Mar 23

Our cups runneth under


This metaphor comes with the Dodger logo and will cost you only $11.95, plus shipping.

Most cups and glasses (at least of the non-mug variety) are wider at the top than down low. You can take a big first gulp, and when you look down, it still feels like you’ve got plenty left. It might feel practically bottomless.

Then, when you’re not quite ready or prepared for it, there’s a figurative tipping point. The relative slimness of the cup becomes problematic. Not only do you have less left to drink, but each sip lowers down the level of what you have at an accelerated pace. The less you have left, the faster it seems to go.

So many of us forget to savor, or maybe we don’t know how. That’s why cups should be wider at the bottom. And if cups aren’t, then at the very least, life should be.

Mar 13

The happiest team on Earth


Express Newspapers/Getty Images
Meadowlark Lemon

So in the comments this afternoon, I started thinking about what it would be like if the Dodgers made this roadshow they’re currently on in Taiwan a permanent thing. I don’t mean an overseas trip every year. I mean turning the Dodgers into a modern-day baseball version of the Harlem Globetrotters – the L.A. Dodgers Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings –  crossing the globe on a 200-game roadtrip.

Oh sure, the team would never win a World Series again – but on the other hand, they’d really be playing a World Series. Tommy Lasorda managing, Don Rickles as his bench coach, Manny Ramirez signed to a 10-year entertainment services contract that lasts until he’s 48, Rickey Henderson brought in as designated runner and team emcee, Clayton Kershaw mixing fastballs with snowballs, Matt Kemp as the next Meadowlark Lemon, James Loney as Curly Neal, Jackie Robinson and Sandy Koufax each taking an inning via hologram, and just when you think they might lose, Andre Ethier ending every night with a walkoff homerun that he hits blindfolded.

A squad of baseball clown evangelists – traveling around the world, raising money and goodwill where it’s needed, pocketing it where it’s not, each game better than the last. All the team’s cares whisked away in a confetti-filled barrel of fun, a pregame “Sweet Georgia Brown” and a 200-0 record.

Yeah, I know: What about real competition? To that I say, don’t take me so seriously. Just think about the good times …

Mar 08

A.J. Ellis’ alarm goes off (as imagined by me)


US Presswire
A.J. Ellis

I’m up. I’m awake.

I’m the starting catcher of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Dodgers at Giants,
12:05 p.m.

Today’s Lineup
Rafael Furcal, SS
Matt Kemp, CF
Andre Ethier, RF
Manny Ramirez, DH
James Loney, 1B
Casey Blake, 3B
Blake DeWitt, 2B
Reed Johnson, LF
A.J. Ellis, C
(Chad Billingsley, P)

I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. Russell Martin, it seems, will probably be out past Opening Day – though these things are unpredictable.  The fans and the media are assuming the worst, but you never know when good fortune will blindside them.

And it would be good fortune if Martin made it back by Opening Day.  He is the best catcher in the organization, despite all the bloom off his rose. He’s still the man. It’s best for the team if he’s healthy, and what’s best for the team matters to me most.

But this morning, and the next morning, and however many mornings after that, it’s me.  Even when Brad Ausmus’ name is written in the lineup, it’s me. Until Martin comes back, or unless the Dodgers get someone else – and I believe ‘em when they say they’re not planning on doing that – it’s me.

It’s me.

I’m turning 29 on April 9 – four days after Opening Day. I’m gonna be 30 in a year. That’s old, man.  I signed with the Dodgers almost seven years ago, drafted in the 18th round from Austin Peay. Seven years in the pros, and I’m the guy they say has one hit in the majors.  I’m the guy they say can draw a walk – but only in the minors. In the majors, this is how it’s supposed to go: They don’t fear my power, and they strike me out every time.

I can call a good game, but the fans won’t care about that if I don’t hit. They say the fans appreciate a good attitude, but that appreciation wears off. People are a little ticked off with Martin, because he was a disappointment last year and because they think he’s bulked himself right onto the injury list. But if I don’t hit, Martin will be forgiven. And I’ll be back in the minors before I’m 30 – maybe for good.

