Sunday, April 07, 2013

Zisk # 22

On Second Thought...Maybe Cubs Fans DO Suck by Jake Austen

How I Became an Athletic Supporter by David LaBounty

My Times With the Red Sox Wives by Michael T. Fournier

Winters of Discontent: A Look Back at the A-Rod Trade by Kip Yates

Confessions of a Lifelong Football Fan by Joe Evans

The Zisk Book Review Corner

Fraternizing With the Enemy by Nancy Golden

Santana’s Greatest Hits by Steve Reynolds

On Second Thought...Maybe Cubs Fans DO Suck by Jake Austen

     I am a White Sox fan through and through. The respective Sox Parks have been my homes away from home. I bleed silver and black, and red white and blue, and dark blue and white, and light blue and red, and red and white (we’re not exactly the Yankees when it comes to uniform tradition). The point is, I’m a diehard Sox fan…and I don’t hate the Cubs.

    Sure I want the Sox to have a better record than the Cubs every year, and sure I am somewhat amused when a Sox fan’s t-shirt declares, “I’d Rather Have A Sister in a Whorehouse than a Brother Who’s A Cubs Fan,” and embarrassed only by the homophobia, and not the sentiment, of most other anti-Cubs shirts (Wrigley Field borders Boys Town, an officially designated gay neighborhood). But my identity as a Sox-lover is not constructed through Cubs-hate, and I imagine many Sox fans feel the same way. I’d also wager that most Cubs fans either feel the same way, or consider the Sox so culturally inferior, the second team in the second city, they can’t be bothered to hate us.
     In fact, I’ll even list a few positive things I feel about the Cubs. I like to look of Wrigley from the outside. I like seeing the lake from their left field upper deck. I love their eccentric, unofficial mascot, Ronny “Woo Woo” Vickers (pictured on right). One of my proudest moments was arranging for Vickers to get in free to a Michael Jackson convention afterparty, where he danced the night away with cross-dressing house frau Jackson obsessives. And there were a lot of interesting players that played on both sides of town: Bobby Bonds, Kenny Lofton, Lance Johnson, Scotty Fletcher, Jay Johnstone, Dave Martinez, Ron Santo, Steve Trout, Steve Stone, and Sammy Sosa.
     Ah yes, Sammy Sosa. And there’s the rub. I’ve always figured Cubs fans don’t suck, as some of my vocal fellow Sox fans contend.  Sure, on the rare occasions I go to Cubs games the majority of fans seem to be office workers on group outings, yuppies taking business calls, and frat-types treating it like a singles bar. But there are plenty of old folks with Cubs pin-covered caps keeping score, fathers teaching sons the strategy of the double switch, tenth generation enthusiasts, and generally high quality baseball fans. But the Cubs Nation’s exile of Sammy Sosa is a mess that makes me reassess.

    As a young Sox player Sosa was mediocre, but thrilling to watch (often thrilling like a car wreck).  Then he became not only a superstar for the Cubs, but a superstar who saved baseball! After the strike when it was hard to fully care, it was Mac and Sammy hitting homers, by any means necessary, which won America back. But it was more than that. At the beginning of every game he would savagely sprint out to right field, putting on a histrionic show for the fans that roared in approval. He developed a funny, broken English, all-punchline persona for the press. His post-homer body language was a show for the seats and the cameras, not a cocky slow strut to show up the pitcher. After the September 11 attacks he ran to the outfield waving an American flag, symbolizing America’s resilient spirit, then rounded the bases waving it after his first homer.

    OK, obviously there’s a lot to hate about Sammy if he weren’t your guy. It is presumed that he took performance enhancing drugs. He got caught corking his bat. He was a dick in the clubhouse, insisting that his Salsa music play at full blast all the time. And after baseball it’s been no better. Between the bizarre bleach skin photo and pretending to not know English during his appearance before Congress, for most observers it would be hard to hold him to heart.

    But if you’re a Cubs fan, so what if he’s a fuck up? You are supposed to have loyalty to family, period. That’s not just being a good fan, that’s being a good human being. In San Francisco, Barry Bonds, who not only is considered by many the most heinous PED abuser ever, but is also a grimacing grump who cultivated a surly persona for most of his career, could run for Mayor. Bill Buckner returned to Red Sox in 1990! And they gave him a standing ovation! And rather than cheating to help the team win, rather than breaking rules to thrill the fans with Herculean feats (Sosa claimed he corked his bat to lengthen batting practice homers to entertain fans…almost certainly a lie, but also halfway credible for the applause-loving slugger), the Chicago White Sox CHEATED TO LOSE THE WORLD SERIES! They lost the biggest games you can lose, on purpose, for money. And in response, a jury of White Sox fans found them innocent despite knowing they were guilty, cheered them outside the courthouse, and baseball had to establish a special office to punish them, because Chicago never was going to do it. And THAT is how fans are supposed to act.

    But Cubs fans seem to despise Sammy Sosa. The team refuses to recognize him in any way, and he certainly is not about to be offered a position with the organization like Big Mac was in St. Louis. He has no value in Chicago, never doing media appearances, fan festivals, card shows, or endorsements. And you hear nothing but vitriol from Cubbies fans if you hear his name at all. Granted, I am basing the Cubs fans universal hatred of Sammy on unscientific factors…sports radio guys supposedly gauging the temperature of fans could be way off, and meathead radio callers and newspaper letter writers may represent a vocal minority. But I have not heard one brave Cubs fan stand up and say, “He saved baseball!” “He was my favorite player when I was ten, and I still idolize him!” “We love you Sammy!” None of that.

    I’m not going to say it’s because Cubs fans are racist, though I’ve heard that posited (their embrace of the unbelievably affable Ernie Banks, I’ve heard it argued, confirms rather than contradicts this, because Banks fit the acceptable Negro model). I’m not going to say it’s because the stereotype of Bud-swilling, good time at the park Cubs fans who don’t know the score, and don’t care about a century of futility is what makes them forget the good times so easily. And I’m not going to say that their unwelcome tradition of losing makes them want to distance themselves from anyone who might make them seem more loser-ish.

    I’m just going to say that if they can’t be loyal to one of the greatest, goofiest, most entertaining players they ever had, then perhaps, just perhaps, Cubs fans do, in fact, suck.

Jake Austen is author of Darkest America: Black Minstrelsy from Slavery to Hip Hop, editor of Roctober magazine, puppeteer on Chic-A-Go-Go, and a left handed catcher.

