Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Willie Randolph: King of NY

His team is a half game out of the Wild Card chase, and is holding steady in what has proven to be the best division in baseball. After blatantly throwing in the towel on Art Howe during the second half of last season, Willie Randolph’s 2005 Mets are not going down without a fight. In fact, they went to Arizona last week and swept the Diamondbacks. All things considered, it’s been an up and down season for Willie, but he’s been kind enough to sit down with me to discuss the questions that are on everyone’s mind, like “Do you think Brad and Angelina are for real, or what?” Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to ask him that one. Nevertheless, what follows is my exclusive, candid, and soon-to-be Pulitzer Prize-winning interview with the Mets’ manager. Also, this is completely fake, but other than that, it’s totally true.

Me: Hey Willie! First let me say – I’ve always been a big fan of yours. When I was in grade school, I had a folder that was actually a huge version of your 1988 Topps baseball card. I mean – it was just like a baseball card, except that it opened up, and I kept my spelling homework in it. Every time I opened my book bag, I saw your face, and it made me happy. I wonder what I did with that thing.

Willie Randolph: Ummm, wow. That’s great. I didn’t even know they made those things. Ha ha!

Me: Yeah…they did. Willie, let me start by asking the obvious question: What time is it? I left my watch at the house, and I have to get home in time for the Yankee game. No offense.

Willie: What? It’s 11 o’clock in the morning. There are no games for another eight hours.

Me: Okay, cool. Anyway, what has been the biggest transition for you going from the Yankees to the Mets, except for all of the championships, good players, class, tradition…ya’ know – things like that?

Willie: Well, the biggest transition has been the fact that this is MY team. I learned so much under Joe Torre for all those years, and I had a good playing career in the Bronx, but to have this opportunity to actually manage a baseball team has just been great. As far as the city of New York is concerned, people are pretty much the same in Queens as they are in the Bronx – loyal, knowledgeable, brash…just the way I like it. I’m having a great time with the Mets.

Me: I remember your first press conference when the Mets introduced you as their new manager, and Joe Torre was in the audience and he wouldn’t stop bothering you about the sub you had sitting on the podium. That was a little weird, don’t’ you think?

Willie: Are you serious? That was a commercial that Joe and I did for Subway.

Me: Oh. Ummm, I knew that. Actually, is that a Subway sub in front of you right now? Wow – that looks delicious. Is there a lot of meat on it?

Willie: Yeah, there’s a lot of meat!

Me: Okay, geez! You don’t have to yell. I brought my own lunch. Anyway, who has been the biggest surprise of the season for your team?

Willie: That’s a tough question. I mean – David Wright is so young, and has been so good, but I think people expected that from him. And everyone knew that if Cliff Floyd could just stay healthy, he’d put up solid numbers, which he has. Geez…I’d probably have to say Pedro (Martinez). A lot of people going into the season were worried about his stamina, how he’d handle New York after being in Boston for so long, and things like that. But since he’s come over here, he’s been our ace. He’s given this team a swagger and an identity, and helped us win ballgames. He’s been more than we could have hoped for.

Me: Be honest with me here, Willie. When Pedro shoved Don Zimmer to the ground a few years ago, you wanted to punch him in the face, didn’t you? I mean, you HAD to have wanted to, right?

Willie: Listen – that whole incident was a heat-of-the-moment thing, and it’s in the past. I have no ill will or animosity towards Pedro as a result. He’s a Met now, and we’re looking towards the future.

Me: I’ll take that as a “yes.” The other big name the Mets acquired for 2005 was Carlos Beltran, who has been a disappointment. What’s HIS problem?

Willie: Carlos is an elite player in this league, and his struggles have been a result of several things. For starters, there’s always a rough period involved when someone comes to play in New York, and I don’t care whether that’s with the Yankees, Mets or whoever. Also, Carlos started off the season slightly injured, which didn’t help matters. And when he collided with Mike Cameron a few weeks ago…I mean, that was just plain scary. I have all the confidence in the world that Carlos will exceed expectations. He’s already starting to show signs.

Me: Speaking of showing signs, remember that time when you and Joe Torre went out to lunch, and he was giving you signs, and you came back with his sub, but it wasn’t toasted? Did you miss a sign there, cause he was pretty upset!

Willie: That was also a commercial that Joe and I did for Subway. You don’t get out much, do you?

