Saturday, October 29, 2005

Past Time For Our National Pasttime

"The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It's been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and it could be again. Ohhhhhhhh, people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come."
- "Terrence Mann", "Field of Dreams" (1989)

"It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops."
- A. Bartlett Giamatti, 1988

"The season's over. Now what do I do? I'm bored out of my skull ..."
- Me, 2005

posted by Gary @ 1:56 PM 0 comments links to this post

Takei (Rhymes With Gay)

I am very unhappy with George Takei.

Takei, also known as Mr. Sulu from the original Star Trek TV series, announced on Thursday that he's gay. He has come out of the transporter room most flambuoyantly, citing the influence of the character he portrays in the play Equus as having inspired him to go public.

In so doing, Takei has completely stolen the thunder from Sheryl Swoopes' announcement on Wednesday that she's gay. Doesn't seem particularly sporting of George to step on Sheryl's coattails, particularly since six-foot-tall Sheryl can beat the snot out of five-foot-eight George. (But she wouldn't, because he's 68 years old and, you know ... gay.)

I was particularly taken aback by Ms. Swoopes' announcement. Swoopes, a WNBA star, is a lesbian? I am shocked -- shocked! -- to hear that there are lesbians in women's sports! Particularly since, 20-some years ago, I was a radio play-by-play man in the women's athletic department of a major university. I knew a lot of female athletes in a lot of different sports, and let me tell you this: That was one of the leanest dating periods of my life.

So, the hip new thing is to announce you're gay. Ellen DeGeneres has done it; Nathan Lane has done it; Rosie O'Donnell has done it; and Anderson Cooper is waaay out there. The Queer Eye Fab Five are still hot (I'm talking about their careers, now), and rumor has it that even Harvey Fierstein and Richard Simmons just might be a little light in the loafers.

It's hip to be gay. It almost makes me wish I were gay, just so I could come out and be trés chic. (But, alas, I prefer the fairer sex -- a preference that Sheryl Swoopes and I have in common.)

posted by Gary @ 12:10 AM 0 comments links to this post

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Well, Phooey.

Congratulations to the Chicago White Sox.

If the Houston Astros can't get a base hit off of a tiring Sox pitcher Freddy Garcia, when Astros pitcher Brandon Backe turned in the best pitching performance of his life, then the 'Stros don't deserve to win.

But hey, we got farther than the Dodgers, Angels and Red Sox did ... so, now that I've alienated all of my readers, I'm gonna go drown my embarrassment.

posted by Gary @ 11:51 PM 0 comments links to this post

All Your Base (and Home Plate) Are Belong To Us

The Chicago White Sox have won 10 of their last 11 baseball games, all in the playoffs. They have come from behind to beat the Houston Astros in their last two games, and now lead the World Series 3 games to none. In the process, they have beaten our three best pitchers, who are arguably the three best pitchers in the National League.

Now the Astros' World Series hopes are in the hands of ... Brandon Backe?

Here's hoping we can at least keep from embarrassing ourselves tonight. Win one -- just ONE, for cryin' out loud ...

posted by Gary @ 1:24 AM 0 comments links to this post

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Home Field Advantage, My Ass

Our local radio station just announced that the retractable roof at Minute Maid Park will be open for tonight's Game 3 of the World Series. The retractable roof, last time I checked, is part of the Houston Astros' home field. That's where they'll be playing Game 3 tonight.

The Astros wanted the roof closed. That would have been their home-field advantage, which they are supposed to enjoy for Games 3, 4 and (if necessary) 5 of the Series. Major League Baseball, however, doesn't want to pass up their aerial shots of the diamond as provided from the Met Life blimp or the Coca-Cola blimp or the "Family Guy Only On FOX" blimp.

So, good-bye home field advantage. Hello, crass commercialism conspiring to once again send a tiny but significant streak of luck the way of the Chicago White Sox.

For those of you who aren't baseball fans, you may be asking, "What difference does it make?" Well, when the roof is closed and the seats are full, Minute Maid Park is the loudest stadium in baseball -- maybe the loudest sports venue anywhere. Obviously, that helps the home team. Open up the roof, and it's just another ballpark.

It's supposed to get down into the 40s tonight. Didn't MLB learn anything with the drizzly, chilly weather in Chicago during Game 2? Didn't they learn that the players and, more importantly, the fans should be allowed to watch the game in a reasonable amount of comfort? Those fans who bought their tickets at face value (all 14 of them) paid $185 a piece; just about everyone else paid hundreds or thousands per seat. I say, give 'em shelter.

