Sunday, November 27, 2005

So, Did I Miss Anything?

It took me three tries -- and the kids just one!

Man, I step out of the country for a week and all heck breaks lose in Mets land!

I've been enjoying the vacation of a lifetime, cruising through the Caribbean with my parents and family.

One of the many joys of being on a cruise ship is that you are pretty well disconnected from everything else in the world. One of the minor downsides is that, well, you are pretty disconnected from everything in the world, especially the world of sports.

Oh sure, the television in the stateroom gets ESPN. But when the options are frolicking on the beach at St. Maarten and sitting around watching television, it's a pretty easy choice.

The ship -- we were on the Royal Caribbean's Navigator of the Seas -- posts mini-newspapers each day, four- or six-page summaries of the day's news, and one for sports. I walked past one day and saw the main story was something like "Mets reaching out to Wagner" and got excited. There wasn't too much detail because all the stories are short.

Then, while flipping through the channels waiting for the kids to get ready, I saw a SportsCenter promo that said the Mets had traded for Carlos Delgado. Say what? Details! I needed details! I stalked the little stand where the staff posts these daily news sheets, and there was just a snippet about the trade, but at least I could see who we were giving up.

Arriving back in Miami on Saturday, I could get my hands on a full newspaper again, and the Marlins are being smacked around like a pinata. One of the columnists in the Palm Beach Post called it the darkest week in the team's history. He was adding the Beckett trade and the threat to move the team.

As you know, the Fish are a second-tier favorite for me. The fans here have been screwed over time and again. They get tagged for not showing up, but the team refuses to hold on to decent players. And the whine about the new stadium just gets older and older. Do we really think that Major League Baseball is going to give up on a top-10 market and send the team packing to Portland or Las Vegas?

The sentiment here is that the team will more likely head north to Palm Beach County, with the theory that the vast majority of the people going to the games are headed south to Miami. A stadium in the suburbs would continue to draw whatever Miami residents are coming, plus make it easier for those coming from Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.

But since the Mets seem to benefit from these Marlins fire sales, I suppose I can't complain too much.

As for the cruise, I learned many things in addition to the Mets trade. Here are some of them:

1) Euro-bunnies.
Euro-bunnies must be very poor because they apparently can afford only one piece of their two-piece bathing suits -- the bottom pieces. And they must be rather helpless because many men would walk by -- slowly -- to check on them while they were laying out on deck 12 at the front of the ship. None of these concerned men, however, offered to buy the Euro-bunnies the rest of their swim suits. Poor Euro-bunnies.

2) Casinos are strange places.
Just because a casino says it has 5-cent and penny slot machines doesn't necessarily mean you can use your nickels and pennies. I had never once set foot in a casino. But I read that the one on the ship had nickel and penny slot machines. And one evening I was feeling really sassy and had some pocket change and thought "I'm gonna let these babies ride!" I walked up to a 5-cent slot, dropped in a Jefferson and it dropped right into the tray. I tired a couple more and the same thing happened. Same with the penny slots, too. I told an attendant, and he said the machines take quarters and dollars. I said "But they're nickel slots!" and was told that I could get five plays for my quarter.

So I walked over to the cashier booth, plopped my five nickels on the counter and said that I would like to trade them for a quarter because I was feeling lucky tonight. The cashier laughed and said "We don't exchange small coins." I asked how I was supposed to play the nickel slots if the machines won't take nickels and she wouldn't exchange them for me. She said I could get a quarter somewhere else or put a dollar in the machine.

I took my nickels and left in a huff! Heck, I would be better off starting a collection for the Euro-bunnies.

3) Puerto Ricans don't get excited about their baseball teams.
As you know I try to work a baseball adventure in to all my travels. And since we were in San Juan, I thought I'd look for a cap or something from one of the city's two baseball teams. We were not in port long enough to make a trip to the stadium, so I had to make do by searching for a sports store in Old San Juan as we walked from the fort back to the ship. We found just one sports store, and there was nothing for the Senators or Crabbers.

My Dad, again spoiling me by joining me on this trek, asked clerks if they had such caps, only to get strange looks. The store did, however, have plenty Carlos Beltran shirts on display, which was nice.

