Saturday, June 26, 2010

Seeing History at Tropicana Field



There is an usher named Lou at Tropicana Field who I've become friends with over the last few years. Since I started going to Rays games regularly in late 2007, I've made it a habit to talk baseball with Lou prior to every game, whether I'm sitting in his section or not.

Hailing from the Bronx, Lou is one of the many New Yorkers who have moved to the Tampa Bay area and brought with them their love of baseball. As much of an old-time baseball fan as a fan of the modern game, Lou and I have talked about some of the greatest pitchers to ever play the game, from Bob Feller and Whitey Ford to Roy Halladay and Felix Hernandez. Since he started going to baseball games in 1944, there isn't much Lou hasn't seen in person.

Before Friday night, however, he had never witnessed a no-hitter.

Then Edwin Jackson happened.

I remember talking with Lou about Edwin Jackson in 2008. Back then, Jackson, the mercurial fireballer with a golden right arm, was the Rays fifth starter. He was also an enigma wrapped in a puzzle tucked in a quagmire and soaked in a dilemma. We all saw he had talent - the ability to throw 100 mph, an arm durable enough to go late into games, and pitches that made major league hitters look foolish. We just didn't know why Jackson couldn't put it all together consistently. Cork Gaines of Rays Index even compared him to "Nuke Laloosh", Tim Robbins' notoriously flaky character in Bull Durham.

On Friday night, Edwin Jackson put it all together.

After the game, the baseball blogosphere and Twitterverse spun like a whirling dervish over the fact that Jackson threw a whopping 149 pitches in no-hitting the Rays. In the era of pitch counts and 100-pitch limits, Jackson's performance deferred from the mean in a drastic way. An article posted after the no-hitter on Baseball-Reference.com stated Jackson threw more pitches than other pitcher in a no-hit game. As the night progressed, analysts, prognosticators, sooth-seers, forecasters, and others all expressed their opinion.

According to baseball analyst Joe Sheehan's twitter feed, "No-hitter aside, there's no way it makes sense to protect a one-run lead in the ninth with a guy approaching 150 pitches."

Fellow analyst Rany Jazayerli countered Sheehan's statement with a tweet of his own, "If Jackson played for 29 of 30 teams, you'd have a point. In ARZ, a tired Jackson might still be better than anyone in the pen." and "In a season where the previous high pitch count was 132, there's no way to justify 149. But it's still pretty cool."

ESPN writer and renowned baseball scribe Rob Neyer wrote that Arizona manager A.J. Hinch "didn't throw caution to the wind. He grabbed caution by the neck, spit in its face, and then he strangled it."

The bottom line however, is that Edwin Jackson made history.

Over at Bus Leagues Baseball, blog e-migo and longtime baseball fan Brian Moynahan has written about a "Baseball Bucket List", a list of game actions and events he would like to see in person. Brian listed things like a triple play, a player hitting for the cycle, and an inside-the-park home run as the things he would like to see.

I don't know if my friend Lou has a Baseball Bucket List. Maybe he does or maybe he came to the realization that no matter how many games he went to he would never everything baseball had to offer. Maybe he was okay with that and vowed not to be disappointed when his baseball watching days ended. Maybe he resigned to the fact that despite seeing dozens of hall of famers, numerous pennant races, and a bunch of World Series games, he would never see a no-hitter.

Then Edwin Jackson got Jason Bartlett to ground out to shortstop Stephen Drew for the final out of the 267th no-hitter in major league history.

After the game, I knew I had to find Lou and get his reaction. After a game like that, I couldn't wait until the next time I visited the Trop to talk baseball with him. When I finally found him, Lou was overjoyed, and mentioned a few of the great arms of yesteryear - the Allie Reynoldses and Bob Lemons - and how he never saw them throw a no-hitter. But after 66 years seeing baseball (by comparison, even the oldest Met fan has only waited 48 years), it was Edwin Jackson who finally gave Lou something he had never seen.

A no-hitter.

History.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Lessons from My Dad



This Father's Day, I thought I would do something original and pen a tribute to my Dad - a guy who brought me to my first ballgame, introduced me to the blues and funk, and taught me the meaning of the word "kaboobies".

