Archive for July, 2009

We live in a youth obsessed culture. Who can deny the compelling nature of the energy, beauty, and expectations of the young? But we lovers of sports must make this confession: that a society that may be more obsessed with sports than any in history is a major contributor to creating the modern idol of strength, appearance, and the passion of youth. It is with some chagrin that I acknowledge that our ESPN era reinforces this obsession and the corresponding diminishing appreciation for age, experience, and wisdom in our society. I thought you would all be interested in this energetic and insightful diatribe from an unexpected source – Late night comedian, Craig Ferguson. 


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back-chosen-1The Dunk. Xavier sophmore, Jordan Crawford, peals off a screen and streaks for the hoop. Lebron leaves his man and turns toward Crawford to provide help defense. He leaps in hopes of swatting the young buck’s effort away, but he is just a hair late. The student athlete throws it down with two hands and the planet’s greatest player is helpless to prevent it – at Lebron’s own summer camp no less.


As countless media outlets have already declared, it’s a joke that we ever heard about this dunk in the first place. The reputation of Lebron’s athletic superiority was unthreatened by this rare moment. Now the masochistic tendencies of celebrity kick in. We only heard about “the dunk” because of the cover up by Lebron and his crew. Any attempt to camouflage this innocuous event guarantees that the story will be told. Only by trying to conceal it could the dunk become noteworthy in everyone’s mind. 


When I heard that someone had dunked on Lebron I thought, “That must of been cool for that kid.” When I heard that someone had dunked on Lebron and he was desperate to cover it up, I was picturing Jordan Crawford soaring through the key like a hybrid of MJ in the ’88 dunk contest and one of Hagrid’s Hippogriffs, throwing it down with stadium-rattling force, raising a victorious battle cry, and pounding his chest as Lebron cowers in defeat and fear.


Let’s assume for the moment that the dunk was a flash of athletic domination. Does Lebron really think that he has something to fear? The man just hit a 25+ foot fade away 3-pointer to win a playoff game. Just over a month ago he put the Cavs on his back – Samwise Gamgee style – and singlehandedly pushed the Eastern Conference Championship to 7 games. Even in defeat, he remains at the peak of his deity status with the media. ESPN anchors fawn over him, nearly reading personally written love notes to him. Sportscenter loves Lebron like CNN loves Obama (and that’s saying something). We wouldn’t have dethroned “King James” because some young kid had briefly shown him up. 


For a man who molds his image like a parent seeks to groom his child, he sure doesn’t know how to help himself out. Nothing new to see here I’m afraid. The spotlight provided to celebrities apparently blinds them to – even self-interested – common sense. Forget displaying a Nixonian “destroy the tape” moment – a skilled, pragmatic egotist would have eagerly broken the story himself. His image would have gone through the roof. Had a grinning Mr. James gushed to anyone who would listen about how “sick” this kid’s dunk was and how much fun it was to play with this young rising star, the effect would have been magnetic. Even his haters would have been grudgingly acknowledging his class act. A humble, confident Lebron James would be irresistible. Secure greatness is very attractive. The media infatuation would have adopted the worshipful tones usually reserved for Oprah or Obama.


Achieving both adoration and admiration is not accomplished through hiding evidence and tattooing “Chosen 1” across your back. That tattoo belongs on a guy with the last-name “Ocho-Cinco” more than it does on anyone who is actually “chosen” or who desires stature as well as sensation. This incident reveals nothing more than a needlessly insecure man. An extraordinary guy who still doesn’t know how to get where he wants to be.


Maybe he doesn’t know.

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And Other Diversions of the Basement Athlete


One quick clarification. Aboys misconception that many have when they hear the term “Basement Athlete” is that it is synonymous with being unskilled at real sports. On the contrary, many professional athletes are also Basement Athletes. Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell, for instance, is apparently a very capable ping-pong player. 


