Saturday, August 31, 2013

A Football Story

[Boston College vs. Villanova, today. Notice the stands. This would never happen in the south.]

Today, I watched Boston College play Villanova. I made some comments on Facebook, during the game, that were less than complimentary towards BC. This is because I know football. I am a big Boston College fan, but I am also a realist. They beat Villanova, but they wouldn't have beat most teams from their own level (Villanova is FCS, BC is FBS. If that distinction means nothing to you, just take my word for it that BC would have had their asses handed to them if they were playing, say, Clemson or Florida State.)
After the game, my very good friend, Jackie - Teacher's Pet, on Blogger - sent me the following comparison between football in the north and football in the south. My commentary, and a story to illustrate said commentary, follows her e-mail.
-----Original Message-----
From: Jackie
To: suldog <>
Sent: Sat, Aug 31, 2013 5:37 pm
Subject: from Jackie (North and South College Game comparison(s) )

We had our first high school regular season game last night here in South Georgia. College games starting today have FB alive and well with football stuff.

I saw this on FB today, and thought it was cute (and soooo true.)

Wanted to share it with you, Jim.

When it comes to College Football, there are many cultural differences between The North and The South. Here are a few:

Stadium Size:
NORTH: College football stadiums hold 20,000 people.
SOUTH: High school football stadiums hold 20,000 people.

Campus Decor:
NORTH: Statues of founding fathers.
SOUTH: Statues of Heisman trophy winners.

Homecoming Queen:
NORTH: Also a physics major.
SOUTH: Also Miss America..

NORTH: If you are slightly coordinated, you make the varsity squad.
SOUTH: You begin cheer camp at age two, complete with ballet, dance, & gymnastic training.

Getting Tickets:
NORTH: 5 days before the game you walk into the ticket office on campus and purchase tickets.
SOUTH: 5 months before the game you walk into the ticket office on campus & put name on the waiting list.

Women’s Accessories:
NORTH: ChapStick in back pocket and a $20 bill in the front pocket.
SOUTH: Louis Vuitton duffel with two lipsticks, waterproof mascara. Money is not necessary — That’s what dates are for.

Friday Classes After a Thursday Night Game:
NORTH: Students and teachers not sure they’re going to the game, because they have classes on Friday.
SOUTH: Teachers cancel Friday classes because they don’t want to see the few students that might actually make it to class and throw up on their floor.

NORTH: An hour before game time, the University opens the campus for game parking.
SOUTH: RVs sporting their school flags begin arriving on Wednesday for The weekend festivities. The really faithful arrive on Tuesday.

Game Day:
NORTH: A few students party in the dorm and watch ESPN on TV.
SOUTH: Every student wakes up and rushes over to where ESPN is broadcasting “Game Day Live” to get on camera and wave to the folks up north.

NORTH: Raw meat on a grill, listening to local radio station with truck tailgate down.
SOUTH: 30-foot custom pig-shaped smoker fires up at dawn. Cooking accompanied by live performance by “Dave Matthews’ Band”.

Getting to the Stadium:
NORTH: You ask “Where’s the stadium?” When you find it, you walk right in.
SOUTH: When you’re near it, you’ll hear it. On game day it becomes the state’s third largest city.

NORTH: Drinks served in a paper cup, filled to the top with soda.
SOUTH: Drinks served in a plastic cup with the home team’s mascot on it.

When National Anthem is Played:
NORTH: Stands are still less than half full.
SOUTH: 100,000 fans, all standing, sing along in perfect four-part harmony.

Smell in the Air After the First Score:
NORTH: Nothing changes.
SOUTH: Fireworks.

Commentary (Male):
NORTH: “Nice play.”
SOUTH: “*#@&@, you slow *&%$@#! - tackle him and break his legs.”

Commentary (Female):
NORTH: “My, this certainly is a violent sport.”
SOUTH: “*#@&@, you slow *&%$@#! - tackle him and break his legs.”

NORTH: Neutral and paid.
SOUTH: Announcer harmonizes with the crowd in the fight song, with a tear in his eye because he is so proud of his team.

After the Game:
NORTH: The stadium is emptying out.
SOUTH: Another rack of ribs goes on the smoker. Planning begins for next week’s game.


My reply to her...
It is all so TRUE.

I've been a BC fan for years and years. They haven't been very good some of those years. When Flutie was here, sure, that was a big cultural thing, but beyond that...

So, back in 2007, it's Matt Ryan's senior year and BC is undefeated and ranked #2 in the nation. Florida State is coming in, BC has a chance to go to #1 if (as I remember) Ohio State loses and BC defeats FSU.

My good friend, Fast Freddie Goodman, somehow lands tickets to this game through his employer. They sponsor BC football on TV/radio and they get a certain number of tickets to each home game. He has five tickets. He invites me and also offers a seat to me to offer to anyone else who wants to come to the game. I invite my cousin, David; a big sports guy like me.

(MY WIFE does not do football, in case you're wondering. When she read the thing you sent, she laughed. She also said, "That's why I'm glad I live in the north.")

So, we meet Fred at his house, along with the other two people - a married couple - who will be going to the game. It is a hideous night for a sporting event. Rain is coming down like a cow pissing on a flat rock. David and I don't give a damn. He brought a poncho. I just plain don't care if I get wet. The other folks were not as happy about it, and I think they might have not even gone if it wasn't a big thing sponsored by FFG's company.

We get to the stadium a couple of hours before kickoff and head to the hosiptality area, where David and I round up about 12 complimentary beers each to go along with our free chili and ribs. We plop ourselves down and start the serious lubrication of our football souls.

