Batting Cages

I fucking love batting cages.

These things are pretty much all over the place. This is a pretty cheap one near Jung-dong station. It’s outside, 1000 won a play, paid in two 500 won coins, and there’s a few different machines set to different speeds. I started at 80-km and then went to 140-150km. It gets the job done. (The job being fun.)

But there’s better ones than this. Like this one is just a yellow ball coming out of a wall at you after a light blinks. The one I really like, though it costs quite a bit more, is near Jangsan and called Strikezon. It uses projectors and has a whole game built in.

Works like this: You rent time – 20 minutes is about three innings. Then you play as a team. There’s an image of a pitcher and you see the ball coming out of his hand. When you get a hit, the motion detectors track the ball, shows where it lands, and computer guys catch it and make plays on the screen. So you get three outs, base-runners, score runs, and can play against someone. You can hit into double plays, pop-out, hit balls into the gap. It’s a lot of fun. I’ve only done it once but I think I’ll be hitting this one up every time I finish one of my math units. Nice way to relax.

And, man, I miss playing baseball. Miss it in my bones.

The other thing is, and this may even be the high-point of my life, when I played at Strikezon, something weird happened. I was taking the warm-up pitches. And I was alone in there with the guy who works there. (Nice guy, working on his English, so getting some practice with me.) Anyway, I hadn’t swung a bat since I was in Seoul and, before that, it’s probably been over twenty years. So, you know, bit rusty.

“You have a nice swing,” he says.

“Be nicer if I could hit something,” says I.

Because I’m just whiffing on pitches. I’m close but I’m missing them all. Honestly, it’s a bit embarrassing. Then I get one. And boy do I get it! I hit that motherfucker hard. So hard that when it hits the wall, bright orange sparks fall from the ceiling, the worker screams, and the power in the room goes out. The projection screen shuts off then reboots with an error message. The ceiling was like the scoreboard in The Natural.

Sparks! Big orange fire sparks from the ceiling!

Guy said that he’d never seen anything like that before. He got it all working again.

Now, if I had any sense, I would have just flipped my bat, and walked out of there. I would never return. I’d just let that bit of stupid luck become a story. Let that story become legend. At some point, I’d meet that man again. We’d be a couple of grizzled old men in some dive bar near the wharf. He’d start telling me the story of the lanky man who knocked fire from the sky and I’d sip my whiskey and say: “Kid, I remember. I was there.” But I have no sense. None. I stuck around and spend the next twenty minutes returning to earth. It was still fun though.

Ex Jaytriot – Pro- A-triot (or something)

Some of you may remember me as a Blue Jays fan. Well, memories are nice. Or they can be. But the past is not necessarily a decent guide to the future or the present. Things change. I still, on occasion, watch the Blue Jays (by choice, even) but I’m not really a fan. At least, not a conventional one. The closest thing I can compare my fandom to is to a group of Mexican baseball fans I once heard about on Twitter — back when Twitter still existed.

These fans show up to games wearing all-black to root against their team. It doesn’t really make much sense unless you know the feeling. They’re fans of the team they’re rooting against but that is the shape their fandom takes. And that’s basically how I feel about the Blue Jays. It’s not love and it’s not hate and it’s not love/hate. Rather, it’s some other complicated and morbid relationship with the team. I don’t even like the Blue Jays anymore. As a matter of fact, I fucking loathe the Blue Jays. But it’s an intimate loathing. A loathing that probably has more love in it than most people who support the team. It’s kind of an erotic drinking of tears sort of thing. Sad but sexy.

