A tale of two coaches

A couple weeks ago I had occasion to interview the new head coaches of both the Indiana and Purdue football programs. I can’t claim any keen insight into either man. Both interviews were by phone and neither lasted more than fifteen minutes. My talk with Purdue’s Jeff Brohm took place while he was driving, and I spoke to Coach Allen of IU as I sat in my car during a driving rainstorm.

I think I’ve improved at interviewing people over the last twenty years, but I have very little experience at telephone interviews. I’m uncomfortable with it, and I’m pretty sure my discomfort registers with the subjects. Which makes them more uncomfortable. Which makes me even more uncomfortable.

Anyway, as often happens with athletes and other people who interact with media-types on a regular basis, what I mostly got from Allen and Brohm was coach speak. It’s stuff that reads OK in an article because somebody semi-famous said it. But if you have to listen to it live or type it, it’s…..uh…..boring.   

But there were points in each discussion when the wall got a little chipped and a bit of light broke through.

Coach Allen’s son is a freshman on the team, signing with the Hoosiers after his Dad got the job. I don’t think it was nepotism. The kid had received offers from several Division I schools including Rutgers and South Florida. Neither of which are Ohio State or Alabama; but neither is IU. He was also ranked as one of the top 100 high school linebackers in the country by ESPN.  

I asked Allen about coaching his son, and he sounded like he got a little emotional. He talked about how hard it is to be both Dad and coach to a kid.

“It can be hard to separate,” he said. “I mean, he’s still your son, and you find your eyes going to him all the time. So that’s something you just have to focus on.”

Hep's_Rock

I came away from our talk liking Coach Allen. He sounded like a man determined to make Indiana’s program better, but I don’t get the impression he’s the kind of guy who’d endanger kids’ health to win (as his predecessor allegedly did).

I remember watching Jeff Brohm play for the University of Louisville. He was the ultimate Louisville guy. He grew up there and his Dad played for the Cardinals, as did two of his brothers. Brohm sounded to me like a very focused, ambitious man.

He gave me a lot of “We want to field a team that’s competitive and fights to win every game”.

“Purdue is a place with great academics, and West Lafayette is a great college town.” (Wait, what was that last part?)

1910_Purdue_football_team

The most recent Purdue team that was fun to watch.

“People are starving for success, and they want to see the football program step up and do well. We need to deliver.”

All of which are perfectly acceptable, standard-type quotes for somebody coming into a job where the prior coach won like two games per year. Then I asked him whether it was hard to recruit at Purdue, considering their recent futility.

“We have a lot to offer at Purdue,” he says. “The academic reputation, the Big Ten conference and the opportunity to play against the best teams in the country. And, to be honest, playing time. We don’t have the depth we’d like, so a guy can come in and be a difference-maker.”

I thought the last part was a pretty candid statement. He’s all but admitting that it’s lean times in the Purdue football cupboard, and that he can get good athletes because last year’s starters may not be as good as incoming freshman or transfers.

After we wrapped up the interview, I told him that I was a Louisville alum and enjoyed watching him play. He sounded like he was happy to hear that. (Which is kind of a Louisville thing. If you meet somebody out of town and find you’re both from Indianapolis, it’s like, “so what?”  But if you’re both from Louisville, you immediately talk about 1) what neighborhood did you grow up in, 2) what Catholic parish did you attend, and 3) do you have access to Derby tickets.)

Then he said “Oh, yeah? When did you graduate?”

“1980. So, like, a long time ago.”

“Oh…….okay….”. After a bit of awkward silence, we ended the call.

I guess I sound younger than I am.  

       

 

Par-three? I consider it par-six.

I haven’t played golf (or, as my Dad used to say, “shot golfs”) in about two years. I didn’t even start playing until my mid-thirties, and I rarely played more than a few times a year.

Old_Tom_Morris

This is no recipe for proficiency (or even adequacy), of course. I probably spent more time playing basketball in one month during high school than on golf for my lifetime. But basketball is no longer an option due to creaky knees, and exercise for its own sake is drudgery. I try to work out at least a few times a week (including referee duty), but I need some kind of distraction while I’m on an elliptical machine. Whether it’s podcasts, magazines, or listening to Jack speculate about the weight of other seniors, I have to have something else to think about. Something other than finding an excuse to get off the machine.

Anyway, I’ve been meaning to get back into golf, but it seems there’s always a conflict whenever friends invite me to play. Last week I hit a bucket of balls to see how far my skills had atrophied. I wasn’t too disappointed with the results. I hit the ball square about half the time, and most of my drives were fairly straight. (At least, range straight. I’m easily deluded into thinking a ball would have been right down the middle of the fairway, as long as my shot doesn’t endanger golfers on my right.)

