Tuesday, May 24, 2005

My Memorial Day mini marathon

Memorial Day weekend was made for sports (and also for other things, like remembering our veterans, similar to the way we do on Veteran’s Day). The three days that are known as the unofficial start of summer serve as the perfect setting for all things sports-related. Well, except for Major League Baseball, which used to have most teams play doubleheaders on Memorial Day, but now has most teams play zero-headers, which makes perfect sense considering that most lay people have the day off to enjoy, oh, I don’t know, say…baseball. But I digress. And Memorial Day weekend isn’t just for professional athletes, like it was in the Middle Ages. It’s for everybody! Even me, which is why for the second consecutive Memorial Day weekend, I will be “exercising” my God-given right to enjoy sports by running in a race, and then drinking beer.

“The Spring Lake Five” is an annual local race that is gaining in popularity, best evidenced by my own involvement. The “five” stands for the number of times I will have to remove myself from the race the throw up on somebody’s shoes from exhaustion. It also happens to represent the mileage. The “Spring Lake” stands for where the race is held, which is, ironically, Spring Lake. I ran in this race for the first time last year, and, at the risk of spoiling the surprise, I did not win. In fact, I began the race somewhere in the back of 9,000 people, so by the time I actually reached the starting line, somebody had already won the race. So I packed up and went home.

Of course, I’m kidding. I continued to run the race regardless of the fact that I would only be receiving a banana and a calendar at the end instead of an Olympic medal. (Come to think of it, it’s a good thing I DIDN’T win, considering I never paid to get in the race, and was using the number of somebody who had dropped out, meaning that if I DID manage to somehow cross the finish line first, the confetti and champagne would have been rained down upon on a 6’ 3” young Irish man named Gladys Johnson.) Anyway, I’m glad I did run the race, because not only do calendars often come in handy, but I enjoyed myself as well.

I don’t consider myself a runner in the mold of, say, a famous runner. But I do enjoy the exercise, which is why it was strangely enjoyable to get up at 7:00am on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend last year to run five miles. For one thing, it was a beautiful morning, and since I had recently stopped watching cartoons, I had nothing better to do.

It’s hard to believe how many people actually take part in the “Spring Lake Five,” which is why I was so surprised to see the thousands and thousands of people along the streets of Spring Lake last year. Maybe that’s because my perception of society in general is that of fat, lazy slobs. Regardless, many people were there to run. Or walk. Or cheer. Or to work the banana stand, which was important, because the bananas were free. Anyway, once the race got going, it was just a great feeling to be a part of such a large group of people who were all trying to attain the same goal, which was, of course, not collapsing.

The five miles seem to go by pretty fast. It’s amazing how much better you can run when there are a bunch of other people pushing you to do better. And by “pushing” I mean passing. Also, there are a whole lot of people who line the streets, screaming words of encouragement like, “Go,” “You can do it Gladys,” “Your shoe is untied,” and “Watch out for that pole.” At each mile marker are huge speakers that play witty songs appropriate for the occasion, like “Born to Run,” “Running on Empty,” and “Shake that (bleep).” Then people hand you cups of water, just like in the movies, at which point you pour the water over your head (never drink it…cramps), and then crush the cup and toss it away as if you are disgusted with it. At least that’s how I do it.

There’s really no better feeling than just finishing a race (except for maybe winning a race, or the Masters). I remember thinking to myself last year, after crossing the finish line, “How the heck do people run marathons?” But before I could come up with an answer, to my surprise, I received a mini medal and the ugliest t-shirt of all time. It was a great, healthy, and sports-related start to a Memorial Day weekend otherwise filled with beer, pork roll and cheeses, and no baseball.