How I Became an Athletic Supporter by David LaBounty

For the first forty years of my life, I cared little about Major League Baseball. I had played some form of organized ball from T to junior high, and I did have fun on the diamond. In fact, one of my favorite childhood memories is standing on the mound of a blacktop baseball field in the middle of a school playground in Taegu, starring down a small Korean boy. The only thing we had in common was our gender, age, and a game with four bases, a bat, and a little white ball. But to say I was even casual fan of the game would be putting it politely.

I attended maybe a handful of Major League games. The only baseball game I saw on TV was when they interrupted some sitcom I was watching to show Pete Rose get his 3,000th hit. Twenty years later, I half-heartedly followed the home run record chase. Those milestones were never more than mildly interesting moments in history to me.

Then my son, Gabe, came along.

From birth, we knew he wasn’t going to make his money on any field of play. But one day, he checked out a book at his school’s library, and a baseball fan was born. Over the next few months, he took to the game like a new devotee to a charismatic cult. I thought it was a phase, but as his shelves filled with more and more books on baseball, books most people couldn’t understand with a college degree (I sure didn’t), I began to believe this was serious.

Influenced, in part, by his great-great grandmother and his aunt—and that first book he checked out—Gabe latched onto the Oakland A’s. He liked the fact that they were neither “hated champions” nor “lovable losers,” and he loved their history.

Gabe learned to live and die (mostly die) by Oakland box scores. It seemed like the MLB Network was on 24-7 in our house, and so I began watching games with him. From the outside, it must have looked odd: a father and son watching a baseball game on TV, only it was the ten-year-old boy spouting statistics and history like a veteran color commentator.

Thanks to Gabe, I quickly developed an appreciation for the game; and, soon, we were traveling to see the A’s when they would come play the Texas Rangers in Arlington.  

Going to the games was fun, but I didn’t know who to root for. I had no feelings for the Rangers (at the time, neither did anyone else), and I was starting to like the A’s. But I felt guilty cheering for the A’s in person. What right did I have to claim an allegiance to Oakland? Familial? I lived in California for a few years, but back then I didn’t know the Athletics from the Giants. When I was growing up, I used to claim to “root” for teams, though my allegiances shifted with every move my military family made. In Leavenworth, I liked the Royals. In Columbus, it was the Reds. When we moved to Northern Virginia, I followed the Orioles. In college, I gave up all pretense of watching baseball, and after I graduated, my wife and I only went to one Major League game and that was just to see what the fuss was about with the new stadium in Baltimore.

But with every Oakland game Gabe and I went to, with every game we stayed up past midnight to watch on TV or listen to on the computer, with every loss and every walk-off, I grew closer and closer to this team my son loved, and one summer, when we were deciding what to do for our vacation, Gabe said we should go see a game in Oakland. He tried to sell the idea by saying we could see all the teams in Oakland’s farm system. Oh, and we could also visit family (such a good boy).

And that’s what we did. We saw the AAA River Cats in Sacramento, the AA RockHounds in Midland, Texas, and the A Stockton Ports (they were in Visalia when we saw them, but it still counts). The trip culminated with a visit to the Oakland Coliseum.

It was a crisp, sunny day in June, and we sat right behind home plate in a section filled with mostly older folks who had been coming to A’s games since the team moved to Oakland. We sat next to a couple who ate homemade egg salad sandwiches and grapes and worked on crossword puzzles and a regal lady in the sun hat, bright yellow dress coat, and white gloves who was greeted as if she were royalty. We were asked what brought us to the game, and once we told them of our trip, we were treated like family.
And the game was great. The Twins were in town and beating up on the A’s until the home half of the eighth when Gabe turned his cap around (for which he was rewarded with a spot on the JumboTron), and the Athletics went on to score three runs. They won the game in walk-off fashion in the ninth. They were seven games back and in last place, but the way those guys stormed the field, you would have thought they won the pennant.

After that pilgrimage, I felt I had earned my stripes—or at least one. I was a private in the army of A’s fans. I felt like I could at least wear an A’s hat to a game. But I still didn’t feel like a true, deserving fan.

That all changed last year.

It was my birthday, and the A’s were in town to play the now-hated Rangers, so I decided to take Gabe and my dad to the game. It was a day game, but the stadium was packed. The Rangers, having had a couple of okay years (back-to-back World Series appearances), had found their stride, and the stands were full of passionate but seasonal fans. You know, the kind of people who make me look like a superfan.

My father, who had lived in Texas a few years longer than me, had been a Rangers fan since they were so bad you could get great seats for ten bucks each and the stands were never half full, so he was decked out in his Rangers shirt and hat. Gabe was wearing his Yoenis Cespedes jersey and A’s away game hat, and I was wearing my wife’s A’s hat (I still didn’t have my own).

We arrived at our seats—mezzanine level, above the home dugout, so we could see the A’s bench—and for the first time in my relatively young stadium-going life, Gabe and I started getting heckled. And I’m not talking about drunken rants from blue collar fans spewing colorful words that involved what I could do with mine and my immediate family’s body parts. I’m talking about seemingly normal looking (for Texas) men and women enjoying a day of baseball.

One particularly fiery-headed fan was the worst. Living off the fact that the Rangers were in first place, and had been since the start of the year, this cowboy didn’t go after the Green and Gold we were wearing. He saw our colors and started in on the pinko-communists in tree-hugging LaLa-land that those colors—and, by extension, we—represented. The “real America” (Texas) was so much better than the “cesspool of leftist losers in California-taxland.”

Things only got worse when Texas jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the first inning. Our friend cheered like a drunken ape (though completely sober), slapping high-fives with everyone in our section, including my father, and belittling us for our life choices.

Our neighbors tore into us about how we should be on the left side of the stadium with our fairy friends, and several people gave Gabe “bless his heart” looks—a polite way of calling someone “slow” down here. But Gabe and I took the abuse like gentlemen. Besides, we knew these weren’t real fans. These were bandwagoners, people who like the Rangers because they were winning. People who had no idea there was a stadium in Arlington before this one. People who had a hard time with the fact that the Cowboys across the parking lot had won only one playoff game in almost twenty years. These people knew less about baseball than I did. You can’t argue with ignorance. Also, the A’s were losing, and we were in the Rangers’ house. So we were polite and tried to enjoy the game.

