Giving Up on Football

I love football. I love the strategy. The hundreds of tactical decisions which make up every game create endless intrigue. The excitement of a touchdown and the two minute drill create pulse pounding action. The athleticism on display is extraordinary. However, I will not be watching any more football.

For years, my weekends have consisted almost entirely of watching hours of football. I have probably spent close to a calendar year watching football games. But no longer.

Why you ask? (Perhaps you don’t care, but if you are reading then I assume you do.) I can no longer support a sport which requires men to hurt themselves for my entertainment. There are other reasons not to like it (the strange association of college football and money, the bizarre intertwining of faith and football, the rampant sexism), but it’s mainly the violence.

I can no longer watch as men hurt themselves for my entertainment. Yes, every sport includes people hurting themselves. My current favorite sport, cycling, involves huge crashes and injuries. Soccer, my second favorite, regularly results in serious injury. But football has violence and personal injury in its very make up. Every game, we see multiple players suffering serious injuries.

We celebrate hits like this.  This was #1 on Sportscenter for weeks.  (Source: AP Images)

We celebrate hits like this. This was #1 on Sportscenter for weeks. (Source: AP Images)

When watching, I used to get frustrated by how hyped everyone is when they make a play. I mean it is your job to tackle, why is it so exciting to do your job? Then I got to thinking about how hyped I would have to be to throw myself at another person in a fight. Well, now imagine that guy is huge and can bench 300 pounds easy. I would have to be high on meth to think that was a good idea. But that is what these guys are paid to do for my entertainment. How is that so different from gladiators in the Roman Colosseum? Is football really anything other than 2 teams of 11 guys trying to manhandle the other into submission through any means necessary?

Ok, so they are not being forced to do so like gladiators. These guys are theoretically well paid. At least that is the myth we tell ourselves to make it ok. Well those high school and college kids aren’t being paid anything and the majority of NFL players are not making the tons we think. Most of them don’t play for very long. The median career length is 3.2 years, according to the NFLPA. So essentially these guys are messing up their bodies and brains for 11 years for 3-6 million dollars. That may seem like a pretty good deal. But it seems pretty terrible to me. How much would you have to be paid to know that you will have significant pain for the rest of your life, serious brain deterioration and no job skills at the age of 25?

But even if we paid players well, whatever that means, I will not watch it. I would be tacitly paying someone to suffer lifelong injuries. Let’s remove the game aspect of it. Would it be ok for me to pay someone a million dollars to let me break their leg or tear their ACL? Certainly not, especially if we start talking about paying someone to get dementia for my entertainment. This is not a question of how much they are being paid to do this. This is about how it is never acceptable for someone to be injured for my enjoyment. Yes, some people may come out of the sport feeling reasonably ok, but that would seem rare.

I do have significant concerns about the impact it has on our society as well. We celebrate this sport above all others in the US. What does that mean when this sport is defined by violence? This sport is about proving your physical superiority in a fight. What does this indicate about our values as a society? Again, other sports are about physical superiority as well. Basketball, soccer and baseball require you to be the fittest possible. But these sports don’t require you to physically manhandle your opponent. It is a component, but there is a difference between these, technically, non-contact sports and football. Every high school football coach is teaching their team to fight harder, win the battle in the trenches and send a message with your hitting. This is reinforcing all the negative characteristics of our American psyche. Too long we have defined ourselves through conflict and physical action, rather than thought.

We like to think there is a separation between the field and the rest of life. I am skeptical of this argument. How can we celebrate violence in one place and not expect it to extend beyond the field? How can we have two distinct set of values? That seems completely counterintuitive to me. Don’t we strive to ensure all our actions are aligned with our values? How is that possible if you have more than one set of values? My concern here is about the players and, more so, the fans. How can they spend so much time and energy focused on how to resolve problems through force and then learn that conflict is best resolved through conversation? This is a simplification, but football is a reflection of our larger culture in this way. In Ferguson, the police think you can maintain order through force. We think have a superior military provides us with the capacity to contain and control Russia, ISIS, Iran and North Korea. How did that work out in Iraq and Afghanistan? Problems are complex and sometimes force is necessary. But it never works by itself. We cannot manhandle our problems like our team does their rivals.

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Just a few of the logos for actual teams named Gladiators. How is celebrating some of the most gruesome events of all time acceptable?

Football is one of the most compelling things in the world. The storylines are as expansive and exciting as anything else out there. But football reflects what is wrong with our society. It reflects all the violence we embrace as Americans. It reflects our belief that anything the market believes is ok is, in fact, ok. It reflects our disregard for the health of others. It reflects our need for entertainment at any cost. All of these things are part of why we continue to live in an unjust society. There should be things we are not ok with as people. We think dogfighting is barbaric but support having two people destroy each other in a cage. We think cockfighting is a problem but not if we pay men to throw their bodies at each other. We think bum fighting is reprehensible but not when it is men from poor neighborhoods, who seem to have no other choice to get out of the cycle of poverty, are paid to hurt themselves for our enjoyment.

There need to be certain things that are not ok even if people are willing to do them. Hurting themselves is one of them.

I have no problem with other people enjoying football but I can no longer support this system. Additionally, I encourage everyone to think about what they are really supporting. Have a reason why you think it is ok or not. Don’t just embrace things because they are enjoyable and we have been told it is ok. That is how we wind up back with gladiators killing each other for cheering fans.

Cricket In America – Part One

Indian Premier League cricket draws millions of viewers via YouTube. Thousands pack out every game in Mumbai.

The United States of America supports wars abroad and professional sports at home. Both of these things are expensive and a testament to an economy that, even while limping, seems to manage grand slam sized feats. Football, baseball, and basketball obviously rule. College athletics collectively hold court alongside the big three. Hockey takes its place behind NCAA and the big three. Soccer, golf, and tennis round out the sports year. But do Americans play the second most popular game in the world? Does America play cricket? We do actually. We just don’t play it very well.

The U.S. will one day have a professional cricket league. It will be some time (way longer than those pushing for it think), however, before MLC (Major League Cricket) is entrenched as an American establishment by way of locking itself out. Before that inevitable lockout we’ll discover that cricket is a gripping sport and we’ll watch it. My friends will watch the Kansas City Sparrows bowl out the Phoenix Banditos, 115 for 4, just because two guys on their fantasy team are set to earn centuries in the titanic Tuesday Night Match-Up. Jerry Jones will try to out bid Sheiks and Russian oil magnates for Sri Lankan all-rounders. Drake and LeBron will sit pitch-side to watch the next Ricky Ponting carve out boundaries all morning in Brooklyn.

Some Australian cricketers looking, by our standards, extremely not cool. I’ll have to convince you that these dudes are for real athletes.

There is space for cricket. It’s there in the mounting westernization of south asia. It’s in the inherent drama of cricket. It’s just still kind of far away. The distance most likely is due to how much you don’t know about the game and how difficult it is to know something about the game. Mostly, though, it’s cause you don’t think cricket is cool. Which, from your perspective, it’s not. Some things need to be taught and translated.

Here, in part one of three, I’ll translate and explain some basics. I’ll show you these things by way of my personal journey. I played one year of cricket for my uni (college) as a bowler (pitcher) for the first XI (first eleven = varsity). I plan to be the the first American-born member of the the United States Cricket Team. Seriously, we have a national team and we’ve yet to have an American born cricketer suit up in white slacks and a sweater vest. Here, I’ll unveil stories that teach the game – how it’s played and why it’s such a cool game. There are, in this autobiography, ups and downs, successes and failures but mostly failures along with heaping doses of hilarity. This is my story: laugh at it, make fun of it, but also, learn from it.

Then, in part two, I’ll show you how those basics are being exploited in India. Many are making millions off of it within an economic model that piques the interest of American investors. I’ll also get you up-to-date on the goings-on of the cricket world–stars and drama, etc.

Lastly, I’ll lay out how I think cricket should be marketed and pushed onto an already saturated sports culture like America. Comparing English club cricket to Indian T-20 cricket will serve as a launching point. Cricket in England is freaking boring. It’s freaking awesome in India. Ultimately, this essay will serve to debut an ongoing attempt to bring you, my friends, into the world of cricket. We’ll be ahead of the curve spinner (a curve ball is called a spinner in cricket).

After reading I’ll invite you over to watch cricket via firstrowsports.eu on my computer. In between ads for Indian bath products you’ll begin to recognize why it’s second in popularity behind that other sport you don’t really watch unless you accidentally wake early on a Saturday in the winter. Despite your current opinions or knowledge of cricket, if America is not to be left behind in the coming generations, my admonition is that you recognize where it is that the rest of the world is focusing attention–renewable energy, math/science, and cricket.

Terms and Rules

As we get into the nuts and bolts it will help to have a beginner’s vocabulary. There are several terms that have a baseball equivalent. We’ll start with those. Inserted are short stories relaying my learning of the terms by way of immersion.

Bowler = Pitcher

Dude showing off an admirable crow-hop. Bowling.

