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Constant Elevation

maddux

A record producer friend once told me that Check Your Head,  the Beastie Boys’ 3rd album, was perfectly realized. That’s stuck with me over the years, the idea of being able to achieve something that lives up to your ambition. In a 1978 Playboy Interview, Bob Dylan said: “The closest I ever got to the sound I hear in my mind was on individual bands in the Blonde on Blonde album. It’s that thin, that wild mercury sound. It’s metallic and bright gold, with whatever that conjures up.”

I thought of this after reading Jeremy Collins’ terrific story on SB Nation, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at Greg Maddux”. As Tom Junod said on Twitter, “Every once in a while, a writer throws everything he’s got into a story. This is one of those stories.”

Sometimes, after I’ve read a good story I feel envious. After reading this piece, though, I felt elevated. It’s clear that Collins spent a long time, years, figuring out how to tell this ambitious, strong and exact story.

It’s worth your time.

[Photo Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images]

What’s In a Name?

riverawide3

Slide on over to SB Nation Longform and check out Joe DePaolo’s profile of Mariano Rivera III:

The father is here to cheer on his 20-year-old son — a redshirt sophomore for the Gaels. Listed on the Iona roster as Mariano Rivera, the son’s legal name is actually Mariano Rivera III (although most everybody, including dad, refers to him as “Jr.”). Beyond the name and the fact that they both pitch, there are other similarities between the two. There are also many differences, one of which is that the son is a starter — at least while he is in college. “He’s too good to be a reliever at this level,” says Iona head coach Pat Carey.

That’s an assessment the scouts seem to agree with. After Rivera records the third out, the men put down their radar guns and dutifully record the pitch in their notebooks. They offer no expression, but can’t help but to have been impressed by what they’ve seen so far. This is a good lineup that Rivera has set aside in the first, all via strikeout. Seton Hall’s high-powered offense entered the contest averaging 7.8 runs per game. That offense has helped propel them to a 16-4 record and the No. 19 spot in ESPN’s unofficial power rankings going into today’s game. Iona, which plays in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, seldom plays a team of this caliber. It is a rare chance for the scouts to see what Rivera can do against a lineup with some punch.

As he makes his way back to the dugout, he avoids eye contact with the scouts, but he is fully aware of their presence.

“Twenty something scouts,” he says. “Most scouts ever in my life. Obviously, it’s in the back of my mind.”

Rivera takes a seat and grabs as much solitude as he can in the cramped Iona dugout. This is hardly out of character for him. Rivera is well liked among this group, and treated like just one of the guys. He is close friends with some teammates, but he tends to set himself apart, and sits alone between innings.

[Photo Credit: Holly Tonini]

Requiem for a Welterweight

22-pacquiao-crop

I’m late on this but in case you missed it do yourself a favor and check out ​Brin-Jonathan Butler’s portrait of Manny Pacquiao for SB Nation Longform:

After eight frustrating years, four controversial fights, 42 contentiously scored rounds, with over 500 punches landed from more than 1,800 thrown, after two grueling hours of opportunity under the spotlight, on Dec. 8, 2012, Juan Manuel Marquez finally landed the punch of a lifetime against Manny Pacquiao. It happened with just one second left in the sixth round of their mythic saga. Pacquiao charged forward to land one final blow before the bell, and instead added his own momentum to Marquez’s immaculately-timed, coup de grace right-hand, which landed flush against Pacquiao’s jaw. On TV, when the punch landed, Pacquiao’s back was to the camera. The reverberations of the impact were only detectable through the sudden jolt of Pacquiao’s wet hair on the back of his head.

But isn’t this a staple of wrestling, meant to fool? Since the punch itself had landed with such comic book emphasis, the traction of the unfolding human drama, along with reality, became unhinged and, for an instant, suspended. In confusion and disbelief, many people watching around me in a New York bar laughed in horror. As Charlie Chaplin famously pointed out, from a distance, a man slipping on a banana peel or stumbling down a manhole is funny. It’s something altogether different up close. And since Pacquiao had fallen face-first and remained motionless, almost fastened to the canvas, there were no cues.