4) Climbing walls are easier for kids.
One of the features of the ship was a large climbing wall along the back smokestack, with four paths topped by a bell to ring, and a shorter path for kids. I'd never climbed one of these, so we decided to give it a shot. I let my 13-year-old go first, and he worked his way to the top and rang the bell.

Easy enough, I figured. Except that as I got higher and higher, my arms started feeling like lead and I has having more and more trouble finding little nubs to grab on to . With about three feet to go I just couldn't get any higher and dropped off the wall in shame.

"Try it again tomorrow," the attendant said.

So we did, this time letting my 8-year-old daughter go first. And like her brother, she climbed right to the top like the Amazing Spider-Man, only on the shorter kids' path. I must have passed along some sort of recessive mountain goat gene. And again, I made it to within three feet, and it felt like every ounce of energy had drained from my arms. They simply could not move. Talk about shame.

Now I was obsessed. I went out there one night after the wall was closed and studied the paths for a route that looked better, contemplating whether it was worth the risk of a complete meltdown. Actually, it wasn't a risk. A meltdown was a sure thing, especially since my son was mentioning his success any my failure at every opportunity.

I decided to try again on Thanksgiving morning. It was a day at sea, and I hoped that most passengers would be distracted by the Euro-bunnies and I could make the attempt without anyone watching. People climb Everest with less thought than I was putting into this potential third assault.

As I was getting fitted for my harness and helmet, my wife said "You know, it's not the end of the world if you can't do this." Ah, yeah, it pretty much was, I decided.

I told the crew member who holds the rope about my previous two attempts, and he pulled out his bag of white powder. "It's all about the rosin," he said. "This will be your day."

With rosin caked on my hands, I started the climb. You don't want to look down, and I didn't want to look up -- just focused on the blue and green nubs. I got a little higher and higher and started to feel the familiar aching in my arms -- but not enough to stop yet. A few more feet -- and there it was, the bleeping bell! I reached out and swatted the cord, then swatted in again because that clang was sweet music to my ears.

Sadly, my exploits were not featured in the little sports newsletter that came out the next morning!

Friday, November 18, 2005

What I'm Thankful for...and Turkeys, Too

As you all know, Thanksgiving is this week. And despite the impression that it has become but a speed bump in the rush to Christmas, it's still one of my favorite days of the year.

I confess it, I'm a sucker for the Macy's parade and the giant balloons. And it's not quite Thanksgiving unless I can watch at least part of it.

And I love turkey. Or to be more specific, I love turkey sandwiches, piled high with stuffing and cranberry sauce. The leftovers are the better than the main meal, and I happily take those sandwiches in to work for a week afterward -- and have them for dinner, too!

But most of all, I realize that I must be thankful because the Lord has blessed me in many, many ways that I know of, and probably a million more that I either don't realize or don't appreciate.

So, with that in mind, let's proceed to our list of things I am thankful for, and list a bunch of turkeys, too.

I'm thankful for: David Wright. I thought about Wright when I wrote the post about Gregg Jefferies a couple weeks ago. There are some similarities there. Except that Wright -- at least so far -- has proven to be the real deal. Jefferies might have been, too, except that his head wasn't on straight. But Wright has said and done all the right things and I think we have a very special player here. Plus, the bare-handed catch! Amazing!

Turkey! That would be Derek "Freaking" Jeter. I'm convinced that if this guy had been playing for about any one of the other 29 teams he'd be just another decent shortstop instead of the Mr. Wonderful the Yankees have hyped him into. And the weasel has been just plain lucky. You and I both know that had Jeremi Giambi had the brains to have slid into home, The Play would be remembered as nothing more than a nice attempt. As for The Play II, anyone can catch a pop fly then run and run and run and dive into the stands. And how slow of a news day must it have been Thursday for the Post to devote its entire front page to Jeter gallivanting around Hawaii?

I'm thankful for: My iPod. I’m not a big gadget guy by any stretch. But the iPod is a glorious, life-altering device. A group of us in the newsroom sit around and talk about how much we love our iPods. Some people think we’re a cult. I can't deny it. My wife was almost shunned for implying that the iPod had a fault, which it doesn't. We didn’t take that step, but it was a close vote.

