Eye on the Ball

In my corner of the world, Summer and its heat still lingers, but the baseball season is turning its calendar to October and the playoffs. Already we know a few things about 2019.

Despite tweaking a few things, the average game is longer than ever – three hours and nine minutes, of which just under 18 minutes of action occurs. That’s more advertising than on a NASCAR racer.

Parity is still an issue among teams. In the end, only one division was truly competitive with four teams winning 100 games or more for only the second time, although some will argue, and as noted, there is plenty of time for that.

And most notably of all, home runs are at an all time high, eclipsing even 2017 and all the years of the steroid players. To all those who love baseball like me, tradition is elemental to the game, so the debate over this change is as important as it is a mystery. Here is a comprehensive and incredulous analysis.

Some experts point to hitting coaches, who espouse an upwards angle of swing to match the downward path of the ball from the mound. Others suggest harder woods in bats, such as maple which has grown in popularity. The betting money, which you can’t do in the game, is on the ball itself.

The “juiced ball”, according to 538, dates from after the 2015 All-Star break. They suggest that a less dense cork core and perhaps a more uniform placement in its center may have something to do with it. Scientists at the University of Washington believe something has reduced the ball’s “coefficient of drag.” Of course, there are also conspiracy theorists, which baseball seems to attract, who claim that, whatever the cause, the league owners sponsored it to try to draw more fans, which by the way have actually gone down.

Since this site is my own soapbox, I offer global warming as the culprit. Warmer air, which we have a lot of these days, is less dense and thus has less resistance to a high fly ball to left, or any other, field. For the same reason cork itself and even the wool within the ball is apt to be different than it was a hundred years ago.

There are plenty of reasons to challenge my theory, but it is more fun to posit one than to do the kind of research that the scientists at UW are doing. One thing is for sure, it’s not baseball without something for loving fans to argue about. With all that love, I offer you this:

Field of Dreams

         

   Baseball is more than a game.  It is life played out on a field.

            Juliana Hatfield

The magic that occurs to a little leather ball

in the sixty-six feet between the pitcher’s mound 

and home plate is proof if any is needed

that God exists and that he invented baseball

And if you marvel at the complexities 

of nature and the mysteries of the universe

you can trace the mischief in his fingerprints 

through the mystic depths of the infield fly rule

that quantum state in which a dropped fly

is deemed caught even if it could not have been

as mysterious as the retrograde of planets

retracing their arcs in the night sky

Where else can cold-blooded statisticians

and grass-stained boys share the uncommon joy

over twelve extra hits in a season

or stand in awe of a sinking fastball?

Inhale the scent of new mown grass

hear the crack of hand-sewn leather on ash

believe the dream of a walk off homer in the ninth

it may be in a sand lot – but it is also Wrigley Field

Life my feel as cruel and unfair at times 

as a called strike that was high inside

but in baseball every day is opening day

and hope lives forever in the two words “Play ball!”

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Fastnet Forty Years On

Everyone will be commenting on Woodstock today, which started on this day fifty years ago, and most will tell you they were there, but we all could not have been in that half-million crowd. They say no one could remember being there with all the drugs that were passed around. I personally think that anyone old enough to have been at Woodstock probably has Alzheimer’s disease by now and wouldn’t remember anything from that long ago.

For my money, the deadly Fastnet sailing race from forty years ago is well worth recalling. It was chronicled in the excellent book, Fastnet Force Ten by John Rousmaniere. The 600-mile race is held every two years and happened that year to coincide with a significant storm of vastly underestimated strength. Winds were once measured by a scale established by Sir Francis Beaufort, from force 1 (0-1 MPH) to force 12 (72-82 MPH). The officially measured winds in the Fastnet storm were force 10 (55-63 MPH), but some boats reported still higher measurements. Added to the winds was the fact that the wind direction changed as the storm moved through, resulting in confused wave conditions that made controlling the boats even more challenging.

Three hundred boats entered the race and of those, 75 capsized, 24 we’re abandoned and five sank outright. Fifteen sailors and four spectators were lost. The rescue attempts were the largest British peacetime effort ever.

Only 86 boats finished the race, many of which were damaged. Ted Turner, of CNN fame, won the race in the Sparkman and Stephens designed Tenacious. He had famously won the America’s Cup two years earlier.

The 1979 Fastnet Race led to a series of investigations and to more seaworthy designs for future sailboats, particularly those intended for racing. Its lessons are still used today in setting safety at sea standards.

There have been other racing disasters since then, including the 1998 Sydney to Hobart race in which six sailors died and five boats were lost.

All this reminds me of a quote by Buzzy Trent, “Waves are not measured in feet or inches, but in increments of fear.” And also that by E.B. White, “I cannot not sail.”

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History Lesson

Five hundred years ago today, Ferdinand Magellan sailed from Seville Spain planning to reach the Spice Islands (in modern day Phillipines) by sailing west past the southern tip of what we now call South America with five ships and roughly 270 men.