Mindset makes one a true Basement Athlete. An inclination and love for competition that can be engaged in almost any form. A true Bathlete will utilize anything at his/her disposal to create an opportunity for “epic-ness” to ensue. As my whole family knows, the only reason they put timers on microwaves is to make buzzer-beater shots in a heated game of one-on-one Nerf basketball. A wad of paper and any receptacle from a cup to a lampshade can readily transform into an evening of entertainment. I am proud to be the third generation in a heritage of people who throw balls in the house. The importance of making sure that balls often fly around your living room cannot be understated. My Dad has often reported that as kids he and his siblings never got in trouble for breaking anything during rambunctious play in the house because “Grandpa always started it.” The same was true for me. 


Nerf football games in the living room, kitchen table ping-pong, and refining Grant’s pitching form with a tennis ball across the living room are standard MO in our home. Don’t worry about occasionally breaking something. It’s just stuff.


Despite the boundless possibilities of such a rich lifestyle, the average Basement Athlete needs and tends to be drawn to various side activities. The life of a Basement Athlete is full and challenging. Prepping for that next ping-pong challenger, while staying sharp in your Wiffle ball skills – it’ll wear you down. At times you need a change of pace. Relieve the stress, while not sacrificing your competitive edge. Some options may verge dangerously close to real sports, while in some cases it is required that these distractions be mindless activity – all while meeting the needed atmosphere of “competivity” that we so crave. Obviously, it’s a rough life. 


So these are what my Dad recently coined the: “Diversions of a Basement Athlete”: 


Channeling Your Inner Bill Belichick


Video games fit the “mindless” category, yet when two Basement Athletes meet for a grueling game of Madden it keeps the juices flowing. You find yourself thrust into a arena where you anguish over whether the 3-4 defense will give up too much in the running game to stop the Colts offense. A dream come true. Naturally, some people go overboard. We’ve all run into that “Maddenite” who whips you 77-10 with 700 yards of offense and 8 TD passes. Get a life people! Show a little restraint. You wouldn’t catch me obsessing about such trivial pursuits.


Tastes may vary and the video game world offers abundant options. I personally enjoy baseball games as much as Madden, but for whatever reason they don’t cultivate the same level of passion and competition.


I’ve even heard some serious smack talk among competitors at “Guitar Hero” or “Dance Dance Revolution” but, really, raising such activities to Basement Athlete status would be borderline heresy. 


Chasing Flying Saucers


Here, my friends, is a Basement Athlete’s venture into real sports. Ultimate Frisbee is satisfying on a number of levels. While requiring a good bit of athleticism and skill, it is has the excellent advantage of being ideal for guys and girls to play together. Almost anyone with basic instincts for catching and the coordination to learn how to throw can become a contributing player. A floating frisbee lends itself ideally to dramatic leaping or diving catches – even for those with all the leaping abilities of Larry Bird. You are bound to see one or two really sensational catches every time you play. 


Ultimate – while not a basement sport – is definitely a pursuit that the Basement Athlete mindset can be drawn to. It can be quite addicting. 


Living in a Fantasy World


I am currently in my fifth year of Fantasy Baseball and enjoying it as much as the first day I played. It not only provides competition with friends, but gives the opportunity to pretend we have that dream job of being the GM of our favorite team. Who doesn’t want to pick up free agents and make trades, all while figuring out what your starting lineup is going to look like.


I, myself, have only gotten into Fantasy Baseball, but I certainly can give great liberty  those who enjoy Fantasy Football as well.


While it’s hard sometimes – and I have stumbled myself – you must strive to avoid being the guy who makes embarrassingly outrageous trade offers. (i.e “I’ll give you Julio Lugo, Morgan Ensberg, and Mike Cameron for Hanley Ramirez and one pitcher of your choice.”  “No?? Oh, c’mon! Cameron is in a contract year!”) 


Shirts or Skins


Pick up games of basketball, football, or even street hockey are staples of any Bathlete’s repertoire. Being a true Basement Athlete assumes a love of sports in general. The chance to play even a simple game of football or basketball is usually snapped up in an instant. 


Basement Athlete’s are often very skilled at very specific aspects of real sports. Watching me play a game of “H-O-R-S-E”, for example, you would admire my skills. I am, after all, a 3rd and 4th grade free throw contest champion. I dominated (and I still would – thank you very much). Watching me compete in a real basketball game would modify your evaluation.


