Category Archives: Sports

Pittsburgh’s other religion

A summer fling

21Pittsburgh’s summer Bromance with the boys of summer has gloriously extended into October. Nobody saw this coming. Nobody.

Last spring, we were putting our shaky hopes into the winning-record-basket, but we certainly weren’t betting the mortgage on it. Even yours truly, who has looked at the Pirates through rose-tinted glasses the past few years, even I thought the Pirates might take a small step backward this year. I didn’t believe that Burnett could bring it again at his age. I didn’t believe in Francisco Liriano, a post-Tommy John surgery free agent who broke his arm at home in the off-season. I didn’t believe a new .240-hitting catcher would make that big a difference. I didn’t believe in Jason Grilli as a closer to replace Hanrahan. And I was beginning to think that Pedro Alvarez might just be a bust.

Then, summer happened. And as the calendar turned to September, the Pirates refused to turn into pumpkins, as they had in seasons past. They just kept on winning. And this city revealed itself to be a true baseball town, waking up after a two-decade-long hibernation. And you know what happens after you wake up from hibernation? You are ravenously hungry.

I have been a baseball fan since 1969, when Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Ferguson Jenkins, Billy Williams and the rest of the Chicago Cubs were in first place for 155 games before losing 17 of their last 25 and allowing the Miracle Mets to pass them by. You never forget your first heartbreak, even at age 7. Especially at age 7. Since then, I can count on one hand the number of times a baseball team I cheered for has played in the postseason. And for the most part, those postseasons have been houses of horror.

Gack!

Gack!

There was 1984, when Leon Durham let a dribbler through his legs and the Padres (the frigging Padres!) came back from down 0-2 to win the last 3 games and go on to the World Series. I still have a gag reflex whenever I see Steve Garvey or those brown, gold, and red uniforms that made their players look like Taco Bell employees.

There were other brief and failed appearances by the Cubs against the Giants and Braves. And then came 2003, when the Cubs were 6 outs away from the World Series and fan-boy Steve Bartman interfered with Moises Alou’s attempt to catch a foul ball. The Cubs proceeded to lose their water, the game, and the next game, and the Marlins (the frigging Marlins!) went on to the World Series.

My baseball playoff history is the stuff of nightmares. My World Series history is non-existent. Oh, I went to a World Series game between the Diamondbacks and Yankees in 2001 (one month after 9/11), but I really didn’t have a horse in that race. I watched the White Sox (the frigging White Sox!) win the 2005 World Series by sweeping the Astros. It was all just salt in the long-festering wound.

But this year is different. I can honestly say that this is my favorite baseball season ever. Mostly because it was unexpected. But also because of the way Pittsburgh fell back in love with baseball and the Buccos. We nonchalantly passed the 82-win mark in early September. We battled for the division lead before settling for a Wild Card spot. We entered the dreaded one-game playoff and all the critics said that the Pirates were just happy to be here. And we won. Decisively.

We entered the divisional round and got killed in the first game 9-1. Once again, the critics said the Pirates were just happy to be here. That this was as far as it would go. Then we came back and won game 2 just as decisively… in St. Louis. Then we came home and won game 3.

I headed out to game 4 hoping for some real baseball magic. I was pretty confident that the Buccos would wrap this up at home and win the series and I would be there.

It was a beautiful fall day. The temps had dropped around 30 degrees from game 3 the day before. This was fall baseball.

PNC playoffs

The crowd was huge. It would set an attendance record by four people. I think they are dribbling out a few more SRO tickets each game to set a new record each time. That’s cool. I’m assuming we were 2 of the four that set the record. The only tickets I could get were standing room only. On the plus side, they were cheap. I didn’t have to plunk down $75 per seat. As soon as I got there, I paid homage to the statue of Willie Stargell and began to look for a good place to camp out.

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I could tell that getting a good spot to watch the game was going to be rough. The rotunda was already filling up and about 3 people deep. I knew that Jean wouldn’t be able to see. The crowd was ready for a heavy weight bout, or a rock concert. Forty thousand-plus were absolutely out of their minds. I think it was the closest I will ever come to experiencing what an English soccer game must be like. They were ready to explode at any moment and were hanging on every pitch.

PNC crowd

Lucky for me, Jean had a stroke of Jean-ius! She came from work and proceeded directly to the Rivertowne Brewing restaurant directly below the scoreboard. They have an outside observation deck where Jean had grabbed a table. She called me and I hauled my booty there. Again, genius. We had seats and they brought food and beer directly to us! No waiting in line. And how about the view!

PNC view

We stayed there the entire game, although we were still standing with everyone else for most of the game. It was chilly. There was a stiff and constant gale blowing from home plate straight at us. But we were bundled up and comfortable. Jean even had her own personal heater, which looks a lot warmer than it actually was.

jean heat

Of course, the magic never quite materialized. But the crowd never gave up hope. They cheered. They sang. They beat the shit out of that stadium as a rhythm section to the cheering. As I said before, they were locked and loaded to go completely bonkers. They had one opportunity when Pedro homered. And the ninth inning was deafening. All we wanted was a chance, which we got when McCutchen came to the plate with two outs and the tying run on first. A part of me truly thought he was going to jack a walk-off blast that would break the stadium. But, alas, his bat was just an inch too low and he popped it up. With that, the crowd went from totally insane to “let’s go home” in a matter of seconds.

