The Hockey Muse Strikes Once More

“Be true to your school,” the song goes. The suggestion is nice, but is it useful? Such devotion is common, if not completely so. But we don’t need people to tell us how to cheer. Most of us will do so without prompting; others will be immune to prompting. So why bother?

I went to see college hockey for the first time in months, which is nothing weird–I tend to go to the rink just once or twice per winter. But this time, it’s different; I’m only in town for the long weekend. Luckily for me, the competitors don’t get this weekend off. Otherwise, when could I see them?

There’s no risk of untruthfulness, though–I didn’t switch to rooting for would-be opponents. Only indifference. It’s not my school I would be deserting, either. Growing up is perilous, whichever sport you follow–is it ridiculous to look up to heroes if you’re no longer younger? College sports supporters just hit this level of doubt more quickly, even if they go or went somewhere else.

So it’s not just the college you pick which cries out for your truthfulness in the end. It could be your onetime niche in the world–country, city, something defined subjectively but nevertheless luring you in with the promise of identity. Or something simpler–the ridiculous pep music with its historic insults. The legend whose picture rises on the edge of the building, who grew up blocks from where you did. The rink you go to so often. The people who go there with you, who love you. It’s enough to deserve truth.

It’s enough for me to cherish the opportunity to focus through the scoreless first period. To hook up to university wi-fi, Googling the school song’s lyrics. To cheer when they (we?) score in the second, then three more times in the third. Every time the light turns on (except once, when it looked like the others were definitely going to score, except for our netminder plucking it down) we sing out this wonderful reprise. By the end, it’s memorized.

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KC Up To Bat

Our squad’s outlook was not too brilliant on that awful day.
It was losing four to two with but a half-inning to play.
And Coonan got put out at first, and Barrows did so too.
No patron said a word; it was so sad, I couldn’t boo.

A straggling group of fans got up to go. But I would stay,
Clinging and hoping that our bats would allow us to play
On. And I thought, “If only KC could but whack at that!
Our odds would climb sky-high now if KC got up to bat.”

But Flynn was up first, and following him was just Jimmy Black.
And Flynn wasn’t any good, and Jimmy was a sad sack.
So upon that crowd, thinning out, just grim frustration sat,
For it didn’t look good that KC would find a turn to bat.

But Flynn swung hard and wound up with a hit, surprising all,
And though nobody thought that Jimmy Black could slug, his ball
Was trash following his clutch hit. And so Flynn had to gird
Up his loins to run around and finally stop at third.

And so, rising up from thousands of throats, a lusty shout
Was born to go both up and down as soon as it got out,
Knocking upon a mountain, bouncing back upon a flat,
For KC, mighty KC, was advancing up to bat.

KC was calm but tall and proud walking into his box,
Smiling in vibrant uniform and tugging at his socks.
And as, noticing all our roars, KC took off his hat,
Nobody among us could doubt who it was up to bat.

So thousands of us, watching, saw him rub his hands with dirt
Thousands of us, applauding, saw him rub hands against shirt.
And as our opposition ground ball against pitching hip,
KC stood waiting to rally, a smirk across his lip.

And now, a cork-and-cowskin wrap ball was hurtling through air.
And KC stood a-watching it; a haughty, proud affair.
Right by our sturdy batsman, it just stuck to its flight.
“That’s just a ball,” said KC, but his vision wasn’t right.

From our grandstand, black with fury, was a dull but angry roar,
Cold and distant, strong and tidal. “This is not what I paid for!
Kill him! Kill that blind man!” was our outcry in our stand
And I was about to kill him, but KC put up his hand.

I saw through Christian charity how KC’s soul was strong.
Stilling our rising tumult, urging things to go along
And nodding moundward till again a ball was coming through
KC stood still again, his count falling to oh-and-two.

“Fraud!” was our angry shout, and faraway sound too said fraud
But a scornful look from KC, and I sat straight as a rod.
I saw his focus growing cold, I saw his body strain,
Knowing KC would swing, hoping hoping wasn’t in vain.

No smirk now stands on KC’s lip; his mouth is shut. His wrists
Pound his bat up and down, his furious hands forming fists.
And now our opposition holds his ball, and now’s his throw.
And now air falls to shards against KC’s imposing blow.

Oh, in a lucky city far away, shining sunlight
Blurs with music from a band playing, making spirits bright.
That city’s mood is happy, kids run and play and shout,
But our town knows no joy, for mighty KC has struck out.

Lake Waters

I thought soccer clocks count down.
I thought the nation didn’t care.
Who was I to speak of a nation?
I was wrong. I wasn’t fair.

It only takes one crowd to
Understand how the game’s done.
Eleven on eleven comes
Down to seven on one.

Had lake waters
Come to quench fire?
Each kick was vital
The stands were hot
We were on our feet
Rising that much higher
Had lake waters
Come to quench fire?

