musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

Posts tagged ‘baseball’

The “Good Lord” is not answering your calls

If there is one thing that baffles me, and often drives me crazy about mankind, it’s those people who espouse fervent religious beliefs. Even nowadays, in this age of advanced scientific knowledge and greater acces to information, you see far too many people relying on their “faith” to make decisions or form opinions, believing that a “miracle” or “the grace of God” will solve a problem. Stories about “extremist” Muslims are prominent in the news nowadays, but I think the devout Christians, Jews, and Hindus are just as disturbing — and just as dangerous. Call me an atheist, call me a heathen; just don’t call me a mindless follower of some nonsensical religion.

You wouldn’t think that religion and sports would be a compatible couple, but that’s not the case either. I’ve been a baseball fan since I was a snot-nosed kid and all these years later I still follow the sport, despite the outrageously high salaries that players are making, not to mention the cost of attending games. Listening to games on the radio and reading box scores in the daily newspaper many years ago led to watching games on TV and going to the parks to see games in person. Now that I live in Thailand I’m content to check scores online each day, catching the occasional video highlights of a game. Baseball has always had it share of quirky rules and even quirkier players, but it also boasts many religious players, ones who seem to think that divine intervention will affect the outcome of the game or help them individually. You will often see Catholic players crossing themselves when they step into the batter’s box, while other Christians point to the sky after scoring a run or hitting a home run. “Thank you Jesus, that just helped my batting average!” But baseball is not the only sport where the religious loonies believe that praying is going to give them an added edge or ensure victory. You see these pitifully pious acts in football, basketball, and other sports too.

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Last week the Toronto Blue Jays were playing the Texas Rangers in the first round of the year-end playoffs when one bizarre play left everyone scratching their heads. The Toronto catcher was attempting to throw the ball back to the pitcher when the ball glanced off the bat of the Texas player who was still standing in the batter’s box. After the ball caromed off the bat, a runner on third base alertly ran home to score. Initially, the umpire ruled it a dead ball, but on further reflection he cited an obscure rule and reversed his call, allowing the run to score. That run put Texas ahead at the time, but they ended up losing the game. That was obviously a big relief to the Toronto players and fans, but obviously not a surprise to the “real” believers. One of the Toronto players, a born-again Christian pitcher named R. A. Dickey said of the controversial play, “I was thinking there is no way that the Good Lord is going to let a game end like that, no way.”

Huh? “Ya Gotta Believe” is one thing, but a statement like this is simply ludicrous. Even if you are one of those superstitious sorts that believe that there is such a thing as a “Good Lord,” do you really think that your “savior” is going to give a flying fandango about the outcome of a baseball game? Honestly, these people are delusional.

In a somewhat comical twist of irony, Dickey was the pitcher for Toronto last night and was shelled by the Kansas City Royals, losing the game by a big margin. Obviously, the “Good Lord” wasn’t inclined to help out Mr. Dickey and the Blue Jays this time around. What, he wasn’t answering your prayers? Well, if he’s not answering those calls, maybe posting something on his Facebook page might catch his attention?

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The Filth of July

I saw this little news blurb, buried in the sports section of an online site earlier this week:

An Alabama minor league baseball team has cancelled a gun raffle that was supposed to be featured during its Second Amendment Night promotion. Huntsville Stars spokeswoman Nicole Colonis said Monday that the raffle during the team’s Wednesday night game against the Chattanooga Lookouts was cancelled after Minor League Baseball officials said the promotion was likely not in the franchise’s best interest. Colonis says Second Amendment Night will still feature free admission for members of the National Rifle Association who present their membership card. The Huntsville Stars are a Class-AA affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers.

Ah yes, only in America could they think of holding such an idiotic promotion like that. Of course you also have to keep in mind that we’re talking about Alabama, hardly a hotbed of liberal values. But it’s still part of the good old U S of A, that bastion of rednecks, religious extremists, gun-toting misanthropes, and other cruel and unusual peckerheads. And hey, today is the Fourth of July, the annual Independence Day holiday in the USA, so you can bet all those misguided patriots will be waving their flags, shooting off their illegally purchased fireworks — and guns, of course — and proclaiming how proud and privileged they are to be living in “the land of the free and home of the brave.”

