Recounting: the Way, Way Back Machine Heads to 2003

Long before this blog got started, I ran a daily trivia email that was as close to a blog as anything could be without taking on that exact form. I later turned it into a trivia blog that, while not formally frozen in carbonite like this one is about to be, has gone effectively dormant for quite awhile. I didn’t usually talk much about sports, but after the Cubs got ever so close to World Series glory in 2003 only to fall short, I couldn’t help but talk about it. I really couldn’t remember what I said, though, until I just dug through the archives of a backed up Outlook file. Some of it I’m proud of, some of it is facepalm fodder. But for posterity’s sake, here you go (and feel free to take a stab at the question . . . just don’t cheat):

Well, the Cubs season is over, so here are a few things everyone should remember, just to keep a proper perspective on things.

1. Baseball’s purpose is to entertain, thrill, delight, inspire, unite, and distract us from the less desirable moments of life. If you’re a Cub fan who feels this season/postseason has failed to do that because they lost, reflect on what a joy this season has been. If you hate baseball, laugh at me.

2. If you’re team gets derailed by a bespectacled, headphoned, not-even-drunk fan, they’re clearly not good enough to be in the World Series.

3. If you seek to harm another individual in any way (verbal, physical, any other al words you can think of) because of a baseball game, you are the biggest loser there is.

4. The Marlins are a better team than the Cubs. This one is painful but true. Let’s face it, the Marlins had a better record than the Cubs. They have more speed, more consistent hitting ability, a more solid defense, and a not-too-shabby pitching staff. They really are the most complete team in the National League. Everyone thought the Cubs got a break because the Marlins beat the Giants, but what they fail to consider is . . . the Marlins beat the Giants because they were better than the Giants. And for the last two-thirds of the season, they were better than anybody in baseball.

5. The Cubs didn’t choke. It’s not a curse to lose when you’re not that good. I defy anyone to name one player on the Cubs team who underperformed. You can’t, because the Cubs played about as well as they can play and still lost. That’s not choking. That’s getting beat. Get over it.

6. Wait till next year actually means something this year. Didn’t we learn anything, people? The Cubs have a manager that always wins and everybody wants to play for, a pitching staff that is only getting better, and a front office who actually seems interested in bringing in good talent. The Cubs were awful last year. They were good this year. Next year actually has promise!

7. It still hurts, though, doesn’t it?

Anyway, here’s today’s trivia:

Cher, Ronald Reagan, Elizabeth Taylor, Goldie Hawn, Walter Matthau, Carrie Fisher, Dick Vitale, and Jack Lemmon all had their lives saved by what groundbreaking procedure?

Passive Observation

He cuts paper now. If you had any idea how many times he’s asked for
and been denied the use of scissors, you’d know it’s a pretty big deal.

There are milestones of development only a parent notices. Or cares about. Sleeping through the night, first words, learning to walk, potty training—these are things a parent’s friends and family members express genuine joy about when the kid finally achieves success (or frustration when the process isn’t going so well). I get more excited about less obvious stuff.

Like syntax and grammar.

Yesterday, Colin pretty stubbornly demanded that he watch a Veggie Tales movie in the van. On the way to church. As we left church. Maybe during church. The answer was always No. But he persisted in his pleas for  Lord of the Beans. Even the prospect of getting Dunkin’ Donuts didn’t help.

He said, “I don’t want donuts to be eaten. I want movies to be watcheded.”

The dude likes to add an extra -ed to the ends of words, but I was actually pretty impressed with his unorthodox use of the passive voice. I’ve never heard him use that phrasing before, and it gave a completely different feel to his demands. He wasn’t asking just for himself. It was as though, for the sake of the state of the universe, he wanted things to be a certain way. He wanted to live in a world where movies get watched and donuts go undisturbed.

Maybe I’m embellishing his verbal intentions just a bit, but he’s the one who said it. There had to be a reason. That’s my best guess.

But this isn’t the kind of thing anybody else cares about. I mean, it’s not going in his baby book. It’s going on this blog, but I hardly think it will cause anyone to say, “When did our kids start using the passive voice?” I doubt with all my spirit this will make anyone feel jealous (and any milestone worth two bits will stoke the green flames of envy in other parents).

It’s just something I noticed because I’m Colin’s dad. And because I’m a dork.

Recounting: The 163-mph Hoax Is About to Turn 26

This was one of my favorite posts I ever wrote. It’s not even really about the Cubs. But since April Fools’ Day is almost upon us (it’s Opening Day, appropriately enough), I thought I’d break it out in anticipation (and awareness that I won’t be posting here when that day rolls around).