But here’s the thing about my favorite baseball season ever… there’s no heartbreak this year. Sure, we could lose tonight. Sure, it will be sad to see it end. But it doesn’t diminish from the epic ride it has been. And this team tends to come up big just when you think they can’t. It would be just like this team to pull one out tonight and keep this fling going a couple more weeks. Isn’t it something for it to be the second week of October, and people for the most part couldn’t care less about football? It’s all about the Buccos!

So don’t give up hope for tonight. The sun hasn’t yet set on the Pirates’ season. If this is as far as it goes, it’s been a magical summer. If they keep it going tonight, my favorite baseball season ever will have gone to a whole new level. Let’s go Bucs!

Flag 2

82. It matters.

champagne-pittsburgh1I know I’m about 24 hours late here, but I was surprised at how satisfying it felt to see the Buccos nail down their 82nd W yesterday. I’ve only been here for about 40 percent of the record setting (in all 4 sports!) 21-year losing streak. but in the past 8 years, the curse has seemed to settle heavier and heavier over Pirate baseball each year.

And after the near misses caused by August and September the past two seasons, I was beginning to have my doubts that this group would do it. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Hurdle and Cutch and Marte, but I was doubting the development of Alvarez and Burnett wasn’t getting any younger and our big off-season move was a catcher?

That’s why I don’t make a living in baseball. The Pirates took over baseball this year to such an extent that the winning season became inevitable in June. As we watch the standings and try to remember how to calculate a magic number and what it means, all we can think of is making the playoffs — something that seemed a pipe dream last Spring. The winning season just wasn’t that big a deal.

Then, last night, we hit it and you could almost feel the weight lifting off this baseball city. For perspective, let’s remember what was going on the last time the Pirates finished above .500 — the day this happened.

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It was October 14, 1992.

George H. W. Bush was in his final month as President.

Gerrit Cole was four days old.

This was on the newsstand…

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This was the top movie:

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Ross Perot was running for President. A week earlier, Dan Quayle and Al Gore faced off in a presidential debate.

Howard Stern’s TV show premiered that week.

Madonna, who was promoting a coffee table sex book, criticized Sinead O’Connor for ripping up a photo of the Pope on Saturday Night Live.

The three highest-rated TV shows were Roseanne, Murphy Brown, and Coach.

Garth Brooks had the best-selling album, but Boyz II Men had the #1 song.

The was the Dream Team that year.

LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01

Charles Barkley was skinny, y’all.

And the Steelers would go 11-5 with Neil O’Donnell at QB and leading rusher Barry Foster.

That’s a lot of water under the bridge. But now it’s done.

82 wins matters, after all. The losing is over.

The monkey is off our back.

The curse is buried. Good riddance.

Now, it’s World Series or bust.

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My Pittsburgh

Today’s run felt like running through a greenhouse. But as I pounded the pavement (and I pound the pavement!), it occurred to me that it was eight years ago today that I first drove into Pittsburgh to stay. I was all by myself in a big empty house and I knew only one person in the city. It was a lonely and confusing time, but today I know hundreds of people here and I love my neighborhood of Lawrenceville. So I decided to take some pics along my run/walk today.

IMG_1150 This is my main running track — a long trucking lot along the tracks and the Carnegie Robotics Lab (in blue).

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I have a special place in my heart for the houses that survived while all of those around them fell to the wrecking ball. They are like hardened pioneers ready to meet a new century.

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As I run, I like to imagine all the hard working immigrant factory workers who used to live in these buildings. They’d take their turns sleeping after the three shifts they worked. Llittle homes with little rooms. Everything really was smaller back then…

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Lots of urban renewal happening around “Larryville.” I can’t tell if this is an improvement, or not. I guess it is, considering the dilapidated structures and empty lots these homes replaced. But still, they seem to lack a certain amount of character…

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Now we’re talking. Of course, I prefer the renovated structures that keep the old architecture intact. I love seeing an old, neglected property spruced up and reimagined.

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Anything that can maintain the old craftsmanship with a modern flair.

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And provide a palette for local artists, like the Kaleidoscope restaurant.

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While some structures still patiently await their turn to be turned into something more useful.

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While other long dormant structures remind us that even though the neighborhood is filled with hipsters, artists, and yuppies, there were once men with hard hats and lunch buckets who used to climb stuff, so we shouldn’t be such uppity jagoffs.

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And other structures bode to the future. That whole Terminator apocalypse. That’s on us. Our bad.

IMG_1158Especially with cars like this sitting in front of the Carnegie Robotics Lab. It’s a Fisker Karma — whatever that is. Nothing good can come of this. Some millionaire is in there developing his future army, right? This is Bond villain stuff.

IMG_1164I fear that someone in our neighborhood has lost the concept of the “missing” flier. You don’t “find” cats. You find dogs. I can stumble outside my house and “find” nine cats hiding beneath the parked cars and shrubbery. No one “finds” a cat.