It’s all pretty overwhelming – the increased responsibility combined with the increased expectations. The stakes are the biggest they’ve ever been. Here I am in the spotlight – for once – and there’s going to be at least one moment when I want to slink backstage again. People say I can’t be the guy, and maybe they’re right.

But I get to try. My whole life, dreaming of this moment. And now it’s here. I get to try to be the man.

One game at a time, one at-bat at a time, one pitch at a time, I get to try.

That’s pretty awesome.

Mar 03

Ready to greet the day

(Expanding on a previous thought.)

Each Dodger season that ends shy of a World Series title brings disappointment. And then, relief.

I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted by the end of the baseball season. I welcome the break. I welcome having my nights and weekends back for other things.

Deep into winter, I start to wonder whether the next year of baseball will bring the same passion for me as the previous one. I find I’m not missing the game all that much. And when I start to think about how much time I spend devoted to the game, I sort of shake my head. The McCourt soap opera didn’t exactly help in this respect.

But the thing that has happened for me every other year happened again. Something clicked. I started thinking about sunny days and green grass and my favorite players roaming before me. Baseball started to feel right again.

The fatigue and frustration from the end of the 2009 season have peeled away from me like a layer of skin. There are still reminders, but I’m not sitting with head in hands over Jonathan Broxton’s last pitch to Jimmy Rollins. I’m ready to take the bad with the good.

But I couldn’t do it without that break. Waking up from the break is like waking up from a good night’s sleep. And man, do I appreciate a good night’s sleep.

Feb 23

Potential postponement of McCourt trial further clouds 2010

When you get right down to it, I just want baseball to be about baseball.

And so the news today from Bill Shaikin of the Times that the McCourt divorce trial will quite possibly be delayed past its scheduled May 24 start, that it won’t necessarily be resolved before season’s end, is depressing.

My inclination would be just to shut it out — wake me up when the trial ends — but doing what I do, I can’t shut it out. The stature of the story is so large that it just takes over. Matt Kemp could hit three home runs in a game this summer, but if there’s another divorce court revelation, that becomes the news, because it affects The Fate of the Franchise.

Last year, we were blindsided by Manny Ramirez’s suspension. Thank goodness we didn’t know it was coming, because we wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the team’s hot start otherwise. But no matter how well things go this year for the Dodgers, we know that dreary news about the ownership is lurking. And if things go poorly for the Dodgers, forget about it. It’s going to be a very grumpy year. Cloudy with a chance of screwballs.

Dodger fans are an impatient lot in general these days, waiting for another World Series title like prisoners in an LAX flight delay. The McCourt saga takes those fans and sticks a smelly seatmate next to them who won’t stop talking. Everything that’s bad will be made worse; everything that’s good will be temporary.

I can picture the thrilling moments; I can picture myself enjoying them. But then, around the corner, I see the latest McCourt news, and people getting twisted in knots over it.

All I can say is, don’t go looking for reasons to be cynical or bitter about the Dodgers. They’ll find you. No matter how low the McCourts go, try to let yourself enjoy the games. Whoever owns the Dodgers, don’t let them own you. It’s baseball.

* * *

Ken Gurnick’s preseason feature for MLB.com on Clayton Kershaw is a good one. There are the requisite Spring Training bromides from Kershaw — in addition to an announcement of his engagement to Texas A&M senior Ellen Melson — but also some nuts-and-bolts talk from the young lefty as well as pitching coach Rick Honeycutt.

… For his part, Kershaw knows that he’s fully responsible for his high pitch counts.

“What I want to do is learn how to minimize my pitches. The way to do that is by fastball command, that’s huge for me,” he said. “I worked on that a lot this offseason by making my bullpen [sessions] as game-like as possible. Last year my bullpens were just practice, to make sure my arm felt right.