I went out for a spot on the side (side = team) as a bowler. I had little say in this. I was forced to abide on the first day. Abiding would become my modus operandi. I’d pitched in high school. As a JV pitcher I threw side arm and had a Rob Dibble leg kick. I mean, why not? It was JV. In varsity I wasn’t allowed to throw side arm and the varsity coaches didn’t think my leg kick was funny. In cricket the leg kick is morphed into a run-up. Every pitch is delivered as a crow-hop from center field. This is really freaking fun. I mean, how many crow-hops did you do as a kid? I mean, right? Cricket doesn’t only afford one opportunities to crow-hop on every pitch, it calls for you to do so! And! And! Not only do you get to crow-hop, you get to run at the batter for as far of a distance as you desire before you crow-hop. Imagine starting just behind second base, running as fast as you can, getting to the mound and crow hopping your pitch to home plate.

Bowling is really fun. It’s great. However, and this is a big however, you can’t bend your arm at the elbow. This is the biggest buzz kill of cricket. “Oh, you can throw hard? Oh you want to be Rob Dibble with a crow-hop?! Welp, we’re not going to let you throw hard. We’re going to put your arm in a cast and then have you pitch.” This is the hardest part of cricket, not bending your elbow. It’s also the hardest thing for me to get over. One that bends their elbow is penalized one run for what’s called, ‘slinging’. In one season, it’s purported, that I was penalized for slinging over a dozen times. Whatever. Dibble was awesome. The cricket equivalent to Dibble, Lasith ‘Slinga’ Malinga is featured in this video. He’s called slinga because of his side-arm action. He’s a stud.

Batsman = Batter

Batsman are gentlemen, in the first place. One is to be patient, refined, strong (both mentally and physically) and dignified. A good batsman may be ‘at the plate’ for more than a few hours. It’s like giving a presentation to your boss. You need to have a plan, a good introduction, a solid conclusion, and you need to anticipate your boss’ questions. I did none of these things. My JV baseball career encouraged me to swing for the fences–the opposite mindset of an upstanding batsman. The ‘proper’ cricket swing is a short stroke, controlled and crafted to keep the ball on the ground. My swing is long, out-of-control, and built to hit the ball as high and as far as possible. I was not a good batsman.

A batsman wears ridiculous amounts of gear. Think hockey goalie. Hence, one looks bad ass in batting attire. There are leg pads, hip pads, gloves that look like hockey gloves, elbow and arm guards, a helmet with face guard, and a cup. Baseball batters have gloves and wrist bands, ankle guards, elbow guards, and eye black. Or at least I had all of these things. JV baseball is an opportunity to wear as much gear as possible, though you’ll hardly need any of it. You actually need your gear in cricket as a batsman gets hit by the ball regularly–it’s part of the game.

India’s beloved Sachin Tendulkar exhibiting proper batting technique.

A batsman should only swing strategically at worthy balls. The less you swing, and more you block, the longer you last. I would swing at everything in JV baseball. I swung at every ball I saw in cricket–I was a terrible batsman.

Over = Six Pitches and Delivery = a pitch

Overs are to cricket as innings are to baseball–they provide structure. After six pitches the ball switches to the opposite end of the field and a new pitcher/bowler is brought in to face the same batsmen (there are two ‘mounds’ and two ‘plates’). It’s a time for captains to make some switches in the positioning of his players. Mostly, from my perspective, it was a time to run to the center of the field and give pounds and high fives and butt slaps to my teammates–much like basketball players do after each foul shot. Those that were deep in the outfield would rarely make the jog in like I did. I found that to be selfish, on their part. I mean if you’re going to be in the field for several hours why not relish the opportunities to actually hang out with your teammates. Hanging in the dug out, spitting sun flower seeds is all that I remember from JV baseball. I remember the time in between overs fondly. I taught the team a basic/urban handshake. Some got it and liked it. Others seemed disinterested with my overly-touchy approach to time between overs. I’d love to see what the 2011 Brewers team could do with the time between overs.

Dismissed = Out

England national team, shown here, are not on the playground playing patty-cake. They are, in fact, celebrating the recent dismissal of the opposing team.

About 10 minutes in to my first cricket game I caught a foul tip. It was the first catch of the season and I’d learn later that lapses between outs could be hours. I made our first out in the first ten minutes of the first game. I was like any kid that has grown up watching professional baseball players barely react to catching fly balls. I could hear my varsity coach in my ear, “Act like you’ve been there before.” My reaction was to be as cool as possible. I could not have been more off. I insulted my team and the game. In cricket, because outs are so rare, (imagine playing for seven hours and only seeing 18 outs as opposed to the 54 in one 2.5 hour baseball game) when you make one, the proper reaction is to throw the ball, under hand, as high as you can. Don’t watch where the ball lands. Put your hands in the air. Yell as loud as you can. Sprint to the center of the field and embrace your teammates in awkward hugs.

Ray

Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs being cooler than you.

Americans, thanks to African American professional athletes in the 80s and 90s, have perfected athletic celebrations and hand shakes.

The rest of the world has not yet mastered this. It’s something cricketers are going to have to work on if cricket is to find a foothold in the U.S. Take this photo of Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs for instance. That’s a whole lot of cool to have to live up to. I’m not sure the more worldly cricketers have the gumption or swag yet. We’ll leave it at something to work on, swag, that is. I still feel badly about how off-putting and lax my reaction was to our first out of the season. I’m sure many on the team still resent me for my perceived apathy. It’s supposed to look something like this.

Ways to ‘Get Out’

1) In baseball you are out when the opposing team catches the ball before it hits the ground. This is the same in cricket. Only, cricketers do not wear gloves or mitts. The lack of leather sets cricket apart. In short, catching line drives isn’t easy without a glove. Granted, true line drives, as we would define a line drive, do not happen that often. Lazy fly balls are the most common catch. It would be hard for me to relay how much cricketers and fans of cricket love catches. I suppose the equivalent would be an over the shoulder diving catch. In MLB there are what, ten per week during the season? We get pretty jacked about them but still, cricketers go nuts for catches, even the simple ones.

In practice one day I was standing behind the bowlers. This was early on in my career (second or third practice). A guy batting at the far end hit a line drive my way. I raised my right hand and caught the ball. I flipped it to the guy that bowled it and went on my way. The cheers of my teammates startled me. I thought they were yelling at an intruder or something. Turns out my casual snag brought the house down. Later that night, I was sitting in a pub close to the practice center and two guys came up behind me. Two loud hand slaps against my back, the one guy yalked to the other, “Mate! You shoulda seen this lad’s catch tonight in the nets! Top form, mate! He’s a natural.” I was baffled but soaked up the accolades. If it was this easy to rile up cricketers and cricket fans then what could Dez Bryant or Larry Fitzgerald or Josh Hamilton get out of them, I thought. This is a true story.

2) In baseball a batter is out if the ball arrives at the base before the batter. This is similar in cricket. However, there are no bases. There is a crease. It’s the batter’s box, first base, home plate, and the pitcher’s mound all in one. Pretty resourceful, really. The set-up is conducive for playing in the street–much like basketball and soccer–hence the popularity of the game. Here’s how it works: the bowler bowls the ball towards the batsman who is standing in front of the wicket or stumps (the three stakes in the ground). The bowler is trying to hit the stumps (kind of) and the batsman is trying to protect the stumps (kind of). The batsman will sometimes just block the ball, other times he will hit it. If he hits it, let’s say a medium paced ground ball up the middle, one that won’t reach the fence but the center fielder will still need to concentrate on fielding it. In this case, the two batsman that are on the pitch will run back and forth between the wickets as many times as they can. If the ball is relayed in and thrown or pushed into the wickets before the batsmen are safely beyond the crease then that batsman is out. This is called a run-out. It’s a humiliating and rare way to get out. I was run-out twice. It looks something like this. Notably, this video hints at the current sentiments strangling cricket–more on this later.

The game was not close. I was at the bottom of the line up. We were swinging for the fences to try and get back in the game. It was my debut. Coach told me, tongue-in-cheek, to knock some out of the park. First ball, I golfed one into the cheap seats. I was that rookie you see on SportsCenter. The one towards the end of an episode. The one whose first hit in the big leagues was a home run. I was beaming. I hit for six runs on the first ball I saw. Next pitch. I slapped one through the right side of the infield. I caught it on the sweet spot. I was now gloating over my wrongly perceived natural prowess as a batsman. A guy in the outfield was picking up the ball as I noticed our bench screaming for me to run. Lumbering through the pads I arrived at the other crease just in time to see their keeper swipe our wickets. I had been run-out on my second pitch. Bummer.

3) There are two other common ways to get out in cricket. I was able to accomplish one of them. The second I somehow avoided. The first is by jumping out of the crease. It’s kind of like being run-out but even more humiliating. It was on the third pitch in my third game. The bowler threw one full, right at my ankles. (Full means he shorthopped me.) What a prick, I thought. While I was staring him down the other team was celebrating. The ball had been tossed in the air and they were playing patty cake quite near to me. I wanted to drop the gloves and start swinging but I was already sensing the humiliation. I had jumped out of the crease. The wicket keeper (catcher) had swiped my wickets while I was out of the crease contemplating charging the mound. I was out. Again.

