THIS IS BASEBALL? BRANDING AND THE AMERICAN PASTIME

Photo by Phil Konstantin

Petco Park, Photo by Phil Konstantin

“It’s an exciting afternoon here at Petco,” the announcer says. The Padres are playing the Mets. At Petco Park. The mental image this formed in my head were utterly un-baseball, totally non-sporting. This whole branding thing is out of hand.

I looked up from the computer, wondering if we needed more dog food and biscuits. We’re forever running short.

But next, the announcer points out the pitcher has been, so far, throwing a no-hitter. Never, in Padre history has any pitcher thrown a no-hitter, so this should have been riveting baseball. Except the announcers couldn’t seem to focus on the game and instead, were busy talking all kinds of nonsense while showing clips of everything but the game in progress. Ultimately, I suppose it didn’t matter since the pitcher gave up three hits but still, they might have at least given the kid his time in the sun.

Finally they pointed out the right-hander, Odrisamer Despaigne “… has a great, boring fastball.”

padre player uniformThis made me wonder if they should be playing any kind of game at Petco, especially if Odrisamer Despaigne’s fastball is boring. I get they are really saying something technical about the pitch. Nonetheless, words matter. Boring has multiple meanings, the most common being dull. So how boring was that fastball?

And doesn’t Petco Park sound like a dog park to you?

Someone once told me I’m “branding” my photographs by signing them. No, I’m not. I sign my art because I’m proud of it. Branding would be if I sold my blog to Costco, after which this was no longer Serendipity, but Costco Web Thoughts — but I still did the writing and photography while they paid to put their corporate name on my work. That’s branding.

Garry points out the Padres not only have a crappy team and awful branding — Petco really doesn’t work as a stadium name — but they wear ugly uniforms. From Garry, that is total condemnation.

Whatever else is wrong with the Red Sox, at least they have not turned Fenway into Burger King Stadium. Or Walmart Watcharama. And, to the best of my knowledge, the pitchers throw highly entertaining fastballs.

JUST AN OLD MARRIED COUPLE

Long Exposure — Among the people you’ve known for a long time, who is the person who’s changed the most over the years? Was the change for the better?


Garry and I at President Clinton's party on Martha's Vineyard

Garry and I at President Clinton’s party on Martha’s Vineyard

All the people I’ve known a long time have changed, me and my husband in particular. Better? For whom?

I am far less sociable and hugely less outgoing. I was quite the party-maker with a wild and crazy social life and now I’m a virtual recluse.

1970

1970

Much of my life centered around work … and I don’t work any more. I’ve gone from being gregarious to being a loner, being work-centric to being survival-centric.

Good? Not good? If I hadn’t changed in response to the realities of life, I’d probably be dead or living on the street. I guess that makes them good, right? I read less, write more.

I keep taking pictures. It’s now more than forty years of photography. That’s consistent, anyhow.

Garry was shy, solitary. He was so driven by career and work he didn’t have time for anything, anyone else. Like making friends, building a personal life. Yet … when I came back into his life, he began to emerge. He started to pull back from work, become more sociable. Now, he couldn’t be paid enough to go back to work.

1990 in Ireland

1990 in Ireland with Author Gordon Winter

He used to be the kind of guy who always looked like he’d just stepped out of the pages of GQ. Now, he wears sloppy shorts and old tee shirts or pajama bottoms and sweatshirts.

He remains passionate about sports, but can miss the game and watch a movie without having a crisis.

Both of us eat less, don’t drink at all. Our world centers around each other and a few close friends and family.

You know what? I think it’s good. And appropriate.

IS IT STICKBALL SEASON YET?

It’s heading toward the middle of June, the heart of baseball’s season. The Red Sox are in last place — I think. The Rays and the Sox have been duking it out for bottom of the Eastern Division all year. Garry would normally be obsessively glued to the television, but it’s a bad year. Very bad, so he has only been watching pieces of games. It’s less painful that way.

The sportscasters were talking about somebody getting stuck with an error because he couldn’t catch a ball on a bad bounce and how hard it is to catch them when they take an unpredictable bounce.

Spalding Hi-Bounce BallWhich got me to thinking about stickball. These guys are paid gazillions to play professional baseball. They have parks with groundskeepers, bases, uniforms, baseballs and even bats! How would they do without all that fancy stuff, huh? We didn’t have any of that. No siree.