One barefoot, boot-clad hurler put one by us in unforgettable fashion.

I’ll never forget the cool April evening when my dad came to dinner carrying an issue of Sports Illustrated. That was enough right there, you understand. It really didn’t matter what came next from his lips. My jaw hit the table when I saw that strange concoction of contradictions before me: my dad, an open issue of SI in his hand, and a look of transported glee on his face. This. Did not. Compute.

Two things you have to understand about my dad: 1) He hates sports. He likes to listen to Ron Santo and Pat Hughes on the radio because he loves radio and the hilarious interplay that unfolds between the pitches. He used to like to go to baseball games in Cleveland (near where my mom’s family lived) and hockey games in Detroit (where he grew up) because he enjoyed strolling the arenas and watching fights break out in the stands. He even liked coming to watch me play baseball or even bringing me and my siblings to Wrigley, because he loves me. But make no mistake—my dad hates sports. 2) He’s a professional reader. He is to oral interpretation what Vin Scully is to baseball play-by-play. For almost my whole life he’s been the host of the internationally syndicated Music thru the Night, which (if my numbers aren’t lying to me) is the top-rated late-night radio program in Chicago. My point is, the man can read a story. And when he finds a story he likes, you can be pretty sure that he will read it to you until you like it even more.

It was this second trait that so obviously won out that night, and my curiosity was piqued as to why a sports journal would, for once, trigger my father’s passion for storytelling. He sat down, donned his reading glasses, quieted the room with his eyes (no small feat with six kids huddled around the table), and said in his deep yet gleefully quivering radio voice: “Listen . . . to . . . thissssss.”

He began with the headline and subhead: “The Curious Case Of Sidd Finch. He’s a pitcher, part yogi and part recluse. Impressively liberated from our opulent life-style, Sidd’s deciding about yoga—and his future in baseball.”

Okay. My dad was reading me a story about baseball. Or Yogi Bear. I wasn’t sure, but either way, he had my attention.

The secret cannot be kept much longer. Questions are being asked, and sooner rather than later the New York Mets management will have to produce a statement. It may have started unraveling in St. Petersburg, Fla. two weeks ago, on March 14, to be exact, when Mel Stottlemyre, the Met pitching coach, walked over to the 40-odd Met players doing their morning calisthenics at the Payson Field Complex not far from the Gulf of Mexico, a solitary figure among the pulsation of jumping jacks, and motioned three Mets to step out of the exercise. The three, all good prospects, were John Christensen, a 24-year-old outfielder; Dave Cochrane, a spare but muscular switch-hitting third baseman; and Lenny Dykstra, a swift centerfielder who may be the Mets’ lead-off man of the future.

The Mets? If my nine-going-on-ten brain could have manufactured a WTF thought bubble, it surely would have done so. The 1985 baseball season was just beginning. (Incidentally, the NCAA men’s basketball championship was played later that night. I put a dime down on Villanova. That’s not Vegas parlance, either. I bet my mom, the true sports lover in the family, ten cents Villanova would beat Georgetown. She called me crazy, but I won ten cents and the faulty belief that I could predict sporting events.) The heartbreak of ’84 was still fresh in my mind, and I had become all too familiar with the history of Cub collapses that predated my foolish allegiance to the only baseball team I’ll ever love. The Mets, I knew, were nothing short of pure, black-cat evil. If this story was about the Mets, I wanted no part in its horror.

“Wait a minute, now listen!” my dad assured me, noticing my visible disgust and withdrawal. He read on, setting up the story of how each Met batsman stepped into a canvas enclosure, obscured from the curious eyes of the media. Out stepped a gangling, awkward clown of a pitcher with a hiking boot on his right foot and not so much as a sock on his left. Every hitter just watched, or tried to, as the pitches zoomed by in furious blurs of white, ending with a musket-like pop of the catcher’s mitt and an agonized whelp of pain from behind the catcher’s clenched teeth.

