Archive for October 2008
I took a short walk around the park this morning after breakfast to get a nice look at the beautiful fall colors we’re getting north of Chicago. I put on my Red Sox hat to keep warm. It was a gift from my friend Scott, who knows I have a soft spot in my heart for the team that plays at 4 Yawkey Way in Boston.
It got me thinking about something I’ve heard many times: The two most exciting words in all of sports are, “Game Seven.” Tonight, we get Game Seven of the ALCS, Boston at Tampa Bay. I’ll be pulling for the Red Sox, and I think they’ll win…
they play classic lock-down style playoff baseball. Power pitching. Stifling defense. Timely hitting. Two of the games the Sox have won in the series have come that way, including last night when they held Tampa Bay to 4 hits on their way to a 4-2 win (kudos to the Rays for producing 2 runs, nonetheless). Two of their three losses have been blowouts; furthermore, the Rays have scored 31 runs in their three wins. Boston isn’t going to win a slugfest against Tampa Bay– Tampa has too many bats and is too fast on the basepaths. But if they keep them off the bases and play Red Sox baseball, they’ll be hosting the World Series starting Wednesday night.
I predicted last October that Boston would hoist another championship banner this year. You can see my prediction here: http://burdly.blogspot.com/2008/08/timing.html, but don’t look too close. Later in the same entry, I said I doubted that they would make it out of the AL playoffs. I also said they would be playing the Cubs when they get there.
Faithful readers: I would appreciate any feedback you might have regarding form, style, details, confusions, triumphs, failures… whatever.
Like a tired animal that wants nothing more than deliverance, I’ve crawled to a dark corner and I wait. This dark corner is a bar close to my condo; it’s scattered with a handful of high-top tables, a pool table, and a dozen locals. Someone cues “Stairway to Heaven” on the jukebox. It plays like a dirge.
I talked to my brother on the phone almost the entire way here. He’s a non-Cubs fan, bordering on hating them. Odd for a man who took me to my first Cubs game and used to scalp tickets at the corner of Clark and Addison like it was his job. Neither of us can figure out what has happened. I have theories ranging from factual (Derrek Lee is choking) to superstitious- the baseball gods are punishing the Cubs for the Disneyland atmosphere at Wrigley; the Cubs were supposed to be first to break their curse in 2003, before the Red Sox and White Sox broke theirs; the goat.
The carnival atmosphere may be most to blame; it has enveloped the neighborhood like a fog cloud, soaking into the bleachers like paint, and finally trickling into the psyche of the players. It manifested itself in Game 1 when the Cubs showed up like it was a spring training game; or worse, like Dusty Baker had given them a pregame pep talk.
Bottom of the 1st: Russell Martin advances to 3rd; the replay clearly shows he was thrown out by Soriano. Manny moves 2nd base to home plate on a single by Loney. Why on Earth would the Red Sox ditch him?
The carnival atmosphere has blown north on a crisp fall wind. The first bar I walked past on my way here was flooded with people. They leaked out onto the front stoop and into the street. No word about the Cubs on my way past.
I seem to be the only one concerned with the fate of the Cubs. There could be several explanations for that. I’m still in my infancy as a citizen of Cubs Nation, still naive. I’m still concerned, still insistent, still something about all the great things that could happen to the team now and in the future. I didn’t suffer the collapse of ’84. The tragedy of ’03 smarted, but it was my first wound and it eventually healed. But now I am hurting. I’m invested in this team. We share common blood. I suffered the Dusty Baker years, positive there would be a light at the end of the tunnel. A mere two years later, it looked like there was not only a light, but one shining from the heavens, beckoning us all to immortality.
In the 3rd inning, the music from the jukebox still blares: “Bad Moon Rising,” “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” Who programmed this music, Cardinals fans? When Fontenot and Lee get on base, one other person notices.
Have we accepted this as out fate, that the Cubs are always going to be losers, so why not just get drunk and celebrate it? Perpetuate the cycle of the expectation of failure, accept it and live with it? But I can’t. There’s still some childish optimism in me, something that believes there is a collective will, a collective conscience, and we can will the Cubs to win. Surely Boston fans did it on ’04. How else is there to explain the collapse of the Yankees after they held a 3-0 advantage in the ALCS?
In the Dodgers half of the third, Fontenot tweaks his ankle chasing an overthrown pickoff attempt. The sparkplug Pinella was hoping would stoke the Cubs’ engine to higher performance is misfiring. He jogs it off, adjusts his cup, and is ready to play. Where has that grit and determination been in other Cubs?
