Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics

Month: April, 2016

Inside Baseball

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I have been a baseball fan my entire life. Although there was a time when I was far too busy to follow the game or attend any of my brother’s games. I do not feel any regret for dropping any of the professional game’s doings, but I do have unending guilt for having missed my brother’s games. I was in the midst of starting a family and cultivating a career. There was no extra time in my life to allot to following the careers of those being paid millions to play the game I would have played freely only a few years before. Nor did I have any time to follow my favorite team. With 162 games to follow and 30 teams, there was no room in my simple brain to shoehorn in anything more than my job, keeping up the house, nurturing my young marriage and learning to be a father to twins. However, I should have made the time to see my brother play or at least to have inquired as to his success more often than I did.

Now the kids are all but off on their own and my wife has died. My career is a priority again after seven years as I focus once again on my job instead of my wife’s disease. I have just purchased a condo, so most of the upkeep that previously occupied my mind has been alleviated. And so, now I return to the game I love. I still only have so much room in my aging mind to keep track of statistics, so I find it easier to follow the local team instead of my boyhood team. To be sure, I still keep tabs on the Cincinnati Reds, but I also enjoy watching the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. I am one of the few people that can be a fan of both the Yankees and the Red Sox. In fact, I will usually root for the team behind in the standings whenever they play one another.

I spent the majority of my life hating the Red Sox. I was raised deep in Red Sox Nation and found that their fans were not baseball fans but Red Sox fans, a crime profoundly egregious to me. I found that those who followed only the Red Sox could not name many other players on any other team, nor tell me much about any other team. I was raised that this was an affront to true baseball fans. Now that I have reached middle age and have interests and obligations beyond baseball fandom, I understand why some limit their exposure to the local team. I try to keep track of other teams and succeed for brief periods of time; however, it is infinitely easier to keep abreast of the goings on of your local team when the news and newspapers are flush with necessary information. Unfortunately, due to my wife’s passing, I have an exceedingly large amount of free time now. I find that watching baseball on television not only fills the house with necessary sound to drown out the din of my ringing ears, but it wards off the loneliness being alone causes.

And it is not a question of latching on to a winner as the Red Sox are, I believe, destined to land in the middle of their division by season’s end, mostly due to the fact that they are both young at most positions and the fact that they do not have a starting rotation to compete throughout the year. I will keep track of other teams and certain individual players and once October rolls around, I will be wholeheartedly invested in the post season.

Baseball has been accused of being an old and dying game by some, including some big league players. However, I think it is a game which demands the best of a player on several layers, unlike most other team sports. Much of the mental game going on in a baseball game can go unnoticed by the casual fan. There are set plays in football that either work or don’t. There are very few set plays in baseball as each pitch represents a variety of opportunities. Should the pitcher throw inside and low, outside and high, off speed, a curve, slider, knuckleball, or bring the high heat with a two-seam fastball or a four-seam? Will the batter be thinking the same as the pitcher and try to take the outside pitch to the opposite field or try to pull the inside fastball? And what of the player on first base? Will he be looking to run? Will there be a hit and run, a bunt to move him along, will the batter try to hit behind the runner? And where does the defense align themselves? Are the middle infielders set to turn a double play, are the outfielders pulled in and on the lines to prevent a ball getting past them in the late innings? What signs is the manager flashing to the catcher? What signs have the catcher and first baseman worked out together? What about the signs the third base coach is flashing to the batter and man on first? Most of this invisible game is missed by the casual observer and it all resets after the next pitch.

