Dozer, the Bulldog

Dozer, the Bulldog
Feeling the "Bern"

Ellie Mae

Ellie Mae
No time for gates...

Ollie Mac

Ollie Mac
My cooking assistant

Ollie and Annie

Ollie and Annie
Azorean grandmother


38 years on this mountain, come May 31st...



Papa and Ollie Mac

Papa and Ollie Mac
Priorities, Baby


Annie, my Sweetest of Apple Blossoms

My first portrait

My first portrait
"Mr. Farmer"

Mahlon Masling Blue

Mahlon Masling Blue
My friend and brother.

Mark's E-mail address

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Church of the Eternal Bleacher # 5: Blessed Be the Garlic Fries

The Church of the Eternal Bleacher
All Southpaws Welcome
Blessed Be the Garlic Fries
Welcome to the Church of the Eternal Bleacher, in the name of Timmy, Buster and Nate the Great, now and forever, you’re safe.  We are gathered here today to conduct a prayer service for the Orange and Black, after another discouraging loss to the Chicago Cubs last night.
The Giants, having dropped six back of the suddenly surging Arizona D-backs, appear uninspired, and Carlos Beltran looked especially lost up at the plate.  Three consecutive plate appearances featured Beltran coming to the plate with two runners on, and two outs, only to fail to plate any of those base runners.
Our normal prayer meeting would always include a series of film clips, a focus on individual accomplishments, and a question and answer session.  However, in the interest of morale, I think we will skip the highlight film, not because there is little to showcase, but because you know we will inevitably simply pop “last year” onto the screen.  Then everyone will sink back into his or her chair, and complacency will settle over the crowd, like the dust from the vehicles up here on the ridge.
What’s wrong with complacency?  Nothing, if you are planting roses.  However, if you are the spiritual signpost for your chosen religious affinity, in this case the G-Men, then you have the responsibility to ensure that all members of the CEB are in synch with Church expectations.
Let’s begin by having the visiting Reverend Buster Jackson make a few comments, and then we’ll open up the floor to questions or comments.
“Mr. Jackson?”

“Thank-you.  It’s always a pleasure to stop in here at the CEB, and visit with you folks.  As you know, it’s hard times in the dugout these days.  Baseball being what it is, we’re struggling to put the pieces together.  But we’ve got a great bunch of guys and we’re confident that-”

“Balk!”  The voice rang out over the interior of the church, bouncing off of the open walls, and disappearing into the open sky, the roof of the domed church being wide open on the fine summer morning.
“Who said that?” rang out the voice of Buster Jackson, long rumored to be related to Mr. October himself.  But it was unnecessary to ask, because the speaker was strolling up the center aisle, clearly unafraid of the orange and black colors on all sides of him.  As he assumed center stage, a ripple went through the congregation, as the hated enemy uniform stood squarely among them, and began to spew Dodger Blue.

“You people think you have it tough, but you don’t have a clue what tough is.  You’re still playing meaningful ball one day shy of September, no further behind the first place team, than you were last year, and I can not understand why there is weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth in the Church of the Eternal Bleacher.”

“Wait just a minute here.  Who are you, and what do you mean by bursting in and-”
Interrupting seemed a very Dodger sort of technique.  “You’re out!  To lunch, in this case, if you think I burst in.  I’ve been sitting here all along, listening to you people whine about Beltran this, or Rowand that....And Zito...get over it.  You’re too focused on a single injury, or two.  You’re worried about your big gun, and what he hasn’t done for you lately.  We’ve got the big gun you need, and you have a whole bunch of what we need.  But what we don’t have is any faith...” He paused and looked around the interior of the CEB...”or any of this,” and he waved his hand around.  “Do you have any idea what it’s like to have an owner like Frank McCourt?”

A tiny voice rang out, and a little arm was seen to tug a man’s shirt sleeve.  “Someone had to go to McCourt?  Was it that fat lasagna noodle, Tommy Lasorda?  What did he do wrong?  Besides show up, I mean.”
“Shhhh, Sally, you know you can’t swear in Church.  We don’t say the L word out loud; we just think it.  Wait just a minute, and things will become clear.”

“Sir, sir. Can you please take your-I mean, can you step down to the front, before you end up-I mean, oh good, here comes security.  Puh-lease escort this passed ball out of the hall...”

“You can toss me out, but you can’t hide the fact that you’ve lost confidence in your team, and they know it.  At least you have a team.  We do too, but our team doesn’t know where its next paycheck is coming from, and we don’t have a Timmy, a Matt, a Madbum, or a Vogie...” His voice trailed off as he was led out of the church.

“Who was that?” everyone wanted to know.  
The Reverend Buster was nodding sagely.  “That would be the voice of reality of a franchise that is experiencing hard times, and not like the ones we have going in our dugout.  He is right, though.  I sense a lack of faith.  Remember our mantra; repeat after me, good pitching beats good hitting, most of the time...good pitching beats good hitting...”

"I’m here to tell you that we can get past those hard times, if not this season, then next.  Let’s just give thanks for the things we have:  Blessed be Timmy, Matt, Madbum and Vogie.  Blessed be the fleet of foot, the sure of hand, and the crack of the bat.  Blessed be Triples Alley, and garlic fries, and blessed be our injured guys, in the name of Timmy, Buster and Nate the Great, now and forever, you’re safe.  Pass those garlic fries on over this way, thank you, thank-you very much.  Is there Ketch-up?” 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Church of the Eternal Bleacher # 4: Popcorn, Peanuts and Cold Lemonade

The Church of the Eternal Bleacher
All Southpaws Welcome
Popcorn, Peanuts and Cold Lemonade

Welcome to the Church of the Eternal Bleacher, in the name of Timmy, Buster and Nate the Great, now and forever, you’re safe.  Today, we have scheduled a popcorn, peanuts and cold lemonade social, for the purpose of conducting a prayer service for our struggling Orange and Black.

Included will be the opportunity for the younger set to seek guidance from the elders as to how to handle the trials and tribulations of  one hundred and sixty-two religious services required per season.  Some of the young deacons, such as Jonathon and Barry, have had to seek treatment, because the flesh is weak and the soul cannot compensate for a sprained ankle, or tendonitis of the shoulder.
The rest hammer onward, shouldering the penance thrust upon them by the absence of Buster and Freddy, current martyrs in the Church hierarchy, until such time as they are re-established in the front ranks of our church.  Others have crossed the threshold of physical weakness temporarily, but have rejoined our crusade to recapture the chalice of salvation, the coveted National League Pennant, en route to the Holy Grail itself, the World Championship.

Now that we are assembled, let us pray:
To all of the Willies, Mays, McCovey, Davis, Stargell, and Brian (aka Wilson/Willie), we bid you welcome, and may you look upon our gathering from the press-box of life above, as we attempt to get a glove on some heavy issues, namely, What in tarnation is going on with the G-men?
Let me say unto you all, that I understand your confusion and your concern.  However, we must not be afraid to search our souls from within, to examine if we are completely embracing all of the concepts of our church.  First and foremost, are we having fun, and are we seeing new things every game, that we have never seen before?  Pete?
“Yeah, we’re seeing things we never saw before. Timmy gave up three homers last night for the first time in his career.  That’s what I’m seeing.”
  “Yes, you are, aren’t you?  Is there a question hiding in there?  
“Yeah.  What’s up with Timmy?”
“My, your whole approach sounds dangerously close to violating our commandment about whining.  Can you possibly rephrase that, after the briefest of conversations with one of our attendants, so as to put a little more balanced spin on it?  While they do that, let’s hear another question from Carl.”
“We saw Keppinger knock in the winning runs two games in a row.  Does that count for chemistry?”
“Now, that’s what I’m saying/talkin’ about, Carl.  That’s exactly the kind of got-your-teammates-back approach that the G-Men need to rekindle.  Gaylord?”
“Hey, I saw the Baby Giraffe hit those two home runs in the same game.  That sure never happened before.  Do you think Sabes will give him more playing time?”
“Check it out.  That isn’t Aaron Rowand in left field these days.  Look at the Row’s stats for August.  He’s struggling and it might be more about that article in which he seemed to dis on SF, than he would like to admit.  Belt needs the opportunity to belt (sorry) a few more out of the park.  Ready, Pete?”
“I think so.  OK.  Even though Timmy has had the best post-All-Star stats of all (1.18 ERA), he gave up three home runs in last night’s game, and I think I know the answer to my own question, already.  Every pitcher has a rough game now and again.  Just ask Madbum, who set a record by allowing eight runs in a game before recording an out, but has been consistently excellent the rest of the way.”
“A tip of the Humm-Baby’s cap to you, Pete.  Nice way to make up for that earlier error.  Frank?”
“I don’t want to sound pessimistic, here-”
“Great.  Then don’t.  Next question?  Okay, Frank, try again?”
“Well, how can I put this?  We are now five games back.  I know that we were six back a year ago, so...”
“What’s wrong with just hanging on to that thought?”
“Cause this year we going backwards instead of forwards?”
“Is the season over yet?  Are we mathematically eliminated?  Look, don’t hide your head in the sand; it might get stuck in the cement.  But don’t assume that the Diamondbacks have enough of what it takes to go the distance.  They still have to prove it, just as the Padres had to prove it last year.  There’s a big series coming up this weekend, and it will tell us a lot.  Let’s hope it’s speaking our language, in the name of Timmy, Buster and Nate the Great, now and forever, you’re safe.  Would you like butter on your popcorn?” 

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Church of the Eternal Bleacher # 3: The Ten Commandments or Everyone Knows It

The Church of the Eternal Bleacher,
All Southpaws Welcome
The Ten Commandments
Everyone Knows It
“Welcome to the Church of the Eternal Bleacher, in the name of Timmy, Buster and Nate the Great, now and forever, you’re safe.  We are gathered this morning for rudimentary instruction in the catechism of our church.  Today’s dialogue involves the fundamentals of the C.E.B.  These are our ten commandments:  All commandments are equal under the auspices of the CEB.  As we review these basic principles, be sure and ask questions if you think of any.  
*** Quitting is for quitters, not for baseball players.  Avoid it at all costs. (That includes running out grounders and pop flies.)
“I see a hand; Willie?”
“Yeah.  What’s wrong with quitting?  My dad quit smoking.”
“Is smoking a good thing?”
“Is baseball a good thing?”
“Then why would you quit a good thing?  And sometimes it might not be clear whether it’s good or bad, like a tough job.  You still don’t quit.  You make adjustments and keep your cleats in the mix until a different option opens up.”
*** All teams suffer injuries-deal with it. (Using injuries as an excuse for a poor record is lame.)
“Yo, what if the injured guy is like Buster?  How can you expect the Giants to repeat without Buster?  So doesn’t it make sense to put the blame where it belongs?”
“What blame would that be?”
“Well, you know, why we’re doing so badly.”
“Why, wouldn’t MLB let the Giants replace Buster with another catcher?  Maybe Eli?  Chris? Those guys are major league catchers, and no one player is so important that he can’t be replaced.”
*** Pick up your teammates. (Chemistry needs a catalyst, and teammates remember those who watch each others’ backs.)
*** Keep in mind: The ump uses the same eyes to call balls and strikes for both teams. (The same goes for on-the-field calls.)
“The ump can be so unfair.”
“The ump has to call ‘em the way he sees ‘em.”
“What if he’s wrong?”
“He is wrong sometimes, and it seems unfair.  But standing there with that wounded look on your face isn’t going to change it.  You simply have to put it behind you and not give your opponent any satisfaction.”
*** Whining is for dining, for those over 21, so avoid it at all times.
(Complaining has no place on a diamond-or off of it.)
*** Perform the basics: Hit the cutoff man, and back up the play.
(Listen to your coaches, and more importantly, hear them too.)
“What if you don’t know where to throw the ball?”
“Before each pitch, you need to look around and see where you have base runners.  You need to figure out what you’re going to do if/when the ball is hit to you.  Then you don’t have to figure it out at the last second.  If you’re not sure, holler out to your teammate and ask.  That’s what the picking up your teammate is all about.  Tell those around you there are two out, and the play is at first.  Keep everyone on his toes.”
*** Protect the plate-swinging at a third strike is hella better than looking at it. (Is there anything worse than a called third strike?)
“What if you end up swinging at a ball?
“”You probably will, at times, but no one here is Barry Bonds.”
“What’s that mean?”
“Bonds had a great eye, and knew the strike zone as well as any, but different umps see the zone differently.  That’s one of the things about baseball that a lot of people like: nothing is automatic; you have to play it out.”
“Why don’t they use an electronic eye to call balls and strikes? Then there wouldn’t be any mistakes.”
“Sure, Wally, and then we’ll get robots to play instead of people, and there won’t be any mistakes at all.”
“Oh.  I get it.”
“It’s about one group competing with another, and how they work together to make it happen.  Baseball is a team sport, and needs all nine players on the field to function properly.
*** Practice good sportsmanship at all times, on and off the field.
You find good sportsmanship on all levels of baseball.
*** Communicate on the field-loudly. (Bellow to let your fellow fielders know that you have the best shot at the pop-up.)
*** Respect for one another and the game is big. ‘Nuff said.
“What if someone on the other team disses on you, and you feel like a chump, and you want to punch his lights out?  He was disrespectful first.”
“Yeah, and everyone knows it.  You might feel like a chump, but he is one, and everyone knows it.  Everyone deserves respect, and the baseball diamond is the great equalizer.  In the name of Timmy, Buster and Nate the Great, now and forever, you're safe.  OK, everyone, time for a hot dog break.  Last one to the mustard jar gets hung out to dry.”

Sunday, August 28, 2011

"My Friends All Tell Me That I've No Friends At All."

This piece is the third essay I have posted which deals with panic attacks and anxiety issues, the first two being “Six Days a Week” and “The Seventh Day.”  They are based directly on my own mental recovery from these same issues.
“My Friends All Tell Me That I’ve No Friends At All” 
John Prine
I once knew a guy who taught language arts at a public middle school, and you would have thought he was the most mentally complacent guy you ever met.  “Mac” was always cordial in the staff room, courteous in the xerox room, an appreciable quality if ever there was one, and cheerful on the exterior.
On staff he was comfortable in the role of harmonizer, having once fulfilled the role of lead teacher, and found it not to his liking.  Being that rare commodity, a sensitive guy, Mac’s perception that people always seemed to be yelling at him, whether it was accurate or not, left him with no desire to play the facilitator again.
He was not a paragon of the social setting.  He was one of the last to slip into the multi-purpose room, on first-day-back gatherings of the whole district, sitting in the back row, to the left side.  If the chairs were filled, he was pleased as punch to stand at the back, against the wall, with folks who were known to have back ailments, and who preferred to stand, or with others who may have shunned the social opportunities thrust upon staff in these situations.
Mac made conversation easily, seemingly without effort, but rarely with more than one person, and never in the center of the seating area, or even in the center of the multi-purpose room.  He always had a newspaper with him, of the sporting green variety, and was well known for his affinity for the Giants.
If you didn’t know Mac really well, you would never have realized how much effort those gatherings required.  Being in the same location with any more than a handful of adults, brought on a high degree of anxiety.  When the district started to meet in the library at the new high school, a room he described as being the same size as a broom closet, he was unable to cross the threshold. Mac chose, instead, to hover around the door outside the room, with a few late-comers, or even others who had a hard time squeezing into a “mass” of humanity.
Another source of anxiety was the series of films, geared to educating teachers in areas such as dentistry and physical health.  The dental films invariably included “shock” pictures of the results of long-term tobacco use, or inefficient or non-existent dental care.  The technique of flashing from clinical setting to these grotesque, magnified images, produced huge physical discomfort for Mac, though again, if pressed, he could not put his thoughts and feelings into words.  Even to his administrator, he was unintentionally vague, simply lacking the script for how such a dialogue would unfold.
Likewise, the health films inevitably presented situations featuring blood, needles and other graphic details that always made him feel queasy.  It didn’t matter that he could encounter a bloody nose, or a cut finger without difficulty; it was the sudden presentation of these components in a film, that left Mac uncomfortable.  He knew the images were contained within the film, just waiting for the right moment to thrust themselves into his line of vision.
Another uncomfortable facet of first-day-back activities, was the need to periodically get a TB Test, which necessitated a blood draw.  One year this was actually conducted in the staff room itself, a prohibitively difficult setting for Mac.  The last year he taught, he dreaded this simple procedure so much, he built himself up to a high degree of intensity, in the time leading up to fulfilling this requirement.

Walking into the new high school office, and recognizing the health technician, Mac geared himself up the the anguish that was sure to accompany this action.  Noting his waxen features, she sympathetically led him into the nether regions of the office, into a secluded room, and asked if he was OK.
Her sympathy took Mac by surprise, as he had not found her to be a warm and fuzzy person in the past.  He was moved, and revealed his discomfort around needles.  She assured him warmly that many of her “victims” felt the same, and that she tried to accommodate this very basic right to privacy. Her simple statement moved Mac to tears, but he still could not piece it all together.
Most folks seemed so capable of handling these necessary educational requirements and the multiple conversations that took place in these settings.  They greeted others across a room, and made chit-chat, all with smiles and metaphorical high fives.  Mac always felt as though there were a spotlight on him, and that everyone had him dead center in his or her eyes.  It didn’t matter that he himself did not fixate on others, the way he felt they examined him, but it contributed to his discomfort in crowded social situations.
If he had to do some sort of presentation, he did his stressing in advance, and made sure that he was so well prepared that when circumstances in the meeting proved challenging, he could still function without drawing attention.
Eating in a crowded situation was always very uncomfortable, especially when the whole district was dining together, and when the main entree was not included in his diet.  He infinitely preferred to eat with a single colleague, a small group, or even by himself.  He always made reference to a mundane task, the importance of which was nebulous, but which needed to be completed, on those occasions when he was not up to the challenge of a multi-purpose room filled with well-meaning friends and colleagues.
I don’t think anyone ever thought anything about it, because Mac always had a ready smile for others, and was forever able to make light, applicable small talk.  He kept his discomfort to himself, sharing with closest friends only that he preferred not to be in the center of things, more because he could not articulate what his anxiety was related to. 
Everyone saw Mac, in all capacities, interact with his middle school aged students, and everyone agreed the man knew his stuff.  They say that discipline is either your biggest problem, or your least pressing issue, and no one has any trouble recognizing one from the other.  Mac had no issues with discipline, refusing to send his challenging kids off to the principal’s office, figuring that that individual had far better things to do than to deal with Mac’s problems.  Mac also encouraged the elementary staff to send their in-house candidates to him, and provided a similar service to substitute teachers, telling them, “You can always have your little miscreants report to my classroom at any time.  They will not want to be there, and I will not have to give them five seconds’ worth of time.”
I mention this more for the recognition, or lack of same, that no one perceived Mac’s internal discomfort.  He was always in command of his space and of those within his circle of responsibility.  His students were not always perfectly behaved, but they were always aware of his expectations, and if they made poor choices, they knew that there would be consequences.  There was a mutual respect between Mac and his students.
Little of Mac’s discomfort surfaced when dealing with the students.  There was a different mental framework in place, which kept those other anxiety-producing elements in check.  He still preferred to remain on the fringes of the group, but that is what was expected, anyway, so it worked out well.
He was very frank with students in later years, explaining to them that going to baseball games or movies was hard for him, and that if they paid attention, they would note that he was always in the back or the side of the multi-purpose room, and almost always roving, as opposed to sitting within their midst.
Mac made it to 54 years of age, before anxiety issues built up to the point that he was no longer able to function on staff at the middle school, and he took an early retirement, subsisting on almost a full year’s sick leave, before becoming officially retired.  
At times unsolved logistical issues within the classroom setup, caused inordinate emotional reactions.  Mac once broke down on the day before he began his last year of teaching, lying prone on his back on one of the classroom tables, crying bitterly over an unmoved curtain, that threatened to infringe on the carefully laid plans commencing the following day.  If the guy was incapable of facing a minor dilemma, that was not even his own problem, so much as the district maintenance staff, how was he going to handle the thirty-seven eighth graders, who comprised two periods of his final reading/language arts classroom?
I ran into Mac the other day, fully five years after his early retirement, and It took me all of two minutes to determine that there was a different guy talking to me, than had existed back at the middle school.
“Hey there, Mac.  How you doing?”
“Are you kidding?  I’m doing great; I hope you are too.”
“I am, thanks.  What have you been up to?”
“Working like a fool at a young man’s occupation, trying to keep up with the kids.  I’m working on a construction crew, building a house.  I figure it’s been about twenty-two years since I have filled that role, but I want to go to Ireland, so I’m saving up some loot.”
“Wait a second.  The last time I checked, one usually goes to Ireland in a plane; I thought you didn’t do planes.  Something about the military, and all that flying back and forth to Korea.”
“Past tense.  I didn’t do planes, but that was then, and this is not.  The new me is not scared.  I don’t much care for airplanes, but I want to see Ireland, so I don’t pay too much attention to the details.”
“You don’t?  Tell me, how do you stand in the back of the plane, right next to the “exit” sign?  You know, for easy access to the door?  How does that work in a plane?  That used to be your practice, if I remember correctly.”
“Too true, but no more.  I got some therapy whipped on me last fall, a total of seven, fifty-minute sessions, and I heard that fat lady singing, telling me that it was all over, and I was back to normal, whatever that is.  I was a little rusty, having begun my perilous journey at age ten.”
“What kind of therapy?  It must have been good, to get you back up in a plane.”
“It was the best, and Dr. Jill knew what she was doing.  She told me the first day that she could solve my problem, cure me, in effect, if I were willing to do the work.  I assured her that I had been ready all of my adult life.”
“Can you give me an idea of what it was about, if that’s not getting too personal?”
“Personal, boy.  Hell yes, it’s personal-doesn’t get any more personal.  But, since we’re both persons, that should work out fine.  I used to get these panic attacks, that made me get all sweaty, dizzy and eventually would make me faint, if I didn’t get the heck out of Dodge.”
“So why did it take you so long to deal with it?”
“Because I didn’t know that there was anything that could be done.  I couldn’t put it all into words, probably because it started when I was ten, and I couldn’t articulate it at the time, or only to my mom.  Whereas she could give me hugs and comfort, she couldn’t either fix it or direct me to someone who could.”
“So how did it happen?  How did you end up in therapy?”
“You ever hear John Prine’s song, ‘Dear Abby?’  The first verse goes like this, 
‘Dear Abby, Dear Abby, my feet are too long
My hair’s falling out, and my rights are all wrong
My friends all tell me that I’ve no friends at all
Won’t you write me a letter, won’t you give me a call?’
People write in about all sorts of weird stuff, and no one pays any attention...until something pops up that seriously rattles your chain.
Bottom line is that I had a million problems, but I could not put them into words, until the words were provided for me by a letter-writer with the same problem.”
“So I read about the symptoms in this advice column, someone who described the same dizziness, heart palpitations and sense of light-headedness.  Abby told the letter-writer that the condition was known as panic attack syndrome, and that it was curable by seeing a competent therapist.”
“And that was that?”
“I wish.  No, I had to find a therapist first who could get me the help, and that isn’t necessarily easy up here in Northern Mendocino County.  Ultimately, I ended up working with a person in Ukiah first, before I found Dr. Jill.  This person told me on the first visit that she could not fix my problem, but that she could help me with anxiety issues in general.”
Feeling as though I had no choice, I started to see her, and I had immediate results.  I stopped at the local dentist’s office on the way back from Ukiah, after that first visit, and scheduled an appointment, something that I had been incapable of doing for longer than I cared to think about.  And though I did gain some measure of help from the hypno-therapy, it did not address the key issue of my fear of panic attacks.”
I asked Mac, “They were that bad, huh?  The panic attacks?”
“It’s not that they were all that bad, though fainting is never an enjoyable prospect; it was the anxiety I built up, worrying that I would suffer one.”
“What triggered them”
“Anything unexpected.  Anything that caught me by surprise, and activated an internal gong.  Scary movies, or programs like “The Twilight Zone” which always have some kind of unexpected ending were always good for a panic attack.”
“Why didn’t you just avoid them?”
“Believe me, I did.  I did.  But that’s not always easy, and it can be downright impossible, because there are lots of unexpected aspects to our culture.  Anyway, any setting that involved a public gathering produced the anxiety, and any unexpected development made me susceptible to an attack.”
“So seeing this Dr. Jill helped you get rid of the panic attacks, and now you can go to Ireland.  Nice.  So your advice to people with anxiety issues, is to seek out a competent therapist.”
“Well, yeah, it is, but it’s not that easy, because the type of personality we are talking about, avoids new encounters of any kind,   preferring instead to stick to routine.  You might even describe it as  compulsive behavior, but it’s not always that obvious.  Some people prefer to be by themselves, and there are no anxiety issues, but others systematically arm themselves with strategies to avoid those uncomfortable settings, thereby possibly attracting notice of close acquaintances.”
“And you think one of those close associates might recognize that type of personality?  Maybe urge that person to seek help?”
Mac’s response was automatic.  “Well, that’s ideal, sure, but it is such a sensitive subject.  People perceive mental or emotional deficiency as weakness, and are hesitant to suggest such a condition exists, for fear of offending someone.  People just don’t know that much about it.”
“Yeah, you said yourself that you did not have a name for your problem, and could not describe it,” I reminded Mac.
“Well, things that have anything to do with mental or emotional issues, are so volatile.  You have to walk a fine line, maybe give a person something to read on the subject, under the guise of it simply being an interesting topic, or a little-discussed subject.  There’s nothing strange or accusatory in that.  Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that I do think it is a good idea to broach the subject, especially if there are more than one indicators that anxiety issues are potentially present.”
“And those indicators include a tendency to avoid groups, or enclosed places, or to remain accessible to the exit.  This person does not hit the xerox machine at peak use; that would be very intimidating, to be in that tiny room, with staff drifting in and out, seeking resources from the book room, or making polite conversation with a colleague.  It includes an avoidance of the spotlight and of anything likely to lead to unexpected developments.  Got it.”
Mac stood there for a minute, silently reflecting on those years of muddled emotional and mental uneasiness, mixed with the iffy social encounters before sighing deeply and saying, “I don’t know what good it does to talk or write about it; I only know that I stumbled upon someone’s account, and it profoundly changed my life.  If I thought there was a chance that the same thing could happen again, it would all be easily worth it.   And that’s that’s the name of that tune, Ollie.”

San Francisco Giants Baseball # 26: Better Be Quick

Better Be Quick

       The Giants are three games back of the Diamondbacks in the National League West, but it could be a lot worse.  Last year at this time, they were six back, and no one was holding his or her breath.  This year, after a month of adversity, many feel that the Giants are only hanging on through pride, and that they are out of the playoff picture.
Much evidence exists to support this point of view, including key injurious that need not be specified. Starting pitching has stumbled, principally through injury, but also because of additional pressure to shore up the team’s competitive edge by taking up the slack of a sporadic offense.
Several key offensive stalwarts are struggling to maintain consistency, and our leadoff spot has lagged behind the rest of the league all season.  Reinforcements from Fresno have shown superior flashes of both defense (Crawford), and offense (Belt), but have been unable to bring enough consistency to make substantial contributions.
In any of these areas, one could say that things are bound to change, and be confident that that was accurate.  The question would appear to be “When?”  The answer would appear to be, “Better be quick.”
Now let’s look at what is still in place, upon which we can bank.  There is still Timmy, and his August could not have been more opposite than last year’s.  As long as we have Timmy, we have the best.  We have the Cainster, the work horse extraordinaire.  His history of dependability and durability is incomparable, and his value to the Giants is paramount.
Next is the National League’s poorest supported starting pitcher, Maddison Bumgarner, whose 2-1 victory over the undervalued Houston Astros, helped keep us three games back, and making up for another weak offensive showing.  It was the seventh 2-1 decision in the past 23 games, almost one-third of the time.  Bumgarner is one of those Southern farm boys, who stays steady and keeps lifting that bale, and towing that barge.  (Last night's effort by Surkamp, produced the eighth 2-1 victory.)
Finally, keep Ryan Vogelsong in mind.  He led the National League in ERA at one point last month, and made the All-Star Team this year.  These four starters stack up well against any four in the league, in a seven game series.
In the past four games, each of the three deadline acquisitions has contributed significantly to a tight game, with Beltran hitting his first homer as a Giant, and with Keppinger doubling in the only two runs of the game that Bumgarner won, and adding a second game-winning hit last night.  Orlando Cabrera has had several clutch hits, either tying the game, or putting us into the lead.  
On top of everything else, there is still our bullpen, even if Wilson’s status is questionable.  Ramirez and Cassilla have both stepped up to plug the gap, and Sergio Romo is expected back within the next few days.  Our support pitchers have nothing to prove to anyone.
Something else that is in place is the favorable schedule, which has the Giants playing only teams with losing records, except six against Arizona.  That is a telling point when it comes to making the playoffs.  What happens then is anybody’s guess.
Baseball exists hugely on momentum and chemistry.  Philadelphia, and even Atlanta to a great extent, have both in strong supply.  The Giants are still incubating theirs, preparing as efficiently as possible for the run to the division wire.  Whereas, that does not seem out of the question, especially given Arizona’s six-game losing sputter last week, stranger things have happened.
What the Giants must do is continue to take advantage of contributions by the newcomers, and then maybe get lucky with a kid like Eric Surkamp, who waltzes in and throws a quality start in his major league debut.  It is just this sort of infusion which combines with the existing components, to produce a facsimile of last year's pennent-clinching unit.  Better-be-quickly time has arrived, if the Giants' chances are going to revive. 

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Church of the Eternal Bleacher # 2: All Southpaws Welcome (Cont.)

Church of the Eternal Bleacher
All Southpaws Welcome
Continued from Aug 26th
         My friend Steve came to California from the East Coast in the early eighties.  Like me, he switched allegiance in his early twenties; he was originally a Mets fan.  He told me recently that he had not been out here that long, when the G-men got a nice streak going, and he climbed on board the SF float and has been a Giants fan ever since.  
Like Dave, Steve follows baseball, and can exchange views on any topic that touches on baseball.  He got riled up the other day, when I had the unmitigated gall to suggest that the Giants’ 2-1victory over the Pads was a good one, and that Timmy had gotten a much deserved win.  
“A good one?” he bellowed.   “Aaarrrrrgggg.  They committed five errors, and Timmy walked five batters.  What’s ‘good’ about that?”  Don’t give him fluff and chaff; he doesn’t want it.  Steve needs to know more than the final score, and who got the win.  He needs to know who replaced Wilson to close out that game, right after they announced that his elbow was inflamed.  He needs to know how Runzler could possibly have walked the pitcher in the second.  And finally, he needs to know if the Giants are going to be able to get it together.  
I can answer the first question easily (Ramon Ramirez), and I can answer the second one with some authentic baseball cliches (adrenaline flowing; overthrowing; backlash from Wednesday night’s lackluster performance against the Braves, take your pick).  The third question is  more difficult.  
The naysayers would have us believe it is long since over; it ended when Buster became somebody’s tackling dummy.  It was sort of odd, because we thought we were in the middle of a baseball game, but no rules were broken and the action had the intended effect, of garnering a victory for the opposing team.
Since the second commandment of our church is, Thou shalt not use injuries as an excuse (the first being, Thou shalt not quit), we do not accept any discussion about disabled lists.  All I want to know is if Eli’s concussion is OK, and is Buster still on schedule to return next spring?
As far as the Giants getting it together, they did that last year.  You can look it up.  Whether they can do the absurdly impossible again this year, seems unlikely.  Whether or not they can recover their collective health sufficiently to even compete, seems unlikely.  Therefore, let’s assume that the task is as improbable as last year, and get ready for whatever may take place. That way, if the Giants  get it together, we can be as ecstatic as we please, and if they don’t we’ll just be like every other religion, and wait for a savior, one who comes outfitted in a catcher’s mask and shin-guards.  In the Name of Timmy, Buster and Nate the Great, now and forever, you’re safe.
Be sure and pick up the weekly bulletin on your way out of church.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Church of the Eternal Bleacher # 1: All Southpaws Welcome

The Church of the Eternal Bleacher
All Southpaws Welcome

Welcome to the Church of the Eternal Bleacher, in the name of Timmy, Buster and Nate the Great, now and forever, you’re safe. 
Practicing members are those who love baseball in any form, and hold it sacred to their code of successful living.  To be part of our religion, you must merely agree that all things baseball have relevance, regardless of their rank or importance.  Anyone can join, even Dodger fans, although we request that these poor souls seek counseling, so as to have some chance of life hereafter, in the giant Spring Training Complex in the sky.
Members who would have the highest standing, are those who unconditionally love baseball, and demonstrate that by having loyalty to no special team.  Unfortunately, I have never met one.  Most fans I know cling to a specific baseball team, almost certain to tie back to childhood and neighborhood connections.  I am an exception, having (careful, now) bled Dodger Blue, until I was twenty-two years old, obviously still a child in some very fundamental ways.
Upon emerging from my military experience in 1973, I moved up to the Bay Area from SoCal.   Bearing in mind that there was no internet to surf for baseball scores, or for any relevant baseball perspective available, and  I could not find Vin Scully’s voice anywhere on the radio waves, I started listening to the Giants.  
At first it was scandalous.  This was the team that my Dodgers had always hated, and had given such fits to us all through the sixties.  Heck, Juan Marichal actually took a bat to our catcher’s head, poor Johnny Roseboro.  Though, even as a kid, it occurred to me that Johnny might possibly have said something rude to him, to have Juan suddenly trying to kill him on regional television.
So I found it impossible to listen to the Giants without gradually becoming enamored with this much maligned group of stalwart hearts, valiantly attempting to bring a World Championship to the great Northland.  I became a member of the Church of the Eternal Bleacher. 
Many members of our congregation have allegiance to teams other than the Giants, and we welcome them with open arms.  Take my friend Dave.  He is a Cleveland Indians fan.  Almost unheard of in our parts (except for my brother-in-law, Mike) Tribe vibes are very intense, because   Indians fans too have long sought a World Championship, their last one having occurred in 1948, sixty-three years ago, before Dave (or I) was even born.
I think of Dave as a baseball fan first and a Cleveland Indians fan second.  That’s because he’s passionate about the Tribe, but he’s also knowledgeable about anything baseball.  He likes the Giants, of course, and knows as much as any die-hard, but he also knows a lot about the movers and the shakers around both leagues.  He has the advantage over me there, because I have always been a National League kind of guy.  In 1962, when the Angels came down from above to Southern Cali, and joined the American League, I was not having any of it.  After all, the Yankees were in the American League.  Enough said about that.
To be completed tomorrow, Aug 27th.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

San Francisco Giants Baseball # 25: Two for One (Cont. from Aug. 24)

Two for One 
(Continued from August 24th)

        The Giants had the Dominican Dandy, Juan Marichal.  He won 243 games in his career, and had a lifetime ERA of 2.89.  Most pitchers would have career years if their season ERA were that low.  It is a matter of record that Juan Marichal never received a single Cy Young Award vote until 1970.  His legendary high-kick propelled him to tremendous dominance in his league.  Plus, the Giants had Mays.  
The Dodgers had Don Drysdale, perhaps the most formidable pitcher of his time, throwing inside consistently, and brushing the opponents back.  If he hit a guy, you could rest assured it was not a mistake.  Don Drysdale loved to hit the ball out of the park, and he helped many of his ballgames out with his bat.  He had 218 lifetime base hits, with 29 home runs.  No one discounted his chances when he stepped to the plate.  Plus, they had Koufax.
The Giants had the Baby Bull, Orlando Cepeda.  He hit a home run in his first major league game to help defeat Don Drysdale.  He had nine seasons batting .300 or better, and he had eight seasons of 25 or more homers.  Plus, the Giants had Mays.
Sandy Koufax, a southpaw, retired from baseball at age thirty because of technical difficulties with his left elbow.  He simply explained after the 1966 World Series, lost by the Dodgers in four straight to the Orioles, another team with sick pitching, that he did not want to risk spending the rest of his life, without the use of his left arm. 
All Koufax did was throw the most devastating curve ball in existence.  He is recognized as the best to throw it in his era. He had pin-point control at the height of his career, which is amazing considering in the early years he was as erratic as the best of them.  In other words, he was the prototypical southpaw.  He dominated the National League, competing against a series of left-handed hurlers who exerted similar control: Bob Gibson, Fergusen Jenkins, and Steve Carlton, among them.
The Giants had “The Say, Hey Kid,” Willie Mays.  Having watched him the second two-thirds of his career, I think he was the best center fielder I have ever seen.  He had all components of baseball honed to the keenest edge, and he brought all of his tools to every game he played.  Willie Mays could beat a team in more ways than I have ever seen any of the great ones demonstrate.
He could reach over the fence and snatch a home run away from his opponent, while the batter came to a halt on the way to second base, and groaned.  He could make a circus catch and nail a runner trying to tag from third, on a perfect throw from center field to home plate.  And he could do both on the same play.  Two for one. 
The man was a god on the field.  Never mind what he could do with his bat, look at his speed on the base paths.  He scored routinely from second on infield ground outs, because he forced his opponents to make mistakes with his daring.  It was a home run by Willie Mays in the sixteenth inning that broke up scoreless tie, pitting Warren Spahn against Juan Marichal on July 2, 1963.  Sixteen innings each?  Excuse me?  A scoreless tie?  
Warren Spahn was 42, and Juan Marichal was 25.  When Spahn was left in the game, Marichal begged Alvin Dark to allow him to also remain in the game.  It was an affront to Marichal to have to leave the game before a 42-year-old man did.  It must have been a National League game.
No, when I watch the Giants play today, and I check out their record in one run games, and note that there is little offense, I do not think of torture.  I think of pleasure, and a sense of kinship with my youth.  I can’t return to the playing field physically any longer, but I’m still there in my mind.  It’s nice to see that things are still pretty much the same.  

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

San Francisco Giants Baseball # 24: Two for One

Two for One
The time has arrived to put to rest this ridiculous concept of “torture” as it pertains to the San Francisco Giants.  What’s up with this label?  Duane Kuiper is generally credited with its origin, but I am here to suggest that, what most fans describe as torture, I describe as National League Baseball, and it’s why I have been a lifetime fanatic.
No disrespect to Kuip, but he began and played much of his career, with the Tribe, so he may be taking an American League perspective.  AL teams have a penchant for the three-run-jack, as opposed the the National League, which is more likely to feature bunt attempts and speed on the bases.  And the pitchers get to actually come to the plate in the National League, to face any reverberations for the chin music they might have been orchestrating.  Watching Ryan Vogelsong try to bury the bat in the ground at home plate the other night, after being hit by the pitch, evoked memories.
I grew up watching the best rivalry in the game, with apologies to the Boston/New York fans out here.  Neither the Sox, nor the Yankees, pulled up baseball diamonds, and moved them 3,000 miles across the country, where they resumed an already storied competition with a vengeance.  
The Giants and ‘Dem Bums set up shop on the West Coast and introduced baseball, in the manner in which it was designed to be played.  The Dodgers employed speed and defense, mixed in with timely hitting, rather than the “big fly” to win games.  The Giants could club another team over the head with their bats, and simultaneously stymie their hitters at the plate; they constantly gave the Dodgers fits.
Though I find violence to be reprehensible, the Marichal/Roseboro “incident” which featured Juan Marichal lambasting Johnny  Roseboro with a baseball bat on local television, highlighted this contentious rivalry.  The Dodgers featured the best pitching on the planet, and the Giants, no slouches in the pitching department themselves, consistently featured the most feared set of offensive weapons the modern era has seen.
It was a tailor-made setup for a special brand of baseball.  Both teams had at their core, players who established benchmarks during their careers, the most dramatic of acts seeming to always come when playing each other.
The Dodgers had Maury Wills, who set a record in 1962, with 104 stolen bases.  He played shortstop, and his range was legendary.  He established an entirely new weapon, not that stolen bases were a rarity.  It was his intimidation on the base paths, so essential to the Dodgers’ styIe of play, that set the tone for the one-run games, primarily of the 1-0 and 2-1 variety.  It was the norm.  Plus, the Dodgers had Koufax. 
The Giants had Stretch.  Willie McCovey, still regularly in his AT&T box seat, is a guy who started off his career with a four-hit day, and never slowed down.  He played a wicked first base, and he played the Dodgers savagely.  He hit a lot of home runs, but he also hit a lot of triples, doubles, and knocked in a lot of runs.  Plus, the Giants had Mays.  What’s more, he played every day. 
The Dodgers had the Duke, Mr Snider himself.  He anchored the outfield,  was a master with the bat, and was the dominant force behind the Dodgers’ World Series Championship in 1959, their first on the West Coast.  Duke Snider.  Plus, they had Koufax. 

To be completed August 25, 2011...