By game time, we're entirely polluted. Rain? What? It's raining? WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! The others begin walking a few paces behind us.

We get to our seats - which are truly GREAT seats, by the way; Fred's company is righteous! - and the stadium is pretty dead. Half the people there have no idea what to do at a football game, especially at a football game as important to the home team as this one is. I mean, BC hasn't had a chance for NUMBER ONE IN THE NATION since the 1980's, with Flutie, and maybe not even then, really. It might have been the 1940's with Charlie O'Rourke leading the team into the Sugar Bowl against Tennessee. This is not right, so David and I decide to lively things up. We take it upon ourselves to teach some of these folks what to do. We lead by example.

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO", we say every time the opposition quarterback tries to bark out signals.

Fred and the married couple look at us as though we have lost our minds. No, David and I have entered our element. It is war, we are Sullivans, and we have fortified ourselves with hops and meat. You, heathens, are the weird ones. Either join in or be considered the enemy!

We got a fair amount of the crowd to join us by the second half. Not Fred, though. He left the game at halftime, going inside to the school's basketball/hockey facility and grabbing a nap. The married couple sticks it out with us, but I think it may have been because they were afraid to leave.

In the end, despite a nice attempt of a comeback by Ryan, Boston College lost to FSU. We had to do the walk of shame past the Florida State fans sitting in the next section from ours. However, we know damn well, David and me, that they may be celebrating their well-earned victory by riding the BC fans, but when they see us walking by, the look in their eyes says, "You two are different. You KNOW."


I have tickets to the BC - Wake Forest game this coming Friday. I also have a softball playoff game that night, so I am conflicted. I hope it rains. The softball game will be cancelled, but the football game will go on. I do not mind the rain.
Soon, with more better stuff.


Friday, August 30, 2013

Hero Cat!

My sister-in-law is a very lucky person. Her cat saved the lives of herself and her family. I'll tell the story below, but first here's a photo of the heroic feline.

[Smokey, who is much less blurry in person]

It all began when... No, I think I'll let my sister-in-law tell you in her own words. There's little I can add.

"I'm absolutely amazed at how well my cat can communicate with me. After meowing outside my door incessantly for about 15 minutes, I finally got up to see what's wrong. Smokey starts down the hall and looks back to make sure I'm following. All I can say is 'Thank you, Smokey!' for waking me up and saving the family from the ladybug on Ava's bedroom door."

Soon, with meow better stuff.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Heartbroken & Happy

We did not win the championship.

Titans - 12  BOMBERS - 8
Titans - 21  BOMBERS - 6

I am both heartbroken and happy, basically for the same reason - my teammates.

I'm sad that we lost, of course. I wanted this one. I'm not getting any younger and the ability for me to influence what happens, in any way, is slipping out of my grasp. I'm now officially an old sub. I can't control my own destiny from the bench. That probably won't improve next year, barring some sort of fountain of softball youth being discovered. I only played one inning on the field and had one plate appearance (a base on balls with game two well beyond salvaging.)

(I don't have any bad feelings about being on the bench, by the way. Everybody wants to play, so I do, too, but my manager did what he thought was right and what he thought would give us the best chance to win. I've been a manager myself for way too many seasons to start sulking about a managerial decision. It's a team game, and I trust my teammates and my manager. And Jack, my manager, is a great guy, a fair guy, and a fine judge of talent. No complaints about Jack, ever.)

Anyway, I'm heartbroken FOR my teammates and I'm happy BECAUSE OF my teammates. Lots of them gave me the big handshake or a hug, after the game, and told me they wanted to win it FOR ME, and... Fuck, it makes me misty right now while I'm writing this. I truly believe two or three of these guys wanted to win it for me more than they did themselves. How could I not feel utterly blessed to have teammates like that?

I love you all, guys.

Game one was competitive. The Titans got out to a 4 - 0 lead in the first, but we came back to tie it in the third. After that, they went up 8 - 4, then 10 - 4, we got it back to 10 - 7, then it went to 12 - 7, we scored one in the 7th to make it 12 - 8, had two men on, but couldn't get any more.

Game two was a disaster. We took a 1 - 0 lead in the first inning, on Mark Preziosi's 8th home run of the season. Robbie Costello, who gave us three innings of good relief in game one, started game two, and he felt he was getting squeezed. I tend to agree. There were a few excellent pitches of his, across the batter's knees, that weren't called, leading to 3 walks in the second (sandwiched around a single) that tied it.

Same sort of thing in the third. It looked to me as though he had a definite third strike on a batter, which would have given us two outs, but it was called a ball. Then Robbie tried to be finer and the hitter stroked a three-run homer.

(I really try not to blame things on the umpiring. Hell, we lost 21 - 6. That's not all bad calls. That's bad fielding, dead bats, and everything BUT poor umpiring. But it really did seem Robbie didn't get the breaks. And I consider the guy behind the plate in that game the best ump in the league, and I'm willing to concede maybe we wanted the calls so much we might have seen things in a rosier light. Still, we probably should have had one or two of those calls, and saving one of those innings could have made a difference.)

Nothing else to say about the games. The quicker I forget about them, the better. I've still got a season ongoing at M Street on weeknights, so no time to wallow in self-pity.

Single-season records broken or tied:

Big Jay Atton set a record for W-L% for a pitcher by going 10 and 2 (.833), breaking Robbie Costello's 4 and 1 (.800) from last season. Big Jay also broke the lifetime mark for pitching victories with 38, and took over the lifetime team lead in RBI.

