Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Tony Gwynn - The Passing of a Legend

Photo courtesy of Joe Petruccio
One of my most cherished memories I have of my dad was how his influence helped form my love for the game of Baseball.  There was one day in particular when we went to purchase my very own, “professional” baseball glove.  This wasn’t going to be a cheap, garden variety type you would get at Kmart, this was the big leagues son, and this was going to be a Rawlings. 

For fathers and sons, buying your first glove, is as important as any rite of passage.  Dad didn’t care for other gloves out there other than Rawlings.  Like he always told me, “They hand out the Gold Gloves, why would you want something else?” I was using his rare, left-handed, Rawlings “Clete Boyer” model and it was starting to show its age.  The leather was dried out and cracking and since being left handed, I was preordained for either a first baseman’s mitt or an outfielder’s glove. It was pretty clear what I’d be getting that day. 

Dad took me to the Rawlings store – yes they had a sporting goods store – and the minute we walked in we could smell the aroma of the leather.  They were expensive as all hell even back then. We were far from rich so to get this gift was something I knew neither of us would ever forget and I would be forever grateful for.  Even though I was a kid, I knew this had much more meaning than simply replacing my (his) old beat up glove. 

Of course I went straight for the catcher’s mitt – I took a shot, what can I say? Dad smiled but had to remind me that being left handed meant you either played first, the outfield or pitched.  The “fun” positions were a no-go for the both of us.  We kept looking until he saw a special section of gloves called signature series.  Of course the majority of them were all right handed except for one in particular. 

The glove was signed along the thumb and read “Tony Gwynn”.  Mind you this was the beginning of the1984 season, so I had no clue who Tony Gwynn was at the time.  Even my dad couldn’t imagine what an incredible player and career Gwynn would have but he knew he was a stud in the making.  It’s amazing when you look back to moments in your life that leave indelible memories.  Tony Gwynn did that for me.

When I heard that Tony Gwynn passed away from a long battle with Cancer yesterday, I felt a part of my childhood had died as well.  He was only 54 years old, only 4 years older then when my dad passed away.  Both were far too young to go.  Gwynn was as close to being a pure hitter that there ever was.  Mentioning him, you could easily bring up the names of Cobb, Speaker, or Williams and not feel as if you’re out of touch.  Gwynn was that good.

He hit over .300 for 19 seasons – in a row, winning 8 batting titles with a career average of .338.  He won seven Silver Slugger awards, 5 gold gloves, and was named an All-Star 15 out of 16 years.  He almost hit .400 when in the strike shortened season of 1994, he batted .394.    He was a first ballot Hall-of-Famer, having garnered over 97% of the vote.  It’s hard to wrap your brain around it all, isn’t it?  He aspired to be the very best and he was of his generation. 

His downfall, and it would wrong not to mention, was his self-admitted demon, chewing tobacco.  In 2010, he was diagnosed with Cancer of the salivary gland.  He was never the same after that original diagnosis.  I want to remember Tony Gwynn for the person and player he was and the role – no matter how minute – he played in my lifelong love affair with the game.  I’ll never forget the memories he was indirectly a part of.  My one hope and if I were a betting man, I bet it would have also been Tony’s hope, is that for Major League Baseball and the Players Union to do the right thing and finally ban chewing tobacco in any Major League stadium. 

Now that would be a legacy Major League Baseball should aspire to

Friday, April 11, 2014

Getting Hammered

I’ve always made it a point not to take political advice from celebrities, be it of the Hollywood kind or those on the field of sports.  There’s just something wrong about making personal political choices based on what Tom Cruise or LeBron James has to say.  I guess I’ve always been a marketer’s nightmare in that regard.  But when a sports icon and hero, no less, says that those who disagree with President Obama are comparable to the KKK, I take offense and I’m not even a Republican.

Aaron was interviewed for the 40th anniversary of his record setting 715th homerun when he decided to compare the political climate 40 years ago and what he dealt with to today’s political climate and how it’s impacted the President.  Somehow he’s decided that the reason the President is failing – with 51% disapproving of his job performance according to Gallup – is because of rampant racism especially from Republicans.

"Sure, this country has a black president but when you look at a black president, President Obama is left with his foot stuck in the mud from all of the Republicans with the way he's treated. - Hank Aaron

Aaron continued: “The bigger difference is that back then they had hoods. Now they have neckties and starched shirts.”

