The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

Archive for October 2009

Cheating on my Girlfriend– Day 10

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I’m no fan of how MLB is engineering the playoffs. There’s no reason to have 3 days off between the division series and the league championship series. Teams never have that kind of time off during the regular season. Each series could be heading into Game 2 tonight, instead one is kicking off and the other is sitting still. It’s obvious that MLB wants as many weekend games as possible. The ratings will be higher that way, which means more advertising revenue. The advertising revenue turns the gears of the league and perpetuates the vicious cycle of sky-high player salaries and expensive tickets.

Furthermore, if you want to watch the games, you don’t have much choice but to stay up late. Once the playoffs start, average game times escalate from just under 3 hours to almost 4 hours. So much for MLB’s mandate from a few years back to speed things up. If that’s not enough to frustrate fans, then the weather is. It’s obviously getting colder and thus more difficult to play baseball in cities like New York and Philadelphia. It seems now like it’s less about who can play the best baseball and more about who can stay hot or maintain focus over long stretches of inactivity. That sounds like a metaphor for my relationships.

*

I’ve done a lot of thinking about how I’ve managed the “cooling off” period of my three most recent relationships. Every relationship cools; it’s how you handle the cooling that will often determine how well the relationship will run. Each of my 3 most recent relationships cooled differently. The one that ended in 2006 as the Cardinals were marching to the World Series actually didn’t cool for a long time; I was as much into after 8 months as I was after 8 days. She started to withdraw, though, so the cooling was imposed upon me. The relationship after that, I screwed up. That was a little over a year ago, and I think the roles were reversed from 2006. We never talked about our relationship until I brought up that we never talked about it, which told me we were really just running parallel to each other instead of converging. But we could have talked about it; I wish we had. Last month, the cooling off period was the least of that relationship’s problems. There were Other Issues… family planning, financial difficulties, living conditions. It’s hard to say if or when the cooling off period would have occurred had those Other Issues not exacerbated things.

So I don’t feel I have much reason to be disappointed in myself. I’ve got one undeniable error on my scorecard; in the other two relationships, I was presented with circumstances I won’t tolerate. So I didn’t.

*

They’re saying that Carlos Ruiz is Philadelphia’s secret weapon. I can see why after the 3-run homer he pounded in the top of the 5th inning tonight. He turned on a high inside pitch and launched it into the left field stands. He didn’t even get the best wood he could on the ball; he hit it below the sweet spot and above the handle. Still, away it went.

If there was but one thing I learned 3 years ago, it was that it’s harder than hell to hit an inside pitch. You’ve got to get your hands across your chest real fast and hope that you can get the barrel of the bat on the ball as the ball is hurtling more at you than towards you. It’s almost like you’re using the bat to protect yourself, which makes it all the more awkward. Also, the ball looks a lot different coming at you straight on than it does coming in parallel to you.

I started to practice on the inside pitch about two weeks into my quest. By then, I felt I had worked out the fundamentals of my swing. I’m not sure if my efforts could be called anything better than clumsy, but it did teach me that being a 36 year old man with a paunchy upper body pretty much precludes me ever hitting an inside pitch effectively.

Written by seeker70

October 16, 2009 at 1:57 am

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Cheating on my Girlfriend– Day 8

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The bottom of the 6th inning of last night’s game between Philly and Colorado helped me realize that there’s still plenty of great baseball to be played. It all started with 1 out and Todd Helton on first. Troy Tulowitski hammered a 1-1 slider to center, allowing Helton to advance. Rich Dauer waved him around third, and he ended up scoring. But it was how he scored that brought a smile to my face. He executed a fundamentally perfect head-first slide, the kind you would only see in a Tom Emanski instructional video. Helton was flat on his stomach and slid to the outside of the plate, forcing Carlos Ruiz to turn and reach as far as possible to tag him. Furthermore, Helton’s left hand was the only thing Ruiz could have tagged– the rest of him was out of reach. If Helton slides different, there’s a good chance he gets tagged out and the Rockies keep trying to hatch their goose egg. It was enough to shift much-needed momentum in favor of Colorado.

