Springtime State of Mind

Posted in The sporting life on February 25th, 2002 by bill
“The wise man uses the change of the seasons as the moment for inner change.” –hexagram 49
The calendar says that spring won’t arrive for a few weeks yet, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s already here. The weather’s warm, the birds are singing, and pitchers and catchers have reported for spring training—what else do you want? Baseball is tricky for me to write about, because I have a long and complicated relationship with it. When I was a kid, baseball was all I cared about—not just in sports, but in life. The Philadelphia Phillies winning the World Series in 1980 was (and still is) one of the high points of my existence. A pro baseball player was the only thing I wanted to be when I grew up, and when I figured out that that wasn’t going to happen, it was both a great heartbreak and a crucial developmental step. In my late teens I lost touch with baseball and later, once I discovered basketball, it was all over: the fast-moving urban game trumped the slow-moving pastoral one. I couldn’t stand to watch baseball anymore because the pace was so…brutally…glacial. My baseball watching was limited to switching over during a commercial break in a basketball game—and seeing maybe two pitches in three minutes. Baseball is like a relative from whom I’ve long been estranged, but I think I’m about ready to give it another chance. Football season is gone, and so is Jon Gruden, making it hard to have a real positive attitude about the Raiders’ future. And that other pro team in town—the one that plays basketball and whose name I am forbidden to invoke—has done nothing to warrant further attention. That leaves the A’s, who may have lost Jason Giambi but have every reason to expect to be a contender this year; and anyway, they have as many wins as any team in the major leagues at the moment. So I’m trying to work myself into that baseball state of mind. The advent of spring reminds me of what I like about baseball—not the geometric perfection that George Will is always going on about, but the fact that it mirrors the seasons so beautifully. Spring is all about hope and optimism. You can finally get out and run around on the field after a long winter of being cooped up inside (this isn’t quite so true in Oakland as it is other places, but work with me here). In the spring, everybody’s a potential champion, and with the whole year ahead of you, there’s plenty of time to enjoy the fresh air and green grass. Summer is when the action happens. I won’t rhapsodize about the beauty of a summer’s day at the old ballyard, because I’d feel like a hypocrite, but let’s imagine that I did. Fall is harvest time, when you find out whether the year brings a bumper crop (playoffs) or bust (Montreal Expos). And then it’s back to winter again, time to take it easy, plan for next year, and dream of when the springtime comes around again. Which is where we came in. If you can’t be hopeful now, then when? So let’s be hopeful. Maybe the A’s will win the World Series this year. Maybe my softball team will win more than three games. Maybe that baseball player or fan in your life will have their best year ever. Maybe we have eight months of good vibes and sunshine ahead of us. I can’t think of a good reason to expect otherwise.

Warriors Beaten by High Schoolers

Posted in Golden (State) Years on February 11th, 2002 by bill
This week, I took a little baby step outside the hermetically sealed world of pro sports by attending Oakland Tech’s home game against rival Oakland High. It was a like going to a Warriors game in that the teams played basketball with five players on either side. In every other respect, it was quite different: • Tech charged us $5 to get in. While that still struck me as a bit steep for a high school game, it was a nice break from the $20-plus the Warriors charge for what can only technically be described as “professional” ball. • Let’s give the pros credit for one thing: Upon entering Your Name Here Arena, you are not handed the following list of behaviors “unacceptable at O.A.L. contests”:
-Berating your opponent’s school or mascot -Berating opposing players -Demonstrating obscene cheers or gestures -Displaying negative signs or symbols -Using artificial noise makers that interfere with the atmosphere of the game -Using lasers -Complaining about officials’ calls (verbal or gestures) -Playing inappropriate music
Given the wide range of possible interpretations of the words “berating,” “negative,” and “inappropriate,” that wouldn’t seem to leave many options open, although there was no prohibition on berating your own players, a much more likely occurrence at Warriors games these days. • As you’d expect, there was a big difference in crowd noise. Yes, the several hundred fans in Tech’s gym easily would have drowned out your average Warriors crowd of 10,000+. Of course, they have a much smaller enclosed space to work with, but the quality of play may have had something to do with it. • Did I mention the quality of play? When we arrived a few minutes into the first quarter, the game was going at an absolutely frantic pace, with the young men racing from end to end like…well, like basketball players, in sharp contrast to the Warriors, who have failed repeatedly in their attempts to implement a running game. That pace kept up through the first half and slackened only a little in the second half, as host Oakland Tech slowly pulled away from Oakland, turning a close game into a 67–51 blowout. Tech appeared to be both more fundamentally sound than the W’s and more spectacular, playing solid defense and throwing down several highlight-quality dunks off alley-oops. • Also unlike the Warriors, Tech has a dominant player in Leon Powe, who had 27 points, 7 boards, 4 steals, and 2 blocks. Although he was the biggest player on the floor only by an inch or two, Powe at times appeared to be a foot taller than everyone else, repeatedly pulling down tough rebounds in traffic. • The home team won. This rarely happens at the Arena. In short, this game provided more entertainment value than the last 17 Warriors games put together. Having said that, I must now confess that I’m tired of picking on the Warriors; I really do want to see them do well, I’m just fed up with waiting for it to happen. So I hereby vow not to write word one about them until they win…well, let’s set the bar low, and say three games in a row. And then, maybe, I’ll have something nice to say.