Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Christine E. Taylor: Vomit, Magic, Passion, Texas: Baseball in my Youth

"A sick man just threw up on a lady!"

On a relentlessly humid August day in the classy town of Baltimore, a beer-drunk Orioles fan vomited chunks of Memorial Stadium fries and probably something with crab in it onto the feather-haired woman a row ahead.

I was fascinated.

"Is this what grownups do? Is that normal? Is that a piece of potato? How will she get clean?" For a 7-year-old, the Ken Singleton home run that followed had nothing on the aroma of chaos, on the palpable erosion of civility.

My father was not a man who enjoyed the unexpected, and my mother was not a woman who enjoyed a loud party. Their collective tension just enhanced the sweaty, heady fiasco. We planned to stay for the whole game, and so, damn it, that's what we were going to do. Schedules don't waiver, plans don't change. And something should be done about that man and that mess.

My attention was forcibly averted by one or more of my parents when the drunk started to move from bleary, shocked apology into indignation over the woman not being cooler about wearing second-hand stadium food. It did not take a turn for the better after that.

Everyone within 3 rows soon wore a hint of bile-scented sweat, and it became impossible to endure. We left, 5 innings into a losing game.


"Do you think Eddie will hit a homer for you today? Of course he will. You're here!"

Like magic, Eddie Murray hit a home run at every single Orioles game I attended throughout my youth. Any games that didn't comply with that slice of family lore were quickly swept under the rug, and it became its own truth, veracity be damned.

I always felt a charge watching Murray take the field, in even seeing the number 33 out of context. We had a connection which was verbally reinforced by my father hundreds of times each summer: "When Chrissy's at the game, Eddie's got at least one RBI in the bag."

On stadium days, a Murray home run was as sure as lemon ice, and I will always love him for that.


A life-sized poster of Cal Ripken, Jr. hastened my pubescence by at least several months.

Cal was my first intense crush (David Copperfield and Freddy "Boom Boom" Washington meant NOTHING -- they were just child's play!), and now I could stare at his flat, full-bodied likeness while rubbing against a heart-shaped satin pillow any time I wanted.

Celebrity milk endorsements have really been sapped of their dignity. But when Cal was representing, I couldn't help but drink my 3 glasses a day to feel closer to him. Just looking at the poster fortified my bones. He was super-hot sunshine.

The poster was also a growth chart, and the words "strong" or "drink" just sullied the clean lines of his uniform and the clarity of his blue, blue eyes. My GOD! Those eyes were so blue!! And the way he leaned on a bat? I bet he could really, really kiss a 9-year old like she deserved to be kissed.

My connection to Eddie was edged out by the certainty that Cal and I would be married soon. It wasn't anything that Eddie did -- he was a great guy! -- but you can’t deny the smoldering heat that burns between a 5th grader and her shortstop. Eddie stopped hitting home runs at every game I attended. I still cheered, but the sound came out all hollow.



The Astrodome represented ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING I hated about Houston and Texas and moving away from Baltimore and the horrible scale of the misguided ego of the Lone Star State's big-bellied inhabitants.

The sealed behemoth of a stadium managed to be both aggressively air-conditioned and prodigiously stifling. The food was twice as large and half as good. Drinks were served in large plastic boots -- cuz it's Texas, ya'll! Git it?

My father thought that taking in a baseball game would soften the blow of our sudden move and lessen the anxiety of entering junior high with an Ogilvie Home Perm and absolutely no friends. But people here weren't real baseball fans. Head-sized portions of BBQ brisket didn't make up for disinterest in a well-executed sac bunt. And they were playing on the same turf that Putt-Putt used. When the real big animatronic bull bellowed real smoke from its real big nostrils on the first home run, my young soul crumpled.

I kind of tried to enjoy the game for my father's sake. But I ached for home, a time and place where the home run itself was enough.

Steve Strong: Baseball in LA

There’s nothing better for young boys than having a day out at the ball park. That’s where memories are made. Fathers and sons get to cheer for the same team, sing the same songs, and eat the same food – perhaps the only time in their life they’ll really be on the same page!

I became a Dodgers fan because: a) I lived in L.A. for eight years, and b) growing up I was a Tigers fan, so the National League Dodgers were no threat whatsoever. When I lived in L.A., I tried to attend 10-15 games a year, and when I moved to Central California I had to cut that back to one or two games a summer.