Pat Atton scored 35 runs, tying Scott Sarro's record from 1997.

Both Pat and I broke Mike Martin's record for bases on balls (17, in 2004). I had 18. Pat had an amazing 21.

Final record broken was an obscure one. Tom Resor is currently in a streak of 166 plate appearances without a strikeout. Jay Atton held the record previously with 156.

(I'll give a complete listing of all current Bomber records in a few weeks, after my other season is over.)

Let me say it again: I'm blessed beyond belief to still be playing at my age and to have such great teammates.

BOMBERS Statistics


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Unfortunate Ruminations Of The Day

One man was a quiet political activist, the other a convicted rapist. Connection? They both are alleged to have committed murder. My reason for writing this? I knew both of them.

This sort of thing always comes as a bolt from the blue. You’re sitting there reading headlines. You read one that mentions a killing, in some place or another with which you are familiar, and you say to yourself, “I know so-and-so from there. Let me read a bit further.” And then you come to the part where names are mentioned.

At first, you don’t quite believe it. You’re like everyone else, used to news stories NOT being about someone you know. You stare at the name in print. Then you read on, gathering details and dispelling doubts. Finally, you accept that you know someone who has been charged with murder.

In the one instance, that of the convicted rapist, I always felt that the person was a bit unstable. I knew that he had done time, although I didn’t know the reason. I was a fast-pitch softball teammate of his, a decade ago, and I saw how he comported himself on the field; always with a chip on his shoulder, a disdain for his rival's talent (often accompanied by a sneering verbalization concerning same), and a hair-trigger temper. I had seen him involved in a fist fight with another teammate, following a playoff game defeat; I had stepped into it and had been the one who wrapped arms around the guy while someone else stopped the other participant from continuing. That he had been a prisoner wasn’t important, in the context of sports, any more than someone else being a school teacher or a lawyer. We rarely delve into personal background, being more concerned with the bottom line of whether or not a player can perform the tasks at hand. More than one good teammate of mine, over the years, has spent a while behind bars. I've never asked any of them why they were there. I always figure that's his business. If he wants to tell me about it, he will. This man had casually mentioned his incarceration, in an off-hand way, and usually accompanied it with a joke of some sort. I only found out about it having been a rape conviction while reading the story about the alleged murder. All things considered, my hearing that he may have killed someone was as shocking as any other news of a murder, but not more so. It was not entirely surprising to me to see his name in print as someone alleged to have committed a violent act.
On the other hand, the news that my second acquaintance is said to have killed his young son, and then turned the gun on himself, has had an effect similar to a punch in the gut. I wouldn’t have expected to hear such news in a million years of Sundays. I shared good laughs with this man years ago, broke bread with him more than once, and thought of him kindly. His passion was politics, and the two of us had met while I served on a political committee. He was unfailingly kind to me and I owed him a debt. He encouraged my writing talent many years ago, asking me to write and edit a monthly newsletter concerning political activities. I did so for about a year. That confidence of his, in me, was a great boost toward my now being a paid writer. The last time I had correspondence with him, he was absolutely gushing about being a father. The profile picture on his Facebook page shows him walking down a street holding his little son’s hand. The news that he killed his son, and then himself, was inconceivable. There it was in print, though, and no denying its existence.

Point? I don’t know that I have one. I would never have thought I'd find reason to mention these two men in the same breath, until now. That I find myself doing so...

God bless us all.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Bombers Move On To Championship Series


Playoffs will begin tomorrow for the Bombers in the Sunday league. We had a first-round bye, due to our having finished first in our division, but now we have to get by the Moe Howard Club to reach the finals. We beat them four out of four times during the regular season, but their manager, Mark Dion, didn't necessarily play his best nine in those games. Tomorrow we will face the best they have to offer. I think we still beat them in two straight, but it won't be as easy as the regular season games were.

This past week at M Street saw my Southside Tavern team drop two.

Lincoln Tavern - 13  SOUTHSIDE TAVERN - 8
Warehouse - 10       SOUTHSIDE TAVERN - 8

We played both games with only a few of our regular roster players available. Playoffs have been ongoing in other leagues, involving many of my starters, and as a result I have been scrambling to field a good representative nine for each game.

I've been blessed to have a goodly number of my fellow Sunday players step up and play for me in these emergency situations. I very much appreciate that they went out of their way to help. Pat Atton, Drew Atton, and M. J. McCabe, of the Bombers, and Jason Richard and Junior Rodriguez, of Team Mayhem, played at M Street this week, making it possible for us to give Lincoln Tavern and Warehouse a couple of good games. We were damn close to stealing wins in both of them, but we came up just short.

I won't go into a lot of detail about either loss, except to say that my ace pitcher, John Gregorio, was awesome in the second game. Of the 10 runs scored against him, ONE was earned. I felt like crying to have him lose that game.

 Johnny G

Our record now stands at 3 and 5. Four games remain in this very short season. The best we can hope for is probably a 4th place finish. Looking at our remaining schedule, and the players available for each contest, I would predict a 6 and 6 finish; if things go bad, maybe 5 and 7. I expect we'll finish either 5th or 6th, giving us an uphill climb through the playoffs.

I also face a thorny problem as manager, that of seeing that I qualify enough players to play in the playoffs. With so many guys missing so many games, it's going to take some juggling of line-ups to maximize the eligibility of some players. I'm hoping I can secure some leeway from the commissioner on a couple of guys who have been injured, maybe get some relief on AB qualifications on another few. Working in my favor is the fact that I'm not the only manager who may be having trouble qualifying enough players. I expect a decision may be made to lessen the requirements. We'll see. Meanwhile, I'll try to get my best players as much playing time as possible during the remaining games.