So it's not the President's fault it's everyone who doesn't agree with the President who's at fault for his falling numbers?  That's like saying a hitter batting a buck fifty isn't at fault for stinking it up, it's the fans who are complaining about it.  Last time I checked we lived in a Democracy where we didn't have to agree with everything our leaders say.  Nor should anyone be branded a racist for not agreeing with him.  But that seems to be the way it is today.  Attack those who disagree with the president as being racist bumpkin boobs - because their arguments are as thin as their bloodline.

I revere what Hank Aaron accomplished and earned in the game.  Hell I applaud him when he''s referred to as the true home run king and not Barry Bonds.  If Bonds were white would my decision be based on the assumption that I hated white people?  I'm not trying to beat up on Aaron but I'm sick of hearing this type of stupidity and the media not calling people out on it.  If you're in the spotlight and you make a statement like that, be prepared to defend it.

We're now six years into the Obama Presidency and  people are still accused of racism when they disagree with him.  Even Hillary Clinton during her primary run against him was accused of such.  Crying racism every time someone disagrees with the president does nothing but give cover to those who are truly racist.  For example, former KKK member and former Democratic Senator from the state of West Virginia, Robert Byrd.  Oh but I suppose he found religion and poof, away went those racist beliefs.

I would never deny or denigrate anything Hank Aaron experienced during his life.  I'm well aware that people can be immeasurably good and evil to one another with the latter making their shallow choice based on skin color or the sexual orientation or the religion of their target.  But to paint people with a broad brush as being racist simply because they disagree with the person, delegitimizes not just the true racists but makes the accuser nothing more than a pawn. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Summer Movie Review - Captain America: The Winter Soldier

It looks like Marvel Studios is growing up right in front of our very eyes; finally coming into it’s own with Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  It seems like the summer movie season starts earlier every year with this film premiering April 4th.  But if this is a prelude to crop of films coming this summer, The Winter Soldier set quite a high bar to match. 

With the original Captain America film being a World War II period piece, sprinkled with sci-fi fantasy with its introduction of the Tesseract, The Winter Soldier takes Cap right into the modern world as he’s an agent of the C.I.A. type spy agency, S.H.I.E.L.D.  It’s a far more reality based film, far more then even last summer’s blockbuster, The Avengers. 

What really sets this Marvel film apart from any other is the fact that this is a complex political thriller, in the vein of some of the most classic political thrillers of the 1970’s.  Films such as Three Days of the Condor and The Jackal came to mind while I was watching The Winter Soldier.  Brothers and co-director’s Anthony and Joe Russo channeled their inner William Friedkin, pitting the Captain against everything he thought he knew was right.

A great deal of the film is an allegory of our own post 9-11 world as Nick Fury, the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., is hell bent on preventing another disaster similar to what took place during The Avengers.  The film clearly takes a blow at President Obama’s kill list and the overreaching of the N.S.A. In fact I could see Edward Snowden putting his seal of approval on this film for sure. 

The idea of targeted killing is a major theme in this film and it forces you to think about how that’s used in today’s war on terrorism.  Fury’s Project Insight, does exactly that as they’re able to target tens of thousands if not millions of perceived threats and eliminating them in one fell swoop.  At some point it makes you wonder does killing a hundred people make us safer?  What about a thousand or a million?  When is enough enough?  What is legal and what is acceptable according to our Constitution, are both asked in this film.  Art imitating life at its best I believe. 

The acting in this film in truly top notch (major tip of the hat to Robert Redford) as the screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely weaves some of the best dialogue of any “comic book” film made to date.  Without giving too much away let’s just say that Captain America: The Winter Soldier, sets the Marvel Universe in a whole new direction.  Clearly Marvel Studios has its collective act together and is running like a well oiled machine. 

The Sector gives Captain America: The Winter Soldier 3.5 out of 4

Friday, April 4, 2014

To Leave Or Not To Leave...That Is The Question

A furor is raging over the New York sports wire regarding of all things, paternity leave and its effect on Major League Baseball and its players.  I’m not making this stuff up I swear.  The fire began when New York Mets second baseman, Daniel Murphy, was excused from the first two games of the season so he could be at his wife’s side for the birth of their son.  Not everyone apparently thinks a father, especially one that’s a professional athlete, should be taking time off for such inconsequential things.