He had sailed previously with others to the region via the Cape of Good Hope and sold his western course to Spain (after being rejected by Portugal) as being closer than the older route. By treaty, Portugal “owned” the eastern route. Given the treaty, he probably had no intention of sailing around the world.

After his death fighting for a friendly force of Spice Islanders, his crew continued on west with one boat crewed by 18 to 19 survivors returned to Spain. Just as Columbus failed to reach East Asia by sailing west and did not, by any legitimate definition, “discover” America, Magellan did not circumnavigate the world, though having been to the Spice Islands from the east and reaching them from the West, he did circle the Earth within his lifetime.

As a whole, the survivors painted a poor picture of Magellan, some of whom had mutinied against along the way. Perhaps for that reason, none of them received credit for their achievement. One, however, remained loyal to Magellan and delivered his notes from the journey to Spain’s King Phillip. He wrote:

“The best proof of his genius is that he circumnavigated the world, none having preceded him.”

and perhaps because of those not so accurate words history now recognizes Magellan as something more than he deserved. If he were recognized in Cooperstown, his record would probably be marked with an asterisk.

Perhaps Martin Luther King, Jr. described history best:

“We are not makers of history. We are made by history.”

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The True Day to Recognize​ Apollo 11

Although the world celebrated the 50th anniversary of the moon landing of Apollo 11 on July 20, the mission was not truly over until July 24 when it returned to Earth. Like ascending Everest, you had to get back down to truly make history. So today deserves at least a footnote in the history books.

Getting back safely was no small task, as we learned from Apollo 13, remember “Houston, we have a problem”? Indeed, Apollo 11’s splashdown was initially upside down. William Safire had drafted a statement for Richard Nixon to read if the return were unsuccessful, and I know we all are grateful never to have had to hear it. Instead and during the worst of the Vietnam War, he claimed the world had never drawn closer. Best to leave that without comment.

Over time, we have stopped using the phrase, “If they can send a man to the moon…”. I suspect that is not because the thought was worn but because we aren’t so sure we could again. There have, however, been recent references to the idea of a “moon shot” for things like climate change, which is something truly worth considering although it seems to be growing rather late for that.

In noting today’s significance, I certainly don’t mean to diminish the magic of July 20th, 1969. It was one of those days I can say exactly where I was at the time, and I marvel at the moment still. In thinking about that day and time, I wrote this short poem that reflects some of my own thoughts.

July 20, 1969

            After John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

I was schooled to cower 

under the shelter of 

my wooden school desk

to hide from fallout

raining from the sky

in blasts brighter 

than the noonday sun

raising umbrella clouds

to announce the end of days

But for one July evening 

I lay under a clear night sky 

in a field damp with cleansing dew

while man walked far above

on a waxing crescent promise

that we might someday

rise high enough to look down

upon our own self-destruction

and perhaps once more

to touch the heart of God

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On the Fourth of July

Today has been a busy day in history, and not just for the reason you assume. Nathaniel Hawthorne was born on this day in 1804. Walt Whitman first published Leaves of Grass today in 1855, challenging and changing the face of poetry forever – the “poet of democracy.”

Lou Gehrig retired 80 years ago today, one of the early heroes of America’s pastime. His 278 words of goodbye survive in our collective memory as defining the spirit of American work ethic, although we are more likely to imagine the image of Gary Cooper than Gehrig in our minds.

In 1845 Henry David Thoreau moved into his shack on Walden Pond, where his personal introspection found a distinctly American voice that still instills reflection today.

In that spirit of reflection, and not in any way to detract from our rightfull celebrations of today, here is a poem to consider.

Fourth of July

Dripping flags 

sag limply 

in the downpour

Fireworks sputter 

and drown

in the sea

of indifference

that dampens

this day when

 we celebrate

the invention of

Coca-Cola hot dogs

and auto racing

the day the sky 

chose to rain 

on our parade

Perhaps only 

this poem remembers 

the meaning

and the precious

sacrifice spent 

for the freedom

for too many

to forget

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On This Day

On this day in 1980, the video game Pac-Man was introduced to the world. Of course, it came out first in Japan under the name “Puck-Man”, but still the first and possibly greatest time suck in history was born, rivaled only by drive-thru lines and Game of Thrones.

The game began as an arcade game, but most of us from that era played the game first on an Atari console, which had quickly adopted the craze. Ms. Pac-Man, a version with better graphics, followed in 1982. There was apparently even a TV series and a hit song about the game. Ironically, a retro board game was introduced along the way as well.

In our present world with climatic apocalypse at the door and government by Twitter, it seems comforting to look back to simpler times when there were defined paths to follow within a blinking rectangle and enemies you could see and at times escape, all to the perky, machined music that was the inspiration for every pop song since the turn of the century.

I’m sorry to be so brief, but I need to go see if I can beat my highest score.

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Never Say Never

With the end of April, a time dedicated to poetry, but in this year too full of tragedy, perhaps one last poem with a touch of humor is a helpful way to close out the month.