IMG_1165And finally, in week 4 of my new workout regimen, I bought myself new pair of shoes. It’s time to retire the old cross trainers on the left with the modern running shoe on the right. Cross trainers were really worthless. They weren’t running shoes. They weren’t walking shoes. They weren’t basketball, climbing, biking, or tennis shoes. They were really good for nothing. Today’s workout was like running on spongy cushions of awesomeness. Thanks, New Balance!

It was Riggs’ed

Forty years ago, I may have been only 11, but I vividly remember watching a cultural phenomenon play out on the small screen. It was reality TV long before anyone knew what that was. It was the Battle of the Sexes between tennis great Billie Jean King and some Woody Allen-looking geezer I’d never heard of before… Bobby Riggs. Riggs was a hustler in the mode of Don King, Donald Trump, and P. T. Barnum. Billie Jean King seemed like the innocent rube who wanted to make a statement for women’s rights but found herself caught up in a pro wrestling-style ruse.

Remember, it was 1973. Watergate was in full bloom. An oil crisis in October would plunge the nation into a two-year recession. The Vietnam War was limping home to a disastrous end, despite our relentless carpet bombing of most of Southeast Asia. Protests were springing up across the nation. And Women’s Lib was, for many, a rude intruder onto the national stage. In many ways, the country needed a light-weight distraction. We needed a circus. And we got one.

The Battle of the Sexes was actually two matches. Bobby Riggs was a legitimate tennis star at one time, ranked No. 1 in the world in 1946 and 1947. By age 55, however, he was more of a country club tennis and golf hustler, betting people he could beat them by giving himself handicaps such as using a frying pan as a racquet or playing all 18 holes with only one club.

Billie Jean King was simply trying to promote women’s tennis in any way she could. She was a 5-time Wimbledon champion by that point, and still “in the closet” sexually. As a sport, tennis was just beginning to gain the popularity it would enjoy in the late 1970s when Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg, and Ivan Lendl would turn it into must-see TV. But it wasn’t quite there in 1973.

sexes_display_imageRiggs came out of retirement to challenge the world’s greatest female players to a match, claiming that the female game was inferior and that a top female player could not beat him, even at the age of 55. Billie Jean King turned down the challenge but Margaret Court accepted. In May 1973, Riggs easily defeated Court in straight sets, 6-2, 6-1. Sports Illustrated called it “the Mother’s Day massacre.” King couldn’t remain on the sidelines anymore. She took up the fallen banner of her gender and agreed to play Riggs that September.

TV ate it up. I’m pretty sure that Howard Cosell did the broadcast from the Astrodome. Rocky was still three years off, but it was like the scene of the first match between Rocky and Apollo Creed. King came in looking like Cleopatra, and carted about by a cadre of buff boys.

Billie Jean King

Not to be outdone, Riggs was hoisted by a group of young women dubbed his “Bosom Buddies” –  with the appropriate corporate sponsorship, of course. Is Sugar Daddy still a thing? I think not. Probably because it was horrible and had last-candy-eaten-status in the Halloween bag.

riggs carried

it was like a heavy-weight fight. Tennis… in the Astrodome… celebrities in the audience, broadcast to a national audience. It was crazy.

battle of the sexes

King beat Riggs, 6–4, 6–3, 6–3 for the $100,000 winner-take-all prize.

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Now, ESPN claims the whole thing was fixed. My first response to this revelation was “Well, of course it was.” Then, I was all “Wait… what?”

The story is that Riggs was in deep to the mob for more than six figures. He proposed a deal to them. He’d challenge two of the biggest stars from women’s tennis. He’d win the first match and lose the second. The mob could bet the other way on both matches. They’d win big and forgive Riggs’ debt. Many tennis insiders have suspected this for years. They say that Riggs’ game was strangely absent against King. Usually a master server, he missed on half of his first serves. Larry Riggs, Bobby’s son, remembers being shocked that his father never practiced before the match and even gained 15 pounds by partying in Beverly Hills.

King denies this, of course. She says she’s played people who tanked. She knows what that looks like and that’s not what Bobby did. She also denies that Riggs ever hung out with mobsters. But what’s she going to say? If this is true, I don’t believe she was in on it. She was trying to make a serious statement and wouldn’t have gone along with it. For her to admit this would make her victory empty and show that in the end, she was played by Riggs just like everyone else.

King winsSo it doesn’t surprise me if, indeed, the fix was in. But I am amazed that Riggs pulled it off. That he snookered ABC, Sports Illustrated, professional tennis, and the entire nation in his con. In the end, King got her trophy and Riggs paid off his gambling debts. I’d like to believe that that’s what happened. it makes for an even greater legend. It’s all circumstantial of course, since Riggs took his secrets to the grave in 1995.

Meanwhile, in 2013, we vent faux outrage over athletes on PEDs or a 20-year-old former childhood TV star embarrassing herself at the VMAs on a channel that peddles teenage moms and no longer has anything to do with music or videos. Meanwhile, our students are saddled with life-long financial debt, politicians are threatening to shut down the government over a healthcare bill, and missiles are poised to start raining down on Syria for gassing their own people.