It's the Astros' home field. Let them decide what to do with it. Thanks a lot, Bud Selig, for once again making the exact wrong call ...

posted by Gary @ 3:58 PM 0 comments links to this post

So You Think YOUR Job Sucks ...

Last night, the Wife and I were at the local big-box warehouse club. The name of it is unimportant, but every time I shop there, the five billionaire Walton kids get to fight over another buck of my money.

There was a man in there, dressed much nicer than the typical warehouse club employee. Shirt, tie, nice slacks. He was apparently selling video karaoke systems. I know this because he had a microphone in his hand, and was singing.

And absolutely nobody was paying any attention to him.

Had he been playing the autoharp and singing "Sureflow, Sureflow" at a medical supplies convention (there's a "Mighty Wind" reference for one or two of you), it wouldn't have been any less pathetic.

Lord, do I hope that guy was on salary ...

posted by Gary @ 1:37 PM 0 comments links to this post

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Houston, We DO Have A Problem ...

Boy, do I hate to drag out that cliché, especially after ranting the other day about its overuse ... oh, but deal with it.

The Astros are in trouble. BIG trouble.

All season long, our closer Brad Lidge has been one of the most feared pitchers in baseball. But he has given up game-winning home runs to two of the last three batters he has faced -- after giving up only five homers in 70 appearances during the regular season. Let's put an even finer point on that stat: since June 1, Lidge had given up only two home runs in his last 47 regular-season appearances. And now in the past week, he's two-for-two.

After Lidge gave up the home run to Albert Pujols, Jayson Stark of ESPN wrote: "This year, in the regular season, [Lidge] blew just four saves. In his next save opportunity after those four, his numbers looked like this: 4 IP, 1 hit, 0 runs, 7 whiffs."

Well, Lidge's line after his NLCS blown save now reads: 1/3 IP, 1 hit, 1 run.

So the big question has become: Does Houston even have a closer anymore? Or, like former Yankees second baseman Chuck Knobloch (who after years of major-league baseball experience, suddenly forgot how to throw the ball to first base), has Lidge become a baseball-phobic head case that is now a much bigger liability to his team than an asset?

The Astros have Monday off. They're going to need it.

posted by Gary @ 11:24 PM 0 comments links to this post

Boom.

You saw this one driving up the block, didn't you?

Astros lead in the bottom of the 7th, 4-2. Dan Wheeler lets two Sox on base, and with two out, on what should have been a foul ball, the ump ruled that Wheeler had hit Jermaine Dye with a pitch (it actually hit his bat). The Sox cleanup hitter, Paul Konerko, is next to bat.

If you're an Astros fan, you already knew how this would end. The new pitcher, Chad Qualls, must not give Konerko anything to hit.

First pitch: Boom.

I wish I could say I'm disappointed, but the truth is, in a situation like this, you come to expect things like this when you're an Astros fan ...

posted by Gary @ 9:47 PM 0 comments links to this post

It Sucks To Be Me

Just finished playing in the PokerStars Blogger Championship. 1473 of us started the tournament. With 191 of us left, I was doing fairly well, on the button with KK. Doofus across the table, who has been trying to put the entire table on tilt for an hour, calls me all in with QQ. Only two cards in the deck can save him. Figures, a queen hits the flop. Bye-bye, Gary.

I don't mind losing poker hands -- it's part of the game. But somehow, it's particularly galling to get outdrawn by the most obnoxious (and arguably worst) player at the table. And it seems that "obnoxious" and "worst" go hand-in-hand oh, so often.

It also chaps me when I'm raised all-in by a player who has a worse hand than I do, and he's the one who catches to beat me. It seems only fair that, if he's the one who's going to raise me all-in, that I should be the one to suck out on him. That would be fair. (And if pigs could fly ... well, I sure wouldn't want to be standing underneath 'em.)

Just found out the goob who drew out on me is under 21. That really sucks. It means I'm more than twice as old as he is.

And don't give me that poker-book crap about "In the long run, the better player always wins." Hey, lemme tell you something: NOBODY is around for the long run. The "long run" is millions of hands over millions of years, when the number of hands played gets so large that statistical anomalies (like, oh, getting sucked out on a two-outer by an obnoxious dweeb after he raises me all-in from behind, and don't think this is the first time this has happened to me, nosiree) get lost in the sheer magnitude of the totals.

Poker is the only game in which a terrible player, playing at his absolute worst and with the odds solidly against him, can beat a great player, playing at his absolute best -- CONSISTENTLY. Maybe not indefinitely, but consistently nonetheless. I'm not saying I'm the absolute best (far from it), but at some point, you have to realize that God is trying to send you a message: "Schmuck, put down the cards and walk away."

