Of Wisdom and Experience

Sometimes I think I read too many blogs. Before I came to visit friends and relatives here in Sweden, I was a bit afraid that Europe was awash in anti-Americanism. All these blogs told me so! But here’s an interesting statistic:

American sportswear observed by a certain American tourist in Sweden:

North Carolina Tar Heels pants: 1
Boston Red Sox caps: 1
Minnesota Twins caps: 1
New York Yankees caps: 8,124,205

OK, maybe I exaggerated that last number a little. But only a little. Here in Sweden’s third-largest city, Malm

Sleeping Through Greenland

Yesterday, I arose in sunny California. Last night, I fell asleep somewhere over Hudson Bay. Today, I woke up near the west coast of Iceland. Tonight, I’m blogging from a centuries-old building in damp Scandinavia. These are the days of miracle and wonder. This is a long distance blog.

While sleeping through Greenland, a title comes to me, and hardly are those words out than a blog entry is loosed upon the world, a rough beast, body of a lion, head of a man, jetlagged into waking nightmares by a land where the pitiless sun stays aloft after 10pm and darkness will not drop. Surely some long stony sleep is at hand! Mere anarchy rocks my insomniac mind; the writer and the written turning, widening, falling apart. This entry cannot hold.

Rashomon: Spit Take

For Father’s Day, my seven-year-old daughter Linnea wrote me a joke:

Q: Why did a hot dog go to the bullpen?
A: To get warmed up!

Now there’s a girl who knows what her dad likes. I’ll take a baseball joke over a necktie every time.

Father’s Day dinner was a gathering of thirteen people at my wife’s parents’ house. The Yankee-Dodger game served as background music, but the primary entertainment was my wife’s nine-month-old niece, Julia. Julia lives in San Diego with her parents, and Sunday she made her first Bay Area appearance since Christmas. Back then, she couldn’t do much, but now she could crawl, stand, smile, and grab things and put them into her mouth.

MLB has had a century to refine its product to compete with the NBA, NFL, NASCAR, and other sports for entertainment value. But evolution has had eons to refine babies and our brains’ response to them. Nothing can compete with babies.

Julia and I played catch with a small squishy baseball for quite a while. Her scouting report reads, “DELIVERY RESEMBLES GAYLORD PERRY.” I’d hand her the ball, she’d hand it back, and somehow, the ball returned each time covered with more and more saliva.

Dinner was served. Julia took a break from playing to drink a bottle of milk, and the baseball game got some attention. The room was filled with A’s and Giants fans. Everyone in the room hated both the Yankees and Dodgers, but it’s hard to watch a game without taking sides. In general, the A’s fans rooted for the Dodgers, while the Giants fans rooted for the Yankees.

Linnea tried out her joke on the dinner crowd, and an aunt gave her a new punchline:

Q: Why did a hot dog go to the bullpen?
A: Because it couldn’t do any worse than Rhodes and Mecir.

Sad, but oh so true. When Guillermo Mota came into the game, and ESPN put up his stats, I took a cue from baby Julia and started drooling. I daydreamed about the rumored A’s-Royals-Dodgers trade that would send Carlos Beltran to L.A. and Mota to Oakland. I’m crying for a closer the way a hungry infant desperately screams for milk. Trade rumors are my pacifier.

During the seventh inning stretch, Linnea went to the piano and entertained her aunts, uncles, parents and grandparents by playing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”.

It struck me that here lies baseball’s competitive advantage. Vin Scully tells us on TV about the Dodgers beating the Yankees in ’55, in ’63, and in ’81. Gagne strikes out ARod last night on the way to his 81st consecutive save, and our generation has its own memorable moment we can pass on. This interaction between young and old is so hardwired into us, even a nine-month-old can understand it. We hand these traditions and memories to the next generation, and in doing so, they give us something back, a connection to something beyond ourselves.

They may not remember perfectly what we did this night or how we felt about it as it happened; they may not play the song the way the composer intended; but it’s the interactions, not the facts, that matter. This is the game we’re designed to play. And if the ball is all covered in slobber, so what?

