Friday, May 9, 2008

Once again, that link to the baseball video.

I received a complaint that since I posted one more, the link is now hard to find. Like, you might have to scroll down. Here, once again, is the link to my baseball tryout video, up at the top of the blog for easy access. I will make sure not to think of anything else to write for a full day.

The coach you see in the video giving me a hard time is suggesting that perhaps, in order to make sure my throw to home gets in from the outfield, we could use seven or eight cutoff men - form a human chain, like an old-school fire brigade carrying buckets of water. I asked if he would prefer I run the ball in from the outfield, and he said "we only have the diamond for three hours". Well, I may not be fast, but I know I can certainly throw. But this guy was all about giving me a hard time. He was irritated that I hadn't told him to time me with a calendar instead of a stopwatch in the 40-yard dash, and suggested that anyone who showed up to a baseball tryout without pants, a cup, and cleats was likely a numbskull. He may not have been wrong. I loved that guy.

An observation.

After Randall's commentary today, about Smart Cars and such, he commented, off the air, that someday soon owning an SUV will be looked upon the way smoking is now. And he's right. But I would take it a step further. People look down on smokers now because they are ruining their own health. In the future, the owners of SUVs will be looked upon the way we now look on a smoker who lights up in a restaurant or inside a crowded bus shelter. Because not only are you ruining your own health, you are ruining the health of others. And for a time, people accepted smokers. After all, it's hard to quit. So the smokers are given time. But now it's reached a point where that time is up. And you get the stares from the do-gooders, especially if now, after knowing the problems associated with smoking, you take it up. Soon, it will come to that for SUV drivers as well. It's tough to get rid of the car. You've already bought it. It's entirely possible that you can't afford to replace it with another simply because you now know the problems associated with owning it.

And as time goes on, car dealerships will continue to offer hummers and SUVs, just like convenience stores will continue to offer smokes, because there is a large profit in it. But public pressure will eventually come to bear. Pressure that will be misplaced, because SUVs are merely symptomatic of the problem, and are certainly not the root of the problem. So it will likely become easier to dislike SUV drivers than it will to dislike the governments that don't do anything to curb the environmental destruction that is still ongoing. And I find it difficult to dislike SUV drivers also. I'd never buy one, but to each their own. I'm seriously looking at getting a Smart Car as my second vehicle, once we are able to afford a new car. They start at 15,000 dollars, not too bad for a car that will cost so very much less to run than any other car you could purchase. In the end, we would actually save money by having two cars instead of one!

But then, on my way home today, I found an SUV driver that actually ticked me off. Not because he cut me off, or did that annoying weaving-in-and-out-through-traffic thing without signalling, or because he followed me an inch behind my bumper until I finally let him pass. In point of fact, this SUV driver did none of those things. That was some guy in a Mercedes. No, this SUV driver irritated me because as I drove behind him, I became engrossed in the myriad of bumper stickers on his spare tire in the back. "One Earth For Us All". "Celebrate World Water Day". "Remember Katrina: Fight Global Warming". OK, I can't actually remember the bumper stickers, and I looked those up on But they were ALL, all seven of them, pro-environment bumper stickers. And there was just something odd about seeing all of these "protect the world" messages on the back of an SUV. Which is fourth on the list of vehicles with a negative environmental impact. Next to hummers, monster trucks, and aircraft carriers. And sure, it wasn't a Hummer, but still kind of bizarrely hypocritical. It's like I said a few posts ago. The best reason to green-up your own house and life is that then you have the credibility to preach the same to the government, who can actually do something about it.

And...the video.

Not to question our video editing department, but where was the video of me slamming the ball over the left-field wall? Oh, right. That never happened. I did have some good infield plays, and some solid hits, but those didn't make the cut. I also had some terrible whiffs (after I called my shot) that also didn't make the cut. At least they left in the moment where I chased the ball down, missed it, and did something of a cartwheel-somersault on the infield grass. Here it is:


Thursday, May 8, 2008

And...the dream dies.