What happened on the next pitch sent me through the roof. Garrett Atkins lined to third baseman Pedro Feliz; Tulowitski was running on contact, and was pretty far off base. Feliz pivoted and rifled the ball to Chase Utley, thereby snuffing Colorado’s momentum with a bang-bang double play. It was an intense display of skill and speed, following right on the heels of the Rockies’ power and athleticism. Together, the plays were everything I love about baseball.

*

Philly has my interest right now, and I wouldn’t mind seeing them win another World Series (especially if it means beating the Yankees). They didn’t matter to me last year; I was still in shock over the Cubs’ fatal floundering in the NLDS and was mostly indifferent to anything happening for the rest of the playoffs. I didn’t even pay Philly much respect this year, thinking they were a flash in the pan. But about halfway through the summer, I read an article about Charlie Manuel. It talked about how he came to be such as excellent hitting instructor (you can check it out here), and I began to realize how great of a coach he is. Furthermore, I loved how the Phillies bounced back in the top of the ninth inning last night to win. They showed true grit, which is exactly the type of thing I used to love to see the Cardinals do.

*

Three years ago yesterday, I was hard at work learning to hit. I was trying to work some new moves into my swing; the terms for them were standard lingo for my co-worker’s 12-year old son. He had given me a batting lesson three days previous.

October 12th, 2006: It takes a long time to warm up today because of the 25° chill. After a dozen swings, I’m too slow. I shed my jacket and turn my cap backwards. After a dozen more swings, mindful of my chin, my elbow, testing the ice, squashing the bug, and pointing the knob of the bat to the ball, I hear the distinct crack of contact that sounds like a wrist-thick dry-rotted branch broken in two over my knee. I replicate the sound several dozen times, until I’m too tired to continue and it’s too hard to see the ball in the fading daylight.

The piece I was writing was ballooning to epic proportions in my mind. I was having visions of it being my first published piece. I was announcing to friends and family that I was really on to something; I was having fun writing and learning a lot about hitting and writing along the way. Plus, I was erasing scars from my teenage years. I was thrilled to be a part of the participatorhy journalism tradition. What could go wrong?

The psychomotor skills involved in learning to hit at age 36 were daunting. I remember my hands being blistered, and having near-constant stiffness in my back, arms, and abs. But I loved being out in the park swinging away each day. I loved the sweat, the grind, the feel of power that came from bashing the ball. It was helping me realize I could do something right and that my recent failed relationship wasn’t an indicator of everything that was wrong with me.

*

I realized this afternoon that last night’s Phillies / Rockies game held true to the unusual form set by the other 3 division series: It all hinged on a blow save. Despite 35 saves this season and 129 for his career, Huston Street couldn’t nail the coffin shut on the Phillies. But that wasn’t enough drama for the baseball gods. They had to fashion a series that would have its own ironic variation on the blown-saves theme. Brad Lidge, Philadelphia’s closer– the guy with one of the most infamous blown saves in baseball history, the guy who led the league in blown saves this year (11 in 42 opportunities)– held onto his team’s 1-run lead in the bottom of the ninth. I appreciated his humble thoughts afterward when he said that Charlie Manuel still believed in him, and that was all he needed to get the job done.

Written by seeker70

October 13, 2009 at 11:18 pm

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Cheating on my Girlfriend– Day 7

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It’s taken me 2 days to appoach this issue somewhat directly. Part of that is because of the exhaustion from the wedding and all that went into it; part of that is because, well… I’m heartbroken. If it wasn’t bad enough that the Cubs underperformed all year, then my surrogate goes and plays as listlessly as the Cubs did the last two years in the playoffs. I’ve always had trouble grasping the idea of “Leave well enough alone,” but perhaps now I have a better understanding of it. Perhaps I should have just checked out emotionally two weeks ago today when the Cubs were officially eliminated, and then followed the playoffs with some sort of polite detachment. But I couldn’t. You’d think I would have learned this lesson from dating. Too many times I’ve let myself get suckered into third and fourth dates that should never have occurred but that did because I like to think I’m optimistic and couldn’t leave a disappointing first date alone. But sometimes disappointing is as good as it gets, and there’s no sense in trying to wish it better.

