Nov 01

In the middle of August

I wrote the following nearly three months ago, then decided to hold on to it for a little bit. Rather than put it in the attic, I thought I might share it with you.

It is the middle of August in 2013 as I begin writing, and there is a baseball team. For nearly two months, it has been winning every game, and that’s almost not a figure of speech. It’s somewhere in between a literary device and true reality. Eight losses in nine weeks in Major League Baseball is, essentially, winning every game.

It is a team that at once has been giving the lie to the idea that you can’t have it all, while also reminding that such feats of transcendence are precariously temporary. With every victory comes the question, “How can this possibly continue?” The question has an answer, which is that it can just keep on keepin’ on, same as it ever was, same as it ever is. But just as easily as it can continue – more easily, no doubt – it can stop.

How long, then? How long does all remain all?

That’s one mystery. In the case of this particular baseball team, if all remains all, or nearly so, for 2½ more months, and if it does, it will create an everlasting memory. What the devoted of this particular baseball team are waiting to learn is if they are having a summer fling – the wildest one of their lives, perhaps, but still a fling – or a relationship that will be theirs forever, even if future years return rocky times.

One of the lures of baseball, of investing passion into a passion you have no control over, is that little if anything can diminish a championship. No matter your present, there’s no guilt in romancing your past. Contrast that with everyday life, where if you think about your greatest year, the year you yourself had it all, there’s a gloom. It could be a sliver or a swath.

To avoid it, you’d have to be able to feel unadulterated pleasure over a time that is no longer yours, find complete solace that your best days are behind you or only speculatively ahead, that you had something and you lost it or you had it taken away from you, and that’s just fine.

People who can do that are remarkable.

I can identify two periods where I quite nearly had it all, two championship runs. One came from my earliest memories nearly through the end of grade school, growing up with a family that I loved, friends who were close and a belief that I could become whatever I wanted to become that didn’t involve being a pro athlete. Or tall. I was among the shortest in my class, and even as incompetence evolved into competence, there was never a chance. But with Vin Scully as an alternative role model, I could live with sports transcendence as a fantasy.

That period ended when I began having crushes on girls. I’m not sure there was ever a period when I didn’t like girls, but it didn’t begin to matter until fifth grade bled into sixth and I began to care whether one, and then another one, liked me back. Soon something happens inside of you and you start to envision real benefits, and it starts to matter more and more. And it was years before one really did like me back, for reasons we might be able to get into later.

By the time that did happen, I was an adult with goals. As long as those goals were unfulfilled, well, obviously having it all was out of the question, even if the other thing was falling into place. Not until after I turned 30, after some very up-and-down years in the intervening decade, did I come close to having contentment. A woman had fallen in love with me, and I with her. I was able to support her, with money saved. My relationship with my family was healthy, my family was healthy, I was healthy. And my career was in a good place. It had momentum.

That lasted … about a season. It was a championship year, a year that I’ve been chasing ever since.

In August 2013, the Los Angeles Dodgers had been chasing their last championship for 25 years. The digits 1988 have a celestial feeling, any negativity washed away. It is impossible for a fan of that baseball team to feel anything but positive about that year, anything but pride, anything but love. That so many years have passed since that time is frustrating. But being a baseball fan is like being a like a little kid because it’s not your responsibility to make the joy happen. You’re waiting like a child, young as they come, depending on a parent for well-being.

Rooting for the World Series isn’t without a cost, but as much as you care, you’re a spectator. When you root for your own happiness, it’s your game.

Aug 30

So near, so far

Tonight, I’m going to my first Dodger game since Memorial Day. That’s right: I have yet to see Yasiel Puig in person, yet to enjoy the Summer of Gorge anywhere but on my TV, radio or cellphone.

This will be my fifth game of the year. When I got the tickets for my wife and me last week — and I’m not likely to go to more than one more regular-season game this year after this one — it occurred to me that this will be the fewest games I’ve attended in a Dodger season since … 1988.

Read into that what you will. I’m reading in a lot of hope.

