Some thoughts on La La Land

Crazy stupid love.

Crazy stupid love.

Emma Stone’s features are too big for her face, which in a sense makes her the perfect star for La La Land, a small* movie with outsized ambition. It’s an old-fashioned, earnest musical—characters break into song, perform choreographed dances, smile big and provide ample jazz hands. It’s all wonderful and a bit silly at the same time, and how much you like it may depend on how tolerant you are of Emma Stone’s tendency to communicate a range of emotions with a twist of her lip.

La La Land also hasn’t met a cliche it can’t run headlong into, and I’m still not sure it has much interesting to say about those cliches. (Did you know, for example, that traffic can get pretty backed up in L.A?) After a spectacular, faux one-take opener, the movie caroms through a girl-meets-boy plotline, or rather a Struggling Actress-meets-Jazz-Loving Sellout Asshole plotline, replete with Justin Hurwitz songs that pay homage to the Golden Age of Hollywood musicals. (The tunes are solid, if not quite memorable enough for you to hum them on the walk home.)

The movie flatlines in the second act before settling on its real topic, one borrowed from writer-director Damien Chazelle’s previous movie, Whiplash: what price success? The answer in Whiplash was essentially “bloody fingers and all of your soul.” The answer here is more like “a little integrity and maybe your ultra-passionate relationship with the only other person in town who still dresses like it’s 1957?” This lowering of the stakes makes La La Land feel a little less vital, if a little more light, than its predecessor.

I’ve somehow made it this far without mentioning The Patron Saint of Beards—and a man whose features are perhaps too small for his face—Ryan Gosling, who plays the aforementioned Jazz-Loving Asshole (which is, it seems, Chazelle’s favorite character to write). Pretty much anyone other than Gosling** would’ve made this character insufferable. Gosling does this by showing admirable restraint, as if breaking into a tap routine is no big deal, and by playing his character with more self-awareness than the script suggests. (He’s the kind of income-less schlub who can’t pay his bills—there’s literally an envelope with a giant “Past Due” on it, in case you miss the point—but can afford a few handsome-as-hell sport coats. I gotta think the La La Land Tie Collection is due at Barneys any day now.)

The movie builds to a worth-the-wait showpiece: a Singin’ in the Rain-style pastiche of movie musical styles that pays homage to An American in Paris, On the Town, and countless others I probably missed***. It’s romantic in every sense of the word, much like the film itself. Also like the film itself, it left me a little cold, a little too aware of how smart and history-aware and hard-working the movie is.

Some other thoughts:

-J.K. Simmons, the memorable jazz fascist from Whiplash, appears here as a charmingly strict club owner. I like to think the movies take place in the same universe, and that Simmons’ character has moved to L.A. and (only slightly) mellowed out.

-The Rebel Without a Cause / planetarium scene is a real keeper.

-More great casting (and a small spoiler): Thomas Everett Scott—who played Jazz-Loving Sellout Asshole in That Thing You Do!—plays Emma Stone’s husband at the end.

-It’s obvious La La Land’s gonna win all the Oscars, since there’s nothing Hollywood loves more than patting itself on the back. And hey, it worked for The Artist.

7.1/10

*-And by small I mean “has a budget that’s a sliver of what’s needed for your standard-issue superhero movie, but still more than you or I will make in a year or maybe even a lifetime.” That kind of small.

**-Miles Teller, of Whiplash and terrifying Esquire profile fame, was originally slated to star. Holy hell would that have been terrible.

***-So where does La La Land rank in the pantheon of recent movie musicals? Well, it’s a welcome rejoinder to the pomo deconstructionism of Moulin Rouge and (good lord) Dancer in the Dark. It’s also a lot more entertaining than, say, Chicago, which bizarrely edited out all of the dancing, which is in a way why we see musicals. So I suppose it’s the best of these, even if it ultimately made me want to go back and watch all of Gene Kelly’s movies instead.

Light in the Darkness

Geez indeed.

Geez indeed.

As I walk through / This wicked world / Searchin' for light in the darkness of insanity.

I ask myself / Is all hope lost? / Is there only pain and hatred, and misery?

—Nick Lowe, "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding"

Is all hope lost?

Our country has just elected a man who ran on outright misogyny, xenophobia and racism. A man who has done nothing on behalf of anyone but himself. A man who is ignorant of our country’s laws and how our government works. A man who encouraged his followers to beat up protesters while saying nothing about the countless threats and hate crimes committed in his name. A man who threatened to jail his opponent if he won, and who encouraged his followers to shoot and kill his opponent if he lost.

Oh, and his policies (to the extent that he has them) are completely odious.

And yet… hope isn’t lost. There’s just a lot of work to do.

Here’s how I'm fighting back. If you’re upset about the election, I hope you’ll join me:

-Supporting the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU fights to protect immigrants’ rights. It fights to protect religious liberties. It fights to protect press freedom. It’s gonna be very busy for the foreseeable future. You can support the ACLU here.

-Supporting the Southern Poverty Law Center. The SPLC tracks hate crimes and fights hate groups, among other important things. Sadly, they’re gonna be busy for the foreseeable future, too. You can support the SPLC here.

-Supporting the National Resources Defense Council. It was easy to miss during our incoming president’s odious campaign of personal insults: his policies, such as they are, along with those of the majorities in Congress, will decimate our environment. You can support the NRDC here.

-Supporting Planned Parenthood. Women’s health matters. And this is unacceptable. Stand with Planned Parenthood here.

-Renewing my subscription to The New York Times. The finest news organization in the world. Subscribe here.

-Renewing my subscription to The New Yorker. Astonishing reporting, impeccably written. (Also: whimsical cartoons.) Subscribe here.

-Renewing my subscription to the Austin American-Statesman. If you want to understand a national election, start at the local level. Support your local paper here.

-Supporting National Public Radio. I don’t think anyone does a better job of bringing fresh perspectives into my life as Morning Edition. Steve Inskeep is a national treasure. Support NPR here.

-Supporting community radio. Stations (like Nashville’s WXNA, where I pick music for Rick Pecoraro Talks to Himself), aren’t built on news or speaking truth to power, but they do provide local citizens a voice and an outlet for art, music, etc. In a divisive time, they bring people together.

-Posting hilarious and/or insightful tweets and retweets. Obviously.

-Remembering that those of us who oppose this guy are on the right side of history, and that a majority of the country’s voters did not want this man as their president.

-Embracing those old-fashioned virtues of peace, love and understanding. Because there’s nothing funny about that.

Musical Interludes #11 and #12: Vacation(s)! ... and Work

Working hard / hardly working: Elvis on the set of Blue Hawaii.

Working hard / hardly working: Elvis on the set of Blue Hawaii.

A little house cleaning here. Presenting the most recent two episodes of Rick Pecoraro Talks to Himself, with music curated by yours truly. The first is on Vacation(s)!, and the tunes ended up being more of a collaboration between me and Mr. Pecoraro himself. The second, since vacation can’t last forever, is about work. You’ll find both shows, and both playlists, right below this sentence.

Oh, and while we’re on the topic: I start a new job on Tuesday. Wish me luck, folks.

--

Rick Pecoraro Talks to Himself airs Thursdays at 2pm Eastern (1pm Nashville time). You can listen live over the airwaves on 101.5 FM, or stream it at wxnafm.org.

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Musical Interlude #10: The Sharing Economy

Cash is king ... and queen.

Cash is king ... and queen.

Much as Rick Pecoraro Talks to Himself is a sweet duet between Rick (who talks to himself) and me (who provides each show’s playlist), this week’s episode is literally all duets, in honor of the theme: the sharing economy. I don’t have much to say on that particular topic, so for that you should listen to the show itself, conveniently embedded below. After that, the playlist, and my thoughts on same, express in the form of simple addition.

1. Robert Plant & Allison Krauss: Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On)

Rock + roll.

2. Ruby Amanfu & Brittany Howard: When My Man Comes Home

Rhythm + blues.

3. Shawn Colvin & Steve Earle: Happy and Free

Country + western.

4. Jason Isbell & Amanda Shires: Mutineer

Rag + bone.

5. Willie Nelson & George Jones: I Gotta Get Drunk

Shot + chaser.

6. Conway Twitty & Loretta Lynn: Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man

Sugar + spice.

7. Johnny Cash & June Carter Cash: Jackson

Spit + vinegar.

8. Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris: Sleepless Nights

Tossing + turning.

9. Elton John & Kiki Dee: Don’t Go Breaking My Heart

Nice + easy.

10. Paula Abdul & MC Skat Kat: Opposites Attract

Cat + mouse.

11. Aretha Franklin & George Michael: I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)

Mountains + valleys.

12. Otis Redding & Carla Thomas: Tramp

City + country.

13. Marvin Gaye & Kim Weston: It Takes Two

Heart + soul.

14. Rilo Kiley & Benji Huges: I Remember You

Past + present.

Spotify bonus track:

15. Eddie Vedder & Cat Power: Tonight You Belong to Me

Love + tenderness.

--

Rick Pecoraro Talks to Himself airs Thursdays at 2pm Eastern (1pm Nashville time). You can listen live over the airwaves on 101.5 FM, or stream it at wxnafm.org.

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Musical Interlude #9: Microwaves

I couldn't find a photo of a band with a microwave. So here's a picture of Pavement, which seems like a band that knows its way around the electromagnetic spectrum.

I couldn't find a photo of a band with a microwave. So here's a picture of Pavement, which seems like a band that knows its way around the electromagnetic spectrum.

I fell a bit behind on these due to the move, but now they’re coming fast and furious—kind of like the songs on the latest edition of Rick Pecoraro Talks to Himself.

See, the episode is about microwaves. Which … yeah. (In the words of Jay-Z, you’re crazy for this one, Rick.) But we came up with a great solution: songs that clock in at 90 seconds or less, which is what Pop-Secret says is the minimum time it could take to pop a bag of their popcorn. The resulting mix has 44 songs over 47 minutes. Here’s the show, followed by the playlist, followed by my very brief notes on all 44 songs....