Two guys stumbled in during the 2nd inning, took a table, and halfway pay attention to the game. Now there are at least three of us vested.
Edmonds advanced Soto in the 4th inning. The Cubs batted 5 times last inning, and now are doing things that win playoff games. They’ve worked Kuroda to 67 pitches already. There might be some hope left; they batted 5 times again this inning.
The Cubs got beat in Game 1 because the Dodgers played classic Joe Torre playoff baseball. They made Dempster pitch to them, worked him late into the count every time they could, collected an ungodly amount of walks, and then pounded the ball when Dempster gave them something. It was textbook, and I was surprised Pinella waited so long for Dempster to get on track, which makes me believe that Pinella might be the problem. His Mariner teams flamed out remarkably in the playoffs, even when stacked with its own All-Star team with the likes of Griffey, A-Rod, and Randy Johnson.
Between the 4th and 5th, a local drunk stumbles over to see what I’m writing and manages to spew out, “I hope the Cubs pull off the impossible and comeback.”
“Me, too,” I tell him.
“Same with the Sox. I’m a Sox fan.” Before stumbling over to the pool table, he checks with me. “What inning is it?”
There’s a simple solution to all this: Abandon the Cubs. I call them my team, have written and published stories about how I was reborn into baseball in 2001 and emerged as a Cubs fan; I’ve further proclaimed myself a Brewers fan, but would stick with the Cubs over them. But there’s more to the story than that. I’m a lifelong Orioles fan, ever since my father took me to an Orioles / Tigers double-header in 1979 and we sat in the first two rows by the visitor’s on-deck circle. The only major big-ticket baseball item I have purchased is an Orioles officially-licensed MLB jersey.
“Freebird” plays on the jukebox as I think about this, and it appears to be playing for a reason. I can’t change this now; I’m a Cubs fan. I’m not fair-weather with my teams any more than I am with my friends. I’m in this until the end of days.
During a pitching change in the 5th, a girl chokes on her liquor and spews it on the floor. She comes out of the restroom a minute later grasping her throat and pleading with her friends that she didn’t vomit.
The Cubs have played from behind the entire series, except for that brief blissful span in Game 1 after DeRosa’s two-run homer. Playing from behind is not going to work in the playoffs, not against a manager who is going to dictate that his team plays patient baseball with very deliberate at-bats and solid defense.
An hispanic woman in a navy Jewel cashier smock is sitting at the bar and has been minding the game. The two guys who came in the 2nd inning are long gone; there’s only two of us now. She looks at me plaintively when Edmonds strikes out to end the Cubs’ 6th. We shake our heads. She has a tired face, heavy eyelids.
There’s a pitching change in the bottom of the sixth, Marmol for Marshall.
Is this what the band felt like aboard the Titanic as the freezing water inched closer and closer?
The bar is as quiet as it has been since I entered. I make a quick trip to the bathroom between the 6th and 7th inning and find a woman in the men’s facilities. A man is washing his hands; he looks at me, shakes his head, and claims, “Dude, I don’t even know.”
Fukudome has inexplicably been inserted into the lineup, despite Pinella’s apparent disgust with him after Game 2. He’s my favorite Cub, and moreover an example of my favorite MLB players on the whole: the Japanese ones. Their fundamentals are always so excellent; they’re always so focused. My heart sinks a bit, but he strokes a single in the 7th and advances Theriot to 2nd with 1 out. Soriano is up. Torre makes a pitching change.
The Cubs are 0-6 with runners in scoring position when Fontenot gets up with runners at the corners with 2 outs. He flies to center, and it if wasn’t obvious before, it is now: The greatest fear of Cubs nation has come true. We are slumping at the worst possible time, and can no more pull ourselves out of it than a magnet can pull itself away from North. I’m halfway through my third beer of the evening, and am feeling a bit of a soothing buzz in my brain. I could stay here until closing and drink myself into oblivion.
The Russell Martin run that was allowed to score in the first because of the botched call at third base is of no consequence. The Cubs have gone 0-7 with RISP since then, and are still trying to hatch a goose egg.
Derrek Lee scores in the 8th. One person claps.