We had old broomsticks and pink rubber Spalding balls. The broomsticks were worn out. If it was any good, your mother was using it and it had a broom attached. Try to take that broomstick and she’ll beat you with it. The ball? Half the time, they weren’t even round, just lumps of old pink rubber which had once, long in the past, been balls.

In hometown stickball, assuming you actually hit it (dubious), you had no way to predict where it would go. All bounces were bad. Crazy. The bases were “the red car over there” and “the big maple tree in front of Bobby’s house” and everyone agreed the manhole cover was home because it was more or less in the middle of the road. Third was the drainage grate over the sewer

It left the game wide open for serious disputes about fair versus foul. The team who was most vigorous in pursuing fairness or foulness got the call, especially since we were our own umpires and decisions were voted on (but the bigger team always won).

Stickball-Brooklyn-1989-8000-copy

Photo credit: mattweberphotos.com

If those super highly paid athletes had to play stickball, how well do you think they’d do? I’d just like to see those tough major leaguers playing stickball with a worn-out broomstick and an old pink Spalding ball bouncing all over the place.

That would teach them humility in a hurry.

TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME

Offside Memories – Team USA is playing today in the soccer World Cup in Brazil. Do you have any funny/harrowing/interesting memories from a sporting event you attended, participated in, or watched?


One weekend, shortly after Garry and I began living together, he had read the sports section of three newspapers and was watching the fifth or sixth baseball game in a row. I thought: “I really better learn to love baseball. If I don’t, I will never have a conversation with Garry from April through October.” Little did I know when baseball ended, it would be time for football.

I love baseball. I understand it. Never took to football with the same enthusiasm, but I’m good with basketball. Hockey and soccer don’t do it for me. Other than that? If it’s done on a horse, I’ll watch it.

nationals in DC baseball

I’ve been to a lot of baseball games, mostly at Fenway Park to watch the Red Sox. But in our travels, we’ve caught a game at Candlestick Park, in Montreal and most recently, a Red Sox-Yankees match-up in the new Yankee Stadium.

Watching the Sox trounce the Yankees on their home turf was the coolest game I’ve seen in a park. And we had great seats.

These days, we watch on the big TV. The greatest sports moment I can remember? How could I forget? It was the Red Sox winning the Series in 2004 with a walk-off homer by David Ortiz. We sat there stunned, waiting for the umpire to say it was a mistake. It had finally happened!

By now, we’ve gotten used to winning. We have higher expectations of our team performance. It had been a long dry spell.

Here we are again. After a winning season in 2013, the Sox can’t seem to hit the ball with the bat. The season has been so godawful, we are already trying to forget it. And it’s only the middle of June.

Still, it’s a long season. You never know, right?

P.S. Almost forgot! It was pretty memorable when Garry and I cuddled up in the big bed (I had the flu) to watch a World Series and instead, watched the big San Francisco earthquake. I had returned from San Francisco the day before. That was unique.

THE AGONY OF SPORTS – GARRY ARMSTRONG

The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat!

That mantra, coined by ABC’s Wide World of Sports, has been part of our lexicon for almost half a century. It has seeped from sports into everyday life.

whiningdemotivator

Photo credit: Despair.com

These are the days that try the souls of many baseball fans, especially those here in New England. Our Red Sox have apparently regressed. Forgetting last year’s world championship, they’ve retreated to the status of their previous season.

WorldChampionRedSox2013

2012 lingers as a nightmare in Red Sox nation. If you’re a passionate fan, every loss tears at your psyche. It’s personal. Family relationships are jeopardized. Only pets are safe though even they sense there’s trouble in paradise.

It’s been this way all my life. As a teenager, while brooding over abandonment by my beloved Brooklyn Dodgers who left in the dead of night for California, I discovered another kind of agony in other sports. Golf and bowling.

I’ve never been a fan of golf or bowling. So why the agony?

First hand experience is the answer. I caddied for women golfers one forgettable summer. Nocturnal reading of Peyton Place took my mind off some of my link misadventures. I didn’t know much about golf. I lugged the golf bag, dutifully following the women from one hole to another. It seemed strange that they were often hitting their balls into the brushes and bushes when I was on duty.

