Friday, July 13, 2012
Sunday, July 1, 2012
The Epic Conclusion!
Wednesday, February 1, 2012
I have to admit, I’m ethically impaired when it comes to baseball.
No, I’m not saying I chloroform people outside the stadium and grab their tickets (though now that I think of it, that sounds like a good plan). I’m not saying I shoplift memorabilia from clubhouse stores. I don’t even beat up innocent little children in the stands to steal their foul balls.
And I don’t condone steroid or other Performance Enhancing Drug use, and I don’t think that succeeding athletically entitles people to be douchebags.
But that’s all off-field stuff. On the field, as far as I’m concerned, anything goes. As long as it’s not causing deliberate bodily harm to someone else.
Case in point: last week, the Yankees played a game against the Cleveland Indians, and the biggest story of the night was a, shall we say, interesting call by the umpire. By “interesting” I mean “blown.” And by “blown” I mean “majorly screwed up.”
What happened? Late in the game, Dewayne Wise, the Yankee left fielder, sprinted into foul territory after a fly ball, and toppled into the left field stands after lunging to catch it.
The umpire immediately ruled it a catch and an out. The inning ended, and the Yankees ran off the field.
The replay shows very, very clearly that Wise never caught the ball. It smacked off the heel of his glove as he fell into the stands.
I was watching this game on TV, and I’ll admit I was cracking up at the play, the umpire’s screw-up, and the announcers trying to figure out where the ball went when it kicked into the stands, and who had it when, and how Wise could have ended up with it in his glove when he came out (it was revealed after the game that he didn’t have the ball at all; the ump just never asked to see it after he emerged from the stands).
Then the announcers’ discussion gave way to a little debate over whether instant replay in baseball should be expanded to include plays like that — right now it’s only available to reevaluate questionable home run calls. I continued to snigger.
My mother, who was working on the computer in the room, asked me what was so funny. And I explained the blown call, as yet another replay graced the screen.
“And now they’re all talking about using replay and—”
“Why doesn’t the outfielder say something?” my mother asked, in typical mommy fashion. “They don’t need replay; he can tell them if he caught the ball or not.”
I was struck speechless.
“It, um, it … doesn’t work that way,” I managed.
And I flopped back onto the pillows, watching the screen and wondering for the first time why it never entered my mind, or the minds of the professional commentators, that Wise should speak up. Why did it not occur to us to hold the athlete responsible for telling the truth in a situation like that? Why were we all so focused on the flaws in the umpiring system, to the point where the guy who was actually involved in the play, and had total access to the truth, was completely forgotten?
Well, I can give you a couple of reasons.
First, and very particular to this case, you gotta understand context and team dynamics.
Dewayne Wise is not an everyday player. Nobody is buying this guy’s jersey and wearing it with Yankee pride. He’s a bit player, a guy who fills in for others, mostly pinch-running or as a defensive replacement late in games. He hardly ever gets to hit. If I recall correctly, this was only the second time he’d started a game. Also, he’s the new guy.
What I’m trying to say is, I think it’s unfair to expect a Dewayne Wise to speak up after a call like that. He’s the new guy who’s finally managed to get some playing time and is doing better than expected, on a national stage, for the best team in the American League. There’s no way he’s going to jeopardize that by being Mr. Goody-Two-Shoes and risking his team’s chance at winning. It’s unreasonable to expect that of him.
Secondly, and much more generally speaking, umpiring is part of the game.
You tend to hear that from managers and players in post-game interviews, but mostly in a shrugging, what-can-you-do-about-it way. Nobody really talks about the flipside: umpires are another piece on the chessboard. Any player worth his salt is going to work the umpire just like you work the pitch count. Umpires are part of the game. They are there to be understood and analyzed and have their weaknesses exploited just the same as any other part of the game.