On Friday, I went alone to a par-3 course to see if I can avoid abject humiliation on the links. I was encouraged, though I have to say conditions were perfect. Empty course, cool, sunny weather, and low expectations. There were no holes-in-one, no 250-yard drives, and no thirty-foot putts. But I did chip one in with a pitching wedge, drive a couple of greens on short holes, and sink a couple of long-ish, bend-y putts.

I know I’ve said this before, but I may have figured out a couple of things about my swing. I think I’m ready to expose my game to the snarky comments of friends. It can’t be any worse than my poker game, right?

 

                                                                                *****

The first harbingers of fall arrived last week. First was the Fear and Loathing Athletic Club (FALAC) Fantasy Football League pre-draft meeting at Victory Field. Then on Friday we completed our 23rd fantasy football draft. (There’s been some loose talk about moving the 25th edition to Vegas. The usual crowd of degenerates is in favor of that plan. Including Gan, who isn’t even in the league.) I once again entered the evening determined to get running backs early and ended up with really good receivers. I didn’t even draft a quarterback until the ninth round, so we’ll see how that works out.

We also went to the last two Indianapolis Indians home games of the season. (We usually catch the last series of the year in Louisville, but for some reason the Indians finish up in Toledo for 2017.) We had our grandsons Sebastian and Liam with us for both games, and they had fun. (Meaning they liked playing in the grass berm and eating popcorn and ice cream.)

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Every year I get more wistful at the end of summer. There are a lot of great things about autumn in the Midwest. Fall festivals, lower humidity, apples. And the approaching winter isn’t even as big of an issue for me anymore, since I don’t have to drive to work. But I guess pulling up zucchini vines and tomato plants reminds me of rapidly advancing old age.   

 

Back in the saddle

Inveterate (and maybe even veterate) readers may recall that I was having back trouble in late winter/early spring. After a failed attempt at relief through a chiropractor, I wound up going back to my doctor and getting a referral to a different orthopedist. One who would not immediately jump to surgery as the only option. The new doctors tried a cortisone shot followed by physical therapy, and within a few weeks I was almost completely pain-free and able to resume normal exercise.

The back pain had become so troublesome by March that I had to cancel all of my soccer referee matches for the spring season. I tried my first game, but the pain was so bad that I had trouble even getting into position as an assistant referee. (Note: for non-soccer fans, the AR only has to move one half the length of the field. But it’s critical to stay even with the second-to-last defender or the ball to help with offsides calls. Meaning you often have to go from standing still to a sprint.) Luckily, the game was suspended after about five minutes due to lightning. When I got home, I notified all of the assignors that I was out for the foreseeable future.

When the fall season began a couple of weeks ago, I felt pretty good but knew the lack of exercise had affected my stamina. I signed up to referee, but only scheduled one game per day. I planned to wait and see how I did with a U-15 rec-plus contest to make sure I could still keep up.  

Referee_Mark_Geiger_advantage

In the weeks leading up to the match, I did some running on a nearby empty soccer field to simulate a game. I alternated between jogging, sprints, and walking for about 40 minutes. Games are 70-80 minutes, but I knew adrenaline would help quite a bit. Plus, running in the hot sun on an empty field is boring. (Insert your own “soccer is also boring” joke here.)

The game was on a warm Thursday afternoon at 5 PM, just a short drive from my house. It was listed as a dual whistle game (two referees, no AR) which means each official is responsible for an entire sideline plus one half of the field for all calls. (Technically the soccer field is known as a “pitch”. But I can’t say that, because I think it makes me sound like Robin Leach.)

I got to the field about a half-hour early. The home team coach was one of those overly-friendly types that you just know is going to blast you from the sideline every time he disagrees with a call. We shook hands and he asked me a couple of questions about how the match would be called. Normally I give very ambiguous answers in this context. Otherwise, you’re just setting yourself up for controversy. If you say “Yeah, I’m not going to call it close on throw-ins this early in the season” and you call a violation on a kid who fires the ball in overhand, you can bet the coach will be screaming bloody murder. But the questions were pretty safe and I was able to answer just by giving him the substitutions rule.

Then he complained briefly about referee positioning in his last match (“they both officiated from the center circle”), paid me, and went back to his bench. (Unlike basketball, it’s customary for the coach to pay the referee in cash prior to kickoff. Which feels awkward, but, you know….when in Rome.) As we got closer to kickoff, I inspected equipment on both teams, checked the goals, and completed the coin toss. Still no second ref present. Now, I’ve officiated matches alone before. It’s more running, for sure, but the real problem is that you can’t really judge the sidelines or offsides effectively. And no matter how much coaches claim they’ll “take it easy” on complaining, in the heat of the game that commitment is forgotten.