“This year the focus is on game situations so my fastball command is something I can always rely on when my other pitches aren’t going great. I need to throw breaking pitches over for strikes. Even though I’m not a master of the changeup by any means, that pitch can really get you out of there with as few pitches as possible. If I minimize my pitches, there won’t be a focus on how many pitches I’ve thrown.” …

The article indicates that some of the pitch count restriction on Kershaw will be loosened this year. That’s fine to an extent, but the thing to keep in mind is that despite an additional year under his belt, he’s still only going to be 22 in the 2010 season. His arm is still too young to leave completely unprotected.

“That came up in the staff meeting,” pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said. “I’m not saying we’ll take the gloves off, but at the same time, we feel much better about how he bounced back and stayed strong and consistent through last season. We’re in a situation where we feel we can loosen the reins a little bit and slowly increase him.”

A year ago, by the way, Kershaw hosted a baseball camp that helped raise funds for a trip by his fiancee and her family to help Zambian orphans.

* * *

  • Every member of the Dodgers’ 40-man roster has reported early except for the three Rs: Ronald Belisario, Rafael Furcal and Ronnie Belliard, according to Gurnick.
  • The Dodgers will play three March exhibition games in Taiwan instead of two, Gurnick confirmed.
  • Congrats to Jeff Weaver, who will miss some training camp for new dad duty (and dooty). Dylan Hernandez of the Times adds that Weaver said he will opt out of his contract with the Dodgers rather than accept a minor-league assignment.
  • Some fun promotions are on tap for the coming season, including a Vin Scully poster. The younger generation of Dodgers is also featured prominently in several giveaways.
  • I’ve been meaning to talk about the ticket sales news from Monday, but in case I don’t get to it, here’s a link to the official release.
  • From 50 years ago today, here’s a snapshot of pitchers including Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax kicking off Spring Training, offered by Keith Thursby of the Daily Mirror.
  • A slideshow of the key players in the McCourt divorce drama was provided by Lawrence Delevingne of Business Insider Law Review (link via Rob McMillin’s 6-4-2).
  • Finally, I just wanted to pass along this Variety blog post of no significance: “Series I dream about: George Costanza on ‘Big Love.’”
Feb 18

October sky

“Pitchers and catchers report” is when I ease into a new baseball season with the comfort of a towel laid out in the sunny grass. It’s my arms-behind-my-head, feel-the-first-rays, first-inning stretch.

But circumstances tonight allowed me to watch a recording of the end of the Nutter Butter Peanut Blunder game – Game 2 of the 2009 National League Division Series. And instantly, I’m catapulted from my winter slumber and past my lazy pre-spring bloom. It’s fall, and I’m revved up. I remember exactly what I’m in this for.

The roar of the horsehide, the edge of my seat. The deep inhale. The fever.

It’s time.

Feb 17

Why Lindsey Jacobellis rocks

L’important dans la vie ce n’est point le triomphe, mais le combat, l’essentiel ce n’est pas d’avoir vaincu mais de s’être bien battu.

“The important thing in life is not the triumph, but the struggle, the essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”

- Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympics
(credit for mentioning this quote goes to Bob Timmermann)

* * *

When Andruw Jones smiled after striking out for the gazillionth time with the Dodgers, it angered fans. The smile was pretty clearly a coping mechanism — no one would think that Jones was happy about striking out — but it roiled fans because it was pretty clear Jones hadn’t done nearly his best in preparing for the 2008 season after signing a huge contract with the Dodgers. With his smile, Jones helped reinforce the feeling fans had that he just didn’t care, that he was just in it for the money.

When Lindsey Jacobellis did the snowboarder’s equivalent of a smile Tuesday, it was something else entirely.

In Vancouver, after four more years of intense preparation since a mistake she made cost her an Olympic gold medal in Italy, Jacobellis went for the gold again. And it didn’t go well for her. After some jockeying for position in the women’s snowboard cross semifinals, she lost balance and made contact with a gate, disqualifying her.

“She made a helpless gesture and put her hands on her race helmet, having to make the long trip down the course,” wrote Lisa Dillman of the Times.

None of us are in position to evaluate her disappointment, but it’s safe to say that she felt it more personally and intimately than anyone else.

