Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Game Four - Clinching at 30,000 Feet

It's the last day in our quick Chicago trip - Tuesday, October 7th - and Karen is attending the second day of her conference.  Before that, though, we're going to head to the American Girl store.  My Chicago friend Stacey was worried - she thought we had our own girls with us and warned that a visit to AG with the kids could have been disastrously expensive.  Since it was just Karen and me, though, she figured we could do some damage but still make it out alive.

With daughters in tow?  A different outcome entirely.  As it was - Venimus, emimus, viximus.

If I was keeping score - our hotel (check), the Billy Goat Tavern (check), an American Girl emporium (check), all on Chicago's Magnificent Mile?  Not bad, Windy City.  Not bad.

On our way back to the hotel, some of Chicago's finest stared at us, peering out from the Water Works.

Karen went to finish up at her Conference while I made my way to the Art Institute.  During such a short trip we ended up doing about one percent of the things we wanted to do, but the Art Institute, for me?  Part of the one percent.

Getting there took me past some of those singular Chicago buildings I floated by the day before, like the corn cobs of Marina City on State Street.

When I got to the Art Institute, I ended up with about an hour to spend there - which is like giving yourself sixty minutes to learn Greek.

Two great exhibits that I ran through:  Magritte, the Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926 - 1938 and Heaven and Earth, Art of Byzantium.

Just phenomenal, both.  To see Magritte's painting, This is Not a Pipe?  That image I've seen hundreds of times?  But to see it in person?  How beautifully it's rendered?  The colors that no reproduction can capture?

Or the pieces in the Greek collection?  So many stunning works - like one of the icons deep in the exhibit.  It shows Christ on the Cross with the Virgin Mary on one side and a second figure on the other.  It's so large - and gorgeous in gold.  But at some point after the fall of Constantinople, the icon was disfigured - the faces of the three figures gouged out, possibly with the tip of a sword.  This kind of defacement was common, and when I told my mom about it, she made the sign of the cross and muttered something under her breath.

And honestly?  I shared her disgust - the defacement of art or icon is small minded.  Stupid.


Of course, then I told my mom about the gorgeous Head of Aphrodite that begins the show.  A wonderful marble bust from the First Century - the curls in Aphrodite's hair?  How it's seemingly cinched in the back?  Incredible.

But what really draws your attention in this amazing display of the sculptor's art is the cross crudely carved into her forehead.  Just hacked into her (once) smooth skin.  Also begging for your attention is the fact that her eyes have been attacked, as if the madman had tried to blind her.  And the clumsy chiseling on her mouth in an attempt to, what?  Silence her?  But those rough strikes like those elsewhere on her face - perpetrated in this case not by a Turk conqueror of the Byzantine Empire, but by an early Christian wreaking the same kind of havoc on a symbol of a religion not his own.

We've been doing the same thing for thousands of years, with no end in sight.

Aren't we precious.

But all this art can't keep us away from the Giants.  Try as it might, Chicago can't keep us away from the men in orange and black - the Giants who were trying to clinch the Division Series against the Washington Nationals.

The Nats were the pride of the league and were picked by most every pundit to win this Series.  With some ease.

So we left Chicago - flew out of Midway International - had been in the air for some while before the game began.  By then I had made friends with two guys - Monty and Nick - in the aisle across from ours.  They were returning to the Bay Area after attending a convention for Wendy's franchise owners.

Why are Wendy's hamburgers square? Nick asked.

I sipped my Diet Coke, thought about it, but then finally shrugged.

Because we don't cut corners! he said, and he and Monty gave each other a high five.

Not only were these two cracking wise, they also had a tablet that they fired up mid-flight to catch the Game.  I strained my neck trying to follow the action until Nick turned the tablet all the way around so that he was straining his neck and I was watching comfortably.

That's totally unnecessary, I said, not sounding even remotely convincing.

No, it's fine, Nick said.  I can watch it easy, no problem - and his solution was to put it practically in his wife's lap.  She had the window seat and was a real trooper who let her husband inconvenience her so that I could watch the game.

Right?  A round of applause is in order.

I got a little loud early when the Giants scored a ridiculous run in the second on a bases-loaded walk, and got even louder when they scored again immediately on a Joe Panik ground-out.  Karen told me to pipe down, which was understandable.  The lights on the plane were low, some people were trying to rest - but in my defense, your Honor, the Giants were battling for the Series victory, and they had just scored the first run by dint of a walk when the bases were drunk.