Which is why I’m going back for more this year. After all, Memorial Day weekend was made for sports, and running around aimlessly though the streets of Spring Lake is pretty much the best sport I can think of. This year, I even paid to get in, and I have my very own race number: “3204.” So if you happen to be on the “sidelines” at the Spring Lake Five this weekend, and you see that number plodding forward, please don’t scream obscenities at me, cause I’ll barf on your shoes.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The less than dynamic duo

There’s something special about listening to baseball games on the radio. Maybe it’s the knowledge that fans of yore had only the radio available to acquire integral information about our national pastime, or maybe it’s the fact that 162 games provide numerous opportunities to listen to the action while driving. Or maybe it’s just that I’d much rather hear a catchy “Foxwoods” commercial (“take a chance…make it happen…”) than watch terrible local cable commercials (“Hi. I’m Denise, your warranty and parts manager”). Nevertheless, that said, after 26 World Championships and too many great moments to name, you would think that I’d have nothing to complain about as a Yankees’ fan. But after having to endure their 2005 radio broadcasting team for almost two months now, I feel compelled to file an official complaint. So here it is.

John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman are the broadcasting team for the New York Yankees. Sterling is the play-by-play guy, and has been for some time now. Waldman had served as the Yankees’ beat reporter for several years, and this is her first year in the booth. Unfortunately, these two mix about as well as ketchup and ice cream.

Now, in my opinion, the job of the baseball broadcaster is as such: He or she is responsible for adequately painting a picture, with words, of what is going on. He or she should call the game as they see it, work in some light-hearted conversation and interesting anecdotes, and then go home. That said, allow me to voice my displeasure with Mr. Sterling.

Suzyn Waldman is Sterling’s third broadcast partner in the past five years. He was previously teamed with Michael Kay (now on YES, though the two made an okay team), and then Charley Steiner (now calling games for the Dodgers, though while here, he seemed to serve only as a wittier version of Sterling — they even looked alike). This high turnover of color commentators seems to adequately represent Sterling’s dominant broadcasting style. He often comes across as annoyed when he perceives his partner is stealing his thunder. And by that, I mean “talking.” He did this with Kay and Steiner, though to a lesser extent, because he was forced to respect them somewhat. With Waldman, he can be downright condescending. Sometimes, he chooses to not even respond to her comments. And I’m not insinuating that this is done consciously, or because of her womanhood, but I get the impression that Sterling was less than thrilled when Waldman’s new position within the organization was announced. (As a side note, Waldman endured similar treatment from Ken Singleton when she made her infrequent visits to call TV telecasts on MSG.) It seems as though Sterling would be best suited with a broadcast partner similar to the one Bob Uecker had in “Major League,” who remained completely silent while Uecker’s character, Harry Doyle, took over the broadcast:

Doyle: [before the playoff game] Monty, anything to add?

Colorman: Ummm... no.

Doyle: He's not the best colorman in the league for nothing, folks!

Another problem I have with Sterling is that he relies too heavily on shticks. Of course, he is best known for his signature call: “The Yankees win, thaaaaaaaa Yankees WIN!” Okay, that’s fine. And every broadcaster has his home run call (Michael Kay’s “See ya!” and the Mets’ Gary Cohen’s “It’s outta here!” for example). But Sterling goes too far. When Alex Rodriguez hits one out, he chimes, “It’s an A-bomb, from A-Rod!” Not only is that just plain stupid, but it rather insensitively links one of the deadliest tragedies in world history to a home run. When Jason Giambi hits one, “It’s the Giam-BINO!” This one I didn’t mind at first, when Giambi was supposed to be leading the next generation of Yankees’ sluggers, but now, comparing Giambi to Babe Ruth borders on sacrilege. And the worst one of them all, “Bern baby, Bern!” for whenever Bernie Williams gets a big hit. That one actually gives me goose bumps of embarrassment, every time.