Me: Not really, but I’LL ask the questions here, okay? Have you ever had the opportunity to meet Jared while doing all of these Subway commercials? I heard he’s much taller in person.

Willie: No. Listen – can we get back to baseball here?

Me: Yeah, sure. Uhhh, where the heck are my notes? Okay…here they are. Your bullpen stinks. Talk about that.

Willie: Well, first of all, I wouldn’t say they stink. We’ve had our problems for sure, but a lot of teams in the league have bullpen issues. The thing is, going into the season everyone said our bullpen was going to be our Achilles heel, but they’ve done well enough to keep us in this race. Braden Looper may get himself into trouble sometimes, but more often than not, he gets out of it to close out games. Roberto Hernandez has been a pleasant surprise, and even I have to admit – I’ve probably overused him at various points during the year. And Aaron Heilman has made a smooth transition from starter to bullpen, which has helped us out immensely.

Me: While we’re on the subject of pitching, let me ask you – Pitching coach Rick Peterson is the only coach remaining from the ill-fated “Art Howe Experiment.” How come nobody has addressed his curly, afro-like mullet? I mean, that hairdo went out of style in like, 1973.

Willie: Geez. Why did you have to go there? I can’t speak for everyone, but I try not to pay attention to the hairstyles of other men. I have other things to worry about, like scoring runs. And Rick is one of the best pitching coaches in all of baseball. He could have a rooster under his hat for all I care, as long as he keeps doing what’s he doing.

Me: Fair enough. Listen Willie, I’d really like to thank you for sitting down with me today. Like I said, I’ve been a big fan of yours since I was a kid, and the fact that YOU are the manager of the New York Mets has forced me to hate them just a little less. Kind of. Anyway, I wish you the best of luck. In fact, I hope you guys make the playoffs. But not if the Yankees don’t, because that will be embarrassing.

Willie: Uhhh, thanks…I think.

Me: Hey Willie, before you go, can I just ask one last question?

Willie: Sure Mike, what is it?

Me: Are you going to finish that?

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Pop Culture 101: MTV’s VMAs

Every year I get suckered into watching the VMAs, mainly because MTV has become a pop culture phenomenon and I feel that if I miss at least some of the annual awards show, I will regress culturally, and will begin saying things that are so five minutes ago, like “Who let the dogs out?”

Nevertheless, every year, I am left utterly disappointed, and begin wondering who, exactly, is responsible for defining pop culture over at MTV these days, because, to be honest, it sucks.

This year Diddy hosted, and the motto was “anything can happen.” Unfortunately, “anything” didn’t include a decent performance or joke. The intro to the show pretty much defined Diddy in general. All buildup, no climax. Watching it, I was like, “Oh shit – something crazy’s going down! Things are blowing up! Trapeze artists are hanging from the ceiling! I can’t wait to see where Diddy goes with this! Oh boy – here we go!...” Yeah...we never went. And another thing about Diddy - he pulls this same crap when it’s time for him to dance, and he did it AGAIN on Sunday. It’s like, “Oh no…You guys don’t WANT me to break it down…Hey – Omarion is coming out!…I feel a battle coming on!” And then he does some really awkward head gestures, and that’s it. Over. Finished. I mean, can he dance? Even I would be able to break out the running man or something in a similar battle situation with Omarion. What the heck is going on here? I’m confused.

Here were the wild, crazy, and “unexpected” twists and turns that occurred under the pretense of “anything can happen.” A) Diddy gave his watch away. (Holy crap – Diddy, you generous bastard! I can’t believe you DID that. Where the heck are you gonna find another watch?) And B) MC Hammer performed. I don’t know what’s worse – that the biggest surprise of the night involved MC Hammer, or that it was hands-down the best performance of the entire show. Also, before the show started, Ludacris informed the television audience that there would be a big surprise. He couldn’t say what it was, but he guaranteed us we’d all know it when we saw it. And ya’ know what, Luda – I’m still waiting. Did I miss it? Was I in the bathroom? It couldn’t have been MC Hammer, right?