But it was a hard game to watch. Every time the A’s would score a run, the Rangers would match them, and by the end of the seventh inning, the Rangers were up 9-4. At least things had finally quieted down in our section. That is until, as we were waiting for Cespedes to step up to the plate at the beginning of the eighth, Gabe looked up from his scorecard and said loud enough for everyone to hear: “Home run.”

I said, “You’re calling it?”

My father laughed and said, “What’s the count going to be?”

Gabe said, “Two, one.”

But Cespedes crushed the first pitch of the inning over the center field wall. Forty thousand people in the stands and all you could hear was my echoing voice screaming: “He called it! My boy called it! Yeah! What a shot!”

There was a little grumbling from our friends, but the cowboy remained quiet. The next batter struck out, and then Brandon Moss went to a full count before he sent the next ball he saw over the right field wall.

As it was flying out of the park, I jumped out of my seat, and all you could hear was me screaming: “You have got to be shitting me!? Again!? Look how far that ball went! Wow!” By then, I was getting some looks, and I was a little afraid firearms were going to be unconcealed.

The next batter struck out, and Gabe looked at his scorecard. “We’ve got a pattern going,” he said. “Looks like Reddick is due for a home run.” Even the Ranger fan next to us nodded. “That’s what the scorecard says,” he agreed in a voice that said, ‘I’ll eat my hat if that happens.’

Sure enough, Reddick smashed a home run in the same spot as Moss. (The count was 2-1. So Gabe was a few hitters off with his other prediction.)

I was back on my feet, screaming: “Unbelievable! Is this the fucking home run derby!?” But my voice was drowned out by a forty-thousand-member choir of boos.
The score was 9-7, and I could feel the Rangers fans starting to sweat (and not just because it was ninety degrees). The red-faced cowboy tried to make fun of us by telling his friend to forgive us. “They’re just Athletic Supporters,” he said.

I’d had enough. “Wow,” I responded. “That’s so original. How long did it take you think that one up?”

He was a little taken aback, but the smile never left his face, it just switched from simple-minded to serial killer, and he responded, “I’ve been holding onto it for several innings.”

Now, here’s where I remembered where I was. I am visitor surrounded by people who pride themselves on their concealed carry permits, and I have a kid to protect. So, instead of saying what I wanted to (‘You’ve been holding onto your athletic supporter for several innings?’), I just said “Whatever.”

The Rangers won the game, but the A’s won the battle. Two weeks later, the A’s swept the Rangers in Oakland, coming from two games behind to win the division crown in a winner-take all game.

Gabe and I jumped around our house like idiots after they won, and all I could think about was I wish I could have seen the look on that cowboy’s face. How I would have loved to call him out for rooting for a bunch of overpriced prima donnas who lost to a group of working class joes, how the David’s that beat the Goliaths. How the American Dream was alive and well in that crazy state on the West Coast.

That’s when I realized, I had achieved fanhood. Cheering for a team is one thing. Going into the lion’s den and suffering the abuse of fools is another. I earned the right to represent my team during that inning in Arlington. I stood up for a group guys I’ll never meet in front of forty thousand people who hated me and the team because of the color of our laundry and proclaimed that I was an Athletic supporter.

Bring on the McGwire throwback jersey.

David LaBounty edits The First Line. He and his son, Gabe, also write the travel/perzine Bookstores and Baseball.

My Times With the Red Sox Wives by Michael T. Fournier

I worked at a fine dining restaurant within cab distance of Fenway Park for the 2001-2004 baseball seasons, right as I was recovering fr0om a long bout of “too-punk-too-like-sports.” Now I’m like a smoker who just quit. You know that guy (or gal), right? The one who talks about the health benefits of quitting and the money saved by not buying a pack a day as s/he coughs loudly and passive aggressively when someone lights one up? That’s me, but with baseball: Since I missed/lost ten plus baseball seasons, my fandom/geekitude is now fairly boundless. I listen to as many games as I can each year—something like 120—and keep tabs on other teams through three fantasy leagues.

Working at this restaurant, which played all the games on their TVs, made me remember how much I liked baseball. And being around all the ballplayers that came in didn’t hurt, either. Again, cab distance from Fenway, with late hours. The management got a kick out of having a fanboy on staff, and gave me tables of ballplayers I inevitably didn’t yet recognize and told me halfway through the meal that I was waiting on David Segui or Jeff Conine or Gary Matthews Jr. or whoever it was that day.

My time at the restaurant coincided with the two greatest Red Sox seasons in my lifetime. At the beginning of the 2003 season, after an offseason of low-key acquisitions —Millar? Mueller?—my manager told me I’d be waiting on a table of Red Sox wives. Everyone at the whole place stared at ’em. And why not? Here were ten women, all decked out in their best on-the-town gear, amazingly beautiful in the kinda cookie-cutter way that sports wives sometimes are. There wasn’t a blemish or a hair out of place in the entire table. They weren’t impolite, but neither were they friendly—more like used to getting what they wanted. Everyone at the table proceeded to order a different specialty martini, all of which, somehow, were pink, and made special requests on their dinners, a huge no-no at the restaurant.

When it came time to pay, one of the women, perhaps the prettiest at the table; clearly the alpha dog, made a big production out of grabbing the check and having me wait at the table—from which vantage point I was gripped by the inevitable server neurosis of seeing everything that had to be done in my section, but being obligated to stand still, unable to fill glasses/clear plates/drop checks/etc.—while she fished through a handbag that looked more expensive than six months’ rent at my place in Allston for her wallet, from which she finally produced, with great fanfare, a platinum AMEX card. The last name read the same as the most well-paid player on the Sox. This wife had been an AMEX member for less than a year, according to the ‘member since’ date stamp, but the strip was already worn out and I had to enter the number manually.

I have a million stories like this—still do—and didn’t think much of the table after they left. Not until a few days later, when one of the women showed up in my section, accompanied by a woman who looked like her twin. Turns out it was her sister. It was a slow night, so I had time to hang out and chat: the woman, Gina, had been in the night before, she said, with her sister Heidi. I’m usually pretty bad with names, but I wrote theirs down for later, a strategy I had to keep track of regulars. I was also curious about who Gina was married to. When I got home that night I searched the ‘net, to no avail.

Gina and Heidi came in a few more times, and asked to sit in my section. They were always very pleasant and chatty.