I asked the home coach to recruit two parents to watch the lines for me, but a woman came up and said that her 17-year-old daughter Kylie* was waiting for a later game, was a certified referee and would be willing to help out. I gratefully accepted, and after I handed Kylie my spare whistle we started the match.

Riccardo_Lattanzi_04

The visiting coach had mentioned that it was his first season, and apologized in advance for his lack of experience. (I must confess I was glad to hear this. First match back, and at least one coach probably won’t be in my ear.) There were a couple of screw-ups on substitutions, but nothing too bad. Anytime I was close to his bench, I’d gently tell him the proper process, and he’d thank me profusely.

The home coach was in game mode. He constantly yelled at his players, but didn’t say much to me. In the first half I was moving sideways on the field along his bench area, but the ball was booted long and I had to swivel and run suddenly. As I spun around I felt my elbow strike a soft middle-aged paunch and heard “Ooof”. I turned my head and saw the coach doubled over holding his gut. I couldn’t help but chuckle, but managed an “Ouch, sorry coach” as I kept running. I heard him wheeze out “No, no, that’s OK, my fault.”

I have hoped for this kind of thing in other circumstances. Mostly in basketball. But this time it was entirely accidental, and he was right. It was his fault. I’m supposed to be within two feet of the sideline; he’s not. Anyway, at the next stoppage I asked if he was OK, and he laughed and said yeah, repeating that it was on him.

Later a ball was kicked to a visiting player deep in the home side and the coach started yelling “Offside!”. The player’s shot hit the crossbar, bounced on the ground and the goalkeeper caught the ball deep in the goal mouth. As I signaled goal scored, the coach said “Matt, they were offside!”. I just shook my head no, and signaled for kickoff.

I don’t mind talking to coaches, but there was no basis for discussion. There’s no instant replay, I didn’t think the kid was offside and the coach did. What would we talk about other than yes he was/no he wasn’t?

The second half was pretty uneventful, and the home team won 6-3. Both coaches thanked Kylie and me in the handshake line. I gave Kylie half of the money, admonished her to report the income on her tax return and sat on the ground to change shoes.

I was hot, sweaty, and a little tired, but my hip wasn’t hurting at all. I knew my knees would require ice and Tylenol, but that’s standard. I really felt like I could do another game if I had to. But I didn’t have to. Because I’m retired. And I “don’t do business that don’t make me smile”.**    

*Not her real name. She’s a minor, yo.

**“Treetop Flyer”, Stephen Stills. He was referring to drug smugglers, and I’m a middle school soccer referee. But, still.       

But that’s not to say that all baseball players are difficult…

Last week I wrote about awkward encounters with sports figures. But I met one of my all-time favorite players once, and it didn’t end in an avoiding-eye-contact contest.

Sean Casey is retired from baseball now, but he was a very good first baseman for several seasons with the Reds, making three All-Star teams. His career ended with brief stints at Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Boston. During his playing days he was known as “The Mayor” because he was so friendly and talkative when opponents reached first base.  

He was also very accommodating to the media. And not just to TV reporters, like some. Some players and managers are terse and uncooperative with print reporters, but as soon as the TV lights come on they’re elbowing guys out of the way to try to win Mr. Congeniality. I’ve seen managers angry, defensive and cursing print reporters, only to walk out of their office with a jaw-spraining smile, embracing a TV reporter gearing up for insipid, softball questions.  

As Casey came up through the minor league system, he spent parts of a few seasons with the Indianapolis Indians. I never interviewed him because I covered the opposing teams, but the Indians beat reporters loved him. He was always available and willing to talk, even after losses.

Baseball_first_baseman_2004

At one point, Casey had been optioned down to Indy from the Reds, and Indians beat writer Kim Rogers saw him walking through the parking lot to the club house. Kim told me that he approached him, acknowledging that it was a tough time, and asked if he could talk for a minute.

Casey said it was OK, and he wasn’t upset about the demotion. Then, before Kim could get a question in, Casey said he’d heard Kim’s Dad was sick and asked how he was doing.

It’s hard to overstate how surprising this is. First, how would a major league player even know about a reporter’s family in a minor league town? And, second, most players would be completely – and understandably – absorbed in their own problems.

In the spring of 2012, I was working in Pittsburgh during a Pirates home stand, so I naturally bought tickets to several games that week. My hotel was right across the street from the Consol Center (now the PPG Paints Arena), and one night Bruce Springsteen played a show there. The hotel was pretty full due to the location, and as I walked out the front door wearing my Clemente jersey and Pirates cap, I saw a familiar face sitting at the outdoor bar.

Casey was sitting there with another guy, guffawing at a joke and sipping a glass of wine. (Which threw me off. I figured him for a beer guy.)  I stopped and looked, debating whether to go over and introduce myself. I know famous people often don’t want to engage with strangers, but considering Casey’s reputation and the fact that he was out in the open, I decided to take a chance.