The performances were so gawd-awful that even my favorite band, Coldplay, wasn’t immune to the horror show. Chris Martin sounded like he just polished off a pack of Newport Lights before he went on, and I couldn’t figure out why he was walking around aimlessly instead of sitting at the piano like usual. I mean, I know he likes to walk around aimlessly in all of his videos, but it doesn’t necessarily translate to a good live performance. Before the show, Fallout Boy gave what might have been THE single worst televised performance in the history of mankind. I say that without exaggeration, as anyone who saw it knows. And Kelly Clarkson?…whoa. What happened, Kelly? You won American Idol because you have a great voice, yet you decided that screaming incoherently at the top of your lungs while having water poured on you is really what the crowd wanted? There is no way that you didn’t do irreparable damage to your vocal chords after that. And I know my ears will never recover. I mean, does anyone SING anymore? I suppose Mariah Carey sounded okay, even though her “performance” consisted of her not moving whatsoever, mainly because she is not in the business of burning calories these days. Also, when Shakira came out to perform, my wife said, “Here comes the porn,” which was funnier than anything Dane Cook had to say during his lackluster stand-up routine. Well, at least R. Kelly was able to stand on stage and lip synch through the utterly unforgivable “Trapped in the Closet” for three hours. When is someone going to tell him that the entire free world considers that whole song a complete joke, and a general travesty within the realm of R&B? Really though - this is starting to bother me. Or am I the one whose out of the loop here?

Even the actual awards were horrible. “The Gorillaz” won “Breakthrough Video” for their animated “Feel Good Inc.,” which is pretty much the same exact video as their “Clint Eastwood” one from a few years back. How can a video be considered a “breakthrough” when the SAME band put out a similar video years back? How can a video be considered a breakthrough on a larger scale, when it’s not even a breakthrough for the band that made it? Is it because it’s animated? Wow…cartoons. Simply groundbreaking. Maybe we could give “A Charlie Brown Christmas” the award for “Breakthrough Holiday Movie.” And how the heck did 50 Cent’s “Candy Shop” get nominated for multiple awards?? It’s just him in a house full of scantily clad women! It’s like every other hip-hop video ever made, except there’s a house! I don’t get it.

By the way, was MTV “V-jay” John Norris REALLY wearing a purple t-shirt with no back? I don’t know who saw the pre-show, but there was one part where John Norris, while wearing a purple t-shirt with no back, was trying to convince Ricky Martin to come off the dock of his boat so he could “interview” him. I don’t even know what to say about that. Actually, I do. But I won’t. And another thing. Where do I register for “The Kurt Loder School of How to Conduct an Interview,” where I can learn to stutter, create awkward silence, interrupt my guests, appear generally confused, and ask questions like, “So…it says here you guys are The Killers?” Really, where? Ya’ know, if I’m ever 51 years old, and I find myself apologizing to Jay-Z because I called “Young Jeezy” just “Jeezy,” you can shoot me. Kurt, I think it’s time to hang it up. You’ve had a stellar career, and it’s time to collect your 401k. And if they ever create an award for “Best MTV V-Jay With the Personality of Drywall Who Stayed at the Network 20 Years Too Long,” you will win. Hands down.

And that is my synopsis of the 2005 VMAs. In short, hated it. But, at least I got my annual lesson in pop culture. Here it is. In: Big sunglasses. Out: Substance.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Senior citizen parking only

I know I am getting old because I am making angry phone calls regarding things I would not normally care about, like people parking in my spot.

We are allowed two parking spots per unit in our development, one of which is actually labeled with the unit number. Next to that one is an unlabeled spot, and this process repeats throughout the parking lot like a finely tuned system. If you don’t understand, here is a diagram: (pretend this is the parking lot) 341, unlabeled, 342, unlabeled, 343, unlabeled, 344, unlabeled, mailbox. You cannot park in the mailbox.

Now, most of the normal citizens in our development use their labeled spot, and the empty spot NEXT to that one for their allotted two spaces. It’s kind of like the labeled spot is the husband, and the unlabeled spot is the wife. Or vice versa. All friends and family must park in visitor parking, which can also be described as “not my spot.” But the people who live below us continue to park in MY unlabeled spot (in our house, the labeled spot is the wife).

