes is awesome . It’s refreshing to again see a physically dominating player on the A’s.

Useful information courtesy of Root Sports broadcast: Largest cities in the world.

Bob Melvin has Brandon Allen bunt. Brandon Allen pops up.

Eric Sogard is Chris Sabo’s puny little brother.

Instead of wearing Mariners or Athletics uniforms, the ballboy and ballgirl are wearing what appear to be corporate uniforms that include white batting helmets. They are sort of creepy, sitting side by side near the dugout with the white helmets. In a Clockwork Orange sort of way.

Kenneth, at 5:19 a.m., emphatically, “I KNOW WHAT KEVIN MILLWOOD LOOKS LIKE”

How come this game has been going on for less than 3 hours but it already feels like a lifetime?

Can I reiterate how 1970s this whole thing feels?

Brandon League.

Jose Canseco

I once got Jose Canseco’s autograph on a baseball at Tropicana Field. He was playing catch with Bubba Trammell when I called out ‘Mr. Canseco, Mr. Canseco’ and he turned and grinned. The year was 1999. Although his role that season was technically ‘designated hitter,’ Jose Canseco caught the baseball I threw to him. He walked toward me. He signed the baseball with so much force that his signature became engraved in the sweet spot. I said thank you. The felt tip of my sharpie was pushed inward and rendered useless. Jose Canseco hit seven home runs that night — he would go on to hit 34 that season. The next day, Wade Boggs crushed my baseball with his teeth and washed it down with Budweiser.

On Snake Oil, Gem Mint Rookie Cards, and Dmitri Young

Jesse Gloyd is approaching regular contributor status at P&P. He’s written about fishing in the LA River, and about Satchel Paige on the site. Check out his podcast Buckshot Boogaloo.

Talk of coming back is always inspiring, but it rarely produces much more than the fleeting spark of its initiation. Baseball players seem to endure more than most. Jose Canseco is perpetually coming back. Jose Canseco exists in a constant state of comebackdom—his is a purgatorial existence. He inhabits a metaphorical space where mildly desperate men barnstorm in the shadow of Waffle Houses and Satchel Paige. Dmitri Young seems to be on the precipice of this space. Anecdotal evidence points to the fact that he might, indeed, still be able to play baseball, but it will be a hard sell. The comeback is the snake oil of the modern age. Dmitri Young’s agent has stated that Dmitri Young has put in the work, that he is in shape. His age, thirty-eight, is the great common denominator, but we are told he physically acts and looks like a baseball player again. His ability to look like a baseball player is the shine of the bottle, the twisting graphic of the snake in the desert.

Many years ago my dad and I drove out to Rio Mesa High School to watch Dmitri Young play baseball. He was the best amateur I was ever told I needed to watch. He was the only amateur living in the area I made a point to check out. I remember the gravel of the parking lot and I remember watching him through a chain link backstop. I have this blurry image of Dmitri Young swinging. I don’t remember much, but his career was a career I followed, his was a career with which I connected. He was always engaging. When he initially came up and had success, I felt my investment had paid off. His success was a validation. I found some mild sense of worth in his existence as an entertainer, as an athlete, as a person who could direct a baseball with precision.

Two months ago Dmitri Young walked into the winter meetings with the air of a salesman. His product was his person. He had lost weight. He had become a thing of the past again. He claimed that he would again be beneficial to whoever took a chance on him, but like all beneficial things with expiration dates, people wondered whether his had expired. They still doubt. They doubt for good reason. Dmitri Young is trying to play baseball again. Baseball players have expiration dates. Dmitri Young is thirty-eight. He is very much past his prime. He had a trade and he applied his trade as well as could have been expected. He hit and he entertained. He was an artist. He perfected his craft. Even with everything he went through, everything that got in the way—the mess with the drinking and all the reciprocal fall out; he managed to exist as an artist, as a craftsman with a valuable skill.

You can still buy snake oil. It still exists and people use and it might still have some enlightened properties. Snake oil, like Dmitri Young and the comeback, has been marred by years of a perceived lack of usefulness. In the 1980s neurophysiology researcher Richard Kunin found that Chinese water-snake oil contained eicosapentaenoic acid. Eicosapentaenoic acid is a vital omega-3 fatty acid. The Chinese knew what they were doing. The past performance of snake oil was the thing that made it an agent of future success, even if it never was truly utilized properly. The problem with snake oil, the problem that that shaped our collective perception of its existence as something useless, is the fact that it was often impossible for grifters and frontier doctors to procure Chinese water-snakes. Because of this deficiency, grifters and frontier doctors began using rattlesnake oil as an alternative.

Dmitri Young is buying and selling memories of promise.Rattlesnakes and rattlesnake wranglers, the men who tamed the serpents, became the main attraction at the medicine show. Rattlesnakes moved units. The rattlesnake and the rattlesnake wrangler’s ability to tame became the exciting products in themselves. The excitement surrounding the rattlesnake wrangler’s dance with death mesmerized. The excitement helped make rattlesnake oil a valuable commodity. Over time though, the true nature of the oil was revealed. Though abundant, extracting the oil from an actual rattlesnake was a messy bit of business. Grifters and frontier doctors began abandoning the actual oil altogether—pushing bottles of ineffective liquid, often oil and water spiked with red pepper and wintergreen. The masses grew skeptical. Articles were written and investigations were launched. Eventually, the bottles were confiscated and the manufacturers rendered obsolete. Snake oil became snake oil even if in its true state snake oil wasn’t necessarily snake oil.

When he is not making comebacks, when he is not marketing himself as a shadow of a thing he used to be, Dmitri Young can be found selling his near perfect baseball card collection on the world wide web and at card shows across the country. His baseball card collection is comprised of a myriad of Gem Mint 10 graded rookie cards. I went to the auction site where his cards will be on sale in the coming months and poked around a bit. Dmitri Young’s baseball card collection is a good collection. It’s a staggering, enviable collection. The collection looks as if it was an investment, an indulgence. The collection is a tip of the cap to a time and a place. It is a tip of the cap to the beginning of things.

Snake oil too, in all of its forms, is a tip of the cap to the beginning of things. We accept snake oil in all of its different forms because it reminds us of the promise of youth, the promise of rebirth. The problem at the heart of the Dmitri Young’s obsession with perfect rookie card is that it points, whether conscious or not, to the inherent fear that seems to live in the soul of the athlete. The athlete is an artist whose art is rooted in physique and time. Dmitri Young is buying and selling memories of promise. His card collection is a reflection of an unattainable desire. The collection is a cardboard homage to birth, to rebirth. The cards and their quantifiable perfection exude innocence. The cards reflect the nature of youth in all of its simple, beautiful glory. There is an element of memory rooted in their existence. The youthfulness is analogous to the stereotype of the young band that hears their song for the first time on the radio in the car. They are all the same: Brian Wilson with the top down, unable to grow a beard, Ron Cey sans mustache framed next to Mike Schmidt sans mustache.

Dmitri Young worked out for the Pittsburgh Pirates last week. He looked good. He was able to play and create something from nothing. Clint Hurdle said good things. Dmitri was optimistic. His road has been hard, but his journey isn’t new. It seems quite obvious he believes his peace is found on the field. He was never perfect, he was never the best, but he was real. His craft never had to be propped up with red pepper and wintergreen. It was a thing of beauty, championed by many because it was real and beneficial, perfect and good, like the corner of a Gem Mint 1969 Topps Reggie Jackson and the healing oil of a Chinese water snake.