If you want to see what I'm talking about, look at our stats page HERE. You'll find 28 different roster players for our first 8 games. It's actually been more players because those stats aren't complete; probably 31 players, all told. This has not been my managerial dream season.

Enough of that. First on my mind is tomorrow. If we win, and get through to the championship round next week, that will make me (at least temporarily) a very happy camper.


I am a temporary very happy camper.

BOMBERS - 9  Moe Howard Club - 0
BOMBERS - 8  Moe Howard Club - 3

If it were up to me, I would take Big Jay Atton and Mark Preziosi, bundle them up in bubble wrap, and not release them until next Sunday morning.

[Yeah, the only team photo I have this year shows neither Big Jay Atton nor Mark Preziosi. Robbie Costello is also missing. I expect we'll have a shot from next week showing all three.]

Big Jay was immense. He pitched both games (he finally got a shutout, after having three others this year lost by errors) and he also went 5 for 6 with the stick (and drew two walks besides.) And Preziosi? I've never seen a better game played by one of our shortstops. His usually mighty bat wasn't a huge factor (2 singles in 8 trips to the plate) but his fielding was awesome. He made plays that most other shortstops don't even have dreams about. I truly can't describe those plays well enough to do them justice. Suffice to say that everybody who was there won't forget them. That I guarantee.

Other interesting statistical games were had by Billy Botting (5 walks) and Ron Johnson. Ron notched his 300th hit in a Bombers uniform, becoming only the second player in the history of the team to reach that milestone. I was following him in the batting order and it just plain didn't register with me even though I knew going in he only needed one more to get there. I would have saved the ball for him, had I thought about it, but I was too intent on my own at-bat at the time. My bad. Pat Atton upped his record-breaking bases-on-balls total to 21, and he also moved to within one run of the team record for runs scored, a record that has stood since 1997. One next week ties it, two breaks it. Finally, Big Jay Atton, aside from his pitching performance and good day at the plate, took over the all-time RBI record (passing Ron Johnson, by the way, so it's possible Ron could take it back from him. Who knows?)

My day was pedestrian; 1 for 3, a single, in game two.

So we move on to face the Titans, next Sunday, for the championship. We will be without Fast Freddie Goodman (longstanding previous personal engagement in New York, nothing he can do about it) and we may be without Robbie Costello, also. Robbie, in a game played earlier this week, took a line drive off of his elbow while pitching. He may be good to go next week, but he may not. Right now, he can't throw. Otherwise, we'll have a full complement, including one of our big sticks who missed today's games, Tom Resor. We will give them holy hell, one way or another.

I don't suppose I need to go into my lack of championship success, but just in case you came in late, here's the story. I have played baseball and softball for almost 50 years now. I have never been on a championship team. I've been in championship games and series a few times, but have never been on the winning side. I want this, in whatever way possible. Whatever it takes next week.

(I'll gladly accept whatever prayers you might want to say on my behalf. I'm not so proud that I'll decline divine intervention.)

Bombers Stats

Soon, I hope with a ring.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Softball Journalism

No, I'm not talking about what we're likely to see over the next three years with Hilary Clinton. I'm talking about the sport of softball; specifically, my writing about it.

If you wish to read some more of me today (although I've given you little reason to want such a thing) you could go to one of two places:

South Boston Today has my weekly wrap-up of M Street Softball League action. Aside from scores, there's a story concerning the travails of an umpire.

The M Street Softball League website has my Sully's Corner piece about what it was like to face my old teammates in the season opener. As a bonus, I glorify catchers.

That's about it for now. Expect more softball come Monday. That's because playoffs start Sunday. If we win, I'll tell you all about it and try to inflate my part in it as much as I possibly can without making my teammates puke. If we lose, I might poison myself and save you the trouble of reading about the losses.

Soon, with more batter stuff.

P.S. I realize I've used the substitution of "batter" for "better" far too often in my illiterate closing phrase lately, but there are only so many softball puns one can make with such weak starting material.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

15 Books

[This is a re-run. If you've read it before, no need to do so again. Of course, reading it again will benefit you greatly. Why? Because I said so, that's why, and if you don't like it, I'll turn this blog around right now and we won't go to the beach at all, so quit whining and let me drive! There is also an addendum at the end, but some ointment will probably take care of that.]

[This is also long. Way long. "Oh my God, when will it end?" long. The good thing is I won’t be mad if you skim it. I do that when I come upon something like this, so why shouldn't you? I usually find the things I like, see what the person has to say about them, and then comment accordingly. You can do the same. Or you can read every word. I’ll be amazed if it’s the latter, but will hold no ill will toward you if it’s the former.]

Librarian On The Run (love her photo) got an idea for a post from Rhea at The Boomer Chronicles (who got the idea from someplace else, Teh Interwebs being the incestuous place that it is.) Whoever originated it, a big ‘thumbs up’ from me. I greatly admire original thoughts, not having had one myself since 1982 or thereabouts.

Here is the idea:

List 15 books that had a dramatic impact on your life, or that make you happy in your pants, or that you took out of the library and never returned, or something like that. Anyway, list 15 books. Folks who are looking for a good read will find some worthy choices, while folks who like lists will be gratified.

(I love lists. In this case, of course, I list loves.)

I’ll put my choices more-or-less in order according to when I first enjoyed them.

