Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Remembering Tony Gwynn


"What you HOPED Tony Gwynn was like, he was like..." - K. Olbermann.

I met him a couple of times as a kid...when I was 13 or 14 hanging over the right field rail down the first base line at Jack Murphy Stadium during batting practice...that sorta thing. There was something exciting about him joining the team that I'd followed religiously since I was 5 because Jerry Coleman said it was exciting, and I remember just how bad I wanted to meet him, wanted to shake his hand as the greatest Padre I would ever know (despite having met Dave Winfield, Rollie Fingers, Ozzie Smith, Randy Jones and dozens of others as Padres prior), and this was during his 1st and 2nd seasons...before "greatness" was regularly in the conversation about him. He was just getting started, but us kids, we saw something along the lines of great things yet to come with barely 2 years in the minors and a swing our coaches all talked about but couldn't teach us.

Years later, as (bad) luck would have it, he was in his custom golf cart at SDSU on 9/11 (yes THE 9/11) as I exited the photo station in Aztec Center after taking my staff ID that day. He was apparently there for the same reason. My adjunct faculty paycheck paled in comparison to his multi-million dollar coaching contract, but we needed the same thing, and I was actually the last photo before they cut them off for a state-mandated university shut-down. I didn't see him complain, nor did he tip his cap to me or anything as dramatic or poetic as that. I'm sure he didn't even see me. I just watched him steer his cart around and pull away as I said to myself, "That's Tony f**king Gwynn!". On 9/11 at 31 years old while the world was blowing up, and I was getting my picture taken to prove I could teach literature at a university level, Tony Gwynn made me think of baseball, of hitting a baseball and watching it land on green grass in open space, of how often he had done it, of how thoroughly he had mastered it. I was starstruck...I was practically 5 again. You were THAT good #19.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Bo Knew...





Some perspective on Yasiel Puig and his amazing first week, and the player whose best known for the potential we'll never know (and an attempt to reactivate this blog that I've neglected). 

There's no doubting Yasiel Puig's talent, and only the league can determine the adjustment after his 4-HRs off of 4 different pitchers first-week performance. This unto itself is unbelievable, but the comparison to Bo Jackson gave me pause, especially with regard to speed. A radio pundit actually made this hyperbolic comparison: Arm strength=Clemente, Bat Speed/Power=Mantle, Base running=Rickey Henderson and Phenom Status=Bo Jackson. Despite his description of baseball's "Second Coming" it was the Jackson thing that didn't sit right because there was something out of all of these skill sets that Bo could've laid claim to.

Knowing full-well that all of the characters are Hall of Fame'rs I thought about Bo, and his greatness unfulfilled. Maybe it's that the human body isn't supposed to perform at that level over any extended period of time? Maybe we saw the peak of our physical potential in Jackson's short career? Or maybe...well, that's what "maybe's" for...to leave room for conjecture.

Yasiel Puig's emergence undoubtedly invites these kind of comparisons. Coming from Cuba, he brings a mystique in the sense that he hasn't been through any US farm system and held up to the scrutiny of the Sabermetrics madness of Major League Baseball. His story is one of scouts demanding higher-ups to "take a look at this kid" after their circumvention of the blockade. It was a whisper campaign and the antithesis of Money Ball's high science. Or so it may seem... The A's, after all, signed Yoenis Cespedes, also from Cuba, which can only mean there are some scouts with the ability to travel freely throughout Latin America without the burden of US politics and track OBP's and strike out-to-walk ratios without impunity. I don't doubt that, but I digress...

Yasiel Puig's arrival in LA from relative obscurity is nothing short of unbelievable. He signed hardly a year ago, hits .450+ with a .950+ slugging percentage in his first seven days as a major leaguer. If he retired RIGHT NOW those are amazing numbers even with the small sample size. If they had compared him to Babe Ruth or even Roy "The Natural" Hobbs I wouldn't have blinked. But they didn't. They went and compared him to Bo...