(According to urban dictionary.com, the word kaboobies means: "so magnificent and grand that the word boobs is an understatement. they are round and beautiful. also highly bouncey. when exposed you hear all the angels sing. they are sure to make all who witness this lovely sight, shed a tear". The spelling isn't the greatest, but the meaning is definitely clear.)

Besides those key life moments, my Dad has also supplied me with quite a bit of fatherly advice and wisdom. I'll admit, that's probably typical of most dads, but as you can see by the aforementioned high points, I like to think my Dad is a bit unique. Not only has he imparted on me such important mantras as
  • Lying only makes things worse.

  • Practice situational awareness.

  • Republicans take money out of your right pocket and Democrats take money out of your left.

  • Drive as fast as you want as long you don't endanger the safety of others (Ten speeding tickets later, I'm kinda re-thinking this one, Dad.)
but he has also taught me valuable lessons through a series of stories, anecdotes, and situations. A few years ago, I wrote about one of these stories - a fable about the bat of G.H. "Babe" Ruth - but there are many more.  I guess I could say life with my Dad has been like living in a religious text, albeit without the angels, demons, saints, sinners, calamities, and deities.

The first story I remember my Dad telling me was about how his childhood was permanently scarred by a disgusting oral medication. According to my Dad, when he was a wee lad he had the not-so-uncommon habit of chewing on inedible objects. Unfortunately for my Dad however, this common habit caused an uncommon oral infection which could only be cured by the most awful tasting purple paste known to man - and little kids (possibly Gentian violet?). To this day, I have no idea how true this story actually is, but do know my absolute fear of the purple medicine meant my parents never had to worry about me developing the bad habit of gnawing on pen caps, pencils, toothpicks, twigs, and other assorted inedibles.

Another story I remember well involves my Dad, salami, and Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Juan Marichal. Like most kids growing up in New York  City way back in the mid-20th Century, my Dad was frequently treated to a day at the ballpark. During one of these trips, probably in either 1962 or '63, my Dad and several of his friends went to the Polo Grounds to see the hometown New York Mets take on the San Francisco Giants, who left New York several years earlier.

According to my Dad, at some point during the game, he and his friends were leaning over the upper deck railing over looking the Giants bullpen, which was in fair territory in the oddly shaped stadium. Then, kids being kids, and for whatever reason, my Dad decided to toss a piece of salami over the rail and into the Giants bullpen. Down the salami floated, until landing unexpectedly on the foot of the future Hall of Fame hurler. Needless to say, by the time Marichal looked up to identify the culprit, my Dad and his friends had scattered. After hearing that story, and seeing the Ron Artest melee in Detroit a few years ago, I've never had the ambition to toss food or any other object on to a field during a game*. I fear the players and the repercussions far too much.

(I have to make the distinction of "during a game" versus "after a game". After FSU defeated the University of Florida in 2001, I was among the thousands of fans who threw oranges on to the field to celebrate FSU's entrance into the Orange Bowl and the National Championship Game. But that's comparing salami to oranges - totally different.)

The third story my Dad told me that may or may not be true involves a man I mentioned briefly in the Babe Ruth bat post, the "inventor of the bungee cord", Arthur J. Bungee. Although he never went to Yale or Harvard, my Dad is a smart guy. He watches Jeopardy almost every night, reads the newspaper from front to back, and supposedly spent time as a kid reading encyclopedias. So when I asked him who invented the bungee cord, and he answered "Arthur J. Bungee, during World War II, in order to preserve rubber for the war effort", I had to believe him. He even elaborated on the tale by telling me Arthur J. was a U.S. Navy sailor who used his new invention to help slow down planes as they landed on the aircraft carriers. Seemed logical enough for me.

The final lesson that my Dad taught me in my formative years was to stick it to The Man for as long as possible. Especially if you think The Man is screwing you over. Way back in the early 1980s, when New York City was upgrading their extensive subway system, the powers that be in NY City public transportation decided to raise the tolls across the bridges to pay for the underground subway construction. As my Dad didn't ride the subway, he didn't think it was very fair that above-ground travelers had to pay for the transportation benefit of below-ground travelers. So he decided to stand up to The Man and not pay the added fee.