“Hey, it’s the Mayor!”, I said. Casey jumped up, stuck out his hand and practically shouted “Hey man, how ya doin’?”

As we shook hands, I said “I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed watching you play.”

“Aw, thanks a lot, man. I really appreciate it. Hey – are you going to the Springsteen show?”

I said “Oh, no, I’m uh, headed to the Pirates game.”

His face fell. “Oh, that’s too bad, man. But hey, have a good time at the game, all right?” He was back to smiling and pumping my hand enthusiastically. As I walked away, I felt like he was disappointed we weren’t going to be hanging out backstage.

Sean_Casey-12

Casey is now an analyst on MLB Central, a baseball highlights show. Recently the host was sitting next to Casey on a couch and said “There’s something that’s been bothering me all week” as he pointed at the floor.

Casey said “Oh, I got it” and reached down. He came up with something in his fingers and said “It’s a toenail.”

Now, I’m sure that was set up, but it rings true for Sean Casey. And it’s really refreshing for a professional athlete to be approachable, funny, and human.    

 

 

Awkward sports celebrity encounters

Last week I mentioned my visit to Cincinnati to see the Arizona Diamondbacks play the Reds. I collect autographed baseballs, and I’m too cheap to pay $100 or so at a card show to get a signature on a twenty-dollar ball. So when I go to a major league game (especially if I’m by myself), I enter the ballpark as soon as the gates open and stand close to the dugout to try to get signatures. (I’m starting to re-think this. I’m often the only adult, and I feel a little silly standing there with a bunch of twelve to fifteen year old kids asking for autographs.)

At the D-backs game I got a ball signed by Archie Bradley. He’s a relief pitcher, but has good stuff and will probably be back in a rotation soon. He was friendly and gregarious, signing for everybody that asked, taking pictures with kids, and chatting amiably. He seemed to enjoy all the interaction, and jogged back to the clubhouse after signing dozens of balls, hats, cards, and random scraps of paper.

Shortly before game time, Zack Greinke came out of the dugout and slowly walked over to the crowd, eyes down. Greinke is one of the best pitchers in the game, but he has a reputation as something of an iconoclast. He rarely signs for fans and allegedly suffers from a personality disorder that includes fear of crowds. Somebody in the crowd behind me said they’d read that his current contract includes a requirement to sign autographs.

Zack Greinke looks on during batting practice.

He came to the line and moved toward me, slowly signing whatever was held out to him. He didn’t make eye contact with anybody, and ignored questions from kids. I didn’t see him look up at me, but as I held out a baseball and sharpie he skipped around me. After signing a total of less than ten autographs, he slowly walked back to the dugout.

I have no problem with a player signing only for kids. It’s reasonable to assume that an adult is getting a ball signed as an investment, and I can understand resenting somebody making a profit off your signature. And I can’t say I think players “owe it to the fans” to sign autographs. They’re paid to play baseball, and some of the same fans they sign for today will be booing them tomorrow if they go hitless.

But I started thinking about how hard it is for some people to interact with strangers. Hell, it’s hard for me, and I don’t have a bunch of people crowding around me whenever I’m in public.

One night when I was an usher at Victory Field in Indianapolis, Indiana University basketball coach Tom Crean was seated in my section. I always liked Tom Crean. There are a lot of stories (several from my own kids) of him accommodating fans, helping regular students and generally being a good person. But there was always an awkward side to him. After IU clinched the Big Ten championship in a game at Michigan, he started yelling at a UM assistant coach in the post-game handshake line. The object of Crean’s ire had been at IU under Kelvin Sampson and was involved in recruiting violations that led to sanctions against the Hoosiers. But, ultimately, the misbehavior had resulted in IU hiring Crean. So why bring it up then? Who does that?  

As an IU fan, I recognized Crean at the ballpark immediately. I greeted him and he nodded at the ground, handing me the tickets for him and his son. After I wiped down the seat I said, “Good luck, Coach!” He silently handed me a nice tip and sat down. During the game, kids constantly came up to him and asked for signatures. He always obliged them, smiling, chatting, and taking selfies. He was clearly more comfortable with kids than adults. Or, at least, more comfortable with kids than with me.

Coach_Tom_Crean

Again, like I said, I get this. Sports fans – especially basketball fans in Indiana – are not an understanding bunch. The same hand patting your back tonight could well be typing a venomous diatribe about your 1-3-1 defense tomorrow. And I think Crean had it especially tough. He has some odd facial expressions, and he often wore pants pulled up to his sternum. Indiana fans probably set their expectations too high after Crean convinced Cody Zeller to come to Indiana in his second year. Last season after he was fired, it was hard to find many fans sorry to see him go. People would say “Sure, he’s a great guy, but…”.

