¡Viva España!

Just a quick report on the World Cup final, which I watched from the noisy, beery interior of Sacramento’s Tapa the World. Despite the fact that basically no “hispanoparlantes” were in attendance, except for one or two Mexican guys from the kitchen, the mostly Anglo crowd was solidly behind Spain.  I found the one free stool at the bar and planted myself there, next to some restaurant guy who was off duty and who was drinking rather heavily (though not a vino tinto, as he should have been).  Interesting, bartenders and waiters alike at Tapa the World were treating Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout – also known as the greatest beer ever brewed – as if it were liquor (which it kind of is, at 9% alcohol content), drinking little mini-glasses at regular intervals.  I was just impressed that Old Rasputin was on tap!  I had a very nice cheese plate featuring a satisfyingly hard and salty Roncal and some bread and olives.  It would have gone nicely with a glass of rioja.  

The game itself was interesting, though not what I expected.  Both teams seemed nervous early on, and Spain was not nearly as in command of the ball as they were in their semi-final match against Germany (surprisingly, match statistics claim Spain had ball possession for 57% of the game).  Both sides missed some fairly good opportunities and fouled each other with a vengeance.  There was little in the way of pretty football a la Spain x Germany, but the match was generally exciting to watch.  Spanish stars David Villa and Sergio Ramos failed to score, and about the flashiest thing on the field were the hazmat orange uniforms of the Dutch side.  Spanish goalkeeper Arturo Casillas made some nice saves, and at the end of regulation time, the match was still scoreless.  Eventually, in the second period of overtime, Andrés Iniesta scored for Spain and it was basically over after that.  A couple of minutes later, Tapa the World erupted into a loud cheer – I think people wanted to sing Spain’s fight song, but no one knew what it was.  There were a few stray “olés!”  I had seen what I had come to see, and happy to see Spain win their first World Cup final, I left and headed home.


i’m going to make some real posts again, i swear. i’m going to post some top 10 movie reviews at some point. in the meantime, here’s a logo i did for Dave’s softball team, the Has-Beens:

here ’tis

Forgive the crappy picture, since I took it with my phone.

This is hanging in one of the awards cabinets at the UR gym. Awesome old-school style. Beyond the title being really weird, dig the cut-and-paste job on labeling the photo.

Review: World Series Game 1 intro

In my observation there are two styles in which baseball is narrated: the statistics-crazed style and the baseball-as-metaphor style. The first is a staple of regular season baseball coverage, wherein the minutiae of a player or team’s performance is dissected using a barrage of statistics that only a hardcore fan (and sometimes a seriously talented mathematician) could understand or even care about. This sort of heady analysis is supposed to pass the time during mind-numbing games against teams like the Kansas City Royals – games that last for three and a half hours and have final scores of 1-0. I study literature and I’m terrible at math, so I’m sort of predisposed not to like this style.

The second style generally rears its head during the postseason, when the day-to-day statistics-crazed faithful are supplemented by casual fans, and when TV sports desks try their hardest to convince the viewing public that a contest between two well-financed, professionally-managed organizations with largely interchangeable (i.e. tradeable) rosters has some deeper, even transcendent meaning for all of us. Cue old-timey photos of players in tiny caps, shots of WWII-era crowds at Ebbets Field, and even one or two references to some epic struggle or war. This approach, which I am admittedly a sucker for, leads to hilarious narrative travesties like Wednesday night’s World Series Game 1 introductory sequence on Fox.

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Irrational exuberance

After watching the Red Sox struggle with and eventually paste the Cleveland Indians in last night’s seventh game of the ALCS, thereby capping off a three-game comeback and clinching a spot in the World Series, I thought I’d share two thoughts with the Roaring Shark community:

1. Go Sox!

2. The homeric, mythical, “grand narrative” explanations of Boston’s baseball fortunes might have to be sent to the dustbin, as Will Leitch discusses.