Just the other day, this girl (for identities sake, let’s call her “some bitch”) was parked in my spot. How did I know it was the friend of my neighbor, you ask? Well, I’m glad you asked. My neighbor’s car has a sticker promoting a website on the back windshield – pinkmafia.com, or something like that (I actually know the real site, but am hesitant to print it out of fear that she will Google her way onto my blog, and then slash my tires). I know this because I often stare very hard at her car when SHE is parked in my spot, as if I am going to kill it. I have visited this website, and have discovered that it is a collection of female t-shirts with various sayings such as “I banged the drummer,” and “The guitarist knocked me up.” Yes, it is a site that caters to rock groupies who are looking for t-shirts to adequately describe their sex lives. And no, I’m not kidding. Also, I have determined that the headquarters for the Pink Mafia Enterprises is actually IN my parking spot, because her car is always there.

Anyway, like I was saying, this time it was a different car in my spot, but it had the same website on the back. I had to park in visitor parking, a stranger in my own development. Now, I have actually approached the office of our development about this situation. I specified that I did not want to make a big deal of it – I only asked for them to be kicked out of their house and left to rot on the street for the vultures. They responded, via letter, three months later saying that I should go to the Condo Association meeting on Friday night to voice my concerns. Now, let me tell you something. I feel like an old fart as it is for taking time out of my day to complain that somebody is parked in my spot. I’m 27 years old. If I ever found myself at a Development Board meeting on a Friday night, drinking fruit punch from a plastic cup while sitting in a folding chair, just so I could mention, in a public setting, the vast inconvenience of having to walk an extra five feet to my front door because someone else is inconsiderate, you can shoot me. Seriously – feel free.

All of this got me thinking – what am I doing? What kind of person have I turned into that I am filing official complaints about where other people park their car? Don’t I have more important things to worry about, like what time happy hour starts? When I was in college somebody could throw up on my pants and I would laugh it off – now I’m worried about THIS? I mean, just yesterday I called the development front office AGAIN to complain that our lawn hadn’t been cut for an extensive period of time. Now, granted, the grass was so high that I was hearing voices saying, “If you build it, he will come,” but who the heck cares?! I have physically been out on that lawn a total of two (2) times in the two years I have lived there, and the fact that it hasn’t been cut in a while shouldn’t really concern me, especially considering that it has been 115 degrees around here lately, and going out on the lawn would be like venturing into the rainforest.

I know sometimes it takes complaints and complainers to get things done, but I need to get my priorities straight. The last thing I want to do is turn into an old fart just because I pay a mortgage. Look at my friend Pete – just recently he admitted to me that when he is working on the front lawn, and cars drive down his street too fast, he stops working so he can go out into the street to angrily shake his fist. Man - back in the day that was US driving too fast, and we had five kilos in the trunk. Times have changed. I’m not sure but I think he started giving out pennies for Halloween too.

So I am not going to concern myself with meaningless problems anymore. No more angry phone calls. If I pull into our lot, and my spot is occupied by a car pimping some pink mafia crap on the back windshield, I’ll laugh it off. I mean – if I ever get the opportunity to confront this person, I’ll calmly say, “Excuse me miss? Yeah, listen…I hate to be a bother, but when you’re done banging the drummer, would you mind moving you vehicle into the visitor parking lot, so I can get into my house in time to pay the mortgage that earns me the right to park in the spot that you’re in? That would be great, thanks.”

And chances are, we’ll get to know each other, and I’ll walk away saying, “You know what – that is some bitch.”

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

A tale of two cities, and their ballparks

Wrigley Field and Yankee Stadium are similar in that they are both old, legendary venues where baseball is often played.

And that’s about it.

I traveled to Chicago with my wife a couple of weeks ago to catch my first Cubs’ game. I had always wanted to go to Wrigley Field because the park has so many qualities that are unique, not the least of which is the ever-present stench of disappointment. And my wife was happy because she was able to see the landmark that is the famed red “Wrigley Field” sign on the front of the stadium, not due to her innate sense of baseball history, but because it reminded her of “Perfect Strangers.”

Ironically, it’s how perfect strangers are treated that sets Wrigley Field apart from the place I am accustomed to watching a professional baseball game, Yankee Stadium.