The Birgitta Shining Light

This will likely be my last post for awhile, as next week I am heading off to the Land of the Midnight Sun and 179,983 women named Birgitta. I want to tie up as many loose ends as possible before I go. So oddly, I’ll probably have more time to blog while I’m gone than before I leave.

I’m not sure what I would blog about from Sweden, though. This is my biennial trip to visit my kinfolk. I’m the stray cat of my family: save a few second cousins, all of my relatives live in Sweden. Blog entries about relatives probably wouldn’t be much fun to read.

One thing that might be of interest while I’m there is the playoffs of the Euro 2004 soccer tournament. I can’t get any of these games with my current cable package here in the US, so it’ll be nice to be able to watch some of these games on TV instead of having to resort to cartoons on the web. Sweden got off to a great start, beating Bulgaria 5-0. Sweden still has to play Italy and Denmark, but if they can manage at least a tie with one of them, they should advance from their group.

I’ll watch the baseball boxscores while I’m there, but that’s all. I can get so intense about baseball during the season, worried about winning, agonizing about losing, that I sometimes end up not enjoying myself nearly as much as I should. A three-week detox session every other summer is quite welcome.

So, that’s it for me for awhile. Unless you want to hear a “my mom made Swedish meatballs and potatoes for dinner” report every day, I’m not sure I’ll have much to say until after the All-Star Break. Until then, be good.

Filling out my All-Star Ballot

AL

Though many first baseman show promise,
the best year belongs to Frank Thomas.

Belliard’s had a good year,
but I’ll choose Soriano’s career.

Carlos Guillen sure has swung,
but I somehow prefer Michael Young.

Voting for ARod’s a bore; a
merrier pick’s Melvin Mora.

Posada and Victor, I judge,
are not quite as worthy as Pudge.

While Ford, Dye, and Beltran ain’t bad,
they’re not Manny, Sheffield or Vlad.

 
NL

Even those who don’t follow fanatically
know Pujols will go automatically.

I think I am fairly content
in casting my vote for Jeff Kent.

Shortstop this year really sucks.
Jack Wilson’s played well for the Bucs.

Rolen must get my support.
Can’t I move Lowell to short?

Piazza’s still back of the plate
Estrada will just have to wait.

Berkman and Bonds and Abreu,
with my votes I hereby OK you.

Sound and Integrity

All a man’s got is the integrity of his work.
Ralph Wiley

Any rational person could probably come up with a dozen objections to that statement, a quality that probably holds for a lot of Wiley’s writing.

Ralph Wiley passed away of heart failure yesterday at the age of 52. Wiley may not have worshipped at the altar of Objective Truth (he called objectivity “a sham”), but he did write with integrity: he was true to himself. I admired that.

Conan O’Brien said it took him 10 years just to learn how to be himself. Elmore Leonard said it took him 10 years, or about a million words, to “find his sound“. You could probably point to Ralph Wiley as an extreme example of this phenomenon. I’ve followed Wiley his whole career, as I read his columns in the Oakland Tribune as a kid, followed his later work in Sports Illustrated, and then on ESPN.com. At the Trib, Wiley wrote in a fairly straightforward, conventional style. But in the end, Ralph Wiley found his sound, and it was unique.

I can only hope, when my day comes, I will have been so fortunate.

Blocked

I write about writer’s block one day, and the next day, two stories appear about that very thing.

The New Yorker has a new article that details the history of writer’s block. It’s quite interesting, but I didn’t really need to hear that some writers never get over it.

UIWeb.com has some handy advice about how to get past the burnout. I’ll keep it in mind, but I usually find the best solution for me is not to try harder, but to wait. You never know where that inspirational spark will come from.

Wednesday night, I did my waiting at the Coliseum. I went to see the matchup between Oakland and Cincinnati. Somehow I was misinformed about the event, as I thought I was going to see the A’s and the Reds, but a football game broke out instead. The Raiders defeated the Bengals, 17-8.