There’s a lot of reasons for this feeling. I could make a list. We could be here all day. Part of it is Rogers. Part of it is that fucking statue of Ted Rogers. (That shit deserves a baseball curse.) Some of it is astroturf. Some of it is throwing beer-cans at players. (Babies, I don’t care so much about.) These days, part of the problem is Vlad Jr. still being in the minors. The list starts decades ago and it just goes on and on. But the biggest thing is moving. Without moving, none of that would matter. It never had before.

cf

California, 2018

When I came to Cali, I figured I should adopt a local team.  I had no plans to ever move back to Toronto. Holding onto the Jays seemed like strapping myself to the past. It seemed like nostalgia. Nostalgia sickens me. Some people would view holding on to a fandom as loyalty. To me, it seems more like a failure to adapt. It’s not like the Blue Jays are a principle. Most of baseball fandom is geography. You’re born in a place, you root for that team, The End. Hell, that’s one of the things I like about it. You don’t really need to think about the team you root for. You’re just in. Thick or thin. No choice.

But, when you move, that changes. And when you move to a place like California, into a whole other division, with its incredible abundance of baseball teams, you have to make more choices. It’s a baseball buffet but you can only eat one. Them’s the rules.

When I first arrived, I thought I would go for The Giants. They’re a likable bunch. Why wouldn’t you go for The Giants? I went to one of their games. I watched some others.

I just couldn’t do it.

You see, the problem with the fucking Giants is that they’re too good. I don’t mean on the field, though, when I came down, they were good on the field too. I mean everything. Their park is absolutely beautiful. Their broadcast is stellar. They really seem to care about their fans. They do everything right. It’s a really wonderful experience. It’s warm and fuzzy as opiates on a cool fall day. It’s a welcoming bliss. I couldn’t stand it. There’s a reason I don’t fuck with Molly anymore. I don’t need that much love in my life.

There is no easy way to go from the Blue Jays to bliss. Or, maybe, it’s too easy. To transform from a Blue Jays fan to a Giants fan, you really have to be able to put your feet up and say – it’s fine, I deserve good things. I just couldn’t do it. I felt like a trespasser in baseball heaven. A nice place but I’m not dead yet. I didn’t belong there. The whole thing was at odds with my sense of baseball. Baseball is not about good things. It’s about another meaningless September. It’s about articulating boredom. It’s about hurt. The Giants just don’t get that. They can’t. Being in that park its own reward.

But the A’s? The Coliseum? That’s not a reward. That’s a place you should never be.

Still, when I went to the Coliseum to see the A’s, that shit just felt like home. The stadium was the thunderdome promised in the ancient scrolls of punk rock. There wasn’t even a jumbotron. No cheering for pizza. The fans had to make their own fun and they did and they do. The Coliseum doesn’t care if you live or you die. I’m certain that bands of orphans have grown up there, emerging at night to fight seagulls and possums for scraps – a few lucky ones eventually becoming Oakland A’s themselves. Some people think Josh Donaldson is from Florida. If you’re an Oakland fan, you know better. He was born in right field, abandoned there by his parents, raised by a roaming gang of misfits and Raiders fans until he was coaxed onto the field by Ron Washington with a bag of peanuts and taught to play baseball. He became an Athletic. Then he was traded. Because Oakland will break your heart. That’s what they do. That’s the price. Billy Beane might occasionally listen to his daughter but the team doesn’t care what you like.

And the team is cheap. Holy shit, is this team cheap!

Screenshot from 2018-08-20 09-00-11

But even that cheapness an improvement over the Blue Jays. At least, cheap is an ethos. You know what you’re getting into with the A’s. The A’s are CHEAP. They are very fucking cheap. They even made a movie about how cheap they are. It’s a small market dominated by The Giants. The A’s aren’t even the most popular team in Oakland. I’ve seen their afternoon games not even broadcasted. You know what they showed instead of the A’s? Darts. They showed darts. FUCKING DARTS! Can you believe that? DARTS!

The Jays are cheap but it’s a rich-cheap, not a hustle-cheap. The Jays are a huge market, which they dominate. They own the channels they appear on. The Jays have money to burn. They should be run like the Yankees. But you know they will never be. You just never really know why not. I followed them for decades and I can safely say that you never know where you stand with the Jays. Will they spend? Won’t they? Who the fuck knows? They’re cheap-skating Vlad Jr. right now. That shit don’t bode well.