4) Leg Before Wicket, known as LBW is yet another way to be dismissed. This is interesting and makes for some good fun. In my first game, I was bowling my first over, it might have been my third or fourth pitch ever delivered. Coach told me to go inside on the batter. I’m all for brushing dudes back. I hit him square in the leg pad after he swung and missed. A strike and hit batter? Best case scenario, right? Things got even better. My teammates sprinted towards the umpire in unison all yelling as loud as they could. Again, I jumped. It would not be the last time their yells would startle me. They were doing what’s called appealing. In unison, as a chorus, arms raised and sprinting, they screamed, “Hoooowwwzzzzzaaaaahhht?!?!” The umpire, completely motionless except for a slowly raising forearm and index finger, called the batsman out by sternly pointing towards the sky. I was baffled. Again. What the eff just happened? I didn’t have time to ask anyone. I was on my team’s shoulders, literally. One not to turn down an opportunity to party, I joined in my Rudy moment and belatedly screamed, “Hoooowwwzzzaaah!”

So what did happen? The ball struck the batsman’s leg before it struck the wicket without clipping his bat. Leg Before Wicket. Because this is not an exact science, some bowlers throw in the 90s and a batsman’s legs are a few feet from the wickets, it takes a trained professional, an umpire, to determine, if in fact, the ball would have struck the stumps had the batter not been impeding the ball’s flight. In this case, if you are fielding or bowling and you believe that the ball would have struck the stumps then you ‘appeal’ to the umpire with all your might with hopes of swaying him to your side, just in case he isn’t quite sure. The proper form for appealing centers on the phrase, “How is that?” As in, how was that pitch? Do you think it would have struck the wickets, Mr. Umpire? However, as it’s delivered on the field, it’s better to interpret “How is that?” as “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me? How could you not see that that was going to smash the wickets you blind, idiot umpire?” Like I said, appeals became one of my favorite parts of the game.

Notably, too many appeals and your team might be sanctioned by the phrase, “That’s not cricket.” It’s like one saying, “That’s not in the spirit of the game.” Men that say this sit in the expensive seats and wear sport jackets and are huge tools. I’m ok with appeals. The louder and the more the better. It’s good fun. Almost as fun as smashing the stumps and watching the batsman, all depressed, stroll back to their bench.

Scoring

A Six = A home run

There is not a fence. There is a rope or a line encircling the playing surface. It’s aptly named–the boundary. To earn six runs on one ball the ball must be hit and clear the boundary on the fly. One of my favorite cricketers, Chris Gayle, the Prince Fielder of cricket, demonstrates how to hit for six: 

On most cricket fields there is a ‘batter’s eye’. In major league baseball parks, in center field, there must be some sort of background that aids the batter in picking up the ball as it leaves the pitcher’s hand. The batter’s eye in cricket is a big piece of wood on wheels. Depending on where the bowler is and where the batsman is, the big piece of wood is rolled into line of sight. My goal, still to this day, is to hit one over the batter’s eye for six. I promised my team, that if it happened, I would make a home run trot around the infield. Were this to happen it would not be the first or last time I offend pure blood cricketers.

A Four or Boundary = A home run

It’s kind of like a ground rule double but one scores four runs for this. The ball must strike the boundary. It’s difficult to hit for a boundary. Only good batsmen earn boundaries. It’s the sign of a good batsman. I hit for very few boundaries (maybe none?). I was not a good batsman.

A Run = A Run

When you see two batsman running back and forth between the stumps they are earning runs, one at a time. If a batsman hits the equivalent of a double into the gap then the batsmen run back and forth as many times as possible before the ball is thrown in. As previously mentioned, if one pushes too hard then one risks being run-out. “Don’t ever get run-out.” That’s my coach after I was run-out.

Types of Games – There is more than one

The overall goal of the game is to score more runs than your opponent. Pretty simple really. And if you take a step back from all the logistics of how one teams goes about that, then you see that it’s just some dudes trying to hit a ball more times than the other team without hitting it poorly. The other team is trying to make it difficult for one team to hit the ball, they want them to hit the ball poorly. In this way, cricket is as basic as sport can get. However, when it comes to scoring, things get a bit more complicated but not really. No more difficult to understand than football or tennis. One needs to understand the structure of a particular game and one needs to understand that there is more than one type of cricket game. Think of playing seven innings in little league versus nine innings in the big leagues.

Test Match Cricket

I’m not sure when this originated but the era in which it did has to be influential in its creation. As in, folks must have been bored and wealthy. Test Match Cricket lasts for five days. Five full days of cricket between two teams. I suppose it’s similar to playing a seven game series in the playoffs but these matches aren’t part of a season. Two countries decide they need to find out who is better at cricket so they schedule a full week of it. They meet and then go at it, all day for five days.

I have to admit, this appeals to me, both as a viewer and a future cricket star. Just as golf and major tournament tennis requires as much mental strength as physical, so too does test match cricket. It requires athletes to be in the moment for hours and days. I respect that. You should too. Give it a chance.

One Day Cricket – 50 Overs

The most common form of cricket, one day matches last from four to six hours. Again, that’s a long time and I doubt that this form of cricket could ever catch on in the U.S. Special event tournaments, like major tennis, could find a niche, but it’s still a long ass time. If the goal of these lengthy matches is to truly determine the better side, then cricket achieves this goal. It’s rare to claim that the winning team lucked-out like a soccer team or baseball team might. In the end, one day cricket should find its way onto college campuses. Imagine preppy frat guys organizing all day drinking parties along the boundary of the cricket pitch. Their reason for being after all, is to embody all that british exceptionalism founded, just in a more rowdy fashion. Their party pamphlet hanging in the student center might read:

Sigma Nu and Chi O invite you to the 24th annual ‘Mixer By The Pitch(er)’ – $5 pitchers all night plus cover. Bring your sweater vests – it will be ironic.

Twenty20 Cricket – 20 Overs

It’s basically the home run derby of cricket. The format has completely changed a game that hasn’t changed for over a century. It’s taking british tea and dumping it in Boston harbor. It’s taking the stuffiness of colonialism and smearing it with hip-hop artists that make CEO incomes. It’s a blast to watch.

India Premier League Cheerleaders.

The idea is that instead of each team bowling 50 overs, they only bowl 20. In normal cricket, a team can afford to block the ball in order to sustain a steady pace of scoring runs throughout the really long match. In normal cricket, a batsman might only take a big ol’ cut once an over. Normal cricket necessitates patience and allows for strategy. Twenty20 cricket requires batsmen to swing for the fences. Teams aren’t afforded as many balls to block. They need to score as many runs as quickly as possible. As a result, the Josh Hamilton’s and Big Papi’s are signing huge contracts for just a few weeks of service in India.

Formerly, these future steroid stars were relegated to county cricket in their hometown or they ended up in the Bahama’s smashing balls out of tiny stadiums in front of a few hundred people. Now, they are center stage soaking up the curried limelight. Making big bucks smashing ‘sixes’ has ignited a craze in much of the cricket watching world. This form of cricket, to use a sports fan cliche, has changed the game. It’s left pipe smoking, brandy sippin, British Lords reaching for their feathered quils. It’s begging for them to write vitriolic letters-to-the-editor sanctioning their former colonies into a landing place that’s more appropriate than the balls now falling in the cheap seats. Cricket on steroids has finally arrived. India and many already wealthy business owners are cashing in. America will too. They even have cheerleaders. We’ll cover Twenty20 extensively in part two and part three.

Positions (assuming right handed batsman)

Cricket position replete with old-brit names.

I played an entire season of cricket and never really mastered or memorized the positions. My first game the captain resorted to saying things like, “Kyle, go stand over there by Amar but not too close to him… yeah… come in a bit… back two steps… yeah right there.” I was that unathletic kid that you hoped wouldn’t show up in your neighborhood wiffle-ball game cause you’d have to tell him where to stand and where to throw the ball. This lasted for several overs until he just put me in the slips, a position that requires very little moving about. I liked it there. I had to look up the positions on wikipedia in order to write this essay.

Long Off = Right Fielder

Long On = Left Fielder

Straight On = Center Fielder

Notably, there is no foul territory in cricket. There are fielders positioned behind the batsman. There are arbitrary names for these positions, as well.

Third Man = Left Fielder (behind)

Long Stop = Center Fielder (behind)

Fine Leg = Right Fielder (behind)

Wicket Keeper = Catcher

Slips (positioned just behind the batsman to catch foul tips) = This would be like having up to three catchers

Point = If you were to place a second baseman on the on deck circle, first base line

Cover = close to where a first baseman would be

Mid Off = second baseman

Mid On =  Short Stop

Midwicket = Third Baseman

Square Leg =  On the on deck circle on the third base line

Fine Leg = Those foul tips that go through a batter’s legs are fielded by this guy, I’m out of examples, this guy would have good seats on the third base line if he were a patron, I guess.