Bo Jackson to us as youth in the late 80's / early 90's was nothing short of a super hero. "Neon" Deion Sanders may have been a two-sport athlete, but he was never a two-sport star that inspired an ad campaign that in turn inspired hip hop lyrics: "Bo knows this, and Bo knows that? But Bo don't know jack cuz Bo can't rap." This mention alone trumps Deion's "Must Be the Money," and then there's this:

And he was pretty good at baseball too...

I will say I wish Yasiel Puig all the success he can handle (even if he is a Dodger). He's an amazing talent, but against Bo...I did some digging. After a week in baseball there's not a lot to measure in terms of a comparison. I decided the only thing worth talking about 7 days into a career was speed. Speed, as they say, never slumps. Both Puig and Jackson are right-handed batters. That makes the home-to-first time a pretty good 0-60mph assessment. I learned that the league average these days is about 4.4 seconds, and as average implies you have to figure the 5+ guys against some 4.0 speedsters to even get to a 4.4 average, and Puig has been compared to Bo Jackson as one of the "curve wreckers". I went to an mlb.com blog that tracks these things, and found that with Puig's best jump out of the box he hit 4.2 seconds to first. That's a good time. It's two-tenths of a second below the league average which I think puts him in the 80th percentile speed-wise in the league. If it were football he'd have run 5.6 40 yard dash. So it's not that the league is slow; it's that Bo Jackson was fast--faster than any league by any standard.

In his prime Bo Jackson clocked in at 3.2 seconds from home to first, more than a full second above the current major league average, and a time that given 10 more yards, he could've beaten Puig's 4.2... I mean, if the bases were 40 yards apart. Bo ran a 4.13 at the NFL Combine. T hat's ridiculous.  So none of this is meant to diminish the accomplishments of Yasiel Puig. I've been just as astounded as anyone else this past week. I think I just wanted to remember Bo. Maybe my heroes needed some run tonight, and damn could Bo Jackson run.


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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Sestina for Trayvon

i.

i see them, passing boys with foggy eyes

kicked into the nevermind and squared off against its charge

against unknowable breeze his skin sings by degrees

sings a circle, then a square, the shape of things

like the description of this scene the rain reveals

comes shrieking through the clouds. it comes like murder.

ii.

enraged, i’ve come to know the viscous touch of murder.

on all sides there is blood enough to drown my eyes

to soak the concrete forming apparitions yet revealed,

naming the lives with which i’m charged.

wish him be gone a little longer, and his death a far more distant thing.

even the president has the luxury of “if” and says he suffers to his own degree.

iii.

i pray my sons never cast there fates into the hands of law degrees,

and in the mourning of their likeness feel my own hands twitching as for murder

imagining an all-white jury numb to us as things

looking the family in their eyes

and clearing a condemned man of all charges

telling me my hatred always conceals more than it reveals.

iv.

as if my disbelief in justice was revealing,

having been brown awhile, i don’t need a graduate degree

to understand four decades of a plot that ends in murder.

all around me i have watched the public particles charged,

an isotope, a wild card that defies my eyes,

and being the honorary witness is no glorious thing

v.

one day i will say, “mi’jo, you reach for the sky, but it’s falling is the thing.”

and in that same conversation he will reveal

how much it’s always bothered him the way the family covets his light eyes,

how he hates it when he tells people he’s latino, and he gets the third degree.

one day he will wave a history book at me and say, “it’s filled with murder!”

i will be old and wise by then and tell him, “well, now change is in your charge.”

vi.

funerals must happen, and somebody always gets charged.

some family comes just to collect the young man’s things.

the fire rose, and the father’s boy fell, but there’s no end to murder.

it’s in the unrelenting terror over time that’s constantly revealed

the way the painful rides up on you in degrees

the way i see him when i close my eyes

vii.