In the summer of 1995 I took the four-hour road trip from Fresno to L.A. to watch the Dodgers play the Cubs. We timed the drive to get to the park an hour before the first pitch, and planned to drive home at the end of the game.

With me in our group was my wife, my five-year-old son, his five-year-old best friend and my four-month-old baby boy. I bought five seats so we’d have plenty of room for the baby and we could sort of spread out.

We got to our seats early, and of course the two five-year-olds wanted all kinds of cotton candy, hot dogs, Skittles, and anything else that would make them more wired and hyper than they would normally be.

Now, you should know that Los Angeles is full of people like me who grew up elsewhere, so you see a lot of visitor’s apparel in the bleachers. In the seats in front of us was a real Southern California Classic. They were a husband and wife - she was decked out in a complete Cubs uniform, and had Walkman headphones on. Yes, she looked like a female Steve Bartman. Her husband, on the other hand, couldn’t have been less interested in anything, as he slouched there reading a novel.

As the game started, I noticed they were turning around and looking at me a lot, and I had no idea why. Turns out they were irked that the two five-year-old boys who were hyped up and full of energy and were “kicking” their seats from the back as they were generally horsing around.

When I figured out what the dirty looks were for, I told the boys to knock it off and control their legs. But you know… trying to get a couple of kindergarteners to control their legs in those seats that are too big for them anyway is like trying to get Mark McGuire to admit performance enhancing drugs actually enhanced his performance.

It’s just not going to happen.

To her credit, the woman in front of us was pretty cool. She cast all her nasty glances to her husband. And, of course, he then started getting confrontational with me.

He would turn around and tell me to make the kids stop, and then go back to reading his book. He would take his arm and kind of swipe at the kid’s legs, and then go back to reading his book. He would make a big grunting noise and lean way forward, and then go back to reading his book.

Mind you, all this time I’m trying to take care of the baby, keep the Kindergartners under control, and watch a bit of the game myself. My wife? She was out of it completely!

When the guy in front of me couldn’t take it anymore, he stood up, turned around and got in my face and yelled, “This is no place to take children!”

I was shocked at how illogical that sounded. I said, “I think it’s the perfect place to take children. Baseball is all about children. This is where they’re supposed to be.”

The guy scolded me and said, “This is an activity for adults only. I’m going to report you to the ushers.”

I was so shocked, I said, “You’re going to call the ushers and tell them I’m not supposed to be sitting here with children? Oh, I’ve got to hear this. In fact, let me call them for you. This is going to be great.”

At this point I think even the bookworm realized how stupid that sounded – and what made the whole thing especially ridiculous was the fact that the stadium was less than half full! He and his wife removed themselves a few rows away and lived happily ever after.

I, on the other hand, still had the misery of taking care of the baby, two hyper five-year-old boys, and managing the grumpiness of my wife. So for me… no difference really.

But I think we all learned a beautiful lesson that day: I think Rodney King said it best, “Can’t we all just get along – and sit as far away from others as possible?”

Monday, August 30, 2010

Katie McMahon: Who are we? The Wildcats! Who are we gonna beat? The Wildcats!

I am the person who fell off the elliptical machine at the gym.

Yes, that was me swimming into your lane.

I have been hit in the head with a basketball. I have been hit in the head with a softball. A tennis ball. A baseball. A football. About fifty wiffle balls.

I tried out for cheerleading in sixth grade and didn’t make it. The next day, I fell down the stairs.

If I was being tortured or held over a cliff and someone asked me what my favorite sport was as a kid, I would say softball.

We were a team of eight-year-old girls called the Wildcats. As cats, most of us were ferocious and ready to attack. Others of us only found ourselves in the park because someone had brought us there and let us out of our cat cages. We were hungry, lazy, and confused as to where we were and why. Now, instead of lying on the grass and chasing butterflies, we were expected to run around in circles and catch things with big leather gloves on our hands.

They even put t-shirts on us with big numbers printed on the backs. As Wildcats, we wore forest green. Cougars wore yellow. Cheetahs wore baby blue. Other cats wore other colors (pink, orange, any colors you can think of). Our t-shirts were too big and much longer than our shorts, making it seem as though we weren’t wearing any pants. There we were: just a bunch of eight-year-old girls running around with no pants on, playing some softball.

The sunlight peaked around the tree branches and through the holes in the fence and out onto the field. I could feel everybody crossing their fingers as I walked to the plate and grabbed the bat, heavy and wobbly in my hands. My dad had finally made it to a game and I could hear him yelling my name, along with some expert tips on how to hit the ball in the right direction.