The play of the game, another one that made me get loud and that made Karen remind me that we were on a plane and not in the stands at AT&T, was when herky-jerky Hunter Pence threw his body into the wall in deep right field as he stole extra bases from Jason Werth.  Slammed his body into that wall, fell to the ground, but kept control of the ball the entire time.  Just a long - though violent - out.

In the seventh, after our plane had long since began its descent, all electronic equipment had to be turned off.  As soon as Nick's tablet was turned back on, we learned that Bryce Harper had again crushed another home run - tying the game.

The jerk - he's really good, but still - had a lot to say in the dugout after clouting his homer.  Thankfully, his grin was short-lived as the Giants scored once in the bottom half of that same seventh inning.  On a wild pitch.  With the bases loaded.

That's worse than a bases-loaded walk, which we'd already seen.

Karen and I caught this action on a tv at a bar in the very quiet Oakland airport.  Very quiet until that walk when it got a little bit loud - this time, Karen didn't bother telling me to keep it down.  She whooped it up a bit herself.

Did I mention that you do not throw a wild pitch with the bases loaded when the score is tied in an elimination game and you're the one in danger of being eliminated?  Alas, Aaron Barrett did just that and almost gave another run away when, on an intentional walk to Pablo Sandoval - the panda who had induced the wild pitch - Barrett threw the ball to the backstop.  While trying to intentionally walk the batter.

You don't see that kind of meltdown from a professional ballplayer in the postseason - and yet you did.  Fortunately for Barrett, Buster Posey was thrown out trying to score on that wild pitch.  Unfortunately for Barrett, the run he gave away was the deciding run, and the Giants would hold on to win 3-2 and take the Series from the deadly Nationals.

The Giants were not supposed to win this Series.  The Nats had the best record in the National League.  The Giants were a wild Wild-Card team.  An afterthought.

Before the series began, though, you'll remember that Tim Hudson, a southern man pitching for the Giants, had said that talent can take you only so far.  That the Giants had a little something extra between their legs that he thought would keep them in good stead.

The insinuation did not play well in Washington, D.C.  Did Mr. Hudson mean that the Giants had something the Nationals were lacking?

Tim Hudson has 16 years of major league experience to draw from, and he saw something in the Giants that many overlooked.  Was he a little bit crude in how he expressed himself?  Sure.  But polite doesn't win games.

And the Giants were not supposed to win these games.

And yet - no doubt helped by Karen and me getting away from Chicago and the Curse of the Billy Goat, the Curse that had felled the Giants, by association, the evening before - the Giants did win these games.  The Giants won.

The Giants won.

On to St. Louis.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Game Three - John Belushi & Michael Jordan in Mudvillle, Illinois

I warned you about the Curse of the Goat - about Billy Sianis hexing the 1945 Chicago Cubs, a hex so strong that the Cubbies haven't been back to the World Series since.  And there I was, heading into the belly of the beast - going to meet my goddaughter at Murphy's Bleachers, a bar in the shadow of Wrigley Field, going there to watch the San Francisco Giants try and close out their National League Division Series against the Washington Nationals.

Would the bad luck of the Cubs rub off on the Giants since Sara and I were in Chicago?  A superstitious person would say yes.

I said yes.

Still, we did everything we could.  Earlier, I had gone and paid obeisance to Mr. Sianis by visiting his Billy Goat Tavern.

As soon as I walked down the steps into the Billy Goat, the woman behind the counter yelled out to me, Double Cheeborger the best!  No fries, chips!  No Pepsi, Coke!  Whatdya want?

And of course I'm thinking that the ghost of John Belushi is hovering just out of sight, nodding his appreciation that the more things change, the more they stay the same - and that the Billy Goat Tavern hadn't changed since he lived in Chicago and so he was happy, very, to see that the welcome I received was the welcome he used to receive.

Naturally, I ordered the Double Cheeborger.  I asked for Pepsi just for fun, and I got looked at like I was an idiot.  No Pepsi, Coke! she yelled at me again, so I went with Diet Coke, right?

Then I ordered a Metaxa, and tipped Bobby-Behind-The-Bar very well.  I asked him if he believed in the Curse.

He asked me if the Cubs had been to the Series lately.


I asked him if the Curse could transfer to the Giants - was Chicago like Ebola, infecting others by direct contact?

He asked me if I'd like another Metaxa.

I wasn't sure if that was a yes or a no - Greeks, we can be mysterious.