I want to call today "every boy's fantasy". And in some ways, it is. I ran into an old co-worker who waxed effusive about the opportunity to now, at a later point in his life, "live out the dream". I listened for a while, nodding my agreement as he talked for fourteen straight minutes about the boyhood fantasy that is baseball, the everyman finally getting a chance to compete for a spot with former major leaguers and college stars, on a level playing field. But in the end, I couldn't really agree. First of all, this was by no means a level playing field. Some of these guys were very, very good. The rest of us were not. The fact of the matter is that two, maybe three of the people who showed up for today's Rapids tryout were actually good enough to make the team. The rest of us were there to make them look better, and that's about it. Now, it being fifteen years or so since I played any kind of competitive baseball, I had no real illusions about my ability to make this team. But several other guys seemed to be operating under some kind of false hope. As our promo guy, Esther, said to me - it's kind of like American Idol, isn't it? And it truth, it kind of was.

If these other guys all played college or minor league ball at some time, it really made me think I should probably not have given up baseball before high school! But then, there were the real contenders. Guys who could throw a ball on a rope from centerfield to home plate. Guys who could crush a pitch, every pitch, in batting practice. There was one guy from Cuba who scooped up everything hit his way in the infield, throwing to first base, off-balance, but on target every time, once pulling off a rather difficult barehanded catch and throw with relative ease. These are the guys who are going to make the team, the guys who really belonged there. It was clear from the outset that I was not one of them. When we finished the jogging warmup, which was running the length of the warning track twice, I finished last. But Esther congratulated me - wow! She said. That was really impressive! You didn't stop for breath once! Or a smoke!

The best thing about the whole day, however, was the feeling of authenticity. The sense that this was baseball the way baseball really is. The coach is a sweet, kindly man, who seemed to be enjoying himself while he put people through their paces. He's the kindly old manager stereotype. And his assistant coach is straight out of Bull Durham or The Natural. The first time he spoke to me was after we all ran the 40-yard dash. He was holding the stopwatch, and when I sped past him, I asked him my time. He said "Friday". Then he suggested that it would have been nice if I had let him know that he should be using a calendar to measure my speed, rather than a stopwatch. (My actual time was second-worst, 6.37 seconds. Which is actually, believe it or not, faster than my time in high school, which was a 6.42, back when I was in shape. Something doesn't add up here. Maybe he was shaving milliseconds to make me feel better. Or whole seconds.) Then, throughout the rest of the drills, he continued making fun of me. Every time I was standing near him, he would mutter something like "what kind of numbskull shows up to a baseball tryout in shorts?"

And he was not wrong. I was the only person there in shorts. In fact, I was one of about three people who was not wearing a full baseball uniform. And I was also the only person there without cleats. (Which I feel prevented me from running that 4.4 second 40-yard dash I imagine for myself.) I was truly ill-equipped to try out for a baseball team. Then came the infield practice, which led this coach to muse it was a wonder my old, tattered baseball glove was not already in the hall of fame - how had they let me hang onto it for so long, belonging so obviously as it did in Cooperstown? Perhaps, he fancied later, my actual glove WAS in Cooperstown, and I had fished this one out of some neighbour's trash on my way to the park this morning. I couldn't tell if he knew who I was and was just giving me a hard time, or if he really didn't like me and wanted me to leave before he was forced to cut me from the team.

At the very beginning, the coach made it clear that because fewer people showed up for the tryouts than they had anticipated, there would not be cuts until the afternoon. The original plan had been to walk around, tapping people on the shoulder as they went through the drills, and telling them that their services would not be needed. However, this gave everyone enough time to get through all of the practice before being escorted out of the building. Along with the Rapids coaching staff, there was a coaching staff there from Quebec City in the same league, and both teams were recruiting at the same time. They further went on to say that if they thought a player was good enough to be in this league, but there wasn't room on either the Ottawa or Quebec rosters, that the coaching staffs would do whatever they could to get that player a job elsewhere in the league, which was pretty nice. One of the Quebec coaches took a little pity on me and whispered fundamentals to me as I took infield practice, so I didn't look like a total fool. However, all the advice in the world couldn't stop me from looking like a total fool.