Turkey! It's too easy to pick on confessed 'roid boy Jason Giambi. But what's with the fans voting to give him "Comeback Player of the Year?" The guy's problems were self-induced, if you believe his leaked grand jury testimony. This is like if they had awarded Doc Gooden the Cy in that season when he missed the first month or so because of the drug suspension then came back and went 15-5. And Giambi's situation was worse because it was a performance-enhancing drug. Not only should he not get the Comeback award, but they should take away his tainted MVP as well!

I'm thankful for: Costco! Costco rocks! The adventure! The mystery! The hot dog and Diet Coke combo for $1.50! And it’s where I got the aforementioned iPod. Sometimes I go to this ultimate warehouse store around lunchtime and sample my way around the store. Sometimes I just wander around because you just never know what will be there on any given day. I used to name the goldfish on my desk after school board people I cover. But it got embarrassing when they kept dying. The latest one is named "Costco" and is one happy, healthy fish.

Turkeys: Senators. On one hand I should be glad that because Sens. Bunning and McCain got involved, baseball finally has a decent steroid policy. But on the other hand, don't these guys have something better to do than poke around baseball's business? Isn't there a war and an endless string of national disasters that should be keeping these guys a little busy?

I'm thankful for: Blogging friends.I started this thing in March on a lark thinking no one would read it and I'd run out of stories by the middle of April. Amazingly, that hasn't happened, and I've met some really great people along the way. You keep me informed, you make me laugh and you make me feel like I am close to home despite living far from the shadow of Shea.

Turkey: Gary Sheffield. That whole fiasco around the trading deadline was simply awful. It's bad enough that Mr. I Didn't Realize They Were Steroids had his name associated with our clean-cut young men. Then he goes and says he would never play for us, as if that were some kind of bad thing. Hey Gary, I have news for you -- you can keep your sorry ass in the Bronx! And how many rings have you won over there? Oh yeah, the same number as if you had been playing for the Devil Rays.

I'm thankful: To live in the Midwest, at least for now. It's been an amazing run of baseball events in the area since we moved here, from All-Star Games in Milwaukee, Chicago and Detroit -- including the FanFests, which I get to attend -- to World Series games in Chicago to stadiums closing and opening. It's been a fun ride. And if I can't live in the homeland, this is a good place to be.

Turkeys: Hamlet Torre and Hamlet Cashman. What was with all the hand-wringing about whether they would return? Was there any doubt? As if either of these two Yankee-tainted types would turn tail and bail. What would they do, go somewhere else, fail, and confirm everyone's suspicion that having a $200 million payroll makes one a very good manager and a very smart general manager?

I'm thankful for: Pedro! Pedro! Pedro! Why do we love Pedro? Because he not only didn't strangle Braden Looper on Opening Day, but went out there in his next turn and shut down the Braves in what was an absolute must-win game. Throw in the near-no-nos and other gems following those Ishii mailises. And you gotta love that he respects Mets tradition enough to wear the traditional pinstriped uniform when he takes the hill at Shea.

Turkey: Doug Mientiewicz. Doug, you sucked. But fans stuck by you because you appeared to be a stand-up guy. Then after the season you go and rip the Mets, hoping that you aren't brought back and calling the team clueless? That's pretty weak for a guy who had trouble hitting .250. Go across town so you can back-up Jason Giambi.

I'm thankful for: Mike Piazza. Since he arrived at Shea, Mikey has been a first-class citizen and representative on the Mets and had fully earned that trip to Cooperstown. I'm glad that Mets fans treated him so well as the season wound down, respectful that he once carried this team on his back. Go DH and get that 400th bomb then come back to Shea and hang 31 on the wall!

There you go!

I sincerely thank you all for reading -- and giving me things to read and enjoy! Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Rob Deer, Starbucks and Spaces at the Mall

Bucky, I don't think we're in Massapequa anymore!

I know by now that I’ll never be a true Michigander, but a New Yorker who happens to live in Michigan.

The reason is simple: I don’t get hunting.

Tuesday is the closest thing Michigan has to a state holiday. It’s the first day of deer season.

School districts in some parts of the state close down for the day. Government offices are running on skeleton crews. It’s a good day to go shopping, since the stores are pretty empty.

When we first moved here in 1990, some people were incredulous that I not only didn’t hunt, I didn’t know anything about it.