1. Van Halen: Spanish Fly

Lovely.

2. The Beach Boys: Our Prayer

Ethereal.

3. Simon & Garfunkel: Bookends Theme (Reprise)

Serene.

4. Belle & Sebastian: Scooby Driver

Wacky.

5. They Might Be Giants: Minimum Wage

Hilarious.

6. Ben Folds Five: Dick Holster

Ramshackle.

7. Tori Amos: Mr. Zebra

Quirky.

8. The Magnetic Fields: Reno Dakota

Charming.

9. Justin Townes Earle: Dirty Rag

Folksy.

10. The Shins: Pam Berry

Fuzzy.

11. The White Stripes: Little Room

Wise.

12. Green Day: Jaded

Speedy.

13. The Ramones: Durango 95

Instrumental.

14. Beastie Boys: Egg Raid on Mojo

Hardcore.

15. X: I’m Coming Over

Poppy.

16. Minutemen: The Roar of the Masses Could Be Farts

Spiky.

17. Minor Threat: Seeing Red

Angry.

18. Descendents: I’m Not a Punk

Boppy.

19. Circle Jerks: Beverly Hills

Sarcastic.

20. Bad Brains: Attitude

Yelpy.

21. Bad Religion: Blenderhead

Truncated.

22. Rancid: Motorcycle Ride

Rambunctious.

23. Sebadoh: God Told Me

Cynical.

24. The Replacements: More Cigarettes

Needy.

25. The Dead Milkmen: Brat in the Frat

Silly.

26. Kleenex aka LiLiPUT: 1978

Swiss.

27. Parquet Courts: Vienna II

Robotic.

28. Husker Du: Monday Will Never Be the Same

Atmospheric.

29. My Bloody Valentine: Touched

Howling.

30. The Beatles: Wild Honey Pie

Shrill.

31. Pixies: Allison

Loud.

32. R.E.M.: Underneath the Bunker

Goofy.

33. Pavement: I Love Perth

Joyful.

34. Spoon: You Gotta Feel It

Groovy.

35. Guided By Voices: A Salty Salute

Chill.

36. Kurt Vile: White Riffs

Strummy.

37. Beck: Feather in Your Cap

Gruff.

38. PJ Harvey: No Child of Mine

Haunting.

39. Car Seat Headrest: Joe Goes to School

Spare.

40. Daniel Johnston: Devil Town

Spooky.

41. Dinosaur Jr.: Throw Down (Live)

Acoustic.

Spotify bonus tracks:

42. Band of Horses: Lamb on the Lam (in the city)

Spacey.

43. The Smashing Pumpkins: 17

Pompous.

44. Robert Duvall: Live Forever

Beautiful.

--

Rick Pecoraro Talks to Himself airs Thursdays at 2pm Eastern (1pm Nashville time). You can listen live over the airwaves on 101.5 FM, or stream it at wxnafm.org.

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Musical Interlude #8*: Cars

Bruce's car is nicer than my car.

Bruce's car is nicer than my car.

Welp, we bought a car.

If ever an industry were ripe for disruption, it would be the automotive industry. The process of buying a car feels impossibly outdated. The whole game is run by middle men (the dealerships), who you’re expected to negotiate with, back and forth, always ready to walk away from the deal. It reminds me of that scene in Swingers when they talk about how long to wait before you call a girl. “If you call too soon, you might scare off a nice baby who’s ready to party.”

Go to 2:23 for the part I mention. But really, the whole thing's great, and you're probably watching this on a Friday, so treat yourself already whydontcha.

Just like the world of dating needed Tinder, the world of buying a car needs an app. (Wheeler? Binder? Carby Parker?) Swipe left on the lemons, swipe right on a winner, tap something, you bought a car. Easy!

But anyway: a very nice woman sold us a very nice Mazda the other day at almost the exact moment WXNA was broadcasting the second-to-most recent episode of Rick Pecoraro Talks to Himself. The theme? Cars! It’s a masterpiece of an episode, and you can hear it here. Below that, my playlist, and my notes.


1. The Beach Boys: Fun, Fun, Fun

Car as metaphor for freedom. Dig the Chuck Berry licks as we segue into ...

2. Chuck Berry: No Money Down

Car as metaphor for car. (Recommended reading: Chuck Klosterman on which rock star historians of the future will remember.)

3. The Clash: Brand New Cadillac

Car as metaphor for success.

The Cadillac of rock bands.

The Cadillac of rock bands.

4. Bruce Springsteen: Pink Cadillac

Car as metaphor for, uh, object of desire. And note: RPTtH is supported in part by Cadillac. (Also, recommended reading: “I love Bruce Springsteen!!!” — Joe Strummer.)

5. Tracy Chapman: Fast Car

Car as metaphor for salvation. (Side note: The New York Times Magazine recently explored TV’s dwindling working class. What about pop music’s dwindling working class? Times editors: I'm available!)

6. War: Low Rider

Car as metaphor for awesomeness.

7. David Bowie: Always Crashing in the Same Car

Car as metaphor for drug addiction.

8. Spoon: Car Radio

Car as metaphor for, uh … ?

9. Maren Morris: 80s Mercedes

Car as metaphor for glamour.

10. Kaleo: Automobile

Car as metaphor for restlessness.

11. Hayes Carll: Drive

Car as metaphor for aimlessness.

12. Paul McCartney: Back Seat of My Car

Car as metaphor for car as vehicle for lust. Also, this song is nuts.

13. Lucinda Williams: Car Wheels on a Gravel Road

Car as metaphor for everything. A master class in precision.

*-Whither musical interlude #7? Well, last week’s episode of RPTtH, on Closer Looks, featured a playlist by the man himself. So no post from me on that one. But listen here!

Rick Pecoraro Talks to Himself airs Thursdays at 2pm Eastern (1pm Nashville time). You can listen live over the airwaves on 101.5 FM, or stream it at wxnafm.org.

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Sometime in New York City

Such is the beauty of NYC that even I can take a photo such as this one.

Such is the beauty of NYC that even I can take a photo such as this one.

“And the days went by / like paper in the wind / Everything changed / then changed again”

-Tom Petty, “To Find a Friend” (from Wildflowers)

I didn’t always dream of living in New York City. As a teenager, I fantasized about ditching the suburbs of Omaha and making my way to the big city of... Chicago. (As a Midwestern boy, even my daydreams were practical.) It had the mammoth skyscrapers and world-class museums I love, but also felt somehow attainable; I knew people who had moved to Chicago. I had been there. It felt… real.

I blew it on my first opportunity, getting rejected from Northwestern. I rerouted to Mizzou, where a few things conspired to shift my sights to the Big Apple. A few of my magazine friends got internships there, and so did one of my best friends, Rick, who interned at The Late Show in the fall of 2001. Some friends and I had plans to visit that October. Then the Twin Towers fell, which ultimately only steeled our resolve. We found a city still suffering from collective PTSD, expressing it with a sort of mass kindness. The cold and indifferent hustle I envisioned from Seinfeld-era New York had been replaced by a kinder, gentler M.O. There was hurt in people’s eyes, but also relief when they saw that you meant them no harm.

I was smitten. I remember waiting outside the Strand, feeling like Lou Reed (“Standing on the cornerrrr”). People passed me by and no one said “hi” or “excuse me” or even really looked at me—a 20-year-old busy doing some close to nothing. (To paraphrase something Steve Martin said about Johnny Carson, New Yorkers didn’t assume intimacy when there was no reason to.) It was impossible to be so wonderfully invisible back home.

Better yet, I had front-row seats for the full human carnival. As David Cross famously put it, I was constantly choosing between looking at the most beautiful woman in the world and the craziest guy in the world. Heading home, all I wanted was to head back.

##

The Corduroy Twins after surviving a nonstop drive from Omaha to NYC.

The Corduroy Twins after surviving a nonstop drive from Omaha to NYC.

I bought a one-way ticket to LaGuardia in the fall of ‘03, thanks to two fortunate breaks. One, I had landed an editorial internship at Paper, thanks in large part to a connection made through my girlfriend at the time. Two, my parents agreed to support me for a year, in lieu of going to grad school. I was determined to make the most of it.

The next year and change was mostly miserable, a mix of long lows and too-brief highs. The highs: getting press passes to CMJ; landing an internship at Spin (where Chuck Klosterman once told me “Good luck with your life, man! I’ll probably never see you again.”); writing my first national print magazine feature, one of the first American profiles of Franz Ferdinand; graduating from intern to super-intern at Paper, which meant getting a monthly stipend that almost covered rent. The lows: getting turned down for a job at Spin; getting turned down for a job at MediaBistro; getting turned down for a job at Dell—not the computer company, but a crossword puzzle magazine. (I still have the rejection letter.) Aside from a few freelance pieces and that small stipend from Paper, I basically spent a year doing unpaid internships, which back then was still legal. (Today, those internships probably just wouldn’t exist.)

Effectively broke, I lived with Rick in a part of Bushwick that still isn’t cool. Our apartment was broken into in broad daylight. (Rick was home at the time. And even though he, like me, isn’t exactly what you’d call physically intimidating, the intruder fled without stealing a thing.)

I spent my days working for magazines about nightlife, but I spent my nights at home watching old movies on Netflix. In a city of insiders, I was an outsider. And yet, there was nowhere else I’d rather be.

##

The beard that launched a thousand thumbs-ups. Or at least one.

The beard that launched a thousand thumbs-ups. Or at least one.

