Segarini: Sports. Sports? You Heard me, Sports!
Traditionally, Sunday is the end of the week in most parts of the world, but most of us think of the end of the week as Friday. Friday is when the work stops and the ‘fun’ starts. You can park your ass in front of the flatscreen, dig in the garden, fire up the barbecue (or the space heater, depending on the weather), go out that night and hear some tunes and get faced in a bar with your friends, or blow off steam either playing or attending some sort of sports. Hmmm…sports….
But first…The News….
I don’t know. Does anybody know? We don’t even know where he’s from. We just know he must be important because…uh…ummm…er…we don’t know.
Republicans Vow continued Support of Stupid.
U.S Republicans continue to be confused by the easiest to understand facts, talk trash, call for the deportation of Aunt Jemima, Obama, That African American Science Guy, and Obama, and vote Bill Cosby the recipient of this year’s Republican Christian Great American Negro Award.
Corporations Rally Against Common Sense and People
All 27 Major U.S Oil companies tell Americans to “Shut the Frack up, you fracking idiots, We fraking know what we’re fracking doing”.
Monsanto creates Carroturnip for growing market for vegetables children will refuse to eat.
Don’t finish your carroturnups at dinner? Mom and Dad get YOUR dessert. Go to your room.
Real (Seriously, this is Real) Entertainment News….
Tomorrow night (Saturday, July 18th). You can be Jumple too.
Entertaining beyond belief, Ukrainian Acid Barmistfa band, Jumple kick out the Jams and Jellies at Cherry Cola’s Rock and Rolla Cabaret and Lounge 200 Bathurst Street just north of Queen Street West, Toronto. The show starts at 10:00 and goes until someone calls the cops. Shots of Vodka are mandatory and Oh My Goodness, the FUN! Shut up and attend.
…and now, The Sports….
From the time I was around 10 years old until I was 13, I was the proud 1st baseman and occasional centre fielder for the Panthers…a Little League team that played in the Oak Park Division in Stockton California. We were neither a dynasty team, nor a constant occupant of the bottom of the standings, just a pretty capable bunch who enjoyed the game and liked each other enough not to dread seeing one another. Kind of like being in a band, only with boy-sized Louisville Sluggers instead of guitars, and talcum powder and Coca Cola instead of cocaine and Jack Daniels.
I played ball for 3 years, enjoying it for the most part, but never standing out as a player except for one playoff game that I will never forget. I know, I know…I have mentioned to you more than once that I was born without ‘The Sports Gene“, and that still sums up my love (or lack of it) toward sports, both playing them and watching them.
I wasn’t always like that, but we’ll get to that in a minute. …and, there have been times since I abandoned sports, when I was drawn back in by the sheer talent and power of a team or an individual. I haven’t been so engaged in quite a while though, but the biggest reason isn’t what’s on the playing field…the biggest reason is what sports have become.
When I think of sports, I think of these three things.
The actual sport is just an excuse for the…
…and a distraction from those things at best. However, there’s a reason I soured on the games of sport, which starts here…at Oak Park, playing ball for the Panthers when I was a boy….
Oak Park as seen by anyone wearing a Jet Pack
The big diamond was the home of Stockton’s Pacific League team, the Ports. The softball diamonds to the left were for local and statewide games, the 11 tennis courts were for watching teenage girls flounce around in skimpy little outfits (hey! I was a young boy!), the park itself is blessed with an abundance of old growth oak trees (hence the name) and used for picnics and goofing off, the Little league diamonds were just to the right of Alvarado Street…you can see a bit of one, and the pool was there so we could watch teenage girls in skimpy bathing suits.
I am nothing if not consistent.
Not My Panthers but Panthers Nevertheless
I don’t recall how many times the Panthers made the playoffs during my tenure with the team, but I know it must have been a rare occasion because of all the fuss bestowed upon us by our parents, the coach, and the local aficionados of Little League games, who were, other than parents and the team’s sponsors, mostly neighbourhood retirees, bums, and perhaps one or two pedophiles and/or serial killers.
Oak Park itself was a great place to be, and only a few blocks from my home.
Once, after a game when I was 10, I got stuck at the park in a torrential downpour so heavy you felt like you were standing underwater. I ran for the phone booth across the field and fumbled my one and only dime into the slot and dialed our number…HOward 32925, hoping my Mom would drive over and pick me up. My Aunt Della, my Dad’s mentally challenged sister who lived with us, answered the phone.
“Della, It’s me, Bob”
“Bob no home”
Yes, I know. I’m Bob”.
“Bob not here”.
“Della, is Mom there? It’s Bob!”