A lot of people want to be famous. But I think some people are famous because they’ve focused on a particular talent with such intensity for such a long time that their social skills were neglected. Some of them started three lengths back in that respect anyway, which probably led to them focusing so intently on a particular task. It must be a special kind of hell to be really good at something you love that results in daily encounters with something you dread.

From now on, I’m just going to bite the bullet and pay for player signatures. If a guy is getting money to sit at a table and sign, I’m willing to encroach on his agoraphobia.    

 

Hating on the Cincinnati Reds

I have several perfectly good reasons for rooting against the Cincinnati Reds.

The continuing adulation of Pete Rose, for one. I’ve written before (quite artfully, I’d say, right here (https://wordsbymattroberts.com/2016/09/19/judging-pete-rose/) about all the reasons why he shouldn’t be allowed back in baseball. But you still see fans at Reds games sporting Rose jerseys and mounting passionate, ill-informed defenses of why it’s a travesty that he’s not in the Hall of Fame. It’s like some Indiana fans are about Bob Knight; let it go, for cryin’ out loud.

Then there’s the fact that I’m from Louisville. When I lived there, local TV broadcasters frequently referred to the Reds as “your Cincinnati Reds”. They weren’t my Reds. I didn’t live in Cincinnati. Most of the people in my family were Cardinals fans, and I liked the Cubs. (This is a circumstance best left unexplained. Suffice to say that my career choices have amply demonstrated that popularity is unimportant to me.)IMG_20170718_180336135

It felt like they were saying I had to be a Reds fan just because they were geographically closer.  And if some smarmy, slick-haired yokel is telling me to be a Reds fan, well, there’s only one approach that makes sense to me. Be anything but a Reds fan.

Then there’s Marge Schott. She owned the Reds from 1984-1999, having inherited her husband’s auto dealerships after he died of a heart attack. She was under constant pressure from MLB due to a unique talent for expressing racist, homophobic, and otherwise crazy thoughts. Facing a second suspension in 1999, she finally agreed to relinquish control of the team.

So all these things combined, I never understood how anybody could be a Reds fan unless they lived in Cincinnati. Within walking distance of the ballpark. I do, however, go to at least a couple of Reds games every year. Now, I’m usually there because a team I like is playing, or it’s a weekday afternoon game, or there are really cheap tickets available. Luckily, since the Reds have been mediocre to awful for a while, there are almost always cheap tickets available.

In my first few games at Great American Ballpark, I didn’t really care that much for the facility. Sure, it was an improvement over the multi-use, anti-septic, artificially-turfed Riverfront Stadium. But rich guys hadn’t yet ruined Wrigley Field, and it felt to me like GABP was trying to present itself as old school without really getting there. Plus, the beer selection was terrible.

But over the past few years, the ballpark has grown on me. I like that you can take soft-sided coolers and food in. Around the fifth inning, I like to walk around the concourse, stand by the south wall and sniff the Ohio River. The paddlewheelers moving slowly upstream remind me of my old home town, and the beer selection has improved quite a bit.

BelleOfLouisville

I went to a Diamondbacks game there earlier this week. I kind of like going to baseball games by myself. I can sit there and keep score and listen to the conversations going on around me. I wore my D-Backs jersey (see “popularity unimportant” above), and Arizona ended up with an 11-2 win. I got a seat in the 10th row behind the visitors dugout for $30 off StubHub, and actually had empty seats on both sides. After I got back from stretching my legs, there were no fans within twenty feet of me. It was like being at an Indianapolis Indians game in April on a weeknight.

I usually wear opposing team jerseys at Reds’ games, and I’ve never heard a rude or drunken negative comment. Cincinnati’s a lot more like Louisville than Indianapolis; more Catholics, more gambling, a little more relaxed.

They’re still not my Reds. But I’m willing to let bygones be bygones, and I like Great American Ballpark now. They can’t match the pizza at Miller Park, the beer selection in San Francisco, or the gameday atmosphere in Pittsburgh. But at least I don’t feel like I’m being scammed (looking at you, Wrigley Field).

And, like I said. Tickets are cheap.       

Betting on baseball. And, sometimes, on me.

My current score in MLB’s “Beat the Streak” is zero. I did get as high as eleven (“you see, most blokes will be playing at ten”), but the last week or so has been brutal. Jose Ramirez hits over .400 for thirty days, then goes 0-3 against a starter with an ERA of 9.35. Marcell Ozuna hits .366 at home, but is hitless in four at-bats against the Mets’ Robert Gsellman (ERA of almost 8 on the road, backed by one of the worst bullpens in baseball).