At that point, Jacobellis had a choice, conscious or unconscious. The battle was lost. Should she bury her head, rend her garments? Or should she celebrate all the work she had put in and her sheer enjoyment of her sport? She chose the latter — at which point Bill Plaschke of the Times chastised Jacobellis for not being sufficiently ashamed.

… Remember how four years ago in Turin, Italy, Jacobellis blew a gold medal when she attempted a trick on her final jump, eating snow and finishing second? Remember how she was criticized for putting snowboard style ahead of gold-medal substance?

Well, on Tuesday, she finished with another trick, clutching her board during the final jump of her disqualified run, finishing her eventually fifth-place Olympic performance with something called a “truck-driver grab.”

Eighteen wheels of defiance.

“Since everyone was waiting for me to come down, they’d be watching, I figured I would have some fun, show them I still have a deep passion for the sport,” she said later. “If you haven’t snowboarded before, maybe you should, because it’s pretty fun.”

Fun? The world’s most decorated female snowboard cross racer fails to win a gold medal twice in two Olympics and still insists on showing everyone she’s having fun?

In case it’s not clear, Plaschke wasn’t being sarcastic. If you read the rest of the column, as I did incredulously, Plaschke is questioning the gall of an athlete who wants to be happy — even in the face of profound disappointment.

Jacobellis wasn’t smiling with a big gut and a .158 batting average. She was smiling after putting out her absolute best effort and then not having the breaks go her way. If Sandy Koufax strikes you out in the 1965 World Series, you get angry over the strikeout — just like Jacobellis did. But if you did all you could, how much more upset are you supposed to be?

Do you think Jacobellis comes anywhere near the Olympics if winning didn’t matter at all to her? No one was punished more by Jacobellis’ failure to win a gold medal Tuesday than Jacobellis herself. Plaschke moves on to a new sport today, but for Jacobellis, this is her life. He is not qualified to tell her how she should feel.

On top of that, Plaschke is thunderstruck that Jacobellis did not want to hold interviews with the press who, in Plaschke’s own words, “ripped her four years ago, folks who she believes will never understand the culture of her game.” This one doesn’t exactly belong in “Unsolved Mysteries.”

Plaschke went on Twitter this morning with a series of generalizations that confirm his not-so-occasional myopia. A sample: “Male figure skaters are, like, great athletes who squabble like teenage girls…Women figure skaters are divas who fight like men.” Sheesh.

He acknowledges in one breath, “Sports columnists here are strangest creatures of all…We analyze people we don’t know playing sports we don’t understand.” In the next, he writes about how its his task to judge them.  He doesn’t seem to connect that if he’s not capable of judging them, then maybe he just shouldn’t.

Lindsey Jacobellis is my new role model. She threw herself into competition at a level few of us could possibly emulate, sacrificed so that she might be the best, and when that failed to yield the ultimate prize, instead of curling up in the fetal position, she had the self-esteem and presence of mind to appreciate the greatness of the effort and the joy of what she was part of, win or lose. I want my kids to be like her.

Feb 03

Case study of a 5-year-old athlete

When I last wrote about my oldest son, he was a 4-year-old with barely enough interest to keep him upright on a T-ball team that I was coaching.

He was more interested in playing with the dirt in the infield than the ball running along it past him. He was sold on the idea that he’d get to have fun with his friends, but because you can’t have nine shortstops, he was constantly told to move away from his friends. He found fun where he could, but he never really seemed to grasp the overall purpose of his being out there.

For this, I faulted him not at all, but rather questioned the decision my wife and I made to have him be on the team at that age. There was reason enough to fear that the experience might kill any interest he had in sports. And I wasn’t at all sure that my being his coach was a positive thing. I didn’t doubt that on some level he loved having me there, but I also wondered if my presence was stunting his development.

By the end of the season, I sort of came around to the idea that the good outweighed the bad. He did have some fun, though it had nothing to do with fundamentals. He improved slightly, although even as late as the final game, we still weren’t sure if he should bat righty or lefty. His attention still wandered off, but not quite as long. On some level, I think he felt some sense of pride from being on the team. So even if this wasn’t his thing, the experience was probably a good one. I still wouldn’t say it was necessary for someone his age, but I don’t think it was harmful.