The Golden Book Encyclopedia by Bertha Morris Parker

If I wanted to be done with this list quickly, I could stop right now. This is a collection of sixteen volumes, so it fulfills the requirements all by itself. I’m counting it as one selection, though, and too bad for you because that means there’s another 3,000 words ahead. If you never want to read ANY books, just keep coming here and I’ll do my best to keep you occupied.

The Golden Book Encyclopedia, more than any other thing in my life – with the possible exception of Mister Ed reruns – has been my go-to source for information. If I spout off about something, chances are good I picked up my information from those books.

I spent countless hours reading these things as a kid. I still consult them occasionally when sources that are more ‘adult’ aren’t readily available. Published in 1959, thus slightly outdated in some regards and slightly racist/sexist in others, they have provided me with more pleasure than anything on earth outside of naked women and guitars.

I can’t end without noting that the entire thing is credited to one writer. There’s a list of some 25 or 30 ‘consultants’ on the frontispiece, but Ms. Parker (either ‘Miss’ or ‘Mrs.’ Parker, in those days) is given the byline. Marvelous! I’d probably be willing to give up my left nut in order to be credited as the sole author of an entire encyclopedia. As a matter of fact, since it’s highly unlikely that I’ll ever have to consider such a deal, let’s make it both nuts.

Also - Thanks, Grandpa! He gave me these. They were his, but I liked to read them so often when I was visiting, he made me a gift of them. He also made me a gift of never worrying about what 'normal' people might think about an adult enjoying things supposedly meant solely for children. As I say, these books were his. He also liked to come home from his job as senior claims attorney for the MBTA and watch The Electric Company. I wish he were still around.

Winnie-The-Pooh by A. A. Milne

And, of course, its sequel, The House At Pooh Corner.

If you didn’t read them as a child, then your childhood was incomplete. Do so now. And don’t think that having seen the Disney versions will suffice. Disney did a creditable job, but the original illustrations, by Ernest Sheppard, are as integral to my enjoyment as are Milne’s words. Quite simply, the best children’s books ever written (although I, The Jury by Mickey Spillane, comes close.)

The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

Twain’s best book.

The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Twain’s second-best book.

I give Tom primacy, always. While Huck is full of great moral dilemmas, and receives much of its acclaim for the way the main character resolves those, Tom is the more realistic book. I also consider it the funnier book, overall, although certain passages of Huck are more explosively hilarious. In addition, Huck’s ending, as has been pointed out by many others before me, is somewhat contrived and veers dangerously close to minstrelsy, which is truly unfortunate given Twain’s well-meaning and loving heart concerning the Negro in America.

Tom is often relegated to a second-class status by virtue of its being a children’s book, but I think that’s an unfortunate misrepresentation. It can be read by children, but it is much more valuable to adults. It is, in my estimation, the most useful book ever written for the purpose of recapturing, in the reader, the inescapable pains and ineffable joys of childhood. It will not resonate with all, but it should. The fault is in the reader if it doesn’t.

Ball Four by Jim Bouton

If you love baseball, but haven’t read this book, then you are willfully ignorant. There is no good reason for a baseball fan to have not read this book. The historical implications alone make it a must.

At the time of Ball Four’s publication, in 1970, there had never been a book like it. It was the first of the ‘tell-all’ variety of sports books. Whereas before, sporting literature consisted mostly of ghostwritten tales of heroism, Bouton’s book was raw, and had more failure between its covers than glory. It was the distillation of his season-long diary kept during the only year of the Seattle Pilots existence. It chronicled, with great honesty and depth of feeling, his attempt to refashion his major league baseball existence as a knuckleballer, having fallen from the heights of his success as a New York Yankee flamethrower some five years previous.

The story of the struggle, in the midst of the mediocrity that was the Pilots, would have been enough to make it a worthwhile read. However, what puts it over the top, and makes it a must, is Bouton’s telling of clubhouse tales, full of ribald humor (and unvarnished grossness in some instances.) He gave the public its first inkling that baseball players were actually human beings, subject to the foibles and shortcomings of us all, and not the demigods they had been made out to be, for so many decades, in the popular press. For this, Bouton was vilified and ostracized by both the baseball establishment and his fellow players. He was booed by the purists, cheered by the counterculture. He was out of baseball soon after publication (although the case can be made that this was not a blacklisting but just a natural result of his diminished skills, and Bouton always acknowledges that possibility. My feeling is that he still had something good to offer a team, but I base that only on his stats and not from having seen him play during that time period. He made a brief comeback, some eight years after publication, in a short stint with the Atlanta Braves. Later editions of the book – usually labeled Ball Four, Plus Ball Five - contain additional material concerning this, and are definitely worth reading if you became a fan of Bouton’s via the original.)

Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes

The book on which the movie Charly was based.

Tremendously heartfelt and moving. Anyone who doesn’t find himself sniffling a bit by the final pages is insufficiently supplied with empathy. Grandly executed original idea for a story; a tour de force for Keyes, who had to write it in several differing voices. If you’ve read it, you know what I mean. If not, you don’t, but I can’t tell you much else without giving away the plot and I wouldn’t do that, denying you the pleasure of the read, to save my own soul.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey

Jack Nicholson was entirely miscast in the movie. McMurphy, in the book, is a robust and muscular redhead (as can be seen in the illustration on the cover shown.)

The book is excellent, of course. The story is told by Chief Bromden, another thing you wouldn't get from the movie (although that's a forgivable offense, I suppose.) Terrifying in spots, poignant in others, funny as hell intermittently, it can be read as allegory or just as a plain old good tale.

