August 30, 2011

An Open Invitation to Derek Jeter. Yes, that kind.

You know, now that you and Ms. Kelly have ended your relationship, it only seems logical that you are looking for a fun, no-strings-attached, let’s watch some baseball and make out, sort of rebound fling.  I would just like to say that I am totally cool with that and volunteering myself.  I mean, you have tapped everything from bunt singles to Mariah Carey.  So I am fully cognizant of the fact that you have a coloring box full of bright choices out there.  But maybe we can work something out.  I think that I am at least somewhat more entertaining than anyone involved with the movie Glitter.

You have probably never heard of CDTF, so you thankfully have no idea that I may or may not refer to you as the Baseball Jesus.  That I kind of perhaps maybe idolized you as a teenager.  That seeing your 3,000th hit from the first row at the Stadium sort of topped being at Game 6 of the 2009 ALCS (and maybe losing my virginity).  And that now, as a 28-year-old, you define the game of baseball for me and how it should be played.  I feel like I needed to get the crazy obsessive stuff out of the way, so that you will perhaps forget about it by the end of this letter.

You seem like a simple guy.  Baseball comes first, and then there is some sort of race for second between your family, friends, privacy, women, laughing, philanthropy, and occasionally making ARod look like an ass.  I support all of those things. And when everyone was inanely predicting your premature “demise,” I was expecting a monster season.  I completely understand that you work a lot, that you need to travel, and that you like your independence.  That works perfectly for me, because I am pretty much always in court, meeting with amusing immigrant clients, kicking ass at beer pong or playing softball with my friends, reading Harry Potter, writing semi-ridiculous blog posts, or dominating my fantasy baseball league. We are busy people. I end most relationships because guys do not seem to understand that I have a life outside of them; however, I don’t think this will be a problem for you. High five.

I don’t know you at all, but I feel like we have a lot in common.  At the very least, it would be fun to find out over, I don’t know, drinks in a dark corner at Ward III?  Like you, I was raised in a close-knit family, where education came first and little league second.  I like to think that I am still disciplined as an adult because of it, and I only have my parents to thank for that, but who really knows? I have had my fair share of drama over the years (my roaring twenties, if you will), and as a result, I try to avoid it at all costs now.  I live by the old Wayne Gretzky saying “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take,” as well as the lyrics to “Defying Gravity” from the Broadway smash Wicked. Although I enjoy the occasional club, you are more likely to find me sipping a Magner’s in a sports bar or pub.  Along the same lines, I can rock the hell out of some stilettos and a hot skirt, but my ideal uniform would probably be a wife-beater and sweatpants. And just to be clear, I am a perfectionist and I cannot stand to lose; if this is a problem for you then we will probably fight a lot, but the make-up sex will be fantastic. What else? I can juggle, I make a mean chicken parm, I am a die-hard Blue Devil, and I volunteer at the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure every year.  I would invite you to join me on September 18th, but I feel like you are going to be somewhere on the West Coast.  I totally would have put out afterwards, so that kind of sucks for you. But maybe next year. 

Don’t freak out or anything. Like I said, no strings attached. And unlike most of my friends, I am in absolutely no rush to get married. When it happens, it happens. But regardless of your response, which I am sure that I will receive promptly, I just want you to know that I think you are a great guy and I consider it a privilege to watch you play baseball every day for the Yankees. You have already given me some incredible memories, I just really think that we could make a lot more together.  I am off to work now, but before I go, I just want to say congrats for breaking Mickey Mantle’s record for most games played as a Yankee. It may not sound as sexy as The 3,000 Hit Club, but it is just as admirable, if not more so.  Good luck for the rest of the season, and I really look forward to hearing from you.  Please note that it must happen before Mark Cuban gets down on one knee with my engagement bracelet.  Thanks.


August 29, 2011

An Ocean View Championship and a Bitch Named Irene.