“a thorough examination of the facts in this case has revealed

that the defendant is guilty as charged of the crime of murder in the second degree.”

it will be all that i can do, turn silently to hold the boy with papi’s eyes.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Object of the Game: Part Two


In 1954 led by manager Lefty O'Doul the Padres finished first in the Pacific Coast League for the first time since 1937. By 1956 the Padres were playing Open Division ball, one step above AAA and one step away from joining Major League Baseball as a third league. Only the PCL ever received that designation as major league owners contemplated the untapped West Coast market. Pat and Grandma Pearl had settled in by then in a house on South 33rd St. between Imperial Ave. and Ocean View Blvd (at that time Filipino territory). My grandfather planted fruit trees and two large cypress at the front gate. He built a chicken coop and a vegetable garden. He erected a flag pole where he ran up the stars and stripes each morning and took it down at sunset.

My Grandparent's house on S. 33rd as it appears on Google Maps today.

There were two more children now, my aunt Patricia going on 8 and Pat Jr. who was 6, and family life had shifted dramatically. My mom and her brother endured step-child status under conditions she described as something "slightly better than slavery’” made to perform the bulk of household chores and constantly referred to as “his kids”. Entering their teens they rebelled ditching classes at Memorial Jr. High to drink homemade fruit wine in Balboa Park. My uncle Johnny was a pretty boy turned cholo getting into random fights and trying to look good while doing it. And there were daily battles among them all that found my mom and uncle constantly shuttling back and forth between the Old Man’s house and the house six blocks away—the home of my grandmother’s sister and most appropriately named Ola.


My Great Aunt Ola in the front yard on 33rd St.

Spanish for “wave” my great aunt Ola helped her niece and nephew navigate the space between Paterno’s outright tyranny and his awkwardly applied obligation to raise them as he fulfilled his promise to Aniceto. The little sister of a runaway herself she had wisdom to share on the pros and cons of leaving a “good provider”.


Grandma Pearl at age 12, 1931

My Grandma Pearl had run from similar circumstances as a 17-year-old girl. She arrived in San Diego in 1937 the same year Ted Williams and the Padres won their first PCL Championship. She spent three years waiting tables at the Chee Chee Club on Broadway when it was off-the-path enough to serve even the Filipino sailors. One of them was Aniceto Medina.

Aniceto Medina, 1940

Aniceto had barely arrived in San Diego early in the year of 1941. He had come through San Pedro where the immigration processor listed his Place of Residence as the USS Saratoga, and my grandparents courtship moved as quickly as the CV-3. Between April 2 and June 21, 1940 the ship was involved in what the US Navy called Fleet Problem XXI a defense of the Hawaiian Islands. In mid to late October of that same year the crew delivered personnel from San Pedro to Hawaii then returned for an extended dry dock and overhaul at Bremerton Shipyard in Puget Sound on January 6, 1941. With the Saratoga under repair Aniceto began the first of only two prolonged stays in San Diego. Having met my grandmother in the bar that was already "divey" even then (a testament to my grandmother's spirit that she could handle herself in a roughneck navy bar) their courtship was short, and they married quickly. In fact, when the Sara sailed for Hawaii on December 8, 1941, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, my uncle was already on the way, and on April 14, 1942, John Medina was born.

The Chee Chee Club as it appears on Google Maps today.

My mother arrived in similar fashion. After a year of and a half of constant deployment in both the main theaters of the Pacific War and and support missions in and around Australia and Java, the Saratoga reportedly limped into Puget Sound battle scarred and in need of repairs on June 10, 1944. Aniceto was dispatched to San Diego along with the rest of the crew. The ship sat in dry dock through the summer but on September 24th it arrived in Pearl Harbor. My mother was born January 17, 1945 two months premature but exactly seven months after Aniceto's July homecoming. He never made it back to meet his daughter, and while his story remains largely unknown, buried beneath both the Pacific Ocean and a lifetime of suppressing all unnecessary talk about “him,” he left his mark on all our faces. Even my sons have it. I can see it every time someone says they look like me.

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The Object of the Game: An Attempt at Family History

PART ONE


This plaque at the foot of West Broadway marks the former location of San Diego's Lane Field, home of Ted Williams and my grandfather's preferred afternoon hang-out from 1942 through 1957. It sits at what would've been the ballpark's eastern entrance just beyond the right field foul pole at Pacific Highway closest to what Paterno Sirivan would forever call the cheap seats. "Pat" was an uptown guy, always suited and usually rocking a brown felt fedora who preferred to enter through the main gate at Harbor Drive closest to his seat behind the plate where he could hang with similarly attired afficionados:

Fans at the Lane Field Box Office on Broadway at Harbor Dr.