One lady golfer followed me into the bushes, explaining she wanted to help me find my balls. Later, experienced caddies would explain it to me. That was decades before Tiger Woods putted his way into our national consciousness.

Golf ball

Then there was bowling. When I was 9 or 10, I could give you the lineups — the batting orders — of all 16 major league baseball teams. Those were the days before expansion sullied big league baseball. I could even emulate many of the batting stances.

Bowling? Bowling? Seriously?? I do recall someone named Don Carter on a neighbor’s small black and white television in sports highlights. He was called the Babe Ruth of bowling. I wasn’t impressed.

bowling

The summer after my caddy fiasco I found a different way to earn money for baseball games, movies and other essential things. I became a pin setter for the women’s bowling league at our church. I know what you’re thinking. Those were the days of manual pin setting in bowling.

The alley was in the basement of the church. Our Pastor, with a strange smile, gave me some perfunctory lessons in pin setting. He said I should have no problems because I was very agile. I didn’t have a clue.

The first few frames of the first game I worked went smoothly. I was actually pretty fast at retrieving the pins and setting them back in place. I was confident. I’d reset all the pins for the next frame. Kneeling down to tie my shoe, I heard the now familiar sound, then a yell and froze. The ball found its mark but it wasn’t the pin.

The pain took my breath away. When I finally stood up, the ladies were blushing. Our Pastor was smiling.

So much for bowling.

1969 – MY FAVORITE YEAR

1969 was the year I learned to fly. The world spun faster on its axis. Everything changed.

Neil Armstrong walked on the moon in July 1969. I watched it unfold. I was a new mommy with a 2 months old baby boy. Home with the baby and not working or in school, I had time to see it happen.

English: Neil Armstrong descending the ladder ...

I saw Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. Imagine, a real live man on the moon!

We viewed it on CBS. It was obvious Walter Cronkite wanted to be up there too. Up there, with Neil and the rest of Apollo 11. He could barely control his excitement, almost in tears, his voice breaking with emotion.

The great Arthur C. Clarke was his guest for that historic broadcast. Neil Armstrong died last year. He had a good life. Unlike so many others who fell from grace, he remained an honorable man: a real American hero.

How I envied him his trip to the moon. I always tell my husband that no man will ever take me away from him, but if the Mother Ship comes and offers me a trip to the stars, sorry bub, I’m outta here. I’m getting a bit long in the tooth, but if they could do it on Cocoon, maybe there’s time for me, too. Maybe Garry can come with me.

Woodstock was just a month away and there were rumors flying about this amazing rock concert that was going to happen upstate. I had friends who had tickets and were going. I was busy with the baby and wished them well.

There were hippies giving out flowers in the Haight-Ashbury area of San Francisco. But I didn’t envy them because I was happy that year, probably happier than I’d ever been and in some ways, happier than at anytime since.

I was young, still healthy. I believed we would change the world, end war, make the world a better place. I still thought the world could be changed. All we had to do was love one another and join together to make it happen. Vietnam was in high gear, but we believed it was going to end any day … and though we soon found out how terribly wrong we were, for a little bit of time, we saw the future brightly and full of hope.

I had a baby boy and I sang “Everything’s Fine Right Now” which I first hear sung by the Holy Modal Rounders at a local folk music club. They had been the stonedest group of people I’d ever met, but the song was a great lullaby and made my baby boy laugh. 

It was the year of the Miracle Mets. I watched as they took New York all the way to the top. A World Series win. 1969. What a year. I rocked my son to sleep and discovered Oktoberfest beer. New York went crazy for the Mets. It should have been the Dodgers, but they’d abandoned us for the west coast.

I wore patchwork bell-bottom jeans and rose-tinted spectacles. I had long fringes on my sleeves and a baby on my hip.

Music was wonderful. How young we were! How sure we could do anything, everything.

We were going to end war … end THE war … right every wrong. As we found the peak, we would almost immediately drop back into a darker valley. But for a year, a happy year, the stars aligned and everything was good.

Decades passed; youth was a long time ago. The drugs we take control our blood pressure, not our state of consciousness. They aren’t any fun at all.

I worry about Social Security and Medicare and I know I’m not going to fix what’s wrong with the world. I’ve lived a lifetime. My granddaughter is barely younger than I was then.

I’ve remarried, lived in another country, owned houses, moved from the city to the country, and partied with a President … but 1969 remains my year.