In Summary


You get the idea. This list may not resonate with you, but Basement Athletes everywhere know how to combine BA sports with entertaining diversions for an excellent competitive recipe. I am full of grace to allow for personal preferences and distinctives.


But there must be standards. As my friend and commenter, Dr. Michael Bauman, has generously offered, “I can give you a pass [on any proposed BA sport] if you ran an entire major league schedule for at least two years with your Strat-O-Matic game set.”

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Before the dramatic moment is lost, I must provide a little perspective to the history that took place in Chicago on Thursday. Mark Buehrle, with a little help from his friends, tossed only the 18th perfect game in baseball history and only the 16th since 1900. How amazing is this feat? A bit of context: 

There have been 224 inside-the-park grand slam home runs. This means that you are over 14 times more likely to see your teams hitter hit an inside-the-park grand slam than to see one of your pitchers throw a perfect game. 


Home plate has been stolen 54 times. Oh wait, let me try that again – Ty Cobb stole home plate 54 times. Nobody knows exactly how many times it has been done in history, but 32 people have done it 10 or more times. If you want to talk about doing it twice in the same game, well, even this has happened 11 times.


A no-hitter still gets a lot of attention, though it has been done 263 times. Nolan Ryan has 7 all by himself. 26 people have thrown more than one. 


33 people have hit for a .400 batting average in a season. 


16 people have struck out 4 (yes, four) people in 1 inning. Chuck Finley somehow managed this 3 times. 


In three mind-bending instances, a team has hit 3 sacrifice flies in one inning. Think that one through.


I guess ESPN is on the right track when they cut to the 9th inning of any game where a pitcher (big name or no-name) is tantalizingly close to “27 up, 27 down”. These moments are not just passing curiosities, but truly one of the rare times that we can use the over-used, often hyperbolic adjective “historic”.

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So the Sox have dropped 4 in a row. Fans confidence is plummeting and most are ready to sell the farm for Roy Halladay to come riding in on a white, season-saving stallion. “The Nation” is abuzz with doubts. Is life as good as we thought it was? These are the times in when you need only to look to those around you to see how blessed you truly are. Imagine, for a moment, that you were part of “Padres Nation”. Stay with me here. Pardon a brief flashback to an insignificant moment in 2006.


So a disappointing 2005 season is done and the Red Sox are retooling a bit. The bosses decided – to fans sentimental disappointment – to part ways with likable, back-up catcher, Doug Mirabelli. His replacement: free agent catcher, Josh Bard.  Well…Bard caught a knuckle ball about as well as most people spell “Yastrzemski”. The organization, experiencing seller’s remorse, longed for the return of Tim Wakefield’s hefty security blanket, Mr. Mirabelli. Our unsensational friend was desperately needed. However, he had already been signed by the Padres. So on May 1, 2006 we sent Josh Bard along with Reliever Clay Meredith to the Padres for Doug Mirabelli. A feel good but fairly mundane move. 


On June 23, 2007 the Red Sox traveled to San Diego for an inter-league match up with     the Padres. The Josh Bard deal was 13 months in the rear view mirror and stale, old news – for all but Padres play by play announcer Matt Vasgersian. For a Padres fan, apparently, this was Jordan coming back to play the Bulls, or pinstripe-clad Clemens pitching against the Red Sox. Coverage of the game began, with Vasgersian playing up the “injustice” that had been done to Bard. In a profound twist of fate, Wakefield happened to be pitching, which meant that Mirabelli was behind the plate. The “drama” was palpable. Dad and I mocked the intensity of the Padres television coverage and with condescending comfort sympathized with all “post-Tony Gwynn Padres fans.” Unknown to us – the drama had barely begun. 


An early Mirabelli strike out brought victorious shouting and cries of satisfaction. Their back-up catcher had been vindicated! There was more.


Bard stepped into the batters box in the bottom of the 2nd inning with a runner on second. He lined a knuckleball into the left-center field gap that scooted by Manny Ramirez for an RBI double. 1-0 Padres. 


2nd inning doubles are not new to me. I don’t remember most of them. What set this one apart? Well our friend, Matt Vasgersian, made sure to educate us and stamp this extraordinary event upon our memories.