Elegy of a Race Car Driver

NRA American Warrior 300

Jeremy Markovich delivers a powerful story on the death of Dick Trickle at SB Nation Longform. Beautifully written and the graphic people at SB Nation created an impressive layout too. Worth your time:

Sometime after 10:30 on a Thursday morning in May, after he’d had his cup of coffee, Dick Trickle snuck out of the house. His wife didn’t see him go. He eased his 20-year-old Ford pickup out on the road and headed toward Boger City, N.C., 10 minutes away. He drove down Highway 150, a two-lane road that cuts through farm fields and stands of trees and humble country homes that dot the Piedmont west of Charlotte, just outside the reach of its suburban sprawl. Trickle pulled into a graveyard across the street from a Citgo station. He drove around to the back. It was sunny. The wind blew gently from the west. Just after noon, he dialed 911. The dispatcher asked for his address.

“Uh, the Forest Lawn, uh, Cemetery on 150,” he said, his voice calm. The dispatcher asked for his name. He didn’t give it.

“On the backside of it, on the back by a ‘93 pickup, there’s gonna be a dead body,” he said.

“OK,” the woman said, deadpan.

“Suicide,” he said. “Suicide.”

“Are you there?”

“I’m the one.”

“OK, listen to me, sir, listen to me.”

“Yes, it’ll be 150, Forest Lawn Cemetery, in the back by a Ford pickup.”

“OK, sir, sir, let me get some help to you.”

Click.

Never Taking Shorts Cause Brooklyn’s the Borough

Over at SB Nation Longform, here’s Jorge Arangure Jr on Brooklyn’s Field of Dreams:

In East Brooklyn, carved out among an urban dystopia of car washes, donut shops and fast-food joints sits an unlikely baseball field, the main field at City Line Park.

Although no one will mistake it for a professional field, the surface is almost immaculate. The infield dirt is well groomed and the foul lines are painted in perfect symmetry. In stark contrast to the dull grays of the surrounding streets and concrete sidewalks, the grass is a lush, rich green.

As much as a baseball diamond cut into a cornfield in Iowa, its presence here seems out of place. Yet if that place is known as the Field of Dreams, then surely this park in Brooklyn, at the corner of Atlantic Ave and Fountain Ave., is the Field of Broken Dreams.

Long Gone

Check out this tender story by David Davis over at SB Nation Lonform: “‘She is Gone’: The Search for the Gibson Home Run and for the Answers to a Family Tragedy”:

Some 25 years later, the Dodgers have yet to win another World Series. Heck, they’ve yet to return to the World Series.

On this day, as the afternoon sun bakes the dugout, I ask Gibson if he thinks about the home run when he returns to Dodger Stadium. He nods and peers down the right-field foul line. “I walk in here and always look up at where I hit the ball,” he said. “I kind of named it myself: seat 88 for 1988.”

Gibson has probably talked about this moment a thousand times, maybe more, but he seems in no hurry. “It’s very vivid to this day,” he continued. “I was in the locker room listening to Vin [Scully] on the TV saying, ‘Kirk Gibson will not be hitting tonight,’ and I just said, ‘My ass.’ I really had no business going up there to the plate. But, you know, it’s what I live for. I felt like my teammates wanted me to do it.”

I’ve arranged to interview Gibson because I’m trying to figure out what happened to the home run ball after it disappeared into the scrum in right field. Gibson himself never saw the ball again, and no fan came forward that evening, or the next day, claiming to have recovered it.

It is gone, permanently.

But this quest, I’m beginning to realize, is also personal. I had tickets to the very section where Gibson deposited his homer, but I didn’t attend the game. I can recall exactly where I was when he hit it out — which might explain why, 25 years later, I am trying to locate a ball that will never be found.

[Featured Image: Kate Joyce]

What Becomes a Legend Most?