Hurricane Irene reminded me of one of the stupid sorority sluts that I met in college.  She was nothing more than a cock-tease. Everyone was in a state of anxious excitement for her arrival; she showed up and flirted with us, looking especially hot, batting her eyelashes with gusts of wind and bursts of rain; she briefly flashed her goodies, prompting us to stop everything and gawk in anticipation with fraying nerves; we went out and bought flashlights and bottles of water, just in case she was so mind-blowing that she extinguished electricity; and then, with little more than a smirk and a wave of disappointment, the bitch was gone.  We woke up on Monday morning with a slight hangover, wondering what the hell just happened, glancing at the empty sheets beside us, before remembering that Irene not only stole our transportation, but our dignity.  She was only a one-night stand, yet she still wound up screwing all of Manhattan.  And now I am stuck at work, wondering what could have been... 

The storm may have been mostly inconvenient to the rest of us, but it had no effect on the boys from Huntington Beach, California, whose Ocean View team took home the Little League World Series championship this weekend.  Heading into the tourney, they were slightly favored; Ocean View had made it to the West regional final last year and many of their starters returned.  They also dominated their opening two games by a combined score of 21-0, scaring the bejesus out of their opponents.  Last week, Ocean View lost 1-0 in extra innings to Billings, Montana, which put the team on the brink of elimination.  They avenged the loss on Saturday, blowing away Montana by a score of 11-2 and earning a berth into Sunday’s championship game against Hamamatsu City, Japan, the winner of the international bracket. 

Yesterday, Ocean View took home the title, beating Japan 2-1 in a nail-biter.  First baseman Nick Pratto, the coach’s son, rocked a single to center field in the sixth inning to drive in the game-winner.  Pitcher Braydon Salzman only allowed three hits and one unearned run, while striking out nine batters.  Even though Ocean View left eight runners in scoring position through the first five innings, stellar defense by the Japanese kept the score tied at one.  In the sixth inning, after relief pitcher Kazuto Takakura walked the lead-off batter, Dylan Palmer singled up the middle.  A strikeout and infield error followed, loading the bases for Trevor Windisch.  Windisch, however, grounded weakly into a fielder’s choice and Salzman was thrown out at home, bringing up little Nick Pratto with the bases loaded and two outs.   Pratto then lined a 1-0 fastball into center to score the winning run, as cheers of “USA!” thundered from the stands.  He finished the tournament batting .429, driving in seven runs, and going 3-for-4 in the championship.  Pratto told ESPN that he was freaking out before his last at bat, but “once I got into the box, I calmed myself to just look for a good pitch.”  Pretty impressive for a 12-year-old, you know?  He also said that while it was cool to have his dad as a coach, “he kind of gets on my nerves sometimes.”  Add that to the list of reasons why I love the Little League World Series.  
Although Japan won the championship last year, Ocean View’s victory gives the United States six titles in the past seven years.   After all, they don’t call it America’s pastime for nothing, fools.  And not even a natural disaster – albeit a rather lame one – could stand in the way.  Hurricane Irene may have delayed the start of the game by three hours, but by the time it ended, sunshine highlighted the playing field, where a group of exuberant teenagers from California celebrated the greatest moment of their young lives.  I am just happy that I didn’t lose power and got to watch the game on TV.  Irene may have stolen my public transportation, but I’ll be damned if she stole my ESPN. 

I hope you all had a good weekend, and all kidding aside, I hope that everyone made it through the hurricane with minimal damage.  Have a great night and please check back tomorrow!

August 27, 2011

Rafa Nadal Will Rock You Like a Hurricane.

In case you are stuck inside this weekend, bored while that bitch Irene stops by, I just thought that I would share these photographs of Rafael Nadal: 

I am almost certain that these pictures alone will calm storm-ravished waters, repel hurricane-force winds, and bring about world peace. You are welcome. 

Sweet Jesus, he is so pretty.  In their epic battle for greatness, I also feel like this is purposely a big fuck-you to Roger Federer, who I now implore to get semi-naked for, I don't know, Gucci or Calvin Klein.  It is the only way to compete, Rog.  So do it for your country. Or ours, whatever.  Save us from this pending natural disaster.  It's just the right thing to do.

Stay safe this weekend, everyone. And don't get lost in the storm. Or Rafa's abs. 