As the ball cracked off Josh Bard’s bat, Vasgersian’s voice rose. As the ball slipped through the gap he took a deep breath and, with relish and flourish, shouted “Oh, and this game is just replete with sweet irony!”


A quarter of a hour later, we had mostly recovered our composure. As Proverbs says, “Laughter does good like medicine.” Here, dear friends, is the medicine we need this very week.


“Replete with sweet irony”. A grander over-assessment of a situation has not been proclaimed since Harold Minor came out of college labeled: “Baby Jordan”.


You know, like when someone refers to an “X-Games” win as “historic”, any WNBA game as “riveting”, or Alan Greenspan as “mildly interesting.”


But you see, this is the life of fans across Padres Nation, Rockies Nation, Pirates Nation (Village?)…you get the point. No wonder so many people are hopping on our happy bandwagon. 

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0509 PA-213

My little brother Grant played his first year of baseball this year. Let me preface this post by saying he had a very good time.

Grant Lewis is without question the greatest source of laughter and thought-provoking questions in our home. He is 7 years old and has a deep, unbridled love of sports. He is very competitive, and far more athletic then his older brother ever hoped to be. From the time he could walk he has had a ball in his hands, and he is constantly asking us to teach him how to do better the things he sees us do – how to throw harder, hit a baseball further, drive a golf ball straighter, etc.

When Grant needs to entertain himself, he plays 9 inning baseball games against himself. The games are, of course, fully announced and stats kept for each game. I once overheard him say “And Pedroia knocks one into center field and he has his second hit of the game. Boy he is some player.” He has the Red Sox lineup memorized, and when David Ortiz or J.D. Drew come to the plate he (naturally) bats left handed.

Let me describe a recent, backyard Wiffle Ball battle. He was pitching and managed to get a fastball right by me. As the ball smacked our makeshift backstop, a pleased grin swept across his face. “You’re too easy to strike out,” he said, still smiling. “Oh yeah?” I responded. “Throw me that pitch again and I’ll knock it way into the trees.” “On this pitch?” he asked, with a sly smirk. “This is the one,” I said confidently. I stepped back into the box, the 20 year old looking to show the 7 year old who rules this backyard. I waited on the pitch so I could send it towering into the trees. He wound up and with all his might threw a ball that sent me ducking away as it grazed my left shoulder. I looked at him. I took a step toward him like I was going to charge. He took a step  toward me, looked me in the eye, and said “I dare you.”

Naturally I tickled him to death.

He is competitive and scrappy. Any confidence I had in “always beating him in sports” has flown out the window. Not just because his skill is progressing so quickly, but more because I see, even at a young age, that he plays everything with a passionate focus and mental energy set on beating me even at an age and size that makes this impossible. It’s only a matter of time.

Don’t misunderstand – the provocative questions, gems of wisdom, and tender spirit in this toothless 2nd grader often make me wonder if he isn’t just a pair of C.S. Lewis’ thumbs from profoundly impacting his generation.

He started talking about Little League at 4 years old. With a moral opposition to the horrors that are “Tee-Ball,” we waited until he was 7 and could play on a coach pitch team. With much discussion and anxiety about the horrific possibility that the league might place him on the “Yankees,” we got the relieving call that he was the newest member of the “Nationals. “The whole family got off of work for his first game and counted down the days together. Finally, opening day.

His uniform was meticulously worn for 3 hours before he had to be at the field. We arrived at the game expectant. We were beginning the fun that would be Grant’s Little League career. We made a discovery that day. Few things are more disturbing to the heart and world-view of a Basement Athlete than “Rookie League” baseball.

It was not coach pitch, as we had though but rather “machine pitch.” This machine was a mechanical Rick Ankiel (the 2001 version). This thing could not find the strike zone more than once every 5-6 pitches. Batters were ducking and running. You can imagine how successfully these suburban, commuter fathers solved this problem. Would someone, please, just throw the ball?

Then there were the many things that were supposed to make the game more “fun” for the kid ( i.e.- 10-15 strikes for the kids that didn’t hit well). The parents would groan after strike 9, and the coach would say: “Okay now, only 5 more good ones.”

