My dad remarked that my latest batch of Facebook and Twitter postings were incomprehensible without context, and I expect that's so. The context? The World Baseball Classic.
The WBC has only been around since 2006. It's an international tournament kind of like the World Cup, except soccer nerds have had the World Cup a lot longer than us baseball nerds have had the WBC, so it's a way bigger deal—also, the rest of the world loves their soccer, but most countries don't know much about baseball. The idea behind the WBC is to change all that and grow interest in baseball gobally.
And it's working. Slowly, of course, but getting there. Baseball has been huge in some places forever, of course; Japan, Latin America, the Caribbean, Taiwan to a lesser extent. But now there are respectable leagues popping up elsewhere too. The Korean Baseball Organization doesn't have the history, of course, but is now at about the level of quality that the Japanese pro leagues were at 20 or 30 years ago. The Australian league is fledgling, but has produced a Major Leaguer here and there. And the Netherlands are now an international power; great players have come from Aruba and Curacau for a while, but now they're coming out of Amsterdam too.
I, of course, am a Japanophile, and the primary reason I love the WBC is that it's really my only chance to see players from the NPB (Nippon Professional Baseball) leagues do their thing.
I've paid some attention to NPB for a long time, but it's hard to follow from afar. When I went to Japan in 2003(? or was it '02?), one of my first stops was the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum at the Tokyo Dome. It's a lot less impressive than the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, of course, but it's still pretty keen and I got to learn more of the history of the NPB leagues and players. I chose a team to adopt as My Team in Japan (I went with the Hanshin Tigers for several reasons) and went to a preseason game in Osaka. From then on I've tried to follow the leagues on the Internet, but it takes a lot of effort; my command of Japanese is rudimentary at best, and even less useful when trying to read it. I can decipher a box score well enough ("Timely Hit!") and identify most of the player names with the help of a Kanji dictionary, but I can't read a game story or the Nikkan Sports page except on the abbreviated English language site. And forget watching televised games, at least so far. Internet feeds of NPB action exist here and there, but are inaccessible overseas (e.g. here). Highlights make it to YouTube once in a while.
So when the WBC rolls around, I stay up through the night to watch Team Japan. Tokyo always hosts at least one round of the tournament (this year they had two), and Team Japan gets prime time there, so their games are at 2:00am here (3:00am after DST kicks in, as Japan ignores such foolishness). So I've Tweeted reactions to the six games I've watched in the wee hours from the Tokyo Dome the last couple of weeks since nobody was staying up all night with me to watch. :)
This year's team has a lot of new-to-me faces. Some of the old guard have retired or joined the American Major Leagues and opted not to play/were left off the team this year. But that's cool, as I'm getting to know the latest batch of stars. My new favorite NPB player is Hiroshima Carp second baseman Ryosuke Kikuchi. He's made numerous outstanding defensive plays in the tournament and I've looked up some of his Carp highlights. My kind of ballplayer.
The guy on Team Japan Major League scouts seem to have their eye on is Tetsudo Yamada, who had a huge second round; he's achieved what the Japanese call the Triple-Threes—.300 batting average, 30 home runs, and 30 stolen bases—two years running now. He's also a second baseman, so he's been the DH in the WBC. Yokohama BayStars outfielder Yoshitomo Tsutsugoh is popular over there, and it's easy to see why, but he doesn't fit the mold of the Japanese style that I like so much; he's a bulky, slow-by-Japanese-standards home-run hitter. He's like a more disciplined Greg Luzinski, if you will.
Anyway, the Tokyo rounds are over, and Team Japan is so far undefeated as they prepare for the semifinals in Los Angeles starting Monday. So no more 5am tweets about needing to pull Kazuhisa Makida off the mound because he's doing his best José Mesa impression, or making Phil Collins song puns for Tsu-tsu-Tsutsugoh. I do wish I'd been able to come up with a good joke linking Tokyo Giants catcher Seiji Kobayashi to the no-win scenario, though...