TEA

It’s worth pointing out that positions are changed by the captain/manager or the bowler before every pitch. And yes, it gets really annoying to have to run around the field all day. However, by the end of the day you look forward to the jog from Square Leg to Mid On, it keeps your head in the game. And for a game that can last for days at a time, keeping your head in the game is monumental. Of equal importance, are the more sustained breaks. Commonly known as, tea.

Yes, tea break. Seriously, there’s a tea break. I’m not joking. The teams retreat into a dining room above the locker rooms. They sit down at long Harry Potter tables and eat triangle sandwiches and drink tea–together. I swear this happens. I’m not kidding. You have a tea break in the midst of manly, athletic competition. Sometimes the teams even converse. You share snacks and tea with your competitors. Sandwiches and tea and even cookies and stuff. This is real and this happens. I’m still trying to convince myself that it does. Tea and all that. Geez. I experienced it. Tea break. I saw it. Promise. It’s baffling.

Tea. Baffling. But pleasant, nonetheless.

Other Basic Terms

Spinner = A junk pitcher

Fast Bowler = A pitcher that throws only heat, can be used in closer situations or throughout the game

Medium Bowler = A starting pitcher, most often

Captain = captain/manager

Nets = Batting cage

The Boundary = The Homerun Fence

Help = cutoff

Conclusion

Cricket is going to have to get cool if it’s going to make waves in the U.S. I’m sure much of the cool of Indian Premier League cricket is lost in translation. As it is, the first step will be deciphering what it is that is being muzzled and kept from American interests. This means finding the stars and relaying the drama in a vernacular we can relate to. It’s then going to be about marketing. These we’ll address in the next two installments of Cricket in America. Hang with me. I promise, cricket is worth it. Who doesn’t want to see Ken Griffey Jr. come out of retirement to smash sixes while Indian patrons go ballistic? I know I do.

The Reds Lost

In 2001 my friends and I attended 41 home games. In years spanning 1983-2012 we’ve doled out thousands of dollars at hundreds of games. In those years we’ve collectively amassed over ten thousand hours of Reds baseball watched and experienced. In 2010 Jay Bruce hit a walk-off homerun to clinch the NL Central. I was watching by myself but my phone was vibrating continuously for the next 12 minutes with texts from my jubilant comrades. We were beside ourselves. Our 10,000 hours (Malcolm Gladwell would deem us Reds baseball geniuses) were vindicated. Nothing more needed to happen to assuage the vast amount of longing that had piled in our stomachs during childhood, adolescence and young adulthood. That homer was enough. Moving on in the playoffs, knowing we were going to face the Phillies, was not expected nor needed. We lost in three, were no-hit, had one really fun home game, but immediately took to the blogs to see what moves would be made before the next season. The next season was a wash. Injuries, poor play and injuries doomed the season early on and expectations were low early. This was good for our psyche and our health. We probably needed a break because 2012 was going to be the year. Our pitching staff, replete with maturing and matured arms would be strong. Votto would entrench himself as a star. New shortstop, Cozart, would be the missing link. Stubbs and Bruce and Heisey would cement themselves as one of the best outfields in the majors. And we would be hungry to get back to the top of our division.

Our expectations are what doomed us. They are what have left us in a heap on the floors of our condos and apartments wishing this season had never happened. They are what tortured us from 3:30 PM to 4:45 PM on October 8, 2012 while at work. We all had our phones out and our computers tuned to MLB gamecast. Those of us that are more daring were watching on firstrowsports.eu, sweating through commercials for Indian cricket and Sri Lankan deoderant. Our expectations are what made us hate Bud Selig for scheduling our small market city for a 2:00 PM game (what a dick?). It was our hope that has us hurting so deeply. Starting with the Posey grandslam, our conversations looked like this:

Just the other night I turned on TBS to watch the pregame for the NLCS and lasted all of five minutes. I had to turn it off. Dennis Eckersly wasn’t doing it for me. The sight of the Cardinals and the Giants warming up, laughing and joking, looking really wealthy and healthy just hurt me so deep. I haven’t watched a pitch of any game since Rolen popped out in the 9th. So what is it about the Reds losing a 2-0 lead in the NLDS that has us so wrecked? Why am I completely devastated? Why did we allow ourselves to expect child-like memory making?

For starters, we had a 2-0 lead in the series and I don’t know who to blame for blowing a 2-0 lead in the series. It is abhorrent to win two on the road and then blow three-in-a-row at home. The first loss at home was a given. The defeatist in all of us was willing to allow the Giants to fight another day. However, I was not ready for the anguish of losing three-in-a-row. I wanted some butts but I needed more access to my team before I knew who to ream. Baseball doesn’t allow me that access.

Supposedly before game three, the psycho, Hunter Pence, who throws like a country boy and battles like a confederate re-enactor, brought himself to tears in the visitor’s locker room beneath Great American Ballpark. Supposedly, he ranted to his fellow millionaires that he refused to lose two years in-a-row in the first round. Supposedly, his fellow millionaires settled on one brand of dip, I heard it was Copenhagen Straight, the working class can of choice, in order to garner solidarity amongst themselves for the remaining games. It’s all supposed because Baseball doesn’t allow us in the locker room like the NFL does.GABP is emblazoned with a photo of the bat of Pete Rose (the photo is more a billboard resembling the Greek frieze that once adorned the Parthenon which now resides in the British Museum–in Britain). Pete, like Hunter, is an emotionally wobbly, working class psycho. Pete, were he sane, would probably shed a tear knowing that someone loved competition in Cincinnati as much as he did. The photo of Pete’s record breaking bat is supposedly in bubble-wrap, on it’s way to The San Francisco Museum–in California–yuk. Pete and I would have benefited from an Outside the Lines episodes on the woes in the Reds’ clubhouse after game four. For better or worse, Baseball (big B) doesn’t allow the fan or the press the voyeuristic access that other professional sport leagues do. They don’t allow the kind of access that would comfort us in times of need.

The NBA has the Inside Stuff with Ahmad Rashad, err, the NBA has Bill Simmons and Grantland. The NFL has SportsCenter, “ESPN’s flagship program”. The New York Jets (i.e. Tim Tebow) notably boast in the fine print of their website, “SportsCenter, the flagship program of the New York Jets.” Soccer has every media outlet in the rest of the world, literally. MLB, our nation’s pastime, is relegated to the 11:00 P.M. slot on ESPN. Baseball Tonight, no doubt, has an hour every night during the season. However, the program features highlights, and then more highlights and then a couple more. Ahmad Rashad, were he to join the Baseball Tonight crew, would never be given a shot.

Before Twitter, information regarding the personal lives of our baseball players was non-existent. There is a total lack of connection between fan and player in Major League Baseball. Part of me thinks the powers-that-be in Baseball work to keep it this way. Bud Selig must have a Dick Cheney lurking in the shadows of major network sports studios–pulling strings and crossing out chunks of script with a giant Magnum 44 red marker. Somewhere owners and half-owners and small percentage celebrity owners are making millions of dollars off my friends and me spending substantial chunks of our paychecks on baseball games and beers at games. Giving us all access might reveal that their players are doing stupid things like Ben Rothlesburger does, thereby jeopardizing our devotion. Things like riding motor cycles without helmets so that slicked back long hair is not distrubed. And/or, things like forcing maids to have sex. Our players might be doing things like putting bounties on the other team’s heads. Our players might be doing things that are un-American and don’t slot nicely into the clean-cut image of baseball as our closest thing remaining to the mirage that is American values. Here’s the thing though, we wouldn’t know. We don’t know our players.

If Brandon Phillips was crying and ranting to his fellow millionaires in the home locker room before game five then I might feel a little better about the loss. At least I would know it meant something to them. Instead, I have absolutely no idea what the mood was like in the locker room. I don’t know if they were texting their girlfriends, “What’s for dinner tonight?” I don’t know if they were talking about new cars and yachts or where they were playing golf after the season. If they didn’t care even, then I would still feel better. I would then be able to situate my frustration. I’d be able to find a home for my suspended blaming. For now, I don’t know who is culpable for blowing a 2-0 lead in the series. Baseball won’t let me in. The staid professionalism that MLB expects and fosters–“act like you’ve been here before”–keeps me on the outs. So not only am I royally pissed about the loss(es), I’m left with nowhere to go with my pissed-off-ness. Sports are supposed to be an escape from the real world. This scenario of being discontent and having no place to set my discontentedness too closely resembles the real world. This is why I am so pissed. And this might be the underpinning sentiment–this feels all to much like the real world.