“Bob no home”.
It took me 20 minutes to walk home because of the relentless downpour. When I got there, my Mother wouldn’t let me in the house…I had to dry off and change clothes in the garage.
The WOP Drills One….
Kids can be mean…even cruel…at least they appear to be to those who have forgotten what they were like when they were kids. Realistically, kids arent actually mean…they’re just stupid. Seriously, you don’t know dick when you’re 10 years old. Maybe book-learnin’ stuff, but social skills and rudimentary knowledge of the damage words can do is non-existant. Back when I was that age, we kept score and nobody got a trophy or pizza after a game unless you won.
Sports taught you team spirit, pulling your weight, fair play, and giving 110%.
Sports also taught you how to rattle an opponent, run over opposing players when rounding the bases, and that umpires are assholes who couldn’t see a naked woman unless she was on fire and standing directly in front of him…at least when the call was against you.
It also taught you to suck it up when the chips were down and overcome your fear of injury. Otherwise, you played like this kid on first base.
Anyhoo…we (The Panthers) are in a playoff game that I don’t think would have helped us, but would eliminate our opponents. Let’s call them The Tigers, because I cannot remember their team’s name.
It was a fiercely fought contest, everyone sweating bullets, and being played in front of a standing-room only crowd because it was late in the season and most of our mothers wanted to be there to make sure we were either patted on the head and rewarded in some fashion if we won, or hugged and reassured while they dug tissues out of their purses for us if we lost and cried like girls.
The stands were also full of the neighborhood unemployed or retired elderly, late Summer-bums, and the pedophiles and serial killers who had been attending regularly throughout the season and had either developed a crush on little Billy or Kevin and would offer an ice cream cone or ride home in their shag-carpeted, windowless van after the game, or was making their final decision on who to murder when the target tried desperately to peddle the Schwinn home post-game while dodging bullets or the skilled swing of a machete or fireplace poker.
I am pretty sure neither team had ever played a better, more passionate game. In Little League, it was not unusual to see scores like 87 to 0, or 64 to 63, but rarely would you reach the end of the game with the score tied 0 to 0…which was what we were.
The Panthers had pretty much depleted our bullpen keeping the Tigers at Bay, and although they had gotten several hits off of us, no one rounded 3rd and made it across home plate. The Tigers, on the other hand, had kept ace pitcher Steve Jackson on the mound for the entire game, the most feared pitcher in the league, he was older, stronger, and bigger than the rest of us, and had a fastball good enough for the majors. Little League games were 7 innings long back then, but here we were, in the bottom of the 9th, with more extra innings in our future if we didn’t score.
Our lead off batter spanked a single between 1st and 2nd that tore through the hole a foot off the ground and took a low bounce off the turf right into the glove of the right fielder, who, thinking he had caught a fly ball, held it up for all to see and threw it to the pitcher instead of 1st base. Our runner was safe at 1st.
Jackson bore down and struck out the next two hitters, and when I say, ‘struck out’, I mean he threw six straight strikes, right in the pocket that were so fast, the hitters just watched them go by. One out away from another inning and the top of their batting order.
It was Jackson’s last season as a Little League-er, and you could tell by looking in his eyes how much he wanted this win.
I’m up next…the potential 3rd out.
The last six stanzas of the classic poem, Casey at the Bat….
And Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.
Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped–
“That ain’t my style,” said Casey. “Strike one,” the umpire said.
From the benches, black with people, there went up a muffled roar,
Like the beating of the storm-waves on a stern and distant shore.
“Kill him! Kill the umpire!” shouted someone on the stand;
And it’s likely they’d have killed him had not Casey raised his hand.
With a smile of Christian charity great Casey’s visage shone;
He stilled the rising tumult; he bade the game go on;
He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the spheroid flew;
But Casey still ignored it, and the umpire said, “Strike two.”
“Fraud!” cried the maddened thousands, and echo answered fraud;
But one scornful look from Casey and the audience was awed.
They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain,
And they knew that Casey wouldn’t let that ball go by again.
The sneer is gone from Casey’s lip, his teeth are clenched in hate;
He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate.
And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey’s blow.
Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville — mighty Casey has struck out.
I am standing at home plate, going through the rituals, knocking the dirt and dust from my shoes with the bat, adjusting my cap, re-adjusting the newly introduced helmets and deciding to deride the damn thing while being inwardly thankful I am free from brain damage from an 80 mile an hour fastball from the pitcher just in case he just wanted to drop me like a sack of hammers, and finally I reached down, scooped up a hand full of dusty dirt, let a little drop to check the direction of the wind (there wasn’t any), and rubbed the rest of it between my hands to help me grip the bat so it didn’t fly out of my sweaty 12 year old hands and take out one of the dozing retirees in the stands.