$17K has been raised for someone affectionately known as “Gizmo.” A man parading around the bar holding a banner that proclaims as much tells everybody that Gizmo was his right-hand man, and they all ought to be proud of themselves for having raised so much. 2 girls in white t-shirts with information about the Gizmo fundraiser have been in the bar for a few innings now, promoting whatever the cause is. One breaks into sobs and moves to the back of the bar when the man with the banner announces the totals.
Cotts strikes out the side in the Dodgers’ half of the 8th. Where has that been all year?
Top of the 9th. The bar is almost empty. Hip-hop blares from the jukebox. A man has his dog on a leash and is walking it around the bar.
Soriano whiffs to end the game. Nobody notices. Nothing changes in the dark corner. The music plays too loud. A few drunk girls stumble past my table. Nobody says a word about the game.
I pack my stuff, zip my hoodie, and walk home. It’s cold; the air nips at my bald head. I can see my breath. I can see some leaves that have changed color when I pass under street lights. There are Halloween decorations up in many yards in my neighborhood. Baseball season is over for me. I’ll think I’ll hibernate until April. Then I’ll wake up and drink the Kool-Aid once again. The Cubbie Blue Kool-Aid.
Mike Burd is my oldest brother, an unexpected guest blogger on The Seeker, and a businessman/sailor who is able to spin a decent yarn when the notion strikes him. He relayed this story to me after reading the recent post regarding the death of Paul Newman.
When I was finishing my undergrad studies at Ball State and working with Prestige Foods, my business marketing professor was VP of National Sales for Merrico, a large division of Anaheuser-Busch that makes yeast cinnamon rolls for retail customers. At that time, Budwieser sponsored the Newman/Haas Indy Car racing team. The year the race was in Indianapolis, there came a great opportunity to market to AB’s clients and distributors. So, they had a large function at an upscale hotel in Indy.
Paul Newman showed up at the dinner and reception as part of the marketing program, as did Mario Andretti, the team’s high profile driver. Everyone was having a wonderful time, although Augie Busch’s wife was displeased because she and her lady friends wanted to see Paul Newman’s blue eyes. He was wearing sun glasses. Augie Busch thought it would be reasonable to ask Newman to remove his glasses, so he approached Newman and asked that he remove them since the ladies wanted to see his eyes. Newman said he would consider it.
Newman did not remove his glasses, which made Augie Busch unhappy. As the night was coming to an end, Busch turned to his Marketing people, including my professor, and asked how much money Budwieser provided as a sponsor for Newman Haas Racing. The figure was around $9-10 million. Without hesitation, Busch told them that needed to end, that Budwieser would never again sponsor Newman/Haas Racing.
The story was a lesson: It did not matter how much effort was put into marketing programs with companies, they can all be sunk by one little thing, such as Paul Newman refusing to take off his sunglasses at a dinner function, obviously a $10 million mistake for a wealthy CEO’s wife being snubbed in front of her peers.
The death of Paul Newman last weekend brought to mind some of my favorite films made by the quintessential Hollywood antihero.
There is a lot of debate about Newman’s greatest role; many would argue for Cool Hand Luke or Butch Cassidy. Some would say it was his Oscar-winning second turn as Fast Eddie Felsen in The Color of Money. My money is on Luke, though I also liked Newman a lot as Brick in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. None of those is my favorite Newman role, though. That honor goes to Reggie Dunlop in Slapshot.
Once caught in the hilarious and profane web that is Slapshot, it is easy to forget that Reg is a character we really shouldn’t like. He’s a womanizer, a manipulator, immature, foul-mouthed, self-important, and delusional about his declining skills as a player / coach on his own hockey team. He sleeps with the wives of two other players, ignores his own wife until she makes him jealous, tells the team owner her son looks like he might suck cocks some day, blackmails the team president, and schemes to win by rewarding players for goonish behavior on the ice.
Only Newman could make us love such a man. One flash of his blue eyes, one crooked smirk, and Newman’s Reg becomes the kind of guy we want to meet for beers at a dive bar.
It’s Newman’s willingness to play such characters that earned my respect. You probably won’t find anyone who would dispute that he had leading man good looks and talent, and that he could have easily slipped into glamorous, high-profile roles or coasted on his early successes. But Newman kept building, kept climbing, kept pushing the edges all the way to the end of his career. He made women swoon not just with his charm and piercing eyes, but by reminding them that the most irresistable men are the flawed, self-destructive ones that they know are bad for them. Nobody portrayed those antiheroes better than Newman, and he played them time and time again. Nobody else made such a successful career out of it. He was one of a kind.