A few weeks after that big wives’ table, it was a Friday night and I was working towards the back of the restaurant when a hostess came to talk to me with a puzzled look on her face. “Um, Mike,” she said, “one of the Red Sox is here to see you?”

Gina and Heidi were standing at the host stand. I greeted them both by name.

Gina said, “Hi Mike. I didn’t get to introduce you to my husband. This is Kevin.”

Kevin Millar stuck his hand out. “Hi, Mike. Nice to meet you.”

I shook Kevin Millar’s hand, tripping out. 2003, of course, was the year that Millar did the “Cowboy Up” thing and became a Red Sox hero.

For the rest of the time he was in Boston (and I was at the restaurant), Millar and Heidi and Gina (who spelled her name ‘Jeanna,’ thus thwarting my web searches) requested me when they came in. Millar was great—not as hammy as he is when a camera’s around, but funny and nice.

I told you all that so I can tell you this:

Millar hit the 10,000th home run in Fenway history against Baltimore. After that Saturday night game, I was at a table in the back. The first thing I saw, when the group sat, were the matching Orioles polos the guys were wearing. I immediately started dealing on them, without getting a full look:

“Your team lost tonight, huh?”

You have to understand the Boston Sports Thing: years of accumulated misery were always close to the surface of any conversation about Red Sox baseball. 2003, we all thought, was the year that would end all the suffering.  David Ortiz was blossoming into a star, Bill Mueller was on his way to a batting title, and Millar—my buddy!—had just hit number ten-thousand. Not aging stars, like the teams of my youth, but guys who were catching fire at just the right time. It felt good. Great, in fact, to be a fan of a team assembled with a clear head and a sense of purpose. So I was cocky.

Before I finished the sentence, I saw the table more closely.

They were wearing matching duds because they were the Orioles broadcasting team. And I know they were because one of the members was Jim Palmer. Who was looking at me like I had two heads.

“They did,” he said.

Oh well, I thought, mortified, I already made a dick of myself here. I might as well stay in character.

“You must be used to that,” I said.

“Sure,” Jim Palmer replied.

So I waited on this table in the back, and at the front of the place, the hostess seated Millar and Jeanna, who requested me.

“Hey, Mike,” Jeanna said. “We missed you last night—where were you?”

I had taken the night off to see my friends in Garrison play a show with On the Might of Princes at Middle East Up. Then my roommate and I had gotten kicked out of the after-party at Kid Fuego’s for peeing off the porch. I told Jeanna and Millar all this.

They laughed. “Sounds like a good night,” Millar said.

I nodded. “And I’m waiting on Jim Palmer right now, in the back.”

Millar got excited. “Is he here? Where?”

I nodded towards the back.  Millar asked if I had ever waited on him before. I told him about my foot-in-mouth moment and he laughed.

“We have some friends meeting us,” he said.

A little while later, as Palmer’s table’s entrees arrived, so did Millar’s friends: Casey Fossum and his wife, and Todd Walker and his—two of the women from the table of ten.

They ordered drinks—mostly Jack Daniels—and Millar told them what I had said to Jim Palmer, which they thought was funny.

There’s no real ending to this story: Palmer’s table tipped on the low end of 15%, probably because I had insulted them; the Sox table tipped 25%, I ran my ass off waiting on two baseball tables at opposite ends of the restaurant. And I still can’t believe I was such a dick to Jim Palmer.

Michael T. Fournier is the author of Hidden Wheel and Double Nickels On The Dime and the editor of Cabildo Quarterly. His band Dead Trend just released their 21-song, 26 minute album False Positive. He’s among Western Massachusetts’ biggest Mike Easler fans.

Winters of Discontent: A Look Back at the A-Rod Trade by Kip Yates

Alex Rodriguez was traded from the Texas Rangers to the New York Yankees for Alfonso Soriano and a player to be named later during the winter of 2004. This remarkable trade is rather unremarkable in hindsight but it signified a change in direction not so much for the Rangers and Yankees as another team that dodged the proverbial bullet by losing out on their quest for A-Rod. The Rangers, cellar dwellers since 2001, used the trade as a stepping stone to other transactions that would hopefully propel them out of the gutter and on the road toward fiscal sanity. The Yankees had just lost the 2003 World Series to the Florida Marlins (after championships in 1996, ’98, ’99, 2000, a close call in 2001 and a hiccup in 2002 where they missed the World Series all together) and they hoped the trade would signal their return to prominence. A third team, ultimately not involved, saw the trade that got away as the end of long years of losing and heartache and the beginning of richer times.
The Boston Red Sox had not won a World Series since 1918 and they’d just witnessed a 5-2 Game 7 lead evaporate at the hands of Aaron Freakin' Boone who won the 2003 American League Championship with a 12th inning homerun. (Side note: I still have not ever watched that ball land in the stands and will change the channel or walk out of the room before it ever does.) In the off-season, Boone injured himself playing basketball and the Yankees needed a new third baseman so surely if they were to come calling, Alex Rodriguez would gladly cede his shortstop position to team captain Derek Jeter and move to third, right? Over Boston General Manager Theo Epstein's dead body! He had already lost to New York in a bidding war for Jose Contreras a year earlier. Now his nemesis wanted to replace Boone with the youngest and greatest ballplayer of his generation. It was on! All Texas had to do was watch the standoff and wait for the best offer.
It turns out that Boston made the best offer. Their offer was good enough to make Texas pull the trigger. However, the MLB Players Association vetoed the trade because it called for a voluntary reduction in A-Rod’s salary. The Yankees were waiting in the wings and made the trade in February.  New York papers splashed Jeter and A-Rod’s pictures on the front and back pages with supercilious headlines. It was a match made in heaven.

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past decade, you know what happened during the 2004 season and post-season. To recap:

·Boston catcher Jason Varitek stuffed A-Rod's face into his catcher’s mitt, the Red Sox caught fire and won the wildcard.  Then Dave Roberts stole second off of Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the ALCS and the Red Sox didn't lose a game for the rest of the post-season en route to their first championship in 86 years.
·The world watched in disbelief as the Yankees suffered the most colossal choke job in all of sports becoming the first and to date only baseball team to lose a 3-0 lead in a seven-game series.
·The Rangers climbed out of last place and won 89 games. 