They were only allowed to take one base at a time. It didn’t matter where the ball was hit – you got one base and one base only. Worse, everybody rotated defensive positions each inning. This meant that the kid who would sit and eat dirt for half the game with his hat on backwards got as much time at shortstop as the kid who laid awake the night before envisioning each play of the upcoming game. And, of course, we don’t keep score – so everyone is a “winner”.

Apparently my confusion was rooted in the false impression that this batch of seven and eight year olds were there to learn how to play baseball. I was deeply disappointed to discover that these leagues are driven by a persuasion that comforting and sheltering the players from any form of disappointment is far more healthy and important than learning how to play, win, and lose well. Couldn’t these young fellows have learned to lose graciously as well as win without becoming boastful and arrogant? Apparently not.

May I suggest that the score of a game does mean something. Should kids not be rewarded, who have worked hard to do well even at a young age? Would positioning the two or three best players at the two or three best positions do anything but make the other kids want to play better and have examples of what that should look like? So, the first-learned goal of baseball is a tie game – a wonderfully level outcome – regardless of performance, that would have made Karl Marx proud.

But this was fine – Grant kept score in his head anyway. Just try to tell him that those games ended in a tie.

I dare you.

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I have the joy of being a Red Sox fan in a post-2004 world. This is a very good thing. The monkey is off our back. I can now have a conversation with a Yankees fan in which the year 1918 is not mentioned once. All in all it’s good to be a Red Sox fan in 2009.

However our newfound success has brought one unexpected problem: fake fans. These are the same people who grew up in Florida yet just happen to be fans of the Yankees, Lakers, Cowboys and Duke Basketball. What luck! These fake fans are also known as bandwagon jumpers, fair weather fans, and every Cleveland Cavaliers fan since Lebron was drafted. I mean who even knew that Cleveland had a basketball team pre-2003? It’s not that they didn’t have a team in 2002, it’s more that they went 17-65 and gave a guy named Bimbo Coles significant playing time. Yeah.


Before 2004 saying that you were a Red Sox fan meant something. Nobody was a Red Sox fan for no reason. They had no incentive to be. You knew that if someone had the crimson “B” on their hat then they were most likely worried that their father or grandfather would die before ever seeing their beloved team win a title. Now when I see someone wearing the hat I know that person has an extra $25 and likes dark blue hats. This in turn takes away from my ability to enjoy wearing my teams hat. It means nothing anymore. Anyone who’s Uncle’s Mother in Laws pet cat ever lived in the greater Boston area suddenly feels the urge to refer to the Red Sox as “we”. 

I realized the extent of the fake fan syndrome (FFS) a couple years ago when I was walking through a mall here in the Philadelphia area. A man, in a blue Red Sox cap himself, pointed at my hat and said “you have good taste in hats”. “Thank you.”  I replied. “How long have you been a fan?” “Just since the Red Sox came back to beat the Yankees in ’04” he told me. At least he admitted it. The next part is what killed me. He proceeded to tell me how he had visited Boston a couple times with his family when he was growing up, and so he had a real connection to the area. None of his family had ever lived there or rooted for the Red Sox, but he had been to Boston twice. Anyone who has EVER seen what Boston looks like now consider themselves “fans”. 

This must be stopped. Here is what I propose. 

We need to come up with a test you must pass before you can be officially considered a part of  “the nation”. First you must prove to some extent that you were a fan before 2004. A picture of you watching a game, an old ticket stub or program, anything really. Then comes the quiz. If you can’t tell me what Carlton Fisk did, then forget it. You aren’t making the cut. If you don’t know who went by  the “Splendid Splinter”, “Yaz”, or even “El Guapo”, don’t waste your time. If after all that you meet the criteria, then you receive a Red Sox hat in the mail with a small logo on the back that tells everyone that you are certified by the FFBI. Maybe we could even have a special hat for those who have been loyal for 50 years or more. We just need to find a way to distinguish ourselves from the fake fans who are watering our loyalty down. 

For now I’ll just have to stick with the fact that my sun stained, beaten up hat has been worn for years and that only a spray of “febreeze” now and then keeps it wearable. 

While dealing with fake fans is certainly annoying there could be worse things of course, because having fake fans around is a sure sign that your team is winning.

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