I was the last one to take fielding practice, and I was therefore the centre of attention as I let the first one go completely through my legs. I fielded the next four cleanly, made some decent throws, and the first baseman picked a few throws out of the dirt, making me look better. Then the last ball was hit, a short dribbler just over the mound, and I charged it, looking to make one of those cool plays where the shortstop picks up the ball without hesitation and fires a strike to first to nab the runner. You know, end on a high note and so forth. But I tripped over the mound, let the ball go right by me, did a full somersault on the ground, and attempted to get to my feet right away afterward, as though I had meant to do a little flip. But I couldn't quite right myself, and I fell over again, rolling over on the ground like a big fat pile of non-ballplayer. And a non-ballplayer I am.

Then it was time for batting practice, and I just tried to make contact. Even at that, I missed three of the seven pitched balls, and only two made it out of the infield. In fact, I believe I connected with one of them about as hard as I have ever hit a baseball, and it didn't even make the warning track. I now know for absolute certain that I am unable to hit a ball out of Lynx stadium. But then, I never figured I could. I was never a power hitter. And I never figured I would make this team, because I am no longer a baseball player. In fact, it seems to me now that I never really was. But these guys are, the ones who will make it, and they are going to field a pretty impressive product in the next year. It will be worth checking out, if there is enough room to park. Also worth checking out will be the video Esther shot, in which I embarrass myself considerably. It should be up on the CHEZ website by the end of the day.

Time to assess my baseball skills.

When I was thirteen years old, I combined with Neil Brighton to throw a one-hitter for the Red Sox of the Fisher Park Community Center league. It was some very low-rent baseball, very non-competitive, as youth baseball leagues go, but that game became different. That game brought out the competition in all of us. You see, in those days, no pitcher was allowed to throw more than four innings, or some such thing. And games were I think seven innings. Which meant that after I had thrown four innings of no-hit, shutout baseball, I had to cede the mound. Which I did, giving Neil some encouraging words like "I have a no-hitter going here. Don't screw this up". Come to think of it, I may have been a rather lousy teammate! But Neil did very well. He took the mound, the score still tied at zero, and gave up no hits through the next two innings.

The only hit he conceded was in the final inning, with our team up 1-0. A dribbler, terribly hit, that barely stayed fair down the third base line. I had been moved to third base, and I couldn't make the play at first. So really it was me giving up that hit as much as it was Neil. But I was still annoyed, because I was a lousy teammate. As I recall, that runner on first then stole second, and with two outs a ground ball came to me at third base. As the runner passed behind me and rounded third, I had all the time in the world to throw out the runner at first and end the game. But I wanted to make this an emphatic end to a beautiful, one-hit game, where no one on the other team had managed to get a ball out of the infield. So instead of throwing gently over to first, I gunned it as hard as I could, feeling that throwing a ball hard was the best way to put an exclamation point on our pitching gem. The first baseman, who was about four feet tall, and who was expecting a leisurly toss, became frightened, and he ducked and covered his head. The ball sailed past him. Over the fence into the dugout. The runner behind me trotted easily in to home with the tying run. Two walks later, the runner who had reached on my error scored on a passed ball, and the game was over. And me, still being the bad teammate, was irritated at Neil for messing up my no-hitter. And he, (in a far more justified display of annoyance), was irritated with me for costing him the game. We decided we were both right, and remained friends. But in retrospect, I was being a dick.

After that season, we were too old for the Fisher Park league, and would have had to move on to more competitive surroundings. I had discovered football in high school, and rowing and rugby and waterpolo and the rest of it. So I gave up on community league baseball for a time to concentrate on other sports at school. Oh, and school work too. Somewhat. But a few years later there was a time during the school year where baseball was the only sport, and I tried out for the high school team. I figured I barely had to try - I had been MVP of my Fisher Park League three years in a row! And I was gone in the second round of cuts. I haven't played since.