Don’t get me wrong, baseball is not inhabited by brilliant people. Most players are no brighter than the average jock, but they are dedicated and knowledgeable of their profession. And it is incumbent upon the fan to follow along or risk having the game seem slow and boring. There is usually so much going on inside the game that there are rarely boring periods of the game. To get into a game at the deepest levels as a fan is to see a chess match played out in front of you. And it sets up the fan to participate in conjecture before each pitch. This is anything but boring. And that is not mentioning the physics involved in the game. Consider how difficult it is to hit a small sphere with a thin cylinder. Only one spot on the sphere will ever come into contact with the thin cylinder at a given time. Now try to place where you want the small sphere to go while the deliverer of the small sphere takes advantage of the effects the atmosphere has on the lacing of the small sphere by throwing it in order to have it curve inside, outside or down, seemingly in defiance of the laws of physics. Now do all of that while 50,000 people are staring at you some expecting you to hit the small sphere a long way with your thin cylinder while others are hoping the deliverer of the small sphere can get the small sphere past you and into a predetermined zone acceptable to an arbitrator standing behind you. No, baseball is not an easy game, nor is it boring.

Baseball has been very good to me even when I was not very good to it. I have gone from a rabid fan to a father/husband and now to a fan again. Play ball.

Steel Blue

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My children, twins, will graduate from the University of Texas at Austin in three weeks. This a full summer semester before campus carry takes effect. I am so thankful they will have enjoyed their time at college before the advent of guns in their classroom. In addition, we will be moving to Rhode Island in the weeks following graduation. This will exempt us from seeing Texas open carry zealots who cannot shop in a grocery store or visit a restaurant without their trusty firearm by their side, like some deranged metallic playmate.

In the aftermath of Sandy Hook, Texas has embraced the gun like never before and this in the face of a plethora of withering facts against such a position and against the wishes of the majority of the public. By all means, don’t let facts dissuade you from carrying out unwanted legislation in order to enhance the state’s swagger well beyond reason. Both open carry and campus carry were passed during the last legislative session. And don’t be lulled into believing that with such measures the gun lobby will be sated and have no other bills pending in the next session. In fact, the next session has already been tagged as the “constitutional” carry session as the gun lobby will push for both open carry and campus carry without any restrictions, training, or registration; another step in the guns-everywhere mentality where even those time travelers from the old Wild West would feel uncomfortable.

And Texas isn’t the most responsible when it comes to its guns. Last week, the TSA announced it had set a new record for the number of guns confiscated at American airports. In a study done in 2015, three of the top 6 airports listed by the number of guns confiscated were based in Texas. In fact, two of them were located in Houston. How can anyone be trusted to carry a firearm when they can’t be trusted not to bring it with them aboard an airplane?

Gun violence prevention organizations have done a good job keeping pressure on legislators and in state houses throughout the country. However, it is still considered a marathon and not a sprint to get meaningful legislation passed at the national level (and in some state houses, like Texas). And there are still too many individual organizations working toward the same goal where economies of scale could be realized if they joined forces. I’ve written about this before, and there has been some consolidation, but the resources, both physical and monetary, are still spread between too many organizations to counter the behemoth that is the NRA.

They say Texas is turning blue. However, it is still a deeply red state in many locations and blue in the larger metropolitan areas. Eventually, there will be a transition. I just hope Texans of common sense don’t turn blue from holding their breath until then.

Mirror, Mirror

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The country is getting further and further away from any semblance of cooperation or debate. Neighbors and family members are pitted against one another like at no time since the Civil War. The generational differences experienced in the 1960’s seem cordial compared to the intransigence we see now. The era of the computer and the Internet, where information flows freely like at no other time in human evolution has left us in cognitive dissonance and mired in epistemic closure. We only listen to those radio programs that share our positions, we only watch the news from those carriers with the same political bend as us. We only discuss difficult topics with people we know we already agree with. We never engage in debate or discussion with those with whom we do not politically agree. The congress is in a perpetual state of obstructionism.

The “other side” is terminally wrong. We cannot engage them on any level other than to disparage them, dismiss them, and call them wrong on all manner of topics. In fact, we are disposed to dismiss a person who agrees with us on one topic if they disagree with us on another. Thus epistemic closure.