After the Billy Goat, my goddaughter hit me up on Facebook.  Sara had read what I wrote about the Curse, had read that Karen and I would be in Chicago - and she wanted to know if we were still in Chicago because she had moved there two days before.

My mom would say the Lord works in mysterious ways - or the Greek version of that, but it doesn't translate well - and so while Karen was off speaking at her Conference, Sara and Joel - her boyfriend - and I met at the bar in Michael Jordan's Steakhouse.  When we texted one another, it turned out that Sara and Joel happened to be just a few blocks away from our hotel, and since Mr. Jordan had conveniently opened a restaurant in that hotel, we'd meet there.

That was a happy reunion, and the Ernest Hemingway Daiquiri the bar offered was divine, and we decided that it was good luck, right?  That we were both there in Chicago at the same time?  We made plans to watch the Game together in a few hours - maybe at a bar near Wrigley.  Of course they lived just a few blocks from Wrigley - I mean, of course.

In the meantime, I'd hit the Art Institute - only, as I headed down that away, a barker caught my ear and said the Architectural Boat Tour was leaving in five minutes.  I'd just make it if I ran, he said - and since numerous folks had said it wasn't to be missed, first among them my brother, George, I went.  What the heck.

The two most important things I learned, while nursing a Revolution Ale aboard the boat:  1. Chicago has more than thirty bridges that cross its rivers, and the very first one?  Way back when?  It was built to provide access to the bar on the other side.  2. The dark green and gold Carbide and Carbon Building was designed to resemble a champagne bottle.  Both of these facts made me love Chicago.  A lot.

Karen wasn't up for watching the game - she'd been fighting a cold, and while she had rallied to speak at her Conference, she was going to try and rest for a few hours, so I went ahead and met Sara and Joel at Murphy's Bleachers, a bar just feet from Wrigley Field.

The game, alas, did not go well.  In one of the few instances of an October misplay by the Giants, Madison Bumgarner would hurry a throw to third base - when there was no play to be made at third - and that errant throw would dart past Pablo Sandoval covering the bag, and when the dust settled, two runs had scored.  To say that the error was uncharacteristic for the Giants - the Giants who had begun to solidify the myth of Invincibility that surrounds them in October - again, to say the play was out of character would be a phenomenal understatement.

But it happened and the boys in Orange and Black would have to rally.

While we were wishing this would happen, Sara suddenly grabbed my arm - beer sloshed out of my glass while Sara pointed to the tv above our heads.  That's Elene! she shouted.

And sure enough, our cousin and her boyfriend, Tim, were right there, no longer only in San Francisco cheering on their team - our team - but there with me and Sara in a bar in Chicago.

Stolen from Elene's page

It had been a good omen when I spotted Richie and Aaron on the television during Game One, right?  There they were, these two whom I'd spent many a Spring Training with - and Game One had turned out brilliantly, hadn't it?

Stolen from Richard's page

Would it work again?  Would glimpsing our cousin help to keep the bad mojo at bay?  Did we really believe that by being in this cursed baseball town we were somehow bedeviling our Giants?

Sara may not have thought so, but I did.  That Greek Curse was powerful magic - Mr. Bumgarner throwing away that ball...

Sadly, seeing Elene and Tim was not enough to turn bad luck into good.  The Giants' streak of ten Postseason victories in a row came to end on Monday night.

Sure, Sara and I had a great time catching up in this most improbable of Chicago meetings - I'd never been to the city before, and she'd been there for all of 48 hours.  Sure, it was a pleasure meeting Joel, and his dog, Otis - Otis who made more friends at the bar than I did.

But - the Giants lost.

The Giants lost.

I'd head back to the hotel, find Karen up and about - checking her email.  She swore she felt a little better - that we should strike out and go find some of that famous deep dish Chicago pizza everyone always talks about.

Back home in Alameda, having Zachary's pizza was part of the ritual during the Giants' October runs in 2010 and 2012.  Zachary's is deep dish - what if, could it be?  Why hadn't I thought of that earlier?  What if getting some original deep dish was good luck?

Giordano's was within walking distance - and the pie was indeed good.  And on the walls behind the tables, names of famous Chicagoans had been stenciled.  Mike Ditka, Oprah Winfrey - and there, directly behind Karen?  John Belushi.  If you look closely, you can see his name.

A superstitious man might take that as a sign - that in the very place where we were trying to dispel the bad, John Belushi's good name should appear.  The name of the man who had made the Billy Goat Tavern even more famous than it already was.