Yesterday, I tried to find my old baseball glove, because today Doc and Woody have me attending the open tryouts for the Ottawa Rapids, the new Can-Am league baseball team in Ottawa. And I searched and searched. I opened every box, every bag, everything that hadn't been touched since I moved. And nothing. Where could it be? My baseball glove used to be my most prized possession, the one thing without which I would feel incomplete! And yet, it was nowhere to be found. Fianlly, after making some calls, I discovered that I had left it at the house I lived in - two houses ago. It was still where I had left it, in the hall closet, only now it was covered in dust and grime, after two solid years of neglect and apathy. I became a little sad when picking it up, having relegated this once-supremely-important childhood item to the land of forgotten toys, where it stayed, untouched, for so many years. But I think it will be happy I brought it out of retirement for such an auspicious occasion. Later today, it will be put to use against the best Ottawa has to offer in baseball, in a league populated by former major-leaguers and almost-made-it college stars. I don't expect to make the Rapids. I mean Rapidz. I expect to be cut in the first round, this time. After all, I haven't learned many baseball skills since I was thirteen. However, I'm sure that at the very least, I have learned how to be a better teammate.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

I sure hope this ends up costing $400,000.00...

There is a debate going on in the Ontario legislature. A massive debate. A gigantic debate. A debate of gargantuan proportions. Should they, or should they not, recite the Lord's Prayer before each assembly? This is a very important issue, and one I think can not be dismissed lightly. You see, I am an avid fan of the Ontario legislature assembly television program. I never miss a single episode, whenever it is on TV and on whatever channel it is on. I just can't get enough of this riveting TV spectacle. More engaging than The Wire, more exciting than The Sopranos, the Ontario Legislature Assembly is must-watch television. The only problem with this otherwise excellent and adrenaline-fueled programming is the lack of a theme song. And without a 1980-sythnesizer theme, like the one from Matlock, or an all-time classic rock masterpiece, like a CSI, how am I to know the show has begun? I could be out in the kitchen, making my traditional medium-salsa and green-peppers and three-cheese-blend nachos, that I eat every day while watching the Ontario legislature assemble, with my traditional pepsi and my traditional poutine dessert. And the show could begin, and I wouldn't even have known it started! There is no theme music!

Enter the Lord's Prayer. The fact that Ontario recites this at the beginning of the program is the only way I will know it's time to throw those nachos in the microwave, hastily grab my pepsi from the fridge, and leap onto the couch for eleven of the most riveting TV hours of the week. Or however long it is. On whatever channel at whatever time. As the prayer goes on, I get more and more excited for the upcoming television excellence, in much the same way I get more excited at the end of the Hockey Night in Canada theme song than I was when it began. But now, there is a controversy, and an ISSUE. And a committee has been formed to hear from 50 different religious and non-religious groups in order to come to an informed consensus on what should be done. Should the prayer be repealed? Replaced with something else? A decision this important can't be left to plain old common sense, it needs something as astute and specialized as a committee. So over the next ten or eleven months, this committee will meet at high-end restaurants and discuss this most pressing ISSUE over the choicest cuts of filet mignon, while sipping after-dinner brandies and really tackling the subject, getting to the meat of the ISSUE.

And then they will decide something. I, for one, hope they decide to replace the Lord's Prayer. Not on any relgious, or anti-religious, or apathetic grounds, but because it doesn't always cut through. It is not distinctive enough to remind me to get those nachos out of the microwave and prepare my pepsi. Sometimes I miss the cue altogether. So I suggest a theme song instead. Imagine Dalton McGuinty entering the assembly to the sounds of Greatest American Hero - believe it or not, I'm walking on air/I never thought I could feel so free-ee-ee/Flying away on a wing and a prayer, who could it be?/Believe it or not, it's just meeeeeee! Now THAT would signal that entertainment is on it's way! And it would signal to me, in no uncertain terms, that it's time to take them nachos out and grab dat pepsi. Oh, what a glorious thought!

Of course, they will pretend there are other reasons for this debate. Religion and pressure and lobby groups and so forth. But I (and now you) know the truth. It is merely a search for a new theme song. And rightly so. I mean, there couldn't be another reason to debate this, could there? I mean, if there was, who in their right mind would care? Other than those 5,700 people who sent emails to the legislature about the subject. Most in favour of the MacGyver theme. Da-da-da-da-da-da-daaaaa...da-da-da...which would be OK too. After all, it's about tradition, isn't it? Just like my nachos and pepsi and poutine.

One more reason to dislike the Tulip Festival.