“Look at the ball,” or “Don’t look at the ball.” I don’t remember anything specific, just yelling, yelling, yelling, and then maybe a groan of disappointment here and there.

I’ve never understood how violent screaming could be regarded as a sign of encouragement. If he hadn’t been there, I think things would have gone better -- at least I wouldn’t have had to deal with as much embarrassment and self-loathing. I could’ve stood in the outfield again, pulling strands of grass out of the ground, tying each one together to make an extra long grass string. Maybe I would’ve run to first base in the next inning. It’s quite possible I would’ve made it all the way around the bases without getting hit in the head with the ball or falling and getting little rocks embedded in my knees.

Why do parents like to make their kids’ lives miserable? I was born with some kind of weird hip problem and messed up knees and had a hard time learning how to walk. My mom tells me I could barely crawl, and instead would just roll around the room if I needed to get anywhere. I’d curl up into a ball or on my side and roll on over to get a closer look at the television. Eventually, I managed to walk, and almost immediately, I was thrown out onto a soccer field, then a softball field, a basketball court, an ice skating rink, a swimming pool, even a golf course. Why?

It probably went by pretty quickly, but my dad kept hollering and complaining about the umpire or the catcher, or whoever had given me the bat that was too heavy or too light for me. Each strike was draining and my heart felt like it was going to jump from my chest into my throat and then out of my mouth, while all of the water in my body flooded out of my eyes forming a colossal natural disaster in the park. Everyone would either float far away or drown within minutes.

Other parents seemed legitimately supportive of their children, but my dad’s voice was terrifying, echoing throughout the park. This was not a tone of cheerful optimism, but rather infuriated resentment and dissatisfaction with my ultimate failure. “You can do it!” felt like “If you don’t hit that fucking ball and run around these damn bases in ten seconds or less, then you can find your own ride home.” Wet, hot tears rolled down my face and I felt like throwing up all over my feet and whipping my bat at the other Wildcats on the bench making up stupid cheers. Shut up, shut up, shut up. I opened my eyes a little wider. My damp eyelids felt cool in the breeze. I didn’t even want to be here. I am not cut out for this.

My brain likes to tell me things like that. It says things like, “You suck at running. Why are you even trying?” or “Who cares about winning? Maybe afterwards, you can eat pizza, fatso.”

Up until recently, I thought my brain was wrong. Often it is wrong, because it tells me I suck at a lot of things that I’m actually pretty okay at. Then I realized it was right about this one thing. I do suck at running and I don’t care about winning. At all. To a degree, I understand why my parents were so insistent about my involvement with sports. I mean, I would never have made my kid play every single sport I could think of; an entire summer of golf seriously seemed like punishment. Though mostly I believe they just wanted me out of the house, I sort of see they also wanted me to try new things and be active. I guess.

Recently, I came to the startling realization that as an adult, I can say no. I say no to lots of things now, but most importantly I say no to basketball and softball and kickball and pretty much every sport you can think of. No (or sometimes, “no, thank you”). Competitive sports have left me emotionally unstable and full of self-pity. I figure the only way to get better is to eliminate them forever.

I still do my best to say yes to being active. I say yes to yoga, riding my bicycle, walking and being outside as much as possible. It would be completely out of place for my dad to be yelling words of so-called encouragement in my face while I’m in the middle of downward dog. As long as he doesn’t see me lose, maybe he won’t think I’m a loser.

I want to say that my dad was never purposely trying to hurt my feelings or give me anxiety that would continue into my teens and now my twenties. He was just always competitive himself and wanted to see his kids win. He couldn’t understand why I didn’t care. When he did show up for games, he never yelled at me afterwards, even though his sighs of defeat washed over me. Whether I ended up winning or losing, we never talked much after the game. And every once in awhile, we would get ice cream or pizza and he wouldn’t call me fat or tell me to stop eating.

He left that up to my mother.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Josh Grimmer: O, the majestic slapshot!

For someone who's functionally illiterate, I certainly do read a lot. Mostly the internet, but before that I read a lot of newspapers. Remember the newspaper? No? Okay, so think back to like, 2007. There was this big, folded up thing that got dropped on your doorstep every morning. It had pictures and words and the paper itself was kinda thin and icky. Seriously? Well, just trust me on this one – these things existed. Some even say they still do. I don't know about that.