Rob Neyer thinks the Oakland victory might be momentous, because it puts the A’s alone into first place. Neyer suggests it may be for good. I wish he hadn’t said that; it’s classic jinx material.

When I watched the Reds shrink the A’s 11-0 lead down to 11-8, another momentous day came to mind. In 2002, the A’s blew an 11-0 lead against the Royals in the final game of their 20-game streak, only to win the game 12-11 on a ninth-inning Scott Hatteberg home run. But this time, the A’s thwarted the comeback, and added six more runs in the seventh to avert the need for such late heroics.

Honestly, I don’t know what’s gotten into the A’s lately. 8, 13, 10, and 17 runs in their last four games? The A’s don’t win like that; their M.O. is to win 4-2 and 2-1. Really, it must be some other team I’ve been watching. I don’t really recognize them when they hit like this.

The most memorable thing about the game, though, was not that the A’s scored 17 runs, or that they took sole possession of first place. It was a battle between Rich Harden and Ken Griffey, Jr. in the sixth inning. Griffey came to Oakland with 498 career home runs. The A’s had pitched him carefully all series, and in the sixth inning, Griffey was still stuck on 498. But with the A’s ahead, 11-0, it was time for Harden to challenge Griffey.

It was a classic power-on-power battle. Harden’s best stuff against Griffey’s.

First pitch: fastball, 97 mph on the stadium gun, Griffey swung and missed. Next pitch, fastball, 98 mph, Griffey fouled it off.

Then on 0-2, Harden threw another fastball, this time at 100 mph. And Griffey fouled that one off, too! When the “100 MPH” flashed up on the scoreboard, the crowd really started buzzing.

Griffey fouled off two more pitches, a fastball at 98 and an offspeed pitch, then took a 98mph fastball off the plate inside for a ball. Then another fastball (97), and Griffey fouled it off again! Griffey fouled off five of Harden’s nastiest pitches to keep the at-bat alive. Amazing.

Harden threw a slider in the dirt for ball two. Finally, on 2-2, Harden unleashed a 98 mph fastball that got Griffey to hit a high, high popup to center field for an out.

Harden won the battle, but he emptied his tank in the process. The following five batters all reached base. Five runs scored, and Harden was done for the night.

Griffey didn’t homer, so the at-bat will likely go down in history as just a minor obstacle blocking his path to 500 homers. But to me, it was a special moment: a truly great battle I feel privileged to have witnessed.

Who’d have thought you could see a memorable popup in an 11-0 game in the middle of June? If that doesn’t inspire my creative juices to flow, I don’t know what will.

Baseball Is A Language

I tried but failed to adequately explain Automata and Formal Grammar in the comments to this post by Will.

You can live a perfectly satisfactory life without understanding Automata Theory. I don’t completely understand it myself. But I’m a stubborn sort; I hate to fail, so I’m going to try again here, below the fold.

I’ll try to keep it as simple as I can, and use baseball as an example, since that’s something we all understand here. I’ll show how baseball is, by one definition, a language. If you still don’t get it after this, don’t worry, be happy.

 

Continue reading

Annoyances

My creativity ebbs and flows, and lately my well has been dry. When I hit a drought, I tend to forget what creativity even feels like. A door closes in my brain, and blocks me from accessing my muse. I always fear that the door may never reopen. Without a creative outlet, my emotions end up feeling shallow and superficial. I’m left with my annoyances.

I’m annoyed that I have resorted to talking about annoyances.

I’m annoyed that Will said “terror is barely a noun“. What does that mean? That “terror” is 51% noun, 23% verb, 17% adjective, 8% preposition, with just a trace of adverb? Here, Will, go read this.

I’m annoyed that Garfield has a movie.

I’m annoyed at all the hype that this DidYouReadIt.com crap has been getting.