If you can slap a tag on a guy running the bases, it doesn’t matter if you don’t have the ball as long as the umpire thinks you do. If you’re a hitter and a pitch dings off the knob of your bat but it’s close enough that nobody but you can tell that it hit the bat and not your hand, it’s perfectly within your rights to gasp and wince and milk it for all it’s worth until the ump awards you first base. Or if a pitch misses you completely but you hit the ground, grabbing your head and writhing in pain to fool the umpire—I got no problem with that. If you’re a catcher, it’s practically your job to make every pitch look like a strike, whether that means moving your glove after you catch it or setting yourself up a little to the left or a little to the right, or whatever works on this umpire. A story I heard once about Jim “Catfish” Hunter was about how he could “work the corners” — home plate is 17 inches wide, and he would start the game pitching on the very edges of those 17 inches, and incrementally pitch further and further out, until by the end of the game, he was pitching to a 25-inch zone. Dude is in the Hall of Fame for a reason.
So that’s how I see it. Yeah, blown calls suck when they don’t go your way. But umpires are human, and everyone is welcome to take full advantage of that. If that makes me a midget in the realm of morality, and an ethically-challenged evil Yankee fan, so be it.
But all’s fair in love, war, and baseball.
Saturday, January 28, 2012
You choose what to think about. And you may not feel that way every day, but the truth is, that you choose what you think about. It’s one of the few things that you can choose and it is—it’s kind of the definition, I think, of being a person. It’s that you have this weird gift of consciousness and you get to choose how you direct that gift. Like, how you direct your ability to think about things. So, if you choose to think about the relative health of the romantic relationships of The Situation, you’re making that choice. MTV is not making that choice for you, The Situation is not making that choice for you, you are making that choice. If you choose to think about astrophysics, you are making that choice. Every second of your definitionally temporary consciousness, you are choosing how you spend something that will not last forever. You are choosing how you spend your life, and it will be spent. And that’s a very serious thing that you have to try to take pretty seriously, even though, of course, much of our lives—because consciousness is kind of a burden—needs to be spent turning that off, which is, you know, why God made television. But we have this responsibility to ourselves, to each other, but also to the people who came before us and the people who will come after us, to think consciously about what we’re thinking about. And that was, in some ways the beginning of The Fault in Our Stars for me, was trying to think about, what I should be thinking about. Trying to think how I should be orienting my life, what should I value, what should I prioritize. And I grew up—and so did most of you—I think, in a world that values a very specific kind of heroism. The kind where you jump on a grenade to save your buddy, or you die heroically because your family says that you can’t marry the girl you want to marry, and you’re fourteen and somehow you think that’s a deal breaker?—which is the plot of Romeo and Juliet, I ruined it for some of you, sorry; I should have prefaced that with a spoiler alert, but if you haven’t read Romeo and Juliet, that’s your fault—or in another of our great epics of heroism, The Odyssey—which I’m also about to spoil for you, but it’s a good reading experience, regardless. There’s this dude, his name’s Odysseus, he does some good warring, top-notch warring, and it takes him a long time to get home, because a bunch of stuff happens, and then he finally gets home and his wife has a bunch of suitors, and the correct response to that situation is to be like, ‘Hey! I was gone for a long time, and there’s no text messaging, you didn’t know I was okay, like of course there’s a bunch of suitors living here, that’s cool, but suitors it’s time to head on out and, you know, find someone else’s house to occupy.’ And instead, what happens is that the palace floors course with blood, and that is your happily-ever-after ending. And Augustus Waters in this novel really buys into that idea of heroism, that idea that the best lives are lived on the biggest possible stage, and that the best lives are lived with an eye toward the grand heroic gesture, whether it be sacrificial or otherwise. That, like, the good life, by definition, is the big life. Well, I’m here to tell you that even the biggest lives are temporary, including the life of Odysseus, including the life of Romeo and Juliet, because, you know, we’re temporary. And if that’s the only way that we orient our lives, if that’s the only thing that we value, we’re doing ourselves, I think, a great disservice. So, I wanted to write The Fault in Our Stars because I wanted to write a story that was about the kind of small heroism that almost all of us are going to have to choose; very few of us will have the opportunity to jump on a grenade and save many, many people. The vast majority of us will have to find tiny ways to take care of ourselves and each other in the best ways that we can figure out how to do. And that’s really what The Fault in Our Stars is about, ultimately. It’s about these two kids and their parents trying to figure out how to take good care of each other and trying to figure out how to leave the best possible world for those who will come after, and also live a life that honors those who have come before.