What a bunch of hogwash. I’m an American by birth, but I’ve lived in Southeast Asia for the past 17 years and that experience has definitely given me a different perspective on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Suffice to say, I don’t miss living in the USA whatsoever and I have zero desire to return, even for a short visit. The last time I did return to the States was 13 years ago and even then it felt awkward and uncomfortable being there. Keep in mind that this was in 2000, before the calamity of 9-11 and the Twin Towers. No wars yet in Iraq or Afghanistan, no taking off half your clothing to walk through airport security. Yeah, it was a long time ago.

I shudder to think how I’d react to being back in the US nowadays, being around Patriots and Freedom-Lovers, Right-wing Republicans and Born-Again Christians, and other sub-species who scorn science and deny the existence of climate change. I realize that not all Americans are brain-dead, TV-addicted churchgoing NRA members. At least half the population still seems reasonably same. Nevertheless, I think going back there would be quite unpleasant. I’m positive I would be miserable, short-tempered, and say awful things. Hell, perhaps I would do awful things. Whatever the scenario, it would be blunt and ugly and painful, and so … I ain’t going back.

In the US, back in the early 1970s during the days of the Vietnam War when there was controversy about draft dodgers who would move to Canada to escape military service, it was common to see these bumper stickers on cars that said: America: Love it or Leave It.

That was excellent advice.

 

Nishioka’s Classy Move

Over in the world of sports, the baseball season is down to its last handful of games before the first round of playoffs start this weekend. Plenty of tension and excitement swirling around ballparks at the moment, but perhaps the most notable baseball event last week was not a game, but an off-the-field story, so unusual that it left fans both impressed and puzzled.

 

In perhaps the classiest act of the year, Minnesota Twins infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka waived his right to his entire three million dollar salary for the 2013 season (along with a $250,000 buyout), asking for release from his contract instead. But it’s not like this was some clever strategy to negotiate a better contract or to seek a more lucrative offer elsewhere. No, Nishioka was simply refusing to be paid for what he deemed was his own unsatisfactory performance. Think about it; this guy basically refused to take three million dollars that was his, opting instead for honor, self respect, and peace of mind. Screw all the rest of the overpaid, selfish players in the league; even without a hit all season, Nishioka is the player of the year.

 

Here’s the story in a nutshell: Nishioka was signed to a three-year, $9.25 million contract before the 2011 season, after the Twins had bid $5.3 million to his Japanese team for negotiating rights. Once his stint with the Twins started, however, things quickly turned sour. Nishioka broke his left leg just five games into the season when a New York Yankees player slid into him, trying to prevent a double play. But when Nishioka returned from the injury two months later, he never got into a groove and finished the season with a lowly .226 average, only five extra-base hits, along with 12 errors. This was a sharp contrast to his stellar career in Japan, where he was a five-time all-star and a three-time Gold Glove winner. In fact, the year before he signed with the Twins he had the highest batting average in the league.

 

So obviously, Nishioka was a big disappointment during his time playing baseball in the US. Some fans even used the word disaster. Nishioka spent most of this year in the minor leagues, and during his short (less than one week) call-up to the big league club Minnesota in August he went hitless and made more mistakes on the field. So, rather than extending this reign of embarrassment, Nishioka decided it was time to walk away. In a statement to the press, this is what Nishioka had to say:

“I would like to thank the Twins organization for helping me fulfill my dream of playing in Major League Baseball,” Nishioka said. “I take full responsibility for my performance which was below my own expectations. At this time, I have made the decision that it is time to part ways. I have no regrets and know that only through struggle can a person grow stronger. I appreciate all the support the team and the fans in Minnesota and Rochester have shown me.”