Sterling has a standard home run call as well, but he seems to be screwing it up more often these days, along the lines of, “It is HIGH…it is FAR…it IS…strike three.” Okay, so it’s not THAT bad, but he did have this gem a few weeks ago: “It is HIGH…it is FAR...it IS…off the wall, and…into the stands.” Obviously, that’s impossible, unless they were playing with one of those super-bouncy rubber balls; even “Mike & the Mad Dog” played that clip over and over again after it happened, marveling at the inaccuracy of it. The thing is, I remember the days when Phil Rizzuto was making little or no sense calling the televised games for WPIX, and he would often confuse near home runs with pop-ups to the shortstop. But there was something endearing about that, mainly because Rizzuto could laugh at himself. Sterling can’t, and his frequent mistakes are even more exposed by his stubbornness to admit that he ever made one.

As far as Suzyn Waldman is concerned, I’ve always liked her, even though she’s a removed Bostonian. She’s extremely knowledgeable, and very affable. However, her former job as the team’s beat reporter hasn’t translated well to her color commentary. Her observations are rarely her own, but rather some feedback she received from a player or coach. And while her voice is not really conducive to radio, this minor flaw becomes even more noticeable amidst the recognizable and soothing drone of Sterling.

Of course, my biggest issue with this radio team is something most likely out of their control. They too often serve as cheerleaders for this franchise, instead of providing the subtle criticism that this team sometimes deserves. I’m sure this comes down from the top, as it would be a cold day in hell before George Steinbrenner paid his broadcast team to critique the very team he owns. Nevertheless, it still reflects upon Sterling and Waldman, and it doesn’t sit well with someone looking for unbiased calls of a baseball game on a warm summer night.

The awkwardness of Sterling and Waldman is magnified by the fact that they share the same city as Gary Cohen and Howie Rose, the Mets’ excellent broadcasting duo. Cohen and Rose simply call the game, they never oogle at their own players, they joke around with each other while providing intriguing analysis, and they genuinely seem to like one another. And neither relies on shtick to get by. Across town, John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman are struggling to connect. I don’t know how much more of this I can take. But, at least I still have the commercials.

“Pop the cork…finger snappin’…”

Thursday, May 12, 2005

The ABCs of pimps and hos

I was never able to express myself in grammar school, at least not through wardrobe. I attended a Catholic grade school, and I was forced to wear a standardized uniform. By the time I had reached the seventh grade, and my rebellious side had kicked in, I was relegated to sagging my pants to “stick it to the man” — or in this case, nuns — which must have looked even more ridiculous considering that the other half of my “hip-hop” wardrobe consisted of a white dress shirt and a clip-on tie that featured the initials of the fine institution I attended. “SBS…bee-OTCH!”

Anyway, my background in self-expression notwithstanding, I was rather shocked when my sister, who is now a teacher at a public grade school, informed me that one of the fifth-grade students at her school was roaming the hallways wearing a shirt that read “Pimpin’ ain’t easy.”

Now, giving the parents of this upstart child the benefit of a doubt, I can only assume that when they purchased this shirt FOR their young son, they were aware of what the term “pimpin’” means, but thought that this next generation of children had adopted a new meaning for it, along the lines of “bad” actually meaning “good,” “stupid” meaning “cool,” and “fresh” referring to things other than vegetables. Maybe their child even lied to them at the graphic t-shirt store, and told them that “pimpin” is now slang for “homework.” Regardless, I can assure them that, throughout the years, “pimpin’” has retained its original meaning, which is, as Webster’s defines it, “The act of retaining profits from prostitutes, or ‘hos,’ and resorting to physical violence against said hos if they are not having enough sex, or aiming to cheat the pimp out of his rightful percentage of profits.”

So, in essence, these parents have allowed their child out into the world proclaiming that he, at such a young age, has a stable of prostitutes from which he absorbs income, and he is having increasing difficulty doing so. For all I know, this kid spends recess in a top hat and cane, and hangs out by the basketball hoop smoking cigars while scantily clad women occasionally drive up to drop off wads of cash. And apparently, things have changed, because when I was in fifth grade, my vast knowledge of sex involved the awareness that I liked boobs.