Longtime radio personality and notorious thorn in Mets fans side, Mike Francesa, went on an anti-paternity leave rant the other day on his WFAN radio show.  Calling the situation a “scam” and a “gimmick” it leaves one to wonder what life in the Francesa home was like in his or his kid’s formative years?  Since he’s gone on record calling what Murphy did as being a “scam” and a “gimmick”, I would be remised not to point out that Francesa’s own father abandoned his family when Mike was just 8 years old.  So I guess being a cold hearted prick must be one of those passed down family traditions, kind of like Sunday gravy.

Even Boomer Esiason on his radio show, “Boomer and Carton” weighed in on the situation with this sage nugget of wisdom while acknowledging that Murphy has a legal right to miss work:

"Bottom line, that's not me. I wouldn't do that."

"Quite frankly I woulda said C-section before the season starts, I need to be at Opening Day.
I'm sorry."

Eat your heart out Marcus Welby.  Well there you have it ladies, and from the mouth of the guy who’s put more thought into this than anything he did in all the years he was quarterbacking the Jets.  But wait, Dr. Esaison continued:

"This is what makes our money, this is how we're gonna live our life. This is gonna give my child every opportunity to be a success in life. I'll be able to afford any college I wanna send my kid to because I'm a baseball player."

Yes so true Boomer because you know that taking 2 precious days to see an event that should be more important than anything you’ve ever accomplished on the gridiron is simply pushing the envelope of rationale.  What’s next? Are we going to give NFL players who are convicted felons the right to keep earning millions?  Stop the madness! 

You know you would think that Esaison would have a bit more empathy considering the great work he’s done with his Foundation that funds research for cystic fibrosis, a disease of the respiratory and digestive systems that affects his own son, Gunnar. 

I could see if Murphy was asking for 6 weeks leave, as is normally the case with maternity leave.  But the team policy is 3 days max for paternity leave.  All of this outrage coming from a sport where players miss weeks and months on end when they pull a muscle – 2 days for the birth of your child – heracy!

This phony machismo attitude by these radio personalities and ex-athletes doesn’t play well in this day and age.   I could almost hear Francesa say that Mickey Mantle wouldn’t ever do something like this.  Of course not but then again I wouldn’t put Mantle up as a father of the year candidate either.  Look I get the locker room, testosterone driven mentality where you rub dirt on an injury and you keep your mouth shut even if you probably shouldn’t be on the field playing.

Some people get drunk with success - wink wink – Franseca.  Why don’t you do us a favor and take a few days off yourself.  We could all use a break from this stupidity

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

What Being A Mets Fan Means To Me

It’s like clockwork you know, hell I could even set my watch to it. Every year and almost exactly around this time, nostalgia rushes over me in a wave of mixed emotions.  I feel the cold rattle my aching bones yet I know somewhere warm and far away, my team is getting ready for a new beginning.  Unless you’re a fan of this team, it’s hard to describe the passion we share for it, at least not without sounding as if we’re completely insane.

As much as it is a time of rebirth it’s a time where my memories pull me in equally powerful yet opposite directions.  It’s hard to let go of those I’ve lost, my father and grandfather especially.  I long for the days when we would travel to Kissimmee to see the Mets play the Astros during Spring Training.  It was the closest we could get to opening day at Shea, listening to Ralph Kiner – now also a part of our collective memories – and soaking it all in.  Full of hope; high on expectations and yet cognizant of reality, that’s the life of a Mets fan. 

It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the combative and sometimes negative banter, especially when you’re a part of such a diverse and passionate fan base.  Most of the time it’s exhilarating, as defending your opinion should be.  On rare occasions it brings out the worst in us, but like I said, that’s rare.  But there should be no doubt that hope, really does spring eternal every year around this time.
It’s going to be exciting to see how the future is going to play out with regards to the Mets pitching.  It’s difficult to not compare the arms of Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard to the icons of the past whether they be, Seaver, Koosman and Ryan or Gooden, Darling and Cone.  We’ve been teased before with Generation K, so we’re battle tested and always prepared to be disappointed.  But perhaps that pendulum has finally begun to swing our way.

