Wooden's World of Baseball

Sunday, April 29, 2007

A Tale of Two Cities

With about a month of baseball played, the two MLB teams that I follow, The Boston Red Sox (by birth) and the Washington Nationals (by geography) are at divergent ends of the baseball spectrum.

The Boston Red Sox are 16-8, which is no surprise because strong starts are historically required for the heartbreak that usually comes later on in the season. (This is why smart Red Sox fans will not gloat to fans of the Yank-mes, who will and should retort that it's May, not October). The Sox are 4th in runs scored and 4th in runs allowed and the only team that's in the top 3 above them in both two categories are the N.Y. Mets, who sit at 15-8.

Contrast that to the Washington Nationals, who were picked to be the worst team in the majors (yes, even worse than Kansas City) and are meeting those expectations with the fewest runs scored, 78, or a little more than 3 per game. This includes a season-opening streak of 23 games without scoring in the first inning. The pitching isn't much better: 134 runs allowed, "good" for 4th most in the majors and not helped by the fielding: MLB-worst 25 errors in 25 games.

I think there is something to experiencing both the highs and the lows of baseball because one of the reasons that many, if not most, Yank-me fans are so insufferable is that they expect to win, like it's their birthright. If the Nationals are able to raise themselves out from this abyss, as they claim they are doing and more importantly, by how they are doing it (restocking the farm system, not free-agent spending) it will be nice to see — especially if there's a player or two that I saw at Potomac for more than a week or two.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Forced Patriotism

As American as baseball and apple pie. There is a certain irony to that expression because neither is truly American in origin, as both are modifications from recipes and traditions from Great Britain and points elsewhere. But, like patriotism, it is too often accepted without being questioned. And that's both unpatriotic and ignorant.

I write this after being publicly chastised for not stopping and gazing toward the American flag while the national anthem was being performed as I walking up to the gate at Pfitzner stadium. While nonverbally I did remind this woman that I had removed my hat, I regret not giving her the proper salute for demanding such conformism (sieg heil).

You see, I don't believe that true patriotism is in symbols. (If you haven't seen Flags of our Fathers, I'd recommend it because it does a very good job of showing the underbelly of the propaganda surrounding the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima). I've never been a fan of the pledge of allegiance, particularly when you consider (a) that the words "under God" weren't part of the original text (b) those words were added at the height of McCarthyism (read: fear-mongering for political gain) and (c) it was written for an advertising campaign for the sale of flags to schools.

Instead, true patriotism is, as Adlai Stevenson put it: The quiet dedication of a lifetime. It's civic participation, both direct (voting) and indirect (staying informed of current events). I rarely meet the flag-on-his-car-antenna @sshole that can name all of the first 10 amendments to our Constitution, much less describe what they mean. In fact, I'd bet good money that a newly naturalized citizen could outscore that woman on a civics quiz.

Patriotism is certainly not a cheap gesture that borders on idolatry and definitely not the mindless recitation of an old ad slogan. If you think otherwise, you're probably the same person who flips the bird on your way home from church.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The First Road Trip

One of the enduring memories of any summer of baseball are the road trips taken. This is particularly true when you go it alone and stay overnight, but I count it as a road trip if you spend more than twice as much time driving to and from the game than the game took to play. In other words, if you drive more than 2½ hours to get there (5 hours of driving for a 2½-to-3-hour ballgame) .

This past weekend was the first of 2007, as I drove 3 hours to see the "Baby Nats" beat the Lynchburg Hillcats 7-1 in a brisk 2 hours and 11 minutes and a brisk 49 degrees at games' end. As usual, I enjoy the drive as much as the game, especially when it's seeing the country or a part of the state I've never seen before. Central Virginia is no exception, though it is a time machine of sorts.

As one of the Damn Yankees that have invaded Northern Virginia in the past decade or so, I'm aware of the effect that locals call "the grits line" — where the "true South" begins, as the Mason-Dixon line ain't cutting it no more, to use their vernacular. I can understand what they mean, as the townhouses that us invaders live in are, in a sense, "vertical trailers." With the exception of the "Dixie Heritage" shop, I enjoyed most of what I saw, even if I had last seen it in the early 1980s.

What's bothersome to me when I take jaunts like this is the feeling that the prosperity that's made Virginia a national success story has passed these folks by, recognizing the similarities to Central and Western Massachusetts (where I grew up, even if I'm forced to use "Boston" as shorthand; funny how few folks wonder why it is I can pronounce the letter "r" like "are" instead of "ah"). Searching futilely for an ATM on Friday night was just such a reminder — the last time I remember seeing a bank without one was, well, let's just say Reagan was in office.

Day 2 took me to Ridgeway, VA, which sported a dirt-cheap Days Inn near Martinsville Speedway (seriously, I ran by it on Sunday morning). I was smack-dab in NASCAR territory, and I began to see chain stores I didn't recognize, which actually piques my interest: Who, besides the shareholders of these chains, wants to see the exact same stores and restaurants everywhere? So I ate brunch in a place called Biscuitville, which features breakfast all day and fresh-cooked breakfast and is located in what I believe is known as the Piedmont Region of both Virginia and North Carolina.

The most memorable thing about this area was my trip to Wal-Mart. Now this wasn't just your everyday Wal-Mart. At least not like I had ever seen before. My friend who grew up in Florida tells me that this is typical of the small-town boxes, but I have never seen a store that was about the size of a 1970s shopping plaza. Or to be more accurate, it was like that in reverse: The whole plaza was under one roof, with a full-fledged grocery store at one end, a tire-oil-change place at the other, the department store in the middle, and along the edges (still inside) were a pharmacy, barbershop/salon and a eyeglass store. And a McDonald's in the back. I went in for a couple of things and bought two more impulse items, yet still spent less than $40. That's something I could never do at a Target, at least not usually.

I was supposed to see a ballgame on Saturday night, but apparently to North Carolinians, 40 degrees was too cold to play and I learned this only after driving the hour and 20 minutes from Ridgeway to Winston-Salem. While I'm still deeply disappointed about this, the upside is I stopped at a little roadside diner and had some good food real cheap. (Isn't that the essence of any good road trip?) So my baseball road trip was but one game and 700 miles of driving, but I saw a lot and listened to a good book (Dean Koontz's "Forever Odd"). Maybe next time, it'll break 60 degrees. I have heard that it sometimes gets that warm down here this time of year.