Never Say Never 

            And other lines worthy of Yogi Berra

A chain is only as strong as – its missing link

All that glitters – is a fool and his money

A watched pot is – where the heart is

An ounce of prevention – saves nine

Cleanliness is – the best medicine

A friend in need is – a penny saved

Two wrongs don’t make – a good turn

Birds of a feather – are two in the bush

A miss is as good as – kissing your sister

Leave well enough – where angels fear to tread

Ignorance is the root of all evil – and money is bliss

Good things come to those – who help themselves

Life is short – and the good die young

Rules were made – to flock together

The best things in life – must come down

There’s no fool like – the eye of the beholder

When the cat’s away – the early bird gets the worm 

There’s no time like – having your cake and eating it too 

When the going gets tough – no news is good news

The grass is always greener – on the road to hell

Where there’s a will – it might be Shakespeare

Eat, drink and be merry – is well enough

Better safe – than never

Better late – than sorry

Leave well enough – in one basket 

A little knowledge – also killed the cat

Money doesn’t grow – in love and war

Actions speak louder than – good intentions

Half a loaf is better than – catching the worm

The end justifies – the mother of invention

If it ain’t broke – it’s a bird in the hand

Out of sight is – a dangerous thing

Easy come – soon parted

And great minds – think

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April Fools

Today is April 1, celebrated day for pranks, but it is also the beginning of poetry month. April was chosen perhaps to honor T.S. Eliot, whose line from The Waste Land begins:

“April is the cruelest month”

In honor of both the day and month, here is a poem appropriate for both:

The Funny Thing About a Poem

The funny thing 

about a poem

is how little it takes 

to say simply enough

It is merely a conversation 

with the air

over perhaps nothing

only an observation

alive upon a page

that may leave a knowing smile

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Oil and Water​

Thirty years ago today the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Alaska’s Prince William Sound ultimately releasing ten to thirty-one million gallons of crude oil into the waters and along the shore of the area.

When the Trans-Alaska pipeline was opened to bring oil from its northern reaches near Point Barrow, most of the environmental criticism centered around the dangers of earthquakes that might rupture it and the impact to native caribou and other migratory animals. Pipelines of this complexity were relatively new and had to be constructed to shift during earthquakes. It was deemed nationally important because of the recent Mideast oil crisis, which had created a call for energy independence.

The pipeline itself has performed relatively well, though not perfectly. The worst spill occurred when someone intentionally created a small hole, resulting in 16,000 gallons escaping. It was the old-school tanker transport system that led to this spill.

The cause of the wreck was human error, complicated by the fact that the shi’s radar system was not funtioning. A small environmental awakening followed due to media coverage of the incident and the extensive cleanup that followed. Few of us had ever seen shorebirds completely covered in oil and similar examples of contamination. A summary of the event and its cleanup are contained in Wikipedia.

This oil spill is the second worst in US history, now eclipsed by the Deep Water Horizon disaster of 2010, although there have been many larger incidents elsewhere in the world.

Today, thanks in part to extensive cleanup work and perhaps more to the resiliency of nature, Prince William Sound has something of its prior natural state, with wildlife returning. That fact is a credit to those who helped mitigate the harm of the spill, but is also testimony to the power on nature to overcome. We continue to put it to the test in countless, thoughtless and wasteful ways but so far it carries on despite our worst efforts.

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The Funny Thing…

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I generally don’t use this site to talk about myself, but I’ve recently published a book of poetry entitled, The Funny Thing About a Poem, and I thought it worth mention to my audience here.  If there is a theme, it is in the subtitle, “Poems to Ponder and Amuse.”

Occasionally it is funny and elsewhere thoughtful or perhaps thought-provoking.  It is available on Amazon in two editions.  You can buy the first on paper and for Kindle.  A briefer and more affordable second edition is available on paper, also on Amazon.

Here is a sample:

All the Good Words

Hank Williams said

            The silence of a falling star

If a song can’t be written

            Lights up a purple sky

In fifteen minutes

            A hot-rod Ford and a two-dollar bill

It ain’t worth writing

            Jambalaya crawfish pie a file gumbo

 

If he was even half right

            You’ll walk the floor the way I do

It shouldn’t take five minutes

            Your cheatin’ heart will tell on you

And a teaspoon of talent

            In spring I’ll wait for roses red when fades the lilacs bloom

To write a decent poem

            And in early Fall when brown leaves fall I’ll catch a glimpse of you

 

I mean after all

            Death sent an angel down from above

It’s only words

            Sent for the buds of the flowers we love

Without a tune

            ‘Cause if you mind your business

Or even a backbeat

            Then you won’t be mindin’ mine

 

But all I can do

            The more I learn to care for you, the more we drift apart

Is listen to his songs

            Why can’t I free your doubtful mind and melt your cold cold heart

Because I’ve come to know

            Now I have traded the wrong for the right

All the good words are gone

            Praise the lord I saw the light

 

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The Last Word

After all is said and done, more is said than done.

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