Questions remain, as they always do.  Who’s playing first?  What about shortstop?  Does Alderson have money to spend?  If he does, do you believe him?  Do you believe the Wilpons?  Does that matter?  We always seem to be skeptical no matter who’s running the show, and that’s not entirely a bad thing.  We have to admit that progress has been made. Granted in a perfect world, it would have happened sooner then again in a perfect world Carlos Beltran would have swung at that curveball and Bernie Madoff would have never existed. 

“[Baseball] breaks your heart.  It’s designed to break your heart.  The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone.  You count on it, you rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it the most, it stops.”
~ A. Bartlett Giamatti, Take Time For Paradise: Americans And Their Games

Even though a part of me would give anything to relive the past, I’m beginning to realize the true gift of what the past has given me.  What good is it to wish for days long gone with those we cared for sharing our love of this game and this team if it simply ends there?  Every thread of this game becomes a tapestry when passed down to those we love. The whole point is to continue our tradition. 

Adrienne Djaha
Just recently the mother of a good friend and co-worker of mine passed away.  As true a fan of this team I have ever known.  Adrienne would call to speak to her daughter and I knew when they were done speaking – it was time for us to talk shop.  She was 80 years old and sharp as a tack and she knew everything that was going on with this team from who was playing to who was hurt, down to her “boyfriend” Keith Hernandez’ personal life.  She made it a point to mention that he was “available” now and that he lived not too far from her.  I think the Mex would’ve met his match though. 

This is what matters most about our love for this team.  I may not write with the aplomb of a Greg Prince or with the uncanny wit of Metstradamus or with the statistical dexterity of Eric Simon.  But like Forrest Gump, I too know what love is and my greatest hope for anyone who reads this is to find that someone in your life and pass this love down.  I know, you might think it’s a curse but deep down, beyond the issues, beyond the controversies, we’re all one big family and I’ve been lucky to know and learn from a few of them.

Monday, March 24, 2014


Not to come across as an 80 year old curmudgeon, but I’m absolutely sick of seeing and hearing and dealing with people who feel so immeasurably entitled.  Very few things can get under my skin with this being a huge exception.  I work with the public and I see this disease of uber self-importance in the raw.  The effects seem to be indiscriminate.  Young, old, rich, or poor, the entitled seem to be outnumbering the humble, the grateful, en mass. 

Case in point, here you have this New Jersey high school student, Rachel Canning.  It seems the 18 year old has decided to sue her parents, Sean and Elizabeth Canning of Lincoln Park, why – to force them to pay her private high school and college tuition fees.  Fee’s that her parents decided that they wouldn’t pay because of their daughter’s lack of adhering to house rules such as curfews and chores.  I know what you’re thinking – oh, the oppression.

To add insult it seems that Miss Canning according to court documents said,

"My parents simply will not help me any longer. They want nothing to do with me and refuse to even help me financially outside the home although they certainly have the ability to do so…I am unable to support myself and provide for my food, shelter, clothing, transportation and education." 

If my grandmother were alive today she would say this girl has more nerve than veal cutlet.  Remember, she chose to leave home and still has the gaul to think that it’s normal to sue her parents because you know, that’s what the cool kids do today.  Sure I would love to reach out and slap this spoiled, entitled little snot but that would be wrong; utterly satisfying, but wrong.  Besides I’d rather slap her parents so I really don’t blame her.  I blame her parents mostly because they raised this gem but given the climate kids are raised in today, what chance do they have?

We’ve become a bloated entitlement nation.  Everyone wants something for nothing and if they can’t get it, they demand it, they sue for it, they vote for the one who’s willing to give it to them for free.  Hell, people used to just blame their parents for their woes and bitch about it to a therapist and later turn it into a book or a crappy Lifetime TV movie.  But it seems bitching and complaining just isn’t enough, now it’s time to level the playing field or right the wrongs the haves have placed on the downtrodden have-nots. 

The story keeps evolving with a report that the teen set up a Facebook page excoriating baby boomers saying,

“I have been stunned by the financial greed of modern parents who are more concerned with retiring into some fantasy world rather than provide for their children’s college and young adult years,”

You gotta give this girl credit for having a pair of steel cojones that’s for sure.  But I’m surprised at the backlash she’s getting since she’s only representing the embodiment of the repressed, no?  I mean where’s Sandra Fluke?  She should be all over this not to mention the media should be lapping this story up as it fits in directly with their agenda of exposing those greedy, mean and rich suburbanites.  Of course I say that tongue in cheek since I bet the media views this as a “dog eats dog” story thus the reason why they've pretty much sat this one out.