I do, however, understand the notion of Cold Comfort. That’s about all that’s left for Twins, Red Sox, and Cardinals fans (and certain cheating Cubs fans) who are not alone now that all three teams have been swept in the opening round of the playoffs. Each team also had a blown save that resulted in a loss. I can understand Ryan Franklin’s blown save given his status as a relatively new closer, but salty veteran closers like Joe Nathan and Jonathan Papelbon? That’s surprising. The Rockies didn’t have a blown save last night, but it looks like the umps are making up for that after the terrible call on Chase Utley’s hit in the 9th.

When I look at the Cards’ series overall, it’s easy to understand why they lost. They needed to hit better than .262 (though their team average for the season was actually .263), but more importantly they needed better power hitting. They slugged .415 during the season; that dropped to .316 for the LA series. LA slugged .441 in the regular season; they have upped it to .448 thus far in the playoffs. Better power hitting could have helped the Cards plate some of the 53 runs they left on base throughout the three games.

So now there’s talk about Tony LaRussa coming to Chicago. My understanding is that he’s embittered by his team’s sudden exit. He already likes Chicago, and even White Sox fans have loved the guy since his stint as their coach from 1979-86. The especially greasy rumor is that he would bring Dave Duncan with him since Duncan is unhappy with St. Louis’ front office. I don’t have a problem with either one of them coming to the Cubs, though I would be concerned about how close LaRussa is to total burnout. He’s been coaching for quite a while, and the Cubs already have a coach who appears to be burned out. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not jumping on the Fire Lou Pinella Bandwagon. I don’t want to see him fired, but I do have concerns about his coaching that I brought up over a year ago (see Notes on the Last Night of Misery from October 5, 2008).

*

This whole extended metaphor about cheating on my girlfriend appears to manifesting itself in places other than this blog. It’s making me think about my committment issues overall. This came to me this morning at Office Max in Round Lake. I was there to buy a new journal since my current one is almost full. But it’s never easy to buy a new journal. It has to stay open by itself when laid flat. It has to have some kind of pocket inside it. You have to be able to clip a pen to it easily. The pages have to be wide enough for iambic pentameter. There have to be enough pages in it to last a while, but not so many that I’ll get tired of writing in the same journal all the time. If it’s spiral ruled, the wire has to be sturdy but not inflexible. There has to be a decent cover on it that will provide adequate protection from being handled, dropped, slid in and out of various bags, or tossed around in my car. It can’t look girly. These are not arbitrary judgments about a journal– they’ve all come by way of trial and error with a variety of different journals over the last 12 years. So I spent 20 minutes handling journals, trying to pick out the right one. The whole time I was thinking Is this journal good enough to meet my needs for the next 8 months to a year? Am I prepared to commit myself to this journal? Will I be able to accept this journal’s idiosyncracies, and perhaps use them to stretch my writing mind?

I made my decision, but even as I was walking to my car, I was second-guessing myself.

*

Finally, I’m a little embarrassed, and deservedly so. I’ve been working at Panera in Round Lake for about 3 hours now. It’s been a good day of writing, and I feel good. My laptop batteries ran out about 20 minutes ago, so I relocated from the dining room to the meeting room so I could plug in. As I was transferring all my stuff, I noticed a slender, attractive brunette sitting by the window working on a laptop. Her feet were propped on a chair. I came up with a perfectly succinct comment that would elicit a snicker from her. I cracked it as I was carrying my stuff past her. At the same time, my headphone case fell off my tray and clattered on the floor loud enough to echo off the walls of the meeting room. It split in three pieces that each rolled in a different direction. The clamor drowned out everything I was saying. The only thing the woman heard was “…relax.”