It’s too bad. We sure could use an innocent sideshow like that today. Hey Michael Jordan! You’re probably into the mob for a pretty penny. Why not come back and take on some WNBA stars? Naw. It just wouldn’t be the same, today. Not with Top Chef, Project Runway, Cake Boss, and Duck Dynasty. Nobody would even notice.

Something smells

As you can probably tell, I’m in the midst of the end-of-summer doldrums. I have no kids to drop off at college or get ready to go back to school. Thus, it’s just that weird period where summer is over but no one has told the weatherman. Football and my beloved Fall temperatures are a few weeks off yet. This September will feature something new for Pittsburgh: baseball relevance. The Pirates seem like they have turned onto Liberty Ave. in the marathon that is the 162-game baseball season. With only 35 games left, they are 8 wins away from their first winning season in 21 years, and 10.5 games ahead of the Diamondbacks for a playoff spot. Not even the Three Stooges could screw this one up. (See me tempting the fates there?) But those things, too, are a few weeks off.

corpseI think it was apropos that the big attraction in Pittsburgh this week was the rare and sudden blooming of the corpse flower at the Phipps Conservatory. I don’t care if it only blooms once a decade. I took a pass at joining the hordes of people who plunked down $15 to go see the phallic flower that smells like rotting flesh. Only at the end of August could something like that become the city’s star attraction. Feed me, Seymour! If I wanted to pay $15 to see something stink, I would have taken somebody to see R.I.P.D. At least that way, I would have gotten some popcorn out of the deal.

Funny, it’s the same thing I thought when I read about UPS blaming Obamacare for dropping health coverage of employee spouses. Actually, the story isn’t bad as it seems. The exclusion is only for spouses who have jobs that offer their own health coverage. Those spouses just aren’t going to be able to choose the UPS plan if it’s better than their company plan. No one here is being denied health coverage.

But still, I thought, Hmmm. Something stinks. Hey, at least it didn’t cost me $15. I suspect that there are going to be a lot of businesses in the next few years that take advantage of Obamacare implementation by doing something they’ve wanted to do for a long time… drop or decrease expensive healthcare benefits. In the past, the company would have taken a hit and morale would have plunged. Now, they can just blame Obama… and save a bundle along the way. Oh, they might pay a penalty if they employ more than 50 people, but I’ll bet the penalty is cheaper than healthcare coverage for employees and their spouses.

Hey, these struggling corporations need the money. As a percentage of national income, corporate profits in the third quarter of 2012 (during the national disaster of an Obama presidency) stood at 14.2 percent, the largest share at any time since 1950. Meanwhile, the portion of income that went to employees fell to 61.7 percent, near its lowest point since 1966. Productivity is up. Unemployment is down. It’s just that the profits are not trickling down to the workers. Something is trickling, all right; it’s just not wages.

Meanwhile, Republicans are said to be meeting daily during the recess to scheme of ways to scuttle Obamacare before people actually begin enjoying the coverage next year. Tick-tock, tick-tock. Time’s a wasting. This fall is going to be a cage match. Maybe Republicans would be more cooperative if Obama had proposed the plan of their candidate for the president in 2012… wait, oh yeah…

endwelfareJust a reminder that the stink of politics will be blooming again this fall. There will be fights over debt ceilings, Obamacare, voter suppression, immigration, food stamps, women’s rights, surveillance, and much more. Unfortunately, this is a constantly blooming stink plant. And it will probably cost us more than $15.

There, I just talked myself into enjoying the quiet of late August, as well as the sweet aroma of Congressional recess.

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In the bag for the NFL

Full disclosure: I’ve not attended many NFL games. I’ve been to maybe three Bears games at the old Soldier Field. (Not Soldiers!!!!!) It was pretty much a horrible experience. You had to walk for miles. And the stadium was built like in the 1920s, so it was low to the ground and went back instead of up. So if you didn’t have great seats, it felt like you were a half-mile from the action on the field. No video scoreboard. You really had to bring a radio to know what was going on.

old soldierLocated right on the lakeshore, more times than not, the weather was horrible, with brutal winter winds knifing right off the lake. Or fog for a playoff game…

fog_bowl_eagles_bears_1988That’s for real, ladies and gents. And in the Loop, a few blocks away, it was clear and sunny. People at that game said you could hear various sections cheering as players zipped by them. Other than that, nobody knew what was going on for much of the game, which was never halted.

Besides that, I’ve been to an Arizona Cardinals game in old Sun Devil Stadium. The only thing I remember was some pre-game filming of a guy in a Cardinals uniform lying down in the end zone. The crowd was told to remain silent. Then he got up and started doing gyrations while they told the crowd to cheer. Came to find out later that it was Cuba Gooding Jr. doing a scene for Jerry Maguire.

The last NFL game I attended was a Bengals-Saints game at the Superdome. One of my best friends from high school was doing play-by-play for Bengals’ radio broadcasts and he set me up with tickets. Once again, I was in the nose bleeds and the game was more like a rumor. At least we had video screens with replays there.

