December 2009

When being a fan was tough

I have become my father. No, not in terms of sprouting hair in the oddest places. And I don’t make a cacophony of weird bodily noises.
But I can drop some let-me-tell-you-how-tough-I-had-it admonitions. That’s life in the fast-forward lane: One minute you’re Generation X, the next it’s Generation Ex-Lax.
Kids, let me give you two examples of my childhood hardships, neither of which involved walking a mile through two feet of snow to school (anyone ever really do that? By six inches, wouldn’t school just get cancelled?) but did deal with my life’s wellspring.
That, of course, would be baseball. Tommy Lasorda used to say he bled Dodger Blue, but I got him trumped. Every time I have a blood test, it comes up Type BB.
Anyway … growing up in Pittsburgh, this used to be my most exciting time of the year. Filled with anticipation, fueled by imagination, warmed by daydreams.
And do you know why? Because, just like clockwork, the first baseball preview magazines would hit the newsstands the first Tuesday after New Year’s. I could see the green light at the end of the winter tunnel. After months without absolutely any baseball news, Street & Smith’s and Sports Illustrated would soon line the shelves of the Squirrel Hill Newsstand, with Mickey Mantle or Sandy Koufax on the cover.
Wire-wrapped CARE packages against the famine would be neatly stacked outside the closed store in the wee hours as I’d make my detoured way back to school. I’d just happen to have a wire cutter, and extract an issue from the stack. I’d have it devoured by the time I made my way home and stopped at the stand to pay for it.
Now, kids, you get baseball 24/7/365, with MLB.com, the MBL Network and an Internet of blogs and boards which anoints anyone with an I.P. address a news source. There is no down cycle, no dearth, no withdrawal. Baseball warmth round-the-clock, no wire cutter required.
The Way We Were, No. 2: I changed coasts after graduation to attend college at UCLA, a stimulating environment in a great location. A few turns from the beach, across the street from Bel-Air, at the mind-expanding intersection of Timothy Leary and Bill Walton.
One problem: It was 2,200 miles from my beloved Pirates.
So I bought a mail subscription to the Pittsburgh Press. It would be in my mailbox three days later, which made it an old-news paper. But it had to do as my only connection to Clemente, Alley, Virdon and my crib, Forbes Field.
Now you got streams of your favorite team’s games, no matter where it is playing and where you are, not to mention bottomless sources of instant information. Team news are in your e-mailbox like now.
We’re living in amazing times. Don’t take it for granted.
But with six inches of snow on the ground, school still gets cancelled.

Johnson. Vazquez. Really?

The Yankees’ last two moves elicited the same reaction from the chorus. “Really?”
Not so much because they brought back two alums, although the Yankees have never been known for recycling players. But let’s look at the fine print.
The interesting thing about choosing (in a sense) the left-handed bat of Nick Johnson over that of Johnny Damon is that the Yanks replaced one of the most durable players of all time with one of his generation’s most fragile.
In fact, should Johnson produce enough Reggie-like heroics to get a candy bar named after him, I’m pretty sure it will have the word “brittle” in it, like “peanut brittle.”
Damon has played 140-plus games for 14 straight seasons — and the only others in baseball history to have done that are Pete Rose, Brooks Robinson, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron.
Frail Nick has never had a 140-game season. To paraphrase him, “Ouch!”
As for the return of Javier Vazquez … well, guess that points to Joe Torre as the one who had issues with him the first time around.
The Yankees picked up Vazquez in a December 2003 deal with Montreal, thought enough of him to give him the ball on Opening Day in Yankee Stadium — and matters quickly soured after that.
The prevailing perception became that Vazquez lacked the guts to pitch in the Bronx and that the Yankees couldn’t wait to shed him — which they did in January 2005 — one year after having signed him to a four-year deal for $45 million.
Vazquez now comes back to the same ownership, the same GM, some of the same teammates — but a different manager.
By the way, the player dealt to the Expos for Vazquez six years ago? Nick Johnson.
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