Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Jackie Robinson Story for Modern Times

The Jackie Robinson story as told in modern days.

Almost immediately after the first trailer was shown, the boys wanted to go see "42 - The True Story of an American Legend."  The story of Jackie Robinson's entry into Major League Baseball (or as C calls it, the MLB) was intriguing to the boys.  They didn't quite understand why it was intriguing, they just knew that it was.  The questions were endless.  It was actually refreshing to hear the boys being so naive and asking questions like this.

Whenever I hear of a reboot of a historical event, I can't help but think of that urban Romeo and Juliet with Claire Danes or "Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter."  Ugh.  Even history tends to be a product of modern times, and I was afraid that the Jackie Robinson story was going to be a watered down, feel-good affair.  At the ripe old age of 12, I learned of Robinson's plight.  Not that I could ever understand it, but  I picked up his school-age appropriate biography to to a book report and learned of the hatred and abject prejudice he faced.  I didn't understand it then either.

It was with this as background that we went to see 42, the story of Jackie's first year in the Major Leagues in 1947.  I was apprehensive about what we were going to see.  Either it was going to be unrealistic cheese, or it was going to be a brutal indictment on American culture that many living people still remember.

My prized possession
Hingham, MA.  7pm.  It was not long that I realized it was going to be the latter.  The game was crude and ruthless back in the 1940's.  Forget that this was post war America.  This was pre-business America.  No one really thought about how to wring the most out of American sports, particularly baseball which was at its zenith in the post war baby boom.  People would sacrifice making money for personal vendettas and personal causes.  It's astonishing to think that this was the case since people of my generation and the kids' generation is all about making the almighty buck.  Amidst this general ignorance (both to race and to dollar signs), Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey decided to call up Robinson to enhance the sales of tickets to Blacks who were coming to the game.  Now I'm sure he had some other type of notoriety (and his legacy) in mind when he decided to break the color barrier, but that was never developed in the movie.  Although he was a very complex man, he was somewhat one-dimensional in the movie.

The movie focuses on Robinson's career after he gets called up from the Negro Leagues in 1945.  Robinson started with Brooklyn's affiliate, Montreal, in 1946 after being signed by Rickey and immediately excelled in the Minor Leagues.  His charisma, skill and grit were too much for the Dodgers to ignore though, and the Dodgers called him to start at First Base in 1947.  Teammates hated him.  Opposing Managers and players hated him.  Most fans - both in Brooklyn and in opposing cities - hated him.  He was subject to segregation and outright calls for him to no play in certain cities close to the Mason-Dixon line.  Throughout all that, he still managed to play well and avoid leading the league in HBP (despite what the movie said).  I looked at the boys during these scenes and they were both transfixed.  Not bad.   

The story was inspirational, actually.  All the odds were against him and he still played well enough to win the 1947 Rookie of the Year Award and come in 5th place in the MVP voting (He would later win the MVP award in 1949).  Even though his manhood was challenged, he did not fight back.  He knew the score and wanted to make this a successful transition.  He would pave the way for other African American standout players like Roy Campanella, Satchel Paige and Larry Doby.  This had to work, the movie was telling us.

And it did.  As we walked out, all three kids started asking me about my 1953 Topps Jackie Robinson that I obtained right after that book report that I did when I was 12.  My prized possession.  They wanted to learn more about that card and the player whose picture was found on that card.  Maybe they don't understand the historical significance, but they understand the significance of the man and the player. 

And that's the point, I think.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Boston Marathon Thoughts and Advice

Boston, MA.  The 2013 Boston Marathon.

I was sitting at work when my Mother called me on my cellphone.  It was 3:30 on Monday, April 15, 2013.  At the time, I thought it curious that my Mother was calling me on my cell phone.  She sounded concerned.

"Hi honey.  I just wanted to make sure that you, LC and the kids were OK."  What the Hell is she talking about?  "Did you hear what happened at the Boston Marathon?"  I hadn't.  We just got home from a tournament in Providence and I went to work to get some clean up items done.  We were nowhere near Boston today.

I stopped what I was doing and went on as I was talking to her.  The website wouldn't load and gave me an over capacity error message.  The last time that happened was on September 11, 2001.  That is isn't good, I thought to myself.  So I went onto  The front page story told me that there were bombings at the Boston Marathon.  Details were scant, but the reports were saying that there were two blasts on Boylston Avenue right near the Finish Line at the Boston Marathon.  The lone video available at the time showed the Finish Line timer at 4:09 and among the runners trying to finish was a fire bomb that filled up the screen on the right hand side of the screen.

It was an eerie, scary scene.

"No we didn't go into Boston today."  I told my Mom.  But I knew other people who had.  And those blasts seemed to be at the time that they may have finished...right at the 4 hour mark.

As I was talking, LC texted me asking what happened at the Marathon.  I told her what I knew, which was not much.  My thoughts drifted to getting the boys who were at a friend's house.  Some of it was to make sure they were OK as a parent is wont to do, and some of it was to talk to them about a part of History they were witnessing.  One of LC's best friends had attended the Marathon that day.  When you have hundreds of thousands of people go into Boston, stories like that will come out.  We all know someone who was near the Finish Line four hours and nine minutes into the Marathon.

But we all know what happened by now.  Three people dead.  172 people injured, some grievously.  The boys started tiring of the coverage about an hour in since no new information was coming in.  I answered their questions for a little while, but then their questions centered more on wheat was for dinner.  We decided to shield our 6 year old daughter from the coverage since a lot of the pictures and video showed massive amounts of blood on the streets.  Why does she need feel sad on a nice day like this?  I have a feeling we'll be talking about this for the next couple of weeks and then next April.  That's enough coverage for me.