So kudos to this kid — he’s well ahead of the curve, I guess. I thought that sagging my pants was making a statement, but this kid is already convincing women at least twice his age to sell their bodies for his financial benefit. And as far as the parents are concerned, well, they probably should have done their homework before they allowed their fifth-grade child to wear such a shirt out in public, much less an institution of education. But hey, like the saying goes, homework ain’t easy.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Nostalgia, in baseball card form

I was watching ESPN Classic this past Sunday morning, and they were running a yearly recap of “This Week in Baseball” from 1992. It was fascinating. I realized how much the game of baseball has changed over the past decade or so. Well, not really the game itself, but the players. Baseball players of yore — and by yore I mean fifteen years ago — hold a special place in my heart. Not because they were good at baseball, but because their images are etched in my mind for all eternity as a result of my heyday of baseball card trading.

I don’t think that many kids today still trade baseball cards, what with all of their Pokemon, extreme sports, and time spent avoiding Michael Jackson. But when I was a kid, baseball cards were pretty much all I cared about. I spent hours upon hours trading cards with my friends. I forced my mom to spend her weekends dragging me to various baseball card shops and shows, where shiesty adults who made a “living” collecting and selling sports cards would rip me off and take all of my lawn-mowing money (I hope they are all still living lonely lives, in their mother’s basement). The greatest birthday gift I ever received was when my Aunt Carol got me my 1984 Topps Don Mattingly rookie card. I still have that card today, tucked away next to my other valuables, like my 1984 Donruss Don Mattingly rookie card, and my college degree.

But it’s not the Mattingly cards, the Griffeys, the Bonillas, or the Larkins that force me to wax nostalgic. It’s the other guys — the players I must have flipped right through hundreds of thousands of times while opening packs, and trading cards. These are the guys that the baseball card companies printed a surplus of cards for, just to annoy the heck out of kids like me, who were desperately searching for a Barry Bonds’ rookie card, but kept coming across that darn Vincente Palacios.

It truly takes time to appreciate the absolute magnificence of these players. The mullets, the jheri curls, the mustaches. I would venture to say that 98% of the players during my baseball card trading days rocked the mustache. If you were a pitcher, the mustache was actually mandatory. You can look it up. Or just ask Ed Whitson. Or Danny Darwin.

And the names. Oh, the names! They read like a who’s not of popular athletes: Tom Brunansky, Atlee Hammaker, Zane Smith, Spike Owen, Franklin Stubbs, Skeeter Barnes, Jack Lazorko! Could you even imagine a guy named Jack Lazorko playing in the Major Leagues today? It’s not even possible. I don’t care if his changeup was 100mph — he’s not getting into The Show today with a name like that. It’s that simple.

Nevertheless, these players still remain relevant today. My friend and I, while on our annual road trips to Camden Yards in Baltimore, play this game where we go back and forth naming random “old school” baseball players from our more impressionable past. Our wives sit confused in the back, while they hear us blurt things out like, “ODIBEE MCDOWELL!” followed by three minutes of nonstop laughter. I think I may have won last year with “Don Slaught.” It’s actually amazing that either of us are even married in the first place.

And you just don’t see these kinds of players anymore. Gone is the 5’3” second baseman, with the thick mullet and a lifetime .237 average (Mike Gallego, anyone?). No more lanky starting pitchers who wear glasses that are too big for their face, with a fastball that tops out at 82 mph (where have you gone Tom Henke?). And alas, what happened to the overweight DH, who, in 500 at bats, would hit 29 home runs, and strike out the other 471 times (like Steve Balboni, who once struck out in nine straight plate appearances)?

Baseball has certainly changed. The players nowadays are actually good, and look the part. Chalk it up to steroids, the influx of foreign talent, and the demise of horrendous fashion, I guess. You can call me a dreamer if you want, but I’ll take Eric Plunk over Roger Clemens any day. Not to win a game or anything — to go out and grab a beer with. He always seemed like that kind of guy.