Wrigley is known as “The Friendly Confines,” and everyone who works there tries hard to maintain the legitimacy of that moniker. The people at the concession stands actually call you over and encourage you to purchase things like beer, which was a coincidence because I was in the market to purchase some beer anyway. (By the way, a full cup of beer is $5.50 there. $5.50. That may sound like a lot to the average person, who realizes that one can buy six beers at a liquor store for the same price, but it’s a full two dollars less than what one costs at the Stadium.) The workers ask you where you’re from, smile, and demand that you enjoy the game. Yankee Stadium also has concession stand workers, but they don’t call you over. In fact, even when it is your turn after waiting in line for 20 minutes, and you are standing in front of a register, they still may not come over because they are discussing what they did last night by the popcorn machine, at which point they will get mad and roll their eyes when they notice that someone is waiting for service, because you had to yell, “Hey! – Can I get a hot dog over here?” Then they will mumble something about how you owe them $80.

Yankee Stadium also has ushers, whose job it is to look at your ticket, and then point you in a general direction, like up. And those are the good ones. Some of them are 103 years old, and when they’re not yelling at you for being in an area of the stadium that you’re not entitled to be in, they are just standing there, staring blankly into outer space, waiting to get hit by a foul ball. In fact, to be an usher at Yankee Stadium, it is required that you have a) a grammar school degree, b) a metro card, and c) pants.

There are ushers at Wrigley Field as well, but they have many more responsibilities. For starters, they are all extremely friendly, and refuse to allow you to perform the laborious duty of finding your seat on your own. They will walk you there, all the while engaging in pleasant conversation. They are each in charge of specific sections, like a waiter who is responsible for certain tables at a restaurant. Our usher’s name was Betsi, and after she accompanied us to our destination, she cooled off our seats, which were roasting in the hot sun (Wrigley Field is famous for hosting day games), with a wet sponge. She then did us the favor of taking several pictures of us, and seemed surprised that neither of us were used to such treatment at a baseball game.

Overall, this is the inherent difference between the two ballparks with regards to how its patrons are treated: Yankee Stadium gives off the aura that YOU should feel privileged to be there, while at Wrigley Field, you’re always acutely aware of how happy THEY are to have you.

Now, that said, there are other differences between these two venues that give Yankee Stadium a distinct advantage. For one thing, Wrigley Field does not have urinals in the men’s bathrooms. Instead they have troughs, where, on a busy day, you can do your business while rubbing shoulders with, who else – perfect strangers. Now that I’ve used both, I’m pretty sure I prefer the privacy of a Yankee Stadium urinal, even if it is filled with half a pretzel and an empty cigarette box.

More importantly, much has been made of the “aura” of Yankee Stadium, and I’m telling you – it’s the real thing. Even during a Tuesday night game against the Royals in early May, you KNOW you’re in a special place. You can feel it. I didn’t really feel it at Wrigley Field. The fans generally seemed almost indifferent to what was going on (Though keep in mind I wasn’t sitting in the notorious outfield bleachers.) Everyone seemed preoccupied, which was especially odd considering Cubs’ ace Mark Prior was on the mound for seven innings. There was no buzz – no spontaneous chants ever started, and no belligerent fans began yelling obscenities, which is always fun. Even when the Cubs won in the bottom of the ninth inning on a pinch-hit single by Aramis Ramirez, the place didn’t erupt as it would have in the Bronx. Now, this could be a result of years and years of broken hearts from Cubs’ failures, or it could simply be the fact that I personally wasn’t as involved because I wasn’t watching my favorite team. What can I say – I know I’m biased.

Wrigley Field was an amazing experience, and it certainly satisfied my lifelong desire to go there. It is a gorgeous and pristine place to watch a baseball game, just oozing with history. It is distinct amidst the surplus of cookie-cutter stadiums crowding the market these days, and the people who work there specialize in hospitality.

But it’s not quite Yankee Stadium. Sure, the place is old and concrete, and set amidst the backdrop of the less-than-spectacular South Bronx. And yeah – there’s an excellent chance of being told off if you request that somebody cool down your seat with a wet sponge. But that’s kind of the appeal. I mean – it’s home.

And now that I think about it, maybe that’s the only difference that matters.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The good, bad, and ugly of sports TV

I’m convinced that there’s actually more people out there TELLING us about sports than there are people actually playing sports. I mean, if you think about it, at least half of all retired professional athletes enter some kind of media field (the other half go to jail, or own an Arena Football team), and if you add that to the “journalists” and other “media folk” who went “to school” to get a job, then that’s a lot of people. And in case you’re wondering, I don’t count myself among these media moguls, because I don’t get paid for this, and nobody knows who I am, and I’m also not on TV, because apparently, I’m not “TV material,” or, as one person put it, “smart.” Whatever. Anyway, with such a surplus of sports media personalities, there’s bound to be some good ones, and some bad ones, and some really bad ones. So, because I have nothing better to do, I’m going to tell YOU who’s good and who’s not at telling US about sports. But because there are so many, I’m limiting myself to ESPN, the Worldwide Leader in Talking Heads.