So I’ll admit that I’ve never had really good seats to an NFL game in a nice stadium. Still, let’s face it. NFL games are much better to watch at home, where you can see all the replays, hear the commentary, see what’s going on elsewhere, enjoy some lovely game day snacks, and not sit in traffic for two hours on your way home. Pittsburgh seems a bit different. There’s ample parking a short walk from the stadium, and a college-like atmosphere, from tailgating to the towels to “Renegade.” But in my almost eight years in Pittsburgh, I’ve never been to a Stiller game, so I can’t really speak to that.

But I was rather shocked to hear of the rather draconian bag policy the NFL is instituting this year. No fanny packs, which really should be a rule everywhere and at all times. I have no problems with that. But ladies…. no purses. What the wha!?!?!?!? That’s right, ladies. You have two choices in accessories for your next Steeler game. One is a clutch purse that will fit in your hand…

bag hand nflStylish, but not entirely practical.

Or you can swallow your pride and carry all your lady belongings for all the world to see in vinyl or PVC bags that do not exceed 12″ x 6″ x 12″…

bag_image_v3a_1371166608The league says this is “to improve public safety.” I may have missed it, but has there been a rash of incidents in which people were killed or maimed at NFL games because of items hidden in purses? There must have been, because how else would this “improve” public safety? Improve on what?

Another line of reasoning from the league is an effort to get people into the stadium faster by speeding up bag checks, They’d rather have people buying expensive stadium  beer than the cheap ones they consume in the parking lot.

Of course, the cynical part of me thinks they also want to sell a crapload of those plastic bags with team logos on them. Imagine the fulfillment company that inked that deal with the NFL. Cha-ching!

I’ve also been rather surprised that there hasn’t been an explosion of outrage about this. Oh, I’ve seen a couple of articles about it. But so far, no huge backlash. Are most fans still unaware? Or are they willing to do about anything to avoid that Heinz Field terrorism disaster we had during the Batman movie? Perhaps this is a small price to pay to ensure that something like that never happens again. Never forget.

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Baseball etiquette 101

mccutchenjpg-81624bfc1602f8f5This year, I have avoided writing much about the Pirates because, well… last year… and the year before that.

I’ve attended around six or seven games so far, and I like what I see. But I’ve felt that way before. As we head into the perilous months of August and September — the Titanic and Hindenburg of seasons past — I am cautiously optimistic. I have more confidence because there are more players carrying the load than just Andrew McCuthchen. And, although steady, Cutch has yet to catch fire this year. And the pitching seems to have rock solid depth, even with the injury to Grilli. We need to add a bat to the starting line-up, and possibly some bench depth, but we’ll see what the trade deadline brings.

I am so breaking my own rule by even saying that much. But confidence is high for both a winning season and a playoff birth.

That said, there are problems that come from success. Fan problems.

When the Pirates were just an afterthought in the city, the crowds were small but the people who came out were solid baseball fans. Oh, sure, there were those who came for bobble heads and fireworks, but on a Tuesday night against the Astros, those were mainly baseball people in the seats.

With success come what I call “the amateurs”… bandwagon jumpers, party seekers, front runners, lemming followers, bored teenagers. They come in like they’ve always owned the place. And they can ruin it for the real fans. So, I’ve seen some lists of fan etiquette out there. I’m not on board with all of them, but I’m a big fan of some. So, here are my 9 new rules for Pirate fans:

Rule #9 – Watch the Outfielder!

You don’t have to go out of your minds every time a player hits a fly ball to the outfield. The best way to tell if a hit is something or nothing is by watching the outfielder. If he hasn’t turned and started sprinting like hell to the wall, it’s probably an out or, hopefully, a single. Deal with it. Act like you’ve been there before.

Rule #8 – Stadium hi-jinx

This is more for management than the fans. It’s getting high time for someone in the Pirates’ front office to dig deep and buy an iTunes subscription. I swear, I’m hearing mostly the same music they have played in that place since I started attending in 2005. Can’t we ever change things up a little? Don’t new songs come out like… all the time! And Garrett Jones? You really need to say good-bye to “Jump on It” as your walk-up music. What are you? A 14-year-old girl? Don’t tell me that song fires you up.

And while I think the constant need to have to entertain the masses with some game between every inning is rather “minor league,” my biggest pet peeve is when they start the phony noise meter every time the other team brings on a relief pitcher. Hey, don’t worry your pretty little heads about it. When things get exciting, WE WILL YELL. Until then, stop trying to manipulate things. We know when to yell, and during a relief pitcher’s warm-up tosses is not one of those times. Stop it!

Rule #7 – Cell phones

You’re at the ballgame. Calls can wait. If you have to make or take a call, make it quick or go to the concourse. And if you are sitting behind home plate and get on your cell phone and start waving at the camera, so help me, I will hunt you down and make you suffer. I swear to God.