If, per Hemingway, you tend to go bankrupt gradually, then suddenly, maybe it goes the other way, too. One day in January 2005, my friend and boss at Paper asked me if I was familiar with T: The New York Times Style Magazine. “Of course,” I lied. He told me they were looking for an editorial assistant (or, in T’s highfalutin term, a “features associate”). The only thing was they needed someone who could start right away. Given the state of my finances, right away wasn’t soon enough, so I immediately reached out to my contact. As I recall, I interviewed on a Friday and started on a Monday. At long last, I could exhale.

T in those years was led by Stefano Tonchi, who is an absolute genius. The other day, I happened to go through all of the issues from those years, and it was remarkable how much intelligence and wit, beauty and elegance, style and charm dripped off of every page. (Having next to no awareness of fashion then, I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time.) I was given way better assignments than I had earned. I interviewed Sean Lennon and Zooey Deschanel, Kelis and Rachel Roy, Stephanie Seymour and Diane von Furstenberg (on her couch, sharing licorice). I wrote a lot for Paper and Spin, too, plus a few random magazines. I worked hard and hit deadlines, even if the work itself was rarely above-average.

Rick and I were able to move to Manhattan, a little railroad apartment on Avenue B, which back then still maintained a little edge. (Walking home late one night, Rick was relieved of his iPod by two enterprising hoodlums. He successfully persuaded them to let him keep his wallet, sans cash.)

I took a new job at men.style.com, where a typical day’s work might consist of an after-hours whiskey tasting in a conference room, and where I began to immerse myself in the world of men’s style. It was fun; it was hard. I worked with a ton of great writers and editors, too many to name here, but they taught me how to dress through their words and through their examples. I went from wearing Krameresque vintage trousers to relatively polished gear from J.Crew. I grew out my hair and my beard. (On one memorable occasion, a man parallel parking his pickup truck saw me, stopped what he was doing, and gave me an enthusiastic thumbs-up.) There wasn’t a ton of cash to spare, but I began to feel something like confidence.

Though I didn’t realize it then, I also began to feel a deep loneliness. Rick worked overnights, which limited our interactions during the week. I had settled into a routine, one based around work and seeing the girl I was dating at the time. My main social outlet was a weekly Saturday morning basketball game at Tompkins Square Park, which over the years had begun to fade.

But it turned out the antidote was on its way, in the form of two people I consider my very best friends.

##

She let me paint the room yellow. She regretted it immediately.

She let me paint the room yellow. She regretted it immediately.

I met her in Austin in 2005. But in those days, it was possible to disappear. Facebook hadn’t opened to the general public yet; she (wisely, perhaps) didn’t have a MySpace page. We had each other’s email addresses, and I managed to see her a couple times when she came through New York. But for about two years, Allison and I weren’t really in touch.

And then came 2007. Adam—my friend since middle school, when the fact that we both had Mariners caps was enough to build a friendship on—moved to the city at the beginning of the year. It was Adam who had introduced me to Allison on that hazy, tipsy Texas night two years prior, and it was Adam who would reintroduce us later on. Even now, I remember hearing that Allison was moving to New York and thinking “Here comes trouble.” I didn’t know the half of it.

For reasons both too boring and scandalous to get into here, Allison and I didn’t really get together until spring the following year. Almost immediately, life became richer. It was like there was this whole other world hidden behind a curtain, and I just needed someone to show it to me. We indulged in long brunches at Le Barricou in Brooklyn; shared oysters at the late, great DuMont; watched the entirety of Mad Men. I began to savor countless things I hadn’t fully appreciated before. Coffee. Lucinda Williams. The beach.

We moved into a charming little place on Avenue A. We lingered over burgers and trout at Back Forty, or coffee and eggs at Mud. I started at UrbanDaddy, where I could walk to work, and where I received a rich education in writing and teamwork, and where I made friendships I hope will last a lifetime. I co-founded Whim, which wasn’t much of a business, but brought me closer to my good friend Brock, and got me back to performing for the first time since college. And being close to Adam again was a welcome reminder of how rare and wonderful it is to have a true friend living just a short train ride away.

##

Awesome shirt from our dear friends Brock and Rommel.

Awesome shirt from our dear friends Brock and Rommel.

We started our lease as a new couple. We ended it six years later married with a beautiful seven-month-old daughter. Having Rose necessitated a move to Brooklyn, where it was quieter in ways both good and bad. It wasn’t easy—our commutes were longer, our friends were further away—but we ultimately made it work. We expanded our circle of friends. (Mostly our neighbors, who, in keeping with Park Slope building codes, are new parents just like us.) And even though it’s been more than a year and a half, it feels like we just moved here.

But we’re still growing our family, which meant making a choice. Either move further from the city I fell in love with 15 years ago, to some suburb upstate or in New Jersey, a suburb ultimately not that different from the one I fled when I was 18. Or move to a new city, where we can have a yard, a little more space, and (okay) a lower overhead, all within walking (or biking) distance of life.

In the end, it wasn’t really a choice. And so we’re heading to Austin this Tuesday. Our hearts are heavy for all that we’re leaving behind, all the friends we won’t see often enough. And yet, I’m hopeful for all that lies ahead: new opportunities, new energy. And so I quote another song from Wildflowers:

"It’s time to move on / time to get goin’. / What lies ahead I have no way of knowin’. / But under my feet, baby, the grass is growin’. / Yeah, it’s time to move on. / It’s time to get goin’."

Post #7: What I'll Miss About Citi Field

Did these guys make the list? Hint: two of them did.

Did these guys make the list? Hint: two of them did.

A few weeks ago, I took what was likely my last trip to Citi Field, at least for the foreseeable future. The good guys won, a 2-1 nailbiter against their World Series nemesis, the Royals.

I took a few good looks around, soaked up the sights and the smells (mostly the sights), and the first real wave of New York nostalgia began to set in. This is real, folks. I’m moving to Austin in less than a week.

So it seems like as good a time as any to pay tribute to the city’s best ballpark, and maybe the most underrated park in the majors. Here’s what I’ll miss most about the place the Mets call home:

1. The food

Everyone talks about Shake Shack. Well, screw Shake Shack*. The two places to hit are:

-Catch of the Day

-El Verano Cantina

The first one is where you can get a way-better-than-it-has-to-be fish sandwich, or lobster nachos if that’s your thing. (The chef is the guy from Esca, which is Mario Batali’s excellent seafood spot in the Theater District.) Also: Blue Point on draft, always a winner.

The second is where I go for my nachos. Go to the Cantina (not the Taqueria) line, which usually has approximately three people in it. Order the chips and salsa, and ask them to give you cheese, too. (Sometimes they upcharge you two bucks, sometimes they don’t.) The quality is way better than what you’ll get at the actual nacho stand, and for some reason it’s like five dollars cheaper.

2. The beer

It’s not exactly Good Beer, but they have a crazy selection of local brews, and they always seem to have something new.

Now if only they’d bring back Schaefer...

3. The fans

I was there a few years ago during an 11-0 laugher when Anthony Recker—a backup catcher—made his pitching debut in the 9th. It was June 30, and the Mets were already 13 games out of first. A lost game in a lost season.

And yet there were fans, loud fans, fans that buzzed with excitement over seeing that rare thing, a position player pitching. Fans who went wild when Recker induced a pop-up with his first pitch. Fans who loved (and still love) the game, even when it’s bringing them nothing but blowout losses and last place finishes.

Recker ultimately gave up two runs, on a homer to Ian Desmond of all people, but came off the mound to well earned applause.

4. The fans’ style

During the NLDS last year, I went to a game and saw a guy wearing a patchwork Mets sweater that looked like something my (old) boss would make if he’d grown up in Queens instead of the Bronx. Two guys who worked at the stadium were walking near me, and saw the sweater, too. We all busted out laughing at the same time, and started talking about how cool it was. Eventually, the dudes gave me one of the high sartorial compliments of my lifetime, telling me “You could pull that off.”

Could I pull this off?

Could I pull this off?

5. The vibe

A stadium is like a cast-iron skillet or a new pair of jeans: it needs some wear and tear to establish its character. Now, a few years in, Citi Field has a patina. The Shea Bridge isn’t so fresh and shiny; the seats have had god-knows-what spilled on them. It’s not Wrigley or Fenway—and never will be—but that new stadium smell is gone, and something better has taken its place. Which sounds disgusting, now that I re-read it, but I mean it as a compliment.

When Citi Field opened, I looked around and thought “This place is built for playoff games.” It’s intimate—even the cheap(ish) seats are right on top of the action. Well, it took six years, but the Mets finally got to the postseason, and I was lucky enough to attend Citi Field’s very first playoff game. The opponent? The Dodgers, whose Chase Utley had broken Wilmer Flores’s leg with a hard slide earlier in the series. Matt Harvey was on the mound, a welcome sight after he had hinted that he might need to skip the postseason for health reasons. The air was electric.

Our seats were … not bad, exactly, but we weren’t especially close. Binoculars wouldn’t have been out of place in our section. And yet, it felt like everyone was hanging on every pitch (because they were), and our sightlines weren’t bad at all. The best of five series was tied 1-1; a win would put the Mets a game away from advancing, and a loss would put them on the brink of elimination.

Yasmani Grandal hit a bases-loaded double in the top of the second, putting the Dodgers three runs up (and giving them, per Baseball-Reference, an 84% chance of winning the game). It was spooky quiet.

After one amazing David Wright catch, and a bit of solid hitting, the Mets were down 3-1, with bases loaded, two outs, in the bottom of the second. Cue my favorite player, Curtis Granderson, who is exactly one day older than I am, slugging the ball off the Geico sign in center-right, putting the Mets ahead for good. The place exploded. At long last, Citi Field had fulfilled its destiny.

6. Mr. Met’s Kids Club

Nope. Nothing terrifying about Mr. Met.

Nope. Nothing terrifying about Mr. Met.

Fortunately, my friend Patrick Sauer tipped me off to the laughably great deal available for families going to the game.

Unfortunately, we’re moving to Texas before Rose is old enough to really go to a Mets game.

Fortunately, the Round Rock Express have a pretty great deal, too.