I suddenly felt like I was trying too hard, and her eye contact seemed to indicate that she was annoyed if not by my interrupting her, then by my buffoonery. After I picked up my mess, the only thing I could think to say was, “Maybe I should just be quiet.” She didn’t disagree. I could have just smiled politely and not said anything as I was relocating, but I didn’t. So I probably don’t have the understanding of “Leave Well Enough Alone” that I claimed to have a few paragraphs ago.

Written by seeker70

October 12, 2009 at 6:14 pm

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Cheating on my Girlfriend– Day 6

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I’m not the only one who follows the “love the local girl” philosophy. There are loads of people from Iowa at the wedding this weekend, and I guess their default MLB team is the Twins. They were edgy Friday night as their boys were dueling the Yankees. Given my druthers, I’d rather have the Tigers in a series with the Yankees. I think they would have had a better chance given their pitching and the bevy of tough bats in their lineup.

This brings me to Plan B, which is to cheer for the Yankees to lose.

Regardless, Cards and Twins fans can mutually wallow in the misery brought about by sudden death in a playoff game. I envy Twins fans, though, because their death Friday night was sudden but not unexpected given that Mark Texiera led the AL in home runs this year. It seems it would be better to take the loss that way than to watch one of your players botch a routine fly ball. Maybe my cheating on the Cubs has brought the Cubs’ luck to the Cards. Matt Holliday’s blunder was right out of the Cubs playbook circa 1998 (see Brandt Brown).

*

There were a bunch of spiritually-themed brochures in the vestibule of the church where the wedding was held. I snatched a few that caught my attention: Imprisoned: How to Survive When a Loved One is Incarcerated and Better Looking Sinners were two of them. I also grabbed Tomorrow May be Too Late because it sounded like the title of a James Bond film. One of the brochures could have doubled as an ad for Hair Club For Men given the picture of the serious-looking man with the receding hairline on the front. The title only reinforced my thought: Who Has the Most to Lose?

One of the brochures, though, told me that I shouldn’t be taking any of them seriously. The title was Someone Cares For You, but the font style and arrangement of the text makes it look like it actually says Someone Scares For You.

*

The wedding and reception were perfect distractors from Game 3, which I hoped they would be. I barely kept an eye on things. In my twisted mind, I thought that somehow by not giving the game my full attention that the Cardinals would pull it out. That’s a sick way to go about conducting an illicit affair, which probably means that I shouldn’t be cheating on my girlfriend in the first place.

Written by seeker70

October 11, 2009 at 4:43 pm

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Cheating on my Girlfriend– Day 5

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When you haven’t loved consistently in your life, any brief rendezvous you manage to concoct with a former lover becomes nothing less than the World Series to you. You start to live all the cliches the coaches throw out there to the media, especially the one about not worrying about the next game, just focusing on what is in front of you. You throw all you have into the brushfire of passion, bask in the fleeting warmth afterwards, and limp away with a smug grin on your face. When those rendezvous are cut short, sidetracked, or unexpectedly cancelled, the loss is devastating. You’re an empty shell; stunned. Desperation sets in– you have no idea when or where you’ll get your next passion fix. You want consistency; it’s the default setting of the human mind. Not getting it, or trying to substitute something for it, forces you off balance. You try to adjust to being consistently off-balance, and that state of adjustment becomes your norm. Then if the whole relationship thing somehow starts up, you become the visitor on a strange field where you can never fully adjust and play your best.

*

I probably won’t get to see Game 3. I’m in a wedding this afternoon that will most likely stretch into tomorrow morning. I’ll have to find a way to check the games’ progress throughout the reception. Thank god for the iphone!