Now What? New Year's Goals, Predictions, and Semi-Resolutions
Congratulations. If you're reading this, you've survived the unwelcome boil and ambitious killing spree that was 2016. I know, I know, it wasn't all bad; it only seems like it thanks to the plethora of public-figure and closer-to-home death and the election of a narcissistic marshmallow turd. But there were moments of good here and there sprinkled among the nightmares.
But all that's over now and it's time to engage in that cultural ritual of promising to be better at X, Y, and Z—the "New Year's Resolution"—and to show off our awesome precognitive powers and predict events of the coming Solar orbit, knowing full well that we will most likely not succeed in either resolving or predicting.
I've already blown one semi-resolution, which was to avoid "lost days" in 2017. I know revise the goal to be "keep lost days to less than 5%." A "lost day" is a manifestation of the screwed-up brain chemistry that prompts me to be gloomy and lethargic and generally wallowy (better known as clinical depression and colloquially referred to in these parts as The Black Hole), one that results in literally staying in bed all day rather than get up and engage in some facet of actual life. I've had a number of these lost days in the weeks since the election, both for the macro reasons of the impending Trumpification of America and micro reasons of personal discontent (of course, ascribing reasons to them so casually is a gross oversimplification, but I think one has to be "one of us" to really get that). Once in a while I suppose they can be helpful in riding out a Black Hole episode, but they can also be self-feeding parasites if too frequent.
Other goals for the year may include:
- Put more effort into strengthening/maintaining my social circle. It's taken some pretty big hits over the last several years and I prefer it doesn't take any more; the kind of efforts I'm thinking of wouldn't necessarily have made a lick of difference in those hits, but that's no reason not to try solidifying some other areas.
- Spend more money. I don't mean spend recklessly or frivolously, I just mean override my well-honed instinct for thrift every now and again. It's (somewhat) less necessary than it used to be, and though it still pays to be smart about it, indulge in a dinner out and don't worry about making up for it later...occasionally.
- Enjoy where I live more. I'm in this spectacular city/region and I don't get out in it often enough.(Related to "lost days.")
- Blog more frequently — say, weekly on average. There's certainly enough going on in the world that warrants attention, and I consume tons of pop-culture to opine on. Like, this week I read the first volume of the Brian K. Vaughan/Cliff Chiang comic Paper Girls, which is fantastic. Also the first volume of They're Not Like Us, which I didn't really care for.
- Keep up with the sketching. Fill, let's say, two sketchbooks this year.
- Build the cabinets I spoke of last month. Four modular units of three drawers each, and if those go smoothly and relatively quickly and don't run into unforeseen expense, make two or four more for expansion.
- Assuming the estate issues I've been dealing with for the last 15 months proceed at a reasonable pace and the means thus become available, upgrade my housing security. Market permitting, of course.
- Go somewhere that isn't southern California. For fun. Vancouver, maybe, or DC if the stink of orange marshmallow turd is out of town. (I'd say Tokyo, but I'm not affording that this year.)
As for my powers of prognostication, let's see...
- Fully half of the Trump cabinet will get confirmed even though they're completely unqualified, and before the end of the year Republican congressional leaders will be criticizing them for ineptitude and/or corruption without irony.
- Spider-Man: Homecoming will be terrific. Justice League will suck. Wonder Woman and Star Wars will both be OK.
- The Seattle Mariners will cruise to a division title on the strength of Rookie of the Year Mitch Haniger and slugging 1B Dan Vogelbach.
- OR The Seattle Mariners will wallow in mediocrity for another season thanks to the inexperience and poor showing from their entire outfield.
I'm afraid to make more political prognostications except to say it's gonna be a shitstorm full of lawsuits, corruption charges, and diplomatic damage-control.
How about everyone else? Goals? Predictions?
Cubs No More
With their victory in the National League Championship Series, the Chicago Cubs have died.
For more than half a century, the Chicago Cubs have been synonymous with futility. It's been a cultural touchstone. No matter how much they might tease with moderate success, ultimately, the Cubs will disappoint. Americans with no interest in baseball still have some sense that the Chicago Cubs equate with losing. Along with death and taxes, one thing you can rely on is that the Cubs always fail.