August 26, 2011

“Kick ass. Pop champagne. And get some ho’s:” The Yankees, Hideki Matsui, Matt Holliday and his moth friend, and the LLWS

Well, it is the week of pending northern natural disasters here in the Big Apple.  Who would have thought that we would be gearing up for both an earthquake and a hurricane within a five-day period?  I love big storms (as long as no one, you know, dies or anything).  I also live smack in the middle of a flood/evacuation zone in lower Manhattan.  After spending a decade in the South, however, I have been through my fair share of hurricanes; I can’t help but think that by the time Irene hits New York, it will be no scarier than a big rain storm with a lot of wind.  I am more bummed that baseball games will be canceled and the subway will be shut down.  
Speaking of baseball games, the Yankees dominated in grand style last night, beating the Oakland Athletics 22-9, while hitting three grand slams in the process – the first time in baseball history that it has ever been done.  Robbie Cano hit a bullet to right in the fifth inning, Russell Martin followed with another grand slam an inning later, and Curtis Granderson put the icing on the cake with a third one in the eighth.  The last time that the Yankees hit even two grand slams in one game was over 75 years ago, but they made it look easy last night.  They came to the plate 17 times with the bases loaded, which is simply ridiculous.  That said, they can also thank the A’s pitching staff for issuing 13 walks.   It was also good to see ARod back; he had two hits and didn’t injure any body part, so all-in-all, it was a successful day for him.  Weather permitting, the Bombers take on the Orioles this weekend, with A.J. on the mound tonight (god help us) and a double-header Sunday.
Okay, so this may seem somewhat random, but did anyone hear Ken Singleton’s story about Hideki Matsui during Tuesday night’s game?  I wish I could find the clip, because it was so entertaining.  I don’t even know that it was Ken Singleton; however, by process of elimination, it did not sound like Paul O’Neill, John Flaherty, or Michael Kay, so we are going with good old Ken.  I was only half paying attention.  Listen, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, even on second reading, was more enthralling than the YES pre-game show. Nevertheless, it has been well-established that Hideki Matsui mashes the ball on his birthday.  He hit a grand slam on his 34th birthday in 2008 and a three-run shot the following year on his 35th.  This apparently became an inside joke amongst his teammates.  Ken (or whoever was speaking) named a bunch of random games where the Yankees wished him a “fake” happy birthday and Hideki proceeded to hit homers.  It became such a “thing” that before Game 6 of the 2009 World Series, the Yankees actually pretended it was Hideki’s birthday – to the point that they bought him a cake with “Happy Birthday Hideki” on it, lit candles, sang to him…the whole nine yards.  He obviously went on to hit a home run and six RBIs.  Absolutely ridic. So, apparently before this week’s series against the A’s, Kevin Long asked Hideki to sign some baseballs for a charity function.  Matsui agreed with one caveat: Long must wish him a Happy Birthday.  Knowing the strange history of Hideki and his birthday, Long could not do this, now that he plays for the Athletics; he was afraid to awaken the Beast from the Far East.  Long still sent over a box of balls to Matsui and hoped he would sign.  And he did.  But when Kevin Long received the balls back, written on top of the box was: “Happy Birthday to me! Today, tomorrow, and Wednesday is my birthday!” 

How amazing is that?  I mean, this is coming from the guy who has a collection of 55,000 porno tapes.  Hideki is known for being a character.  He was the Baseball Jesus’s favorite teammate, partly because he is secretly hilarious.  He apparently understands English fluently, but chooses to give interviews in his native Japanese.  For example, before Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS, Joe Torre asked the Yankees “What are we going to do?!” And Hideki responded, “Kick ass. Pop champagne. And get some ho’s.” God bless you Godzilla. 
While we are on the topic of amusing baseball players, Matt Holliday may have just become my new favorite player on Joe Girardi’s Braces.  And not because of his .307 batting average and 19 homers.  By now, I have to assume you all heard about the moth incident on Monday night.  After the moth was extracted from his ear, Holliday was not really in any condition to speak to the press.  That said, he absolutely made up for it on Tuesday.  Some Holliday gems, courtesy of the Big League Stew:
On what happened: "I was just standing there and all of a sudden there's a moth fluttering in my ear like crazy. I started shaking my head, like you do when you have water in your ear but I said, 'That's not working.' I don't think my glove was on for one pitch because I was trying to get it out ... But it was like, 'I can't handle this.' That's when I called time out."