But with Oakland? You know that they’re going to be capital C cheap. They’re going to trade players like JD. There’s no mystery to it. They’re not going to wait for their stars to lose value. They have no margin for error. They have to get what they can while the getting is good and they don’t always get anything good. Sometimes, they just get what they can. Sometimes, they don’t even recoup the bag of peanuts that the player was coaxed onto the field with and they end up with Brett Lawrie pounding his chest and screaming into the sky. It’s terrible. But, if you can ignore your shattered heart, if you can get a little fish-eyed and dead on the inside, it makes sense. You just have to buck up and accept the ethos. The shit is ruthless. Oakland doesn’t get stars, it makes them.

But, as cheap as the A’s are, you get the Coliseum at Coliseum prices. With The Giants, you get AT&T at AT&T prices. With the Jays, you get the Fucking Rogers Centre at AT&T prices. I’ll take The Coliseum any day. I’ve been to both places. The SkyDome is worse and it’s not even close. And when the Jays are winning? It’s white suburban scumfuckery.

And, no matter what else this cheap ethos does, it makes the A’s into underdogs. They’re never supposed to be any good. But you know what? They often are.

So yeah, since about 2012, it’s been A’s for me. There’s been some ups and some downs along the way. The biggest down probably being the JD trade – mainly because it brought Brett Lawrie to Oakland and, after all that jingoistic bullshit Toronto put on him, I never wanted to see that strange-brained motherfucker again. Two seasons of watching Billy Butler hit into double plays was no picnic. Don’t even get me started on Billy Burns. There were times –and I know my Blue Jays people will understand this– when Rajai Davis was the best part of the team. But this year? This year is an up. It’s a really big up.

This year looks like this.

Dk4ixXJUwAIJCLG

It’s late August and the A’s are fighting not only for a wild card position but for first place in the AL West – a position held by the reigning World Series champions, The Astros. Over the past couple of days, the A’s touched first place. However this goes, that was not supposed to happen. Whatever happens now, something really odd has gone on here.

They’ve gone from being terrible to being one of the best teams in baseball. Some of this is witchcraft. Some of this is that they were never quite as bad as they looked. Like, the last few years, starting with JD trade, they weren’t great but they weren’t as bad as their record either. What they were, in those years, was a team where nothing could go wrong and some things really could not go wrong. They were teams where those things all went wrong. Where nothing really went right. That shit happens in baseball. It’s ugly.

That changed at around last season’s All Star Break. They brought up the two Matts. The team became a lot of fun to watch. If they only had some starting pitching, not much –the team can hit and, with the two Matts and a Ron Washington educated Marcus Semien, they can even field– the A’s looked, to me, like they could, maybe, compete for a wild card. They just needed some pitching. That was the best case scenario. It’s not how things played out in 2018. They had no starting pitching and what they did have immediately got hurt. And then the replacements got hurt. The guys that replaced the replacements all fell down dead. Their replacements were summoned from the netherworld with a Quija Board. The starting staff of the A’s is now a list of The Dead. It looked like the A’s were doomed to another rough, if fun, year. But then?

Witchcraft. Lots of witchcraft.

ydt3406ddwhd2pncda6epyoh4-02

The bullpen of all things, that great chaos monkey of baseball, took over. The A’s shortened games. After the sixth inning, this team can hang with anyone. Before that, they just have to stay within striking distance. With this offence, that’s some distance.

And now even the ghosts who haunt their starting rotation are pitching well.

What the fuck?

There’s still a lot of baseball to play. Anything can still happen. (Except the Orioles. They can’t happen. That’s mathematically impossible.) But, whatever does happen, I’m happy I gave up the Jays for the A’s years ago. Had I not moved to Cali, and moved to let’s say, Boston or New York or some other AL East town, I’d still be with the Jays. (I’m not a fucking monster.) But the A’s? This team is special. It’s a good thing.

Hail Satan.

Go Oakland!