Not any more.
The Chicago Cubs have won the pennant and Americana has lost a quintessential element.
The Cubs are not like the Red Sox. When the Boston Red Sox finally won a World Series championship in 2004, 86 years after their last one, it was an event, sure. But the Sox didn't have Cub stink. Boston had won a number of American League pennants since 1918, had been contenders much of the time; sure, not having won the World Series in all those decades was a sore spot, but "Red Sox" never equated to "hopeless." The Cubs were special in that regard. It pervaded our culture.
Even last week's episode of "The Simpsons" contained the line "A drought of Chicago Cubs proportions." Those references now mean nothing.
I congratulate the long-suffering Cub fans. The introductory video before this evening's World Series Game One between the Cubs and the also-long-suffering Cleveland Indians (last World Series championship: 1948) was fun and gave a little warm fuzzy. I appreciate the feeling of "FINALLY" among loyalists who were devoted to the teams of Kerry Wood, Ryne Sandberg, Andre Dawson, Rick Sutcliffe, Ron Santo, Ernie Banks, and the rest. But I also mourn our loss -- the obsolescence of the Cubs joke in "Back to the Future Part II," the erasure of the acronym CUBS (Completely Useless By September), the quaintness now associated with Steve Goodman's wonderful song.
Goodbye, Cub futility. You will be missed. The Chicago Cubs are dead. Long live the Chicago Cubs.
At the risk of stating the obvious, I've not been good about maintaining this blog. Many topics have been worthy of jotting a few sentences about, and yet... Well, I'm here now. So, some flotsam and jetsam from my head as I wait for my car to be serviced in advance of my next rip to SoCal:
- My mood hasn't been great lately. No particular reason, at least none on top of the stresses and bummerific context of my being a Trustee of my mom's estate. Last month there was an incident that triggered an eruption of buried/suppressed rage that was surprisingly powerful and not especially useful. Even when it seems justified, anger of that degree gets in the way of, you know, addressing the problem. But that was then; more recently I've just been in a foggy sort of stasis, for lack of a better term. I'm no stranger to dour moods, and this isn't a severe example by a long shot, but in some ways this sort is more frustrating. I always want to make sense of things, and when staying focused on anything is an elusive task it's impossible to feel like things make any sense. If that makes sense. Which it probably doesn't. Because I'm all over the place in my head right now.
- So, let's talk about baseball, since that is something I can make sense of. Having the playoffs on during this time of foggy ennui is a good thing, it's helpful, but what isn't helpful is the Toronto Blue Jay offense. I really want to like the Jays. I have a great affinity for Canada, for one thing, and they're the only north-of-the-border team in the bigs; they also have a few individual players I like a lot, from ex-Mariner Michael Suanders to Troy Tulowitzki to J.A. Happ, and I have tended to enjoy the company of Blue Jay fans when they come to Seattle to see the Jays play the M's. Sadly, they are built around a one-dimensional offense dependent on the home run, which is so not my style. Also, not good enough to beat the Cleveland Native American Caricatures. Toronto's down 0-3 to the Clevelanders, and while there is Cleveland shortstop Francisco Lindor to appreciate I just can't find anything redeeming about Cleveland winning the American League championship. Bleh. Come on, Blue Jays, be the second team ever to rebound from 0-3! Meanwhile, the Cubs/Dodgers clash in the National League Championship Series has been outstanding -- Javier Baez even stole home! -- and I await the inevitable freak occurrence that prevents the Cubs from winning a pennant. They're clearly the better team, but if they are to maintain their essential Cubness, they must not win. With a pennant, they would cease to be the Cubs.
- John Oliver has been the saving grace of this year's presidential campaign, and this week he tackled the problem of otherwise thoughtful people choosing to vote for protest candidates Jill Stein and Gary Johnson. I say problem because the people I've personally encountered that are supporting one of those two maintain that their choice is principled and Stein/Johnson is actually the best person running. I call bullshit on that, and so does John Oliver, who points out in glorious fashion that both Stein and Johnson are totally incompetent.