“I’m a New Yorker,” I told them. “I hunt for parking spaces.”

Will and I used to travel to a huge baseball card show in a Detroit suburb each month, and the November trip was always rough because all the way back up I-75 we’d see a parade of pick-ups and SUVs with gutted deer tied to the roof, tongues flapping in the wind.

I’ve listened to guys talk about hunting. They'd get all excited, and it sounded like a combination of a male bonding ritual and a noble effort to help the deer by killing them.

But to me, it kind of sounded like a bunch of unshaved guys sitting around a kerosene heater in a shack drinking beer until the wee hours then running out and playing with dangerous toys.

It works for them, and as long as they don't drag me out there I suppose I can't complain. But I have some issues with the way they hunt and why they hunt.

To hear these guys tell it, it’s their moral duty to run out there every fall and thin the herd. By the way, “thin the herd” is compromise language. I say “kill,” they say “harvest.” You harvest crops, and you can do it without wearing orange and blasting a hole through them.

But I digress.

According to the hunters, Michigan is annually on the verge of being completely overrun with deer. They allegedly multiply like bunnies and live to raid your garden and mine. And when their bellies are full they will either jump through the window of your local supermarket or leap into the path of your car. Either that or they’ll starve. And without your heroic hunter taking matters into their own hands, well, bad things will happen.

This is shaky logic.

A colleague at a paper where I once worked remarked that if Grandma was starving, you’d feed her, not kill her. And as for being overrun, well, there are a lot of things in Michigan that seem to be multiplying within our borders, like Starbucks. And we don’t go blasting them and tying baristas on the roof. Although to be fair, any group that calls a cup size “tall” when McDonald’s calls the same cup “child-sized” has a lot of nerve.

Then you hear the "I only hunt for food" line. Except I'm confident the supermarkets are well-stocked around here, pretty much making food of all kinds readily available. Plus the venison tends to go bad when you drive around town for a week with the trophy, err, meal beast, tied to the roof.

Then there’s the methodology. In my mind, hunting is using your powers of observation and knowledge to track, locate and seize the prey. Like when you see a person leaving the mall with lots of shopping bags, you drive a respectful distance behind them until they get to their car, then employ your turning signal to announce to the other space-hunters that you’ve spotted the soon-to-be vacated spot first and are claiming it as your own.

But these guys spend weeks before deer season leaving piles of apples and carrots – the deer version of White Castles and a 32-oz Diet Coke – in a spot. Then on the first day of the season the deer go for their treat and bam-o, some guy waiting in a tree stand pumps a round through him. Or at least they try to. There was a lot of drinking the night before.

Just once I'd like to hear one of the guys break out with something like "It's fun to kill stuff." At least I'd know he was telling the truth.

Maybe if I were born here, or had Bucky or one of his friends leap out in front of my Saturn while driving home one night, I’d feel differently. It's just not a part of my culture.

Of course, there was one deer that roamed freely around Detroit for a while. And Milwaukee, too.

Rob Deer was the prototypical Tiger player in the early 1990s — had some success elsewhere and could reach the friendly fences fairly early and often.

But when he wasn’t hitting a homer, one of two things would happen — a walk or a strike out. Deer had a pretty good knowledge of the strike zone, it just didn’t help him connect too much. He hit a lowly .179 his first year in Detroit, but with an impressive 25 bombs and 89 walks. Sadly, Sparky Anderson benched him in September when he approached Bobby Bonds’ strikeout mark, finishing just shy with 175.

He was a little better the next year, hitting .247 with seven more homers. His strikeouts were down to 131, but the walks also dropped, to 51.

Deer was traded after 90 games into the 1993 season, and later wrapped up an 11-year career with 230 homers, a .220 average and 1,409 strikeouts, good for 56th on the all-time list.

There was one place he was in demand. When Will and I opened packs of baseball cards, we’d play the "Stiffs Game," seeing who had the worst player in a pack. Seeing a Rob Deer card would pretty much mean a certain victory, earning him "trump card" status.

And through his years in Detroit, he managed to avoid the piles of apples and carrots that would appear in right field.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Every Signature Tells a Story: Gregg Jefferies, A Little Too Uptight

I was as wrapped up in Gregg Jefferies hype as anyone after his explosive call-up at the end of 1988, confident that he’d have a future of stardom and a plaque waiting in Cooperstown lacking only an inscription of his glories to be.

