Sunday, June 28, 2009

Good Thing They Have a Football Team

This is the seventh time in my life that I've driven across Nebraska, and I still have nothing to say about it.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Hail to the 1970's! (Or Not.)

Are you embarrassed by your own generation? I was, at the time: the mid-to-late 1970's. I still am, to an extent.

From the predictable, drunken calls for semiprofessional garage bands to faithfully reproduce "Freebird"; to my college classmate who squealed his tires in a trashy salute while pulling away from my grandparents' house; to sportscoats in patterns and colors not found in nature; it was not the best decade in terms of taste.

We started the decade with a power-mad, bombing-happy crook in office and ended it with a moralistic, tone-deaf technocrat. When President Carter phoned U.S. Olympic hockey coach Herb Brooks to congratulate him on the team's astounding Gold Medal victory, including the "Miracle on Ice" game against the Soviets, Carter explained that he didn't watch the games because he was working on the Afghanistan crisis. No complaint here about the man's priorities, but he could have worked on his audience identification.

Don't get me started about President Ford's "Whip Inflation Now" buttons.

When Reggie Jackson held up three boastful fingers to the camera upon hitting three home runs in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series, the social virtues of modesty and good sportsmanship flew out the window, forever lost to the ages. When you see T.O. autographing a football in the end zone, or Jim Edmonds turning a routine fly ball into a highlight-reel catch, think Reggie. Braggadocio is classic and human, but amplified bombast is what our culture produced in the 1970's.

A friend of mine calls us a Lost Generation. I say, it's all been downhill since the 1969 Mets and the moon landings.

Our next-door neighbor's dad had a theory about the previous decade: the reason that the 1960's kids were angry enough to protest was that their pants were all too tight. Disco notwithstanding, ours in the 1970's may have been too loose, culturally speaking. Thirty years on, it still shows.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Fescue Me

The NBC and ESPN announcers covering the U.S. Open golf tournament have become enamored of using the word "fescue" to mean "any kind of tall grass that swallows your chances".

There's apparently a lot of fescue at Bethpage. Watching the broadcast has been like the Antiques Roadshow drinking game episode of Frasier in which Frasier and his dad raise a glass every time someone says "veneer".

          The golfers must rescue
          Their balls from the fescue.

Miscue? Fescue!

Turns out, fescue includes over 300 species from the genus Festuca.

There's Red Fescue, Green Fescue, Blue Fescue, and Grey Fescue.

There's Northern Fescue, Western Fescue, Arizona Fescue, Idaho Fescue, California Fescue, and Coast Fescue. Fescue can be Rough, Bearded, Tufted, Rush-leaved, Various-leaved, or Viviparous.

There's Alpine Fescue, Arctic Fescue, and Atlas Fescue, not to mention Crinkleawn Fescue and Wood Fescue.

Don't forget Sheep's Fescue, Fine-leaved Sheep's Fescue, Fescue Tussock, Alpine Fescue Tussock, Chewing's Fescue, Alpine Chewing's Fescue, and East Alpine Violet Fescue.

          So, don't be crass
          If you land in the grass --
          The golf course will test you
          If you hit from the fescue!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Snell on the Hook?

Baseball writer Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports today that Pirates starting pitcher Ian Snell is among those on the trading block. With a thin supply of front-line pitching available this season, and stars like Jake Peavy of the Padres recovering from injuries, a trade for Snell could make sense for the Brewers, or indeed for any number of contending teams with holes in their rotations.

One problem: Snell's current record is 2-7, with a 5.08 ERA. But don't be fooled: Pirates fans have been down this road before, with Jason Bay in particular. The trick for ballplayers wanting to be traded away from a hopeless organization is apparently to show general competence and occasional brilliance -- thereby threatening a higher salary demand in the future -- while underachieving overall. Should Snell, a former Opening Day starter, be traded to a playoff contender, I'll bet he perks up right away. Just sayin'.

This gambit should sound familiar to Brewers fans. Purported Hall of Fame candidate Gary Sheffield, whose steroid-era career has included over 500 home runs, played for the then-woeful Brewers as an infielder through age 22. He disliked the city and the organization, and once said he committed errors intentionally. He was traded and lived happily ever after...oops, maybe not. In 2005, talking about a potential trade, Sheffield said, "You might as well not bother trading for me, cause you're gonna have a very unhappy player. You gonna inconvenience me, I'll inconvenience every situation there is."

Makes your heart sing, doesn't it? That's baseball -- or at least, baseball as we approach the trading deadline.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Pirates Scuttle the Ship

As a Milwaukee Brewers fan, I should be rejoicing at the trade that sent All-Star outfielder Nate McLouth of the Pittsburgh Pirates, the team's only serious offensive threat, to another division. Instead, I'm in mourning along with the fans of a once-proud American sports franchise.

The Pirates' wretched "trade" of McLouth to the Atlanta Braves for prospects is no cause for celebration by anyone in the league (except the Braves). A vibrant major league sport requires vibrant ownership, willing to invest in quality players. The Pirates had signaled that they were, at last, ready to sit at the big kids' table when they signed McLouth to a three-year deal, paying him a salary approximating his market value. McLouth responded in kind, leading the team this season in home runs, runs batted in, and slugging percentage.

With this stinker of a move, the Pirates resume their insidious pattern of removing any player of All-Star caliber; Aramis Ramirez, Jason Bay, and Xavier Nady come to mind as previous examples. The lone exception has been Jack Wilson, but they've tried to trade him, too. Pirates players and fans alike are seething, not only at the crippling of the team's current roster -- again -- but at the dishonesty of the new management team in claiming that this move helps the club (no, really!).

It's particularly appalling for Pirates owner Robert Nutting to stay in the shadows as his top management team spins and spins, trying to depict a financial move as a baseball move. Truth is, however, observant fans could see this coming; as soon as the new management group was hired, supposedly signaling a break from the low aspirations of the past, team president Frank Coonelly said in a press conference that the team could make substantial progress by changing the team's attitude and culture without increasing the payroll, yo ho ho! Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

In the aftermath of the McLouth trade, two of Nate's former teammates reportedly lit a candle bearing his uniform number in the Pirates locker room. The last, sad rites for a sinking ship. Lower the Jolly Roger.


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