Rule #6 – Leaving early

Okay, I veer from convention on this one. Most die-hards say you stay until the bitter end, no matter what. Not me. Ninety percent of the time, we stay until the handshakes. But I’ll admit that there have been times when the Mrs. and I have ducked out early. I say, you pays your money, you get to do what you want. Mid-week games can go long. I was at a Buccos/Giants game when the Giants’ hurler was pitching like he was being paid by the hour. It took two hours to finish the first three innings, and there was no score! I did the math and decided that I didn’t want to be there until 11:30. I get up at the crack of dawn. If you’re just leaving early to get a jump on the traffic, then shame on you. But if you’ve got real life reasons, knock yourself out. I may be wrong on this one. So sue me.

Rule #5 – Getting up and down

Newbie baseball fans seem to think this is a county fair or something. They just walk around the stadium regardless of what’s going on down on the field. Like going to the symphony, there are times you walk around and times you don’t. You don’t get up with your brood of children to go and get Dippin’ Dots right in the middle of an at-bat. You wait until between batters or a stoppage in play. Better yet, between innings. Same for returning to your seats. And when you go, do it quickly.

Rule #4 – Jerseys

This one gets problematic. There are two basic rules on jerseys I abide by. rebuilding-pirates-jersey1) Never put your own name on the back. That’s bush league. Honor a favorite player, past or present, but it isn’t a vanity license plate. However, I will allow editorial statements. 2) No jerseys or caps from teams that aren’t on the field. I don’t need to see your Miami Marlins jersey when the Pirates are playing the Reds. Either pick a team that’s playing, or wear something neutral. I’ll make exceptions for t-shirts and sweatshirts, but I’ll still raise an eyebrow and think nasty thoughts. Some people add a third rule: no non-baseball jerseys at the game. I’m pretty sure this is found in other sports. You may get hassled at a Steelers’ game if you are wearing a Garrett Jones jersey. In Pittsburgh, this is more acceptable because all of our teams have virtually the same colors, but still… I will make one allowance for this. 3.) Only wear a non-baseball jersey if that team is playing around that time (and preferably a playoff game). In other words, if the Pens are in the playoffs on a night the Buccos are playing, I’ll accept a few Pens jerseys in the stands.  When I saw the Buccos and Tigers play earlier this year, a guy in front of me was rocking a home Red Wings jersey. We swept the Tigers that day and the Red Wings were eliminated by the Blackhawks just after the game ended. I found that extremely satisfying. Also, give the pink jerseys a rest, will ya, ladies? Team colors or nothing.

Rule #3 – Alternative jerseys

Let’s not get too crazy with our homemade fandom, Mr. Chest Hair…

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Rule #2 – Grown Ass Men with Baseball Gloves

Two violations!

Two violations!

No. Just, no. You either catch it bare-handed and shatter your metacarpal bones like the rest of us, or you run and hide. And if you catch it, you then give it to nearest child who is under ten. This isn’t fantasy camp. This isn’t Comi-con. You don’t get to bring equipment with you.

Rule #1 – The Wave

This is my pet peeve. No waves. Ever. Period. Not when your team is batting. Not when the other team is batting. Doing the wave says something loud and clear. It says, “God, I’m bored. I hate baseball. It’s been ten minutes and nothing is happening. What’s trending on Twitter? Do they have ice cream here? Let’s do something else. Hey, a butterfly!” Baseball is entertainment enough. I don’t need synchronized fandom. i don’t need my whole section standing up in front of me just as the pitcher is delivering a pitch. Grow up or go home.

stop the wave

That’s enough of a primer. Unless you have some to add in the comments. By all means, go nuts.

I know it’s been a long time for Pirate fans, but let’s at least pretend that this isn’t our first rodeo. We’ve got 5 humungous games against the Cardinals next week. We are about to learn a lot about the cut of this team’s jib. Play ball!

The good, the bad, and the ugly

The Good

I almost put 11-year-old Nada al-Ahdal in the bad, because she is bad ass. While most 11-year-olds are playing with friends and sighing over One Direction, Nada is fleeing her family so they won’t give her away in marriage. And Miss Thing goes off on what she thinks about the practice.

I hope she gets a chance at a decent life.

She’s definitely the good today.

The Bad

Ryan-Braun2

He has a face you just want to smack.

In 2011, Brewers’ outfielder Ryan Braun was accused of taking performance enhancing drugs. His urine sample was off the charts. Braun took the high road and blamed the poor guy whose job it was to pick up urine samples and deliver them to the lab. Turns out the guy stored Brauns’ sample in his fridge overnight and took it in the next day, which was against regulations. So the sample was tainted and Braun was let off the hook. The poor delivery man was dragged across national headlines and disgraced. Braun held a press conference, and said,

If I had done this intentionally or unintentionally I’d be the first one to step up and say, ‘I did it.’ By no means am I perfect, but if I’ve ever made any mistakes in my life I’ve taken responsibility for my actions. I truly believe in my heart, and I would bet my life that this substance never entered by body at any point.

Would be the first one to step up and admit it…

Takes responsibility for his actions…

Would bet his life…

This week, Ryan Braun lost that bet and was suspended for the rest of the year. Not that it matters. Last year, he was the NL MVP. This year, he’s on the disabled list of the worst team in the Central Division of the NL. Still, this lying ego-maniac can now kiss the Hall of Fame good-bye, and will probably turn back into the .260 hitter he was meant to be. Sorry, Arizona Diamondbacks, whom he torched in the 2011 playoffs while steroids were pumping through his veins. Sorry, delivery guy, whose life he ruined by spewing his lies.