But maybe the scene at a baseball card show appearance that winter should have tipped us off that things wouldn’t quite work out that well.

Jefferies was the Mets first-round pick in 1985 and was a three-time minor-league MVP. The hype was already building — his Fleer and Donruss baseball cards were selling for more than $5 right out of the pack, obscene for the time — when he arrived for the 1988 pennant stretch.

He looked as good as advertised, hitting .321 with six homers in 109 at-bats. I remember the Mets were even talking about limiting his at-bats in the last couple weeks to keep him eligible for the 1989 Rookie of the Year Award.

So I was pretty excited when Jefferies made the rounds of the autograph shows during the off-season. I went to see him at a show in West Haven, Conn. and was standing on line to buy tickets when there was a bustle at the door.

Jefferies and his entourage arrived, and apparently thought they were walking in a back door only to find themselves in the main lobby.

What was strange was the Gregg was surrounded by four goons — and I mean that literally. They were huge. Two stood in front of him, two behind. They were on him like Velcro. In fact, the two in behind were holding him by the shoulder pads of his coat, pushing him.

They were all so close it looked like they were one 10-legged creature, all with wide-eyed looks of dread when they saw all the fans in the lobby.

It was so strange that there was a brief awkward silence, as people stood there in disbelief. It seemed like the security people expected some kind of Beatlemania scene of crazed fans rushing the young star.

But no one stepped off the line. I think there was some applause and maybe some "Hey, Gregg!" type of calls.

I remember thinking, "What’s with the goons? Do they think we’re going to hurt the guy we expect to be our biggest star?"

Jefferies overestimated his need for security. Then again, it soon became apparent he overestimated a lot of things.

The Mets moved 1986 hero Wally Backman to install Jefferies as the team’s starting second baseman. But he seemed to become derailed by a horrible slump and finished with a modest .258 with 12 homes and 56 RBI. He finished a distant third in the Rookie of the Year balloting, losing to Jerome Walton, who I don’t think has been heard from since.

He also seemed to go into tantrums after making an out and couldn’t get along with his teammates or the media. He never looked like he was having fun playing baseball, like every groundout added to the weight of crushing expectations.

The next two years were better, but not too much, hitting .283 with 15 homers and 68 RBI in 1990, a long way from the mega-star we all expected.

It didn’t take too long for the Mets to tire of his act, and shipped Jefferies and Kevin McReynolds, another disappointment, off to the Kansas City Royals for Bret Saberhagen in December 1991. I was stunned that the Mets gave up on this guy so quickly, but it’s not like he did much to prove them wrong either.

Jefferies finally found some success in St. Louis, hitting .342 in 1993 and .325 in 1994, making the All-Star team. But instead of staying in St. Louis, where fans loved him and he thrived under Joe Torre, he chased the dollars and signed with the Phillies as a free agent, irked that the Cards wouldn’t throw a no-trade clause in his deal.

He wasn’t as good in his four seasons with the Phils, bounced to the Angels in 1998 and then again to the lowly Tigers in 1999.

When I saw him in Detroit that year he looked pudgy, slow and older than he should have looked — nothing like the kid I remembered.

Jefferies retired at 33, completely unimaginable to those of us standing on line in New Haven that day. Then again, it was obvious that day that something wasn't quite right.

Flippin' Sweet Griffins Update:

I was still worked up after my rant about the Napoleon Dymanite fiasco at the Grand Rapids Griffins hockey game, so I fired off an e-mail to the team.

I've only written a letter like that twice before. I didn't expect to hear back from the team, figuring the staff there didn't give a darn.

Well, that's not the case. The team's vice president for marketing responded within an hour, asking me to call him, which I did the next day.

He explained that the evening had quite gone as planned from the team's perspective either. he said he actor who played Kip arrived just as the gates opened, was not feeling well and had not eaten. He said the team couldn't control people cutting in line, and tried to make good by asking the actors to sign later in the game.

The gentleman said he's not sure what happened with the shirts, and perhaps workers started distributing them early to people who were standing in the lobby before the gates opened.