Could Mr. Belushi have made this appearance to let us know that he approved?

Or is that just silly?

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Game Two - Success and Failure, in Baseball, in Life

It's just baseball, right?  Just a game.  But this time, it got personal.

Game Number One for the Giants, in this Best-of-Five Division Series (you know, if you're keeping score), went swimmingly for the boys from 'Frisco.  They went up by three, early, and then fended off a couple of bases-empty home runs (one a No-Doubter off the bat of the 21-year-old Bryce Harper - and yes, I do have socks older than he is).

Then on Saturday, Game Two was interrupted by our 30th High School Reunion - held at the venerable Minnie's on McHenry Avenue, and even if you didn't grow up in Modesto, you know McHenry if you've ever seen American Graffiti, George Lucas' paean to being a teenager in Modesto in the 1950's.  McHenry is where most of the Car-Action took place.

So Minnie's, and it was a reunion for Karen and for me because we both graduated from Davis High in 1984.  We met at Davis - US History with Mr. Thompson, freshman year - had lockers right next to each other, but didn't start dating until I hit a growth spurt in the summer of '82.  So we knew lots of people, and had the advantage over many of the other couples - because if someone there didn't know Karen from High School, they may have known me.  Doubled our chances right there.

We drank and mingled with lots of people we hadn't seen in 30 years - all while the Giants were playing a hard Nine Innings of ball in our Nation's Capital.

This group? Together from elementary school through high school.

The reunion was good - mostly - but really, 30 years?  How did that happen?

Lots of hellos, how you doing, how many kids?  How old?  What do you do?

Lots of people going up to Karen, telling her how she was the nicest person they ever knew (in all seriousness) and how the heck did she stay so tangled up with me (in some seriousness).

Paul Zoodsma laughing, jokingly rubbing it in that he was Prom King to Karen's Prom Queen.  Karen had been there with me, though, so I had that going for me - which is nice.

And through it all there was that pesky game, against the indomitable Nationals - with both pitchers throwing incredible games.  Unfortunately for the Giants, Jordan Zimmermann for the Nats was throwing a game just a little bit better than the Giants own Tim Hudson - and while Mr. Hudson had only given up one run, in the third inning, one was looking like it was going to be enough.  In the fourth, still 1-0 in favor of the Nationals.  Same in the fifth, sixth and all the way to the ninth.  And in that ninth, first there was one out, and then there were two.

That's a wrap, right?  Considering the way Mr. Zimmerman was tossing the ball.  Except a funny thing happened on the way to a National's victory - Mr. Zimmerman gave up a walk in that ninth inning, and that brought out the manager for the Nationals.  In a move that will be debated for a long time, Mr. Matt Williams removed his pitcher, a man who had been toying with the Giants all night long, and brought in his closer - who promptly gave up a few hits, allowing a run to score.

Suddenly, it was 1-1, and after the completion of the inning, that's where the game stood.  Nine innings in the books, and it was all tied.

At this point, the Reunion was in full swing, and I'm still drinking Maker's on the rocks and Karen is catching up with old friends and I'm getting kissed on the cheek by Paul Zoodsma - which caused me to spill some of that precious Maker's, and then I'm donning oversized sunglasses and a pink, feather boa - just a regular Saturday night in Modesto.

Lots of people are sneaking off to the bar to catch up on the game - the tv's there are blazing.  Other graduates are checking their phones with great regularity.  10th inning?  1-1.  11th?  1-1.  12th?  More of the same.  Lot of baseball, lot of not scoring for both teams.

Then we found ourselves in the lucky 13th, and that's when things got a little personal.

It got personal after I was pulled aside by a classmate from 30 years ago - just a light touch on my arm and a nod to follow her a few steps to the bar where she leans in and wonders out loud if she can ask me a personal question.  Sure, I say, just half listening, wondering if anyone is showing signs of scoring a run - when I talked to my mom after the game, she told me she knew it was going to take a home run to end this contest.

My classmate looks at me, all kind of serious, and she says, Does it bother you being here since you're not successful?

And I do a double-take - but yes, she did just ask that, and before I can answer she says, It's just that in High School you were such a success, you'd been in all those Gifted programs like me, all that stuff you did competing in Speech.  You gave the commencement address at our graduation, so many people liked you - but now...

And she let those words trail off into nothing.