Free from the constraints of A-Rod’s $252 million salary, Texas attempted to rebuild a lost franchise that for three glorious seasons saw their investment produce All-Star and MVP caliber seasons and perhaps for a while at least dividends at the box office. However, there were the consecutive last place finishes to contend with. Soriano was a nice addition. For two seasons, he hit in the high .200s and averaged 30 home runs. Before the 2006 season, Texas tried addition by subtraction when they sent Soriano to the Washington Nationals for Brad Wilkerson, Termel Sledge and Armando Gallaraga. Later that offseason, they sent Sledge, Chris Young and Adrian Gonzalez to the San Diego Padres for Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka as well as afterthought Billy Killian. So how exactly did trading A-Rod work out for Texas? Since the trade, A-Rod has won two more MVPs while Soriano has gradually declined with the Chicago Cubs. And the others?

·Brad Wilkerson is regarded as one of the worst Rangers hitters in history which is saying quite a bit because Mario Mendoza of the infamous “Mendoza Line” was a Ranger. Wilkerson played for two seasons, averaged .228, hit for some power and reached the century mark in K’s during both seasons.
·Adam Eaton gave the Rangers 13 games and a plus five E.R.A
·Akinori Otsuka was a reliable reliever with 90 innings and a 2.30 average E.R.A
·Armando Gallaraga is mostly known for a Perfect Game lost on a blown Jim Joyce call while playing for the Detroit Tigers.

What about the PTBNL? It gets interesting here. One of the things the Yankees do better than any other team is over valuing a player and keeping their cards close to the chest. Think Ricky Ledee, Shane Spencer, Chad Curtis, Shelley Duncan, et al.! That off-season the Yankees were hot and heavy about Joaquin Arias and ranked him the number one prospect and of course the Rangers took the bait and selected him in the A-Rod trade. The trade gets even more laughable when you realize the number six rated prospect was perennial All-Star and MVP candidate Robinson Cano. So yeah, the Rangers kind of got fleeced in that trade and did nothing in subsequent trades involving the aforementioned players that would indicate two consecutive World Series appearances in 2010 and ’11. However, recent success can be traced to a trade involving the Braves that featured current Yankees first baseman Mark Texiera.

Boston, free from the curse of the Bambino, liked the taste of champagne so much that they won the Series again in 2007 and came within a win of returning in 2008. The Red Sox have recently fallen on hard times as age and a digression from a proven winning front office formula have halted any additional progress. As the 2013 season dawns, Boston has a new manager in John Farrell who was pitching coach for the 2007 championship. Second year general manager Ben Cherington is trying to shake Epstein’s aura and mold the team in his own image with new faces. Boston has a new outlook this spring. There is hope again in Beantown.

There is always hope in the Big Apple. After the 2004 ALCS choke job, The Yankees lost the Division Series four consecutive seasons. They missed the playoffs altogether in 2008 before winning it all in 2009. That was A-Rod’s first and only championship and was fueled more by the all-in nature of the Texiera and CC Sabathia free agency acquisitions than anything A-Rod contributed on the field.  Since then, the Yankees have become more accustomed to losing in October than winning and A-Rod’s long term $275 million contract is an albatross. His productivity is down and his well-chronicled front page antics are up. Rumors and suspicions of PED use escalate, tainting what is still a Hall of Fame career. Age and chronic hip injuries keep him from being the player they expected when he was awarded the monster contract.  His re-signing was a decision designed to keep him in pinstripes to break the all-time home run record. It is a decision that Yankees fans and front office brass alike rue as the 2013 season gets underway.

Kip Yates is father of thee and wonderful husband to Jamie, used to like Alex Rodriguez when he was a doe-eyed superstar on the rise that seemed to play for only the love of the game. Then he got greedy and year by year became a boob that Kip disparages any chance he can get.

Confessions of a Lifelong Football Fan by Joe Evans

(Editor’s note: When Mike and I started shooting around ideas for our Kickstarter for Fan Interference, we added in some items we thought no one would actually pay for—$2,500 for us to take a pledger to a Yankee game, $1,200 to fly to someone’s home town to take them to a game, $600 to take someone to CitiField for a Mets game and $150 for a bunch of pledge items and the chance to write an essay for the next issue of Zisk. We joked in one email exchange that paying to write for us was more like being put to work than it being a reward. So when we got to the final five days of our Kickstarter run we weren’t surprised no one had chosen it. Then Joe Evans did the $150 pledge—and it sent us over our goal of $3000. It was, to put it bluntly, shocking and awesome at the same time. So we’re proud to give these two pages over to Joe Evans. And thanks again Joe for getting us to our goal.—SR)

    I can only imagine my father’s reaction, him explaining to his young son that because of our family’s season tickets, we’d be able to go to every New York Giants game, surely a dream come true for most boys, only to have it met with an unenthusiastic “ok.”
I’m exaggerating—at first when you’re a child, you’re excited to do anything. Though being thirty pounds, non-athletic, non-competitive and generally introverted, sports didn’t pop on to my radar as much as did for my classmates. I also had an aversion to math along with attention deficit issues, which made the idea of following stats unappealing, as well as inducing a general sense of confusion as to what was going on at any given time. But my Dad was fond of the tradition, and so I soldiered on.
As I got older, I slowly began to appreciate football more—in the comfort of my own home. In recent years, going to a football game meant dealing with dozens upon dozens of drunk, rowdy jerks. My favorite aspect of the game as a child was seeing some of the more enthusiastic fans—some tailgating with full Thanksgiving-level feasts first thing in the morning, some donning costumes that are elaborate as they are nonsensical, such as my distinct memory of, who I presumed to be, a grown man calmly sitting in his seat with a Phil Simms jersey and Giants helmet forced on over a full body gorilla suit. But over time, that all seems to have been gone away in favor of profanities and fist fights. It had reached the point where even taking public transit in the vicinity was too much to handle. All of my feelings towards watching football in person could be summed up with one sentence overheard on a crowded game day train: “I was so drunk I didn’t even realize they barfed on me—and I got a free shirt!” I was positive that live sporting events weren’t for me—until I was introduced to minor league baseball.