The Good

Peter Gammons. Probably THE best baseball media personality today. Gammons does it all - he writes, reports, investigates, and is a regular on ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight.” Nobody uncovers more inside information than Gammons, and to boot, he comes across as a really down to earth guy, who would talk baseball at a bar with someone like me the same way he would with a real, “smart,” media celebrity, like Connie Chung, or someone who likes baseball. The one knock on Gammons is his bias in coverage towards the Red Sox (he used to report for them) and because of that, the Yankees. But hey, I have no problem with that. A lot of things that happen in baseball revolve around the Red Sox and Yankees, and nobody reports it all better than Gammons, which is why he was just recently inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Ron Jaworski. Does anybody so obviously love what they do as much as Jaws? You can’t wipe the smile off this guy’s face, which says a lot, considering he played in Philadelphia for all of those years, where egos go to die. Nobody – and I mean NOBODY – can break a football game down like Jaworski. He can tell you where the waterboy was standing during the crucial third-and-long of the Colts-Chiefs game, and how it affected the outcome. If anything, he likes his job a little TOO much.

Greg Anthony. Calm, cool, and collected, Anthony is by far ESPN’s most engaging and knowledgeable NBA analyst. He’s so good that it’s easy to forget the bad boy reputation he had as a player.

Suzy Kolber. The only woman on earth who can talk about football without wearing a bikini, and have guys listen. And of course, she handled Joe Namath’s public advances on her with grace and professionalism, which is more than I can say for myself, because I had to slap him.

The Bad

Stuart Scott. Few people conduct a more awkward interview than Scott, who tries waaaaay too hard to connect to the youth and sacrifices his credibility in the process. Asking John Madden whether or not Priest Holmes is going to be “off the hizzle tonight” doesn’t necessarily earn him the respect of his viewers. When he hosts a studio show, things always get out of control. There’s yelling, laughing, and everyone is talking at the same time because Scott gets wrapped up in it all, instead of diffusing it like a good host should.

Larry Bowa. I don’t know how Bowa got a job on “Baseball Tonight,” but I’ve noticed that ESPN only features him on the show like twice a month, and that’s probably because he’s so awful. It seems as though he’s trying to escape his managerial reputation as intense and fiery by being as laid back as possible. I think they have to poke him with a stick when they go on the air. “Hey Larry – wake up! We’re rolling! No, over here…the camera is over here!”

John Clayton: Not because he’s a bad journalist or anything, just because he looks exactly like Mr. Mackey from “South Park.” I’m always waiting for something along the lines of, “And that’s why head coach Marvin Lewis may move him to cornerback…Mmmkaay.” One of these days, his head is just going to float off into the atmosphere somewhere. Plus, he’s always sitting in front of some fake background that’s supposed to represent the city that he’s reporting from, when he’s probably just sitting in his mother’s basement without any pants on.

The Ugly

Stephen A. Smith. About three weekends ago, I woke up on a Saturday morning, turned on the television (which was already on ESPN) and dropped the remote on the couch. The second the TV actually came on, I had to lunge onto the couch, grab the remote, and quickly turn down the volume. If I hadn’t, everyone within three square miles of our house would have had their windows crashed in from the sound. The reason? Stephen A. Smith was on the tube, SCREAMING, as is his custom, at the top of his lungs. Apparently, this guy is under the impression that the only way he can get his point across is by yelling as loudly as possible, while looking very angry. That’s how we are supposed to know how serious he is. If Ron Jaworski beams joyously on TV, then Smith is his polar opposite, appearing as if he really wants to hurt the person who dares to disagree with what he is screaming about. Really though – sometimes I think he’s mad at ME. When I’m watching ESPN, I usually prefer to just sit in front of the TV and eat my Apple Jacks in peace, but when Stephen A. Smith is on, I have to wear my earplugs, and I eventually end up hiding under the sofa. That’s NOT the kind of sports analysis I’m necessarily looking for.