On if he felt pain: "It wasn't killing me, but if you can imagine something that far in your ear fluttering the whole time, it's not comfortable."

On if he was worried the moth would do some real damage : "That was my concern — that it would eat through my brain. But Dr. (George) Paletta assured me that that was not possible."

On how the moth died: "There was so much wisdom that was passed on to him that he died of the overflow of wisdom from being inside my head."

On if he'll be OK going forward: "As long as there's no larvae remaining. As long as they didn't lay babies while it was in there, I'll be OK, I think."

On why he saved the moth's corpse and put it in his locker: "I figure we're friends. We've bonded."
And finally, as if we needed another reason to watch the Little League World Series:

Fucking priceless.  I miss being 13-years-old.  So I am going to finish this bottle of bubbly and rock out like it is 1996. I hope you all have great, safe, non-natural disaster weekends.   

August 24, 2011

The Summitt of Natural Disasters.

Yesterday, shortly before 2:00 p.m., I thought that I was losing my mind.  I haven’t slept well lately because I have been sick, and I felt sort of woozy all day.  So when my desk started shaking and our diplomas began banging against the walls, I assumed that: 1) there was crazy construction happening on the floor below us, 2) there was some sort of explosion underground on the subway, OR 3) I was simply imagining it and reaching a new level of exhaustion.  All three were genuine possibilities in my mind.  As I drafted affidavits on my computer, I looked up at the rest of my office and quizzically asked, “Ummmm, does anyone else feel…I don’t know, like things are sort of shaking?” At that point, my boss looked at the walls and yelled “Earthquake!” and sprinted out of the office.  I am sure that I looked at him like he was insane.  Confused, I just went with it. Our water cooler was swaying and sloshing around ominously, as I ran past it.  I grabbed my bag, carried his dog under my arm like a football, and hauled ass down the stairs.  Thankfully, we are only on the third floor.  When I got outside, most of our building had already evacuated and everyone was buzzing about what we had just felt; I still did not believe that it was an earthquake. There is a fire station a few doors down, so we walked over there and asked a super hot fireman (good god, I wanted to be stuck with him in case of aftershocks) what the hell was going on. Sure enough, he told us that they were just informed of seismic activity and the trembling was indeed an earthquake.  

Of everything that I had considered, an earthquake did not seem like a credible explanation.  We are New Yorkers for god's sake! We usually (and unfortunately) deal in blizzards and terrorist attacks and constant construction and...well, just about everything except earthquakes.  We waited outside our building, marveling at what we had just experienced.  I kept expecting the tremors to resume, for a giant crack to appear in the street, or for the sidewalk to buckle beneath us.  But nothing else happened and we returned to work a whole ten minutes later.  So it was a rather anticlimactic earthquake, which I guess is a good thing.  And yesterday’s natural disaster in New York City was nothing compared to the one that Coach Pat Summitt was hit with in Tennessee. 

Yesterday, Pat Summitt released the news that she has been diagnosed with early onset of dementia, or the beginning of Alzheimer’s Disease.  Summitt is a legend, a woman literally in a league of her own.  She has won more than 1,000 games for the Tennessee Lady Volunteers, eight national championships, and an Olympic gold medal.  She has changed the lives of and inspired millions of women around the country, myself included.  Before I moved to North Carolina in high school and dropped basketball, I used to dream about playing for Pat Summitt in college.  She was tough, disciplined, experienced, and above all else, a winner.  I’d get lost in Sports Illustrated articles about her, mesmerized by the way that she completely dominated her sport.  And I knew that she would make me a better player if I ever got the opportunity to be taught by her.  Like Coach K or Joe Paterno or Bobby Knight, there are certain coaches that are more than just leaders of an athletic team – they have the ability to influence all aspects of a teenager’s life.  And for any young female basketball player, Pat Summitt was the pinnacle of what you strive for in the future.  