Pay my respects to Ned Grabavoy.
Send my condolence to McBride.
Give my regards to Busch and Blanco.
If nothing else, I know they tried.
So long to wrong assumptions
I have learned more, and now I know.
Wave goodbye, wish me well
Because I had to go.

Had they become my home team?
Was I cheering for a dream?
The fourth official’s word is coming
Let us know if the clock’s still running

Had lake waters
Come to quench fire?
Each kick was vital
Sent from the spot
We were on our feet
Rising that much higher.
I had to go to know.

2009 “So Far”, For What It’s Worth

Bookkeeping note–I just deleted the “Non-sports” category. This is, after all, not just a sports blog, and I’m getting ready to transition into offseason mode. There’s still going to be content on the way, just not baseball-specific. So stay tuned.

In the meantime, here’s something I wrote last April, when the season was just beginning…

I’m not a particular fan of spring training, and I think I know why. It can’t “count.”

Now that I think about it, this is a ridiculous way to think. It’s just a sport. It shouldn’t count. If it did, fun would go away and only angst would stay. I would sigh following victory and panic following loss. It’s good that it’s not important…only, it is.

By “important,” I’m trying to say that it counts, if only in my mind. Not that it has anything to do with an actual, cynical world. I don’t want it to. I don’t want to know about a tragic thing in LA’s AL part (or suburb, anyway, it’s confusing). Or Harry Kalas, or Mark Fidrych, but I can’t avoid any of it, just as I couldn’t avoid Barry Bonds’ probability of criminality or A-Rod’s admission. Sport can function as an oasis or an island amid actuality, I’ll grant you that. But an island is not a portal to a mainland city. Sand must still surround any oasis.

Amid 2009’s first days of playing that “count,” Atlanta’s capitulation stood out. I don’t root for its loss as many fans root against Bronx triumph. For though many applaud and many boo 14-run innings it’s symbolically who (or what? No, still who) that won that disgusts a distinct group of…not fans, but folks who look at sports. Atlanta’s history of winning or losing isn’t important as I root against it. What is important is what could pass for my instinct, now. It’s not instinct, though. I had to absorb it along my road of fandom, and I don’t think I truly “got” what I should know. But I was told long ago that Atlanta’s mascot was immoral, and so now I root against it. That’s how absolutist I find things. If it’s not fair, it’s foul.

Still, a squad of champions is a squad of champions. If it can rally back from amazing margins, that’s good. That’s why this is my sport, not a thing with a clock. Giving up might occur, but it’s not so blatantly obvious.

Not now, though. Not in April. Nor in March, obviously. March was for a “Classic”…although I don’t know at what point I’ll allow it to qualify as “classic.” Not now, though. Japan is two for two; I was following this only upon noticing Dutch victory against Dominicans. If your most fascinating motivation to watch anything is a squad winning against a squad it should (looking at ranks), a thing or two is wrong.

Amid this and that, Bronx and Flushing saw unofficial play. It’s hard to classify such showdowns (it counts? it counts not?) but watching was fun anyway. During a Cubs loss, I was most struck in a good way by that ballpark’s top, with tall undulations around its rim, standing primly against a windy sky. Big garish ads, okay, but who lacks such nowadays?

Still, most things look good so far. A bonus of rooting for a Chicago squad is that it’s always first in divisional standings with 0 won, 0 lost. No As, no Bs, so C has it. Sox fans, though, might not think so. A snowout to start 2009, and I was thinking Twindom had it bad. A countdown to 2010 and its outdoor stadium is on, but waking to find snow with ‘09’s first matchup coming up that night was not a good sign. Purism has its limits…though agnosticism and/or opposition to a forthcoming stadium might also look unduly purist. Hmm. No way to win that.

I saw Casilla’s walk-off hit last fall. I didn’t go to his triumph this spring, though a sibling did, and I saw it on TV. It was fun to watch him walking up to bat and think wait, Casilla? Him again? Uh-huh! But such synchronicity is only good so far. Think of occasions on which nobody on a squad can hit. Talking about this will stop it, it’s said—though I did say that taboo word without trying to in Zambrano’s win last fall, and it didn’t impact anything.

Right now, “flirts with history” is a common sight on MLB.com. Oakland, Tampa Bay, Colorado, San Francisco—all found frustration, but all did wind up with hits. On account of random fans noting what was going on? Nothing can work in such a way. I know that, logically. But a part of my mind won’t trust logic. In a short-past (that is, not “long-past”) fall, I saw a jinx work just as rumor has it function. Too much of this and I fall into traps. It’s such a grand hallucination—that my own rooting, my own talking or not talking, has an actual impact on anything at all. That any of it is important.

Go Go Go Gomez

After the Twins got knocked out
They tried to keep their fortune high.
Four outfielders were too many
So it was time to say goodbye.

It wasn’t like they’d been upset,
But who to give up? Who to get?