I’m worried almost sick that St. Louis is going to go down in Game 3. Maybe I need a reality check. Maybe I need to remember that the 2009 Cardinals aren’t the 2006 Cardinals. This year’s edition doesn’t pack the power in the middle of the lineup that the ’06 World Champions did. They had Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds digging in after Albert Pujols, and together throughout the playoffs, they hit .300 with 12 RBI and 3 HR. I don’t see Matt Holliday and Ryan Ludwick doing the same. Combined, they’re hitting at a .312 clip, but with an anemic 2 RBI and 1 HR. But therein lies the problem with banking on nostalgia: Things Change.

*

Speaking of Jim Edmonds, it was his name that came up 3 years ago when I was learning to hit and started wondering what MLB player I most resembled. It turns out we’re only 4 days apart in age, 1 inch apart in height, and 5 lbs. apart in weight. He hit .263 on the season in 2006. I took cautious comfort in thinking that if was still a feared hitter, then I could at least learn how to hit.

Written by seeker70

October 10, 2009 at 2:00 pm

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Cheating on my Girlfriend– Day 3

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Nostalgia is an excellent accelerant if you’re trying to ignite your passions.

I’m thinking about 2006, when I first turned my affections to St. Louis. I was again fresh out of a relationship– one I had tried hard to sustain. We had dated for 11 months, but I had felt it slipping away for the final 3. I tried to get in front of the trouble to slow it down, but she was neither willing to talk to me nor showing interest in keeping the relationship. I never wanted to pull the plug, which made it all the more painful when I did. The hurt lingered for a year after and played a part in short-circuiting two other relationships that never got off the ground.

The playoffs that year were a salve for my wound. I turned my attention to St. Louis, who was largely overlooked after backing into the playoffs on the last day of the season with an 83-78 record. They held my attention after gutting out a few road wins to kick things off. From that point on, they were an excellent distraction to my heavy heart. Every time I watched them, they were playing letter-perfect baseball. It was a joy to witness, especially after most everyone had written them off.

*

St. Louis is going to have to gut out a road win if they hope to get out of the NLDS this year. At this point, they’ll have to stretch the series to Game 5 just to get the chance.

They played excellent baseball tonight behind Adam Wainwright (7 Ks and 1 earned run). The Cards once again ate the opposing pitcher (97 pitches through 6 innings) and kept rolling the lineup over. That’s eventually going to work with a patient, disciplined team. The top of the lineup is going to get more chances, and that’s going to translate to runs. Despite that baseball axiom, it was the bottom of the order that did the damage in the 7th inning. Mark DeRosa scored on a Colby Rasmus double to give the Cards a 2-1 lead. Wainwright pitched through the eighth, and it seemed that St. Louis was going to get a crucial road win.

But it’s a funny thing about playoff baseball: Moreso than in the regular season, teams make you pay for errors. Matt Holliday dropped the final out of the game, and LA scored two runs to win it. If Holliday catches it, then the series goes to at least Game 4 in St. Louis; a Game 5 would mean probably seeing Wainwright again, and the Cards would have a solid chance of advancing. Now everything is in doubt. The nostalgia-fueld reunion I so desperately wanted– needed– is about to slip away. What once was going to be a month-long affair now may be extinguished 3 days after it started.

All things considered, the Dodgers deserve some credit. They out-waited St. Louis, picking and choosing their spots to strike. The solo shot by Loney in the 4th was enough to keep them in the game. They made it to the 8th with only 27 at-bats, but remained patient at the plate and made St. Louis throw strikes. Manny Ramirez was a perfect example of this in the 7th inning. Despite being a non-factor in the series up to that point (1 for 7), he battled Wainwright through a 9-pitch at-bat (including 4 foul balls) before he struck out. While that’s not the textbook definition of a productive out, he couldn’t do any better at demonstrating what Joe Torre demands of his playoff teams: patience. Wainwright wasn’t the same after that, which caused some of St. Louis’ foundation to crumble. LA threatened in the 8th when they loaded the bases with two outs; by the time the bottom of the ninth rolled around, the momentum was on their side. All they had to do was be patient, even up to the last out. It paid off.