Secondly: I can list off the 1990 Reds starting line-up, starting rotation, and bullpen. When one can do this, blowing three in a row at home in 2012 ends up feeling like real world depression. Since the losses, I’ve expressed to any other devotee that will listen, my almost embarrassing admission that I feel like my childhood dog has died. I was eight when the Reds won the World Series. My aunt was getting married in our living room, literally, during game four of that series. My grandfather was in the T.V. room yelling updates down the hall to my father, me, and whomever in the wedding party might want to know, “Sabo hit another one!!” When this is the environment that you grow up in, where weddings come second to Reds baseball, then the playoffs become sacred–actively watching each pitch morphs into a sacrament of sorts wherein those that are no longer with us join us on the couch, we’re watching for ourselves and the departed (in my grandfather’s defense, he had been a Reds fan longer than he had been a father). My closeted hopes for this year’s team to be seared into my niece’s and nephew’s memory are the problem. That excitement, for what could be, is what makes this all the worse. I’m a child of the generation that experienced the Big Red Machine. I’m constantly reminded (there is a mural of them just inside the main gates of GABP), be it while driving through Amelia in North Cincinnati, where Joe Morgan has his Honda dealership, or while watching every single Reds game of my entire life wherein there is always a reference to the BRM, that winning a World Series changes your life. I wanted my life changed this year and for some absurd reason, it might have been the 2-0 lead, I thought it could happen.

Lastly, this Reds teams is homegrown and like my homegrown vegetables, I want them to do well. To further the metaphor, I want these players that WE drafted and nurtured and grew to fulfill my longings like vegetables fulfill my hunger. And why not continue it a bit more? I want THESE Reds, OUR Reds to sustain my health like… vegetables. Jay Bruce, Joey Votto, Drew Stubbs, Cozart, Leak, Bailey, Hannigan were our swiss chard and tomatoes. As it is, an early frost turned my garden into a mushy reminder that only farmers should farm. Losing a 2-0 lead pulverized my Reds baseball garden and I’m left eating Campbell’s Homestyle Vegetable soup, I’m writing about my depression instead of gladly foregoing all responsibilities to watch the World Series. Gosh, I would have made such a kick ass dinner for game one of the World Series.

The pain of this loss might last a while. I can’t get to the players to find out if they truly gave it all they had. I’ve spent thousands of dollars and haven’t seen the return on my investments. I said my prayers, recited the liturgies, harnessed the spirit of deceased relatives, watered my organic garden and am left with very little. To end on a positive, we have everyone back, will hopefully trade Stubbs, and we are not a large market abomination like the Yankees or the Red Sox. We’ll be back and I’m certain that after a meal of organic vegetables my friends and I will lead a revolt to get back Pete’s bat.

Tennis Culture(s)

Charlie Rose has been indulging nerdom and geeking-out as host of a series on the brain. I just watched the one on consciousness. Before I can make sense of new information about ‘the self’, I must sift it through my memorized lexicon of Saved By the Bell episodes. Sure enough, there is an episode on consciousness – remember the one where Zack uses subliminal messaging to score a date with Kelly?? There are many reasons to watch Charlie Rose. I’m confident in saying that it is not Charlie Rose’s topics and guests that influence what I like, it’s truly a show that emboldens everything in this universe that I value. It’s more an indulgence, a guilty pleasure. I furiously nod in approval while partaking like a Republican watching Fox News might. This episode on consciousness was particularly enlightening. Before imbibing in Charlie I had spent the day in the company of Andy Murray, Sam Querry, Mardy Fish, James Blake, Juan Martin Del Potro (coolest name on tour), Venus, Sam Stosur, Woz, and others. I was at the Western & Southern Open in Mason, Ohio. Just before Charlie signed off and the credits rolled the names of benefactors, most likely tennis fans themselves, I realized I had been subliminally messaged by genius marketers that know more about the sub-conscious than Freud, Zack Morris, and Eric Kandel. Western and Southern has been a voice in my hypothalamus for months, for years, even.

Having paid to see tennis mega-stars in Mason, Ohio the previous twelve years, I’ve some how stumbled onto Western & Southern’s email list. Looking back now through old emails, (I don’t delete emails cause Gmail keeps telling me that storage space grows – I have no idea where this space comes from, where it is or what it is or why it – so I just don’t delete anything) I’ve found that W&S emails me every quarter. In December I open them and am prompted to ‘download the rest of the message’. I don’t and move on to the three emails from my Mom and the newest offers on Amazon. In March, I’ve noticed just now, that I lock on to which stars have signed on to play in August. But it’s all done subconsciously. In June/July, I download the rest of the message and the subliminal messaging becomes less subliminal and more overt. Billboards go up around Greater Cincinnati and I feel edified in my excitement for the convergence of really good tennis players on my home turf.

Each year I roll through the same inner-monologue: “I can’t afford $40 for a Wednesday day session. It was $20 when I was in high school.” – “Whoa, Roger and Novak are coming.” – “Well, I’ve seen both of them before, no need to see em’ again.” – “Holy shit, Woz is playing? I bet Rory will be with her.” – “40 bucks is a lot of money and I don’t have a car.” – “Rafa, too!” – “Mason is such a wasteland. I’ll take a shift on Wednesday anyways. I’ll be able to watch Tennis Channel at work.” – (Come Wednesday morning.) – “Hey, um, boss. Can you get someone to cover my shift?” – “Hey, um, Mom, can you take me to Mason?” – “I’ll have one $40 ticket for the day session, please. Credit card? You got it.” The marketing gurus at W&S got me. I’m skipping work and am down $40. I’ll no doubt throw away another 14 bones on lunch and a grossly overpriced lemonade. I don’t care. This is the best sports day of the year in my hometown.

As my Mom and I wait in traffic to get off the King’s Mill exit in Mason, we remark on the amount of deaths to heart disease that this exit might be responsible for. There should be a warning label on the exit sign: WARNING THIS EXIT IS FOR EXPERIENCED EATERS ONLY. There is a Big Boy, Waffle House, Taco Bell, Burger King, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Subway, Steak & Shake, Perkins, Arby’s, Skyline, Gold Star, and Dairy Queen – all within a quarter mile. I wonder as deeply as I can wonder what Novak and Roger think of this exit. Novak is fresh off a win at the Toronto Master’s just this past Sunday. Mason does not look like downtown Toronto. The only diversity will be on the tennis court. The ATP’s arrival floods Mason with a 200% increase in internationals represented. Roger flew in straight from London to play golf at Jack Nicklaus’ (Ohio native) course that is close by. Murray probably had his Mom fly him to the Maldives after winning a gold medal (obviously not as important to Roger as it was Andy). How does Mason compare to the Maldives? Do they laugh at this suburban desert? Do they love it and pound burgers and pancakes each day? Do they even know where they are anymore? Why in the hell are these mega-egos in Mason, Ohio? The sheer amount of SUVs and air-conditioning has to be astounding.

Nonetheless, here they are and here am I, getting out of my Mom’s car in an office park car-lot that I strain to see the other side of. The stadium and practice courts are a mile away. Sam Stosur is there practicing and is sure to wow me for an embarrassingly long period of time with her ground strokes and groping of free Gatorade. There, I’ll think to myself, “Man, how freaking cool would it be to have endless, free Gatorade?” Then I’ll mumble to myself, all startled, “Holy shit, I’m one of twelve people watching Sam Stosur.”

And that’s the thing about the W&S open. There’s no one here! I coasted through the no-bag line (if you bring a bag the 74 year old volunteer, tennis enthusiast has to ensure that you’re not a terrorist – that line takes for freaking ever) and just to my left, playing on a nondescript side court, exactly resembling the court in the park close to my condo, is Lleyton Hewitt getting waxed by a no-namer. There are maybe forty people watching the titanic struggle. Either there aren’t tennis fans in Cincinnati or the tennis world wasn’t receiving the same subliminal messaging that I was. You don’t see this in other sports. If Derek Jeter is playing in Kansas City then Kansas City is going to come close to a sell-out. Here, in Mason, many Derek Jeter’s are playing tennis at the same time and you can see all of them, with no fair-weather Yankee fans blocking your view. Is this not a huge blow to their egos? What in the hell are these millionaire tennis players doing here? I watched Marin Cilic with 18 others. He has a song about him. He’s played Davis Cup matches against Novak in-front of tens of thousands. I was close enough to him to invite him for lunch at Arby’s. We could dominate some roast beef sandwiches and mocha shakes.

I didn’t linger long on the side courts. The perennial under-achieving American, Mardy Fish was playing on the Grandstand court. I’m not particularly patriotic but when it comes to tennis and soccer, I want so badly for my grand U-S-of-A to stomp everyone. As it is, in these sports, we stomp very few and I’ve spent most of my life praying for Landon Donovan moments and only have one or two of them to cite. Maybe this is why I pull for my fellow land-of-the-free-ers. With Mardy Fish I feel an especially close bond. Having been raised in a similar culture, I know why it is that he under-achieves and just sort of moseys along, cashing huge checks for quarter final finishes and endorsement/appearance fees.