Andrew_McCutchen_on_June_18,_2010 (1)

For July, I’m revising my strategy. I realize I’m working with a small sample size, but so far it looks like bullpen batting average isn’t as relevant as I thought. I also added “batting average over last seven days” as a metric and discarded home/away batting average.

For today (July 1) I’m going with Ramirez (hitting .367 over the last 30 days) and one of my favorite players in MLB (Andrew McCutchen), hitting .533 over the past week. Gan is going with two players from the same team (Cano and Gamel of Seattle), while John is sticking to NL players with Votto (Reds) and Turner (Dodgers). If my fortunes don’t turn around soon, I’m just going to make selections based on my Bob Uecker Magic 8-Ball.

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It’s been a long time since I cashed in our monthly poker tournaments. (In April I played a tournament at the Moose Club on a whim and got second place for a couple hundred bucks. But I laid a brutally bad beat on a guy to make the final table. I had something like ace-jack offsuit against his ace-king suited and made a straight on the river to bust him out.) Some time ago, we started a regularly scheduled tournament where part of the money goes into a fund that accumulates for a year before going to the “season champion”. Players get points inversely proportionate to their finish in each tournament. So if fifteen players show up for a game, the winner gets fifteen points, and the first player eliminated gets one. After the tournament, most people stick around to play a cash game.

In the second or third season, I decided to focus less on drinking beer and more on the actual poker. I ended up winning the league, and assumed I had pretty much figured the game out. Since then, I’ve won only one or two tournaments, and usually bust out well before the money bubble. (We usually pay the top two or three.) I can say that I’ve taken a few bad beats, but so can everybody else. There’s obviously something I’m not doing as well. Either that, or I ran sick good when I was winning.  

If you play with the same guys all the time, attentive (or at least sober) players will recognize your tendencies and adjust their strategy to take advantage of that knowledge. I think by now everybody realizes that when my stack gets below a certain point, I’m playing almost any two cards in position. They also know that early in the tournament, I play pretty tightly and will lay decent hands down to a big bet.

The problem for me is that I really believe that, in general, that’s the right way to play hold ‘em. That stack size and position dictate your play to a greater extent than your actual cards. One guy (who may or may not read this blog) plays very conservatively, and has been having results similar to mine. Another guy (who also plays tight) has been crushing the game over the past year. So I know I have to make some changes, but I’m not sure which way to go. It’s always tempting to start playing more hands, get involved with more pots and increase bluffing. But I think that’s a long term losing strategy. And, as the wise old players say….it’s not a bunch of poker sessions; it’s all one long session.    

A friend of mine passed away suddenly a few years ago, but before that he gave me a copy of 100 pages or so of his poker wisdom. He included his own observations and reminders, along with quotes from famous players and writers. The content isn’t all that innovative or ground-breaking, but looking it over usually helps me re-focus on the important stuff.

A_Friend_in_Need_1903_C.M.Coolidge

I can’t make the July game, but I’ll be there in August. Poker night guys….if you’re reading this, ignore everything I said. Just know that I’ll play big pots with gutter ball straight draws every time.

Paul George Leaving? That’s a shame. Any baseball games on TV today?

I’m not sure what to make of all the outrage over Paul George leaving the Indiana Pacers. If you don’t follow the NBA in general or the Pacers in particular, George will be a free agent at the end of the 2017-2018 season. A few days before the NBA draft, his agent informed the Pacers that he will not sign with the team after his current contract expires and he wants to play for the Los Angeles Lakers in his home state.

Paul_George_Pacers (1)

He didn’t say he was holding out. He didn’t say he wasn’t going to play hard. He didn’t say he hates living in Indiana. But the internets went nuts. One sporting goods store gave away all of their Paul George jerseys. People posted video of flaming PG jerseys online, and his basketball ability was suddenly considered “third-rate”, and there was a lot of “good riddance, we don’t need him” on Facebook.

I don’t claim to be a huge NBA fan. I go to two or three games a year when I get free or reduced-price tickets. I watch them on TV occasionally. At least up until college basketball starts. Then I watch them after the NCAA tournament until major league baseball begins. So maybe I shouldn’t expect to understand the anger from die-hard fans.

Spoiler alert: that doesn’t keep me from having an opinion. So here goes:

Paul George is a temporary employee of Indiana Pacers, Inc. As such, he’s looking out for himself, just like Pacers, Inc. protects its own interests every time they sign a contract. Did the Pacers give him a lifetime contract or pay him more than he asked for out of loyalty? Of course not. They’re a business trying to make a profit. They will pay a player as little as possible so they can pay other good players to improve their team and win. To make money. Not for the greater glory of the state of Indiana; to make money.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. But neither is there anything wrong with Paul George trying to get what he wants, whether it’s more money or winning an NBA championship, or just getting paid to play for his hometown team.