Being that my Dad worked nights, and there weren't many people on the roads when he was traveling from our house on Long Island to his job closer to New York City, he concocted a plan to hand toll booth attendants handfuls of pennies and nickels and then, while the attendant was busy counting the change, he would casually pull through the toll. Legend has it, my Dad grew quite good at this technique. So good, as a matter of fact, that he not only caught the eye of the authorities, but also the news media. Soon his popularity became a double-edged sword.

On one hand, the attention meant my Dad was featured in a write-up in New York Newsday and people were rallying to his cause, including my elementary school librarian, who told me to tell my Dad to keep up the good work. On the other hand, the attention meant the cops knew exactly who my Dad was. Knowing all my Dad's information, it wasn't long until the henchmen of The Man started calling the house and scaring my Mom, who not only had me to worry about, but was also pregnant with my brother. So needless to say, with his family in mind, and after fighting for as long as he could, my Dad gave in to The Man and paid the hated toll.

As you can see, my Dad has taught me a lot of things, from the meaning of kaboobies to when and how to fight the system. I definitely wouldn't be the man I am today without lessons from my Dad.

Happy Father's Day.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Saddest Mascot



All her life, Mindy wanted to make people smile. As a child, she would dance and jump and juggle and tumble and put on skits with her collection of stuffed animals. Every Sunday night, her parents hosted "The Mindy Variety Hour" and people from miles around gathered to see Mindy perform. She made people laugh and life was good.

Her mother called her a "born actress".

Mindy had a problem, however, on her way to Hollywood. As much as she tried, she could not memorize lines. No matter how small the role or how few words she had to say, she could not act in a scripted performance.

By the time she was in high school, Mindy had given up her dreams of entertaining. Instead she focused her life on Library Studies and the intricacies of the Dewey Decimal System. She knew 023 as Personnel Management, 412 as Etymology, 624 as Civil Engineering, 999 as Extraterrestrial Worlds, and everything in between.

Despite graduating with honors, and being called the "The Future Star of 21st Century Librarians" by Librarian's Quarterly, Mindy hated her career decision.

She still wanted to entertain. The desire was still alive.

Then, a month before she was to start her job with the Library of Congress, Mindy saw a Craig's List ad for baseball mascots. Every team in baseball was looking for a performer to entertain their crowd.

It was Mindy's dream job.

Unfortunately, the ad was a week old

Frantically, Mindy emailed the person who posted the ad. She nearly cried joyful tears when she received a reply stating there was one position left.

The response failed to mention the only opening was for the Chicago Cubs.

Never one to follow sports, Mindy took the role, not knowing the depressing history of the franchise. With hope and optimism, Mindy took to being a mascot like a fish to water, running through the stadium every game, trying in vain to excite the crowd. Within weeks however, the pessimism of the Cubbie faithful and the losing ways of the players destroyed Mindy's enthusiasm. She quickly knew no matter how hard she tried, the woeful, pathetic players negated even her best attempts at cheerleading.

Her dreams crushed, she knew her life as a performer was done forever.

Melvil Dewey and his Decimal System were her future.

813, American Fiction.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Tallahassee Miss Cleo aka A Fraud Named Sister Fay



Here is another one from the archives. Written in 2002, it's a story about my trip to a local Tallahassee psychic and palm reader.

“Who’s the father of the baby?”

“Call me now.”

Everyone who watches late night TV knows the hysterics of Miss Cleo, the pseudo-Jamaican fortuneteller.  Few people realize Tallahassee has its own psychic friend, Sister Faye.  Sister Fay owns and operates her own psychic consultation service located on 1729 Mahan Drive.  She has been in the business for 48 years.

On Monday, I called Sister Fay to make an appointment for an interview.  I was greeted across the line by nothing but a meek hello.  I asked if the number was indeed Sister Fay’s and the voice assured me it was.  I then explained to the voice my interviewing intention and asked when I may conduct the interview.  3 pm Tuesday, the voice said.

That evening I wrote approximately 20 questions to ask Sister Fay.  These questions ranged from the practical (What is the difference between a palm, crystal, or psychic reading?) to the idealistic (What are your dreams for the world?).  I also included questions of a random nature, such as her thoughts on September 11th and her thoughts on the upcoming Seminole football season.

