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throw me out to the ballgame

I have no idea what I can say at this point that adds anything to what I’ve said before. I went to my first Giants Opening Day in 1980, and I haven’t missed an opener since. Today will be my 37th consecutive such game. At times, I kinda wish I’d missed a game in there, just so I could just enjoy the game for what it is, and not for the record I am continuing.

Oh, who am I kidding? It’s fun running up such a silly streak.

As I have often done, here are a few of the highlights of the past 36 years.

April 17, 1980. My first opening day. I had a broken foot. The Giants beat the Padres, Vida Blue pitched a complete game.

April 5, 1983. Still probably the most exciting opener I’ve seen. Mike Krukow couldn’t get out of the second inning, the Padres put up 8 runs in the fifth, and when the Giants responded with 3 runs in the bottom of the inning, the Padres got them right back in the top of the 6th to take a 16-6 lead. Yet by the bottom of the 8th, the Giants had the tying run at the plate, Tom O’Malley. That’s when the dream ended, as O’Malley flied out and the Giants were retired in order in the ninth for a 16-13 loss.

April 6, 1987. Chili Davis singled off of Dave Dravecky, scoring Jeffrey Leonard to give the Giants a 12-inning walk-off victory over, yes, the Padres.

April 12, 1993. Barry Bonds’ first home opener as a Giant. Of course he hit a homer. Darren Lewis knocked a walk-off single in the 11th to beat ... the Marlins. The Grateful Dead sang the anthem.

April 7, 1998. Rey Sanchez had a walk-off pinch-hit single in the bottom of the 10th to beat the Astros.

April 8, 1999. The last opener at Candlestick. The Giants rolled over the Padres, 12-4. Barry homered.

April 11, 2000. The first game at the new ballpark. In his first at-bat at China Basin, Barry smacked a run-scoring double. His next time up, he homered. But the story of the game was Dodgers shortstop Kevin Elster, who hadn’t played a single game at any level in 1999. He hit three homers and the Dodgers won.

April 5, 2002. Fourth game of the season. Barry hit his fifth homer of the season, this one a 2-run shot in the bottom of the 10th to send us home.

April 9, 2010. We didn’t know it yet, but this was the year the Giants finally won the World Series. In the opener, Aaron Rowand singled in the bottom of the 13th to win it.

April 8, 2011. The first-ever World Series championship banner raising in San Francisco history. Aaron Rowand singled in the bottom of the 12th to win it.

April 13, 2012. In the top of the 6th, Pirates’ pitcher James McDonald rolled a squeaker past third base into left field off of Matt Cain. He was Pittsburgh’s only base runner. Cain struck out 11.

the man who came to dinner

The formatting is ugly, I know, but it was easy to do. In high school (1968 or 1969), we offered up the late-30s play The Man Who Came to Dinner. I found an old script lying around, and saw that we had replaced outdated names with more current ones. What follows is a list of the changes. First comes the change, then the original ... thus, we replaced “H.G. Wells” with “Lord Snowden”. The idea is that the audience of the time would recognize the replacements more than the originals, although I don’t know that Lord Snowden was better known to us than Wells. I’ve highlighted a few I find especially interesting. It’s also interesting that if a high school put on this play now, nearly 50 years after we did it, they’d have to replace the same things, and it’s likely not a single one of our changes would make sense.