7. My friends

Who else will tell me that, now that the former Pepsi Porch bears a Coca-Cola logo, it’s known as the Coke Den? Or remind me that I attended an Aaron Heilman one-hitter, even though I have literally no memory of it**? Or indulge me as I go nuts trying to catch a shirt from the t-shirt cannons? Or when I belt out the “One! Two! Threeeeee!” in “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”?

For whatever reason, Citi Field is just conducive to sitting back with your buds, cracking open a tallboy of Brooklyn Summer, and shooting the shit for three hours or more. That monstrosity in the Bronx just doesn’t compare.

I saw recently that Roger Ailes’ standard for hiring men was whether he could imagine going to a ballgame with that guy and not getting bored. Now, Roger Ailes is a sexist asshole. But there’s some truth to the idea that, more than anything, a ballpark is a temple of bonding, of friendship, of sitting in silence next to a person and being completely cool with it. I’m happy to say that, during the nearly 13 years I’ve lived in New York, I’ve been able to worship at that temple (Citi and Shea) with my friends (male and female), my wife, and my daughter. More than anything, I feel pretty lucky that they let me tag along.

##

And now, a brief list of what I won’t miss: taking the 7 to the G; the irregularity of express 7 trains; fans in Phillies hats; noisy plane traffic from LGA; the lack of Shea-level ticket prices; Matt Harvey’s obnoxious walk-up music remixes.

##

*-Not really. But there are many, many fine Shake Shack locations across this city, and country (including Austin!), so no need to wait in line for it at a ballgame.

**-Almost certainly because I was too distracted by talking to said friends.

Musical Interlude #6: Outer Space

The theme of this week’s episode of Rick Pecoraro Talks to Himself, where I have the honor of being musical director, is … Outer Space.

Here’s the playlist—followed by my song-by-song breakdown.

1. Man or Astroman: Super Rocket Rumble

You gotta have some Man or Astroman on this.

2. Modest Mouse: Space Travel Is Boring

Maybe the most indie rock song title of all time.

3. David Bowie: Starman

You gotta have some Bowie on this.

4. The Kinks: Supersonic Rocket Ship

On the Modest Mouse song, the protagonist is stuck in coach as she flies through space. On this song, “nobody’s gonna travel second class.” I prefer Air Kinks.

5. Radiohead: Subterranean Homesick Alien

The first time I heard this song was in my parents’ van, on the way home from buying OK Computer at Best Buy. I thought he was saying “that beautiful shit” and not “ship,” and man, did I feel awkward (/ totally rebellious).

6. Devo: Space Junk

A cool song from a band I should listen to more.

7. The Police: Walking on the Moon

A cool song from a band I should listen to more, part II.

8. Moby: We Are All Made of Stars

The first single from the follow-up to Play. I still love it; the world decidedly did not.

9. Beastie Boys: Intergalactic

More of a chorus about space than a song about space, but still.

10. OutKast: E.T. (Extraterrestrial)

More of a chorus about space than a song about space, but still. I think people forget just how truly alien (ATLien) Andre 3000 was.

11. Ella Fitzgerald: Fly Me to the Moon (In Other Words) - Live in Japan, 1964

A performance as otherworldly as the song. Good lord, what a voice.

12. Ernie: I Don’t Want to Live on the Moon

Suffice it to say I’ve been listening to a lot of Sesame Street lately. Ernie is still my favorite. He’s so ornery, and yet so sweet. This song is sort of heartbreaking. I can totally see Spike Jonze using it for a post-irony rom-com set in space.

Bonus Track: Please Mr. Kennedy from Inside Llewen Davis

“Who wrote this?” “I did.”

Rick Pecoraro Talks to Himself airs Thursdays at 2pm Eastern (1pm Nashville time). You can listen live over the airwaves on 101.5 FM, or stream it at wxnafm.org.

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Musical Interlude #5: Real Estate

Graham Nash in his very, very fine house

Graham Nash in his very, very fine house

The theme of this week’s episode of Rick Pecoraro Talks to Himself, where I have the honor of being musical director, is … Real Estate.

Turns out there aren’t a ton of great songs about, like, zoning. Or city planning. Or adjustable-rate mortgages. So I went with a playlist about houses*. As someone who just signed his first-ever lease on a house, I couldn’t have had more fun putting this one together. I hope you enjoy.

Rick Pecoraro Talks to Himself airs Thursdays at 2pm Eastern (1pm Nashville time). You can listen live over the airwaves on 101.5 FM, or stream it at wxnafm.org.

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*Not included here, but on the show: “This Old House,” from Van Lear Rose, the wonderful Jack White-produced Loretta Lynn record, which ain’t on Spotify. Fun fact: you can tour Loretta Lynn’s house!

Musical Interlude #4: Dogs!

Tiger, Martha, and four random dudes.

Tiger, Martha, and four random dudes.

The theme of this week’s episode of Rick Pecoraro Talks to Himself, where I have the honor of being musical director, is … Dogs! (Or, as Rick calls them, “The Greatest of All the Animals.”)

I haven’t had such a great relationship with dogs over the years. The first dogs I remember were these two dobermans* I would see on the way to elementary school. Whenever I walked by the yard where they lived, they would SPRINT right at me, barking and snarling, only to be held back by a chain-link fence that didn’t seem quite as sturdy as it should’ve been. Scary stuff. In middle school, I regularly mowed a neighbor’s lawn, and next door to them was a giant dog cage with the two saddest dobermans** you’ve ever seen. It reeked of piss and shit, and the dogs just lounged in the hot sun all day. In retrospect, it raises a lot of questions, but at the time, I just worried about getting the job done, getting my ten bucks (or whatever it was), and getting out of there as fast as I could.

I warmed up to dogs in high school, when seemingly ALL of my friends (including Mr. Pecoraro himself) had one. They were generally sweet (the dogs, though also my friends), with names like Snickers and Ruffles and even a few non-snack names, too. I’m not great at remembering breeds, but I just learned that Snickers was a Westie, which seems like the fluffiest and kindest and friendliest and most energetic breed on the planet. How could you NOT love him? Still, they were all small dogs; big dogs still gave (and give) me trouble, as I learned when we visited one friend whose dog was normally kept in a closet. One afternoon, we convinced her to let the Clifford-sized dog out, and after sniffing around, it started to go after my knee before our friend could put it back in the closet. Not great.

In recent years, I’ve gotten to know my wife’s family’s dogs a bit, and we’ve come to an understanding: I generally play it cool around them, and they generally play it cool around me. I’ve also seen how her family interacts with them, how the dogs nuzzle up and shower them with affection, and I appreciate more deeply why people love dogs. They listen, they don’t ask too much of us, and they project a deep, unspoken empathy. I was reminded of that when reading a recent New Yorker piece on Syria’s “shadow doctors,” who attempt to provide medical care in a country best described as a hellscape. Suffice it to say those doctors have seen a lot, more than anyone should. When one was a guest of Queen Elizabeth II, she asked him how it was going:

The Queen pressed for details, but [Dr. Nott] couldn’t bring himself to tell her, and his bottom lip began quivering. At that point, “she summoned the corgis,” he said. For the next twenty minutes, Nott and the Queen petted the dogs and fed them biscuits under the table. As the lunch came to a close, he says, she remarked, “That’s much better than talking, isn’t it?”

And that’s the profound power of dogs. We’re lucky they keep us around.

On to the playlist: what you’ll hear here is a bit different than what you’ll hear on the show itself. The two differences:

-Neil Young’s “Old King” (which, ironically, inspired this theme in the first place) isn’t on Spotify, for reasons best explained by Neil. It’s a beautiful song, ragged and glorious, about the namesake hound, and comes after John Hiatt’s “My Dog and Me” on RPTtH.

-On the show, Bob Dylan’s “If Dogs Run Free” is the alternate version from Another Self Portrait, which is just better. Again, not on Spotify.

And don’t worry, the Baha Men get their due…

Rick Pecoraro Talks to Himself airs Thursdays at 2pm Eastern (1pm Nashville time). You can listen live over the airwaves on 101.5 FM, or stream it at wxnafm.org.

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*At least I think they were dobermans.

**At least I think they were dobermans (redux).

 

Musical Interlude #3: Digital Clutter

Domo arogato, Mr. Roboteaux.

Domo arogato, Mr. Roboteaux.

The theme of this week’s episode of Rick Pecoraro Talks to Himself, where I have the honor of being musical director, is digital clutter.

I'll admit I wasn't especially inspired when Rick told me about this one. Digital clutter just isn’t something I think about these days. Way back in the '00s, I had tens of thousands of mp3s and countless jpgs—and my backup habits were borderline negligent. Now, everything is in the cloud or available via streaming, and you don't have to keep things organized—the services are searchable, the backup systems basically automated. You don’t have to sort your (virtual) records like Rob Gordon in High Fidelity ("What is this, though, chronological?" “Nope... Autobiographical.”) because they’re all searchable. Our digital lives may be cluttered, but there’s a helpful librarian named Google to help us find everything.

Also: I wasn’t quite sure how this translated to music.

So like I said: I wasn’t inspired. But then I hit on the idea of songs by (and for) digital beings: songs by (and for) robots and computers. It ended up being pretty fun, and prog-y as all get out. I hope you enjoy.

The conversation also inspired me to explore my own trove of digital clutter, where I found these two ultra-grainy, horribly lit, totally wonderful photos taken the night my wife and I first met. No algorithm would know what these mean to me, or how to find them in a pinch; I had to dig them out myself. It turns out Rick was right: our battle against digital clutter still matters.

Don't go looking for the Velvet Spade, either. 

Don't go looking for the Velvet Spade, either. 

Listen to the full show:

Rick Pecoraro Talks to Himself airs Thursdays at 2pm Eastern (1pm Nashville time). You can listen live over the airwaves on 101.5 FM, or stream it at wxnafm.org.

