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Archive for the ‘sports’ Category

A poem for Wally Judge, from a lifelong K-State basketball fan who just wanted more out of him.  Best of luck in your future endeavors.  And now…

*ahem*

Don’t hold a grudge
Against Wally Judge
Who just wouldn’t budge
From K-State’s bench

His stats were sludge
So he got the nudge
And on he’ll drudge
To Rutgers’ bench?

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The Kansas City Star reported that longtime sports columnist Jason Whitlock is moving on to pursue other interests.  Whitlock’s work always elicited mixed responses, barbed commentary, and heated debate.  Loved by some and loathed by others, some celebrate his departure while others will miss the tangles and tiffs started by his ink.  But there’s no doubt that he left an indelible mark on Kansas City’s sports journalism landscape.

I, for one, had a very personal connection to one of his columns, dating back to 1998, my freshman year of high school at Rockhurst in Kansas City, MO.  Whitlock penned a column claiming that my school no chance of beating Blue Springs in football to move on for the state title, promising that he’d show up at a pep rally, dressed as a cheerleader and sing our fight song if we did.

He made good on his promise when Rockhurst Hawklets came out on top of the Wildcats that season.  That image of Whitlock in a sweater and skirt, waving around pom-poms and belting out an out-of-key, out-of-breath rendition of our fight song through the PA will never leave my head.  Here’s a grainy glimpse:

Whitlock reveals his skirt.

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Continuing the baseball thread for a moment, my wife and I joined our Virginia-based relatives last month to catch my hometown Kansas City Royals here in Washington when they arrived to take on the Nats for a series of inter-league play.  Sitting in a company suite (not my company), we had a terrific view of the gorgeous stadium and its expansive reach.  We (us Midwesterners) also probably represented 1/6 of people in the whole complex sporting blue.

We chowed on burgers, peanuts (no cracker jacks), beer and tried our first half-smoke from Ben’s Chili Bowl, which I must say wasn’t as good as many of my new Washingtonian friends built it up to be – apparently the half-smoke dogs served at the stadium don’t quite measure up to those served at the U Street location.  I’m willing to give it another try.

My Nats-loving cousin and I talked plenty of [friendly] trash throughout the game, including the rain delay, and the home team eventually came out the victor, although the boys in blue put up a few ninth inning runs and kept it interesting.  Despite the loss, this ballpark hang – like most others – was yet another top-notch experience.

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Recalling Camden Yards

After living in Maryland for nearly a year, I finally made it to Camden Yards last month for my birthday to watch the Orioles take on the Mets.  In my essay “Bringing the Heat” from last year, I professed my love for the game and recalled some of my best memories of growing up playing baseball.

Visiting this tremendous ballpark reinforced what I love so much about the game. After a pre-game polish sausage and a few cold ones at Pickle’s, my companions and I nabbed several day-of $10 tickets and picked out a sun-drenched spot in the left field section.

Although we all only lasted about 30 minutes or so before retreating into the shade, we happily sat, sweat and downed our share of salty snacks while taking in the sights, smells and sounds that can only be imbibed at a ballpark: watching the slivers of shade creep around the field as the sun’s angle over the stadium slowly changes over the course of an afternoon; fried goodness wafting through the air; the sweet cracking connection of bat and ball while the crowd’s collective gasp echoes through the stands like the last pulsing notes of the organ.

Is it going out out of the park?  Or will it come up short on the warning track?  The anticipation swells in your chest while your eyes track the tiny white orb sailing through the air.

We use our senses every day, but they’re stimulated in a certain way at a ballpark that can’t be replicated anywhere else.  It’s a beautiful thing.

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Los Campeones

[image swiped from the interwebs]

I’ll admit it: I didn’t watch a single minute of the World Cup this year.  I have no explanation for my absent attention; I just didn’t watch.  My fondest memories of watching futbol are from eight years ago, as a patron of  Huskies.  Never before had I been in the company of such passionate fans, packed into the modest-capacity pub in the mountains of Ronda, Spain to watch Real Madrid take on Barcelona.

It was there I developed a taste for Cruzcampo and got whipped in countless games of darts, taking on locals and German expatriates in grueling rounds that would often last for hours.  The proprietors even rewarded my bravery for fearlessly taking on cut throat and cricket champions by providing me with my own entrance music when I’d show up for a rematch.

A vast well of memories will always be attached to that time and place, many of which came washing back when the Spanish took on The Netherlands in the final match.  And when they became los campeones, even though I hadn’t caught even a flicker of footage from this year’s World Cup, for a moment I was transported to Calle Molino, high-fiving and tapping glasses with a complete stranger, losing myself in the celebration.