Our dinner sat there losing steam as my dad did quite the opposite, reading on in a crescendo of uncharacteristic baseball fervor:

The phenomenon the three young batters faced, and about whom only [reserve catcher Ronn] Reynolds, Stottlemyre and a few members of the Mets’ front office know, is a 28-year-old, somewhat eccentric mystic named Hayden (Sidd) Finch. He may well change the course of baseball history. On St. Patrick’s Day, to make sure they were not all victims of a crazy hallucination, the Mets brought in a radar gun to measure the speed of Finch’s fastball. The model used was a JUGS Supergun II. It looks like a black space gun with a big snout, weighs about five pounds and is usually pointed at the pitcher from behind the catcher. A glass plate in the back of the gun shows the pitch’s velocity—accurate, so the manufacturer claims, to within plus or minus 1 mph. The figure at the top of the gauge is 200 mph. The fastest projectile ever measured by the JUGS (which is named after the oldtimer’s descriptive—the “jug-handled” curveball) was a Roscoe Tanner serve that registered 153 mph. The highest number that the JUGS had ever turned for a baseball was 103 mph, which it did, curiously, twice on one day, July 11, at the 1978 All-Star game when both Goose Gossage and Nolan Ryan threw the ball at that speed. On March 17, the gun was handled by Stottlemyre. He heard the pop of the ball in Reynolds’s mitt and the little squeak of pain from the catcher. Then the astonishing figure 168 appeared on the glass plate. Stottlemyre remembers whistling in amazement, and then he heard Reynolds say, “Don’t tell me, Mel, I don’t want to know….”

My dad read the whole article, every word, but I had lost my appetite both for the hamburger and potato casserole and for the sad tale of an unhittable pitcher ensnared in the dastardly clutches of the New York Metropolitans. My dad kept reading the account of the mystic hurler’s idiosyncrasies and peccadilloes, and the off chance that his reclusive nature would prevent him from ever joining the official ranks of Major League Baseball. But all I could think of were the ramifications this development would bring to bear on my Cubs.

Hope escaped from my soul like air from a slow-leaking balloon. No, I thought, this can’t happen. This mustn’t happen.

And it didn’t. A couple of weeks later during a 10:00 newscast, during which my dad was already asleep . . . and I probably should have been as well, the glorious truth came to light. The story was a hoax, published on April 1, 1985, and crafted with wicked mastery by the late, great George Plimpton. The giveaway had been hiding all along, like some balloon boy in his wacko parent’s garage, in the subhead on the very first page. The lead-in, “He’s a pitcher, part yogi and part recluse. Impressively liberated from our opulent life-style, Sidd’s deciding about yoga,” formed an acrostic greeting welcoming all fools to enter gullibly in. Happy April Fool’s Day.

I was delighted. Not only were the Mets brought back down to this planet, but my dad’s excitement had been for naught. At first I was excited to tell him how wrong he was, but then whatever form of ill-developed compassion I had within me took over. I didn’t want to make a fool out of my dad. I didn’t think he was foolish. I thought he was cool. He had taken an interest in baseball, or at least the part of it that he could get excited about, and imparted it to the whole family. And, indirectly at least, he was on the news! The story he read to us and our collective bamboozlement had become a small part of a national hoax. What did it matter that Sidd Finch was fake? The moment was real.

My dad wasn’t big on throwing the ball around, obviously. But I don’t regret for an instant that he read me a story instead of throwing me a fastball. That’s who my dad is, a guy who sits amazed by the human element of baseball and completely disinterested in the baseball part of it. I would take that memory and the thousands of other ones like it over 100 games of catch.

No fooling.

Friday Playlist

I’m one of those people. You know, the people who think that the music you listen to on a particular day is sometimes the only real way to answer the question, “How are you doing?” I know that’s what you were thinking.

So I figured I’d make it a habit to tell you what I was thinking each Friday by telling you my playlist for the day. Because, again, I know the question that has your heart searing a hole through your chest: How are you doing, Adam? Well, this is how I’m doing:

Unfinished posts: Money from the Sky

As the countdown to March 27 rolls on, whereupon will unleash its discredited fury on Cubdom, I thought I’d do a little housekeeping by finishing posts I had started and left unfinished. And by “some,” I mean, “at least one.” I’ll probably post a favorite or two (as ACB and Aisle 424 are doing) and maybe some posts I wish I’d written. But for now, since the NFL has chosen to test the work stoppage waters, it seemed like a good time to dust off and finish up this post originally scheduled as a Day-Off Reflection in 2010.

At Shea Stadium on opening day in 1995, three fans wearing shirts that read, “GREED,” tossed dollar bills onto the field then gathered near second base, clenched fists raised in protest. Baseball had returned after the worst sports work stoppage of my lifetime, the strike that cost 1994 its World Series.

One image sticks with me from that year: Shawon Dunston, sitting in the dugout, arms folded across his knees and head bowed in disbelief. It was the last game of the year, one that had already been drained of any hope of being The Year for Dunston and the Cubs and their fans. But you could see how it affected the O-Meter man. He was sad. He was angry. He was not going to be playing the game he loved because his fellow players and the MLB owners couldn’t agree on how the proceeds should be distributed.