My heart now breaks for the “Wizard of Knoxville,” Coach Summitt’s lovable nickname in homage to the great John Wooden.  But she told the Knoxville News-Sentinel that “There’s not going to be any pity party and I’ll make sure of that.”  Her trademark fire and competitive spirit may be greater weapons against Alzheimer’s than any treatment or medication doctors can prescribe her.  Yesterday, while I inanely thought that I was losing my mind, Pat Summitt found out that she actually is.  She said in a press conference that she had experienced months of “erratic behavior” before being diagnosed by the Mayo Clinic in May 2011.  Can anything be worse than this?  Here is a woman with a lifetime of memories – experiences that many of us can only dream about – and these memories will now fade and fray until they are only frustrating tidbits of a forgotten past.  She deserves, at the very least, the ability to recall the incredible accomplishments she has achieved; the opportunity to remember what it is like to be admired and revered by millions of people.   At only 22-years-old, she took the head coaching job at Tennessee that no one else wanted and accomplished more than anyone else has in history with it.  I have no doubt that she will make the most of this incredibly sad situation, too.  No matter what happens, regardless if Coach Summitt’s brilliant memories ever cloud, I can promise her that we will never ever forget the unbelievable life she leads. 

Coach Summitt is only 59-years-old, too young to battle Alzheimer’s.  It is the first adversary that she has ever faced with an undefeated record.  And although medical experts work every day to find a cure, no one has ever beaten this debilitating disease.  I only hope that Coach Summitt can one day add this to her list of unworthy opponents, another loser who unsuccessfully tried to take her down.  

August 19, 2011

Friday Randomness: Non-Home Runs, Depressing Statues, International Brawls, a 12-year-old Ace, Madness in Miami, and a League of Their Own.

I am waiting in Court on this overcast muggy Friday, reading articles on my Blackberry.  26 Federal Plaza is buzzing with news of Obama’s reformed immigration policy, but I am stuck thinking about what a wild week this was in sports.  A few thoughts, in no particular order:

What is with all of these controversial home run calls against the Yankees? Last night, Justin Morneau hit a deep drive down the right-field line that was initially ruled a home run, only to be reviewed and overturned as a foul ball.  Morneau eventually struck out and Ron Gardenhire was ejected.  Fun times on Jim Thome Night in Minnesota.  The Yankees won 8-4, but C.C. looked anything but stellar.  I feel like the Morneau call, however, was karmatic retribution for Billy Butler’s non-home run home run from Wednesday night.  He smacked a ball to left-center which hit the top padding of the wall and then ricocheted back onto the playing field.  Originally ruled a home run, it was reviewed and the call was affirmed.  Which is dandy and all, except for the fact that the ground rules clearly state that the ball should have been ruled a double.  Billy Butler’s smile said it all, which was kind of amusing.  But the incompetence of the umpires is far from amusing.  It is especially ridiculous that the umps had no fucking idea what the ground rules were for the stadium where they were working.  Abysmal.  And it acts as further evidence that we desperately need a fifth umpire in an instant-replay booth at all times.

Well, this is sort of creepy. Don't get me wrong. What happened to Shannon Stone is a tragedy of epic proportions. My heart breaks for his 6-year-old son, Cooper, who was left alone as his father plunged to his death at the Ballpark in Arlington; for a dedicated father and firefighter, who kept asking about his son on the stretcher and died far too young; and for a family who will never be the same again. But do we really need a giant bronze reminder of this horrific event as a tribute to the fans? Couldn't they have made a Shannon Stone charity or planted a fan memorial tree in front of the park or…anything that would maybe inspire hope instead of sorrow? This was not a historic incident, but a terrible, terrible accident.  I do not mean to belittle it in any way whatsoever.  I commend the Rangers for the thought; their hearts are in the right place. But frankly, this is sort of weird and depressing. 

The brawl between China and Georgetown was unfortunate on so many levels.  It was titled a friendship match, which is now just ironic.  It obviously occurred in China, a political hotbed of controversy (where Vice President Biden happens to be at the moment), so the episode is being covered like an international incident.  It is another highlight for our corrupt NCAA.  I mean, the pictures are shocking in their severity.  But I think John Thompson III deserves such praise for the diplomatic and gentlemanly way that he handled the situation.  He somehow rounded up his team, got them off the court and onto the bus, and removed the Hoyas from an extremely volatile situation.  He released a carefully worded statement that I thought was perfection.  And he deserves a huge gold star.  I know that I am a Duke homer, but it was very Coach K-like and incredibly admirable. 