I went to the same junior tennis, golf, and soccer camps. At these camps it becomes apparent rather quickly who really has talent and who it is that has rich parents that want their kids to be Motzart at everything and attend Princeton to play a sport. Mardy would have been weeded out early. If you’re kind of good but not as good as Mardy you get put on teams with Mardy. Your parents pay even more money and you spend all of your summers and weekends for the next several years traveling around the U.S. (and sometimes internationally) to tennis, soccer, and golf tournaments. We were always jealous of our friends back home. While they were throwing water balloons at cars and stealing traffic cones we were staying up late ordering soft-core porn in hotel rooms outside of Dallas. While the sort-of-good athletes are staying up all night, the really good athletes are in their parent’s room (their parents always travel with them) or they are in the room next to the coach’s room. They get to bed early and wake-up early. They stretch and eat healthy and all that. You get to the tournament and they spot all the scouts. “Tom Froman is here today.” The really good athlete says. “Who the fuck is Tom Froman.” I’d say. Tom Froman would approach them after the tournament and tell him how great he is. His parents would tell him how great he is. The coaches would tell him how great he is. Tom would then walk past the really good athletes and invite Mardy to his boarding school in Florida.

Mardy wasn’t just a really good athlete. Mardy was a really freaking good athlete. He was just better than everyone else. He wasn’t in the hotel room watching soft core with us. He wasn’t with his parents. He was doing one of two things: hooking it with the Netherlands junior tennis girls or already in Bradenton at Tom’s tennis boarding school. These really freaking good athletes like Mardy never had to work for anything. They don’t go to Princeton to play tennis. They go straight to Wimbledon. The ease with which Mardy made it to the ATP is both his gift and his curse. Quarter final matches are not difficult for him to reach but nearly impossible for him to win. Having never fought for notoriety, having never swiveled his head to find Tom Froman, Mardy entrenched himself in an ATP version of mediocrity. In other words, Mardy was naturally better than 99.9998% of tennis players without having to practice but that last .0002% proves unbeatable. On Wednesday I sat down in the Grandstand to watch a version of the kid I spent some time with as a very average junior athlete. I know how good he is and his resurgence, post-injury, post-maturation, has me excited about the prospect of an American winning the U.S. Open (if you haven’t noticed, I’ve all but forgotten Pete and Andre – their bickering with each other makes them so less interesting). He has grown to realize that to be a top 10 player one has to eat less on the King’s Mill exit and more in a kitchen that features a personal chef. Today, In front of a few hundred people (that’s a generous number), he struggles to beat a no-namer. A few folks yell, “Come on!” from the stands. He wins the match with several timely shots that only a few in the world can hit. We, fellow semi-achieving Americans in our own right, nod in approval and settle on an all-too-common prediction regarding Mardy, “Yeah, that was pretty good, but he’ll lose tomorrow in the quarters.”

I left Mardy kind of feeling down and wandered over to the newly renovated ($3 million renovation) pig-out area seeking comfort food. Signs of progression were abundant despite the stuffiness of W&S. There were local eateries represented, plenty of recycling bins (no compost) and new tents with shaded tables. One could spend an inordinate amount of money on lunch here while being blasted by some local band playing loud songs (later in the tournament, Serena would be serving to stay in a match and the cacophony from the food court was seeping into center court. I was hoping Serena would curse out the band from the baseline. She did not, she double faulted and began to plot how she would end the careers of these aspiring, under-talented musicians. Next year they’ll be working at the Wendy’s off the King’s Mill exit.) I mention all this stuff about food to relay the fun I had when a group of really wealthy looking, tennis-lesson-taking women asked me why I had chili on my spaghetti. I was so jacked to inquire, “You’re not from Cincinnati are you?” that I screwed up the punch line and stuttered something like, “Oh this is chili, Cincinnati, on bread and spaghetti, from here, are you?”

I spent the rest of the day inside Center Court getting kicked out of seats that weren’t mine. At one point, a dude I think was the CEO of Chiquita index-finger tapped me on the head without saying anything, as if my head were a board room table and he was contemplating a big merger or something. I guess he didn’t like me in his seat and/or he knew that inside a tennis tournament I couldn’t respond by smashing him in the face with water balloons. Novak demolished some dude from Italy. Murray made some Polish guy look amateur and Radwanska really impressed. The stars did their thing. Those that can afford tennis tickets and enjoy watching tennis did their thing – stayed quiet when they were supposed to be quiet and applauded when the players hit shots that they only dream of hitting back at their tennis/country club. I did my thing, silently erupted with emotion and joy, like Charlie does amongst ambitious folks in a dark room, at the sight of other-worldly athletes so close to my house. I couldn’t help but situate them within my culture, within the cultures of Mason, Ohio.

It was while I was walking to the bus stop, I was somewhere in between the Comfort Suites, which the stop was behind, and the treacherous sans-sidewalk overpass, that I realized two things: 1) suburban planners had not figured one would ever walk from the Lindner Family Tennis Center to the bus stop behind Comfort Suites and 2) I was the lone tennis viewer headed for the stop. There were +20,000 in attendance at Wednesday day session, yet no others were embarking on subsidized transpo. Tennis fans don’t take the bus, apparently.

I waited for the bus for thirty minutes, stressed about having enough battery on my iphone to sound off Wilco for the two hour journey (would end up being three) home. It was me and the bus driver, just kicking it. Next stop, the amusement park. 18 teenage girls with black skin boarded. They all worked the games at King’s Island. They looked me up and down, noticed my souvenir cup and thought about giving me a wedgie. They didn’t and then settled in for their afternoon nap. They’d been here before. No one from the Lindner Family Tennis Center nor the Lindner family had been here before. I was whisked away to the realms of Sir Edmund Hilary, Francis Drake, Scott and Jaques Cousteau. I was a foreigner in a suburban megaopolis. If only I had Joan Osborne on my itunes I would have played and cried to “What If God Was One of Us” (just a stranger on a bus / trying to make his way home).

Cincinnati Bus Routes made easy

My battery died. I had a lot of time to think about all these things. Mardy and his worldclass mediocrity. Roger eating at Burger King. Serena wanting to demoralize the aged emo bands. Sam Stosur gulping free Gatorade. And the cultures clashing – international tennis stars in this land of forceclosed houses and fast food with young girls making their way home, expecting God to board the bus as much as they were expecting me. We take culture with us. Some pervasive corporations bring a tennis culture to Mason every year and I take my less talented Mardy Fish culture to Mason. There are others that live and work in Mason. There are plenty of wealthy tennis enthusiasts that converge on Center Court. Either way, we all meet there. Some are there to make money, others to spend money. Be it ten bucks for lunch or eight dollars an hour serving lunch, or cashing checks for $1.2 million, tennis was at the heart of the matter on this Wednesday. A game. A game that calls for persons to hit a ball back and forth at each other. Who knew the ball could foment such a clusterfuck of happenings? These are our cultures and sports cultures and subcultures. I’ll be ready for W&S’s marketing gurus next year. Is it them or the game or the culture voyeur in me that keeps me coming back? Maybe Charlie Rose will host an episode on this sort of question. I’d be shocked if Saved By the Bell hasn’t already addressed this one, though.

Hipster Wiffle Ball & Frisbee Golf

Aside

Grantland is keeping up. It might even be pushing forward, all progressive and cursing. I wonder though, if the readership includes flannel clad hipsters in Berkeley. There still seems to be way too much capitalism inherent in our collective sports establishment for anti-corporate, well educated, urban young professionals to wander into Grantland. As I take my place in naturally-lit coffee shops alongside eco-friendly flannel brethren I can’t help but think about all the sports-awesomeness I’ve missed while I’m in a parrallel universe, on a west coast swing of my own.

I’ve been in San Francisco the past few days. Today, I got emotional, though I’d never let my coffee shop company know it, while reading about the Federer – Murray match. I was attending a post nuptials brunch in Big Sur while the two super-stars played out some real Greek drama. As the couple just hitched was departing on their year long honeymoon (left-coasters do things like this) to Southeast Asia, giving extended hugs to friends and partners, I kept noticing a pang in my gut. The pang was gushing with inner-dialogue: “Will this match get him going like they used to? The only thing that could keep him excited at this point is the prospect of pulverizing the dreams of an entire nation. Somehow the ATP tour stop in Mason, Ohio just doesn’t have the same appeal, I’m sure. And how badly is Serena going to dominate the cute, sure-footed Pole? I bet the young girl takes a set off the Goddess. Serena will put a few (male-esque) serves down her throat. Man, she’s gorgeous and impressive.”

Serena’s and Roger’s victories were about as predictable as there being four trash bins at a one-cup-at-a-time coffee shop on Van Ness street (Philz – great cup of coffee). Friends back home, listen up and don’t judge, they have a separate bin for lids and one for cups, one for compost, and one for trash and then one for paper. Whoa. The pressure on a midwesterner to dispose of trash deftly and properly here rivals any public social pressure a midwesterner might ever feel in their entire life. I felt so alone here in my throwing away of things and in my longing for the pomp of Wimbledon and Henman’s hill and polite applause. No one here could possibly look forward to Fed’s post-match, silk suit (I’m not sure it’s silk but I wouldn’t put it past him) as much as I do. Everyone here is so concerned with injustice. If they’d give me a minute of their time I could give a hella-tight summary about the injustice of Roger dismantling Murray at Wimbledon. If only they’d listen, I’m screaming inside.