Why were the words to Casey at the Bat going through my mind at this moment? Because this….
Residents of Holliston, Massachusetts, where there is a neighborhood called Mudville, claim it as the Mudville described in the poem. Thayer grew up in nearby Worcester, Massachusetts, where he wrote the poem in 1888; his family owned a woolen mill less than a mile from Mudville’s baseball field.
However, residents of Stockton, California — which was known for a time as Mudville prior to incorporation in 1850—also lay claim to being the inspiration for the poem. In 1887, Thayer covered baseball for The San Francisco Examiner—owned by his Harvard classmate William Randolph Hearst—and is said to have covered the local California League team, the Stockton Ports. For the 1902 season, after the poem became popular, Stockton’s team was renamed the Mudville Nine. The team reverted to the Mudville Nine moniker for the 2000 and 2001 seasons.
About a year and a half later on a beautiful, crisp, Autumn afternoon, I find myself on a grass field at Grover Cleveland Elementary School playing a pick-up game of flag football with a bunch of guys from my neighborhood and some of their friends. A perfect day for a game like this with other semi-delinquents, wasting time, passing stolen Marlboros back and forth, and talking about girls, and bemoaning school on Monday.
After we tired of the game and were sitting around hauling on the Marlboros and starting to feel the chill of the evening replace the warm November sun, one of the boys got up off his cross-legged perch on the grass and walked over to the group I was sitting with.
“Hey”, he says to me, “Stand up”.
“Okay”, I respond, and likewise, rise to my feet to face this person whose face rings a bell, but remains nameless, “Good game”, I offer.
“Yeah. It was fun”.
“Fuck!”, I shouted, “What the hell was that for?”
“Nah. That one was enough.”
He handed me a smoke, took one himself, and walked toward the street.
I let the first pitch go by. It looked low to me, and it was.
“Ball one!” cried the umpire, a schoolteacher at Woodrow Wilson elementary down the street where I had just finished the 6th grade, all ready for the challenges of Junior High and the blossoming girls who would be there.
Good eye, I thought, my confidence getting a boost while Jackson’s eyes started to narrow as his face began its descent into crimson red.
The wind up. The pitch. I am brushed back from the plate by a fastball that sizzled past my head less than an inch away. I could hear it pass me by and could swear I felt the air change and grow warm when it did.
“Ball two!”, said the Ump, extending 2 fingers at the end of his raised right arm.
That was no ball, I thought, that was a warning and a promise.
I swung at the next two pitched. I swear the last one went right through my bat. Now it’s 2 and 2…a lousy place to be. A ball would only continue the stress, and a strike would strand our runner at first and make me…shit…make me Casey. A laughing stock. A dork. A loser.
Someone in the stands yelled, “C’mon you WOP, hit the damn ball.”
…and that incredible, amazing ‘crack’ that is only made possible by a hardball connecting with the sweet spot on an Official Little League Willie Mays model Louisville Slugger. Somebody yelled “RUN!”
Well, no one hoisted me up on their shoulders and paraded me around the bases, and no one called me a hero, but I wasn’t a loser either, and that was more than enough. In 3 years of Little League it was the best, longest, and most satisfying hit I ever had.
We won. I had drilled a triple that made it far enough away to bounce off the fence in center-right, far enough away to drive in the winning run. It was a 1 to 0 final. The runner who crossed home plate did get paraded around the bases on the shoulders of the Panthers, but I walked back to the bench from 3rd base, stranded there by the next batter, but really, really happy. An amazing feeling.
Until I walked past the mound where Steve Jackson still stood. He didn’t say anything, but the look in his eyes almost hurt.
For a the shortest of seconds, I felt bad for him. I felt bad that I had spoiled his day, his last game…but the feeling passed quickly. Still…that look.
This wasn’t over yet.
It ended a year and a half later on a crisp Autumn day after a game of flag football on a grassy field at an elementary school in Stockton California a long, long time ago.
Segarini’s regular column appears here every Friday
Contact us at email@example.com
Bob “The Iceman” Segarini was in the bands The Family Tree, Roxy, The Wackers, The Dudes, and The Segarini Band and nominated for a Juno for production in 1978. He also hosted “Late Great Movies” on CITY TV, was a producer of Much Music, and an on-air personality on CHUM FM, Q107, SIRIUS Sat/Rad’s Iceberg 95, (now 85), and now publishes, edits, and writes for DBAWIS, and continues to write music, make music, and record.