People around here like to lionize Reggie Miller because he spent his whole career with the Pacers. They seem to forget that, at one point, Reggie was making noises about wanting to play in New York. He also didn’t take long to list his Indianapolis home for sale and move back to California after he retired.

It’s fun to pull for professional teams, and I understand how easy it is to identify with great players and start to imagine that they owe loyalty to a team, a city, to us. But the fact is, loyalty has to be a two-way street. Otherwise, one of the parties is being played for a chump. So good luck to PG, both this season and the rest of his career. And good luck to the Pacers.

But not to the Lakers. I hate those guys.

                                                                           *****

The NCAA has announced penalties imposed on the University of Louisville basketball program as a result of stripper-gate. The University will have to pay a bunch of money, and the NCAA will vacate their 2013 National championship along with their wins from 2010-2014 and their 2012 Final Four. The program will be on probation for four years and Head Coach Rick Pitino is suspended for the first five games of the 2017-18 season.

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The University – currently led by an interim president since the idiot governor fired the prior president and the entire board of trustees – has vowed to appeal the penalties, believing they were excessive. Pitino has sent a letter to boosters asking them to keep their chins up (and, presumably, keep donating) and trust the appeals process.

I really don’t understand this strategy. Seems to me it’d be more effective to blow up the program and start over immediately with a new AD and new coach. But maybe the interim president has been told he’s not really in charge. Pitino is doing what Pitino does, which is aggressively promote himself. But as long as he’s there, the program will be a punchline and treated like Exhibit A in What’s Wrong With College Sports in Particular and America in General.

 

The story behind a story

Did you ever notice those free community magazines at the entrance to the grocery store? They’re usually in a rack along with auto sale listings, real estate brochures, and other free publications. In Indianapolis, there’s a different one (and sometimes two) for almost every neighborhood. Center Grove, Greenwood, Zionsville, Avon, Carmel, Broad Ripple, etc. The company that publishes all of these in Indianapolis is Townepost Communications. I noticed that they’re expanding into Kentucky, starting with Jeffersontown. (As a native of Louisville, this strikes me as an odd choice. I know I’ve been gone awhile, but J-Town? Isn’t it just a beer stop en route to Taylorsville Lake?)

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I never paid much attention to these until I started marketing Thirty-Two Minutes in March. Last fall, I saw the Center Grove version of the magazine and decided to offer a pre-season preview of Center Grove High School basketball. I was willing to do the piece for free in return for a book plug. Since Center Grove is one of the teams I featured, I thought it’d be a good marketing tool to get the book in front of people who were already reading an article about the Trojans.

Townepost ended up assigning the article to me and paid the going rate for the piece. I thought that’d be the end of it, at least until next fall when I can try it again. But since then, they’ve asked me to write one or two articles every month. I’m happy to do it. They’re always short human interest stories (500-700 words) and an easy way to pick up a little extra money. But I never thought I’d be doing this kind of writing.

One story was about a plumber who maintains a vast garden at his home and delivers bouquets to neighbors and customers. During the interview, I found out he started the project (which includes planting 50,000 annuals) after his wife and son were killed in a car crash. After the accident, he threw himself into both gardening and fishing, and we spent over an hour on a rainy spring morning talking. Most of that discussion never made it into the article, but it was time well spent. I got to listen to this older gentleman (he swore me to secrecy regarding his exact age) talk about his passions and how they helped him deal with a horrific loss.

Another article was about a high school girl who is the only person ever to win two Indiana state high school bowling championships. It was once again a long interview for a short story, but I gained insight into the effort and commitment it takes to win consistently, even when the sport doesn’t generate revenue or headlines. And the kid’s humility and good nature reminded me of what I learned while I was writing the book. That kids are kids; goofy, nervous, funny, wise, and annoying within any fifteen minute period, even if they’re accomplished athletes.

Yet another piece was about an adult swim program. During the interview, I found out the coach was from Louisville. We talked about University of Louisville basketball, and how hard it is to get a decent fish sandwich in Indianapolis. Then we compared our hip problems. He’s having a hip replacement at age forty, and we talked about trying to stay active as you age.

When I was covering sports or writing the book, my interviews generally had a very specific purpose, and I was anxious to get the quotes and get out of there. But in this iteration of my writing life, I’m finally starting to appreciate the stories behind stories. Maybe it’s because I have more time available now. Maybe I’ve grown/calmed down as a person. But as much as I appreciate the insights and anecdotes now, I really regret not taking the time to listen a little longer during all those interviews in the past.   