Miami, Miami, Miami.  Sadly, I think they are deserving of the death penalty, but will not (and ultimately, should not) receive it.  The Yahoo piece was devastating and brilliantly written; if even half of the allegations are true – and it looks like there is a ton of hard evidence – Miami is fucked. The extent of the scandal, like a never-ending web of corruption involving 70-something players and a multitude of coaches, is particularly shocking.  And it makes UNC and USC look like mere blips on the NCAA radar.  A full post is coming next week. 

The Little League World Series kicked off yesterday.  Billings, Montana beat the kids from Rapid City, South Dakota, marking the first time that Montana has ever won a LLWS game. Warner Robins, Georgia, home to the great Dalton Carriker, lost to Louisiana in a 2-0 nail-biter.  The sluggers from Hamamatsu City, Japan crushed Aruba, 12-1.  But I think the player that is going to steal the show is Jorge Jacobo of Mexicali, Mexico, whose team beat Chinese Taipei yesterday.  This kid has a nasty breaking ball and a hard fastball; he struck out 12 batters and shut out Chinese Taipei for the first time in LLWS history.  The craziness continues tonight, so if you are bored this weekend, check it out.  

This was basically the highlight of yesterday for me.  Bill Simmons, in his annual National Sports Collectors Convention photo essay, took a picture with the real-life Dottie from A League of Their Own! This piece always makes me want to attend the NSCC, but now I feel like I simply must go next year.  Anyone want in?  

Okay guys, I am out. I hope you all have great weekends and please check back on Monday!

August 17, 2011

Around the Bases and Down Memory Lane: The Little League World Series.

I apologize for the lack of posts over the past week.  I have been dealing with what seemed like the Black Plague. I am somewhat better now, although I still feel feverish. But other than that…

This has always been one of my favorite times of the year.  The division races heat up in baseball, football is on a countdown clock, and the weather is gorgeous.  When I was a kid, I used to get excited for school to start; I would organize all of my new supplies and trapper keepers, pick out whatever puff-paint or rhinestone debacle I would wear on the first day, and wait patiently for my schedule to arrive in the mail.  But mid-August was also bittersweet.  It marked the end of summer little league, or the end of traveling around with my best friends for softball tournaments every weekend.  And growing up, each summer started and ended with the same goal – the Little League World Series.
One of my summer softball teams from god knows how long ago.
The Little League World Series has been teaching our nation’s youth to be over-competitive assholes since 1947, when it was first held in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.  Although a player must be between the ages of 11 and 13 to qualify, the tournament was something I dreamed about since I first entered little league at the prime age of six.  This was, of course, before ESPN started giving the tournament full regional coverage in 2007.  Each summer, little league organizations from around the world select All-Star teams which then compete in district, sectional, and regional tournaments for the chance to advance to Williamsport for the championship.  When I played, only four teams from the United States could make the LLWS.  Now, however, the double-elimination tournament is comprised of 16 teams: eight international teams and eight from the United States. 

I played catcher and hit clean-up for the Commack South All-Stars, hailing from the mean streets of suburban Long Island.  One year, maybe 1994, we rocked bright yellow and navy mesh-like jerseys, with old-school stirrups and socks; we were also decked in maroon and gray at some point.  I wish I could find a copy of the fake trading cards that my team had printed, but they are collecting dust in my father’s attic.  It would have been fun to debate what is more precious: the poof of bangs visible from under the brim of my cap, my sparkling braces, or the fact that my “favorite player” on the back is listed as Frank Thomas (let’s just say that my bangs were definitely a bigger hurt than The Big Hurt himself).  I will never forget how incredible it felt to have my last name plastered on the back of a jersey for the first time.  I was proud of that uniform, to be invited onto that team.  In fact, I still have my original hats; one has “Jill #21” written inside, barely visible 15 years later, while the other has “I heart” and like four different boys names crossed out, along with corresponding dates.  I was apparently quite classy even as a pre-teen.  (I took that photo in my apartment; the others were sent from home, but none are from the LLWS).