Log: Tailor Trips, Loyalties and Whatnot

It feels like it’s been a pretty busy week. Probably because I had some extracurricular activities. On Monday, for example, I had to get a haircut and go to the tailor. The haircut was expected but the trip to the tailor was not. Turns out the cloth that I’d ordered for my birthday suit was out of stock. So I had to pick again. It’s a shame. That was a really beautiful cloth. But I’m pretty happy with the new one I’ve chosen too so . . .

Basically, how I choose is like this:

I have a rough idea of what I want when I go in. In this case, it was a dark grey, double breasted suit in a heavy cloth with a windowpane check. I go through all the books with the cloth samples. From each book, I pick one and leave it open to that “page.” Then, I get all of those books sitting on the table, all the samples next to each other and I just look at them. In this case, I had about twelve books open. I start to eliminate. Close a book, put it aside. So on and so forth. It’s pretty easy until I get down to three. By the time I’m down to three, there’s not actually much I can do in terms of picking the cloth. Any of them would be fine. At that point, the quality of the suit will be more a factor of other things, the cut and whatnot. Might as well flip a coin. But, often, one will stand out to me and that’s what happened here. It was different than I expected. It’s a dark blue with a check pattern in a cloth a bit lighter than I’d originally wanted. But that’s fine. I’m open to changing depending on what I like. The original idea is more of a guide than anything.

It’s strange working with a new tailor. I miss my old guy, Don Fabien Lee of Trend Custom Tailors, in Toronto. It was very easy to get on the same page with Don. This house is a bit more traditional, which is some of the appeal, but I dunno . . . Having a new tailor is just weird. But you just have roll with the punches in life and let things develop on their own terms. The proof will be in the pudding and that’s just starting to be made.

Aside from all this, I had a fairly significant amount of schoolwork to get through. Honestly, the only day off it feels like I have is the time between leaving work at midnight on Sunday night and when I wake up on Monday. If I manage to get out in front of the school, I sometimes have a Thursday when I don’t have to do anything. No such luck this week. I had to take two quizzes, write a discussion post and do an English assignment. But that’s not so bad. I did get to watch some baseball with the dogs.

20180517_170856_HDR-01

A’s were at Toronto. I used to feel a lot more conflicted about this but, these days, it’s pretty easy to root for the A’s over the Jays. Part of that is just Fuck Rogers and another is how much I like the A’s. I still follow the Jays but I have a hard time supporting them. I sort of like hating them. I don’t know. It’s complicated. Probably dysfunctional.

And the A’s laid a pretty good thumping on the Jays. It was a pretty typical A’s game. Hit a lot and can’t pitch for shit. It only lacked Matt Chapman doing something at third that made me say “Oh my God!” That’s one special player. I’ll be at work for the rest of the series so I’m just going to go ahead and assume that A’s get a sweep.

As far as this blog goes, I’m trying to be a bit more consistent. That means breaking up what would just be Owl Pellets into separate posts. I mean, in the old days, Owl Pellets used to just be ‘undigested parts of the internet’ – the stuff I read but didn’t have time to post about. Seems to me that if all the posts are going to be in pellet form, I just don’t have the time to blog. So I’m breaking those up and using a bit of scheduling technology. Basically, I’m trying to write the week on Fridays before work, leave open Fridays to do a “log” post like this and, if I have the time or inclination throughout the week, then do something extra. Couple weeks in and that seems to be going okay. Shit won’t be cutting edge current or whatever but I think that’s kind of a garbage value anyway. Anyway . . .

We’ll see how it goes.

 

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is Clutch

When he stepped to the plate with two outs in the ninth inning of a tie game that would not proceed to extra innings, I turned to my wife and said: “Let’s see if he has it.”

It’s a lot of pressure to put on a kid. Baseball is difficult to begin with. So are fathers. Playing baseball while wearing your father’s number in the city where he started his Hall of Fame career and you were born must be more pressure than most people could handle. To have to do it so young? And then, to add to your trouble, to have people like me, sitting on their couch and deciding that this is the moment they’ll reach a verdict on you? That this will tell them if you have it? Well, that shit must be annoying.