I'm thinking a lot of things - a lot of things come rushing in right then - and I try to answer.  I'm trying to be polite, when what I really want to say is something that the Maker's could easily fuel - but instead I say, Well, I guess that depends on your definition of success.  I guess it would be easy to say that Karen is a success, going with your yardstick, because your yardstick seems to only involve, what?  A high-powered job?  Is that your yardstick?  So yes, then, Karen is very successful - in that way but in lots of others, too.

And I'm starting, now.  Right?  The music's loud - something way past 1984, Guns n Roses - and the whiskey has had plenty of time to settle.

But if that's it for me - then no, I'm not a success.  But I guess I measure things a little bit differently than you.  Or, well, more fully?  First, I'd consider how good a father I am to my kids.  Then I'd consider how good a husband.  How good a son, and brother.  How good a friend.  And in all of those things I could be better, Lord knows I could be better.  But overall?  In those catergories?  Pretty successful.

You know what comes next? and I'm getting a little loud, competing with Axl Rose.  Next is what I do with my words.  With my writing.  I try.  Quite hard.  Not as hard as I should, but sometimes?  I hit that pitch out of the park, and when I do that, I'm happy.  And successful.

My job, though, because I guess you're mainly wondering about my job.  I sell books, but you must know that or else why would you have asked me your question.  Books?  I'm pretty passionate about books.  About ideas being disseminated.  About talking to people about what they like to read, and what I like to recommend.  I feel that bookstores - yes, even my little bookstore in Alameda - I feel that bookstores can be important vital parts of a community.  And that's something that people in our internet age are quick to forget.  But bookstores have done a lot of things to make sure that words remain free - kind of silly to be so dramatic, right?  But there you go.

Am I successful, then?  I don't know.  You'll have to tell me.  What do you think?

And that question, my question, met with a lot of silence - unless you consider the void that John Mellencamp was filling with his tale of Jack and Diane, those two American kids living in the heartland.  So let it rock, right?  Let it roll.

Tell you what, though, I said.  I think I need another drink.  So if you'll excuse me?

And that question met with the same silence so I walked past her and up to the bar where Paul was asking what the hell I was doing without a glass.

Just rectifying that, I said.  And I looked at the bartender and she said, Another Maker's for you?

Indeed, yes.  Another Maker's.

In happier news, the Giants and the Nationals had continued putting up zeroes, until the 18th inning, until the teams had played another complete game after the first complete game they had played.  And in that 18th, Brandon Belt for the Giants did just what my mom said had to happen - he hit a home run, and the Giants went up 2-1, and then held off the Nationals in the bottom of the 18th.

After having played the longest game in postseason history in Major League Baseball at six hours and twenty-three minutes.

A successful night for the Giants?  Well, I guess it depends.  It did take them an awfully long time to win, to go up two games to none on the Nationals.

So - what kind of yardstick do you use?

Really, let me know.  What kind?

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Never insult a baseball-loving Greek and his Goat

Baseball and superstition go hand in hand.  Many will point to the Curse of the Bambino as the most well known - but for my money, you gotta go with the curse that still stands, and that involves a Greek and his goat.

Billy Sianis - who must be a cousin of mine because all Greeks are related - Cousin Billy owned the Lincoln Tavern right across the street from Chicago Stadium.  He bought the place soon after the repeal of Prohibition, and soon after that, my cousin finds a goat.  Or rather, a baby Billy Goat found him.  The little thing apparently fell off the back of a truck and limped into the Lincoln Tavern.

It was love at first sight, and Cousin Billy nursed the wooly guy back to health and then he and the goat became fast friends.  My cousin loved that damn goat - so much so that he renamed his bar the Billy Goat Tavern.

After that, my cousin and that goat became pretty famous in the Windy City - he'd sneak it into all sorts of public events, though how one sneaks a goat anywhere is open to debate.  Me?  I think people let my cousin and his goat visit anywhere they wanted - why the heck not?  Good publicity for the Billy Goat Tavern, good times livening up whatever public function they attended - win win, am I right?

And no, I'm not making this up.

So tomorrow?  After Game Two tonight - the Giants against the Nationals - Karen and I are heading to Chicago and I'm going to go looking for that bar.

But Cousin Billy - way back when, let's not forget Cousin Billy - Cousin Billy was having such fun that he started donning a goatee and calling himself Billy Goat.  No one alerted the authorities - this was just a crazy, publicity seeking Greek.  Not dry like toast, though, not at all.  The white people - and there are a lot of you in Chicago - they thought it was cute.