That ’88 season began with me as a college junior, continuing through my trip to cover Stanford at the College World Series in Omaha, my summer internship at the Half Moon Bay Review & Pescadero Pebble and my late-summer job as a gofer for NBC’s Summer Olympics boxing coverage in Seoul. I saw not an inning of Orel Hershiser’s scoreless streak, and returned to the States a couple of days after my senior year began, stopping at LAX without venturing out of it.

I had been at Dodger Stadium for Tim Leary’s pinch-hitting heroics, but otherwise my Dodger attendance that year was forcibly rare. I saw all the playoffs on TV in the vicinity of Palo Alto. I saw Mike Scioscia’s home run from the Stanford Daily newsroom, Kirk Gibson’s diving daytime catch and Jay Howell’s pine tar while ditching classes, Gibson’s homer off Eckersley with friends who were mainly rooting for Oakland, and the final out on my own little TV in my senior suite.

It wasn’t a lifetime ago, but it kind of feels that way. By the same token, my last Dodger game in May — itself a bright spot countering a dreary start, in case you’ve forgotten — feels about half a lifetime ago. The team’s winning percentage when I’ve gone this year (3-1, .750) is still higher than it’s been in my absence (37-27, .578). Still, though my absence didn’t quite coincide with the surge, the Dodgers have gone 57-27 (.679) since I last attended. More than half the season has gone by.

If the Dodgers make the playoffs, this will be the first postseason for which my family doesn’t have tickets since 1981 (though I did attend an NLCS loss that year). So I might be watching those games on TV as well, even sneaking views from the newsroom where I work. If that’s what it takes …

Padres at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.

 

Jun 18

What will replace my beloved Google Reader?

I’ve been putting it off, but I’m soon going to have to find a new means of digesting the Internet to replace Google Reader, which is going out of business July 1.

If you have any suggestions, pass them on below. I’m not looking for bells and whistles (and certainly not looking to spend any money) – I just want the closest equivalent to Google Reader that will allow me to easily scroll through the hundreds of stories that come across each day.

Apr 05

Twenty years

Twenty years ago, I ditched my graduate school classes at Georgetown to watch the Dodgers’ season-opening game, which happened to be the Florida Marlins’ franchise-opening game.

Twenty years.

That just ain’t right.

I was outlining my first screenplay and just beginning to dream of my second major life decision in a year, moving back from Washington D.C. to Los Angeles to pursue writing for the screen.

I was interested in a girl in school, whom the following month I would have my first date with, and soon fall in love with, greatly complicating the thoughts laid out in the previous paragraph.

I had already loved and lost, both in my personal life and my professional life, the culmination of which helped send me to Washington in the first place.

I was four years out of college and already so much had happened. In four years. And now it’s been 20.

How can this be?

I hardly feel any different from the 25-year-old on the futon in that Woodley Park apartment. But everything around me is so different.

On April 5, 1993, Charlie Hough and the Marlins beat the Dodgers, 6-3. Hough, almost impossibly old for a pitcher, was the same age then that I am now.

Pirates at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.

Carl Crawford, LF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Luis Cruz, 3B
Andre Ethier, RF
A.J. Ellis, C
Justin Sellers, SS
Zack Greinke, P

Mar 30

Marching toward April

Feeling Opening Day excitement and the writing bug late on a Saturday …

• I’m reasonably excited about this year’s Dodger team, but part of that is a perverse excitement about just how bad on offense that left side of the infield might be, at least while Hanley Ramirez is out. That makes the decision to go with Justin Sellers fun for kicks, however dubious. Still, I have always liked the idea of emphasizing defense where offense isn’t an option.

• It only just now occurred to me that I was in the stands last year at the game in which Sellers was hurt and the one in which Dee Gordon was hurt.

• Do you realize this will no doubt be the fourth consecutive year that Kenley Jansen isn’t the Opening Day closer but eventually moves into that role?

• One thing I don’t miss about baseball season is the whining whenever a save gets blown, as if it should never happen. Heaven knows, though, it will happen.

• Carl Crawford has me excited. Truly didn’t think he’d be ready this fast, but this is the one case where I’m allowing myself to be swept away by past success and heady Spring Training numbers.