John Green, on The Fault in Our Stars at the Tour de Nerdfighting Event in Austin, Texas (21 January 2012)
Friday, January 27, 2012
Little sister refused to read a book I recommended, so I offered to read it to her. 372 pages and several water bottles later, I get her to repeat after me: “I was wrong, you were right, I will take your book recommendations seriously from now on.”
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Question of the day:
Ever have so many dreams in one night that you wake up more exhausted than when you went to sleep?
Monday, January 23, 2012
What a perfect Pinch Hitter post for the day of Jorge Posada’s retirement.
Sarah Meira Rosenberg’s brother has been a LoHud pinch hitter in the past, and this year she jumped into act with a wonderfully written essay about fan loyalty to individual players. Born in the Bronx, she’s currently on full scholarship in the Macaulay Honors program at Brooklyn College, majoring in creative writing. At 17 she was published the anthology Nine Novels by Younger Americans, and she’s had a short story published in the December 2011 issue of eFiction Magazine.
At the end of this post, Sarah Meira asks a question. Perhaps one of the wonderful things about following Posada’s career was that he so rarely forced his fans to answer that question.
My little sister is what any self-respecting Yankee fan would call a poser. A wannabe. She barely follows the team, knows next to nothing about the history, but she claims to be a fan, and she loves, absolutely loves, Mark Teixeira. She bought his jersey, knows how many kids he has, and at one point, pictures of him — excised from the New York Times sports section, much to the dismay of those of us who wanted to read the articles on the other sides — wallpapered a significant chunk of her ceiling.
I’m not mocking this. We all do this, to varying degrees. We’re very attached to our players. We even get possessive. I mean, they’re our players. Rooting for a team isn’t always just about the uniform; it’s about the guys in the uniform. Our guys.
This can be crucial to our investment in the game, and to our enjoyment of it. Baseball is a game of tiny, isolated, individual battles — every time a player steps to the plate, every time a ball is hit his way, every time a pitcher toes the rubber — battles which inevitably draw each player into the harsh spotlight at some point or another. So the more wrapped up you are in rooting for individual players, the greater the drama of each confrontation. The more thrilling the victory. The more crushing the defeat.
How do we get ourselves invested in our players? Mostly by osmosis. We hear things, we read things, we see things, and over time we get a feel for a guy and his overall persona. We love the Paul O’Neills and the Jorge Posadas because they’re fiery and intense. We love Mariano Rivera because he’s effortlessly humble and classy. We love Dave Robertson and Curtis Granderson because of their devotion to community service. We love Nick Swisher because he freakin’ loves us, man! And I’m sure one of the reasons my little sister latched onto Mark Teixeira is because he’s an unabashedly dedicated family man, which in its own way is just as swoony as the eligible bachelor angle Derek Jeter works so well.
Plus, Teixeira has pretty good hair.
This is not to take away from any of their on-field accomplishments. Quite the contrary; all of these things add to and complement the statistics, increasing the satisfaction and pride that we feel when our guys do well.
But in recent years, I’ve been learning that this investment in the individual cuts both ways. Just as a charming off-field anecdote can win a player your allegiance, a scandal can lose it. And there have been a lot of scandals, especially since the Steroid Era. All across baseball, to be fair, not just in Yankeeland. But truth be told, every scandal that touches a player of ours leaves a dent in my loyalty to that player, and every erosion of player loyalty leaves a dent in my loyalty to the team, in my ability to root innocently and wholeheartedly for its success and the success of everyone on it. It’s a noxious feedback loop.
Some scandals are more easily weathered than others. Again, it depends — perhaps completely unjustly — on the individual player involved. In the case of an Andy Pettitte, or even a Jason Giambi, the initial reveal of use of performance-enhancing substances is, of course, devastating. Yet often because of all the osmosis, because of all the good vibes we got from these guys, and how well-liked they are by teammates, managers, reporters, etc. — because of all that, we’re sometimes able to demote the scandal to merely A Nice Guy Who Made A Mistake. And we root for nice guys who make mistakes, because who doesn’t love a comeback kid? Every at-bat becomes a step toward redemption, a chance to atone for past misdeeds.