But his outward Ricky Ricardo cool belied the turmoil he stirred at home. His discipline was old school to a degree that only the children of immigrants might comprehend, and as my grandmother's second choice he had her two kids, my mom and her brother, from a previous marriage to deal with--which isn't to imply that he was happy about doing it. To this day, my mother refers to her step-father simply as "The Old Man." She will concede that he was nothing if not dapper, and that if there was anything he loved and tried show his family how to love it was baseball and his team of choice the San Diego Padres.

He'd learned the game as a boy in the Philippines playing pick-up games in the street with American sailors and watching their club teams play in the recreation fields on the U.S. Naval base at Subic Bay. I don't know much more than this about the origin of his passion for the game, but I will say it evolved into a lifelong love of things "American" and a stint in the Navy that got him shipped to San Diego and stationed at 32nd St. where he worked as a cook. While there he battled Aniceto Medina (my mother's biological father) for the affections of my grandmother-to-be, but eventually lost out. Undeterred and if any of the photographs I've seen of him over the years portray him as he actually was more than likely cocky enough to think she'd change her mind he decided to wait the situation out. I would insert an image here a candid shot of him strutting down Broadway near Horton Plaza taken by a street photographer. The Old Man actually admired the picture of himself enough to purchase it, but my mother claims it "got lost." His strategy while short-sighted showed determination, and he waited.

Aerial view of Lane Field

In those days the Padres had outgrown their former status as a AA affiliate for the Boston Red Sox, but stars like Williams were long gone. Playing independently in a league where only the Los Angeles Angels (Cubs) and Hollywood Stars (Pirates) were associated with major league teams recruiting new talent was difficult with no potential call up to the big leagues for clubs to offer. Most young players were off fighting World War II, and the Padres wrapped up the 1944 season dead last in the Pacific Coast League standings going 75-94. The Padres would finish no higher than 6th during the late war years. But as is the case with so much of that era in general, the lean times defined the strongest and truest, and the fans that stayed on board solidified the team's base. Going into spring training that year there was talk of a redesignation to AAA status. Pat Sirivan was among the optimists. Already 46 years old and semi-retired he had time to devote to being a fan often keeping score while posted up at the barber shop on Ocean View and 32nd or making one of his frequent visits to Lane Field. He also kept in close contact with my grandmother biding his time but also trying to make good on a promise he had made to his rival that he would look after my grandmother and her sister while Aniceto was at sea.

On February 21st, 1945 a tragedy with rippling affects ripped the door wide open for Paterno. Just nine days after she had delivered fighter planes for the assault on Iwo Jima the U.S.S. Saratoga was assigned to escort three U.S. destroyers to nearby by Chi-Chi Jima. Around 5:00pm that afternoon an air attack developed. Six Japanese fighter planes scored five bomb hits on the carriers deck. A hole was ripped out of the ship's starboard side and major fires ensued throughout the hangar deck. Aniceto Medina was working in the highly volatile magazine as part of the team responsible for running ammunition from the lower decks to the anti-aircraft guns and cannons above. Surrounded by fire in a room full of bullets and bombs, explosions eventually overwhelmed his team. The ship survived unlike the U.S.S. Bismark that was sunk in the attack, but Aniceto, my grandfather and mother's father, was one of 123 men who died on the Saratoga that day. We remember him most as the one we never met--my mom and I. A short time later my grandmother received his Purple Heart in the mail. A few months after that, Paterno proposed.

Saratoga hit by Kamikazes, 21 February 1945.