Some people blamed the greedy players. Some people (myself included) blamed the greedy owners. I was mostly just greedy for baseball.

So in 1995, I attended my very first Cubs home opener. The Cubs gave away free magnet schedules. The fans gave a whole lot of them back. You see, the thing about magnetic schedules is that those suckers have serious aerodynamic efficiency about them. One fan from the upper deck managed to hit home plate umpire Mark Hirschbeck with one. (I don’t know who the home plate umpire is, but I’m trying to finish up a year-old post on a dying blog, so I’m too lazy to look it up. And yes, I don’t know for sure it came from the upper deck, but doesn’t that make the story more interesting?)

It was dumb of the fans to throw those schedules, but not nearly as dumb as it was for the team to say, “We understand you’re angry over the strike, so to make it up to you, we’d like you to have some projectiles. Enjoy.”

So on this or any other day when I’m unable to enjoy a Cubs game or baseball of any kind, it seems extra stupid to intentionally avoid playing baseball when there’s an opportunity to play it. Especially when, as Shawon clearly displayed, the players want to play as intensely as the spectators want to watch. I’m sure the owners don’t object to making money whilst playing real-life fantasy baseball, either.

Get along, people. Coalesce. Stop screwing over each other. Be greedy for baseball.

Look, Your Worshipfulness . . .

This girl knew how to wear her some shoes.
There was a princess party at our house on Saturday. Rapunzel’s a princess, right? Our niece Rosalie turned 5. Hooray for 5. Hooray for Rosalie. Hooray for princesses.
Hooray for dancing.
She whips her hair back and forth.
The dancing was probably the most fun part. That and reclaiming my testosterone-infused lair from the Land of Pink.
Colin: Big fan of dancing.
Addison, too. Dancing, swords, and major air, make a surprisingly good combination.

Sammy’s Skin

I thought this wasn’t supposed to matter. Sammy Sosa hit 545 home runs in a Cubs uniform. Some people hate him because of his boom box. Some people hate him for cheating with a corked bat and a chemically altered physique. Some people hate him for caring more about putting on a show than being a good teammate. Some people hate him because it’s fashionable.

Now Sammy Sosa‘s skin is lighter than it used to be. I understand neither why that’s funny nor why anyone cares. But apparently people do.

Never mind the fact he was really good at baseball. Never mind the fact that he restored enthusiasm in baseball not only in Chicago but also in North America. Never mind that while he played with the Cubs he paid very little effort into anything other than being prepared to play baseball well and to entertain the fans who watched him.

But his skin is lighter now. So . . . LMFAO.

Counting Down

When I started this blog two years ago, I was an idiot. The Cubs had been bounced from the playoffs for the second consecutive year via their second consecutive sweep at the hands of an NL West team. But the Cubs had also been to the playoffs for two consecutive years. And on paper, in the offseason between 2008 and 2009, the Cubs had improved.

I was already blogging about other stuff, but mostly on a personal basis for the benefit to the detriment of people who knew me personally. Blogging about the Cubs, I figured, would be a chance to reach people who shared my particular dysfunction of liking the least successful sports franchise of the last century. But it didn’t feel like that stupid of an inclination at the time. I thought I’d be blogging about The Year.

And if by The Year I meant, “the most frustrating winning season in Cubs history,” then I was right. But that’s not what I meant.

Now that I’ve had a chance to chronicle the Cubs for two seasons that weren’t particularly enjoyable, I can confidently say that I’m still an idiot. But I’ve learned some things.

I’ve learned that I like you. If you’re reading, I like you. I can’t help you, but I like you.

I’ve learned not to count on the World Series.

I’ve learned when to quit. Well . . . kind of.

The life of And Counting as an active Cubs blog is coming to a close over the next week or two. I’m counting down instead of counting up. And by the time the season starts, you can expect to see this page go unchanged for quite some time.

BUT . . .

You aren’t quite rid of me yet. If you’ve been paying attention to Another Cubs Blog, you know mb21 is bringing that fine Cubs shrine of discreditation to a close as well so he can start up something new with berselius and a couple other Cubs bloggers. I’m proud and honored to be an Other. [UPDATE: so is Tim.]

I’ll have a few more posts to throw out here before it’s all said and done, but I just wanted to give you all both the opportunity to count down with me. And thanks for reading. I appreciate it more than you know. Okay, I appreciate it a lot. Now you know. See you in another life, brotha.