• I think lingering effects of his labrum injury will keep Matt Kemp below 25 home runs this year, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be productive.

• At first, I thought that with no true right-handed outfielder in reserve, the Dodgers would need to keep Adrian Gonzalez and Andre Ethier spaced out in their lineup, or lefty relievers will just crush the team. But Gonzalez has had success against left-handers, so that helps. It’s still not necessarily a bad idea to insert a right-hander between them, though – as long as it’s a decent one.

• My initial plan for any free writing time that emerged this spring was that I would spend it offline on a long-term project. I did begin work on that project early this month, but with baseball season starting, I’m wavering. What might happen is a mix, where I post on Dodger Thoughts not infrequently, but not comprehensively. The risk is feeling like I’m doing both things halfway.

• Another intervening factor in my life is that Youngest Master Weisman, now 5, is six days away from his first T-ball season, and he is raring to go. (His team: the Tigers.) After playing with a pretend ball inside the house several times, we made it out to the park for the first time, and he was knocking balls through the infield and reaching the grass. Also in the past day, I’ve begun trying to teach him how to scoop balls on defense. It’s crazy.

• Older brother Young Master Weisman, now 8 1/2, took a few swings, but piano is his game. He’s composing his own material for his May recital performance. Young Miss Weisman, a whopping 10 1/2, is also wonderful on the keys.

Feb 13

Tyra’s college application essay on ‘Friday Night Lights’

“Two years ago, I was afraid of wanting anything. I figured wanting would lead to trying and trying would lead to failure. But now I find I can’t stop wanting. I want to fly somewhere on first class. I want to travel to Europe on a business trip. I want to get invited to the White House. I want to learn about the world. I want to surprise myself. I want to be important. I want to be the best person I can be. I want to define myself instead of having others define me. I want to win and have people be happy for me. I want to lose and get over it. I want to not be afraid of the unknown. I want to grow up and be generous and big hearted, the way people have been with me. I want an interesting and surprising life. It’s not that I think I’m going to get all these things, I just want the possibility of getting them. College represents possibility. The possibility that things are going to change. I can’t wait.”

Feb 11

Pitchers and catchers and writers report

These are melancholy times for an old blogger …

I don’t feel capable of doing Dodger Thoughts right now, and honestly, I’m not sure how much I’d want to get back in the grind of it right now. But with pitchers and catchers reporting, I sure do miss the idea of it.

The site meant something to me, and as much as I’ve used the vacated time to focus on my paying job, spend some extra time with my family or occasionally relax (but unfortunately, not to exercise or reduce stress), I haven’t been able to really replace what it meant. Not for lack of trying.

Baseball is a mystery, and I’m definitely curious about The Hardy Boys and the Case of the Expensively Brittle Baseball Team. But most of the day-to-day stuff is amply covered elsewhere, even the stuff I have specific viewpoints on. If there’s anyone that needs to be told at this point that Lovable Luis Cruz’s lack of walks are a warning sign, or that money doesn’t necessarily buy baseball happiness (though it’s better than not having money), or that both Matt Kemp and Chad Billingsley are medical red flags, well, just know that I appreciate your loyalty, because the other Dodger blogs have touched on these points. There were times, not all that long ago, when I might have been the only one. Not any more.

I still think I have something to contribute to the conversation on the Dodgers, but have wondered if it was worth the effort. For example, by now, I’d be working on the annual Dodger Thoughts Spring Training Primer, which I was always proud of, but the time commitment just seems disproportionately large.

Meanwhile, my position as Awards Editor at Variety has been interesting and fulfilling, but I’m the Jonny-come-lately on that beat, and it’s taken all my professional energy just to carve out my own insights. And I’m still missing things. I’ve done good work, but that doesn’t make me special.

With Dodger Thoughts, I felt special, once upon a time, though those days were fewer and farther between in 2012.

I’ve been poking around some new writing ideas that I think would be exciting to pursue, though I’ve had real issues of confidence over whether I could deliver them. And all the misgivings linger over whether I can afford to write something that would likely have no financial return. Still, I am getting closer to the point of throwing aside caution and just writing one for the sake of writing. That seems healthy, if perhaps wasteful. They are good ideas, if nothing else.