No topic exhibits this disconnect more than the fractious presidential campaign we have seen this year. Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Ted Cruz are the most polarizing candidates we have ever seen in modern politics. All three have negative ratings among likely voters higher than any candidate upon whom this measure has been taken in American political history. The “#StopTrump” movement, a branch of the established Republican Party, will do anything to deny this man from getting the nomination of their party, despite being the front-runner. Trump himself has the highest negatives of any candidate and has alienated enough demographic categories to guarantee him not winning in November should he be the nominee. Hillary Clinton has enough of a track record in the pubic’s eye to garner either very positive or very negative reactions in most of the population. There is very little middle ground left from which she can harvest votes. Ted Cruz finds himself in the unique position of being hated by all of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle and yet the man with the best shot of unseating Trump for the nomination causing those with whom he has little in common to back him in order to get to the second or third ballot of a contested convention in Cleveland later this summer.

The other two candidates, John Kasich and Bernie Sanders both suffer from a lack of recognition among the public to one degree or another. Kasich telling everyone that he is the only candidate to regularly beat Clinton in a straight up contest in November has less to do with his popularity and more to do with Clinton’s negatives. Kasich positions himself as a moderate candidate (and compared to the other two running he is), however, his record is that of anything but a moderate. Sanders does not claim to be a moderate and while his brand of Scandinavian socialism resonates with the youth of the country, there is no slice of the electorate less likely to actually vote than the young, condemning Sanders’ chances to fantasy.

There are real issues facing the country. Real issues that demand the focused attention of the wisest men and women this country has. And in another example of our cognitive dissonance, Congress continues to have an overall approval level of under 20% while most incumbents will win re-election. How can that be? It is, again, because we believe the person with whom we are most familiar and dismiss as out of touch the person with whom we are least familiar. The problem is always with the other guy. The left and the right stare at each other in distrust and disgust, not realizing that they are really looking in the mirror and the ugliness they see is their own.

We deserve better than this. The age of the Internet has given us an unending supply of data and little increase in usable information. We must do better. Listening helps. Mirrors help, too.

Trumpeter

 

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“The first sign of greatness is when a man does not attempt to look and act great. Before you can call yourself a man at all, Kipling assures us, you must “not look too good nor talk too wise.”     ― Dale Carnegie, The Art of Public Speaking

 

Play to your audience. Anyone who speaks publicly knows this truth. You must know your audience. Donald Trump plays a part whenever he speaks. He plays the petulant child, name calling and telling untruths in order to manipulate his audience into mindless chants and savage beatings. He is a very bright person, a narcissist no doubt, but very smart. He has motivated a portion of the Republican base disenfranchised by years of political correctness (read equality and empathy) and sinking political clout as the aging white male vote shrinks in influence nationwide. Whether he believes what he says is immaterial as his words are taken at face value by his crowds and they leave impassioned and validated.

However, one area that seems to reveal the real Trump behind the curtain is his relationship with women. Whereas his rants on Mexicans, Muslims, and any other minority he feels like denigrating is done for the benefit of his audience, his comments on women seem genuine and therefore especially troubling. Whether it is his comments about Megyn Kelly or Rosie O’Donnell or his feud with Ted Cruz regarding their respective wives, his words ring with a certain veracity that escapes his comments on other groups and reveals him beyond the part he is playing.

Don’t get me wrong, I find Ted Cruz to be far more dangerous than Donald Trump, and while I don’t believe either of them can win a general election against either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, Cruz’s beliefs are calculated and cold. Every time he speaks my skin crawls as he slowly forms each sentence in an effort to cause maximum damage. He truly believes what he says. And while his honesty is refreshing, his goals and methods are beyond frightening. Even the tea party and their minimalistic government stance overwhelmingly find Cruz dangerous. His colleagues in the senate despise him and neither his Ivy League pedigree nor his debate championship skills can overcome his personality or end game. And his Morton Downey, Jr.-esqe war with Trump is now childish, unhealthy, and boring.