Instead of venting and crying and raising my arms in upheaval in the midst of really mellowed-out gatherings of flannel, fixies and Patagonia jackets, I’ll walk back to the apartment that I’m crashing in. It is a closet in Cincinnati but here it’s upscale living for Mission Hill. Replete with avant garde art, homosexual roomates, Trader Joe’s stock holders, and no T.V. Hence, I also missed the tail end of the Reds’ west coast swing. I can’t say that this upset me all that much. It’s usually torture watching my team take the field against franchises that play in endless sunshine and just seem so exotic and other-worldly. The fans at the games look so chilled out, as if they brought legal weed to the stadium. They’re also annoyingly good looking and noticeably under-weight. Not to mention, back home, I’m up until 2 AM watching our jet lagged, less recognized ball players struggle for their worth. As we lose a lead on the west coast I start to really hate the opposing fan base. I rant to myself, “They probably don’t even know the names of our players. They’re the one’s that would vote for their overpaid, underachieving, veteran firstbaseman for the all-star game instead of  the record matching, under-documented, hugely under-appreciated Joey Votto. Let them leave in the 7th inning to go smoke Hookah or eat Sushi or drive their leased BMW’s on 16 lane highways. I’ll stay up late and pray for Phillips to hit a homerun in the 9th. If he does they won’t even know it happened until the next day, actually they won’t even know it happened, probably don’t even know what radio station covers the games.” So yeah, missing these games saved me from spewing hate and losing sleep. Can’t be too upset about that. And the endless sunshine isn’t all that bad.

The first part of my pilgrimage away from Cincinnati, before I indulged in California tempura, took me to a progressive neighborhood in Pittsburgh for a short stint moving in a PhD bound friend, god help him. I was there while the Pirates pulled within a game of first. It’s somewhat of a stalwart in professional sports, but the history of a franchise precedes it despite each year’s team being a completely different entity than the year previous. To get an MLB Sportscenter update telling me that Pittsburgh is in first, while I was in Pittsburgh, was laughable. Surely, ESPN’s shitty app, WatchNow, has infected Sportscenter Update, I thought. Regardless, this just won’t last. But I have to remark on how much I appreciated the working class support that the Pirates seem to garner. It felt eerily homey there. I’d be really OK with taking the wildcard and having Pittsburg and McCutchen get their due. For kicks, I love seeing Chicago in the cellar as much as I love seeing us at the top of the tables.

What else did I miss? Oh yeah, the homerun derby. I caught the award’s ceremony as I walked by a bar in North Beach last night. I was on my way to eat some seaweed and drink bourbon tinged ginger beer while the pudgy, really wealthy and confident looking Prince Fielder was receiving that off-kilter trophy for hitting the ball really hard. One has to respect Fielder’s meshing of an old school G disposition  with frosted tips, Sisco-esque. Because of that salary, the waft of apathy in the face of supreme talent and cagey answers to Daddy-issue questions, Fielder has become a true enigma-lined super star. I’m glad he won. I think it’s good for the game. There are probably some poems lurking behind the dude.

I recently read a poem about the homerun. I can’t remember much about the style or format of the poem but it captured the magic of a homerun just as Keith Olberman captured it in Ken Burns’ documentary on Baseball. And for what it’s worth, by mentioning the poem I’m essentially trying to make the point that I read baseball poetry – regularly. I tell you what though, I’m not sure the homerun derby has the drama that it once had. Griffey hitting the ball to all corners of the park was enough to get me sexually arroused. And then McGwire and Sosa were a real life soap opera (and continue to be – one silent and staid, avoiding steroids convos while instructing St. Louis hitters and the other goes all Michael Jackson on us). And what about the day the gods shined their light and glory on Josh Hamilton? After that night, the night when I wept as Hamilton levitated, I seriously contimplated re-dedicating my life to Jesus Lord and Savior. If he can drag Hamilton from heroine induced depression to the heights of human limits then what can that god do for me? Hell, I might play on tour one day if I find Hamilton’s god. I just hope he gets back on the dip. On the real, again, not all too upset that I missed the derby.

For starter’s, I’m really over Berman. He’s gotten a little senile and I’ve spent just too much of my life listening to him. The Berman lackluster talisman of a catchphrase, “Back, back, back, back!” has lost its appeal, entirely. Secondly, it’s so uncomfortable to watch a lesser known slugger from Balitimore or Arizona struggle to hit just one or two dingers. The time they’re at the plate is like those awkward moments when you go and watch your neice at a swim meet where she DQ’s the first event and then takes home a slew of participation ribbons. The night just seems to drag on like a visit to a distant relative’s does. I find myself wanting to play some Euchre or Yahtzee, even.

What’s become my favorite thing to watch is how well manicured each of the contestants are. It makes me happy that they take their uniform so seriously. Shoes shined. Facial hair well groomed and spritely. Hat perfectly straight (or perfectly backward). New batting gloves. Shirt tucked-in tight. Teeth whitened. And each handles the gatorade and towel with aplomb. But after they hit some beautiful line drives, letting down the middle-to-upper-class, resoundingly white audience, Stuart Scott gets all up in their face and the awkwardness sets back in. “My brother, man, what do you think? I mean you just couldn’t get the meat of the bat on the ball. Tell me about it brother.” I mean I could go to a hippie wedding and make awkward small talk about the spirit of the ocean and the overall vibe of a wedding performed by a friend and feel the same thing (this is what I did instead). So, I’m not too remiss for having missed the sustained moments of awkwardness and less than stellar interviews. I’ll look up some pics to catch the fashion nuances of each contestant, though. And I’m sure one afternoon, in the throes of worthwhile procrastination, I’ll catch one of ESPN’s 34 replays of the event.

Tonight, however, I’m watching sports. Tonight, I’m putting my foot down. No more micro-brews. No more free-range restaurants. No more public transportation. First, I am dominating some hipsters in wiffle ball in Golden Gate Park. And then I’m going to dominate in Frisbee golf. After, I’m getting in a car and I’m going to a bar, the shittiest one in all of San Fran, to watch the All Star Game. I want to watch Joey Votto stare through my soul as he steps in the batter’s box. Speaking of which, have you noticed his new method for drawing a walk? The dude sets his feet and for the entire at-bat does not move. You know, I know, he knows, the pitcher knows that he is not going to move and he is not going to swing and yet, the inevitable happens, he get’s those four balls and hustles to first. Man, I love him. I’d pay him half a billion on top of his quarter billion. My friends and family are bored to death with my salivating and gloating and worship. I am so not ashamed of bowing to a man my same age. He’s that good and that impactful for my city. I want to buy up every billboard on the 275 loop and put a simple message on each: “Wake up you Middle-American friends of mine! One of the greatest baseball players of all time can be seen 86 times this year for 5 dollars! Go to the goddamn games!”

Right, so tonight I’m gathering my intentional (a new word for progressive, I’ve learned on this trip) and softly treading friends that recycle and compost and we are going to drink Miller Lites and watch some baseball. We are watching the whole game. Jay Bruce and Aroldis Chapman won’t show up until the 8th or 9th. I’m staying until they do. Deal with it. My friends can drink their organic brews and talk about how silly and oppressive all of the excessiveness of MLB is. I won’t disagree just as I won’t engage. But, tonight, I’m watching baseball, damnit. I bet if I show them some Grantland articles, especially ones written by Klosterman or Gladwell, then maybe they’ll lean in a bit closer when Verlander and Votto face off. They’ll have to struggle to muscle me out though, no way they’ll appreciate the titanic match-up as much as I will. It’s possible I’ll shed a tear tonight in this shitty bar. I’ll do it because baseball I love more than composting.

Legging Out a Triple

You could beam me here– Star Trek style,
blind fold me,
I’d know I was outside baggage claim at Cincinnati/NKY international airport.
Let’s not take the bypass.
I want to see my city–
have those memories over me, back again.
Riverfront Stadium,
Sweating in five dollar seats, the red ones,
hundreds of summer games,
escaping the world and responsibility,
long before I knew what it is ‘to long’.
We were so close,
before I left,
Sabo, Larkin, Griffey, Casey,
doubles into the gap,
stretching out a triple,
ripping sweat-drenched butts from seats, red ones,
rounds of high fives with strangers and friends.
“No way he is going to make it! What is he doing?”
Rounding second, your head down,
how could one look up when they hold my future in their hands?
you knew how much this meant to me,
you’re like a soothsayer, even,
seeing into my future,
the one where I’d be expected to rise more slowly from my seat, a blue one,
‘adult’-like.
Get rung up at third and leave me in peril,
one moment closer to ‘adult’-hood less one round of high fives,
with strangers and friends, in red seats.
You’re a cruel character, how dare you stretch out a triple.
“Here comes the throw! It’s gonna be close!”
You’re really going to put me through this?
I’ll have to find affordable healthcare in a few years, car insurance,
a place to rent, I’ll have to buy a couch if my sister takes the one in the basement.
I’ll be sitting in coffee shops on a Mac asking “what’s the point?”
“Safe!” “He made it!” “He made it!”
Eruption.
Adult-hood can’t take this moment from me — one step closer,
so much more manageable.
Where Fort Washington Way used to be,
I can feel the sweat under my button down,
the windows are down,
summer heat, tilting my nose towards the new stadium,
I can smell the infield grass, I swear.
You slid into home on a wild pitch later in the inning,
I still hadn’t sat back down in my seat, a red one.
High five-ing a passenger’s side window now,
adult-hood is full of moments, none as pure
as a stretched triple.
Endless summers wound down,
you never looked up to notice,
glad you didn’t,
probably would have been thrown out.
Are tickets still five dollars?
Adult-stuff has left my pockets as light as they were that day
you legged out a triple.