In June, during our first few practices, we would excitedly talk about August, how this would be the year we shock everyone and qualify for the Little League World Series.  My blood felt carbonated with summer optimism.  I used to love smoothing out the sun-soaked dirt behind home plate, reveling in the buzz of humidity and the clang of aluminum bats.  When I was younger, it was easier to ignore the weight of sticky shin guards.  After practice, we would play games in our coach’s swimming pool and joke about how our championship banner would be bigger than her.  We were far too naïve to let reality get in the way of our big dreams.  Looking back, it was ludicrous to think we could have made it to Williamsport; we were not a very talented ball club.  Pitching was everything at that level – whether you could pitch “windmill” separated the contenders from the pretenders – and our pitchers were mediocre.  But every year, we geared up for what always turned out to be summer’s last hurrah – the qualifying tournament for the LLWS. 

A young JHop, between innings.
There was something special about this tournament, and not just what was at stake.  We played at Tanner Park, a sprawling complex overlooking the Great South Bay in Copiague, New York. It was the only tournament we played there and it felt…magical.  Like they opened the gates for us only because we were part of this very honorable event.  And we badly wanted to win it.  I have played in hundreds of softball tournaments, most of which are now fuzzy memories, yet I still remember everything about this one.  I remember that the park had big concession stands stocked with softball staples, like Big League Chew and Fun Dip, and towering lights for night games. There was a playground where my brother and his friends hung out while we played ball.  You could see the water from home plate, which I thought was particularly cool as a 13-year-old.  Families would set up blankets along the fence that lined the outfield, and a cool breeze would blow in during the evenings.  The grass seemed greener there, vibrating against the freshly raked infield. I remember bouncing to the parking lot after games, hyped up on sunflower seeds and adrenaline, recapping at-bats with my dad or bitchy coaches with my mother.  I loved going to Tanner Park for the LLWS. It represented the culmination of summer softball, everything a rag-tag group of middle-school girls wanted.

While we never placed higher than third, the qualifying tournaments for the LLWS still hold some of the best memories of my childhood.  It is strange that I can recall certain at-bats.  Once, after a single through the right-side hole, I was called out for tagging too early (which infuriated me; I still remember throwing my helmet and then getting yelled at by my coach).  I remember being in the on-deck circle during a tied game, only to see my arch-rival (I wish I could use her real name here, because it sounds just like the name of a make-believe villain) take the mound after a pitching change. I watched her warm-up, as my pulse kicked up a notch.  And that is when I decided to give myself a pep talk, literally talk to myself outside the dugout, as only a kid can do, which I vividly remember. I am sure to others it looked like I was kneeling down, propped on my bat, praying for success.  Oh, no.  That would be too normal.  Instead, I recall giving myself a speech that involved imagining the outfield as a burning house, which only a hit, carrying imaginary water, could save my family from; how I needed to be a hero, not just for me, but for the city of Commack (and my family’s imaginary burning house).  I wish that I had a helmet microphone to capture what I am sure was hilariously epic (and embarrassing).  I don’t know why this speech came into my head.  But it worked.*  I remember my mom handing me bottles of Gatorade through the fence.  And celebrating an extra-inning win on the infield, jumping around like we were at a New Kids on the Block concert.

*So maybe that is actually the moment I became irrationally superstitious and began making weird imaginary side bets with myself, which I continue to do today.  “If there is a strikeout in the first inning, the Yankees will win.”  "If I see three homeless people on the way to work, my client will get his green card." Dumb stuff that makes little sense.  It is sort of disturbing, however, to realize this came about when I wagered my family in a burning house for a base hit, but whatever.  

A young JHop, at bat.
I now watch on ESPN, fondly remembering the way my heart used to pound when stepping into that batter’s box in Copiague.  I smile when I see these little kids slap gloves, execute complicated celebratory handshakes, and pimp their homeruns.  I remember what it was like to think you owned the world, even for a brief moment on the baseball diamond, when only tens of parents are screaming for you in glee.  Like everything depended on that moment, that at-bat, that pitch. At thirteen, it is everything. And I laugh when I see it now, looks of intensity and exuberance painted across the faces of hundreds of kids, playing in the biggest tournament of their lives. We never made it to Williamsport.  We never even made it to regionals.  But even our failed attempts to get there were unforgettable. 