So tell me, is any of this starting to sound familiar?  How about this, “We live in a time of a tale of two cities.”  Does that ring a bell?  If you're living in the tri-state area it should.  Try then New York mayoral candidate, Bill DeBlasio’s campaign theme.  It was a classic “us versus them” class warfare campaign and the funny part was he acted as if New Yorkers were living under the radical thumb of some far right wing dictator.  Michael Bloomberg’s policies were to the far right as to what Kim Kardashian’s high school transcripts were to Mensa.  Sorry I don’t know who should be more offended, Kim Kardashian or Mensa.  Let’s call it a draw.

Of course DeBlasio isn’t the only pol pretending to be Robin Hood.  President Obama and his administration pretty much embody the Robin Hood persona especially having sold affordable health care reform as just that, affordable. Given what we know now it’s hardly affordable, but hey like the president says, cut the iPhone and cable bills or spoil the children. 

As someone who sees’s on a daily basis the foolish spending habits of the greater public, I can kind of relate to what the Prez is saying. However apparently unlike the President, I understand I have no business telling someone how they should spend their own money. 

It kill’s me to hear the President lecture us about having fiscal self-control in order to fund his bloated fiscally out of control mess that is Obamacare. It’s like a junkie being lectured to by Lindsay Lohan on the virtues of sobriety.  I guess it’s fine to pick and choose when you want to demean the entitlement culture, especially if you’re still trying to sell your pet entitlement project and need all the help you can get.  I assume he’s never heard of the saying, “If you’re [still] explaining, you’re losing.”

You have to know that things are pretty bad when Ashton Kutcher sounds more inspiring than our elected officials.  Yes, that Ashton Kutcher who gave a speech at the Teen Choice Awards where he was given a lifetime achievement award.  First off I know what you’re thinking, a lifetime achievement award..........for Ashton Kutcher?  I’m sure Keith Richards has old joint wrappers lying around older than Kutcher.  Be that as it may it was his acceptance speech that really made national headlines.  He spoke on the importance of hard work, perseverance and how the entitlement mentality is holding back an entire generation. 

“I believe that opportunity looks a lot like hard work.  When I was 13, I had my first job with my dad carrying shingles up to the roof, and then I got a job washing dishes at a restaurant, and then I got a job in a grocery store deli, and then I got a job at a factory sweeping Cheerio dust off the ground.  And I’ve never had a job in my life that I was better than. I was always just lucky to have a job. And every job I had was a stepping stone to my next job, and I never quit my job until I had my next job. And so opportunities look a lot like work.”

Kutcher a few months later was a guest on the Ellen DeGeneres show and said this:

“There’s an entitlement that’s starting to emerge that I think is unhealthy for people and unhealthy for a country.  I talked to some of my friends and they don’t want to get a job at Starbucks ... because they feel like it’s below them. Well, I think the only thing that can be below you is to not have a job.  Go work until you can go get the job that you want to have. I’m really lucky I get to work with a lot of entrepreneurs that are building some of the coolest new stuff in the world. And you know these guys and girls work really hard and put in the hours and they are generous and care about other people and it’s what led to their success.”

Another anomaly out of Hollywood is Rob Lowe, who coming off his portrayal of President John F. Kennedy in the NatGeo film adaptation of the Bill O’Reilly book Killing Kennedy said this:

“My own worldview is that the individual needs to be more responsible for their own lives, and that’s not the conversation we’re having right now, for whatever reason.”

Lowe is right but it’s the “for whatever reason” that we need to be focusing on but I guess it takes baby steps.  Granted those are just two extremely rare faces in a sea of pretty but mostly surgically enhanced faces in La La Land.  But who would have thought that this kind of rationale exists in that world?  Hope springs eternal. 

I’m going to leave you with this video.  It pretty much encapsulates everything about our culture today.  The video was taken at an exhibition baseball game in Australia when a young boy was eagerly waiting for the ball boy to toss him a foul ball.  Instead he tossed it to another child.  Here’s the result and when you start feeling remorse after you have a primal urge to slap the shiznet out of this kid, take a deep breath...wait about ten seconds... and stick with your gut.