Woody Paige. Paige is all that is wrong with sports journalism today. He can be found on “Around the Horn” and “Cold Pizza” daily, saying something completely outlandish just for the sake of saying something completely outlandish. Before the NFC Championship Game this past season, Paige’s “analysis” consisted of him telling the world to expect Falcons’ southpaw quarterback Michael Vick to throw the ball RIGHT HANDED to confuse the Eagles’ defense. I mean, are you kidding me?! Who says something like that? He’ll say anything just to bring attention his way, and it’s gotten to the point where you’re not even sure if he’s being serious or not. If he has something on Stephen A., it’s an endearing nature. If Stephen A. has something on him, it’s credibility. But I could do without either of them.

And that’s my analysis of those who provide analysis. Obviously, I am a very bitter person who could only wish to make as much money as these people, all the while being able to mingle with the world’s greatest athletes. Sigh. Maybe I need to yell more. Or maybe I should have been nicer to Mr. Namath. He did say that he “knows people.”

Monday, August 01, 2005

Nature calls in Midwest; I reluctantly pick up

I traveled to Chicago over the weekend with my wife to visit Wrigley Field for the first time and catch a Cubs’ game, and it was one heck of a great experience. But let me tell you - what impressed me the most was not the ivy along the outfield walls, or the brick face walls that outline the stadium, or even having the good fortune to sit in the very same seat occupied by one Steve Bartman during the infamous Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS. No, it was none of those things. What impressed me the most was this: the men’s bathrooms have no urinals. Instead, there are elongated troughs that you must stand in front of with roughly 50 other guys in order to commence urination.

There are many aspects of the urination troughs that defy logic. For starters, there is obviously no side protection, meaning that there is always an excellent chance of accidentally looking the wrong way (i.e. anywhere but the ceiling) and seeing something that you’re not supposed to see, like, oh I don’t know...saaaay, 49 penises, for example.

Furthermore, the troughs present other dilemmas. Wrigley Field is not like any other ballpark, where an unoccupied urinal is an open invitation. You cannot say, “Oh - there is an open urinal. I think I will pee in it.” Instead, you have to think to yourself, “Okay, there seems to be an open space over there of approximately one and a half feet in diameter. I wonder if I can squeeze in between those two big fellas without disturbing their flow of pee-pee, and thus causing a chain reaction down the trough of unparalleled proportions.” With that said, there is a 99.9 percent chance that, when you do claim a spot at the trough o’ urine, you will be at least touching shoulders with the man next to you. It is very difficult to pee when there is physical contact with another man involved, and that is something I never thought I'd have to relate to the blog-reading mass public. Needless to say, during my first visit to the restroom at Wrigley Field it took me about 45 minutes to start going. I got “trough fright,” which is much worse than the traditional “stage fright” associated with urinals, because in this case, everyone is peeing on the stage, except you of course, and the audience is wondering why you have your penis out of your pants if you’re not going to use it. Yes - I was staring at the ceiling and trying to think watery thoughts, yet still couldn’t go. The guys on either side of me changed twenty times before I could manage to get a drop out.

Another amazing thing about the pee-pee troughs at Wrigley Field is that they are set very low to the ground, meaning that there is no protection against the ever-present danger of backsplashing pee-pee. Hey - was the urine that just splashed against my leg mine, or yours? Or maybe it was his? Ha ha! Oh well - who cares! I might as well just stand IN the trough while I pee, considering there are machine gun-style pellets of pee hitting me from all directions anyway. No wonder they were selling ponchos outside, on such a beautiful day.

I got the impression that most Chicagoans take great pride in their urination troughs. In fact, they like to snicker at the out-of-towners like myself, who, upon first entering the restroom, immediately look back at the door to make sure it says “Mens” and not “Cattle.” I think they say things to each other like, “Get a load of that Yankee o’er there, staring at the ceiling and trying to avoid shoulder-to-shoulder contact. Ha! Probably used to all dem individual pee-pee stations I hear they got back east. Damn yuppies.”

So, in conclusion, I eventually got used to the penis parade that was the men’s restroom at Wrigley Field in Chicago. In fact, by the seventh inning, I was doing synchronized peeing routines with the other guys at the trough, where we all had our arms around each other, and we swayed back and forth like the Can Can girls. It was great. Pee was everywhere. Also, the Cubs won.