I never liked Ryan Braun. He always seemed like that kid on the rival Little League team who owned your team and never let you forget it.

Today, Braun faced the music, as if he had a choice in the matter, and admitted what he had been lying about for so long.

As I have acknowledged in the past, I am not perfect. I realize now that I have made some mistakes. I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions.

No, Ryan. A mistake is when you turn around numbers in an address. This was ingesting illegal substances and then, lying about it through your teeth. That’s not really a “mistake.” It was fraud, scum bag. Braun seems infatuated with the notion that we thought he was perfect. No, that was only believed by a guy named Ryan Braun. Don’t worry your perfectly coiffed head about it, Ryan. We really don’t think you are perfect. And whether or not he’s willing to accept the consequences, he will be receiving the consequences. Sometimes karma is a beautiful thing.

The Ugly

wienerCarlos Dangerous. No, really, that is the name that Anthony Weiner used to send sexually explicit photos and texts to much younger women. Even after he resigned from Congress and held his mea culpa press conferences.

Carlos Dangerous. Really.

Today, his wife did the perp walk with him to the podium. I don’t know what disgusted her more: what Weiner had done, or that she had to stand there next to Carlos Dangerous.

I only hope he wore one of those Mexican wrestling masks while he did it.

Seriously, progressive New York. What’s it going to take for you to bury this guy in the polls. There’s no way you are going to let this guy be the next mayor, right? Just tell me that you’re not that stupid. If for no other reason than you want a guy to lead your city who has more imagination than coming up with Carlos Dangerous.

Back in Black

Let me say at the outset that rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.

I allowed myself a bit of an electronic break, I guess. It began on 4th of July weekend. Since then, it’s been too hot, too crazy, too racist, and a bit too depressing for me to even work up a post. I tried to hide away in baseball and a potentially epic Pirates’ season, but now it’s the All-Star break and the only two days in America when none of the four major professional or collegiate sports play a single game.

For a few days, I immersed myself in the first two discs of The Newsroom. Aaron Sorkin is my guilty pleasure. Sure, he’s over the top. Sure, he’s great at lefty rants. Sure, he plagiarizes himself something fierce, but true genius realizes when the only person worth stealing from is yourself…

But I still love it. And I love The Newsroom. It’s a more up-to-date and better acted The West Wing with f-bombs. Netfilx should be delivering disc 3 later this week.

I avoided all the summer blockbusters but saw This Is the End, which was very funny but probably only worth a rental. I sprang for matinee prices.

Oh, and we now have our niece, affectionately known as The Princess, living with us, which is great. She’s an eager nineteen-year-old looking for a direction in life. Nothing like moving from the Chicago suburbs to Pittsburgh to get some new perspective. She’s already worked up a resume, gone to employment agencies, and will be going through volunteer training at Children’s Hospital in August. And she brought her dog Ella, so Belle the Dog is no longer queen of the castle.

L to R - Belle the Dog, and Ella the Dog. No, they are not related.

L to R – Belle the Dog, and Ella the Dog. No, they are not related.

So life has been busy. And don’t you know I have lots of thoughts in my head about the Zimmerman Trial, Edward Snowden, Wendy Davis, Stand Your Ground, whether Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should be on the cover of Rolling Stone, Cory Monteith, and the Royal fetus… okay, not really so much with the last two. But no new ground that hasn’t been trod a million times by a million pundits.

I guess I’m more distressed that despite the Supreme Court’s assertion that racism is over and Civil Rights legislation can be dismantled, we seem to be a more racially polarized society than ever before. Perhaps, as I stated in my last post, it’s because the shrinking majority is freaked out that they are no longer a majority. Perhaps it’s because of all the voices on talk radio and the Internet. Perhaps it is because we have a black president that is no where near as scary as many on the Right predicted. (I’ll be screening 2016, the black president apocalypse movie, at my house in 2016 to see if it all came true. Bring popcorn!) Who knows? But Stand Your Ground laws, attacks on voter rights, attacks on minimum wage, attacks on food stamps, attacks on public schools, and attacks on the poor in general have created a really ugly narrative in this country. One that is not worthy of the Stars and Stripes and the country our Founding Fathers created.

I’ll just close this post off with a speech from The Great Dictator, starring, written, produced, scored, and directed by Charlie Chaplin, and his most commercially successful movie ever. I won’t go into all the plot points. Chaplin plays several characters in the movie, his first “talkie”. But one of his characters is a Jewish barber who impersonates the dictator to escape the slums, when he is nabbed and forced to give a speech to the nation. This is that speech. Someone has added modern music and images to show how well it still holds up today. The movie was made in 1940, when American still had friendly diplomatic relations with Hitler’s Germany. Chaplin later said that if he had known of Germany’s “final solution” of the Jews, he never would have made the movie. But it’s a damn good speech, needed today as much as ever.