Poker sucks, and then you die. (But at least I'm done with the tourney early enough to watch the World Series. )

* * *

Remember that the Atlanta Braves beat the Houston Astros in Game 1 of the National League Division Series. The Astros won that series 3-1. Then the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Astros in Game 1 of the NL Championship Series. The Astros won that series, 4-2.

And mind you, the Anaheim Angels beat the Chicago White Sox in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series. The Sox then swept the Angels to take the series, 4-1.

My point? The Sox have won Game 1 of the World Series. My prediction: It's over. Astros are a mortal lock now, baby ...

posted by Gary @ 5:28 PM 1 comments links to this post

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Houston, We Have A Cliché

Did they have to go and do it?

Last night, the Houston Astros won their first National League pennant in 44 years of existence. Astros skipper Phil Garner looked right into the TV cameras and beamed, "Houston, we have a Series!"

This morning, the Houston Chronicle's banner headline read, "HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PENNANT".

Oh, sweet fancy Moses.

I'm particularly disappointed in the Chronicle. Think of all the potential headlines that would have made for fantastic round-the-globe repetition:

"AT LAST!"

"ASTROS FINALLY REACH ORBIT"

"GET DRUNK AND SCREW"

Instead, we get a re-hash of a 35-year-old panicked understatement from Apollo astronaut Jack Swigert. You may remember it from the movie Apollo 13, when they gave the line to Tom Hanks because, hey, he's a bigger star than Kevin Bacon: "Houston, we have a problem."

Boy, if I had a dime for every time I had heard that line, or a variation thereof, in one medium or another ... well, I'd have a lot of dimes.

During the Hurricane Rita traffic jam: "Houston, we have a traffic problem."

On Presidents' Day: "Houston, we have a mattress sale!"

When the BP refinery blew up, 60 miles away in Texas City: "Houston, we have a mushroom cloud."

And during my last physical exam: "Houston, we have a prostate."

Well, I have a new one to float. It's "Houston, we have had it UP TO HERE with that damn cliché!"

Jack Swigert is dead. We should let his exclamation rest in peace with him.

posted by Gary @ 6:21 PM 0 comments links to this post

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Lights-Out Lidge On The Open Prairie

"Who am I? Why am I here?"
- James Stockdale

Or, more specifically, "Where the hell have I been?" Glad you asked.

I just returned from two weeks of work in Los Angeles. Because I'm self-employed and have to shell out my own overhead (what the rest of the world calls "travel expenses"), I load my days up with so much work that there's very little time for more mundane, but much more fun, tasks.

Like blogging. Or breathing.

I do take quick time-outs to enjoy the simple things, though. Sunday night was my last evening in L.A. I stood on the balcony of my hotel and watched the beams of the full moon, rising in the east, wash the city with its gentle light, leaving a delicate glow in its wake.

Until, that is, I realized that my balcony didn't face east -- it faced west, towards Santa Monica. Then I noticed the complete cloud cover and absence of anything resembling a moon, and I realized that the "delicate glow" was emanating from the radioactive April Winchell. After considering the possibility that April was, indeed, mooning me, I went back inside.

* * *

Because I spend two weeks at a time in L.A. when I go, and I like to have my own car and my own stuff (without worrying about airline baggage limits), I have driven from Houston to La-la Land many, many times. I swore that this would be my final driving trip (it's 23 hours, and even with an overnight stop and plenty of audiobooks to keep me company, it's a very tedious drive).

When you're driving through the Arizona desert, east of Tucson and west of civilization, it's not easy to pick up radio stations. Unfortunately for me -- a die-hard Houston Astros fan for nearly 30 years -- Game 5 of the National League Championship Series was being played. When I was driving through Phoenix and Tucson, I could pick up the radio broadcast of the game loud and clear. But now, here I was, somewhere far away from the middle of nowhere, and Astros closer Brad Lidge takes a 4-2 lead into the top of the ninth inning of the elimination game.

If Lidge gets three outs, the Astros go to their first-ever World Series. Thirty years of personal suffering would be rewarded with glee. If I couldn't be at the stadium in person, I would at least get to share vicariously in the victory over the radio.

If, that is, I could pick up a freakin' signal. But all I could hear was static.

Willcox, Arizona (Interstate 10, mile marker 340) apparently doesn't have a radio station. Or anything else. I had pulled off the highway to find a bar with a TV set, which would undoubtedly have been tuned to the game. It was 8:30 at night.

Willcox was deader than Tom Sizemore's career. Nothing but a couple of convenience stores and roadside restaurants was open. No bars, no saloons, no pubs, and NO TVs. Dammit!