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Post #6: Why I Love Baseball: The Rose Years, 2014-present

Rose and me at Citi Field. We were lucky to capture this during the roughly one-half inning where she was sitting still.

Rose and me at Citi Field. We were lucky to capture this during the roughly one-half inning where she was sitting still.

Today is Father’s Day, which makes it the perfect day to take Rose to her first baseball game.

Except we already did that last October, when she saw about four innings of Nats-Mets at Citi Field*. And by “saw” I mean “ran wildly around the Pepsi Porch while a professional baseball game transpired nearby.” It was a blast.

Today, then, is the perfect day to take Rose to her second professional baseball game. We’re going to Coney Island to see the Brooklyn Cyclones host the Tri-City ValleyCats**. It’s a battle between the Class A Short-Season squads of Rose’s current team (the Mets) and likely future team (the Astros).

Why the switch in teams? Well, we’re moving to Texas. Austin, to be precise. After nearly 13 years in NYC (for me, and nearly 9 years for Allison), it was time for a change. We’ll be nearer to family, we’ll be in a house with a yard for Rose to run around in, and we’ll be in a city with the youthful creative energy that drew us to NYC in the first place. It’s scary and exciting, and it’s happening at the end of July.

Taking Rose to see the Cyclones—who play in a gorgeous park right on the water—has been at the top of my New York bucket list. I’m glad we’re going, and I hope against all odds that she might remember it someday. The weather is stunning, and we’ve picked out a player to root for: Daz Cameron, a hugely talented outfielder for the ValleyCats drafted last year from a high school in Georgia. He was born in 1997, and is the son of former MLB outfielder Mike Cameron, who was an awesome centerfielder in the ‘90s. If everything breaks right for Cameron fils, Rose will get to cheer him on someday in Houston, a short drive away from our soon-to-be hometown.

But who knows. Prospects go bust. Rose might not like baseball. (The horror!) All sorts of things can change. But there’s a chance, and life—especially baseball, and especially minor league baseball—is all about taking a chance.

Home.

Home.

*-Earlier on the Journal, I claimed that she saw Bryce Harper hit a homer. She didn’t, and he didn’t. I have no idea why I thought that, other than that my parents once told me I took a lot of hits to the head as a kid.**

**-At least, I think they did.

Musical Interlude #2: Cool Dads

Happy Father's Day from the Dylan family

Happy Father's Day from the Dylan family

Another week brings another episode of Rick Pecoraro Talks to Himself, for which I am the musical director.

This is a special week: an episode called “Cool Dads,” timed of course to Father’s Day. The playlist consists of songs about kids, written and performed by cool dads*, and is based on a series of playlists I’ve made over the years for friends who’ve become fathers.

It’s a great group of songs, from a great group of artists: John Lennon after spending five years at home raising his son; Paul Simon writing about finding a dead bird with his daughter (and taking the name from a menu item at a local diner); Wilco before Jeff Tweedy became synonymous with dad rock. It also includes at least one song that has made me tear up: “Daughter” by Loudon Wainwright III, with its opening image of his daughter in the water, which happens to resonate with this father, whose wife was a swimmer, and whose daughter has already aced her early swimming lessons. Ahem.

Anyway, you can listen to episode 2 of Rick Pecoraro Talks to Himself here:

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If fatherhood circa 2016 has a theme song, it’s Animal Collective’s “My Girls,” a super-catchy jam with that defiant chorus about just wanting “four walls and adobe slabs for my girls.” There’s nothing dad rock-y about it at all. It’s a genuinely cool song about being a father.

It’s just the thing to listen to while reading my latest piece for RL Mag, “Not Your Father’s Fatherhood: How Being a Dad Got Cool.” It’s about living in a time when there are beautiful lifestyle magazines for fathers, and when dad jeans are dark and selvage, not stone-washed and baggy. A time when dads are less Don Draper (or Mr. Mom), and more like, well, Rick.

You can read it here.

##

Rick Pecoraro Talks to Himself airs Thursdays at 2pm Eastern (1pm Nashville time). You can listen live over the airwaves on 101.5 FM, or stream it at wxnafm.org.

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*Starters for Uncool Dads playlist: “No Son of Mine” by Genesis; “Independence Day” by Bruce Springsteen; and “Cat’s Cradle” by Harry Chapin (duh)

Musical Interlude #1: Beginnings

"Hello, my name is Declan. But you can call me Elvis."

"Hello, my name is Declan. But you can call me Elvis."

This spring, my friend Rick landed a radio show at upstart Nashville station WXNA, a community-minded project with some legit folks involved. (Read the full story here.)

The show is called Rick Pecoraro Talks to Himself, and each episode features music and conversation* on a set theme or topic. Rick was kind enough to ask me to be the show’s musical director, and I was kind enough to accept. The station went on air this week, and you can listen to Rick’s debut show here (and below). The topic is “Introductions.” Here’s my playlist:

The concept, as you might’ve guessed, is side 1, track 1s from debut albums. When Rick and I first discussed the concept, my mind started racing. I spent a subway ride tapping out a note with probably 100 promising artists** to investigate. It took me much, much longer to cull it down to 40 minutes of music, including some tough game-time decisions: No “Can’t Knock the Hustle” on account of Reasonable Doubt not being on Spotify; no “I Saw Her Standing There” on account of everyone already knowing that song; no “We Don’t Care” on account of swearing***. (The FCC won’t let me be, or let me be me…)

It was also illuminating and even inspiring to binge-listen to so many artists’ first cry. Here’s what I wrote to Rick after nearly finishing the damn thing:

Lots of themes and discoveries in making the mix. One is that some people started with a bang and just kept going (Madonna, the Eagles). One is that everyone's got to start somewhere, and sometimes your first effort doesn't show your real talent. (Run-DMC's "Hard Times," not included, might be one of the worst songs I've heard in a while.) Another is how many artists I had to exclude because they started with lots of EPs (Pavement) or singles (pretty much everyone pre-Beatles) or in weird versions of their eventual band (Fleetwood Mac, blues outfit!). But more than anything it seems like all these people were still just figuring it out, and it took awhile for them to find their full-on identity. Except for Talking Heads, who sounded amazing right out of the box.

And man, I love that AC/DC song.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy.

Rick Pecoraro Talks to Himself airs Thursdays at 2pm Eastern (1pm Nashville time). You can listen live over the airwaves on 101.5 FM, or stream it at wxnafm.org.

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*-Between Rick Pecoraro and … himself.

**-There’s another mix to be made with the singers and bands who proved problematic. Take Neil Young. Is his first record really a debut, since he had already been writing and performing with Buffalo Springfield and CSN&Y? I made an executive decision that it was not.

***-I left it on the Spotify version of the playlist. Consider it a bonus track.

Post #5: Why I Love Baseball: The Fantasy Baseball Years (1993-1997; 2004-present)

The first fantasy baseball team?

The first fantasy baseball team?

There is a danger in becoming too worshipful of athletes, of turning them into secular saints. When I was 10, my favorite athletes were Kirby Puckett, Magic Johnson, and anyone who played football for the Cornhuskers. Well, it turns out all of them could be, to some degree, lousy people. By 2003, when Kirby Puckett’s troubling history with women came to light, I was too old to be shocked. I had long since learned that athletes are human beings, just as capable of terrible (and wonderful!) things as the rest of us.

But there is a danger in going the opposite way, too, of becoming so cold and cynical that you dehumanize them, that you see them as avatars for whatever you’re working through in your own life. Or that you see them as a gambler does, as means to a financial end.

Which brings me to fantasy baseball.

Sometime toward the end of elementary school, a friend of my father’s taught me about something called rotisserie baseball.* It was a wild concept, where you “drafted” a “team” of real-life players, and whoever’s team had the best statistics won the season. (Wonder if it ever caught on…?) What’s now more commonly called fantasy baseball was born in a rotisserie chicken joint, invented by the writer Daniel Okrent and some similarly nerdy friends. (I would later work at the Times while Okrent was the public editor; regrettably, I never dropped him a line asking him to help manage my team. Maybe it’s better I didn’t, since he later said he “feels like J. Oppenheimer, having invented the atomic bomb.”)

*--At some point in the future, when I was still a kid, I repaid the favor by telling his daughter about Jeffrey Dahmer, apparently giving her nightmares for a week. Her dad, and therefore my dad, wasn’t real thrilled when he found that out.

J. Oppenheimer enjoys a beverage.

J. Oppenheimer enjoys a beverage.

I convinced my friends to play, which I suppose wasn’t that hard since we were already baseball nerds. We kept score manually. Every Wednesday—and once a year on Thursday, after the All-Star Break—we would go to the local convenience store (conveniently named Convenient) to buy sodas and the late, great Baseball Weekly, which included the magical stat WHIP that wasn’t in the Omaha World-Herald. (I think I manually calculated that before discovering BW.) It was a great time suck.

It proved harder to keep up the hobby during high school, when it had to compete with homework, extracurriculars, having a job, learning to talk to girls, cultivating and projecting an image of cool, that sort of thing. I followed baseball less and less, and by the time I graduated college, I was hardly keeping up with baseball at all.

And that’s when my friend Rick read Moneyball.

We had moved to New York City, in pursuit of what I still don’t know. Unlike Omaha, where I grew up, or Columbia, Missouri, where I went to school, New York is a baseball town. Even people who couldn’t tell you how many balls are in a walk know how the Yankees are doing. Deep down, every New Yorker loves the Mets because they’re like the Yankees’ ne’er-do-well kid brother, except they occasionally do well and it’s the most wonderful thing. Back then, you could go to Shea and catch a game for 5 bucks, sit in the upper deck with fans who would scream “Jose” (as in Reyes) to the tune of “Ole.” (Shea back then was home to some dogshit teams, but the stadium would still be rocking when Reyes came to the plate.) It was easy to get swept up in it.