*

I was involved in something else in 2006 that sort of ran parallel to the playoffs. Beginning in October, I started writing a piece about learning how to hit a baseball. It was a quest to make up for what I had failed to do 20 years before when I ultimately quit my high school’s baseball team because I couldn’t hit. I gave myself a month to figure out as much as I could about hitting, and the process of learning became my story. A former student of mine, Matt, coached me and threw me several rounds of batting practice. On October 8, 2006, I was recovering from a back spasm I suffered early in my training and was ready to go to the park behind my condo to practice my swing using the tether I bought (the Big Stick is the model name of the Rawlings bat I was using):

My back feels good enough to work with the Hit-A-Way this afternoon. I don’t realize how much I missed swinging the Big Stick until I take some practice swings.

I adjust the Hit-A-Way to practice hitting inside pitches. Matt told me that to hit an inside pitch, I’d have to get my hands across my chest real fast, but despite my best efforts I club more tether than ball. I have more success reaching for outside pitches. Maybe that means my swing is slow.

Written by seeker70

October 9, 2009 at 4:08 pm

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Cheating on my Girlfriend– Day 2

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“It’s obvious to me why St. Louis will win the NLDS over LA– they loaded the bases in the top of the 1st before before there was even a single out in the game. They plated a run and worked Randy Wolf to 32 pitches before LA turned a slick 4-6-3 double play to end the inning.”

I no sooner finished writing that sentence last night than Matt Kemp blasted a 2-run homer to center field in the bottom of the first inning with no outs. It was a nice reminder that this series will be a grind. LaRussa and Torre are both master tacticians who will work every angle in each game until. It’s going to be the type of baseball I love to watch.

I still like St. Louis’ chances for this game and the series. Despite the damage, Chris Carpenter still got out of the inning on 19 pitches.

*

I can’t cheat on my girlfriend– I don’t have one. We broke up about a month ago. The title here is just a cheap writer’s trick to get you to read this. But I’m giving myself over entirely to St. Louis for as deep as they run into the playoffs (I expect them to play the Yankees in the World Series), so I am essentially cheating on the Cubs.

It’s bad enough that I’m cheating, but what’s worse is that I’m doing it with the Cubs’ greatest rival. My justification is that St. Louis gets results. They’re the girl next door you overlooked once you started to notice the sexy girls around school and the neighborhood. But now, every time you turn around, St. Louis is doing something that turns you on: they’re stealing a base, laying down a bunt, breaking up a double play, or manufacturing a late run before hanging on to win 3-2.

I’ve considered dumping the Cubs and their perpetual teasing, but I can’t because I need a local girl to love. It’s how I’m wired, and it’s not that way with just baseball. A few years ago I was experiencing an unusual flurry of dates with several different women between Gurnee and Chicago. I stuck with the one closest to home– she lived a mile and a half away. I thought it was a lead pipe cinch once I realized how quick and easyit would be for us to get to the other’s house. That in turn would be a boon to most everything we wanted to do. It turned out that I was right– it was a lead pipe cinch for 8 months before things fell apart.

I’ve been thinking about calling her for the past 3 weeks.

*

St. Louis and LA both grinded on the opposing starting pitcher in Game 1, wearing him down early. Wolf lasted only 3.2 innings and threw 82 pitches. Carpenter threw 105 times over 5 full innings. Carpenter took almost all the damage, though, by giving up the 4 runs that put LA on top for good. If St. Louis did anything right, it was getting to LA’s bullpen early. They made the Dodger relievers sweat for over 5 innings, which could pay dividends if this turns into a long series.

Written by seeker70

October 8, 2009 at 9:31 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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