So watching that yearly rewind of “This Week in Baseball” really brought me back to a happy time, when most major leaguers were all just guys like us, whose baseball card was nothing but a cheesy picture of them that was worth three cents. These are the players I am most fond of. And do you know who, according to “TWIB,” had the play of the month during April of 1992, with a sliding catch down the third base foul line?

Pat Listach, that’s who.

Pat freakin’ Listach. I know I have a bunch of his cards.


Friday, May 06, 2005

Hot dog hangover

In a society as health conscious as ours, what with all of our “low carbs” and smoke-free airplanes, it amazes me that hot dogs have survived this long. It’s pretty much common knowledge that hot dogs are made from ostrich testicles and spare tires, but wieners still remain as big a part of American culture as Wayne Newton. Or even Paul Revere. The reason for this, quite simply, is that hot dogs are downright delicious.

I have a long history with hot dogs. When I was a young boy, I used to eat them raw, right out of the package, until my mom would catch me and scream things like, “Get that raw processed meat product out of your mouth this second,” which was a rather ironic scolding considering she used to send me to school with “Lunchables.” Anyway, I don’t know why I ate them that way. I thought they tasted like bologna, except slimier. And I suppose that my metabolism at such a young age was able to process and digest raw chunks of ostrich testicles much better than it does today, because currently, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Amazingly, I still eat hot dogs these days, but only if they’re cooked. In fact, every time I go to a baseball game, especially at Yankee Stadium, I have to have one. Of course, the second I bite into one, I feel a surge of something nasty trying to escape my intestinal track, at which point I clench my ass cheeks together tightly until I am able to reach the men’s room. Then I wait behind seven guys wearing Paul O’Neill jerseys, as I sway back and forth like Dustin Hoffman in “Rain Main,” until I obtain access to a graffiti-filled stall, which I soon discover was previously occupied by someone who was also unable to resist the calling of the hot dog. By the time I have flushed my predecessor’s waste, and have laid down some protective tp on the seat, I unleash what I like to call “hell,” all the while knowing that if I had been just one second later in reaching my destination, I would have been shamefully escorted out of the stadium by two security guards wearing atomic ponchos, with clothespins over their noses. And there’s nothing uncomfortable — nothing at all I tell you — about releasing hot dog-inspired diarrhea inside of a 6' by 4' stall with a faulty hinge, while 75 drunken Yankees’ fans are outside waiting their turn, and a father is potty training his young son in the stall right next to you. But the worst part is, whenever this happens, I always end up missing an integral part of the game, like for example, innings two through six.

At my old job as a project manager for a construction company, I was on a tight budget, and spent many a lunch hour at the 7 Eleven “buffet,” which consisted of two wrinkled dogs, a bag o’ chips, and a drink for just $1.99. (My favorite part was constructing my dogs at the 7 Eleven “fixins bar,” which had a keg-style tube of cheese with a pump — for easy cheese removal — and several compartments for lettuce, tomatoes, chili, used napkins, and other diseases.) Anyway, one day after chomping down this exquisite meal, I felt the urge to relieve myself rather immediately. When I got back to the site, I ran into one of the houses being built that was on the verge of completion, and did so in the upstairs bathroom. Unfortunately, I was in such a rush that I failed to notice that there was no water in the toilet, because the plumbing work had not yet been completed. This was a rather embarrassing dilemma, especially considering that I was, technically, “in charge” of this particular site. So I did the only thing I could — I blamed it on one of the laborers who didn’t speak English. Problem solved.

Yes, frankfurters have gotten me in a bunch of shit over the years, I guess you could say. Nevertheless, I have never been able to stray from my one-sided relationship with hot dogs. They’re just so gosh darn delicious. In fact, I was at a wedding reception recently, and when they started passing around those “wieners-in-a-blanket” at cocktail hour, I was ALL over it. Luckily for me, the music was loud enough to reach the basement restroom. I hear the bride looked nice.