    I’d been thinking about checking out a game for years, but never actually went through with it until going on a date last summer. The young lady I was courting and I decided to spend a day at Coney Island, wandering up and down the boardwalk before heading over to a Brooklyn Cyclones game. Unfortunately we’d misjudged the starting time just enough that we missed out on the chance to score free bobbleheads depicting mascot Sandy the seagull, but just knowing that they existed were already giving me high hopes.
While the ticket window cashier had said “this is the best I can do for you,” we walked up the stairs and over to our seats to find that we had fairly close seats, with a perfect view of the field, not to mention the ocean, boardwalk and other iconic rides like the Cyclone and Wonderwheel. I’d also noticed on the way up that we were in “MCU Park,” sponsored by the local credit union, which was a welcome change from the typical huge corporate sponsors I was used to from football, like the current MetLife Stadium. I was also a little surprised because looking around the rest of the stands, there was actually space—you could actually stretch out a little bit, instead of having people practically on top of each other. It obviously wasn’t full, but there were plenty of locals, many of whom were families with children.
It quickly became apparent that families are the target audience in minor league baseball, or at least at Cyclones games. In between innings we constantly found ourselves presented with singing, dancing, racing (ranging from dizzy-bat to moped to anthropomorphized hot dogs), and at one point quesadilla’s wrapped in t-shirts being launched into the stands (which while we hoped for, we sadly weren’t able to catch). In return, people actually laughed, smiled, and cheered, contrasting the screaming and cursing I was used to from football. Though, it had also helped that the Cyclones were winning—with my own attitude changing from “I guess we’ll see what happens,” to “our team is winning!”
Even after the game finished up, my date and I decided to stick around for the post-game fireworks show, which was to take place after more audience lotteries and raffles. Since it was starting to get a little late we weren’t sure if we wanted to stay, when suddenly a lone firework went up. “Is that it?” we asked each other, before suddenly being treated to one of the biggest and most glorious fireworks shows we’d ever seen, seemingly only a few mere feet away to boot. Everything seemed brighter in front of the now illuminated carnival rides, the noise amplified by the field setting, and we practically felt the leftover ash falling down upon us. I was in awe.
Though we walked with the intention of just casually getting to know each other better, but we left as Cyclones fanatics, and now my girlfriend and I eagerly await our annual Cyclones games.

Joe Evans is a writer and musician from New Jersey.

The Zisk Book Review Corner

The Jackie Robinson Reader:
Perspectives on an American Hero

Edited By Jules Tygiel
Review by Mark Hughson

Most of my baseball book collection focuses on the unsung hero. The no-counts, the underdogs, and players that make the Hall of Very Good, rather than the museum in Cooperstown beckon me from the shelf.  Partially this is because of my typical venue for acquiring books (garage sales), and part is due to my affinity for the unknown. I’d much rather read about Rocky Colavito and Whitey Herzog than oft-told tales of Babe Ruth and Pete Rose.
The Jackie Robinson Reader, a collection of writing on the title hero, proved to be an exception to the rule, and a good one at that. First of all, the format was perfect—Jackie Robinson’s rise to stardom was controversial, bearing a significance that went beyond the baseball diamond, and everyone had something to say about it—so why not give them all a voice and collect everything in a single, handy volume? Furthermore, my desire for obscure baseball personalities was sated as well, since there are chapters from Brooklyn Dodgers radio announcer Red Barber and talent scout Clyde Sukeforth.
Tygiel does a good job presenting Robinson from all angles: student athlete, army lieutenant, husband, ballplayer, father, businessman, and political activist.  Robinson’s impressive college career (leading UCLA to a football championship) and turbulent military stint (his desire for racial equality almost got him dishonorably discharged for insubordination) just whet your appetite for what you know is to come. 
While his historical rookie year is covered at length, the lead up is what makes it an exciting biography. His year with Brooklyn’s farm team, the Montreal Royals, is perhaps the most intense of all, with cops barricading stadiums in the south, and ballplayers everywhere harassing him at every at bat. It’s crazy to think Robinson survived, let alone led the team to a Little World Series win. Branch Rickey’s grand schemes, secret plans, and all around insane genius as a baseball businessman is always a ride as well.
While most of the attention is rightfully focused on Robinson’s actions—or inactions in many cases—it’s interesting to follow the reactions as well.  Teammate Pee Wee Reese was a supportive, stand up guy from the get-go, while Phillies manager Ben Chapman was a racist scumbag in ’47 and continued to be so for several decades.
Overall this book is a thorough look, pulling in a variety of authors, scenesters, and magazine articles, as well as writings from Robinson’s family and the man himself. A report from the undoubtedly segregationist Major League Steering Committee is reprinted, as are open letters/tongue lashings from Malcolm X. This book was published in 1998, so there probably has been and will be more to write about Jackie Robinson as time goes by, but if you want a well-rounded primer, look no further.

Mark Hughson is lives in Syracuse, NY and roots for the Oakland A’s.  He will probably watch the new Jackie Robinson movie, but will be thinking about old baseball books the whole time.

God, Forgive These Bastards—Stories From the Forgotten Life of Georgia Tech Pitcher Henry Turner
By Rob Morton
Cantankerous Titles
Review By Mike Faloon

I really enjoy wondering whether or not something is a put on—having to figure out what’s real and what’s not. When it’s done well. For every Andy Kaufman, there’s a dozen Joaquin Phoenixes. 

We don’t get many experiences like this in the world of sports; it’s not a place that welcomes ambiguity.  Sports traffics in binary code—you win or you lose, you’re a hero or you’re a bum. There’s seldom need to puzzle anything out. God, Forgive These Bastards, however, is mostly grey area. It isn’t quite on par with Andy Kaufman’s more ridiculous stunts, but it is full of compelling stories—often funny—told by a well-rendered character. Whether or not the events described actually took place is beside the point.

The book opens with author Rob Morton waiting for the bus in Portland, Oregon. He’s accosted by a homeless man, Henry Turner. The two later become friends. According to Turner he grew up in Georgia, split for Ohio, then drifted to Portland. Along the way he blazed a trail that is equal parts comical, criminal, and unconscionable. And he always had my ear. The balance of God, Forgive These Bastards is a “best of” Henry’s stories as retold by Moron. It starts with the alcohol-soaked Turner family history, then goes onto Henry’s short-lived college baseball career (pitching a two-hitter on speed), and later stealing a ’68 Firebird and cracking wise on Paul McCartney’s Wings. Think Kenny Powers of Eastbound and Down or Talladega Nights and you’ll have a sense of the tone. But at the same time when chapter four takes an In Cold Blood turn it’s not altogether surprising.  There was something festering beneath the surface with Henry all along. 