Go, go, go, Gomez; we wish you could stay
But we’d like someone who knows how to play.
We’ll give up Gomez, fight till we win
Get a new lineup, and then we’ll begin.

Now on Gardenhire’s clipboard
There were four (and that’s too many) names.
He didn’t know how to rotate
Them through all the season’s games.
Hey, Gomez, take one for the team,
Cause you don’t quite fit into this scheme:

Four skilled outfielders that played for the Twins
All in the clubhouse and looking for wins.
In right Cuddyer, the most trusted man,
Gomez rotated with Young and with Span.

“Tell me of your needs,” said Smith,
With Milwaukee on the line.
“I can almost guarantee
That yours aren’t the same as mine.”

First Melvin had been looking for
Arms, asking around the trading floor.

“There we were losing, Sabathia gone,
I waited for inspiration to dawn.
We’d give up Hardy, and get a new ace.”
No one accepted; cue an about-face.

“Nothing comes for free, my friend,
But do not worry any more.
We’ll take Hardy off your hands
And give you someone who can score.”

Then some more telephone calls were made
More details before the games were played.

“Hey, are you standing? You’d better sit down
But get ready to get out of this town.
We’ve just replaced you at a good price
But good luck to you, knowing you was nice.”

Cameron and Cabrera
Both have bags they’ll need to pack
The odds are good that neither is
Going to be invited back.
Don’t rely on all the GMs said
It’s just that they’re both thinking far ahead.

Go, go, go, Gomez, we wish you could stay,
But we want someone who knows how to play.
Sha la la Gomez, it’s not your place
You’re ahead of the throw, but not yet to the base.

Yankee Stadium Playoff Closer

To chase is not to catch–it is to run
Always in pursuit even if you’ve won.
Catching’s for the defense, but undefended
The title passes on, the season ended.

It would have been little consolation.
The celebration would not be for you
Even though you did all that you could do,
If it was not enough. “What might have been?”
You’d ask, knowing when it ended you were
Impotent on deck. No, those who secure
The win earn this extra honor too. Not
The closer who got the saves, but the bat
That blew the last game so far open that
It didn’t need salvation, takes the prize.
The selection’s wise; the winning runs scored,
And the Yankees’ longtime force is restored.
You’ll find it written in the physics books
The law they call Hooke’s. Things always bounce back.
A derailed decade does get back on track.
Sometimes it’s slow, and many decades pass,
But always the mass goes back where it came.
Even repeating titles aren’t the same
When sines and cosines ebb and flow through time.
The Yankees, sublime, just ebb with more speed.
However, there’s another way to read
The formula. Euler set it up right:
Sines and cosines might as well be the things
That fans love best–imaginary springs.

Numb to the numbers

Used well, previous results predict future outcomes. Picking the right numbers to crunch points out things to expect. Even if you’re not too concerned with tomorrow’s scores, looking over simple sets of digits (wins, losses, runs per inning) is useful for noting which pitchers did well. Over the course of the summer, these tendencies will help you decide who’s the best.

But then October comes. Then everything is wiped out, so you must find new metrics. Momentum is much more powerful if you’ve just eroded huge deficits. “Clutch” skill might not exist, but if it does, everyone’s looking for it. Few things feel good like turning to strong pitchers to begin series. Sometimes–with lucky homers–you don’t need much more.

But other times, you don’t hold your opponents to one run. You win, yes, but 8-5. It’s fine, it’s still victory. But it’s foolish to judge skill by results in this month. It’s time for flukes, surprises, contentious rulings, but not long-term tests of merit. We desire (mostly those of us not pulled to either side) long series, stretching even into November, but no series like this is long enough to give very useful box scores. This is doubly so for pitchers.

Which is why I just don’t like MLB.com greeting me with “Winning pitcher: Pettite. (1-0, 6.00). Losing pitcher: uh, let’s go with “Cole”. (0-1, 10.38).” Of course he’s 0-1! It’s contest three! We might not even see him until next spring, this tells us nothing.. 10.38 runs per inning? Surely there’s something more interesting?

It’s nice to get things off my chest.

On the non-lipogrammatic front, I’ve discovered the wonders of Wordle, a website that creates pretty pictures of sets of words you put in. The more often you use a word, the bigger it’ll show up. Naturally, I tested it out on the blog. The result (click any of these for bigger versions) was heavily influenced by “Elegy”…
Wordle: Lipogram! Scorecard!
So that was clearly a biased sample. Why not one with just my e-lipograms? What words do I use instead?
Wordle: Lipogram words
But that’s not quite accurate–it doesn’t take into account the really useful words, like “a”. The first and last pictures don’t either, but here’s my complete lipogram corpus:
Wordle: Common lipogram words
So has this changed over time? You be the judge–the following words were used in the Humbug era. (This includes my posts there, some of my older comments, and a few other bits of randomness.)
Wordle: Humbug era