The reason that we took this little adventure down memory lane is because the 2011 LLWS has been particularly entertaining.   We have already seen one team disqualified for immigration issues, another invited in its place, and one pitcher strike out 13 of the final 15 batters that he faced.  The championship begins tomorrow and a winner will be crowned on August 28th.  So gather your friends, make up a drinking game, and tune-in to ESPN.
The craziness of this year’s regionals prompted my very good friend and frequent blog contributor Manhattan Man to email me last week about how his family has “always gotten a kick out of the LLWS.”  He wrote: 
Regional play is coming to an end . . . Check out this regional: Saudi Arabia, Uganda, South Africa, Kuwait and the UAE. Games played in POLAND. And Uganda won, but got their visas denied, and so, Saudi Arabia advances to Williamsport. How do you make this the Southwest region: Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, Colorado, Mississippi, Oklahoma and New Mexico.  Southwest?  Of what? While Italy pounded the Ukraine, 10-0, the Netherlands won their last three to punch a ticket to PA. It’s fun.
He is right – it has been so much fun to watch, especially this year. But in the email, he also mentioned what initially turned his family onto the LLWS; namely, a player named Dalton Carriker.  Intrigued, I asked him to expound upon his anecdote:
I’m a lucky Dad, in that my daughters have become baseball fans.  My elder can truly hit, my younger can fly on the base paths, and track a ball in right center.  While channel-surfing a few summers back, we stumbled on a South region qualifying game of the ’07 Little League World Series.  Warner Robins shortstop/pitcher Dalton Carriker tried to get an early jump from first a couple of times when finally, his coach yelled, “Dalton…..stay on that base!”  The Georgia drawl was so thick and Carriker’s grin so winning as he trudged back to first, the phrase became like a movie line around our home: “Stay on that base!”

A couple of nights later his team made it to Williamsport, and as we set the DVR and watched, his Warner Robins GA club went all the way to the final against Japan.  And of course, we had to attend a school band function that afternoon.  Because the game went to extras, the recording time ran out.  So, I jumped on the PC trying to find a result when my daughter read from the ESPN crawler, “Carriker walk-off home run wins LLWS!”

We saw his interview the next night on David Letterman, read the accounts of celebrations on-line and even sent a note to Georgia, asking for his autograph.  Each year at this time, we catch at least a game or two of the LLWS and remember the fun we had “with Dalton.”
His response defines what makes this time of year so damn special. But more importantly, I can't help but think it captures the magic that the Little League World Series brings to its audience – a memorable experience, no matter how you look at it, how you watch it, or how you played in it.  Whether it is Dalton Carriker or pep talks about imaginary burning houses, waterfront fields in Copiague or visa fraud in Uganda. The LLWS is addicting. And this year’s craziness continues tomorrow night, so please check it out.

(How great is this video? It captures everything the LLWS has to offer - pure happiness, devastation, tears, fist pumps, coaches consoling players, teenage angst and hideous braces, a post-game hug-out, chants of "USA," heads held in disappointment, unnecessary eye black, and parents crying.  Thanks to Manhattan Man for enlightening me to the greatness that is Dalton Carricker shocking the Japanese). 

August 10, 2011

Say You’ll Go Slow, Joe.

I have been worried for awhile now, waiting for something like this to happen. But can it possibly get more cliché?! He is so old that he broke his hip on the field! Football is already a dangerous sport, even for able-bodied men who were born, you know, after the Great Depression. Paterno is an incredible man, a legendary coach, and he has had such an admirable career. But most men don’t live past the age of 80. He has already had four extra years. So let’s not be greedy or test fate. How awful will it be for the next player who accidentally runs into him? He will forever be known as Joe Paterno’s murderer. And, sadly, this is not the first time that he has been injured on the field. In 2006, a player ran into him during the Wisconsin game and broke his leg. There is a reason that nursing homes do not plan group activities involving contact sports. Coach Paterno, please take a bow before it’s too late. You deserve it. And, quite frankly, you are becoming a liability.
I don’t have much time, guys, so I apologize for the short post.  I have to go meet with a Dominican hooker now. Fun times, I know.  So have a great afternoon and please return tomorrow when CDTF will be back in full swing.