I’m annoyed that the USS Mariner guys called the Moneyball draft “a disaster” and “a flop“. Joe Blanton is by most accounts a top pitching prospect. Bill Murphy was flipped for Mark Redman, and is pitching very well in AA for the Marlins. Brad Knox is still in low A, but he has a 81/11 K/BB ratio in 66.1 IP. Nick Swisher, after a very slow start in AAA, is now hitting .254/.376/.480. Mark Teahen just got promoted to AAA after hitting .335/.419/.543 in AA. Brant Colamarino is now hitting .355/.412/.645 in AA after his promotion from Modesto, where he was hitting .355/.460/.601. John Baker is hitting .324/.391/.512 in AA. I don’t see anything discouraging about any of those numbers. Sure, some of the picks look poor now, like McCurdy, Fritz, Brown, Obenchain, and Stanley. The draft may have been suboptimal, but “suboptimal” is not a synonym for “disaster” and “flop”.

But even if they’re right and all the draft picks fail, I’m still annoyed at them for mentioning Moneyball. Michael Lewis has turned Moneyball into a philosophical war, going to Sports Illustrated and radio and TV talk shows to ridicule the people who disagree with it. That makes people defensive and angry, and back and forth we go. In reality, the difference between the A’s draft philosophy and other teams is a difference of degree, not of kind. The A’s picked a high school pitcher in the fourth round this year. It’s not the first time a false conflict helped sell books, and it won’t be the last. But please, can we take a nice, long Moneyball timeout?

Maybe Will ought use the same polarizing name-calling strategy to promote Saving the Pitcher. Those coaches who abuse the arms of their players: they’re criminals! They’re a brainless, lower form of life! They’re primitive Neanderthals! Forget discussing reasonable degrees of risk. We need a War On Pitcher Abuse and we need it now!

Pitcher. Abuse. Two nouns, no verbs.

Ghosts in Me

For the last few days, I’ve been sick as a dog. Poor dog. As a result, my brain hasn’t been my brain. Go droop.

Strange thoughts come to mind when minds come to thinking strangely. Palindrome-like sentences aren’t sentences like palindromes.

So this weekend, I’ve been sick, my car was stolen, the A’s bullpen lost three games in a row, and my brain is was has been will be having been possessed by ghosts from outer space. I’ve had better weekends.

Perhaps, this ghost is was having suggested to me, my car isn’t having been stolen after all: it is just spontaneously has been leaped to a different quantum state where it is no longer will be visible in my local space-time continuum. Meanwhile, there’s another universe where my car is still parked outside, my sinuses are clear, my brain is unburdened by poltergeists, the English language gets along fine with only two grammatical tenses, and Arthur Rhodes actually gets people out.

Or perhaps I could just use a nice orbitofrontal cortical lesion, so I would no longer regret eating that spicy chicken pilaf at IKEA on Friday, just before Jim Mecir hung a screwball and all hell starting breaking loose.

Tom Hicks might want one of those lesions, too, if he finds out that IKEA now has ARÖD on sale for just $23.99. A warning though, if this tempts you: you might run into an IKEA shopper buying this. If you do, you might want to go find one of these as protection.

One good thing happened this weekend. For a moment, in my alien state of mind, I came to understand the source of conflict between the sabermetrician and the traditionalist: the fact that 73% of the universe is dark energy. Only 27% of the universe is observable and measurable, and the rest stays hidden until it feels like messing with your calculations. I found this to a general truth: no matter how you slice the universe, you can only shed light on 27% of what’s really going on. This means, basically, that the sabermetrician is 73% full of crap. Meanwhile, the traditionalist can’t see where he’s going, and falls into a black hole.

I’m going to the A’s-White Sox game this afternoon: Mulder vs. Buehrle. These two Marks matched up three times last year. Time of games: 1:54, 1:49, and 1:53. That means there is a 73% chance the game will leap into an alternate universe where Mark Mulder is possessed by the spirit of Mike Moore, Miguel Olivo gets taken over by Carlton Fisk, and we’ll be stuck out at the Coliseum until all the dark energy has been absorbed into the full moon of the midnight sky.