I already said that Billy and his Goat stared making the rounds in public, right?  Good publicity for the Billy Goat Tavern, I mentioned that, yes?  Everybody was having a good ol' time - but then the World Series had to intervene and all good things came to an end.

You ready?  One crazy Greek, his beloved goat, maybe a little booze (that goat loved to drink) - and the Chicago Cubs.

It's 1945, it's October, and the Cubbies are in the World Series playing the Detroit Tigers.  My cousin bought two tickets for Game Four - Box Seats, no less! at more than seven bucks a pop - one for himself, one for the goat.  They're both having a fine time - heck, before the game started, they "snuck" onto the field and paraded up and down with a sign pinned to a blanket hanging from his little buddy's back:  We Got Detroit's Goat!  (See what he did there?)

A facsimile of the ticket on display at the Billy Goat Tavern.

Everybody's enjoying the hijinks until Wrigley Field Security removed them from the field - so they promptly took refuge in their box seats.  Some people didn't like having to share expensive seats with a goat, but Cousin Billy had that extra ticket, after all - so everything was going ok until the fourth inning when it began to rain just a little bit.


Rain + Goat = 1 Wet Goat.

I don't know exactly what a wet goat smells like, but I'm pretty sure it smells something like a wet goat, and so the complaints started anew until another security guard - Cousin Billy was seeing a lot of Security Guards that day - informed my cousin that he had to leave.

Why? Cousin Billy asked.

We're getting complaints, the guard told him.  Specifically, he went on, complaints about how your goat smells.

What are you saying? Cousin Billy asked.

Your goat stinks, the guard said, and Mr. Wrigley says you have to go.

Mr. Wrigley? Cousin Billy said.  Mr Wrigley himself should insult my goat?

(In case you're wondering, it's not a good idea to insult a Greek's goat, am I right?)

As he's being escorted out of Wrigley Field, Cousin Billy raised his fist in the air and then spit on the ground.  "You will never win another World Series!" my cousin yelled, and then he spit again just as a lighting bolt flashed and thunder boomed.

Ok, I made that up about the thunder and lightning, but when a Greek spits?  He means business.

Cousin Billy left Wrigley Field muttering in Greek and scratching his little Billy Goat between the ears.  He promptly flew to Greece - to heck with Chicago, at least for the time being.  He'd go back to the Homeland, drink a little retsina, a little ouzo.

The Cubs, by the way, they lost that Game Four, and then would lose the Series in Game Seven - and this would allow my cousin to write a letter from Greece to Mr. Wrigley, the great man himself.

Who stinks now? my cousin wrote.  Who Stinks now?

My cousin would return to the States, of course, and he continued to be a prosperous tavern owner, the greatest Innkeeper in Chicago, some called him.  Cousin Billy would gain even greater posthumous fame when John Belushi cooked up a skit in homage to the Billy Goat Tavern - Cheeborger, Cheeborger, Cheeborger!  No Pepsi, Coke!

All good fun, right?  The Curse, though, the Curse had been made - and so the Cubs?

Check the box score - you'll find that they ain't playing October Ball this year, and they ain't won the Series in the almost seventy years since Cousin Billy cursed the Club.

So again, the Curse of the Bambino is one thing - but the Red Sox have won the Series multiple times now.  Just last year, am I right?  But the Cubs?  No, not the Cubs.  Not in 1945, not since.

The story just shows how much of a superstitious lot Baseball fans are, especially in the Post Season.  I watched the Giants' game on Wednesday, a do or die affair - watched it with my oldest daughter, Elizabeth, while Karen stayed home with our sick youngest.  Elizabeth and I watched it at Natasha and Harry's house - and naturally there was warm Zachary's pizza being consumed because that's what we did in 2010 and 2012 when the Giants won.  We also saluted their victory with Honey Jack Daniels (at least Natasha, Harry and I did) because that's now part of the ritual, and we're not going to mess with Ritual.

My hair?  My hair was a mess - I was going to get it cut because Karen and I are off to our 30th High School Reunion tonight (Go Spartans!) - see there?  Even our High School was Greek - but when I went for the cut, my barber told me it was going to be a four hour wait.  Who does that?  Not me.  So I stole a shot of bourbon from their shelf and left.

But that meant that I looked like the Shaggy DA on Wednesday.  When my hair gets this long, I have to tame it with a bunch of product.  But I didn't have any on Wednesday - and now, since the Giants won that game, and won again last night, I'm stuck with the Hair.  Like Samson.  The shaggy has to stay.