He offered to have us come to another game as guests of the team, which is very nice. And the next day a "Vote for Pedro" shirt appeared on my desk at work.

I still think there were some things that could have been handled better that night, but I was impressed that the team responded so quickly and wanted to make things right.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Gosh! A Bad Day at the Hockey Rink

I take full responsibility. I should have known better than to dabble in the lesser sports.

Because when you try to step away from the glory of baseball, bad things happen.

My wife and kids are big "Napoleon Dynamite" fans, and I saw that the actors who played Kip and Pedro were scheduled to appear at Grand Rapids Griffins hockey game last Saturday.

The two stars were signing autoragphs before the game, and the team -- the Detroit Red Wings' farm club -- was giving away "Vote for Pedro" t-shirts to the first 1,500 fans.

So I thought it would be a nice little family activity. And since we went to the ballet the week before, it would be an opportunity to broaden our cultural experiences.

We should have stayed home and watched the movie on DVD. Or any other movie, for that matter.

The problems started almost immediately. The gates open at 6 p.m., and they let people in the lobby before that, I suppose because of the thunderstorm raging outside.

We were inside the lobby at about 5 minutes to 6, and passed through the turnstiles minutes later. There was a small mob around an employee handing out shirts, and I reached in an got one for my 13-year-old.

Then I heard the guy yell, "I've got just two more and I want to give them to kids" He dropped one on the floor then said "It's for her!" and gave it to my 8-year-old. People were going nuts.

I looked at my watch, and it was 6:05. Are you telling me they went through 1,500 shirts in five minutes? And unlike Shea, there are only two entrances to this place. Something very fishy was happening.

I wasn't too outraged as long as my kids got shirts, since it's not likely that my wife would wear one and goodness knows I have enough t-shirts. But there were a lot of ticked off people.

We immediately got on the autograph line. The actors would be signing for an hour in a banquet room that is part of the Van Andel Arena. The line looked big, and there was no staff policing it, so people were cutting in like crazy.

But I figured we got on within minutes of the gate opening, so we shouldn't have a problem.

We inched closer and closer, turning the corner to the door of the banquet room, assuring the now tired and cranky family that we were almost there -- only to see cattle chutes set up with velvet ropes inside. My heart sank. The line inside was almost as long as the one outside.

We were about two turns away when a Griffins employee came in and announced that the two actors were needed for the ceremonial puck-dropping.

An hour on line for nothing. Why did the team let the line get that long if it knew there was no chance in heck that even a third of the people standing on it would get autographs?

But don't worry, the employee said. He would hand us tickets, and the two actors would be signing during the first intermission, and only people with tickets would be allowed to get back on line. Not in the same order, mind you, but back on line.

We finally get to our seats, no help from the usher, thank you, and naturally there are people sitting in them. And now everyone else in the row has to deal with them getting all their stuff and standing up and blocking everyone else's view as they move to swipe someone else's seat.

With about five minutes left in the first period, my 13-year-old and I went back to get on line, which was already huge. We waited as the period ended, waited some more and finally the 20-minute first intermission ended and we had not budged a step. I went to the employee at the head and asked what was going on.

He said the two actors had not even started signing yet. "They had some other obligations," he said. "But don't worry, they'll be here."

After what was not a grand total of an hour-and-a-half standing on line, I had it.

I also knew that returning to the seats without some sort of treat for the already suffering wife and daughter would not be a good thing.

And naturally, there is only one concession stand that sells ice cream, and it has a line that is not quite as long as the one for autographs, but not short, either.

Andrew wanted a Lemon Chill -- one of those ice things you scrape with a wooden spoon -- and I'd get root beer floats for Julie and Caroline.

It was finally our turn, and of course they were out of Lemon Chills. Andrew must have seen the steam coming from my ears because he yelled "Three root beer floats! Three root beer floats!" before I could say something unplesant.

That actually worked out for the best, because as we were waiting -- one of the two soft-serve machines broke down -- two teen-agers walked up with two Lemon Chills that were all liquid -- yeeech -- and said the customer service people told them to go to the stand to get their money back, only the guy behind the counter was refusing.

So $11.75 later Andrew and I made it back to our seats as the second period was wrapping up. The total on the night: 15 minutes watching hockey, nearly 2 hours on lines.

