Archive for October 2014
I got word late last spring that the National Council of Teachers of English was again holding a writing contest for middle- and high-school teachers. It was in conjunction with the Norman Mailer Writers Colony, which is a pretty swanky gig for the few writers who are accepted to it each year. I’ve applied and been rejected in years past. This is an annual contest anymore, and the genre changes each year. I submitted fiction three years ago; this year the call was for creative nonfiction. I happen to have a masters degree in CNF, and a pretty respected book-length piece of CNF that I might have written about in here in the past, so why not tee off?
So when I was out in Iowa last summer, which I may have written about herein, I dusted off the old thesis. By “dusted off,” I mean that I edited the holy hell out of it to fit the requirements of the contest. They’d take the equivalent of 40 double-spaced pages, and I totally maxed that out. In the end, I had reduced the overall piece by 56%. I pretty much re-branded the entire work, but was also forced to cut out most of the personal angle of the story and focus on my subject, Jim. Still, I felt I had a pretty damn good story overall. It was a labor of love to get back into the work that consumed my life six years ago and brush it up with skills I have developed in the time since then. Turns out I had a lot of ways to ratchet the piece up and make it better. That included writing a preface and finding chapter divisions with titles that pointed to themes. I felt pretty good about it, which was about the 33rd time I’ve felt good about that writing from so long ago.
I had high expectations. Like, winning the entire contest. That would have meant a free trip to New York City, a ticket to the awards banquet, and some recognition I would have warmly embraced… not to mention rubbing elbows and sipping cocktails with some highly regarded names in writing. Why not Jeff Burd, huh?! So I checked the results last week… and it turns out I didn’t even make it to the finals. Bummer. But time spent writing (and rewriting… and rewriting…) is never time wasted. It was nice to be reminded of my experiences from 2008-09 and to work on a document that did more to build my writing chops than anything else I’ve written. It was even nicer to see how that writer back then is a shadow of my current self. I’ve come a long way because of my dogged determination to practice, practice, practice. I love to practice.
Maybe next year.
I like to think there was an Earl Weaver sighting at Camden Yards in Baltimore last night. Right around the middle of the eighth inning, a short misty cloud of profanity was hovering around Detroit manager Brad Ausmus. I imagine that several fans who walked past Weaver’s statue outside the ballpark after the game heard echoes of a disembodied voice laughing and humming strains of “My Way.”
Sure this is all in my imagination. Here’s how it was fed:
It was the top of the eighth inning, and Detroit was down 4-2. This isn’t cause for concern because the top of the Tiger order is up, and that includes Miguel Cabrera. True to form, lead-off hitter Ian Kinsler reached base. Brad Ausmus called for the hit-and-run when Torii Hunter stepped to the plate. Ausmus knows Kinsler has the speed to reach second, and with any luck Hunter would make it to first and set the table for Cabrera. In the least, Detroit would have a runner in scoring position. The problem is that the hit-and-run forces the hitter to swing at pitches he might otherwise let pass, and the base runner is too far along to turn back should something go wrong. That is why Earl Weaver would never call for the hit-and-run. It’s more likely to take runs off the scoreboard than it is to add them.
Sure enough, Hunter hacked at a pitch and blooped the ball to the shortstop, who easily caught it for an out and then relayed to first for an even easier out since Kinsler was already at second. There were suddenly two out, and nobody was on base for the first of Detroit’s big boppers. Cabrera hit a home run to cut the lead to 4-3, but without the wonky hit-and-run, Detroit could have been tied or up 5-4. A tie or a lead would have completely changed the pitching strategies Detroit applied in the bottom of the eighth; instead, the strategy they employed resulted in Baltimore scoring eight runs and putting the game, and possibly the series, out of reach.
Perhaps Brad Ausmus needs to check out Weaver’s notions regarding team speed, especially since his team is in the town where Weaver earned his reputation. While the radio broadcast setup is fake, the insight Weaver lends to base running is authentic and especially valuable in October:
Team speed? For Christ’s sake, you get fuckin’ goddamn little fleas on the fuckin’ basepaths getting picked off trying to steal, gettin’ thrown out, taking runs away from you… you get them big cocksuckers that can hit the fuckin’ ball out of the fuckin’ ballpark and you can’t make any goddamn mistakes.
It’s good to see my long-suffering Orioles making some progress in the post-season. I only wish it wasn’t coming at the expense of Detroit. Still, I’ll take what I can get.