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Bringing the Heat

baseball1

As my 17 readers know, I pretty much exclusively stick to music-related posts, with the occasional foray into other subject matter.  Today is one of those days.  Because of the Philadelphia Inquirer‘s story today about the battle over a baseball, which I briefly picked up on NPR on my way home last evening, I feel like I’ve gotta knock some mud off my cleats.  Here’s the long & the short of it, mixing the two sources:

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Ryan Howard hit his 200th career home run on July 17, 2009 in a game versus the Florida Marlins, setting a record for the player to get to the benchmark quicker than any other in the game’s history.  A 12-year old Florida girl retrieved the ball from the stands.  A Marlins employee escorted the young girl to see a representative from the Phillies, who offered her some cotton candy and a Ryan Howard autographed baseball in exchange for the home-run ball that Howard wished to have returned for his trophy shelf, ball collection, etc.  A Florida lawyer, Norm Kent, files suit on behalf of the girl’s family against the Phillies, claiming they took advantage of the child (not having been accompanied by an adult) and should have given her something of equal value.  The ball is returned to the child.  And that’s where the story stands…

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Catching a baseball – whether it’s a scorching foul-ball chopper down the first base line that hops and skips its way into the stands – or a triumphant, soaring home run – is an incredibly thrilling moment for anyone at a baseball game, and I’ll guess, probably even more so for a youngster.

I can recall so many near-misses trying to nab a game ball at Kauffman Stadium in my youth; a very small group of readers here might remember the particular tale of my close encounter with a Ken Griffey, Jr. foul ball that jetted right over our heads [even my 6’8″ father ducked] and into the rows behind us, subsequently breaking the finger of a woman who was pushed aside by an overzealous [and possibly intoxicated] fan who in his attempt to go for the ball, barreled over her and created quite a scene.

Second to the time a friend and I saw Sluggr [pictured here with a mother & child] throw a hot dog directly into someone’s gigantic stadium cup full of beer at a Royals game, the Griffey story will probably stand as my most vivid memory of a Major League Baseball game.  Or the time I was at the game when George Brett got his 3,000th hit.  Or Brian McRae’s first MLB at-bat, which resulted in a three-run triple.  Lest I digress…

In this case, I can completely understand the young fan’s rush of excitement to chase down the ball and hold it in her hands, slowly turning it over-and-round, inspecting its every stitch and scratch, smelling the dirt and resin, and feeling like you’ve just found buried treasure.  In fact, I might be a bit jealous, since I’ve yet to catch a ball at a game, although I have been on the kiss-cam before.

What I’m trying to grasp here are the elusive answers to a few questions:  Was the Phillies’ action to retrieve the ball unethical or manipulative?  Should the young girl keep the ball?  Or should it be returned to Howard, because of its personal significance to his career?  Regardless of whose hands in which the ball ends up, will it ultimately land on eBay?  Does a ball really matter that much to an athlete?  What is the true value of the ball?  Is it really worth “thousands,” as Kent puts it?   Or is it priceless?

I don’t know.  But I do know the edgy anticipation of opening a fresh pack of baseball cards, hoping to acquire that coveted addition to a collection, only to find a bunch of “common players” and a piece of crispy, cardboard-box gum; the sugary, dusty film left on hands and shirts from peanuts, Big League Chew and sunflower seeds; or the bitter disappointment of losing a little-league game and having to walk through the line afterwards to congratulate your nemesis [and the kid who you might end up going to school with next year] on a “good game.”  These are all fine recollections of what baseball was to me many, many years ago – but there’s something about the ball itself that is utterly mesmerizing.

Although he never made a career out of it [thanks a lot, knee surgeries], my older brother was one hell of a pitcher.  Always talented beyond his years, his intense efforts on the field that shone through in hundreds of nail-biting games will always sit [ahem] at the top of the mound of memories I have of baseball as a youngster.  I can remember my father yelling “BRING THE HEAT!!!” from the stands as my brother wound up another one of his sizzling fastballs that zipped by countless hitters, leaving their confidence bruised and battered.  Because I was never really the most athletic one of the three brothers [that much is clear], I always had to live vicariously through the shining moments of my brother’s glorious games from the mound.  And I relished in every minute of them.

Sometimes, when he wasn’t around, I’d sneak into his room [you know how siblings are growing up…”stay out of my room!!!!!”], pull out the squeaky, crunchy wicker basket that held all of his game balls, and marvel over the spherical symbols of his dominance of the diamond.  Each ball was branded with its own mark of significance: no-hitter; 10 strikeouts; championship game, etc.

To me, these were the true tokens of the game, the most real representations of what the contest meant, even better than baseball cards, sugar-loaded packets of gum – and in a grander sense, a multi-million dollar contract.  I found joy in grass stains, smelly ball caps, the heavy “thwack” of a fist pounding a glove, and the cold-to-the-touch comfort of an aluminum bat.

So what does all of this mean?  I’m not sure, because I haven’t quite grasped how I feel about the Phillies/Howard situation.  But I do know that I’ve got a great grip on what I love about the game.  Perhaps it’s time again for a lot of folks to revisit what it is that they love about it.  Tell me about yours.

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