Mostly, I’m still not the person I want to be. Not even close. My main goal is to get there, and in September, I came to think Dodger Thoughts was becoming a hindrance to that. I’m less sure of that now, but I’m not sure of several things. I’m not sure what part of the equation writing is. If it ever seems like Dodger Thoughts is the answer, I’ll be back. It sure was fun while it lasted.

Jan 20

Pele and Cheetos

My youngest child, who will be 5 in two months, is the first of my three children to show any kind of broad interest in sports. Playing sports, that is – I still live in a house completely unadorned with anyone who would voluntarily watch a sporting event on television except in the least dire of circumstances, or watch one in person without the promise of a constant stream of stadium food to distract and delight.

In fact, there are very few sports my 8- and 10-year old like to play.  Other than goofing around in the swimming pool, the only one they really seem taken with is skiing – the most expensive one they could have picked. They’re rather remarkable at it, considering they only get to do it one week a year, thanks to the largesse of my parents.  Young Master Weisman is a true burner, while Young Miss Weisman is technically skilled and in fact won the slalom race in her ski-school class because she was more prepared to make quick, smooth turns.  Both tackled their first black-diamond runs two weeks ago with hardly a hitch.

But Youngest Master Weisman has a roll call of sports that he’s into. In addition to doing his first full green run on the slopes this month, he is interested in basketball, baseball, golf (well, putting), taekwondo, swimming and soccer. He’s been playing soccer on Sundays for roughly a year now, failing, like his dad, to be bored by it within the first five minutes. (A constant supply of Goldfish crackers doesn’t seem to hurt.)

In his current soccer class or whatever you would call it, he’s in a group of 4-year-olds that includes several of his ability – and one who’s young Pele. Now, my son is rather astonishingly coordinated given his genetics, but he is not on the same planet as this ball-magnet, shoot-from-any-angle dynamo. And so when they play games in the second half-hour, some other non-Pele parents and I get a little edgy, because none of our kids are as quick to the ball as Pele. Though I did introduce my son to the word “assist,” it’s not like age 4 is the moment where kids are prepared to learn the glory of passing.

During today’s activity, I toyed with the idea of asking the coaches whether they were going to consider moving Pele up to the next level of soccer players – promote him to Double-A ball, so to speak. After all, in addition to being sort of an innocent ballhog (the kid doesn’t seem anything but nice) who was depriving everyone else their fair share of touches, it seems clear that it can only be good for his development to play against better competition.

Then I second-guessed myself. A huge chunk of my parenting hours are spent repeating “You get what you get, and you don’t get upset” in one form or another. Why should I go out of my way to remove this layer of character-building adversity? I think I’m so prepared for my kids to fall out of love with a given sport that I’ve become afraid of anything that might discourage them. But now I’m dealing from strength, with a kid who really seems to have a taste for sports in general. (Plus, if there’s one sport I’m willing to have my son surrender, it’s soccer.)

And there is an upside to this. The presence of Pele could inspire or essentially force my son to play better, or teach him how to handle situations where everything doesn’t go his way. It’s not easy to watch, but at the same time, it’s everything I’m looking for.

When the session ended, my son came off the field and said in a happy voice, “I didn’t score any goals, but my team won!” I mean, what more could you ask for than that?

Five minutes later, he burst into tears because I wouldn’t buy him Cheetos as a follow-up to all the Goldfish.

Nov 22

1, 2, 3, 4

I’m experiencing a combination of drive and paralysis with my non-Variety writing. Paralysis is winning because it’s less stressful – it’s easier right now for me to live with the unfulfilled urge to create than fit the struggle of creation into my schedule.

Ever since I began this hiatus two months ago, I feel like I’ve been catching up on 10 years of lost sleep, dating back to when my daughter was born in September 2002. I’m sleeping more hours per night than I have in all that time, and it still feels like it’s barely enough.