But it is Trumps position with women that genuinely disgusts me. “No one loves women more than I do, I can tell you that,” claims Mr. Trump. However, he’s been married three times. Does he mean that he loves all women but he’s only gotten to three so far? Nothing in his relationships with women is encouraging and to alienate such a demographic before the general election, when women make up the majority of voters is political suicide. Especially if he intends to make up for the loss of the female vote with other demographics. His approval among all minorities is woefully low. There is no mathematical formula that garners him the White House without women and I believe women are far too intelligent to be convinced of his “love” of women at this point. He objectifies women and dismisses them as things to be possessed.

Know your audience is something about which Trump knows quite a bit, but his blindness toward the females in his audience will ultimately be his undoing.

Dear Lisa

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Dear Lisa,

It’s been seven months now since you left. I can’t tell you how happy I am that you’re not suffering anymore, but from a selfish perspective, I miss you dearly.

In case you haven’t been able to keep up, let me tell you a few of the things we’ve been up to since September.

As you can imagine, none of us wanted to do the whole Christmas thing, not even putting up the tree. Instead, we took a trip. We went to NYC and saw a couple of plays. We spent some time with Sue, Phil, Bella, and Jackie. They were kind enough to invite us to spend Christmas dinner with them. From NY, we flew to Burlington, VT to spend a couple of days with Mark and Martha. It was beautiful. You would have liked it so much. Then we went to Rhode Island for a few days just to relax. It was the first time (and probably the last) that I had to get a hotel room in Rhode Island.

Since Christmas, the kids have been running flat out toward graduation. Cam has been writing feverishly on his thesis. He completed both parts and the conclusion late last week. Now he has to edit it with his professor and prepare for his defense in May. Sam has been working on her painting and installation projects. She laments the fact that she doesn’t have studio space this semester. She’s a lot like you.

I’ve been working and trying to get the house in shape, so we can move back to Rhode Island after the kids graduate. I bought a condo in East Greenwich. You would like it. I’m relying on Sam’s interior design sensibilities, a talent she got directly and completely from you! I’m sure there will be a call for milk pail paint on the walls. I’ve involved a realtor here in Texas to get our house on the market. He thinks it will go quickly thanks to the beautiful job you did designing the interior.

The kids and I have been doing the best we can with the fact that you’re gone. The hardest part for me is when I’m in that space between sleep and being awake when I begin to dream and then snap out of it. Invariably, I want to talk to you about something. Then, like someone with the beginning stages of dementia, I learn all over again that you are gone. I can’t tell you how much that hurts. No amount of rationale can remove that pain.

I’m also worried about meeting people. As you know, I’m not the most outgoing person in the world! I don’t want to go to a restaurant alone or a movie alone, much less a bar. Also, since I’ll be working from home, there is even less opportunity to interact with people. It will be good having the kids around until they go off to graduate school, but after that, I have to come to terms that I will likely be alone after that. I can’t imagine how I’ll meet people. And don’t even get me started on dating again.

As I’m sure you know, Delbow died last month. I can only hope that he is with you, and you are keeping each other company, both of you happy and healthy. He is missed, especially by me because he was my only companion at home. He wasn’t just a dog; he was my friend. The house is even more desolate without him. No amount of television or music din can replace life in the house. The kids were with me when he died. It was awful but the right thing to do. He was miserable and in so much pain.

I donated blood again this past week. I donated plasma, which took about half an hour. It was an interesting process, but I got such a headache from it, along with being lightheaded with chills and nauseated. I can’t imagine how you did it with all of the sticks you were subjected to during your seven years of treatment. And yet you never complained. Even now you continue to amaze me.

Anyway, that’s what’s been going on since you left. The kids and I miss you so much. If you have the power, take away some of Sam’s and Cam’s pain. I’ll figure it out myself, but bring some peace to them. That’s all I’ll ask.

Missing you like crazy and still deeply in love,

Me