Tuesday arrived and I drove to Sister Fay’s.  When I got there, I joined a group of four other people waiting to see the psychic reader.  I was a bit early so I sat quietly and waited my turn.  At approximately 3:30, the office door opened and a small voice beckoned me to enter.  I sat down before an elderly woman who had a very puzzled look on her face.

Trouble raised its ugly head as I discussed my interviewing intentions with Sister Fay.  She opposed the idea of my interview, claiming it was not she who I had talked to on the phone the day earlier.  When I asked who it might have been, Sister Fay responded, “My ten year old granddaughter answers my phone sometimes.  It must have been her.”  I guess her psychic abilities couldn’t tell I knew the difference between the voice of an old woman and a ten-year-old girl.

Knowing I could not argue with her, I asked when a better time would be.  She told me 5 pm.

Again I drove to Sister Fay’s, this time at 5:00 as she had directed.  I stood outside patiently, 5:05, 5:10, 5:15.  At 5:20, Sister Fay finally opened the door to her office.  She ordered me to enter her office and sit in the seat directly in front of her.

“I can tell you everything you want to know,” she promised.  “Just put 25 dollars in your hand and tell me if you believe in God.”  When I said yes, she pulled out the tarot cards and started to give me a reading.  I went through with it because I figured it would add to the interview process.

Sister Fay’s reading was nothing short of a complete fraud.  She opened by asking me my age.  After I answered 24, she told me about her youth and how her older sister would not let her tag along.  She then asked me if I had the same problem when I was growing up.  I told her I didn’t have any older brothers or sisters so I couldn’t relate.

She then started to flip over the tarot cards.  On the 3rd card she told me I had been a lonely little boy during my youth and I always wished I had brothers or sisters.  This was a lie.  I did have two younger brothers and was never lonely growing up.

By about the 15th card she told me I needed to curtail my money spending habit.  I had spent too much on material things in my life and I needed to learn how to save money.  This too was a lie.  If anything, I am the exact opposite.  I saved quite a bit of money while I was in the Army in order to pay for college and only in the last year have I started to buy good clothes, etc for work and other needed occasions.

Sister Fay attempted to help out my love life as well.  According to the cards, I recently broke up with a commanding, over-bearing girl who was no good for me.  Sister Fay reassured me breaking up with her was the right thing to do.  This was one hundred percent fabricated.

She continued on with her story of my life.  Apparently, I have had leg and lower back problems.  This was nothing to worry about, she advised me.  I also needed to communicate more with my father.  It was all the typical psychic rhetoric.

When she finished with the cards, she told me to look at my list of questions and asked if any were not answered.  Of course none of them were answered, but I did not let her know that.  I told her it was amazing that she knew what was on the list.  “The cards always knew the right answers,” she concluded.

Like that the reading was over.  She had told me nothing about my personal life and answered none of my questions.  I left thinking the interview was a complete failure and I was out 25 bucks.  But looking back, I did get a first hand experience with the Tallahassee Miss Cleo, a fraud by the name of Sister Fay.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Thoughts on Natural Rhythm and String Theory



I know this is way out of my area of expertise, and I may have absolutely no idea what I am talking about, but this National Geographic article from April on the birth of universes rekindled a few thoughts I've had swimming in my head.

Quick summary: The article summarizes the recent research on wormholes and black holes and how matter may never reach a supreme condensed density as Einstein predicted.

(Longtime readers should know I am a huge Einstein fan. It's been a while, but I tried my hand at talking physics at my old site, compared Einstein's theories to The Dark Knight, and read an 800 page bio on the man. He is, in my opinion, one of the smartest men to ever live, and one of the few I think smarter than I could ever be. Him, Stephen Hawking, and Miles Davis.)

To quote the Nat Geo article:
According to the new equations, the matter black holes absorb and seemingly destroy is actually expelled and becomes the building blocks for galaxies, stars, and planets in another reality.

That means the basic building blocks of matter as we know it may live forever. Although it may get tossed and turned and flipped and bounced like a sock in a series of connected driers, it will never cease to exist. And since, of course, Einstein proved that mass=energy then neither mass nor energy can be created nor destroyed (law of the conservation of energy, yo). Something will be somewhere forever.