* * *

Summer came, along with his fifth birthday. He had another round of day camp and swimming lessons, and man, he loves being in the pool. All the ambivalence you saw in T-ball was a faint memory when you saw how eagerly and joyously he went into the water. He would go every day if he could.

Fall came. My wife took me by surprise one day by suggesting we take the training wheels off his bike. Amid my skepticism, I started limbering up. Teaching my daughter (now 7) to ride on two wheels had been fairly backbreaking, as I was constantly hunched over, running alongside her with a hand on the handlebars until she was ready for me to let go … then bending over to pick her up after she teetered over. After a few weeks, I got a tip from another dad at the park to lower her seat way down. This made an immediate difference. Still, I had no illusion two-wheeling would be easy for child No. 2.

But within just a few seconds of his starting to pedal, my son called out, “Let go, Daddy! Let go!” And he was off. The kid who needs a court order before he’ll play catch with you was an utter natural on that racing-striped bike. After a quick reminder that he get a foot down when he wanted to stop, the instruction was all over. It was amazing.

Winter came. Thanks to the generosity of my parents, we made it to the snow, where daughter got her third week of ski lessons and eldest son got his second. Learning to ski involves a lot of moving parts. Getting the rhythm and mechanics of it can be a painstaking quest, and that’s when the weather’s nice. But my kids didn’t mind. They get it. They like it. They look forward to it. And they can now making their way down green runs with considerable ease and also have done several intermediate slopes.

And my son is fast. He’s got that little-kid, no-fear gene activated on the slopes. It’s a little scary, but it’s also pretty dang cool.

* * *

Immediately after coming home, we began my son’s first basketball season, which I greeted with much the same misgivings I had for T-ball, minus two: I wasn’t coaching, and I thought the pace of the game would engage my son’s interest more. And I have to say, he is always smiling. But many of those smiles have absolutely nothing to do with the game going on around him … or 30 feet away from him, given his intermittent reactions to what’s happening.

The game itself has no purpose for him. He knows the rules – get the ball and try to score – but he just doesn’t see a point in it. Whenever possible, he and one of his best buddies goof around. And then … snacks.

One time I told him (calmly, I promise) that it was great he was having fun but that he did have a responsibility to make his best effort out on the court. Otherwise, I’ve mostly let all this go. If a 5-year-old boy doesn’t see a purpose in the back and forth of basketball, well, is he wrong?

Meanwhile, his sister just had her first rock-climbing class (indoors, but otherwise the real deal) – for which the minimum age is 6. And I already know, exactly six months from today, my oldest son will be ready for his.

* * *

T-ball season is coming. Signups are this month, practices starting next month. I know that my son will survive, and heck, maybe he’ll even thrive.  It’ll be interesting to see how he does as a proven T-ball veteran as opposed to a mere T-ball prospect.

But here I have a boy who’s interested in at least four sports – swimming, biking, skiing and rock climbing – that he can do for the rest of his life. Who takes piano lessons and loves to read. Who concocts wild adventures for his stuffed animals. Who likes going to school and, in a 180-degree switch from his father, actually likes going to religious school. And so I do ask myself, “Why T-ball?”

I’m not worried that he’s overscheduled, not yet, because all this stuff is relatively spread out throughout the week, throughout the year. I’m still of a mind that playing T-ball will do him good, not harm – though I have very modest expectations about that good. I’m of a mind that even though baseball and basketball and soccer (the first one he tried) didn’t do it for him, team sports might still click for him at some point. Or, they won’t.

Right now, the value for him in playing baseball is twofold: the team camaraderie, and the possibility that the experience now will help him down the road, should he ever fall in like or love with the sport. There’s the possibility he’d someday regret him not playing T-ball. Whether those are reasons enough to have him out there, I’m not entirely sure. It might be just as possible that baseball will click for him when he’s not playing it.

I love baseball, but I don’t need my son to love it. He might even be better off not loving it.  A boy who loves swimming, biking and climbing is, as far as I’m concerned, just fine.