And then Rick read Moneyball, which meant that I would read Moneyball. It appealed to my sensibilities because it wasn’t so much about the game of baseball, but the game of the game of baseball. As everyone knows now, it was about finding market inefficiencies, sure, but it was also about the little guy, the underdog, about David defeating Goliath not with a slingshot but with a spreadsheet. It didn’t hurt that in those years, Goliath was the Yankees. And everyone with a soul hates the Yankees.

So we started following baseball again and someone, I think Rick, had the brilliant idea that we should start a fantasy league. And by 2004, nothing could’ve been easier than starting a fantasy league. We pooled together our friends, and thanks in part to my state of semi-employment, I dominated. It was addictive, and I’ve played every year since, going from that casual redraft league to a more intense, deep-roster keeper league. I’ve spent a ton of time and energy crunching my own spreadsheets, obsessively tracking big league roster moves, reading the Baseball Prospectus annual front-to-back in hopes of discovering the next great prospect, or a player who has somehow gone undervalued. I have kept my calendar open in March every year so I can prep for the draft. I have traveled just for the sake of attending a draft. I’ve been on vacation, sitting in the immaculate Piazza del Popolo in Rome, and opened my phone to check in on my fantasy team. I’ve got up early, stayed up late, spent mornings at a coffee shop instead of at home with my kid, all to try and win at a game that fundamentally is out of my control*. Over 12 years, I think the fruit of all that effort is a net gain from the countless hours of effort is maybe 200 bucks. (Hey, at least I didn’t have to track the stats by hand.)

*-At least it’s not fantasy football, which I played for a few seasons, and which seems completely random to me. Going from the daily grind of fantasy baseball schedule to the weekly slog of fantasy football was like going from playing Texas Hold-’em to playing War, from three-dimensional chess to checkers.

My fantasy team's Rome office.

My fantasy team's Rome office.

But I’m not in it for the money. And my own low hourly wage isn’t the only reason I’ve considered quitting. For one, there’s the classic issue of who to root for when, say, my beloved Twins are facing off against a pitcher for my fantasy team. (I ultimately root for the Twins to win a low scoring game, ideally with unearned runs.) And then there’s something Chuck Klosterman wrote in a Grantland piece a few years ago: It’s pretty damn dehumanizing.

Think about it. Every year, I attend an “auction,” where I “bid” on human beings I will then “own” (and potentially “trade”). I scout based on my own “prospectus,” where I chart what the players are worth. We look for “studs.” It’s the lexicon of a cattle auction, or worse, a slave auction. It’s troubling, and every fantasy leaguer runs the risk of dehumanizing the players who fuel our game, thinking of them as numbers on a spreadsheet rather than real-life flesh and blood.

So why do I ultimately play? Well, there’s the camaraderie, of course, the chance to bullshit with my fellow nerds. There’s the incentive to watch teams I wouldn’t otherwise be interested in, and to watch games that wouldn’t otherwise matter. Fantasy baseball deeply appeals to my competitive nature, especially since it’s something I can do all by myself. (Related: I was pretty much raised as an only child.) And more than anything, it’s deepened my love of the game itself. I’ve learned the difference between a two-seamer and a four-seamer, learned why certain prospects are more prized than others, learned to watch the game and appreciate it on a truer level. I’ve come to a point where I love baseball first, and love fantasy baseball second, which is the way it should be.

***

Recommended reading:

-Aaron Gleeman's first post for Baseball Prospectus takes a look at the Twins' frustrating Terry Ryan era

-Thrillist's James Beard Award-winning piece on diversity in the beer scene

-Jeremy Berger's must-read David Granger profile for Gear Patrol

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Post #4: Why I Love Baseball (1981-1993: The Innocent Years)

RIP, Rosenblatt

RIP, Rosenblatt

And now, a few scenes from my 35-year relationship with baseball. (Not pictured: me in a little league uniform; a mountain of plastic cups collected from beneath the bleachers at Rosenblatt Stadium; my mother walking the bases at Wrigley; Carlos Gomez waving at me from centerfield during a meaningless Brewers-Mets game in September 2013).

Fireworks

Among my earliest baseball-related memories is one that doesn’t really involve baseball at all. It’s me, sitting in the backseat of my parents’ car (possibly a Chevy Impala, probably a Chevy Caprice), waiting in some gravel parking lot on the Iowa side of the Missouri, stars out, radio playing, and soon, not soon enough, roughly a half-hour after the Omaha Royals’ game, Fourth of July fireworks blasting over Rosenblatt. I don’t remember the fireworks themselves, but I vaguely remember hearing “Born in the USA,” Ray Charles’ “America the Beautiful,” Lee Greenwood’s grating “God Bless the USA,” coming in clean over the radio, and echoing from the ballpark in the distance, as I drifted in and out of sleep.

It was a highlight of every summer.

The Babe Ruth of Magnolia Street

In Little League, I hit like Mario Mendoza, pitched like Jose Lima, and fielded like Brooks Robinson—more specifically, the statue of Brooks Robinson, outside Camden Yards. Okay, I was a little bit better than that, but in the backyard I was Ruth, I was Nolan Ryan, I was Ozzie Smith. We played so much that we wore dirt patches, signifying the batter’s box and the pitcher’s mound, into our otherwise-green backyards. We played with wiffle balls and softballs and sometimes real baseballs but mostly with tennis balls, which had the benefits of a) not breaking the windows of our parents’ houses; b) springing off the bat, turning our backyards into a Coors Field-style hitters’ haven before the Rockies were a thing. It was awesome.

We played all day and all night, pausing only for bike rides and swimming and basketball (in the spring, when it was cooler, and when our neighbor with a hoop let us play) and football (in the fall and in the winter, as the Huskers executed their annual demolition of the Big 8). The mosquitoes bit us, and we swung at pitches when it was too dark to see, and the rules changed depending on who was hitting (underhand pitches for little brothers, overhand for everyone else). There were ghostrunners (remember ghostrunners?), since we never had anything like the 18 people a real ballgame requires, let alone the four people per team you’d need to occupy three bases and the batter’s box all at once. We played home run derby between games, aiming for towering drives over my friend’s house, debating whether a fly ball sailing next to the house was high enough to be a home run, or whether it was a fair ball at all. (On rare occasions, such arguments led to what you might call voluntary self-ejections, aka taking your ball and going home.)

We played and played and played, knowing that summers always end, and that someday, summers would mean something other than endless backyard baseball.

Wounded in Inaction

I still bear a physical reminder of my Little League days. I was older, maybe seventh grade, and my best friend on the team was at the plate. I sat, in the way kids do, on the top of the back of the bench, cheering on from our covered dugout. I believe the game was close, and maybe there were runners on base, but don’t hold me to that. In any case, my friend hit the ball about as well as I had ever seen, a beautiful cannonball rocketing into left-center field. The plink! of the ball hitting his aluminum bat was so strong, so powerful, so exciting, that I jumped off of my seat, leaping headfirst into the solid-wood dugout roof, bringing tremendous pain to the top of my head. What came next was worse. As I dropped back downward, I slipped on the dirt floor and crashed the back of my head into the metal seat of the bench. I bled intensely, but not so much that I came out of the game. I didn’t get stitches, and I still have the scar, which you can still feel if you ask nicely.

Gaetti's ups: underrated. Reardon's beard: properly rated.

Gaetti's ups: underrated. Reardon's beard: properly rated.

Win Twins!

Today, a quarter-century after their last World Series title, and six years after their last playoff appearance, I’m desperate for a sign that the Twins are ready to contend again. (This year’s already looking grim. They’re 8-23, and Fangraphs gives them a 1% chance of making the playoffs, the lowest in the American League.)

But when I was a kid, it felt like the Twins won all the time, I guess because they did. The first World Series I remember watching was in 1987, when the Twins—led by Frank Viola, Kent Hrbek, and Kirby Puckett—defeated the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games, winning all of their home games en route to being one of the worst World Series winners of all-time.

Over the next few years, the team backslid, trading Viola in 1989, finishing dead last in 1990. Then, out of nowhere, the 1991 Twins team roared back, riding a bunch of young pitching (reliable Kevin Tapani, badass Scott Erickson), rookie sensation (and all-time great baseball name) Chuck Knoblauch, and of course, Kirby Puckett all the way to the World Series. And what a Series! You don’t need me to recap every moment, but I remember watching fans twirl their Homer Hankies at the Metrodome, the crowd going absolutely bananas, as the teams battled for every run, every hit, every out. Every pitch felt like it was the bottom of the ninth with two outs. It’s like they knew they weren’t going to score a ton of runs, so every moment mattered. And of course it all went down to the seventh game, tenth inning, with a single run making all the difference.

I sometimes wonder if baseball will ever be that exciting again, and if I am spending a life of fandom chasing that high.

Three years later, the World Series was canceled by a strike. And the Twins didn’t go back to the playoffs for ten years.

 

What a Wonderful World Series

During the prime of my childhood, from ‘86 to ‘93, the World Series was beyond compelling year after year. (Meanwhile, the Super Bowl felt like an annual celebration of the NFC’s ability to blow out a hapless AFC champion.)

Check this out:

1986: Buckner Ball, Miracle Mets. I don’t remember the Series, but those late-’80s Mets exuded cool in a way no team has since. A guy named Doc and a guy named Strawberry. Doesn’t get any cooler than that.

1987: Win Twins!

1988: Kirk Gibson homer, Scully on the call.

1989: Earthquake! Also: peak Bash Brothers.

1990: Kind of a yawn, though I remember LOVING Jose Rijo as a kid for some reason.

1991: Win Twins! Arguably the best Series of all-time, preceded by arguably the best NLCS of all-time.

1992: I remember this as a yawn, too, but I just looked it up and a) four of the six games were decided by one run; b) the final game went 11 innings before the Jays claimed Canada’s first World Series title. So pretty solid.