E: Eternal rivals

I copped this title from Roberto González Echeverría’s “The Pride of Havana,” his history of baseball in Cuba. González is talking about the rivalry between Cuba’s two main pre-revolutionary ball clubs – Havana and Almendares – during the 1940s. He describes their rivalry as much like that between the Yankees and Red Sox: one team wore red and was his favorite (Havana), the other wore blue, was frustratingly good, and had a fascist dress code (Almendares). OK, I added that part about the dress code for effect. I’m still reeling from Boston’s 4-3 loss to New York last night.
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Survival guide: baseball season


Let there be light! After weeks and weeks of anticipation, the 2007 Major League Baseball season got underway yesterday, and I thought I’d take advantage of the occasion to share a few thoughts on how to best get through the season – that is, if you watch on TV or otherwise follow the game over its monumentally time-intensive season:

1. Put in the time:

When I first started watching the Red Sox regularly (end of 2003/beginning of 2004 season), I had absolutely no idea what was going on. I mean, I understood the basic rules of the game from my disastrously short-lived little league career, but in terms of the history, the players, and most importantly the whole narrative and statistical apparatus that surrounds the game for the viewer, I was lost. While some baseball games really are exciting and relatively fast-paced (if you can believe it), most are long hard slogs, punctuated by brief moments of drama (well-turned double plays, home runs, outs at home plate, etc.). A working knowledge of what surrounds the game makes those long afternoon and evening viewing sessions much more bearable.

In the end this is a problem that solves itself, since the more games you watch, the more you learn. Obviously you can’t watch them all, and most people can’t watch even close to them all. We’re talking 3+ hours per day for 5-6 days a week for the better part of the year! But if you’re lucky enough to have a local sports network (like NESN in New England, or WGN in Chicago), you can manage to watch a decent chunk of the season. If you have flexible work hours, even better. Even thought about working seasonally? That helps, too. That said…

2. Give up on being a “real fan.”

No one is a “real fan.” Everyone is a “real fan.” Hardcore vs. fair-weather fandom is entirely relative. Remember, no matter how long you’ve rooted for a team or watched baseball in general, how closely you follow off-season trades, how much you read on the subject, how sophisticated your statistical modeling techniques are, how nasty-looking your team cap is, you will seldom be more knowledgeable or generally harder-core than “that guy.”

Who am I talking about? “That guy” represents the average joe hanging out at any local bar. Without really thinking about it, this guy – whoever he is, and he is legion – has accumulated more knowledge than you will ever possess about your chosen team. Somehow he’s seen every single game over the last 70 or so years (even if he’s only 40) and despite the fact that he works 9-5. Moreover, he has a mysterious talent for getting tickets to sold-out games from his “buddy,” and if he’s the aggressive type, he will school you “hahdcoah” if you start running your mouth on trivia. You’ll leave feeling like a total fair-weather fan, and in the end, it’s not worth it. If you sense asshole intent, don’t engage with these guys. As with so many other topics (movies, music trivia, Latin American intellectual history, etc.) talking baseball with cool people who genuinely love the game and want to share their opinions can be a real pleasure, but arguing obscure points with dicks is far from fun. So be selective, and remember that every “that guy” has his own “that guy” who knows even more than he does.

3. Love the melting pot:

Now for the liberal propaganda: baseball is America’s most racially/nationally/linguistically diverse sport, with players from all over the U.S. and Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean, East Asia, and so on. One of the great ironies of Boston’s glorious 2004 Red Sox season was that on a team with such a checkered past in terms of race, and so closely identified with Irish-American fandom, two dark-skinned Dominican guys – David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez – would emerge as the city’s greatest heroes. That crowds of drunken white guys in green Red Sox hats (with the “B” placed atop a shamrock) could profess their undying love to these two from the stands in Fenway is proof, I think, that the world isn’t entirely going to hell.

4. Savor the lyrical/dramatic/literary/whatever flavor

Baseball, at least for those fans and commentators who don’t fall into the “statistics geek” category, regularly becomes a grand Metaphor for Life. Listen to any broadcast long enough and you’ll hear all sorts of flowery rhetoric about epic journeys, tests of faith, skippers at the helm, great rivalries, deep-seeded fears, paternal/filial tension and unwavering yet tortured devotion to tradition and memory. You may occasionally mistake the game for something out of Greek mythology, Hamlet, or a particularly fire-and-brimstone Christian parable, but that’s the point! Despite the cringe-worthy narratives spewed by b-level commentators, baseball does occasionally rise to the occasion and effectively represent the human condition in all of its beauty, lunacy, and tension. I’m serious. Don’t laugh.