Video of the attack on the Saratoga




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Saturday, February 19, 2011

5 sentence close-read of SF Chronicle's review of Olmec exhibition


I have been ruminating all day on a review of the new Olmec exhibit at the deYoung Museum published today in the San Francisco Chronicle. I should say that the review was intended to be positive, to encourage the reading audience to go see the exhibit. In fact, it reads mostly as an innocuous, fairly favorable endorsement--both of which only serve to say that the author will not be my target here. Instead, having viewed the exhibit myself last night, I was struck by a variation in pathos read as "the grief we took away" from seeing the same thing. Vague and maybe even cryptic as that may sound, our (the reviewer's and mine) observing experiences were akin to two of the five blind men touching the elephant in the Indian parable. But let me stop being so dramatic...

There are really just five sentences in the piece that contain some triggering language. I've decided just to deal with those. It's just one of those things that I need to take apart if only to see what they create when reassembled. I don't intend to make any attempt to put a bow on this. I'm not trying to write an essay here, but just sharing my process with you.

Let me leave my introductory comments at that and get to it...

THE GAME:

The five sentences below appeared in the sequence in which I have reproduced them here. For whatever editorial reason they were actually 4 separate paragraphs of 1, 2, 1 and 1 sentences each. I've numbered each paragraph and posted some notes for your consideration.

THE TEXT:

#1 "The museum has sensibly kept chat panels and label copy sparse, refraining from tendering scholarly speculation as fact.

#2 This leaves us largely free to experience "Olmec" through confrontation with the mystery and raw presence of ancient artifacts. It spurs us, in the age of cascading connectivity, to imagine just how alien to our own world picture many other civilizations have been.

#3 "Olmec" amplifies this realization by ending with a section showing how the Maya and other cultures that immediately succeeded the Olmec adapted something of their aesthetics and cultural practices, such as the ritual ballgame that the Olmec appear to may have invented.

#4 That slight edging forward in time still leaves the Olmec vastly and fascinatingly distant from us."


THE LINE-BY-LINE:

#1 tendering, i.e. offering as payment; derived from Fr. "tendre" as in "double entendre" read as "two meanings" generally as derived from some ambiguity in the word itself. Reviewer seeks to create binary between "scholarly speculation" and "fact"; maybe so, but infuses the discourse with complex set of equally oppositional terms. "tender" as with "money" (legal tender) vs sensitivity, gentleness, (etc.) and fact vs. scholarship. we may keep an eye on the reviewer's sensitivity to the places where things divide, and already a will to privilege one truth over another.

#2 confrontation - a hostile or argumentative meeting or situation between opposing parties; who or what is in opposition here? may be a question of mutual regard and some disconnect. could be interesting to investigate the reviewer's regard for the Olmec (i.e. Other?) which is nicely summarized as "raw" and "ancient". the confrontation does however establish presence (as in previously "absent"?) taken together: "raw presence of ancient artifacts". see how the "noble savage" never dies?

"cascading connectivity" indicates some perceived unifying tendency in the modern era; most likely referring to web 2.0 stuff, smartphones, etc. creating the look and feel of a connected society while remaining at a distance from one another as humans. contrast with "alien" (loaded term when discussing Olmecs and Mexico) to "our own world picture". another oppositional relationship noted, antithetical even i.e. the reviewer's "us" vs. the "many other civilizations" who are not "us". my personal "us" was finding common ancestry, willing my features out of the phenotypes of each monolithic head and never once thought of my "world picture"; so does cultural affiliation trump critical distance? is the reviewer's confrontational relationship with the ancient triggering defense mechanisms related to his whiteness (is the reviewer white?) revealing themselves through subtlety of rhetoric?


#3 now this just plain doesn't make sense. in the previous paragraph, the reviewer recognizes difference. his difference is multiple: modern vs. Olmec, I vs. Other, absent vs. present, and so on... all mostly problematic, but honest. not understanding how this kind of difference is "amplified" by the cultural and aesthetic commonalities the reviewer notes between Olmec and Maya. how is difference reinforced by commonality? reviewer must be referring to his own outsider status. how self-referential and boring if so...

#4 i don't want to go there, but there's something amiss about the line "vastly and fascinatingly distant". this isn't critical distance but cultural. the reviewer's experience is informed by distance. my cultural affiliation mediates the perceived distance and informs my fascination. there is a measure of lack to be found in both vantage points, and with lack comes a measure of sadness; that might be worth writing about at some point.



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