The stories just get more specific from there—moving in with a crystal meth making roommate who’s in cahoots with the mayor, landing in the psych ward. At the same time there are shifts in Henry’s voice, his phrasing becomes more poetic as the book goes on. I began to wonder how much was true, how much was invention. Then I kept reading and cared less about the fiction/non-fiction divide, though not completely. I did indulge in some cursory fact checking, but that was only after finishing God, Forgive These Bastards and letting the stories resonate for a day or so. It turns out that Henry Gray Turner, Henry’s alleged great grandfather, did fight in the Civil War and Jim Luck really did coach the Georgia Tech baseball team in 1979. But if Rob Morton’s primary purpose was pulling a hoax he’d have double checked the name of Georgia Tech’s teams. (He uses Wildcats. They’re the Yellow Jackets.) He’s come up with a clever device to frame his stories and not only did I enjoy them as they unfolded, I’ve since relished coming up with my own theories as to which bits are pure invention, which are accurate retellings, and which are composites. 

(Note: The book also comes with a concept album performed by Morton’s band, the Taxpayers.)

Mike Faloon is co-editor of Zisk and the recently-published anthology Fan Inference: A Collection of Baseball Rants and Reflections. He contributes to Razorcake and Roctober and writes the on-line music column “Are You Receiving Me?” ( He lives with his family in Patterson, NY.

Fraternizing With the Enemy by Nancy Golden

I’m sitting along the third base line watching the opposing team register the final out to eliminate my team from the playoffs and send them into the off-season with permanence and finality. The hometown crowd, long ago disgusted with the game, rises from their seats to exit the stadium for the last time this year, not wishing to bear witness to any more of this story. Except for me. I turn to my right, to the person next to me. He’s smiling and cheering with excitement, not only for the play, but for the outcome of the series. I should flee from this individual so callously mocking my team’s failure, but instead, I stand up and embrace him in celebration. And together we linger in the stands to watch the visiting team celebrate their victory on the infield of my ballpark.

Where am I?  How did I get here?  And most important, how do I wake up from this bad dream?

Wait, I think I can piece it together. It was several hours ago that we were walking down River Avenue to Yankee Stadium. I looked over at my companion disapprovingly.  “If you’re going come all the way here, you’re going to have to go all in.” Dan, a Detroit fan, was still covering up his hometown allegiance with an unaffiliated grey sweatshirt.  It was Game 5 of the 2011 American League Division Series, the night where one team goes home happy and the other team just goes home. Our teams were playing each other, and a mere four-hour car ride seemed liked a small effort to watch this play out in person.  Things had been jovial enough on the ride up from DC—even when I remembered that I left the tickets on the desk in my office and we had to go back —but now it was time to get serious.

We were on my home turf and due to my long ingrained (and highly justified) paranoia regarding NYC rush hour traffic, we arrived in the Bronx before the Stadium even opened.  So after our walk took us by the site of the old Yankee Stadium where I delivered a gratis rendition of my exclusive tour (“See that big grassy field?”), I ushered us to Stan’s. A place where fans can go drink cheap beer before submitting to stadium prices, Stan’s is that classic neighborhood bar that accompanies every ballpark. But—and that’s when it first hit me—the neighborhood bar is not a place for just any fans.  It was a place for fans of the home team. Stan’s Sports Bar was covered in wall-to-wall Yankee memorabilia and packed to capacity with ticket holders displaying their pinstripe pride in every shirt and hat combo imaginable. And then there was me. I was the loser that had brought a Detroit fan, now prominently displaying his own Tiger pride as a result of my insistence. Though it might have been obvious to others long ago, it was my first inkling that I had just personally escorted a foreign invader behind enemy lines.

Somehow this kind of thing had always seemed all-in-good-fun in the past, but from the other side. When the Yankees met the Phillies in the 2009 World Series, I didn’t even have tickets, but met a friend up in Philadelphia to go down to the park—and, hmmm, the neighborhood bar—just to heckle. We even showed off our Yankee gear for the local news, shameless in our motives. I had always kind of suspected that this sort of behavior made me a jerk, but I repeatedly fled unscathed and thus bolstered for the next event.

But now the shoe was on the other foot. Inside Stan’s we shoved our way through the mass of bodies to find the only other Detroit fans, a.k.a. the people we had the most in common with.  Was this really how the night was supposed to be going for me?  Thankfully it was just about time for the stadium to open. Sure, there would likely be an even greater ratio of hometown to visitor fans there, but not on a square foot basis.

Inside the park, we spent our time before first pitch on self-guided tours of Monument Park and the Yankee Museum before heading to the stands to catch batting practice.  All along the way we made several “friends,” as our open rivalry made us an odd couple and people took notice.  I was most touched by the significant number of New Yorkers who took a real interest in my welfare and tried to show me the path towards a better tomorrow. Their homegrown accents still play clearly in my head:

“Honey, you can do better than dat guy!”

They were right, I could do better. Aside from Dan’s obviously misguided baseball loyalties, I do tend to gravitate to unmarried men as love interests. But I played along anyway.

“You really think so?” I’d ask, as I took one step away from Dan and invoked a tone of hopefulness.  “Are you available?”

Most of the interactions were humorous and well-meaning, especially with me, a loyalist, there as escort and protector. We were even gifted a ball caught by a kind-hearted Yankee fan we befriended during batting practice, who had admitted to us earlier that he had a closet full of them at home. And despite my attempts to turn the Detroiter into a New Yorker by insisting we patronize the knish vendor, his mere existence still generated the occasional and not completely unexpected invitation to go fuck himself. Though thankfully no one ever slowed their pace long enough to see that he make the attempt.

And then it was game time and reality set in. Not only would one team go home happy and the other in tears, but the same could be said for us. (OK, metaphorical tears for the boys, and the very distinct possibility of real ones for me.) Up until now we could root for each other’s teams and even for this exact scenario to take place, providing the opportunity skip out on work for this much more important event. In fact, we’d been waiting for this moment since 2006, when the Yankees failed to send the series back to New York for a Game 5 after the Tigers stunned, well, me, by taking Games 2 through 4 for the series win. But now it was time to take sides, and in a very lopsided arena at that. And as such, Dan had tried to garner agreements in advance to counter his looming isolation:

“You know how when you go to a game with your friends and your team does something good like hits a home run, you celebrate and high-five each other?  I think we should agree to do that when each other’s team does something good.”