Over at SB Nation’s Longform page check out this profile of Hector Espino–The Unknown Slugger–by our man Eric Nusbaum:

There is a joke told by Mexican baseball fans about Espino arriving at the pearly gates of heaven with much less fanfare. St. Peter doesn’t recognize Espino and asks God what he should do. “Don’t be a coward,” God says. “Pitch to him.”

Most American baseball fans wouldn’t recognize Héctor Espino either, even though he was the greatest hitter in Mexican history and by many accounts one of the best hitters of all time. Espino played from 1960 to 1984. He had wrists like the barrels of baseball bats and a body like a 5’11, 185-pound vending machine. He also hit somewhere between 755 and 796 professional home runs.

The exact total, like much about Espino’s career, is a matter of perspective.

 

Whip it Good

 

Over at SB Nation’s Longform, the talented Michael Mooney asks: What Happened to Jai Alai:

Looking at the rows and rows of seats, you can imagine a different time. There were thousands of people every night, men in dark suits and hats packed shoulder to shoulder. They’d be waving programs, downing brown booze, smoking cigarettes from cigarette cases or, better still, puffing thick cigars that would fill the room with pungent smoke and give the air just below the giant ceiling lights a ghostly blue haze. As the men on the court used oblong baskets to hurl a goatskin ball over and over against a granite wall, the men in the crowd would be hollering and belly laughing and slapping each other on the back. There was a time when the audience at the Miami Jai Alai fronton was so loud, the players on the court could barely hear their own thoughts.

Now though, the seats are almost all empty. On this clear-skied, 85-degree Tuesday afternoon in mid-winter, there are more players in uniform than spectators in the crowd. On the other side of the building, in the freshly renovated casino, there are plenty of people at the poker tables and parked in front of the more than 1,000 flashing slot machines. But in this massive auditorium, once the epicenter of the gambling action, it’s dead.

With every throw, you can hear the ball—in jai alai, the pelota—crash against the wall with a thunderous, echoing boom. You can hear the scoreboard beeping, and it sounds like the entire building is on life support. What was once a five-star restaurant at the top of the grandstand, the Courtview Club, is almost always dark and vacant now. The skyboxes, once bustling with young women offering cocktail service, now gather dust year-round. Same for the sectioned-off rows that once comprised the sizable press box. Even the players’ names, they once sounded so exotic and intriguing. Now they just seem … foreign.

[Photo Credit: Benherst; Flickeriver]

Sometimes Love Don’t Feel Like it Should

Over at SB Nation’s Longform, here’s Pat Jordan’s latest–The Pain and Pleasure of Spring Training:

That spring, I was assigned to the Boise club in the Class C Pioneer League. It might not have seemed like much of a jump from my Class D stint in McCook, Neb., the previous year, but Boise was one of the Braves’ elite minor league teams for its top prospects, especially pitchers. The Braves stacked Boise with so many great hitters that it was impossible for Boise pitchers to have losing records, even if their earned run averages were above five per game. The Braves thought that young pitchers needed confidence in their ability to win games and a stint at Boise would give it to them.

I threw well that spring, maybe 95-98 mph (there were no radar guns then) with a devastating overhand curveball that my teammates called “the unfair one.” I coasted through the first half of spring training with great anticipation for the start of the season, until one day, during a stint pitching batting practice, when my arm felt weak. I knew it was just a spring training sore arm, nothing serious, and it just needed rest, but I was too foolish to tell my manager, a redneck Southerner named Billy Smith. I wasn’t able to put much on the ball during my batting practice and my teammates complained to my catcher, Joe Torre. Torre kept shouting at me to throw harder, but I couldn’t. Finally, after one pitch, he walked halfway out to the mound and fired the ball at me. When he turned back around, I fired the ball at his head. It hit his mask, sent it spinning off his head, and the next instant we were both wrestling in the red dirt until our teammates pulled us apart.

The next morning I was assigned to a Class D team, Quad Cities, in the Midwest League. Billy Smith had told the Braves’ farm director, John Mullen, he didn’t want “no red-ass guinea” on his team. When I heard that, I wondered why I was the “red-ass guinea” and not Torre.