  • Lord Snowden for H.G. Wells
  • Earl Warren for Felix Frankfurter
  • Melvin Belli for Samuel J. Liebowitz
  • Rosemary’s Baby for The Hound of the Baskervilles
  • CBS for Columbia Broadcasting
  • Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Truman Capote, Dr. DuBakley (?), and The Beatles on Telestar for Katherine Cornell, Schiaparelli, the Lunts, Dr. Alexis Carrel, and Haile Selassie on short wave.
  • Ravi Shankar for Mahatma Ghandi
  • Pablo Casals for Arturo Toscanini
  • Stevens, Tibaldi, Merrill, and Tucker for Tibbett, Rethberg, Martinelli, and Flagstad.
  • Julie Harris for Ethel Barrymore
  • Desi Arnaz for Goldwyn
  • Sheila Graham for Louella Parsons
  • Kim Novak for Ginger Rogers
  • Arthur Godfrey for Oscar Wilde
  • Bishop Pike for Elsie Dinsmore
  • Sophia Loren for Lillian Russell
  • Shah of Iran for Khedive of Egypt
  • Jacques Cousteau for William Beebe
  • John Steinbeck, Ed Sullivan, Walter Cronkite, Lena Horne, and Werner von Braun for William Lyon Phelps, Billy Rose, Ethel Waters, and Somerset Maugham (I don’t get this one)
  • John Glenn for Admiral Richard E. Byrd
  • Walter Reuther for John L. Lewis
  • Jim Backus for Walt Disney
  • Charles de Gaulle for Anthony Eden
  • Twiggy for Beatrice Lillie
  • Barbara Stanwick, Fred Astaire, and Gypsy Rose Lee for Norma Shearer, Claudette Colbert, and Aldous Huxley
  • The H.P.L. for The Queen Mary
  • Lee Radziwill for Lady Astor
  • Plaza for Sherry Netherlands
  • Raquel Welch for Hedy Lamarr
  • Miss Geritol for Miss Vitriol

by request: eye in the sky (gavin hood, 2015)

We had a cancelled engagement to watch a movie, so my wife said we should just go the theater ourselves. She wanted to see Eye in the Sky, so off we went.

The old-timers whose names you recognize (Helen Mirren and Alan Rickman) were very good, as was the acting in general. Hood does well at ratcheting up the suspense, even though for most of the movie, nothing happens, or rather, we wait to see if something will happen. The plot revolves around a decision to send a drone strike into a neighborhood, and there are some enlightening moments, as British intelligence and military, working in two separate places in England, coordinate the action with American “pilots” manning the drone software out of Las Vegas. If you ever wondered what it might feel like to launch destruction from halfway around the world, only seeing your targets on a monitor, this movie will show you.

The military adds what amounts to comic relief, although the point is hardly funny: how much collateral damage is acceptable? While Mirren, a Colonel in charge of the operation, and Rickman, as a General talking politicians through the paces necessary to approve the strike, are willing both to accept responsibility and to attempt to derive “reasoned” solutions, the politicians keep “referring up”, refusing to make a decision until their higher-up has approved. Meanwhile, the U.S. Secretary of State impatiently gives his approval and goes back to playing ping pong in Beijing. (That is pretty much the only time the film seems to take a stand ... Americans are always ready to blast away, Brits can’t get off the pot ... literally in the case of the British Foreign Secretary, suffering from food poisoning in Singapore.) In his own way, Hood won’t get off the pot, either. Eye in the Sky is designed to work as a thriller, but it is resolutely apolitical about what is going on.

Does it work on its own level? Yes, although it depends too much on obvious attempts to tug at our hearts. When the notion of collateral damage seems too abstract, a darling little girl with a hula hoop is inserted into the picture. From the beginning, it is clear that the girl and her family are only in the movie to provide emotional appeals to the audience. The mission’s analysis devolves to “is this little girl more important that the dozens of people terrorists will kill if we don’t blow them all up first?” As one person says, “If they kill 80 people, we win the propaganda war. If we kill one child, they do.” It’s as if the Normandy invasion hinged on whether or not the Allies can move a little doggie out of harm’s way before they attack.

In the abstract, the technology in the film is fascinating. The title is quite accurate ... everything on the ground can be seen, in detail, from far up in the sky, and when a closer look is necessary, a few ingenious (and apparently almost ready for real-life prime time) miniatures step into play.

