The Enigma


Sports Talk radio will kill you – it will kill everyone.  It has the power to draw a person in with the promise of entertaining moments – SHARED – in-between these meaningless contests of athletic nonsense.  When we ignore everything that is truly connected to human suffering and decency, then we have this opportunity to live in a fantasy land.  As unhealthy as that sounds, the fucked-up unreality is validated by every person in the stands, every family worshiping at the altar of their flat screen TV and every knuckledhead who roams the streets, banging pots and pans, when it all goes right.

Seen in these human terms, what Cliff Lee did for the Phillies and the phaithful in game one of the 2009 World Series, was a gift.  An entire region was transported out of the muck and filth of their mundane and existence as we were told, by no less authority than Joe Buck, how great this representative of our town was.  He was magical.  He was un-hittable.  He made defensive plays in the field that looked other-worldly, bizarre.  And we all got to bask in his reflected glory.

But the true magic of baseball is that it just goes on and on and on and on.  This is often cited as a criticism – “the games are too long, the season is too long, there’s no action, it’s so boring!”  These critics miss the point entirely.  That reflective pace, all that navel gazing, that’s what’s so special.  The invisible game that is played between a hitter and a batter IS the action – and it is all unseen.

And, while there is a full line-up of batters to address, there is only one pitcher.  Yes, of course, there are relievers and closers and long men and even janitors on mop-up-duty, but when we get to THIS moment, where the two best teams face each other, it is the starting pitcher who must rise up and perform.  Cliff Lee’s effort from Wednesday night is a perfect example.

A lot could be said about the hard-luck start that Pedro Martinez mustered last night in game two.  Sports talk radio today has been overrun with opinions about manager Charlie Manuel leaving Pedro in too long and that being the key to the Phillies undoing.  I don’t agree.  Pedro is not a Philadelphian, any more than Cliff Lee is.  The time these men have spent playing in the red pinstripes in negligible.  And Pedro is such a natural at inviting the big moment to come to him.  He will go right into the Hall of Fame and he will forever be remembered as one of the greatest to ever climb the mound.  So, when he said to his manager, “don’t take me out yet, I’m OK,” I understand why that manager, who has made so many right moves this year, decided to let Pedro bring the moment to him, perhaps for the last time.  It did not work out, but the series rolls on (and on and on…)

Cole Hamels has piercing blue eyes.  He is left handed, which gives him a natural advantage as a pitcher.  He has the raw talent to be unhittable, and showed that in his post-season performances last year.  But, for those of us who are bored and foolish enough to listen to sports talk radio (from both the Philadelphia and New York ends of the dial), the story of Hamels is that he is vulnerable, that he is not the same, and that he can be beaten silly by the Yankees lineup.

And while we wait for the game to start, that story is repeated and shared over and over again in this echo chamber of sports fandom.  What does Hamels think?  What does he know of all this nonsense?  Does he listen to the stories?  Does he hear sport talk radio?  Does it motivate him?  Is more pressure better or worse?  No one knows.

Just like no one knows why this year he was not as successful as last.  Was it because he became a huge celebrity?  Is he preoccupied with his newborn child?  Is his public profile to visible?  No one knows.

And, ultimately, it doesn’t matter.  In the same way that the joys of a baseball season are fleeting and ephemeral, the attempts to unlocks doors that won’t open are perfectly pointless.  One way or the other, Hamels will take the mound for the Phillies on Saturday night and, for that blissful few hours, sports talk radio won’t matter.  Hopefully, Hamels will just settle into the same kind of brisk rhythm that was so successful for fellow lefty Cliff Lee.  Get the ball, throw the ball.  Get the ball, throw the ball.  Gert the ball, throw the ball.  On and on and on.

The sky has cleared, for now…


We’re heading to the Phillies game tonight, and I think it won’t rain.  There had been some worry earlier.  There had also been some worry that about 3,000 city employees would be laid off tomorrow and that half the city’s services, including the Court system, would begin to shut down.  The tug-of-war between this city and the rest of our Commonwealth culminated today in the passage of a Senate resolution that will allow us to raise sales tax (woopty-freakin-do) and defer/restructure pension obligations for city workers (uh-oh).

So we’ll be able to get the ballgame in tonight and the city will wake up tomorrow and feel great about (hopefully the fifth Phillies victory in a row and) the fact that we’ve avoided the doomsday scenario of Plan ‘C’, but the allowances that have come from Harrisburg today do not solve the problem.  Too many city residents fail to grasp this reality.

We have done nothing more than put off paying a big bill.  Invariably, that bill will be even bigger next time, and I fear we will, once again, kick the can down the road.  This is a recipe for disaster.  We came close to feeling some of those effects this week, but the fact that Plan “C” was not implemented  means we can continue to go to Phillies games, watch reality and vampire TV and pretend that nothing is wrong.

The Committee of Seventy is trying to help us get our heads out of the mud, but people don’t want to hear this message.  A lot of residents don’t understand the issues.  The newspapers will only touch on these matters in the most tangential fashion because they are on the auction block.  This fall it will be Eagles football 24/7 in this town and no one will bother to spend a moment thinking about what this town could have looked like.  Even today, on the brink of disaster, the Daily News lead with a story about the impossibly cute Monforto family, instead of the impending doom of our town.

In the coming weeks we will see if people in this city care about where they live.  We will see if politicians can step away from their own greedy tendencies, we will see if city unions can find a way to normalize their demands for retirement that would put them on footing with the rest of humanity, and we will see if the residents can stop paying attention to Michael Vick for just long enough to show some small measure of concern for their fellow citizens.  If not, we are all doomed.