Every morning in high school, back when I was a bigger prick than I am now (if you can believe that), I would go to the news stand across the street to buy a New York Times and a Boston Globe, because I was a Man Of The World, you see. Now, there are plenty of reasons to read the paper. Maybe you want to be informed about the world around you. Maybe you want to look at photographs of suspected terrorists. Maybe you want to get smelly ink all over your fingers. I bought the paper for three things – op-ed, sports and crossword puzzles.

Reading the paper was what I did between, and occasionally during, classes to pass the time. I never really cared what was on the front page, that's what op-ed is for. The op-ed takes news stories, writes them in better words, and then tells you how people that you agree with politically feel about things. Maureen Dowd thinks this is good? I'm sold! PJ O'Rourke says this is typical Dem spending? It probably is, yeah. The crossword was something I did – and still do – to make myself seem a lot smarter than I actually am. (Crossword puzzles aren't that hard, guys. Just know what words like "ewer" and "amah" mean.)

Along with my distaste for the actual news portion of the A-section, I never really read the box scores in the sports section. I already know who won last night, and there are only so many ways one can say “Boston 5, Detroit 2.” The real appeal of the sports section is the freedom of the writer to expound on the things that aren't black and white. A score is boring. A stat line is boring. The important stuff isn't the result, it's how the result came about.

Before I get too far in, I'd like to mention how much I hate sports poetry. “The elegiac symmetry of the Emerald Chessboard!” “Nine men strong and true!” That shit sucks. That kind of writing has no place in the world. It's flowery, purple, repulsive. I barely like John Updike's “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu,” and that's really only because it's about Ted Williams. If it weren't about a Boston athlete, I'd probably hate it.

I understand I'm a rarity, going straight for the commentary and not the box scores. Millions of people nationwide wake up every morning, open the doors to their hotel rooms and grab the USA Today to find out how their teams did last night. The sports section is easily the most read section of the paper. If the Los Angeles Times showed up tomorrow with no sports section, there would be rioting in the streets – and LA is a lousy sports town.

Of all the things that should drive me insane about Los Angeles – tourists, gangs, graffiti, traffic, teenagers who pretend to be homeless, incredibly intense fakeness – the thing I miss the most is the communal sports experience. Not just going to games – walking down the street, yelling words at strangers. “SAAAAAAWKS.” “GO PATS!” In earlier times, a hearty “NOMAAAAAH” or two. Los Angeles is the meldingest pot out there, and there aren't really a lot of locals. There are St. Louis fans and Detroit fans and Boston fans and Seattle fans and Pittsburgh fans and everyone else fans. The city doesn't quite... erupt like it ought to when something monumental happens. The Lakers, much to the dismay of anyone with a soul, won the last two NBA titles. Barely anything happened here. I'm not saying I want car-flipping and shootouts, but I'd like a hearty “WOO” or an air horn or something. Barely even any loud music. What gives, guys? You're a city that gets fired up over international soccer matches that don't involve any country you've ever even visited.

I get so mad about LA being such a shitty sports town, overrun by executives and frontrunners that every once in a while, I think “that's IT. I'm moving back to Boston! Fuck this giant shitberg!” Then as I get off the subway at Hollywood and Highland, I turn to see the giant ceramic Tyrannosaurus Rex bursting through the roof of the Ripley's Believe it or Not Museum, surrounded by bright neon bulbs and holding a clock that runs backwards. I know, deep down, I belong here. I'm willing to put up with reading box scores if it means I get to look at that giant stupid dinosaur every day.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Why don't you just go blog about it, jerk.

You need to write more.
I gotta start writing again.
I love it when you write things.
I didn't get any writing done today.
I never have anything to write about.

Perhaps I run with a pretty small crowd, but everyone I know loves writing. All they want to do is write, or perhaps more accurately, write and complain about how much they hate writing. The goal of this endeavor is to start chipping away at that big chunky brick of crap that prevents us from writing more often.

The number one biggest roadblock for me has always been not knowing what, exactly, I ought to write about. I'll sit down, put on my WRITING MUSIC and stare at my blank OpenOffice window for... ever. I can never really start. I'll have a couple of really brilliant lines, maybe an interesting thought or two, but nothing that really comes together as a full, cohesive piece.

Each once in a while, the Writing, Writer, Writest staff will be assigned a topic. The first one is sports, because that's what was on my TV when I was pressed for a topic. Everyone writes whatever they want, so long as it's relevant to the subject. First official sports-related post goes up Sunday, August 29. Be here AND be square. I mean, you're reading an internet literary journal, you dork.