Then we have other players. Ones whose vibes are just … not all that great. I don’t know what it is about Alex Rodriguez, and as a fan I obviously don’t know him and have no right to judge from this distance, but pretty much everything he does aside from hitting home runs rubs me the wrong way, whether it’s his demeanor, his family issues, or his steroid use. In a weirdly personal way, I just don’t like the guy, and it’s bizarre and a bit uncomfortable to root for a guy you don’t like simply because he’s on your team. I tell myself to leave the off-field stuff off the field, but that’s just not how the fan experience works for me.
We don’t want to hate on our players. We want to love them, because they’re our gateway drug to the larger world of baseball.
But what are we supposed to do when they make it too hard?
Jealousy and Liking
I’m an incredibly jealous person.
Or at least I used to think I was. I know that I used to (and probably still do) evaluate people based on how much I envied them. I never felt like I had a handle on a new person until I’d pinpointed at least one thing he or she had that I wanted.
And there’s always something. Always. It can range from the superficial — hair color, eye color, a figure that looks great in clothes I can’t wear — to the practical — organizational skills, work habits, zippy typing — to the absolutely essential — breezy unselfconsciousness, dazzling originality, effortless humor, and various other categories of brilliance and energy and empathy.
But at some point, somewhere, somehow, I turned a corner. I can still probably look at anyone I know and tell you straightaway what they have that I don’t, but it doesn’t bother me anymore. I’ve got enough on my own. No, that’s a lie. I’ve got more than enough, WAY more. I look at myself now and I know that past-me would have looked at me and been so freaking jealous it would have driven her bonkers.
I really don’t know what happened. It probably had a lot to do with getting out of high school, surrounding myself with the right people, and letting go of my need to be liked.
Probably that last one most of all. There’s so much power in it, in the not needing to be liked.
I vividly remember the day it first started, in 11th grade when I brought my newly-published book to show my friends at their high school.
On the street corner just before I reached the building, I saw someone. A former student of my father’s, a grade above me, a girl I’d ached to impress in junior high because my father, who so rarely dispensed compliments to me about my work (though I’ve learned over time that he brags about me behind my back), could never say enough good things about her writing, so I knew it had to be something special.
All the years I’d known her, she’d ignored me when she was feeling charitable, and carelessly belittled me when she wasn’t. But I couldn’t shake the longing I felt for her approval.
And there I was, my first book in hand, published at the tender age of 17. And there she was, not noticing me in her walking mode, or not recognizing me with my shorter haircut. Right there.
I could go up to her and make her notice me.
Make her respect me.
Get her to treat me as an equal for the first time in her life.
The moment, the setup, was absolutely perfect.
And suddenly I didn’t need it anymore. Didn’t need to chase the approval of a girl who didn’t like me. Didn’t want it. She didn’t like me, and I didn’t like her. She’d never made me feel like I was anything more than garbage. I could fall over myself trying to win her over, or I could stop. Now.
I walked right past her without looking back.
So much power.
Nowadays, if I get the sense that someone doesn’t like me, I think less of them, not less of myself. And it genuinely throws me for a moment when friends of mine ask me if I think there’s something wrong with them just because so-and-so didn’t like them, and it takes a conscious effort on my part to put myself back into that mindset in order to empathize.
[Friends of mine, you are all awesome; you should never doubt yourselves for stupid reasons like that. Though I get it, I really do.]
Friday, January 20, 2012
There is this awful feeling when other people experience personal tragedy and you aren’t sure how to relate to it. You shouldn’t still make the same jokes about an unlikely marraige when the divorce goes through but you want to treat them the same as always. People talk about how they just want to…
This is one of those lines we all need to learn to walk - the balance between accepting the limits of our own empathy, while not abandoning our attempts to become more empathetic. (And sometimes people are dying to hear that joke no one dares to say anymore. Sometimes not. Do the best you can.)
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
After repeated viewings of the “That’s Why I Chose Yale” video, my 6-year-old baby brother has unsurprisingly decided he wants to go to Yale. I’m planning to get a lot of mileage out of this - “You won’t get into Yale if you don’t do your homework!” “You won’t get into Yale if you don’t eat your vegetables!” “You won’t get into Yale if you don’t wash my socks and scrub between my toes!” You know, the usual.
Page 41 of John Green’s “The Fault in Our Stars” contains the word “awesomesauce.” Which means I am irrevocably in love with this book.