1993: Joe Carter walk-off homer to clinch series.

Then came the strike and the run of Yankees series, and I started to tune out a bit. But more about that later.

House of Cards

I still remember my first pack: 1988 Donruss, a truly hideous collection of cards, with their sky blue frame interrupted by what looked like four red pipes. The photography was generic, too—shots of, say, an unsmiling Tom Glavine, looking like someone had just asked him “Quick, name your favorite Fellini movie.” But I loved them all the same.

My collection quickly grew. Cards were cheap then, and I had a mailman, the world’s greatest, who knew I loved cards and would bring me small cases of his reject cards, which were still fascinating to a 7-year-old in thrall to these tiny pieces of cardboard. I loved them. I loved the smell of a fresh pack. I loved the anticipation. I loved deciphering the stats and the player bios on the back.* (“What does it mean when the numbers are bold and italic?” “What’s ‘HOF’ mean?”) It felt like discovering a map to a grownup world, one I could enter if I just spent the time figuring out the meaning of the signs.

The next year, Upper Deck came out, introducing the first-ever so-called premium card, and the era of Big Baseball Card was upon us. What was a fun (if kind of junky) hobby became something more like business, since (as I remember) UD cards cost two or three times as much as my preferred Donruss packs. The cool kids at my school (who were also, frankly, the wealthier kids) were all about them, and who could blame them? The cards were glossy as hell. The photos were by Walter Iooss, Jr., who also shot the Swimsuit Issue, thus rocketing him to the top of my childhood list of role models. They had holograms. In a world of newsprint, they were Vogue. In a world of three-camera sitcoms, they were The Sopranos. You get the idea.

I still collected, and I still traded, including with a friend’s dad, which in retrospect seems kind of sketchy. I painstakingly organized cards in UV-protected sleeves, which were then put inside three-ring binders, which were then placed horizontally (never vertically, didn’t want to put pressure on the edges of the cards) onto shelves, which were then kept in a darkened room to ensure that sunlight didn’t damage the cards. It was fun at the time, but in retrospect seems like a fundamental misunderstanding of fandom and of life. Baseball—like music, like people, like anything else—isn’t meant to be studied, to be catalogued, put into a case and preserved. It’s meant to be played. It’s meant to be lived.

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Post #3: Why I Love Baseball Right Now (and Why You Should, Too)

Last week I promised to tell you why I love baseball. Consider this a Very Special Episode of The Journal, then, because it’s going to end with a To Be Continued message. See, before I can get into my personal reasons for loving baseball, I want to get into why I love baseball right now.

So I present to you 12 reasons why baseball in 2016 is as great as it’s ever been.

1. Vin Scully is still on the air.

It may seem strange to begin here. After all, the best broadcaster in baseball history has been on the air during every single one of the past 67 seasons. But he has announced that this will be his final season, making this your last chance to hear one of baseball’s all-time great storytellers narrate a game, and give you stories like this one about Madison Bumgarner, a rattlesnake, and a baby rabbit. Even at 88 years old, he remains in fine form.

2. You can listen to Vin Scully even if you’re not in LA.

Another reason there’s never been a better time to be a fan: you can watch or listen to just about every baseball game that’s played, thanks to MLB.tv, First Pitch (the equivalent app for the minor leagues), and the various college sports networks. The other day I watched my hometown Creighton Blue Jays take on my homestate Nebraska Cornhuskers from my adopted home of Brooklyn. It was glorious, and it probably wouldn’t have been possible ten years ago. If only Scully did play-by-play for the Big Ten Network...

3. (Almost) everyone’s invited to the player pool...

There are, in baseball as in life, people who want to turn back the clocks. They want to go back to the days of Ruth, or Cobb, or Ted Williams, or of whoever they think embodied The Right Way to Play. To a time when men were men and baseball was baseball, and nobody flipped their bat after a home run or pumped their first (let alone shot an arrow) after a strikeout. Let me tell you something: these people are full of shit. People who want to Make Baseball Great Again are a lot like the people who want to Make America Great Again, in that they don’t realize (or worse, don’t care) that baseball/America wasn’t so great for anyone who wasn’t a white guy born on native soil.

Those days are long over in baseball, at least on the field. (Well, with one obvious exception, which I’ll get to in a moment.) The talent level is as high as it’s ever been because the game is as open as it’s ever been*. (And if US-Cuba relations continue to thaw, that talent level will only rise higher.) Baseball, again like the country itself, will grow greater only to the extent that it invites everyone to play.

*The game still has a long (long) way to go in terms of diversifying executives, management, and ownership. It’s disappointing to see so many white guys with zero managing experience get hired in the past few years, especially at a time when 27 of the 30 managers are white. Change has been too slow to come, and commissioner Rob Manfred owes it to baseball to find ways to bring it about as soon as possible.

4. … except assholes.

Back in the day, Ty Cobb could literally go into the stands and beat the shit out of someone for calling him a “half-nigger”—someone who, by the way, had only two fingers total—and have his teammates not just back him up, but go on strike to protest his suspension. (He was ultimately suspended just 10 days.) Today, Aroldis Chapman is alleged to have choked his girlfriend and then fired a gun eight times, and is suspended without pay for 30 games. (He was never arrested, and was not charged with a crime.) Jose Reyes gets arrested for allegedly assaulting his wife and is suspended indefinitely. (The charges were ultimately dropped, and the terms of Reyes’ suspension will be announced any day now.) This is America, so there still needs to be some form of due process, but ultimately it’s good for baseball (and, yes, good for the business of baseball) for these kinds of actions to have substantial consequences.

5. Mo’ne Davis could shatter baseball’s glass ceiling.

During the 2014 playoff run*, one of the regular ads was Chevy’s Throw Like a Girl, directed by Spike Lee, and starring Mo’ne Davis—who had just led her team to the Little League World Series by throwing 70mph at age 13. I couldn’t, and honestly still can’t, make it through the ad without choking up a little. There’s a hint of defiance in her voice when she reels off a fastball and says “That’s throwing like a girl” that just gets to me. And when she follows that by saying “Sincerely, your daughter”? It turns me into a puddle.

My own daughter was still a baby then, and I can’t help but think that someday she’ll know who Mo’ne Davis is, and be inspired by her story. Davis is crazy talented, to be sure, but that’s not what’s inspiring. What’s inspiring is the amount of work, guts, and imagination it took to crash the boys’ party that is baseball. We need more like her, and not just in baseball.

6. Mike Trout is the best all-around player in a generation…

At age 24, Trout has already had a better career by rWAR* than Hall of Famers Lefty Gomez and Pie Traynor, not to mention well known guys like Kent Hrbek and Roger Maris.

*-Basically, bWAR is a stat that measures all elements of a player’s game, and puts it in context for when and where a player played. The idea is to show how much better a player would be than someone called up from the minors or picked up on waivers. If you’re looking for a one size fits all stat to compare players across position and era, this is about as good as it gets. (Oh, and the "r" stands for Baseball-Reference. Because life is complicated, there are competing ways of calculating WAR.)

7. … unless Bryce Harper is.

Seriously, both these guys are ticketed for the Hall of Fame. Trout turns 25 this season, and Harper turns 24 in October. Both of them can do it all—hit for power, hit for average, run the bases, excel in the field, throw guys out. They’re baseball’s answer to Magic and Bird, and should make the next decade or so a hell of a lot of fun.

Carlos Correa, master of fielding, hitting, and proper hosiery styling.

Carlos Correa, master of fielding, hitting, and proper hosiery styling.

8. And these guys aren’t so bad, either.

A ballplayer’s traditional prime is from roughly age 27 to 32 or so. (Though that’s changing.) Which is awesome because you can fill out the following lineup card* with players 27 and under—not including Trout or Harper—and not have a weak spot in it.

C - Salvador Perez, KC

1B - Anthony Rizzo, CHC

2B - Jose Altuve, HOU

3B - Manny Machado, BAL

SS - Carlos Correa, HOU

LF - Starling Marte, PIT

CF - Mookie Betts, BOS

RF - Jason Heyward, CHC

DH - Giancarlo Stanton, MIA

SP - Jose Fernandez, MIA; Matt Harvey, NYM; Noah Syndergaard, NYM; Gerrit Cole, PIT; Sonny Gray, OAK

RP - Trevor Rosenthal, STL; Roberto Osuna; TOR

Somehow not in the starting lineup: Nolan Arenado, COL; Francisco Lindor, CLE; Miguel Sano, MIN; Steven Matz, NYM; Kris Bryant, CHC; Addison Russell, CHC; Xander Bogaerts, BOS; Kevin Pillar, TOR; Kevin Kiermaier, TB; Vincent Velasquez, PHI; Corey Seager, LAD; Kyle Schwarber, CHC; Carlos Martinez, STL

*-Would you take the 27-and-under against the best 28 and older team? I'm thinking Buster Posey (C); Paul Goldschmidt (1B); Jason Kipnis (2B); Josh Donaldson (3B); Troy Tulowitzki (SS); McCutchen-Cain-Bautista (OF); Votto (DH); Kershaw-Arrieta-Sale-Scherzer-Greinke (SP); Melancon-Kimbrel (RP). It’s a tough call.

11. Mookie Betts is the actual name of an actual player.

So is Socrates Brito. And Adonis Garcia. And don’t forget Coco Crisp.

12. My daughter is maybe old enough to kind of, sort of appreciate it.

Two of my earliest memories of watching baseball: 1) Seeing Jack Clark of the Cardinals on our TV one afternoon when my parents were rearranging the living room. That’s the whole memory: Jack Clark batting for one of those terrific mid-’80s Cardinals teams; and 2) Going to a Royals game in Kansas City when somehow George Brett AND Bo Jackson had the night off.