I’ve also been a little less of a slave to the desktop computer than I’ve been in that time. Year after year of juggling projects has mostly, for the time being, been transformed. Other than working on next spring’s revision of 100 Things Dodgers, I’ve been a one-job man since baseball season ended.

That job, of covering the awards scene at Variety, is challenging in that I’m the newcomer now, trying to establish my place among the folks that have been on the beat for years. I’ve done some good work, but there’s always, always more that I could be doing. That alone is enough to cower my ambition in other areas.

Whatever I contemplate doing – and I contemplate a lot – there’s always the feeling that the following is more important: 1) family, 2) Variety, 3) exercise, 4) sleep. Not necessarily in that order. I have a very comfortable bed and I enjoy every moment in it.

As for my waking hours, I’ve been home from the office this week on a staycation, and my chief activity has been preparing for a garage sale. I see offseason Dodger news and mostly feel relieved I don’t have to pause to address it. I miss the idea of doing Dodger Thoughts and how special it made me feel, but I don’t miss the reality of it.

I’m not sure when the yearning I have to create again will translate into actual activity, or whether I can find fulfillment completely in my day job, which would be somewhat ideal. Even this post, which was meant to be a five-minute stream of consciousness, has become something that I’ve spent more time than I intended on – and yet not turned into something entirely satisfying. Doing something of substance requires a level of commitment that I am wary of.

I’m still never sure if I’m working the appropriate amount. Recall my post two years ago about myself, Matt Kemp and John Wooden.

… I approach life a certain way. I want to be better, and I’ll grind at it, but there’s a limit to what I’ll do. I work very hard, I feel, but I can’t emphasize that limit enough. And that limit can change on a weekly, daily, hourly basis. There always has and always will be a part of me that wants to do nothing more than smell the roses, whether those roses are Saturday morning cartoons as a kid or a nice long walk in the twilight as a grown-up. I like the work I do, but I don’t like to work. I accept the process and can even enjoy the journey, but the result is a big part of my reward. I always want my life to be easier; I always want things to go right the first time.

And so that limit of how hard I’m willing to work is a moving target. …

Should I be working harder to provide more for my family, or should I be working harder at being with my family, or should I be content to get a good night’s sleep? Thanksgiving doesn’t answer the conflict between ambition and satisfaction.

Nov 21

Soul in That

Twenty years ago, on December 2, 1992, I finished the last poem of my Georgetown grad school poetry workshop – the last poem I have ever written or intend to write. It’s nothing the least bit remarkable, but I found it during some housecleaning this week and thought I’d share it.

I have some good memories of that workshop, though none better than of our instructor, Roland Flint, a Burl Ivesian man of letters and a baseball fan who expressed warm envy for my sportswriting career, such as it was. We even made a trip to a still-new Camden Yards together. Flint passed away in 2001.

Anyway, here’s the poem. For my farewell effort, I had decided to take my best stab at telling a Springsteen-like tale in poetry.

* * *

Soul in That

Understand me now:
he wasn’t much
just some overgrown bolo-wearin’ Bob.
I could run him in circles any day o’ the week.
But yessir, to answer your question,
you could call it a push.

I tried explainin’ to Shelly,
but she wasn’t in no mood for understandin’.
See, that was our spot
up on Hays Peak.
Then last month
this guy come to steal Shelly.
And then
I heard
that they
was up at
our
spot.
That was too much of mine to take.
And so I took somethin’ of his.

You ever think about them words?
I       took         a         life.
I did.
You’ll do whatever with me ‘n mine now.
Don’t matter none, ’cause it’s already been spit on shit on put down ‘n run round,
and ’cause I got his,
got it for keeps –
and you’re payin’ ‘tention now, ain’t ya.

Understand me now:
I done it, but I ain’t guilty.
I’m a decent man.
My shirt ain’t tore.
I ain’t no long-hair metal-head.
I like a nice, soft tune.
I can tell you that Patsy’s “Crazy” is A24
on the Midnight Bar & Grill jukebox.
Say, you should write a song about this, sir,
do a little something for y’self, like
me.
Hold on – I’ll even ante up a couple bits for ya:
Lessee,
Sun was out hot, those weird twistin’ rays.
nice little backdrop for his hey hey heeeeeeeys.
Ha –
tell me there ain’t no soul in that.