OK, I am no fan of the Tulip Festival. It's usually a bunch of also-ran bands playing to largely disinterested crowds at a stage so far removed from the actual tulips that the two events may as well be happening on different planets. And walking among the tulips is nice, but not worth leaving my backyard which, at this time of year (now, at least) is also full of tulips. And before people get all up in arms (and I know some of you are), I realize there have been some decent bands over the past few years. I really enjoyed the Guess Who and the Reverend Horton Heat, among others. But I can do without Tulip Fest altogether, for the most part. Really, it's for tourists. Tourists who have never seen tulips. Or Trooper. So...residents of Moosonee, I suppose. But this year I thought they were going another way. A kind of cool way, it seemed to me. Doing away with the performances of this-year's-J. Englishman, and focusing on some cool lectures, in a series called Celebridee.

Then I read this in the paper - Tulip Fest organizers have banned a band. Haha. Banned a band, get it? The Tian Guo Marching Band of Canada was slated to perform at the opening ceremonies of Tulip Fest last week, scheduled to play O Canada and The Maple Leaf Forever. They are, one would assume, fiercely pro-Canada, and part of our diverse cultural mosaic, being foreigners who have come to our country from China, and who love our country's acceptance of them, their religious beliefs and their political stance. Canada accepts, yes, but not the Tulip Festival. Organizers of Tulip Fest clearly knew who these guys were. They saw their website, and their uniforms, and their "Falun Dafa" banner. But no one at Tulip Fest knew what any of this meant, or bothered to check. And when they found out that "Falun Dafa" was another word for "Falun Gong", and that this band happened to have attended an anti-China protest on Parliament Hill just before coming to the opening ceremonies, they had a crazy, misinformed and idiotic knee-jerk reaction.

They cancelled the performance, making up something about having a permit. They got the cops to surround the band (some members of which are as young as 12 years old) and escort them away from the Tulip Festival. This, FIVE minutes before they hit the stage. The knee-jerk reaction being this: If they are Falun gong, they are therefore against China. And if they are against China, they are political. And if they are political, they will go to protests. And if they have just COME from a protest, they are obviously planning to use Tulip Fest as another area in which to carry out their message of political protest. And if they deliver that message at Tulip Fest, they will anger the Chinese embassy. And since we have a partnership with the Chinese embassy, they will be angry with us, the Tulip Festival. And if the Chinese embassy is angry with us, we will have egg on our face. And if we have egg on our face, we will not be able to show our faces around town any more, and will have to hide in our homes and never leave, and by extension we will no longer be able to walk to the Booster Juice store. And we can't live without our Boisenberry Yogurt Explosion.

Or something to this effect. Doug Little, the marketing director of the festival, says that their decision to cancel this band's performance (and their two subsequent performances) has nothing to do with pressure from the Chinese embassy. Although Falun Gong has been declared an illegal religious organization by totalitarian China, and as such is at odds with the Chinese government and, by extension, their embassy here in Ottawa, this has nothing whatsoever to do with the banning of Tian Guo. No, the fear was (not the knowledge, but the supposition of the possibility) that Tian Guo would make a political statement at Tulip Fest. And that, according to Mr. Little, goes against everything Tulip Fest stands for. He says "the Tulip Fest is about celebration, and not to be used for political purposes". Which is a fine statement to make, usually. But he has no idea if these people are going to do anything political at all. He's just afraid of their uniforms and their banners, now that he knows what they mean. Five minutes before they go on.

But here's the thing. You know who's "performing" at Tulip Fest tonight, during the "Celebridee" portion fo the festival that I thought was such a good idea? Salman Rushdie. Salman "Satanic Verses" Rushdie. Salman "fatwa" Rushdie. Salman frikkin' Rushdie. Does it get any more political than that? And going down the list, there are about fifteen other speakers in this series that can be considered very political. (Including what I'm sure will be an illuminating talk by local city councillor Clive Doucet.) One of these speakers is Amy Chua, who will be talking about global power, politics, and economics. The Tulip Fest guide mentions that she is a member of "the dominant Chinese minority in the Phillippines". Does anyone else see a problem here? Anti-Islam is OK. Anti-urban sprawl is OK. Anti-Chinese is blasphemy? I want to go to a lot of these lectures, but I also want to kick the Tulip Fest, in general, in the balls.