Another subject I have seen a little bit about in regards to my odd fascination with Einstein is any Discovery, Science, or Nature Channel show on string theory, that super micro particles, billionths and billionths of a centimeter in size exist along gravitational planes called "strings". Most of this stuff is over my head, but apparently these strings containing micro particles vibrate, causing the molecules to move. According to the almighty Wikipedia,
On distance scales larger than the string radius, each oscillation mode behaves as a different species of particle, with its mass, spin and charge determined by the string's dynamics. Splitting and recombination of strings correspond to particle emission and absorption, giving rise to the interactions between particles.

An analogy for strings' modes of vibration is a guitar string's production of multiple but distinct musical notes. In the analogy, different notes correspond to different particles. The only difference is the guitar is only 2-dimensional; you can strum it up, and down. In actuality the guitar strings would be every dimension, and the strings could vibrate in any direction, meaning that the particles could move through not only our dimension, but other dimensions as well.

So there many very well be a natural rhythm to each subatomic particle. Which means, going up in the matter scale, there may be a natural rhythm to each atomic particle, molecule, cell, and other building block of things. Maybe Obi Wan Kenobi was right when he said there was "an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together." Maybe the Force is rhythm.

A few years ago, I read an article in Scientific American on the "natural ambient sounds" of animals and how human life and technological advancement has altered and even threatened how animals communicate with each other. According to the article, birds, reptiles, insects, and many other land dwelling creatures have had to change their bioacoustics and outshout, outbuzz, or outsing cars, airplanes, chainsaws, cannons, and other human inventions to get their mates' attention.

Could these bioacoustics be caused by the mass amalgamation of the frequencies of each and every subatomic particle in a living thing? Could all these vibrating strings be in any way related to how we communicate or what frequencies we acknowledge as good or bad?

At the top of this post I uploaded a picture of a bunch of kids dancing at a Rays game a few weeks ago. Ever watch a toddler dance? I am always fascinated by watching my two-year old nephew jump, bounce, and boogie to whatever catches his fancy. He dances to everything from "The Ants Go Marching" and other kids songs to John Lee Hooker's "Boom Boom" to the soothing sounds of cartoon death metal band Dethklok. He doesn't discriminate.

From what I have seen, most other kids are the same way. They don't care if it's country or rap or swing or Bulgarian wedding music. If they can dance to it, they will. And they don't care about steps or the number of beats, they just move. Although I have never done it, I would guess that trying to predict a toddler's next dance step or movement is about as difficult as trying to create a unified field theory for the actions of subatomic particles. Which is what frustrated Einstein for most of his life and eventually lead scientists to the creation of string theory.

Which makes me think there maybe a natural rhythm for human beings. After all, every culture has created its own music in some way shape or form. In many cultures it natural for music to be part of religious ceremonies and a way to touch or feel the supernatural and the holy. Maybe babies are more "tuned in" to this natural human rhythm and are less corrupted by the everyday sounds of everything we grown-ups have resonating in our world. Maybe for children the ignorance of the different beeps, tones, whistles, bells, horns, alarms, shouts, screams, buzzes, hums, rattles, and yells is a good thing. They have the ability to "feel" music better than we can.

Perhaps the hippies and beatniks of the 1960s were on to something when they said "turn on, tune in, and drop out". Maybe all that LSD Timothy Leary was pushing was getting people to feel rhythms the way children feel them. Or maybe they were on a whole other rhythm. Maybe there are multiple frequencies we can force onto our brain cells just as many cosmologists think there are multiple universes. Maybe an LSD trip is nothing more than tapping into a frequency of an alternate universe, one that the person taking LSD has no prior experience in. Maybe there are universes that are more hostile to our thought process than others. Maybe some are more peaceful.

Maybe this explains heaven and hell.

Wow, it's getting deep in here. And my head is starting to hurt.

Before I go, I have a joke. A few years ago, one of my friends had a roommate who was aspiring to do stand-up comedy. He said the first thing he was going to do was go on stage and flamboyantly say "Hi, my name is Rhythm and I'm a dancer. (Pause) My parents knew."

I thought it was funny.