* * *

Below, here’s the real deal:

Oct 29

Best wishes to those in path of Hurricane Sandy

Though it might seem I’ve forgotten about this site, I haven’t forgotten about its readers.  Just wanted to send my most hopeful thoughts to those who are in jeopardy from Hurricane Sandy. If and when you can, let us know in the comments how things look and how you’re doing.

For those of us here in California, this is as good a time as any to check on your earthquake supplies. Because, you know, the Mayans.

Sep 18

On waivers

My oldest son witnesses my outfield heroics at Dodger Stadium – winter 2008-09

It’s a complete coincidence that this post comes on the 10th anniversary of the last post before my one and only Dodger Thoughts sabbatical. That began four days before my daughter was born, and wasn’t by design as much as it was just a byproduct of feeling overwhelmed by a dramatic life change and wanting to make sure I had my priorities straight. I had only put three months into the site at that point, drawing but a handful of readers, and it wasn’t clear that I was actually giving up anything meaningful.

Tonight, I’m more clear on what I’m putting aside – including a dream of doing Dodger Thoughts for 50 years or more. To this day, I still have enough arrogance about myself to be surprised that no one has ever wanted to pay me a living wage to do this full-time. But the marketplace spoke, and unless it changes its mind someday, I don’t have the luxury of ignoring it. And I’m tired of doing mediocre work on something that meant so much to me.

Anyone reading this site knows how hard it has been for me to maintain a pretense that the site is still useful in 2012. There have been some decent moments, but mostly, it’s been painful. And it’s not getting any easier. My family and my day job demand bigger and bigger shares of my energy and my sanity. So let’s cut to the chase: I’m designating myself for assignment.

That doesn’t mean I’m never going to post here again – in fact, I can almost promise that I will at some point – but it does mean I’m releasing myself from the daily task of writing about the Dodgers, as well as creating chat threads for every game. Dodger Thoughts has become a burden – the opposite of what it was intended to be – and there are too many other sites that now do what I set out to do more productively. The fact that I’m cutting and running with only two weeks left in the regular season (and a Dodger playoff appearance still very much a possibility) indicates just how much of a burden it has been. For all their problems, I believe in the Dodgers much more right now than I believe in my capacity to write about them.  That about says it all.

For those who remain interested in my writing independent of the Dodgers, I encourage you to visit my Variety blog, The Vote.  I know the subject matter differs like apples and asparagus, but by focusing my blogging energy there, I hope to invest it with more of the life that Dodger Thoughts once had – and maybe draw in some non-hardcore fans in the process. (The comment section there is begging for a community.) Also, please follow me on Twitter, which will be the best way to keep up on what I’m keeping up on and the quickest way to find out if and when I post on Dodger Thoughts again.

Anyone who ever was a reader or a part of the Dodger Thoughts community, and especially those who provided critical support along the way, I can’t thank you enough. I really can’t. This has been the most memorable writing experience of my life.

But this message has already gone on too long.  Here’s hoping the Dodgers come back and make me feel stupid for folding at this moment. (And here’s wishing, as Bob Timmermann suggested in an e-mail, that I had just thought to explain all this as a figment of Tommy Westphall’s autistic imagination.)

* * *

Oh – one thing I already forgot to mention. A revised version of 100 Things Dodger Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die is scheduled for publication next spring. Orlando Hudson’s cycle and other treats from the past three years will be included in the second edition.

Jul 23

The wallet blues

It happened again this morning. I spent nearly 15 minutes looking for my wallet, and when my wife joined the challenge, she found it in 15 seconds. It’s one of the less original tropes in my household: I can take forever to look for something that my wife will then find in an instant.

My question is, why can’t I laugh at this? Instead of stewing at my inadequacies, why can’t I find the cheap humor in it, you know, like it’s Drabble or something? As my wife handed me the wallet, explained where it was and moved on with her day, I stood there, shaking my head, wanting to laugh but not being able to.

Somehow, this explains a lot about me, I think.