And as I write this, I want to be realistic about my thoughts.  I think this was done by a gutless person acting alone.  This is too crude for an Al Queda attack or some other terrorist attack.  This was too random for a coordinated nationalistic attack.  This struck me more of a Boston attack from a Boston native, than a international attack against the United States.  In fact, this reminds me more of the 1996 Atlanta Olympic bombing or the Oklahoma City bombing, than a coordinated terrorist attack.  Nothing surprises me about the last 24 hours, but I guess what surprises me the most is that no one has come forward saying that they saw some strange guy leaving back packs near the Finish Line.

And some words of advice from a citizen of Massachusetts.  Next April, this has to go on.  The terrorists have won if we cancel the Marathon, right?  I have two tweaks to next year's race that I personally would like to see instituted.

1.  What needs to happen next year is for people to be near the Finish Line with tickets only.  The Marathon is a "soft target" because people can easily come and go, so make it so that that can't happen.  Barricade the Back Bay along the Public Garden, the South End, Kenmore and Newbury Street.  If you want to be that close, you need to have a ticket and be subject to search.  The grid like pattern of the streets lends itself to barricade and ticketing. 

2.  This part is what hurts me the most.  Part of the chaos that occurs at the Marathon at the four hour mark has to do with the Patriots Day Red Sox game.  hundreds of thousands of visitors line the streets and then when you add 38,000 Red Sox fans who may or may not be drunk adds to the distraction.  I did the walk from Fenway to the Public Garden back in 2011.  It took 2 hours to walk 10 blocks.  Unfortunately, I think the game has to go.  This will alleviate pressure at the Kenmore part of the Marathon.

I'm saddened by the events in the Back Bay yesterday.  Things will never be the same and nor should they be.  We would be doing a disservice to those who lost their lives and limbs and to those who risked their lives trying to help.  I'm not going to pretend to pray for Boston because that's not me.  But I am going to hope that this is the last time this ever happens. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Harlem Globetrotters in 2013 - An Essay

Here we are again.  Ceelo has left The Voice to Emcee the proceedings.  Reggie Harrison is back because he can't find a College coaching gig.  Global Select is back trying to redeem itself after a poor showing in 2012.  That's right.  Welcome to the 2013 Harlem Globetrotters Boston Journal!  For the fourth year in a row  (Read the 2010, 2011, and 2012 editions here), the five of us travel into Boston to watch the Harlem Globetrotters and their entertaining version of basketball.  Who cares if the kids completely disregard fundamental basketball to do the tricks that they see the Globetrotters do?  It last only for a couple of weeks before I shut them down on the court from trying their own version of the Magic Circle whistling Sweet Georgia Brown. 

Everyone was waiting for my vote
When we arrived for the latest edition of the Harlem Globetrotters, the first thing we noticed was that this year's theme was a little different.  We could use Twitter to decide which of the gimmicks would be in play for each quarter.  Our choices were the four point shot and the penalty box (which we had seen in other editions of the globetrotters), the two balls in play rule (which was my favorite), the 6 on 5 rule and the double the points rule.  I immediately went on Twitter to cast my vote for the two balls in play rule.  That was a new one to me.   

As the team comes out for Sweet Georgia Brown, I notice that Big Easy is the star of the team, rather than Special K (Thank goodness, Special K was kind of boring last year), but that Tiny was not here either for the second year in a row.  Seriously why does Providence get this guy and we don't?  It's Providence!

But back to the voting.  Because Wonderful Pistachios were sponsoring the 4 point shot (which were in the corners between the three point line and midcourt), I was not surprised to see that the 4 point shots were the First Quarter gimmick that people "voted" for.

1:15PM.  Boston, MA.  The game started as it usually does.  The Global Select team came out shooting, immediately hitting three 4 point shots to take an early lead.  However, both teams were shot happy and refused to try to score anything but 4 pointers and the occasional three man weave.  the score after one was 17-16.  I make a comment to G that the loser of Last Year's game was prohibited from touring 2013, but yet Global Select was still around.  I guess just an oversight.  G didn't seem to mind.

As I ponder that question, Big Globie comes out next to entertain the kids, with his still funny Chumbawumba imitation of getting knocked down and he gets up again.  That still cracks me up as we enter our third straight year of this.  The kids still like it too.  At least that's what it looks like to me.

The scoring in the Second Quarter increases substantially.  Not because of fundamentally good basketball, mind you, but because the crowd voted to make double the points as the Second Quarter gimmick.  Every free throw is worth 2 points, every basket is worth 4, you get it.  The teams, relieved of the pressure to hit obscenely long 4 point shots, now start shooting medium range jumpers or collaborating on easy three man weaves.  The teams' field goal percentage rises and, as expected, the Global Select takes a half time lead of 53-44.  Only DLG thinks that the Globetrotters might lose at this point (She's only 6, after all) so I gently tell her that she might be the reason the Globetrotters will lose for the first time in years.  She's a jinx!  No not really, I just play along telling her that the Globetrotters are a good team so don't worry, they will mount a comeback.

The Second Half opens with the 2 basketball gimmick for the first two minutes.  I admit that this is pretty impressive since now the Globetrotters complete the three man weave with 2 basketballs instead of one.  This was quite a feat of choreography.  Great job by the guys (and the Curly Neal of the team, TNT, who was female.)  The Trotters also entertain the crowd with the bucketful of water routine that makes the kids go nuts.

The Fourth Quarter brings out the two basketball routine again that is decided by live fan vote in the arena.  The Globetrotters start to pull away as the team starts to execute on all of its shots, including a fantastic half court hook shot by Bid Easy.  The crowd goes crazy when he makes it!  The Globetrotters win 96-82.

As we walk out of the Arena, I reflect on another successful day in Boston with the Globetrotters and wonder to myself how many more of these we can go to before the kids aren't interested anymore.  Until then, I still enjoy these days.