(I get really pissed about Nicholson in the movie. I mean, yeah, he gave a really good performance, but McMurphy is my all-time favorite fictional character and it took me half the film just to get used to the fact that he didn't look anything at all like how he was described in the book.)

Breakfast Of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut

If you’re familiar with Vonnegut, then you know that, in many ways, he wrote the same book over and over. After his successful start as a short story writer for magazines, and the publication of his first (rather conventional) novel, Player Piano, he began simplifying his work. He returned to the same themes – depersonalization, loneliness, the overall sense that nothing made sense in the long run – with an increasingly minimalist style. He relied rather heavily upon the reader being able to infer the small details.

And so on.

Breakfast Of Champions achieves a perfect balance between craft and sloth. It is a funny book, but extremely dark. It is profuse with the author’s charmingly immature line drawings. The central character, Kilgore Trout, had appeared (and would appear) in other of Vonnegut’s novels, but always as a supporting player. Here he takes the main stage and, to our delight, is spectacularly uncomfortable in doing so. Vonnegut himself becomes a character in his own work of fiction, a conceit so spectacular that it deserves a standing ovation simply for the audacity.

He considered other of his work better, and the general opinion of critics would probably be that Slaughterhouse Five is his most important work, but I consider this his masterpiece.

(I can’t leave Breakfast Of Champions without commenting upon Venus On The Half Shell. It is a hilarious science fiction novel, published after Breakfast, purportedly written by Kilgore Trout, the main character in Breakfast. It’s a real book, a cult classic, and many people believe Vonnegut wrote it. I only recently found out that this was NOT the case, and that, in fact, it was written by Philip Jose Farmer. Vonnegut supposedly was not pleased by it. If so, this lowers my estimation of Vonnegut considerably. Venus is brilliant, a superb parody of both Vonnegut’s style and of the supposed style of Trout, as given via many examples in Breakfast and other of Vonnegut's work. If you can find a copy, read it after you’ve finished Breakfast. You won’t be disappointed.)

The Rape Of The A*P*E* (American Puritan Ethic) by Allan Sherman

If all you know of Allan Sherman is his work as a song parodist ('Hello, Muddah! Hello, Faddah!') then you’ve been deprived of a great joy. This is, for my money, the funniest book ever written. As a bonus, it is also one of the filthiest.

Unfortunately, it is out of print, and has been for many years. Existing copies go for outrageous amounts from used booksellers. I lost two copies via loaning them out, was lucky enough to find a reasonably priced used hardcover, and will never let anyone borrow it again, so don’t ask unless you’re on your deathbed.

The book is a history of sex, from Adam & Eve up to the sexual revolution of the 1960’s, told in Sherman’s unabashed, utterly frank, and entirely hilarious style. I don’t believe I can do it justice without quoting extensively from it. On the off chance that you’ll be able to latch onto a copy, I wouldn’t want to ruin too much of the good stuff, so I won’t do the quoting. Just take my word for it. It’s laugh-out-loud funny AND titillating, mostly at the same time.

A Confederacy Of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

The funniest book ever written.

(I know. I just now said that about The Rape Of The A*P*E. I vacillate, usually just before masturbating. And if this doesn’t count as that, I don’t know what does. Hell, for some people – and I use the term loosely - Mein Kampf is the funniest book ever written. Just be thankful I’m not one of those and quit complaining about the hobgoblins of my little mind.)

Rollicking farce. Let’s call it the funniest novel ever, and give Sherman’s book the award for funniest non-fiction. Anyway, the main character, Ignatius J. Reilly, is unmatched. There has never been a more pompous, vile, ill-behaved, utterly reprehensible - and deeply funny - protagonist. The supporting cast is superbly detailed, and most are near to being as flawed as Ignatius is (although they go to great lengths to conceal their hideousness, whereas Ignatius more-or-less flaunts his own grotesquery.) The magical thing about Toole’s writing is that he has you rooting for, rather than against, most of them.

Toole takes all of his bizarre, yet realistic, characters, and interweaves their stories, bringing them together at the climax in a comic explosion. Masterful work, and the only example of Toole’s comic genius extant, unfortunately.

Toole was unable to sell the book. He committed suicide. I don’t blame him. If I had written such a magnificent piece of work and couldn’t sell it? I would have offed myself, too.

After his death, his mother kept shopping the manuscript, finally getting a university press to go for it. And it then went on to become a #1 New York Times bestseller, winning a Pulitzer and making everybody who reads it wonder just what in hell the editors who didn’t buy it were smoking. I don’t know if the title of the book was chosen by Toole prior to his suicide, or tacked on by his mother afterward, but it describes those editors perfectly.

Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis


Written as a satire of American middle-class values, that’s how I took it on my first reading. As I’ve grown older, however, each re-reading has found me yearning more for Babbitt’s accoutrements (if not his lifestyle) than being derisive. I’m pretty sure that says more about me than it does the book, and probably not to my benefit.

As you may have noticed to this point, my taste runs to the funny. I find most serious novels boring in the extreme, full of unnecessary exposition and other Victorian bric-a-brac crowding the landscape. While a satire, there are few laughs here. There are one or two snickers if you bring a certain snarky mindset to it. Overall, though, it is dark, somber, and unrelenting in painting a tedious existence, although Babbitt himself only comes to the realization fleetingly. The point is that I don’t recommend too much serious stuff, so I hope my doing so in this instance will give the choice added weight.