4. Drink a beer

Beer tastes better while watching baseball. It’s a fact.

Downhill Skiing – Review

falling.jpgAs many of you may already know I had the dubious pleasure of going downhill skiing this past weekend. My history with skiing has been a twisting and tortuous one. My parents were avid cross-country skiers throughout the 80s, and I remember getting fitted for boots and skis almost every other year when I was little, being dragged outside to laboriously ski across fields I knew I could traverse more quickly and easily on foot, or perhaps with snowshoes. It wasn’t until I was 10 or 11 that I finally went downhill skiing when visiting my aunt, who lived near Park City, UT at the time. I was like ‘oh shit this is awesome’ as I went flying down hills as a fearless youth. After that one experience I was all pumped to join the Ski Club in middle school and keep up the skiing thing. But somehow between ages 10 and 12 the fearlessness thing wore off and I became crippled with fear of going down the really steep hills. Couple this with the fact that I was alone on the slopes (none of my friends had any interest in winter sports), and it made for a fairly miserable experience. I’d wobble my way down the easiest slope 5 or 10 times, and then retire to the lodge to drink hot chocolate, waiting for the bus to go home. This pretty much killed my desire for skiing permanently, and even Chu’s enthusiasm for it hasn’t rekindled the flame.

All of this is to say that Mark’s invocation of extimacy earlier this week was weighing heavily in my mind as we approached the mountain. After getting my bearings I struggled to refamiliarize myself with how to do this or that on skis and made my way down, again, the easiest trail on the mountain. After doing that a few times Chu made me go up to the next level and I got down that one with only minor bruises to my dignity. After I got situated Chu left me so she could slalom down the double black diamond trails or whatever, while I stuck to the green circles. It was almost eerie up at the top of the mountain as night fell and it started to snow. Everything was illuminated by the yellow sodium lamps as filtered through my red ski goggles. My own sense of inadequacy amplified every time someone hot dogged around me, doing some flip or spin as they went off the little jumps on the trail. The sense of alienation was palpable and only grew as my comfort level on the trail increased and I was able to devote more mental energy to idle thought. I’m not nearly the expert in philosophy that Mark is, but I know enough to know that the overwhelming sensation of being alone in the crowd of skiers I was feeling was a severe bout of existential nausea. Just looking around me it was like being left alone in China. Everyone was all done up in their pro snow gear with their spider-web-designed ski-tights, super ski jackets and gore-tex approved ski masks. I’ve never been a big fan of the class war, but something about skiing and ski resorts just oozes a sort of gentrified elitism. As if being an asshole is a requirement for membership. Sitting next to little kids on the lift it was already apparent given their conversations that they would turn into insufferable pricks in about five years’ time. I guess that’s one of the main things I dislike about skiing is that it’s such an endeavor to go do it. There’s so much equipment to bring, buy, or rent; the mountain is never nearby; and it’s fucking expensive as hell to do it. It almost precludes a casual association with the sport. There’s so much overhead in getting to the mountain the first time that if you’re going to do it once, you may as well do it 10 times or 100. Therefore everyone on the slopes is in it to win it. It’s all about showing off and dishing out licks to the n00bs. It’s like any time I fell down, without fail, someone would zip past me at a million miles an hour, within inches of my person and at least once nicking my skis and sending me back down into the snow. I guess that’s what I get for wearing a 15 year old bright blue columbia jacket, wal-mart snow pants, and a camouflaged hunting face-mask.

On the bright side, the lodge was practically stuffed to the brim with hot snow bunnies, so I guess there was that.  But even the comforts offered by the lodge were mitigated by the fact that some Laughing Cow cheese I saw advertised on the lift failed to be offered by the lodge’s cafeteria.  Skiing offers its own small victories and momentary emotions that aren’t really felt doing any other activity, but, on the whole, I can’t really recommend it.