My big week and searching for Zs

Had a great long weekend in Chicago. The weather went back and forth between jungle heat and head-for-the-cellar storms.

I spent the good part of forty years in suburban Chicago. I’ve only been in Pittsburgh for seven-plus years. But it’s amazing how quickly you get used to having our little Allegheny foothills. When I go back to Chicago, I find myself amazed at how flat it is. I find it disconcerting not to have any point of reference taller than a 20-foot tree. It’s boring, to tell you the truth.

Besides some people with whom I really miss hanging out, I don’t miss suburban Chicago at all. It’s all a grid of strip malls, housing developments, megachurches, and a gazillion stop lights. No character. No architecture. And little history. And flat as a fricking pancake.

cubby bearI love going to downtown Chicago, however. It’s great if you don’t mind paying $30 for parking. The Cubs/Astros game (get ready for some baaaad baseball!) was a 1:35 p.m. start, like baseball was meant to be played… in the afternoon. Four of us were going to the game, but the sky turned black as soon as we got there, leading me to ask if Wrigley Field had a basement. Apparently, like the Alamo, it doesn’t. So, we holed up at the Cubby Bear, the tavern directly kitty-corner from the ballpark. Not being an avid tailgater, I wasn’t in shape for that kind of day drinking. Three hours of it. The secret is in pacing yourself. Have a drink. Have a water. Have a drink. Have a water. ‘Cause the Cubby Bear ain’t a restaurant. No food. And it was pouring buckets.

Finally, we headed across the street for a ballgame around 4:30. We had scored a free street parking place at 1 pm, but after 6 pm, you need a sticker or else you get towed, so we had to move to one of the 30-buck lots. Bummer.

Just as we got there, a wedding party was dashing down the street to get pictures taken in front of Wrigley, like ya do. My friend Jeff (blue cap) did a fine job of photo-bombing the wedding party. They’ll be asking who that guy is for decades.

wedding2

Our seats were great. First row of the section, on a railing, right behind third base.

wrigley1

The overcast skies were a relief from the 90-degree temps. The crowd was pretty sauced by 4:30. I’m pretty sure they suspended beer sales by the 5th inning. Okay, by me. I can only drink so much beer before I just feel bloated. Could I be gluten intolerant? I doubt it. Bread and pasta don’t seem to bother me. Anyway, the Cubs hit three home runs in the middle of the game and won it, 3-1. But pretty boring, other than that.

After the game, the boys went back to the Cubby Bear, which turns into a dance club immediately after the game. I hadn’t been in a scene like that in probably 20 years. Crazy. It was a pretty diverse crowd in age, though, so I didn’t feel ancient or creepy. And people weren’t dancing in couples, more like a free-for-all, and the DJ was including some great 70s rock standards into his mix, so it was a good time for us codgers. But boy-howdy, was I exhausted by the time we got home around 10:30. That was a long, full day.

Saw Revolution Z on Saturday. Wasn’t sure what to expect, but it is definitely a good ride if you are into zombie movies. It’s not the book. I’m told that the book had a plot and back story. This is pretty much just 2-and-a-half hours of Brad Pitt running from zombies… really fast zombies. The book is more of a political thriller; this was more of a roller coaster ride. But roller coaster rides have their place.

On Sunday, I went with my friend Dave and his family  to a Schaumburg Boomers baseball game. The Boomers are an Independent League team. We’re talking lower than single-A. These are guys playing to get a major league contract. Like most minor league parks, they do a good job at entertaining the kids and having good food to eat. Plus, for an independent team, they have a really nice stadium.

schaum1

More ominous clouds helped keep the sun away, once again, without us getting soaked.

On Monday night, I was at a warehouse (it WAS a business trip, remember) in Plainfield when the sky turned black, once again. Plainfield is rather famous for getting flattened by a tornado in 1990 — the only F5 tornado to ever hit the Chicago area. Let’s just say I was keeping my head on a swivel. No funnel clouds developed, but Midway Airport had to shut down for a time, which backed up my flight by several hours. The good part about that… I was able to watch the entire Blackhawks’ clinching game in a Chicago airport bar. Lots of hugs and high fives from complete strangers. The bad part… my flight didn’t land in Pittsburgh until almost 1 a.m., which led to a brutal day of work on Tuesday.

Then, Wednesday was the Carpetbaggers’ 20th wedding anniversary. Twenty years! That is hard to believe. Let me just say, however, without blowing smoke or playing for “husband points,” that life gets better each year. Somehow, I scored a hottie. As Winston Churchill once said,

My most brilliant achievement was my ability to be able to persuade my wife to marry me.”

Amen to that Winnie.

Here’s another great quote from, of all people, Martin Luther:

Let the wife make the husband glad to come home, and let him make her sorry to see him leave.”

Somehow, we’ve been able to do that for 20 years. I love going home at night, and Jean is less happy when I’m not there.

Here was our honeymoon photo from twenty years ago. Just a couple of wide-eyed kids.

anniv

Now I’ve got to have my own Revolution Z, by catching up on some Zs myself. They are elusive little devils. Hit the lights on your way out.

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