Why?  Because Superstition - like Little Stevie sings, when you believe in things you don't understand, am I right?

Harry says I look like John Stamos - which is a slur to Stamos, but oh well.  It's not like he insulted my goat.

On my way to Natasha and Harry's last night to watch the highlights of the Giants stirring victory against the favored Washington Nationals - the most complete team in the playoffs, according to every pundit in the land, the team with the best record in the National League - I had to listen to a recap of the day's results.  Two minutes spent talking about the Greatness of the Cardinals and how they showed Amazing Resolve in beating the Strong Dodgers.  Two minutes!  And then two more describing how the Orioles again rallied brilliantly to fend off the Tigers - two more minutes!

Then this sentence, encapsulating the Giants unbelievable victory:

"And the Giants stole Game One from the Nationals.  Up next - the weekend in Football!"

The Giants had done nothing less than travel into enemy territory to battle the best team in the League, to go up against the best pitcher on a team with the best pitching staff in the Bigs - and what?  They snuck off with a win?  Stole it, like Jean Valjean stealing a loaf of bread?

It was like that all night - the other winners showed Resilience!  Tenacity!  Strength!  The Giants?  According to Thomas Boswell, a columnist for the Washington Post, the Giants beat the Nationals to death with wet noodles.

That's ok.  We'll take the slings and arrows.  Harry will keep scouring the press for remarkable articles like that one.  My family will watch more games with Natasha and Harry and their four sons.  We'll eat Zach's pizza, shoot some Honey Jack.  Keeping to the Rituals, paying obeisance to the superstitions.

And my hair?  Mom - forgive me for my hair. 

Friday, October 3, 2014

October Baseball, 2014 Style

Part of baseball's allure for me has always been the stories.  Always.  Did Babe Ruth really call his home run in the 1932 World Series?  People swear he did, people swear he didn't - either way, it makes for a great story.

Did Willie Mays really tell Juan Marichal on July 2nd, 1963 - as Mr. Marichal dueled Warren Spahn over 15 scoreless innings - that Mr. Marichal needn't worry, that he'd win the game for the Giants with a home run in the 16th?

Doesn't matter, it's a great story - especially since Mr. Mays hit that home run in the bottom of the 16th.

And now it's October baseball again, and the Giants are in the mix, again - and the stories have already begun.

Before their first postseason game, on Wednesday - a terrifically anticipated match-up between the Giants and the hottest team in baseball, the Pittsburgh Pirates - Madison Bumgarner entered the Giants clubhouse and had a few words for a group of relief pitchers who had gathered round.  What did the Giants' starter want to tell his relievers?  Nothing much - just that they didn't have to worry about getting loose during the game because he was planning on pitching the entire contest himself.

In a wonderful bit of understatement, and with tongue firmly in cheek, one of the Giants' relievers, Jeremy Affeldt, said, "He just wanted to let us know.  He was being courteous."

Were Mr. Bumgarner's words just bluster from a pitcher who'd only ever thrown 6 complete games in his career?  It's not bluster when the pitcher goes out and does it, which of course is what Mr. Bumgarner did on Wednesday, becoming only the third pitcher in postseason history to hurl a shutout and strike out at least ten in a winner-take-all opportunity.  The first person to do that?  Sandy Koufax.

I'm liking the makings of this story.

Mr. Bumgarner then celebrated his victory by chugging four beers - at once - during the post game celebration.

Getty Images

Now I'm really liking the makings of this story.

The only other story I know resembling that one - the shut-out, not the beer - stars Satchel Paige.  Mr. Paige was known for sometimes motioning his teammates to sit down on the field behind him - to sit down because their help wouldn't be needed.  And then Mr. Paige would go on and strike out the side.

Again, it's not bragging if you can do it, and Mr. Paige could do it.

What other great stories have already happened with October not even three days old?  Another Giants' pitcher, Tim Hudson, is the author of most of them.  What did he have to say about Mr. Bumgarner's performance?  "He don't come with a lot of flair," Mr. Hudson said, "but he goes out there and sticks it right up your butt."

Poetic?  No, not at all - but it's got the makings of another great story.  One that Mr. Hudson himself added to when he commented on the grand slam that Brandon Crawford hit in the fourth inning of Wednesday's game.  "After that ball went over the fence, game over,” Hudson said. “You’ve got Bum out there with a four-run lead. The way he was throwing the ball, I didn’t give a damn. We were going to spray some Champagne."