Sometimes a movie tries to do more than it achieves, and you give it credit for the effort. But I don’t think Hood is trying to say anything big here. If there were a political point to be made, the little girl would be relatively unimportant. But because Hood wants to grab the audience, the girl becomes central. It adds to the suspense, if you like that kind of emotional manipulation. But it limits the scope of the movie as a whole. I am not a fan of that kind of manipulation, but I’ll try to be semi-objective and say 7/10.

don't count your chickens

The Warriors hadn’t won the NBA championship for decades. It had been a long time since they’d even won their division. So when they finished the regular season atop the Pacific Division, fans across the nation were surprised, including the partisans of Golden State. They then rolled through the playoffs and won the championship. That team seemed to come out of nowhere, but led by a superstar, with an underrated supporting cast, they won it all.

Led again by their superstar, they dominated the next year’s regular season, finishing with the best record in the NBA. In fact, they set a franchise record for most wins in a season. This time, no one was surprised.

And then, in the Western Conference finals, they were defeated. No repeat championship.

I’m talking, of course, about the mid-70s Warriors, led by Rick Barry.

music friday: jeff pike's index

“Music Friday” is a misnomer here. Jeff Pike’s new book, Index: Essays, Fragments, and Liberal Arts Homework covers a lot more ground than just music. I didn’t do a statistical analysis, but I think music might have only been the third-most common topic, after movies and books. But it’s Friday, so I’m writing about it here.

I’ve been a longtime reader of Jeff’s blog, which can be addictive even when it riles me up (today he wrote about Dancer in the Dark, a movie I hate to be reminded of). The breadth of things he writes about is impressive ... the book’s subtitle is quite accurate (well, “liberal arts” is on target ... it never feels like homework). I thought the book would largely be an anthology of his blog posts, and there is some of that. But, to give one example, arguably my favorite piece in the entire book pre-dates the blog, so there is a lot of fresh-to-me material.

Index is also an accurate title, for the book is structured in A-to-Z fashion, from A.I. Artificial Intelligence to Neil Young’s Weld. I’m fudging things a bit here, because the truth is, the book literally goes from A to Z ... each letter gets its own short essay to introduce the “chapters”. Jeff had been writing these “letter” posts on his blog for awhile now, and I admit I was puzzled by them. But they make sense here, and in fact he does some of his best writing when digging deep into this or that letter.

As a longtime blogger myself, I couldn’t help comparing this book to something I might put together. What I noticed was how good the longer form pieces are (I tend to write long form only when it’s to be published elsewhere).

And I don’t know why I didn’t think of this in advance, but Index is an ideal bathroom book. The structure invites you to jump around, and the length of the essays are just about right for that environment. So Jeff, you’ll be glad to know you’re in there with Kael and Christgau and Marcus and David Thomson and, yes, Dellio.

Of course, I wanted to read about my favorite topics first. He is quite fair with Bruce Springsteen, writing about “Independence Day” and “Downbound Train”. I liked reading about The Replacements/Hüsker Dü from somewhere who was there (meaning Minneapolis ... I was “there” for Hüsker Dü in that I loved them and saw them several times in concert, but Jeff was “there-there”.) But perhaps my favorite essay had nothing to do with music, movies, books, television, or any other thing that might be called “liberal arts homework”. I’m referring to the long piece, “Strat-O-Matic Baseball, 1985-1993”, which as I noted above pre-dates the blog (although a related post, about the great Robert Coover novel The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop., includes a brief mention of Strat). He captures perfectly the feel of being obsessed with that game ... rather, those kind of games ... I have played many over the years, going back to 1961, but I only had a short affair with Strat-O-Matic. I love reading about this ... for a long time, I found my attraction to the games something I should approach in a clandestine fashion, a feeling that was multiplied after reading Coover’s novel, which is frightening in its psychological accuracy. In the 1980s, the world discovered “fantasy” sports, and nowadays it is not unusual to participate in such games. (I played “rotisserie” baseball from 1987 until the present day, although it looks like 2016 will be the first year I don’t have any teams in almost 30 years.)

It’s easy for me to recommend Jeff’s blog. But I can now recommend Index with equal fervor.