It was a nice try, but I failed to see the advantage for myself. “Or I could not celebrate your team’s runs and high-five the ones for my team with any one of the Yankee fans surrounding us.”

Come to think of it, with such an obvious advantage on my side, I don’t recall coming to any actual agreements. I may have conceded my willingness to low-five, under the condition that no attention was drawn to it, thinking that was pretty charitable.

When the time came, Dan openly celebrated his team’s accomplishments all on his own, like any loyal fan should do in such a scenario. Occasionally he’d try to catch the eye of the next closest Detroit fans, all the way in the next section over, a generally fruitless endeavor. And no one gave him a hard time, perhaps knowing that we’d all do the same if marooned on a distant planet, surrounded by aliens, alone in cheering on the good guys.

But while the smattering of visiting fans tried to make their voices heard, the home team gave little to root for.  The visitors went up 2-0 in the first inning thanks to solo homers from Delmon Young and Don Kelly.  Don Kelly!  My favorite underdog Tiger utility player and the only active player to have manned every position on the field in the major leagues, including pitcher.  Why now, DK, why now?  And that was that. The Yankees never took the lead and very rarely threatened.  The crowd was silenced early and failed to find its voice the rest of the game.  The first relief appearance ever by CC Sabathia in the fifth inning and a bases loaded rally in the seventh gave us brief surges of hope. But even though victory was always within reach—the Tigers only scored three runs all game—there was a palpable loss of faith in our batters, having scored half of their runs that day by failing to swing their bats (i.e. bases loaded walk).

And before I knew it, there I was, back in that moment celebrating my own team’s elimination from the playoffs by hugging the guy next to me in congratulations. It was a moment I had dreaded being on this end of. And yet surprisingly it didn’t feel as bad as I’d imagined. That other guy, that enemy I allowed to infiltrate, he was just so….happy.  I guess I had been so focused on the fact that one of us would definitely lose, that I failed to appreciate that one of us would definitely win. Buried within the largest concentration of sad people to ever exit that particular stadium (at 50,960 it was a new record) I was there with the most blissful guy in the Bronx. Take away my pinstripes if you must, but that wasn’t a bad consolation prize. Now we just had to get the hell out of dodge in one piece. Maybe it was time again for that generic grey sweatshirt?

The ball we were gifted during batting practice sits on top of Dan’s mantle, his reward for winning the game, and the series. Perhaps it would have served as a better consolation prize so the loser would not come out empty handed, but then again nobody wants to look at a trophy of one’s loss upon the mantle. Would I do it again? Take that bad date into my mecca of love and solidarity, or walk around the visitor’s stadium as someone else’s embarrassment? Absolutely.  I can go root for my team with 50,000 other fans any time I want. But to fraternize with the enemy in a winner-takes-all scenario?  That opportunity only comes along, well, hopefully before another five years pass. I’d like to find out how it feels to be on the winning side.

Nancy Golden really really enjoys the art of trash talking but admits that in the end she doesn’t actually want her friends’ teams to lose.  She acknowledges that as someone who roots for the Yankees, those feelings are generally unreciprocated, and that’s OK.

Santana’s Greatest Hits by Steve Reynolds

1) “Evil Ways”
Johan Santana had an evil curse placed upon him the moment he arrived in New York. Sure, he could have had the same run of multiple injuries playing for his first team, the Minnesota Twins, between 2008 and 2013. Pitchers break down all the time, that’s one of the truths of baseball. Yet I can’t shake this feeling that when Santana stepped off the plane at LaGuardia over five years ago one of the luggage handlers was a Twins fan with a master’s degree in voodoo.

2) “Jingo”
The Oxford definition says “a vociferous supporter of policy favoring war, especially in the name of patriotism.” That seems to sum up every single caller to WFAN here in New York that wants to talk about the Mets. The amount of vitriol spewed by callers over the years in support of or against Santana during his run with the Mets could power Manhattan (with the help of bullshit-laden hot-air-to-energy convertor).

3) “Hope You’re Feeling Better”
The week that this Zisk issue went to print Santana had his second surgery for a torn anterior capsule in his shoulder. Only a handful of pitchers have attempted to come back one time from this surgery, let alone two. It took Santana 19 months to resume his career after the first surgery. What are the chances that a 34-year-old athlete—even one of his caliber—can do that successfully and resume his career a year-and-a-half later as a 35-year-old pitcher? It’s gotta be slim, right? Yet I hope Santana does feel better and makes it back because even after that marvelous no-hitter on June 1 of last season, Santana pitched some really great games. He threw six shutout innings against Baltimore on June 19 and a masterful eight shutout innings against the Dodgers on June 30.

4) “Samba Pa Ti”
Oh my, I really did feel like sambaing in my living room on June 1, 2012. For that I will be eternally grateful. Speaking of being grateful, why don’t Mets fans at CitiField give Mike Baxter more props when he comes to bat? My friend Jason Fry at Faith and Fear in Flushing says that “we’ve failed as a fanbase” if Baxter—a Queens native, fer chrissakes—ever pays for a drink again in the five boroughs. And I strongly agree.

5) “Persuasion”
I didn’t cover the Santana trade on the Zisk website back in 2008 because I was going through some health issues. But I definitely needed to be persuaded that it was the right deal. I laugh now when I think back to a time where I thought Carlos Gomez was an essential player for the future. Ha!

6) “Black Magic Woman”
This is the woman that put the curse on Santana. I’m sure of it. She had some very evil ways, no doubt.

7) “Oye Como Va”
The opening line of this Tito Puente cover is loosely translated as “listen to how my rhythm goes.” (Yes, I had to look it up. I didn’t fail two years of Spanish for nothing, you know.) When Santana was in a groove, his rhythm was as good as this song.

8) “Everything’s Coming Our Way”
Hmm. I don’t think I’ve felt that way during Santana’s run. However, it is my favorite track on this album.

9) “Se a Cabo”
The correct Spanish spelling is actually “se acab√≥,” which it most certainly is for Santana in New York. Well, he could return to the Big Apple if the Yankees continue their washed-up veterans strategy. I’ll root for that.

10) “Everybody’s Everything”
Alas, in baseball one man cannot carry a whole team to the promised land of a World Series win. (Well, maybe Kirby Puckett did.) As much as Santana was hailed as the cure to wipe away the memories of the 2007 collapse, that was an impossible mission. But what he did do here? I’m glad I was able to witness all of it.