Spraying champagne, of course, is what ball clubs do after they win important games.  The Giants just bring a lot of beer to those parties, too.

Hudson is no stranger to bravura, so he just went ahead and said this about the team they would face next:  "Obviously, they have a talented group over there, there’s no question.  They have some great pitching.  But come playoff time, talent can take you a long ways, but what do you have between your legs?  That’s going to take you real far.  And I think we’ve got a group in here that really has some of that.”

Some of that?  The Giants have it between the legs, and what - the Washington Nationals (who the Giants are facing right now, as I type, the Washington Nationals, with the best record in the National League) the Nationals don't?

Where I grew up, we'd call that a shot across the bow - directed at the team in this season's Postseason who has the strongest lineup of pitchers of any of the eight teams left playing ball.

With a game like the one the Giants penned on Wednesday - they'd win 8-0 - confidence also takes a step forward - witness Mr. Hudson's statement.  Confidence wins games, and confident men are known to make jokes, and so the Giants' first baseman, Brandon Belt, would say that he was disappointed in Mr. Bumgarner's shut-out performance because his pitcher didn't do anything at the plate.  "I was looking for a home-run out of him," Mr. Belt said.  "Step it up.  Step it up."


At one point in Wednesday's game, both Brandon's (Belt and Crawford) were responsible for all the scoring that had happened, allowing someone to tweet:

Brandons:  7

Pirates:  0

October is just starting, but the Giants' have already given us some great stories.  That grand slam Mr. Crawford hit in the fourth inning?  The one that caused champagne corks to pop?  It was the first grand slam by a shortstop in the history of Major League baseball.  With the long and rich tradition that Baseball has, it's hard to do anything for the first time, so something like that?  Just adds to the story.

With some luck, the Giants will give us a lot more.  I'm going to go turn up my dad's Philco radio and listen to the game with my youngest who's home sick from schoool today.  Batter up.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

A Fire Bird for Sheriff Longmire

I've associated Autumn with short stories ever since I can remember reading Salinger's For Esmé—with Love and Squalor on the campus at UOP with Fall leaves all around.  I don't know if I was there during a Speech tournament or just visiting my Thea Maria who lived nearby, but when I think Short Stories I think Esmé and Esmé means Fall.

And now Craig Johnson's collection of stories, Wait for Signs, will be out this month - giving me another opportunity to associate another terrific selection of stories with this time of year.

Which leads us to this month's newsletter where I introduced the Fire Bird - named for one of the stories in Mr. Johnson's latest.  In it, Sheriff Longmire smells smoke - figuratively - and makes a startling conclusion - literally.

The genesis of the drink was the wonderfully quirky book, The Cocktail Lab - Unraveling the Mysteries of Flavor and Aroma in Drink by Tony Conigliaro.  Mr. Conigliaro is a boozy mad scientist, and in his book I found the recipe for making Gunpowder Tincture.  It's easy, really - you just have to vacuum seal 16 grams of Gunpowder Tea with 6 oz. of straight alcohol - hello, Everclear - and then cook it in a bain-marie at 140 degrees for 30 minutes.  Simple, right?

Still - that Gunpowder Tincture beguiled me, the idea of it like tinder, waiting for the right spark - and the Fire Bird was it.

Since the star lighting up Mr. Johnson's pages is a sheriff, I'd begin with that Gunpowder Tincture.  Nothing could be more obvious, right?  I needed a good bourbon to showcase the smokiness of the tincture, so I went with Breaking and Entering by my good friends at St. George Spirits.  Sheriff Longmire would approve of the bourbon, if not its name, but he wouldn't approve of the fact that the bourbon is no longer being made.  I managed to score a few bottles before they faded away, so I'm ok for a little bit - but not too long.

The Gunpowder Tincture adds a terrific smoky note to the bourbon - and where there's smoke, there's fire (like the title of our story) so I added a dash of Tabasco.  If you want to discover what all this smoke and fire tastes like, maybe head over to the bookstore on Monday, October 27th, when Mr. Johnson himself visits Alameda to talk about Wait for Signs.  I plan on mixing up a Fire Bird for him - so maybe one for you, too.

Fire Bird

2 oz. Breaking and Entering Bourbon  
.5 oz  Gunpowder Tincture
.25 oz. simple syrup
2 dashes Tabasco

Combine all and stir with ice.  Strain into a chilled canning jar and garnish with an orange twist.