Meanwhile, Lidge had gotten two quick outs. The Astros were one crummy out away from the Series. And while I was scrambling around the deserted town, seriously considering renting a cheap motel room just so I could watch the end of the game, "Lights-Out" Lidge got lit up.

Not until I finally got to El Paso some three hours later did I finally hear the result: two strikes on David Eckstein (one strike away!), and he singled. Then Jim Edmunds walked. Then Albert Pujols took a strike, and belted a slider that would have left the stadium if the roof had been open.

Win or lose tonight, I'll be blogging about the Astros tomorrow. Here's hoping I'm nursing a champagne hangover while I'm doing it.

posted by Gary @ 2:22 PM 0 comments links to this post

Sunday, October 09, 2005

It's Payback Time, Biyotch!

Today was a good day to be a Houston sports fan. The Astros smoked, embarrassed, and totally destroyed the Atlanta Braves to win the NL Division Series. (Okay, so 7-6 hardly counts as a shellacking, and having taken 18 innings to finish the game, the Braves may not be the only team destroyed. Good thing the Astros don't have to play again until Wednesday -- Lance Berkman may be sound asleep until then.)

Now comes the piece of resistance: getting even with those girly-men from St. Louis who have the bird on their uniform blouse.

Last year, the Astros were within one game of going to their first-ever World Series. It would have been the first time in their 42 seasons. Roger Clemens was starting that Game 7. He had been brought out of retirement by the 'Stros for precisely this reason: to pitch the home team into the Big Dance. And ... he blew it.

This year, the Astros are only four wins away from going to their first-ever World Series. If they make it, it will be their first time in 43 seasons. Clemens is a big reason they're going to the NL Championship Series: he pitched the last three innings of today's 18-inning nailbiter. Out of the bullpen. First time he's pitched in relief in 21 years. Apart from Andy Pettitte (who will be starting Wednesday night's Game 1) and Roy Oswalt (who got burned up in yesterday's game), he was the last Astro on the bench.

And Chris Burke -- the second baseman who may never get to start at second base because some guy named Biggio just keeps producing and producing -- launched a walk-off homer to put the Braves (and all us devout Astros fans) out of their misery.

The Cardinals are ... well, the Cardinals. They swept the Padres. Big whoop. They ran away with the NL Central, but their record was no match for Houston's major-league best after May 15.

And I have a feeling that, come Wednesday, there are gonna be a few surprises in the NLCS. And the victorious team will be the one wearing red. Not Cardinal red -- brick red.

They say payback's a bitch. Hey, St. Louis, here's a friendly word of advice:

Prepare yourself for the bitch.

posted by Gary @ 11:43 PM 0 comments links to this post

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Taking The Hint

I've been working in Los Angeles for the past five days. I'm out here for two weeks. During this trip, I was supposed to meet up separately with no fewer than three people, for dinner, drinks or coffee (respectively). Yet once I got here, not one of those three people have responded to my phone messages or e-mails.

And of those three people, two of them were established friendships (or so I had thought), and one was a person whose mutual acquaintance we were looking forward to making (or so I had thought). But all three of them have blown me off.

I know the problem can't be my breath, since none of these people have been around me recently to be olfactorily offended. I doubt it's my personal hygiene, since I do bathe with reasonable frequency. And unless they heard about my highly-contagious tuberculosis (which I've done my best to keep secret), concern for their health around me shouldn't be a factor.

(Okay, I was kidding about the TB. My lungs are actually quite happy to be out of the Houston humidity for a few days. And the smog in SoCal has been extremely light since I've been here, so special thanks go out to the L.A. drivers for keeping their emissions down during my visit.)

But the questions remain in my mind: Is it me? What did I do?

I can certainly understand how real life gets in the way, and how our planned visits might have to be rescheduled for another time. What I can't understand is how people who had been frequent correspondents suddenly just don't think I'm worth a quick return call or e-mail: "Hey. Something has come up. Thanks for thinking of us, and we'll try it again next time." It makes me wonder if those friendships were ever really there in the first place.

My apologies to those of you who have been waiting for a funny missive; this one certainly doesn't qualify as amusing. But I've been very busy since I've been here, and now that I have time to catch up on my thinking, I find that I have to chew on rejection by silence, three times over. And I can't help but wonder what I could have done to rank so low on the priority lists of three people that are so very different, yet all seem to agree on one thing:

"Gary isn't worth my time anymore."

posted by Gary @ 4:10 PM 0 comments links to this post

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Location: Houston, Texas

Why the heck wouldn't you want to read the toxic byproducts of my mental processes? It's not like you're too busy to waste a minute or two here, you know. You ARE just killing time by mindlessly surfing the web. Pop open a brewski and stay a while.




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