I was in a daze. Couldn't even muster up some excitement when a brawl broke out. just stared blankly through the glass. And this is a guy who once started a roterisserie hockey league based entirely around penalty minutes.

The period ended, and my wife concluded that the night had been a disaster, the Griffins' customer service is horrendous and perhaps we should just pack it in before anything else bad happened.

I'm one of those sticklers who refuses to leave games early. But I had to agree with her on this one.

I realize that if everything always ran smoothely, outings wouldn't be adventures. And I don't get as upset when I'm by myself. But when you drag the entire family out and things go this far astay, you feel angry and guilty.

We'll try to survive the off-season and wait for the Whitecaps to celebrate Opening Day before trying to take the family to a sporting event again.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

"What So Proudly We Hail"

Rosa Parks speaking at Nassau Community College in 1984.

Sometimes I think we've come so far since Rosa Parks refused to budge from her seat on that bus nearly 50 years ago. Other times I think we've got so far to go.

The civil rights pioneer, as I'm sure you are well aware, was buried here in Michigan today.

I had the chance to see Mrs. Parks up close when she came to Nassau Community College in 1984. I was the editor of the campus paper at the time, which allowed me to slip into the event. I'm a history junkie and jumped at the chance to sneak a peek at someone so important.

I was impressed by the complete and total reverence she commanded, especially from the black students who sponsored the event and hung a banner reading "What so proudly we hail" over her head.

Mrs. Parks looked tiny and frail, and completely uncomfortable with the lavish praise being heaped upon her. We tend to think of heroes as big and strapping, drawn to the cheers and attention. Think of the athletes and politicians who are ready to grab the mantle or think they are entitled to it. Mrs. Parks proved that doesn't have to be the case.

I remember that she spoke, but I didn't recall anything that she said that day. She wasn't a particularly polished public speaker.

But that's OK, because we all know that her actions on that Montgomery bus in 1955 spoke louder than any words.

We've come so far that it is hard for me to imagine a world where people are so openly discriminated against. Separate drinking fountains because of someone's color? Are you kidding me?

My baseball-centric thinking often leads me to believe everything was swell once Jackie Robinson stepped in to the field in 1947. But Mrs. Parks' arrest came nearly a decade later, showing that things had not changed that much.

And perhaps its naive to think that things are as good today as I like to hope. Every once in a while something happens that reminds us how much further we have to go.
The infamous Number 7 train to Shea.

You knew this would get back to baseball. I remember the rant from former Braves pitcher John Rocker in Sports Illustrated in 1999.

Rocker derided a trip on the No. 7 train to Shea, saying he might be forced to sit next to assorted types of folks he finds objectionable.

Then he added: "The biggest thing I don't like about New York are the foreigners. I'm not a very big fan of foreigners. You can walk an entire block in Times Square and not hear anybody speaking English. Asians and Koreans and Vietnamese and Indians and Russians and Spanish people and everything up there. How the hell did they get in this country?"

Now, I feel no sympathy for any member of the Braves, much less a guy like Rocker. New York is certainly the place he describes -- and that is one its biggest strengths. We celebrate its diversity. I don't think they plunked the United Nations in the city because it has good access to a couple airports. The tragedy is that Rocker didn't understand that, and the loss is his.

I guess it is progress that instead of people telling people Rocker he was right, he was practically run out of the game. I'm not for that, either. You treat stupidity with education, not banishment.

Of course, I think that we New Yorkers are so used to diversity that we forget it is different in other places. It got me in trouble in Missouri. I was assigned to cover Homecoming -- hey, you can't be on the front page every day -- and interviewed the Homecoming king and queen, both of whom were black. I mentioned every thing about them except their race because, I thought, BFD.

Well, I got hauled into the editor's office. I was told that Missouri was a still kind of a Southern state, and in fact it was a big deal that two black students could be elected Homecoming king and queen. I thought it would be an insult to mention their race, they were insulted that I didn't. I was reminded that not every place is like New York. A lot of places have even further to go.

This week I went up in the attic and dug out the clipping from Mrs. Parks' day at Nassau.

I found this quote: "As I stand here today, I hope that as we move into the future, we shall find the freedom to accept one another. Any person of good can bring about positive change."