Some day, Rose might have a vague memory of watching a Corey Kluber start when she was an infant. (Probably not.) Or a slightly less vague memory of last September, when we took her to her first game, and she saw roughly four innings of a meaningless Nats-Mets game, including a home run by the aforementioned Bryce Harper.

Or a slightly, slightly less vague memory of this year’s Opening Day, when her parents made an exception to the no screen time rule and watched the Jays-Rays tilt with her. She didn’t have a ton of interest, but did walk up to the TV at one point and say “Ball.” To which I responded that actually, the pitch was called a strike. “Ball,” she said again. “Strike,” I replied. “Ball.” “Strike.” (We went on like that for awhile, because I’m hilarious.)

But chances are her earliest memory of baseball is still to come. And hey, you never know—maybe it’ll include watching Mone Davis’ first game as a pro, as her father turns into a puddle.

***

Hey, the Twins won a game! Four in a row, in fact. The offense still stinks, but the pitching has been good, and Joe Mauer has been Vintage Joe.

Still, it’s pretty hard to make the playoffs after you spot the league a nine-game head start.

***

Recommended reading:

My friend Shawn Donnelly on how he learned to love his hair (or lack thereof)

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Post #2: Time Is a Funny Thing

“Time is a funny thing. Time is a very peculiar item. You see when you're young, you're a kid, you got time, you got nothing but time. Throw away a couple of years, a couple of years there... it doesn't matter. You know. The older you get you say, ‘Jesus, how much I got? I got 35 summers left.’ Think about it. Thirty-five summers.” —Benny (Tom Waits), in Francis Ford Coppola’s Rumble Fish (1983)

My original concept for this blog was to write, sometimes in depth and sometimes not, about every single Twins game over an entire season. (The idea was somewhat inspired by Pop Songs, the wonderfully thorough blog about every R.E.M. song ever.)

As you already know, I’m not doing that. And as you can probably guess—this post is three days late, after all—there is a not-insignificant obstacle: I don’t have enough time.

***

Baseball, of course, is timeless.

I mean that literally: there famously isn’t a clock, which makes it unlike every other major team sport. Games can go on for hours—indeed, before stadiums had lights, games would go on for days, interrupted only by the darkness of night.* If a team is ahead, it can’t stall its way to victory by, say, taking a knee (as in football) or idly passing around the ball (as in basketball or soccer). Because of this, no ninth-inning lead is insurmountable, no game is out of reach. Don’t head to the parking lot, don’t call it a night—it still could be anyone’s ballgame.

*- The longest pro game ever, incidentally, was a 33-inning marathon played a month after I was born. It was played between the Rochester Red Wings and the Pawtucket Red Sox, and featured two future Hall of Famers—some guys named Ripken and Boggs. It lasted two days.

***

To put it charitably, that lack of a clock also means baseball is … unhurried. There’s a fair amount of stalling. Pickoff plays. Pitchers wandering around the mound, collecting their thoughts. Big Papi obsessive-compulsively adjusting and readjusting his batting gloves. But to look away—to check your fantasy team, to scroll through Instagram, to stare out the window and contemplate one’s cosmic insignificance and/or what to get for dinner—is to risk missing a mind-bending curve ball, a sweetly rapped opposite-field single, an elegant defensive play (to say nothing of a home run or a highlight-reel catch).

What gives baseball its poignancy is that, like life, it’s filled with a lot of mindless repetition. But every once in awhile, it delivers on its promise to surprise and delight. Put enough of those moments together, and you have a magical season—the Royals last year, the Red Sox in ‘04, the Mets in ‘86.

Fail to put them together, and you have the 2016 Twins, who have yet to win a game in seven tries. It is the franchise’s worst start since 1904, when the team was called the Senators, was based in Washington, and a wily Boston pitcher named Cy Young was about to throw the first perfect game in modern baseball history.

Time is a funny thing.

***

“You have as many hours in a day as Beyonce” — popular meme

This has always struck me as a little like saying your local little league team plays as many innings in a game as the Royals do. Don’t get me wrong—I love Beyonce as much as any other Park Slope dad. But suffice it to say, Beyonce’s got a team of assistants and helpers to take care of time-suck chores like doing the laundry, washing the floors, and choreographing impromptu hotel danceathons.

Still, there’s something to the idea. I have a bad habit of saying, as I did earlier, that I don’t have enough time. But it’s not about what you have time for. It’s about what you make time for.

Especially when you start to realize that maybe you only have 35 summers left.

***

One thing I made time for this past week was “The Voyeur’s Motel,” Gay Talese’s excellent article in The New Yorker about a motel owner who spied on his guests for decades. He did this not only for the obvious sexual thrill, but because he considered himself a sociologist. And unlike Kinsley or Masters and Johnson, his work wasn’t corrupted by his subjects knowing they were being studied.

As I read the piece, the following lines resonated with me:

A voyeur is motivated by anticipation; he invests endless hours in the hope of seeing what he wishes to see. Yet for every erotic episode he witnesses he is also privy to hundreds of mundane moments representing the ordinary daily human routine—people channel-surfing, snoring, urinating, primping, and doing other things too tediously real for reality television.

Sounds kinda like watching baseball. For every home run you witness, you’re also privy to hundreds of mundane moments—pickoff plays, pitchers wandering around the mound, Big Papi obsessive-compulsively adjusting and readjusting his batting gloves.

***

So why do I do it? Why do I make time not just to watch baseball, but to obsessively read about it, follow it, study it? And why do I make time to watch a team that is off to a horrid start, a start so bad that no team in baseball history has overcome such a start to make the postseason?

I’ll dive into all that in my next post.

 

 

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Post #1: My Favorite Day of the Year

It’s finally here. My favorite day of the year. The day when, at least in theory, people around the country cast off their winter coats and boots, join hands and sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in unison, and head to the ballpark to celebrate Opening Day.

It’s not quite working out that way, at least not in New York. It’s cold and rainy, and the only local team on the schedule has already called off their game.

No worries here. As I’ve done every year since 2012, I am playing hooky and heading to Standings—aka the best sports bar in the city, if not the world—for Opening Day.

It’s a bit of a homecoming. The bar was closed last year because, a few weeks before the 2015 season was to begin, a gas leak caused an explosion in several neighboring buildings, which collapsed and killed two people in the process. (Many more were displaced; donate to the relief fund here.) The loss of a sports bar is, of course, nothing next to the loss of two lives, but it was still a shocking turn of events. Opening Day was out of the question, but would the place known as “sports nirvana” come back? And would it be the same?

Because the thing about Standings is that it’s not just a bar—it’s a community.

Though it is quite a bar. As a friend of mine once put it, it’s probably the smallest bar in NYC. But what it lacks in size it makes up for in character. Eight TVs. A pair of seats from Shea Stadium. An awesome poster of ‘80s-era Keith Hernandez smoking in the Mets dugout.

Like the city itself, it’s a refuge for immigrants, so it’s not a Knicks bar or a Rangers bar or, thank god, a Yankees bar. (Or even, really, a Mets bar, even if the owner is a huge fan.) Whatever team you root for, there’s probably a piece of memorabilia there for you. You’ll find, say, Mizzou posters next to KU memorabilia. Or a Starting Lineup figure from a long-forgotten Cincinnati Red. Standings is a place where a Midwesterner-in-exile can wander in on a random summer Sunday and have them put on a meaningless Twins game—with sound—on a main TV. Most sports bars treat sports like a means to an end—a way to get people in the door and spending money. Standings gets that sports is the end, and that makes all the difference.

But back to the community thing. Last year, the city forbade local businesses from opening in the wake of the building collapse, so Standings was unable to host Opening Day. No worries—the community, including the owner, took over the nearby bar Finnerty’s. It felt different. The beer wasn’t as good, the layout wasn’t as ideal, the vibes were off. But some things remained the same: the regulars cheered on their teams. The owner rang his signature cowbell every time the Mets scored. And my Twins looked wildly overmatched, getting shutout 4-0 by David Price and the Tigers.

Put it in the books. Here we go again.

***

I remember that first year at Standings because my Twins were playing the Orioles, and I joked to a friend and Baltimore fan that it was an ALCS preview. Both teams were coming off 90-loss seasons, and neither team looked very promising. Turned out I was (almost) half right. Those O’s went on to win 90+ games, made the playoffs, and have done a pretty good job exceeding expectations ever since.

My Twins lost 90 games for the second year in a row. Then they did it again in 2013. And in 2014.

Which brings us to last season.

The Twins were actually, like, good. Not making-the-playoffs-good, but still: the team had a winning record for the first time since Obama’s first term, and was actually pretty watchable. So now, coming into this year, there are expectations. You’ve got Miguel Sano, who debuted last year and can absolutely tattoo a baseball. You’ve got Byron Buxton, a rookie this year, and the guy who made this catch. You’ve got Byung Ho Park from Korea, also a rookie, and also a guy who can tattoo a ball. You’ve got a few decent pitchers, a few intriguing prospects, an All-Star second baseman, and an American League where literally every team thinks it has a shot. It’s a long season, and anything can happen.

So like I said, there are expectations.

***

There are expectations for me beyond baseball this year, too. That’s part of why I’m starting this blog, which I expect to update about once a week. (Future post ideas include Why Baseball?, and Why Does an Omaha-Born NYC Transplant Root for the Twins? Have an idea? Hit me up on Twitter.)

My expectations center around change—2016 just feels like a year of change. There’s the election, of course. There are some personal things I will touch on later. It’s shaping up to be a big year.

And then there’s baseball itself, ever-changing, yet always the same. Like anything with such a long history, everything in baseball has happened before, but never quite like this.

So here we are again. Another Opening Day. Standings is open again. I’m playing hooky again. And my Twins face off against the Orioles again.

It’s all happened before. But never quite like this.

***

Recommended Reading:

My friend Drew Avery on StandingsAaron Gleeman previews the 2016 Twins | "It is designed to break your heart" -- the late Bart Giamatti’s iconic ode to baseball