The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole, Aged 13-And-3/4 by Sue Townsend

More funny stuff, this time via the diary of a pubescent English boy. The genius comes from the boy not realizing half of the hideous shit going on around him.

Townsend followed this masterpiece with five or six others, all in the same general format of a diary kept by Adrian. Each succeeding entry in the series was less funny, less poignant, less original, and less worth reading. The immediate sequel was good, and I’d recommend it if you like the first and find yourself jonesing for more, but it’s quite a bit more depressing than the original. Do yourself a favor and stop after that one, by all means.

IT by Stephen King

I don’t usually like horror, so fans of the genre may have a different opinion, but for me this is the best horror novel ever written. It is long – some 1100 pages, as I remember – but gripping throughout.

If you’ve only seen the made-for-TV movie, you’ve been recipient of a pale, weak rendering of this story. The power, in the book, comes from the very nebulousness of the creature, of IT, whereas the TV movie presented a more-or-less concrete form. And the climax of the book is absolutely impossible to put on film. If you’ve read it, you know what I mean; if not, you’ll find out the truth of the statement if and when you DO read it. While getting to that, King perfectly captures some childhood experiences of American Boomer youth.

Well worth the investment of time needed to get through such a lengthy read (unlike what you're slogging through right now.)

Ain’t Nobody’s Business If You Do by Peter McWilliams

Speaking of lengthy reads...

McWilliams was a victim of AIDS and cancer. The United States government killed him. That’s one hell of a statement, but I believe it to be true.

While fighting his ailments, McWilliams became nauseous when he took the necessary drugs. He couldn’t keep his medications down. They did him no good when he vomited them back up, which he often did. In order to alleviate the nausea, he smoked marijuana. The marijuana relieved the nausea and allowed him to get the benefit of the vicious drugs he was taking to combat the cancer and AIDS.

Marijuana was legal for medicinal use under California law, but still illegal under federal law. McWilliams was busted by the feds, and went to trial. While in confinement, he could not smoke marijuana and often puked up his drugs. At trial, he was not allowed to mention California’s marijuana laws. Upon conviction, he was ordered to not use marijuana. He was compliant. He followed the court’s orders.

He died from inhalation of his own vomit.

I met him briefly. He had joined the Libertarian Party, the only political party in the United States that fully supported his right to ingest whatever he felt like ingesting or needed to ingest. I was a member, too, and he spoke at a national convention in Washington, DC, which I attended. After his speech, he had a meet and greet where he autographed the free copies of his book that he had given to EVERY PERSON WHO ATTENDED THE CONVENTION. He was sweet, generous, funny, highly intelligent, and committed 100% to individual freedom.

He’s dead because the United States government decided that his smoking of a weed was somehow detrimental to society and had to be stopped even at peril of his life.

This book, his last published work, was his argument for absolute individual freedom to eat what you want, drink what you want, have sex with whom you want, and engage in all other manner of what we generally refer to as victimless crimes. Peter preferred the term 'consensual crimes,' and that may give a better picture of them, as it keeps in mind the fact that all of the activities he refers to come about because the people involved choose to engage in them. The only people who want to see these things remain crimes have no real stake in the matter other than their own puritanical mores. None of these activities harm anyone other than the participants, if they harm anyone at all.

(I feel compelled to point out that he made one or two mistakes in his reading of biblical texts – at one point, for instance, he refers to Peter as Jesus’ brother – but those errors don't make a difference concerning the principles he is espousing.)

The Life And Times Of The Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson

MY WIFE, bless her, has tried for years to get me to write this book. It’s too late now. Bill Bryson wrote my book. I will probably never write a book now. Bryson wrote my book better than I ever could have.

The Life And Times Of The Thunderbolt Kid is THE definitive book about growing up as a middle-class white male baby boomer. If you were one, as I was, this book will speak to every part of your soul. I would go so far as to call it an essential read for anyone from my generation and basic social strata. And, funny? It will leave you gasping for air.

Buy it. Make him as rich as I should have been...

Finally, I’ll give you one bonus book, a sixteenth.

The Bible by God, et al

You’re probably familiar with it, or at least you think you are. Nothing I have to say about it will probably change your opinion of it. You either get it or you don’t. I’d prefer that you did, but that’s entirely up to you. A lifetime of experience, however, has taught me to always give at least a cursory glance to instruction manuals, and this is the one for life. As with most instruction manuals, you needn’t read every warning, or raft of legal mumbo-jumbo, but it is always a good idea to make sure you know the important stuff before operating heavy machinery. If you don’t, the likelihood of death is much higher.


Thus ended the original. Here is the addendum, a list of books to which I certainly gave consideration. On another day, any one of these might have replaced one of the above.

The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupery

The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton

Notes From A Small Island by Bill Bryson

Roughing It by Mark Twain

A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain

The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain

(Basically, anything by Twain qualified for consideration.)

The Last Hurrah by Edwin O'Connor

The Catcher In The Rye by J. D. Salinger

And, of course, I could keep going. You'll no doubt remind me of one or another that I will wish I had included. Thank you in advance for that mental ass-kicking.

Finally, I would love to see your own take on a list of this sort. If you do one, please let me know.

Soon, with more better stuff.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Lost & Found

Saturday Evening

My week started with me finding out I lost my catcher's mask.

I thought I had it, but when I got to the field at M Street on Tuesday it wasn't in my equipment bag. I walked back to where I had parked my car. I assumed it had fallen out of the bag and was still in my trunk. Nope. Apparently, I was a dummy and I left it at the field on Sunday.