Blind Faith

Over at SB Nation’s Longform page there’s a beautiful piece by Pete Richmond about the world championships of blind baseball:

I haven’t cared a whole lot about the professional game ever since I asked Seth “Bam Bam” Clark of the Bayou City Heat – big, bald and blind since the shooting accident at 13 – what it was like to play this game, and he smiled and said, “It’s allowed me to see another side of the world.”

After that, I had no more questions, except what he was doing when he wasn’t playing, which is currently pursuing a Ph.D in American History at UC-Davis. Seth’s dissertation will examine the origins of slavery.

The Heat had been eliminated by the Chicago Comets, led by Gilberto Ramos, a 37-year-old who played a little Single A in the Royals’ system 14 years ago before a random bullet passed through one side of his head and out the other as he was driving home at 1 a.m. from the late shift at the Tyson Chicken packing plant in Chicago. The bullet missed his brain but severed his optic nerves. He’s a big man, and other than a little pockmark on each of his temples, and a few extra pounds, he still looks like a baseball player.

“Things happen,” Gilberto told me. Which is more or less what I heard from all of the players I talked to on the 17 teams who made the pilgrimage to the Midwest. Which is why when the Giants snuffed the Tigers last October, I barely noticed. Not after watching the sport played by men who play it for all the right reasons, and refuse to complain about bad calls, no money, no fame and no eyesight, and live for the one week, every year, when they can play the game against the best in their sport.

In other words, baseball players.

Do yourself a favor and check it out.

[Photo Credit: Marco Gualazzini for The International Herald Tribune]

Critical Beatdown

Over at Longform, Brin-Jonathan Butler writes about a boxer who trains Wall Street dudes (and then disses ‘em like he was the second coming of Robin Harris):

“At the end of the day all these Wall Street cats wanna feel like men,” Kelly explains calmly, lightly tapping me against the shoulder while we wait outside his gym in the cold for the mother of one of his young students to pick up her son. “They just never had daddy say to ’em, ‘Hey champ, you’re 19 and a sophomore in college now and you ain’t never been in a fight in your life. Guess what? You might be a pussy.’ Daddy never had that conversation with these motherfuckers. ‘Hey son, you might be soft.’ So guess what? They come to Eric Kelly to do it for ’em.”

Behind the Scenes

Over at SB Nation’s Longform page, check out this good read on Fox’s NFL broadcast by Zac Crain.

The King of New York

Over at SB Nation’s Longform page, check out Joe DePaolo’s long and considered piece on Mike Francesa:

Then, there is the case of ESPN’s “Sports Guy,” Bill Simmons. The two have been mutual admirers for some time. In a fawning 2006 column Simmons called Mike and the Mad Dog “my favorite radio show ever.” Francesa, in turn, views Simmons as incredibly witty and when Russo left the show in 2008, he even called Simmons to gauge his interest in co-hosting. Since then, Francesa has watched Simmons’s role at ESPN expand from writer and editor to serving as host of his own podcast – The BS Report – and appearing on ESPN’s NBA pregame show, NBA Shootaround. Francesa does not seem to approve.

“When you find something you’re good at, stick with it,” Francesa says – voicing a personal philosophy that runs counter to Simmons’s recent career developments.

“I think what happens in our business is that people get to a certain level, and then they’re like, ‘OK. I have to go prove I can do this now.’ Why? Why can’t you just stay there and do it really well? When you do something well, why can’t you stay there, and perfect it, and prove that you can do it really well?”

In response to a direct question about Simmons, Francesa shares an experience from his own career, illustrating a fundamental difference between the two iconic personalities. “A year-and-a-half into Mike and the Mad Dog, I got offered an enormous TV deal to leave, and I turned it down. It was the best decision I ever made. I could’ve left. But understanding where you belong, and understanding where you’re supposed to be and what you’re good at – I never entertained another serious offer. But I had a very serious offer that was wide in scope, and was a very big opportunity. And I turned it down.”

[Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle, Newsday]

Table for Two


Over at SB Nation check out Ashley Harrell’s story on love and ping pong in New York. It’s a good one.

[Photo Credit:  Mallie Cullen]

Chasing the Game

Over at SB Nation check out this long article I wrote on an old friend:

He’d played a lot of positions over the years. Today, he was a pitcher. It was more a testament to his willingness to be a good teammate than his talent. His curveball was non-existent, his knuckler average, and his fastball wasn’t all that fast. But he worked quickly and threw strikes, valued skills on a Sunday in the Westchester-Putnam (N.Y.) Men’s Senior Baseball League. The MSBL is an 18-and-older organization whose motto is “Don’t go soft, play hardball!” The national website claims more than 45,000 members, and it’s one of several amateur adult baseball programs to form over the past several decades. Nationwide, there are perhaps as many as 100,000 grown men still playing baseball every week.

“I don’t go to court thinking I’m Clarence Darrow,” Birbrower told me this summer. “But I hit a ball in the gap and think I’m Don Mattingly.”

For the past 20 years, Birbrower, a lawyer and divorced father of a son with autism, has played ball for teams like the Alleycats and Robins, the Smokers, and now the Braves. He was the guy who’d talk about at-bats from as far back as Pee Wee League. He had stories about everything: plays the scrubs made, wise cracks from guys on the bench, what the third baseman’s father yelled at an ump. But he loved nothing more than talking about himself. Anyone who has hit a ball on the sweet part of the bat knows it’s one of the greatest feelings you can have with your pants on, and Birbrower knew that rush as well as anyone. When he was a sophomore in high school he once hit five home runs in one week. It changed the way he saw himself. He wasn’t a regular guy who had gotten lucky; he was a star and now expected more, from both himself and the game.

“Until recently, everything was exaggeration,” Birbrower said. “If I went for a run it couldn’t be a nice run. I would be like, okay, I should run a marathon. I should write a book about running a marathon. Fuck it, I should write the best book about running a marathon that’s ever been written.”

Hope you like one. It’s about a kid who has become an admirable man.

Just To Get a Rep

Real nice piece over at SB Nation’s Longform on the Branding of Brooklyn by Brandon K. Thorp:

Outside Modell’s on Oct. 3 stood an elderly black man almost entirely dressed up in precisely that blue and orange crap — a Knicks windbreaker over a Carmelo Anthony jersey over a white tee-shirt, and an old-timey New York Knicks cap that actually said “Knickerbockers.” This man’s name was, it happens, Oscar Modell. “No relation,” he said.

Modell lives in Bed Stuy, and always has. “I just took a walk to see [Barclays],” After he did a walk-around of the arena, Oscar said he’d go to Junior’s, in downtown Brooklyn, for a piece of cheesecake.

“This is looking real good here,” he said. “I never thought I’d see something like it. I look forward to seeing the Knicks beat the stuffing out of the Nets here.”

Asked why he, a lifelong Brooklynite, wouldn’t root for a Brooklyn basketball team, he laughed.

“Brooklyn doesn’t have a basketball team,” he said. “Brooklyn’s got an arena. But I read the boys on the Nets don’t even live in Brooklyn. They don’t even live in New York.”

This is true. The Nets mostly still live in Jersey, near their practice facility. Small forward Gerald Wallace remarked recently that he’d never move to Brooklyn; that he’s too frightened of New York City to ever live in it.

“The boys on the Knicks, maybe they’re not from New York, but at least they want to come here,” he said. “Just like people from all over the world want to come here. That makes it a hometown team. But the Nets? The Brooklyn Nets? The Brooklyn Nets is just a logo. Maybe one day it’ll be more than that, but not yet. Not for a long time.”

Here’s the Nets bandwagon: I ain’t on it.

The Two Rogers

 

Head on over to SB Nation and check out a memoir story I wrote about my father and the two Rogers–Angell and Kahn. Leave a comment over there if you dig it.

Thanks.

Iron Man

Beauty of a story by Matt Tullis over at SB Nation’s Longform site.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver