I’ve Gone To Look For America

While watching the Penguins and Capitals play the favorite game of our neighbors to the North, an ad for a German car company included a tune from the folk duo of Simon and Garfunkel.

America.

I don’t remember the first time I heard the song that the two recorded almost 50 years ago that is almost the same age as the Pittsburgh Penguins.  What I do remember is that the song has haunted me every time I heard it.

A tune about a couple’s journey through tumultuous times trying to find themselves while discovering the wide world outside the places they once knew.  Everyone lives in their own fishbowl until they decide to jump out and swim in a different pond, taking that trip from different state to state or city to city.  Discovering ourselves.

Ironically the song mentions Pittsburgh as well – a place I’ve seen only from an airplane.

I was just a kid when I went looking for America – it felt like every summer my parents would pack up our car and head in every direction on the compass to some out-of-the-way destination.  I spent hours in the backseat of a car reading and sleeping on Interstate highways as we traveled the East Coast from Bangor, Maine all the way down to Daytona Beach, Florida.

In those trips, I found my America.  I found the parts of the country that excited me from the sports stadiums to the national monuments to the quirky foods to the dark and lonely roads that scatter this country.  I developed a love of french fries, an obsession with soda, a desire to see where pro and college teams play, the love of the cold from dipping in the Atlantic Ocean in Maine and a need to understand.

I found America when I saw the crack in the Liberty Bell, viewed the ships in Philadelphia harbor, looked up at Lady Liberty and saw the places where men fought over war that has been labeled “civil.”

I discovered different foods like clam chowder or carolina barbecue or shrimp scampi or fried catfish or pizza that wasn’t made in the South.  Although along the way I discovered that there are so many great things you can find in convenience stores like beef jerky and slurpees.

I also saw the Meadowlands, Veteran’s Stadium, Yankee Stadium, Camden Yards, Fulton County Stadium, Memorial Stadium in Baltimore and many college fields.

Most of all along the way I saw different things and different ways of life.  It was the need to understand the culture that I enjoyed so much.  Going to New York and seeing the fast pace of life after coming from the South where things moved so slow.  Or even going to Maine to see how vast America is.

Then there was the plane flight from Virginia to Pittsburgh to Seattle, flying over so much of the country to get to a place on the map that looked so far away.  Talk about culture shock for me – going from the sunny South to the dreary Northwest.  I admired the floating bridges of Seattle, the rain forest that was just hours away, the mystery of Snoqualmie Falls and the intrigue of Mount St. Helens.  The more I heard about Seattle the more I felt like it was so far away from Virginia even though it was America.

America.

The same America where sports teams will draft players who have multiple arrests: just recently the Minnesota Vikings who took Dalvin Cook and the Jacksonville Jaguars took Cam Robinson.  The Cincinnati Bengals who will draft a player, Joe Mixon, that knocked a woman out because she slapped him.  Or the Cleveland Browns who took Caleb Brantley even though he’s accused of battery on a woman like Mixon.

This is America.  America where sports has become so interwoven into our culture that baseball’s World Series is known as the “Fall Classic.”  College football is a religious day in the South only proceeded by high school football and followed by church.

Unfortunately we’ve become a product of our entertainment.  We’ve let ourselves be bought by glitz and glamour.  We’ve sold our souls for the promise of athletic achievement while giving up on common courtesy and humanity.  We are happy to use public funds to build sports arenas but balk at helping those who have nothing.  All the while sports owners use their funds to return to their mansions and luxury cars.

It’s the worry that our team might lose or we may never see them win a championship that keeps us hoping for next year yet we miss life passing in front of us.  We miss the things that Simon and Garfunkel went looking for on their trip through America.  We don’t enjoy the wire that we all walk in life and how much joy can be found in the little things.  We don’t understand the pain that everyone else goes through.  We don’t appreciate others.  We don’t value other parts of America.

America isn’t just a piece of land, or an ideal, it is people.  It’s humanity but it should also giving and caring.  It’s time we all went looking for that.

Owning October In Ontario

Like a multitude of Jays’ fans, I was tuned to Game 5 of the Jays-Rangers game but I was only able to catch it after getting home from work.  By that time, the Jays were down, 2-1, and it was starting to feel like all those years of dreaming of getting back to another World Series were going to come to an end.

I should back everything up and tell you what it was like to be the kid growing up in Virginia that was “weird” because he liked the Jays.  Or when the Jays played the Atlanta Braves in the 1992 World Series where I was the only kid in a Virginia resort (where they filmed Dirty Dancing) and the room was ready to run me out of the building when the Jays took the lead in the game and won?  This was of course before the Washington Nationals and most people who weren’t Baltimore Orioles fans loved the Braves, so I was enemy number one not only because I was rooting against the beloved Braves but this was the Southern team, “America’s team” at the time, and I was rooting for the Canadian team.

They would look at me and ask “what’s wrong with you?”

“Why the Canadian team?  Why can’t you find an American team?”

“Because Robbie Alomar is my favorite player,” I would reply, “Because he is the best second baseman in the game.  Because I like the Jays.  I don’t question who you like.  Why do I have to defend who I like?”

Keep in mind that Joltin’ Joe Carter was from Oklahoma, Minnesota’s Dave Winfield was the DH, the SS was Kelly Gruber from Texas, John Olerud and his batting helmet hailed from Seattle and he patrolled first base and Pat Borders the catcher was from Ohio among the countless other players from America.

All anyone saw was the name on the front of the jersey, they didn’t see the players and who they were.  What they saw was a maple leaf or a “Toronto” and instantly they saw it as an insult to America.  Suddenly I was the outcast because I was the fan of the “foreign team.”  In a way, I think it was a wake up call for me, I think it was something that made me realize that the world can be such an unforgiving, unassuming and definitely a biased place.

While I was cheering for the Jays I also grew to love the Maple Leafs as well and I knew all their players.  It was a huge time for the city of Toronto, as the Leafs and Jays were winning and it seemed that entire city was feeling great.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned about Bill Barilko but also that the Leafs haven’t won a Cup since 1967.  I watched that Western Conference Final with the Kings and the Leafs and I still don’t know how Gretzky was not penalized for high sticking Killer.  That Leafs team has and probably always will be my favorite.  Dougie will probably always be my favorite Leaf as well.  So for someone who doesn’t live in Toronto or Canada, I’ve followed the Jays and Leafs from afar for years, unlike many of the people commenting on the game in the broadcast booth or in the Texas dugout.

Jump back to Game 5 and after Edwing ties the game with a monster shot, there’s nothing but nerves in the crowd for minutes to come.

That 7th inning that played out in Rogers Centre, the most bizarre 7th inning I’ll probably ever see, or you may ever see.  A ball bounces off a bat, an ump waves off play, a manager questions an ump’s decision, a run scores after the ump changes his mind, panic ensues, the ump calls his boss, more questioning, fans throw stuff on the field and then play starts back with the Jays down 3-2.  Phew.  I think I got all that.

I don’t condone what the fans in Rogers Centre did when they threw stuff on the field, but I will say that there’s a lot of pent-up feelings about the way Canadians have been treated.  Harold Reynolds’ jab at Canadians and the feeling that once again someone was going to screw their team out of advancement (Kerry Fraser not calling that high stick) among other things.  But I would never throw anything on the field. I don’t understand when fans throw home run balls back, keep that ball, what’s the point?  So it wasn’t your team, but it’s a Major League baseball, who cares who hit it?

When the bottom half of the inning played itself out all the way up to Joey Bats, sorry I had to call him that, it just felt like this is the way the game was supposed to be.  Jeff Banister can say it came down to bad fielding and this that or the other, but in reality, the better team won.  But I’m getting ahead of myself again.

Joey Bats.  The homer.  THE HOMER.  Joe Carter said it was the second best home run in Jays history, Joe should know.  I still remember Joe’s home run.  I think I jumped through the house like Joe.  I couldn’t stand Mitch Williams.  For Joe to slam that ball over the fence like that and beat the terrible Phillies, it was the best.  But in some ways this was almost better.

I almost think Robbie’s homer off Eckersley in Game 4 of the 1992 ALCS is up there too.  Robbie who hardly ever was a home run threat against a guy that all those damn A’s fans thought would shut down the Jays and he just sends it down the line.  I had a poster I got from Toronto with him winning the ALCS MVP that showed him holding up his arms after hitting that home run.  I remember I had rigged up an antenna in my room so I could listen to radio stations all over the country (and Canada!) and I happened to catch that game and I still remember that home run.

Anyway, Jose hits the home run and flips his bat.  He just has no more use for a bat because in reality the ball is on its way to Vancouver.  They are going to need to send out the RCMP to find it.  Apparently some felt that Jose was showing up the pitcher which led me to ask the question, why is that in baseball everyone is so against showing emotion?

In football, you score a touchdown and you celebrate.  Guys run down the field to grab each other and jump up and down.  A quarterback makes a toss to a wide receiver who burns a safety to score and the safety doesn’t say after the game he felt like the wide receiver showed him up by celebrating.

In basketball some guy makes a huge three in the corner to tie the game late in the fourth and the entire bench goes crazy.  No one is over there saying that they are being shown up.

In hockey, you score a goal and you go celebrate.  You jump up against the glass and celebrate with your linemates.  You celebrate.  No one says you are showing up the goalie.

In soccer, it’s the same thing.  Goal.  Celebrate.

The pitcher’s job is to throw the ball by the batter and the batter’s job is to hit the ball.  That being said there’s emotion because we are human.  When humans do jobs, emotions get involved.

What I can’t understand is why are we still talking about people being shown up in 2015?  When this gets brought up I think about those two old guys on the Muppets.  I imagine baseball as being a game for old guys that want to see a boring game.  If that’s what people want to see then it’s time to change the game.

Steve Phillips of SiriusXm’s The Lead Off Spot made a comment on the day after the game that David Price had a note left in his locker by Joe Maddon when he was playing for the Tampa Bay Rays.  Maddon told him if he didn’t want to be shown up that he needs to make the pitch.  In this situation if Sam Dyson throws a better pitch we aren’t talking about the second greatest home run in Jays history occurring on October 14, 2015.  How ironic is it that Sam Dyson was drafted by the Jays in 2010?

Now it’s time to move on to Kansas City and hopefully the Jays don’t let all the emotional energy of a comeback win and odd 7th drain them.  It’s time for them not only to take October but Own October because October is for bats…Joey Bats!

Taking Off The Mask

So I’ve been debating how long I’d let this go before I’d tell you who I am.  Some of you may know already who I am because you’ve seen my Twitter account before and you’ve put two and two together.  Some of you may know because of the way I write. Either way I suppose it’s time for you Black Cats to know who is writing this.

Not too long ago I was an “official” fan blogger for Sunderland.  You could go to the site every couple of weeks or every month and find something new by me.  I tried to do my best to give my opinion and at the same time not to be too harsh in order to be published.  I went through patches were things I submitted would be denied because they were a bit too sensitive or in the case of one post I did slamming Jurgen Klinsmann in particular, I was told it may not be too good for the American fans.  Now that Altidore is gone I’m certain that most American fans have left in flocks.  They probably are convinced, as I’ve seen on Twitter (lol 🙂 ) that Altidore “never got a chance, had poor service and was on a poor team so he was destined for failure.”  It’s always amusing to argue with people who don’t watch Sunderland.  When I do point out the times he did play and the complete embarrassment he was on the pitch they ask if I even watched Sunderland play…seriously?  Nope.  I’m just a former “official” fan blogger who has his own kit and watches and listens on SAFSEE but we are good. I don’t watch them.  You go back to the MLS buddy.

Then there’s that subject.  One of my favorite leagues to beat up on because it’s so easy to find faults in.  USA soccer is trying to turn it into the training ground for the national team with Klinsmann’s blessing while importing international players and paying them ridiculous wages.  Some of these players don’t deserve to be there.  Or any other league, but hey, Americans want it!

So one day last fall I submitted a blog and I didn’t get a response.  A week goes by and I was told there was someone new doing it.  So I was told he would get in touch.  It’s not happened.  So here I am after months of waiting.  I guess I could see the writing on the wall.  Plus maybe it’s better for me.  Maybe I can be a little more expressive on my own site.  I mean now I don’t have to be nice about Klinsmann which kills me to do.  The best thing we ever did for American soccer was that night in World Cup where we made Altidore trend on Twitter.  Thanks for the memories…I’m happy I could be a part of a UK trend.

So yes the mask has come off, I’m no longer official but I’m still writing…the mask is off and now so too are the gloves