Feeling bad about the Phils getting swept? May I suggest some consumer therapy?

While it is true that the Phillies just got their assess handed to the  by the very team that is chainsg them in the lackluster NL East, there are still reasons to be feeling good – even on a Monday.  The good folks at The Fightins (a site that always causes me to (a) laugh hysterically and (b) restart Firefox) and Birdland have come up with more designs that allow you to show your love, even when times are tough.300300-1 Their catalog of Phillies T’s was recently mentioned in the City Paper (whose website is so busy and annoying that I’ll take the restart necessitated by a Fightin’s visit any day) and the shirts are becoming more and more prevalent around the park.

So, yeah, we got skooled this weekend, but I’d rather it happened now than in (dare I say it) October.  So go spend some money, stimulate the economy and make yourself feel better.

Odds and ends – music, friends, family, fun


Special thanks to el Sturg and his lovely wife for hosting me in the DC metro area.  Senor Sturj and I ventured into the wilds of Columbia, MD for Progressive Nation 2009.  We got treated to Zappa Plays Zappa, Dream Theater, and even a little Queensryche.  It was a great night of music with a dear friend, but I’ll need some time to digest the whole deal.  In short, the Zappa set was brilliant, satisfying and very much what I expected.  It was a treat to see such extraordinary music played so brilliantly.  Dream Theater, quite simply, was an onslaught.  Portnoy might be the best in the business behind the drums.  I’ve seen him before, but not with HIS band.  This show was loud, abnoxious, mighty and awesome.  Like I said, more on that later.

I also received a huge supplement to my music collection via Mr. and Mrs. Sturg.  With the former, I have an opportunity to hear every single show Mahavishnu played between 1972 and 1974.  Friday night, Saturday night, Sunday night, etc, etc.  That is a deep collection.  From the later, I got to continue my education in sounds from around the world, as the Mrs. has traveled widely, speaks fluent Spanish and supplemented her considerable music collection accordingly.  I was only able to scratch the surface while being treated to pancakes and fresh fruit this morning, but I still managed to collect many gigs.  It was a good haul; just how good, will take some time to fully realize.

Friday night (still in Philly), my friend Joe had the sense to push me to Johnny Brenda’s, where I always love what I see.  In this case, it turned out top be a band I had already seen, but in a much worse venue.  I previously reflected on these events over at Fretbuzz, so there’s that.

On Thursday we wrapped up a great visit with my dear sister and her hell-ish beast-like offspring amazingly sweet and hilariously funny kids.  Dorothy has some great shots posted at her .mac sight.  I’ve got a few things to add, although most of my stills are from the Bat Mitzvah.  This video (warning: unedited!!) gives a good feel of how things progressed:

With today’s 7-3 drubbing at the hands of the Gigantos, the Phillies have now dropped a disturbing number of games on this seven-game west coast trip.  I wouldn’t worry so much, seeing as their lead in the atrocious NL East is still pretty comfortable, but they will undoubtedly have to play San Francisco and/or LA when playoff time comes, provided they get there.

I guess the last thing worth mentioning is the insane joy I’ve been getting from following Brent Spiner (Star Trek: TNG’s Data; yes, that Brent Spiner) on Twitter.  He has clearly elevated the art form.

AND, last but not least, the new Beardfish record Destined Solitaire is yet another work of genius.  Great music, lyrics, cover art, everything.  More on that later too.

Phillies going great – is it time to manage differently?


The Phillies shoved it in the Marlins’ nose one more time today, five – zero, and they’re just cruising.  Even during the ‘June swoon’, they never fell out of phirst place, and they were playing horrible.  That will tell you about the competition in this division.  I have read that the Red Sox, who face more of a threat in their division than the we do in ours, are considering a six-man rotation to keep their front line pitchers rested and healthy heading into the playoffs.  I have to say that I love this idea, but is it a jinx?  Baseball is a funny game, and you never know what can happen.  Is it putting the cart before the horse to plan for the playoffs in mid-July?

Now Pitching for the Phillies, Pedro Martinez


I find the whole thing to be quite surreal.  You wanted a big name pitcher for the run to the post-season.  It doesn’t get much bigger than this, but for the last two years, the guy has not pitched.  I still remember how Steve Carlton hung on too long.  he didn’t just stay past his prime, Lefty stayed past his ability to pitch to major leaguers.  If you weren’t around for that episode, let me just say two words – Brett Farve.

There is really only one question that concerns me now – can he get people out?  If he can get big league batters out, then he will be an asset to this team.  He came across great at his press conference and any fan of the Phillies can’t help but be excited by his energy.  If nothing else, his attitude is youthful and his track record erases all doubt about competitiveness.

Freddy Garcia passed a physical, but was never able to pitch properly, proved to be injured, and has no career now to speak of.  So, we know the Phillies’ physicals don’t always pan out.  But if Martinez can get batters out, then this will have been worthwhile.

Jamie Moyer – Lots of Wisdom

Nationals Phillies Baseball

Yeah, he chalked up his 250th career victory, and that’s great.  But it’s more important that he’s turned things around a bit and can now put the team in a better position to compete and win.  He also dispensed the following pearl of wisdom to John Smallwood in today’s Daily News:

When thing are going right, I try to keep it simple. When things are going wrong, I really try to keep it simple.

That’s also got a lot of application outside baseball, to be sure.