Monday, September 15, 2008

Pitchback potification and memories



Five minutes ago I started thinking about my childhood baseball career and specifically the many "pitchbacks" I went through. I don't know why these thoughts came into my head. They just popped in there. Kinda like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man in Ghostbusters. Anyway, for those who were not aspiring left-handed junk-ballers, let me explain what a pitchback was. It was a curved net, about four feet tall and about 2.5 feet wide, that would force a thrown ball back to the thrower (see picture).

(For more childhood memories regarding the pitchback, and a few more pictures, check out this blog: (Sidearm Delivery: Disappointing Childhood Toys: The Pitchback.)

Although I never had the problems the writer from Sidearm Delivery had, I did go through at least four pitchbacks while between the ages of 9 to 13. To tell the truth, I don't remember why they broke, probably from overuse. Hopefully from overuse. I do remember however my friends and I trying to carry a pitchback all over town, from neighborhood to neighborhood, wherever we could find a spot to play ball. Imagine the sight of a bunch of kids, pre-teens I guess is what we would be called now, riding their bikes through the suburbia of Central Florida, with one lugging a large net over his back. That was us.

As Sidearm Delivery kinda hints at, pitchbacks weren't very good for baseballs, which is probably why he hated his so much. But it was killer for "Tennis Ball Baseball", the game of choice in the 'burbs, where cars and houses often defined the parameters of the field of play. Why we never went to an actual baseball field is beyond me. If I remember right, I think the real fields were too far away. A whopping five miles or so, tops. But that's a long way when someone has to carry a pitchback.

To this day, I wonder if any big leaguers ever started with a pitchback. Most kids I knew that were really good (besides me, of course) had dads who built them batting cages, or in one case, one kid's dad was Minnesota Twins trainer. A bit of a slight advantage when you are being taught your curve ball from Burt Blyleven. Yeah, that's fair.

Another big problem with the pitchback was it didn't really help. It didn't teach you how to throw fast, it didn't teach you how to field, and it sure didn't teach you how to hit. It didn't even come with a book on how to throw different pitches. I guess the one thing the pitchback did was teach me good control, but being able to move the ball in and out on hitters isn't really appreciated in Little League and other pre-high school levels.

So this my ode to the pitchback, an essential part of my young baseball dreams. Dreams that would have been so much cooler had they come true.

Pitchback, back pitch
I wish you could have made me rich.
But you were only metal and net,
Not a great teaching bet.
Looking back I needed a coach
Someone who could make the most
Of this tall skinny lefty with a rubber arm
but a fastball that could do no harm.

Oh pitchback, how you failed me
I could have been a Met, a Marlin, or even a Yankee
Instead my career amounted to zip
And I am stuck writing about you on The Serious Tip.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Serious Tip Turns 2: A Reflection

Here is to loyal readers.

Two years ago, a friend of mine asked me to blog what's on my mind, so I started this blog that I'm still writing, the wise words were wisdom, meant to enlighten.

Wow. I must say I impressed myself with that Run D.M.C. "Down with the King" paraphrase. Maybe I have a future as a songwriter.

In all honesty, that was the only pop culture reference to "two years ago" that I could think of. I didn't want to start with the cliched "Four score minus 78 years ago". But I digress ...

Anyway, The Serious Tip is officially two years old today. And, as many people who peruse the Internet know, two years is a long time for a blog. So instead of sharing what would be a completely biased The Serious Tip's Best of Year Two, I wanted to talk a little bit about how I started blogging. Think of this as one of those sitcom flashback episodes.

A long time ago (I think it was sometime near August 2006), in a land not so far away (depending on where you live), I was listening to ESPN Radio. Now I'm not an avid sports radio listener, but I was driving and needed some variety. So I tuned in to the local ESPN Radio channel. On the air at the time was a show featuring Doug Gottlieb and some other guy, not sure who, but it's not important. After discussing the news of the day, Gottlieb began to describe his daily routine, how he learned his news and how he figured out what was going to drive his topics of the day. During his description, he mentioned Deadspin.com. Always curious about new websites, I scribbled "Deadspin.com" on a receipt I had crumpled in a cup holder. Little did I know I was about to totally change my sports-viewing experience.

Like seemingly thousands of other sports fans, I found Deadspin.com in late 2006. Also like thousands upon thousands of other sports fans, I read some of the blogs Deadspin.com linked to and thought, "That looks fun. I wonder if I can do that?". Then one day Deadspin.com linked to Jenn Sterger's blog. No offense to Jenn (who I have met a few times and who seems nice), but after reading her blog, I knew I could blog. Not that I thought I was a better writer than Jenn, but all her blog was was her thoughts on sports. Well, I had thoughts on sports too, so I figured I should be able to pull off this blogging thing. And so it began.

My first post: Day One: Growin' All Up In The Ghetto

Way back when I first started, I had no idea where I wanted to go with The Serious Tip. With a name like The Serious Tip, I knew I could go anywhere. Should I write only about sports? What about some of my other interests, like music or politics? And if I was going to write about sports, should I keep it team-centric and just write about the Mets, Noles, Knicks, or the (then Devil) Rays? I was lost. So I did what I think most bloggers do: write other bloggers.

The best advice I received about blogging came not from Will Leitch or The Big Lead or any other the other major sports blog writers, but from Chip Wesley of Thunder Matt's Saloon. In a response to my email query, Chip gave me a few great pointers:

- Blaze your own trail: "Instead of rehashing the same stuff the other sites are doing (and doing a better job at it as well), we try to blaze our own trail. And if we lose some people with a salute to Freddie Mercury, so be it."

- Provide original content: "So many people start up a blog where 75% of their content becomes nothing but quotes from other people's sites or movie clips from YouTube."

- Keep the site fresh: "So many blogs will post content regularly for a few months and then just stop for weeks at a time without posting anything."

So that's what I have tried to do. Of course, when I first started I forwarded quite a bit to Deadspin.com and The Big Lead.com to try and get a link and maybe even reel in a few re-occuring readers. But I quickly learned unless I geared my site for their readers, asking for a link was only at best good for a temporary spike in the numbers. Loyal readers to a small independent blog that talks about everything could only come through reaching out.

From reaching out via comments and emails, I like to think I've developed quite a few "Friends of The Serious Tip". For them I'd like to say "thanks". Their constant feedback, encouragement, and ideas have kept me going. And of course as I've gone on, several bloggers have even asked me to contribute on their blog, either through cameo or regular appearance. To me, that is the ultimate compliment and many thanks goes to these bloggers as well.

Sadly, as I mentioned before, blogs don't last forever. During two-year life of The Serious Tip, I've seen several great bloggers quit or go on indefinite hiatus (The Cav, Jack Cobra, among others). It is the sad reality of blogging. Like life, it moves on, and leaves dust of us all.

However, as many of you might know (at least those who read loyally, or at least on occasion), I've been recently working with a few sites of whom I have been long-time friends with: the aforementioned Thunder Matt's Saloon and The Afro-Squad . And be on the look-out for collaborations with several other bloggers in the upcoming weeks and months.

So even though The Serious Tip isn't the most successful blog in the world (yet), I'm still enjoying this. Blogging has given me an outlet to say what I want and write how I want. In conclusion, I'd like to paraphrase Joe Dirt in a quick interview with myself:

Me: So was the last two years a complete waste?

Myself and I: No one's really put it like that, but I don't think so. I've had good times, met cool people, cruised around, cranked some tunes. And blogged the best I could.

Hope you've enjoyed it.