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Random thoughts while watching minor league baseball

When I was taking my kids to baseball games, they often brought friends along. We (well, okay, mostly I) insisted that they name their walk-up song before the third inning. (In most parks, batters on the home team get to specify what song is played over the PA when they come to bat.) My family had, of course, settled on their own songs long ago. Otherwise, I’d have exerted the most powerful leverage available. Withholding snacks.

Since then, I always ask people for their walk-up song when I watch a game with them for the first time. I’d like to pretend that it gives me some insight into their soul, or their values, or even their musical tastes; but mostly it’s just something to talk about during pitching changes. I am, however, always surprised when other people haven’t already given this decision that much thought. But I guess that’s to be expected. I’m also taken aback when people don’t like gambling, fried bologna, hoppy craft beers, or The Godfather movies. (At least I and II.)

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My walk-up song is “No More Mr. Nice Guy” by Alice Cooper. Jacquito’s is “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, and Gan insists he’d pick “Feelings” by Barry Manilow. I choose to believe that Gan doesn’t really understand the question.

                                                           *****

Over the rest of the season, I’m conducting a non-scientific, non-random survey (those being all the rage these days) of the beer preferences of Indianapolis Indians fans. I’ll log the type of beer being consumed by each fan I see wearing major league apparel. (I have to figure out how to handle people wearing a cap from one team and a jersey from another. Although my nephew posits that I am the only person who does this.) At tonight’s game I found the following:

Pirates fan….craft beer

Reds fan……BuLiCo (either Bud, Miller Lite or Coors. I don’t think it matters which)

Phillies………Yuengling (should consider merging category with BuLiCo)

Red Sox……all appeared to be under legal drinking age  

                                                           *****

I think the crowds at minor league parks are very different from those at major league games. For one thing, they’re not as interested in the result, unless it’s a playoff game or a critical late-season contest. Minor league fans are a lot more interested in socializing, taking selfies (more on that later), and getting snacks.

I also think minor league fans are more critical of players and eager to appear knowledgeable to other fans.

Player drops a fly ball or kicks a grounder….”THAT”S WHY YOU’RE IN TRIPLE-A!”

Umpire calls a ball against opposing hitter when it appears (from a 45 degree angle and 300 feet away) to be a strike…………………”COME ON UMP! YOU BELONG IN A- BALL!”

Manager leaves a pitcher in despite walking two batters in the third inning….”YOU GOTTA GET HIM OUTTA THERE!”

All these despite a) the fielder is playing out of position to back up an injured teammate, b) the ump obviously…ah, never mind, and c) in the minors the pitcher’s staying in for his designated number of pitches, no matter how many guys he walks.

I almost never hear ill-informed stuff at major league games (other than the carping about balls and strikes). But I do hear a lot more complaining about managerial moves and player effort.

I also think fans are a lot more sensitive to blocking other people’s views at MLB games. When I was an usher in Indianapolis, I spent a lot of time walking down the aisle asking people to take their seat while the ball was in play. Fans would routinely decide that the very best time to gather the family for a photo with the field in the background was the middle of an at-bat. This is a problem for a couple of reasons. First, it blocks the view of other people trying to watch the game. But it’s also really dangerous. In my short time as an usher, I saw several inattentive fans get clocked by foul balls, including a kid who lost several teeth.

Fans at Victory Field also routinely get up in the middle of an at bat to go to the concession stand. In major league parks, I’ve seen a lot of people get upset about this, and I don’t blame them. You really should wait until the inning ends, but at least until after the at-bat.

Maybe this is all part of the general coarsening of society. Maybe it’s just the general coarsening of me. But, either way. Just stop it.

                                                     *****

In my last post I mentioned that interviewing players was one of my least favorite parts of covering baseball. One of the best parts was sitting at the open window of the press box after the story was in and the fans had gone home. I loved sitting there sipping a cold beer with a breeze blowing in my face, the ballpark empty except for the grounds crew and the cleaning people.

As the sanitation workers moved through the stands, occasionally talking among themselves in Spanish, the grounds crew would tamp down the dirt around home plate, rake the infield and scoop up the baseline chalk. Then they’d cover home plate and the pitcher’s mound, and roll out the big tarps if rain was expected overnight.

By then, the cleaning people would be gone and you could hear the groundskeepers’ conversations.

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There are few things that look more perfect, more in the right place, than an empty baseball field after a game. I sometimes toyed with the idea of turning out the press box lights, waiting for the grounds crew to leave and just staying in the ballpark all night. Even if there was overnight security (and I don’t think there was), I knew the stairways and corridors well enough that I could have stayed hidden. I always wondered what it’d be like to pass the night on an empty field and watch the sun come up over the skyline.

It’d be a dumb thing to do and, if caught, I’d have lost my press pass (and maybe gotten myself arrested). But sometimes I still think about that when we’re leaving after a game.