AP REDS EXPOS S BBN CAN

To be fair to Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (and myself), I wasn’t pinning everything on this moment. I’d seen him play a few times this spring and had already formed some opinions. I agreed with the scouts who said that he’s one of the best prospects in baseball. While a bit more time in the minors will serve him well, he already looks like he can hang with major league pitching. At his age, that’s incredible. And, if things had of gone differently in tonight’s game, it really wouldn’t have changed my opinion much.

But it would have changed it a little. Baseball is never really fair. Neither am I.

And the one thing I’ve noticed over the years is that numbers might separate the good players from the really good but something else separates the really good from the great. After a certain level, it’s not just the numbers. It’s it. That strange ineffable quality. That touch of genius. That bit of divinity. That thing that you just know it when you see it.

They used to call it “clutch.” We stopped talking about “clutch” because, in a lot of ways, it was a pretty goddamn dumb thing to talk about. Its presence was too often invoked to hype up mediocre players and its absence used to diminish good players. Many of its strongest advocates were the least rational, most panicked and reactive of baseball fans. They were the sort of people who harped on about things like “closer mentality”, “RBIs” and “clubhouse leadership.” They were, in short, a collection of dreary halfwits.

It did not help that we could not find clutch.  Smart people did the math. They discovered that there was no such thing as clutch. Good players are just good players. Whatever the situation, you want your best player in the high leverage situation. That makes sense. That’s how it is.  It’s completely accurate and it’s completely wrong.

You can’t calculate divinity. You can’t look at the sheet music, count the notes per second and figure out why Jimi Hendrix has it and Joe Satriani does not. When you try to do that, you have already made a mistake. You’ve tried to locate it. You’ve put it in a person. Or in a limited situation. But that’s not where it is and that’s not what it is. It’s bigger than that. It’s non-local. You can’t weight it. It won’t fit on the scale.

Baseball, like life, has greater truths than those ones readily available to accountants.

All the greats in all the fields are touched by it. They somehow tap into it. I don’t think it’s a choice. I don’t think it’s a decision. They only thing that they decide, and they must decide it again and again, even when it’s not there, especially when it isn’t, is to be ready for it. They must choose to practice their craft. To show up. Even when it’s hard. Even when it’s pointless. They must show up. So that when it finds them, they might be ready for it. But, still, it might never show up. You might never be ready.

But yesterday night, it showed up.

Think, for a moment, how ridiculous and improbable the situation is. For this situation to be what it was, so much had to happen over such a long a period of time. Vladimir Guerrero Sr. had to play for the Montreal Expos. Montreal had to lose their team. He had to remain a beloved figure in spite of that. Then his son, born in Montreal, had get drafted by the one team who plays two of their games a year in Montreal – or by the team playing against them. He had to be good enough to last this deep into the spring. And, after all of that, the game had to work out how it worked out. A zero-zero tie. Two outs in the bottom of the ninth. And who comes to the plate? Him? Of all people? Him? Vladimir Guerrero Jr.? It showed up. Was he ready? Did he have that spark? Was he clutch?

In the last at bat of the spring, he won and ended the game with a solo home-run.

I could hardly believe it. When I turned to my wife and said “let’s see if he has it,” I didn’t actually expect to see it. I knew that I was being unfair. That I was putting too much on this moment and this young man. But I also know that these moments find great players and great players rise to meet them. What I wanted to see was not if he was any good. He is. We all know that. Good players are common. Great ones, not so much. I just wanted to see if he had that little spark of genius that separates the great from the good.

And, well . . . He does.

So count me among the true believers. I hate to make predictions (The Baseball Gods are cruel and capricious as children) but this kid made a believer out of me. He is real. He’s great. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is clutch and he is a Toronto Blue Jay.

Try not to fuck it up.