Has Bubba Changed the Game?

He has not. The only thing that changes the game of golf is technology. Golf is always changing, though. Change is implied in the pronoun, Golf. The way Bubba plays the game is a testament to that inherent change. There are infinite ways to play it and we’ve yet to see the entire repertoire. To ask the question, “has Bubba winning the Masters with his unorthodox style changed the game?” is to make a point. And I think it is a point worth hashing out. As it is, the abilities of normal humans are normal. What Bubba has done, however, is prove that he has a few exceptional abilities, abilities that almost rival what technology can do. He is not entirely ‘normal’. He is not the progenitor of a new version of golf, either.

I often argue that Phil gets too much attention for his short game as there are many players on tour that can match him flop for flop and stupid decision for stupid decision around the green. I’ll unpack this in a moment but for now it’s important to recognize that what Bubba does deserves our attention. Feherety, Verne, Haas, Faldo, Nantz, and other NBC/Golf Channel commentators are paid to act like it’s the first time they’ve seen Bubba play. As if they had no idea until Sunday that he could hook a ball forty yards or drive it 400 yards. And so here is the point, there are a whole slew of pros that can hit the shots that Bubba hits; however, and this is where he is an outlier that is worthy of some head nods and tipped bro visors, to hook a wedge forty yards from the pine straw at August in a playoff on Sunday is exceptional. Furthermore, to believe in hooks and slices enough to play not just a five yard fade or a little baby draw, but a huge freaking slice or a behemoth of a hook on every shot, and to mess with launch angles and spins and lofts and grips and foot motion, all that stuff, is what is most worthy of recognition. It’s worth the discussion because for one, others have played the game similarly but with not as much success. Secondly, the way Bubba plays is a testament not just to the prowess of expensive club technology, but it is a testament to how freaking gripping and multi-dimensional golf is. We’ve yet to see the complete arsenal.

The game creates infinite possibilities every single day. It’s why we secretly hope every approach shot that Phil hit’s will find itself in a ‘flop-only’ landing point. It’s why we want Bubba to only hit approaches from the trees. It’s why we want Tiger to get his shit together. It’s why we know that Rory has the game but doesn’t have the freak-ness necessary to be a Tiger or a Bear. Golf is dramatic because it is unpredictable and because it is so stinking difficult. Bubba takes the difficult and makes it more difficult and then beats everyone else. He has not changed the game as the game is always changing. He’s just showed us a new way of doing things and he does it pretty well and we should give it some attention.

It’s also worth the attention because what Bubba does with the golf swing is similar to the way that Sri Lankan bowlers bowl a cricket ball. Our formerly country club sports (golf, tennis and cricket) are now global games. Notably, golf and tennis are in the embryonic stage of globalization. Nonetheless, it’s no longer just for pleated slacks and v-neck sweaters. There a few of these non-silver-spooners trickling on to the tour.

In another way, give an athletic, kind of cocky, kind of arrogant, kind of pouty kid some clubs, give him access to a putting green and a driving range and just tell him to play every day. Keep him away from swing coaches and mental coaches and you’re probably going to end up with something pretty cool. That is, as long as his parents don’t drive a Cadillac Escalade or Suburban, if they do, he’ll bowl like the English bowlers do and he’ll keep trying to swing a golf club like Kyle Stanley, Rory McIlroy, Ernie Else, Louis Ooisthuizen, Charl Shwartzel, or one of those other guys that swings better than everyone else. If you’re lucky, you’ll show him how to do it once and he’ll never ask you for help again. This doesn’t happen very often. Rich kids will model their swings after a great and they’ll have more access to inroads to professional golf than poorer kids.

The one way Bubba will have changed the game, if he can at all, will be by how junior golf parents respond. Will they look at Patrick Cantlay, the low amateur at this years Masters, and say, hey, I want my son or daughter to be that fine upstanding gentleman who plays college golf at UCLA and has the best coaches, the best mental coaches, the best chefs, the best courses, the best clubs, the best swing, the best outlook on the game, the best preparation for each tournament, the best planning, the best of everything since they were a toddler? Or, will they say, hey, I want my son or daughter to hit some plastic golf balls around the back yard and figure the rest out for themselves? If the latter becomes the norm then Bubba will have changed the game. By surveying the gallery at the Masters, the uniformity of patrons–golf shirts, slacks or shorts, white skin–I don’t think the game will catch up with Bubba’s diversity for some time. It will be cool though to see how Sri Lankan or Indian kids swing the club in the next few decades. If it’s comporable to how Bubba does it or how Slinga Malinga bowls a cricket ball then it should be a fun road ahead for golf.

There’s also an element of golf that calls for a player to stay true to their personality and emotional stability. It’s like dogs looking like their owners. One’s swing and outlook on the game will echo one’s personality to a certain extent. Again, this has always been the case. Bubba’s strident vigor for the haphazard fits in well with his waning temperance. There will always be the straight laced, by-the-little-red-book Luke Donald just as there will always be the the seemingly lax bomber John Daly just as there will be the unflappable, cool headed Crenshaw. Show me the 20 finalists at Q school each year for the next 20 years. If more than half play a 40 yard cut off the first tee, then yes, I will believe that Bubba has changed the game.

Now, this thing with Phil. I can’t imagine how annoying it would be for some of the more egotistical guys on tour when they hear commentators and the average fan go on and on about Phil’s short game. Let’s start with this. He has a very good short game. One of the best actually. But “one of the best flops in the world” on tour, amongst golfers just as talented as he is, does not mean as much. (This is not to say that what Phil has done with his career is not exceptional–in my opinion he is one of the four greatest golfers of all time). But listen up, every guy on tour can hit a flop shot. In fact, every amateur with less than a 5 handicap can hit a flop shot. What all these groundlings can’t do; however, is be on television as often as Phil is. And to be on television as much as Phil is requires a lot of winning, a good looking wife, some minor life adversity, and very appropriate, affable post round comments. A few smiles and hand outs to the gallery doesn’t hurt either. Remember when Phil was the pouty, spoiled young talent? I do. Not many others do. They just think about flop shots and brave/stupid shots.

Here’s the thing. Most guys on tour are playing for a check. A handful of guys at the top are playing for trophies. Phil has trophies and he has too much money. He is playing for fun, for something to do, for esteem, for a brand, for his image. He is doing anything and everything besides playing for a check. This mindset is very condusive for hitting flop shots. For Steve Flesch or Robert Garrigus or the 75 guys each week that you’ve hardly heard of, a flop shot is just not that much fun, in fact, it is kind of terrifying. I Guarantee you, take those 75 guys out to the practice green and they’ll show you every flop shot one can conjure up. Take them to Sunday at the Masters, down two on 15 with water behind the green and tell them to hit a flop shot and they’ll have a little more trouble. And this is what Phil deserves recognition for. Not that he ‘can’ hit flop shots. It’s that he’s willing to hit those shots. He’s willing to hit them because he’s been good his whole life. He’s hardly had to worry about paychecks and making cuts. That kind of hippy existence allows for alternative, San Fransisco version golf shots. “All the leaves are brown and this is the age of aquarious” are warm up tunes for Phil. Pretty sure he’s a Republican, though. Is it possible to be a Democrat on tour? Now that’s a good question.

In the end, we should be talking about how Bubba plays the game because it is a different way of doing things. He hasn’t changed the game, though. The game on its own is an agent of change. What Phil and Bubba do with the golf ball is fun to watch but they aren’t outliers in their ability. They are outliers in their approach to the game. There are thousands of golfers in the world that can drive the ball 400 yards just as there are thousands that can hit a flop shot. What there are not a lot of, are guys wearing green jackets that drive the ball 400 yards or hit flop shots on the back nine on Sunday. That’s because there aren’t a lot of guys with green jackets or a lot of guys on the back nine on Sunday. Don’t let this recognition of small data sets lessen the magic of golf. Be enthralled by the full swing from 3 yards of the green and be blown back by the 40 yard hook with a wedge from the pine straw. What you should be more excited for is the future of the game. Let’s get clubs in the hands of the kids of the world and see what happens. Who knows, we might see a 70 degree wedge or a 400 and one yard drive.