 While his performance on the field was far below expectations, Nishioka consistently showed class during his time with the Twins. In various interviews he was always unfailingly polite and promised to try and improve his play in order to help his team. It’s just a shame that he couldn’t play better and make a more positive contribution to the team. Unselfish players with good attitudes like Nishioka seem to be a rare thing in sports nowadays. It’s damn refreshing to see a player take responsibility for his own lack of performance and not offer weak excuses or blame others. The transition to a new league, and to a new country and a new culture, all while communicating in a new language, could not have been easy for Nishioka, yet he never stopped trying. Most likely he’ll return to play in Japan next year. But no matter where he continues his career, I’m rooting for him to succeed. Tsuyoshi Nishioka is the epitome of class.

 

Jack Reacher, Chipper Jones, and Margeaux Mango

I got an e-mail last week from Lee Child’s website, informing me that the new novel was coming out; another Jack Reacher spectacular. Say no more; I gotta have it. Gotta read it. Now. And luckily, my sense of urgency was satisfied. I strolled over to the Emporium, went to the tiny branch of Asia Books located there, and the new Lee Child book, A Wanted Man, was right there on the shelf. Less than 48 hours later, I had read all 400 and something pages, satisfied again by another fun, funny, and thought provoking Jack Reacher adventure. Really, I love these novels. On the surface, they might fit the mold of action-packed thrillers; lots of action and bad guys getting put in their place by Reacher. But there is a lot more going on in these novels than Jack Reacher kicking ass, drinking lots of coffee, getting the girl, and leaving town with only a toothbrush in his pocket. These stories force the reader to think, and marvel at the way that Reacher thinks through various situations, as he ends up dispensing his own style of justice. And this time around I loved the baseball references; from the Kansas City Royals and George Brett to the New York Yankees and the legendary Bill “Moose” Skowron. If Lee Child is not a baseball fan — and I wonder if he really is, having grown up in England — he’s certainly done his research.

 

Speaking of baseball, another thing that brought a big smile to my face this week was seeing the Sunday night walk-off homer by Chipper Jones of the Atlanta Braves. I don’t have a TV, and if I did I wouldn’t even have access to cable sports, but I watched a clip of Chipper’s home run on ESPN’s website. Now 40 years-old and playing a final season before retirement, Chipper is having also one of his best seasons ever. He takes a day or two off each week nowadays, needing to rest those surgically repaired knees, so his stats may not rank with his best, but when he’s in the lineup he still makes an impact. He’s virtually carried the Braves all year. So why isn’t he in the running for another MVP award this year? The Braves look like they are going to make the playoffs, probably as a wild card finalist, and there is no way they’d be in that position without Chipper. Maybe he doesn’t have enough “official” at bats to qualify for the leader boards, but I’ll say it again; when he’s playing, he delivers. Seeing the highlight reel of that home run on Sunday night was a totally feel-good moment, one of those things that remind me of why I love the sport so much. I only saw Chipper play one time before I moved to Thailand in the mid-1990s, and that was when he was playing for the Braves in 1991 … the Macon Braves, that is (At that time the Macon Braves were the Class A farm team of the major league squad). Somewhere in a dusty closet back in Florida, sitting in a neglected box of crap, are photos I took of Chipper back when he was playing for Macon. Not only has he been a Hall of Fame caliber player, Chipper Jones has always been one of the game’s class acts — a rarity in today’s world of overpaid, spoiled athletes. Here’s hoping that the Braves do in fact make the playoffs, Chipper remains healthy, and he shines during his final moment in the sun.

 

And speaking of shining, and to complete today’s triple play, my friend Margeaux, who goes by the nickname of Mango, flew in from Spain yesterday. She was only in Bangkok for two days, but it was enough time to get together and meet for a fine dinner, this time at Cabbages and Condoms, the touristy but tasty Thai Restaurant on Sukhumvit Soi 12. Great food and great company; I was smiling like I’d just seen another Chippper Jones home run when I left the restaurant. Mango is works as an interpreter at conventions and meetings around the world, particularly in Asia. She is flying to South Korea tomorrow for a week-long event, and next month she’ll be working an even longer seminar in India. In between work, she is trying to finish writing a raw food cookbook. Busy lady! Too bad she won’t be around next month when our mutual friends Janet Brown and Ma Thanegi will also be in Bangkok.

 

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