(I asked around, to see if anyone else picked it up, but no go. Sorry, Frankenmask. You treated me well for many years, saving my face from being caved in at least three or four times. I had hoped we would retire together, but I blew it.)

(This seriously sucks. I don't know that I have enough games left in my life to make it worthwhile to buy another mask at this late date. If I was really flush - had a lot of money to spare, that is - I'd buy one anyway. I can't justify an extra $80 or $100 expense right now.)

On to other pieces of shit from the past week.

If you've been reading my stuff about softball for a long while, then you probably think I write about anything I feel like writing about. That is, you may believe I never hold something back when I really have an urge to let it out. You would be wrong to think that. Sometimes I specifically make it a point to NOT talk about something. This week will be one of those weeks.

Believe me, there's something that happened this week that I'd love to lay out here; unburden my soul, so to speak. I won't do it, though, because it's a mess and I won't be around in the coming week to do my job as manager and clean up that mess. My good buddy and fellow coach, Robby Costello, will probably be the one who deals with it in some way or another. Meanwhile, I'll be down in Connecticut with Fast Freddie Goodman at a Black Sabbath concert.

(I miss a game maybe once every five years, if that. The only excuses I ever use for missing a game are family deaths and/or concerts with Fast Freddie. I'm serious. The reason I use concerts with FFG as a good excuse is because there are only three bands I ever go see in concert and how often will they interfere with softball? The groups, in case you're interested in what an old geezer like me gets off on, are Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, and AC/DC. Those groups don't tour every year. In the case of Black Sabbath, it's been about twelve years between tours. I promised Fred I'd go with him long before the schedule came out. When I saw the schedule, and also saw we had a game on the same night as Black Sabbath, there was no backing out of my promise to my buddy. We'll have a great time. I hope it rains, though, and I still get to play that game later in the season.)

You're probably a bit lost after all of the blather above. Let me give you some scores and I'll let you guess which game is sticking in my craw.

SOUTHSIDE TAVERN - 10  Brewers - 7
SOUTHSIDE TAVERN - 13  Cranberry Cafe - 13

We lost the second game.

Uh-Huh. Read the score again. Yeah, we lost a tie game.

Can I possibly just leave you hanging and not let you know how that was possible? Yes, I can. I have to do so because, as I say, it's a mess I'm not going to be able to clean up myself and I do not want to make it more difficult in any way for my fellow coach by giving details. It would mean airing our dirty laundry in public (which I might do if I was going to be around to face the situation, but would be self-serving and cowardly considering I'll be out of town.)

Sorry about that.

Suffice to say it was not a good night for my softball soul. The actual score went in the books as a 14 - 13 loss, a forfeit. Other than that, no more details will be given. Maybe I'll give the details to you later if the situation deteriorates and I don't think it will affect anything by that point. We'll see.


 Meanwhile, let's move on to (I hope) happier things.

Sunday Afternoon

Boy, this is not the best week ever.

Titans -  3  BOMBERS - 0
Titans - 13 BOMBERS - 4

Obviously, the games did not make me happier. Our bats were dead, mine included (I went 0 for 3, playing at 1B and C in Game 2, and was rung up by the ump for my first strikeout of the year) and the Titans remain undefeated.

We'll meet them again in the finals, I hope. I'm sick of losing to those guys. I like them, personally, but we're something like 1 and 12 against them now over the past few seasons. And we're really not that much worse than them. We can beat them. I want another chance at it.

Not much to talk about. Dave Nutter had the best day at the plate, going 3 for 5. Jimmy Botting hit a 3-run homer in game two. That's about it. Big Jay Atton did a decent enough job pitching for us in game one, but when we as a team were racking up only four hits it didn't matter.

We get a week off because we still finished first in our division. We await the winner of Renegades - Moe Howard Club in the semi-finals.

Now for the surprisingly good news. Frankenmask lives!

[See him smiling?]

I got to the field at about 7:40am, well over an hour before game time. There are three diamonds at Smith Field, the park where we play. We were playing on Smith 3. Last week, we played on Smith 1, and that's where I left Frankenmask. I put my gear down on the bench at Smith 3, and took a walk over to Smith 1.

I didn't really expect to find Frankenmask still there after a whole week had passed. God only knows how many games were played between then and this morning. But, as I neared the field, I started scanning the bench area, always the optimist. I saw nothing.

Something caught my peripheral vision. Way off to the left I saw a bit of silver glinting in the morning sun. I turned my head for a better look. It was Frankenmask!

He was propped up on the furthest end of the outfield fence on a Little League diamond, facing the field like some sort of baseball scarecrow. I was so happy, I ran over there like a little kid. I may have even skipped. If the mask had never been put together with silvery duct tape (thus the name, Frankenmask) I never would have seen it.

God bless the kind soul who propped him up on the pole for me to see. And God bless however many other people saw the mask but didn't take it or throw it away or use it for target practice or whatever else. He was as good as new.

(Well, I mean he was as good as I had left him. Obviously, Frankenmask will never be 'as good as new'. He was pretty clean, though. I guess being left out in the rain a couple of nights didn't do him any harm. As a matter of fact, I can picture him sitting on that pole, the rain coming down, with thunder and lightning flashing all around him, and the winos who sleep at Smith during the night being scared shitless thinking they had some sort of softball delirium tremens.)

The surprisingly good news for you is that this is the last softball post for two weeks. If I write about anything else in the meantime, it will almost certainly be something having nothing to do with sports; maybe part of my Connecticut adventure with Fast Freddie.

BOMBERS Statistics 

Soon, with less batter stuff.