Tagged: Baseball

Democracy is lovely, but baseball’s more mature.

With Opening Day upon us, I was trying to come up with something poetic to say about the new season, new beginnings, etc.  Then I thought about the work of playwright Richard Greenberg.  If you don’t know who he is and you’re a baseball fan, look him up.  This man can encapsulate the spirit of baseball more succinctly and eloquently than Ken Burns, Field of Dreams or I ever could.

The following is from my favorite play “Take Me Out” by Richard Greenberg.


In baseball there’s no clock.

What could be more generous than to give everyone all these opportunities and the time to seize them in as well?  And with each turn at the plate, there’s the possibility of turning the situation to your favor.  Down to the very last try.

And then, to ensure that everything remains fair, justices are ranged around the park to witness and assess the play.

And if the justice errs, an appeal can be made.

It’s invariably turned down, but that’s part of what metaphor so right.

Because even in the most well meant of systems, error is inevitable.  Even within the fairest of paradigms, unfairness will creep in.

And baseball is better than democracy – or at least than democracy as it’s practiced in this country – because, unlike democracy, baseball acknowledges loss.


While conservatives tell you, “Leave things alone and no one will lose,” and liberals tell you, “Interfere a lot and no one will lose,” baseball says, “Someone will lose.”  Not only says it – insists upon it!

So that baseball achieves the tragic vision democracy evades.  Evades and embodies.

Democracy is lovely, but baseball is more mature.
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A Look Back at *61

As
the weather starts to warm (yes, I promise you it is), our thoughts
turn to all things Spring.   For me,
nothing says spring more than baseball. 
However, if it’s still a bit too cold to hit the batting cage and you
don’t have the cash to go to Arizona or Florida, a baseball movie does             just as well.

 

Today,
we look at *61 (2001).  Directed by Billy Crystal and produced by
HBO, *61 revisits the first serious attempt at breaking Babe Ruth’s
single-season home run record.  It’s the
summer of 1961.  New York Yankees’ Roger
Maris (Barry Pepper) and Mickey Mantle (Thomas Jane) are on pace to do it.  You couldn’t write the storyline better.  The torch is about to be passed from one
heroic Yankee to another.  However,
there’s a problem.

 

America
only has room in its heart for one hero. 
Babe Ruth was a God…a God who played in the age of Segregated Baseball,
but that’s a review for another day. Mantle was America’s Golden Boy.  If he were to take the record that would be
fine, but Maris, American didn’t take so kind too. With Mantle as the hero,
Maris was forced to play the villain. 

 

The sports
writers crucify him, pitting Maris against Mantle.  Wherever Maris goes, he’s booed (even by
Yankees fans). Finally, when Mantle falls off the pace due to injury, the commissioner
announces that Ruth’s record stands unless it’s broken within 154 games. Any
record set after 154 games of the new 162-game schedule will have an asterisk,
thus minimizing Maris’ accomplishments. The film follows Mantle and Maris on as
well as off the field including their undocumented friendship, the stress on
Maris and his frustration with the negative attention.  Maris wrestles with following his dreams or
just giving up and going home for the sake of his sanity.

 

Let’s
not pretend that *61 was not a “Made-For-TV” movie.  (Enjoy watching the balls from batting
practice fall through the third deck, added in post-production.) Nonetheless, *61 is at its core a well-written,
well-acted piece. Sure, Crystal is a Yankees fan from back in the day, so the
film gets a bit schmaltzy and nostalgic at times.  If you can get passed the Barbara Walters
lighting and sweeping music at inappropriate times, you’ve got yourself a movie
that is tragic, almost Shakespearean, in tone. 

 

I
grew up in an age where “the easy way out” became far too common in America’s
Game. It’s hard to imagine someone being villainized for simply wanting to go
to work and do what he actually does best.  
So, if you have baseball on the brain, check out *61. You’ll enjoy Anthony Michael Hall as a pretty charming Whitey
Ford and will be amazed that Thomas Jane can actually carry a film.   (Seriously, are you going to argue that Deep Blue Sea was better?)

 

My name is Trish…and I am a Baseball Fan

My
name is Trish Vignola.  I’m a 32-year-old
freelance writer and standup comedian.  I
am also a giant Baseball fan.  You might
say that Baseball is in my pedigree.  I
was born the same day the New York Yankees clinched the 1978 World Series.  My dad claims that I was out by the 7th
inning, because I never met a celebration pileup I didn’t like.  My mom claims I was almost named after
Catfish Hunter…but then the anesthesia wore off. 

Since
then, I have gone on to visit 30 stadiums (most of them on my own).  I was hit on by two National League mascots
(I’m going on record by saying that American league Mascots are always perfect
gentlemen).  I’ve pull tarp (oh! When
they say, “Let Go”, you should or you’re doing a header down the field).  I’ve published several articles; accidently
got a Yes Network commercial and met “Mike and Mike”.  (If you’re wondering, Mike is the cutest.)  Seriously though, Baseball has always played
a major role in my life.

So,
why Baseball?  Baseball is the illustration
of everything I find great about competition. 
You play to win.  Nonetheless, in
life as in Baseball, you can only have one winner (unless it’s the 2002
All-Star Game).  So, what do you do if
you lose?  You pull yourself together
because tomorrow is another game.   For
someone who grew up to find herself in the highly competitive field of comedy,
it’s the best possible metaphor to live by.

As a
woman, I never have role models to encourage my competitive instincts.  Sadly I still find it hard to find strong
competitive women to emulate.  The role
models I did find I could look up, I found through Baseball.  Men like Cal Ripken Jr., Ken Griffey Jr. and
Don Mattingly showed me that you could be a fierce competitor but still leave
the field with your head held high.  These men showed me that you can play tough,
but you don’t have to play dirty.

In a
bigger sense, I love the democratic ideal behind Baseball.  Again, as a comedian, I always live life with
the odds stacked against me. There will always be someone stronger than me,
with more experience than me, lurking around the corner. In Baseball however,
there is a romantic (but pretty accurate) sense of equality.  Every team plays within the same rules, gets
the same amount of at bats, etc. Sure, you’re always going to have a dominant
team.  Nonetheless, every spring the
clock resets and everyone starts at the same starting line.  What happened yesterday doesn’t matter today.  Yes, there’s no reason that the Pittsburgh
Pirates can’t beat the St. Louis Cardinals on a given day.  It’s that believe in the everyman, underdog
that makes me love baseball and drives me in my everyday life. 

Thoughts on Football in a Baseball World

I
would be an exceptionally bad sports fan if I produced a Baseball fluff piece
today.  There’s tons of meaningful Football
(unless you’re from Chicago) being played as I write… and the Hot Stove is really cold. 
So, the following are some thoughts on Football from a diehard Baseball
fan.

1.   1. Next time someone yammers about what pansies
Baseball players are, I’m going to give   them two words: Jake Cutler.  I’m sorry, but this is the game of your
life.  There’s no playing for tomorrow.  They better take you off the field in a
stretcher if you can’t play.  I want to
see blood.

 

2.     2. I didn’t vote for him, but I do appreciate his no-nonsense approach
to the budget.  However, if he lets New
York pull these shenanigans of claiming the Jets only when they win, the next time someone yammers about pansy
baseball players, I will give them five additional words: New Jersey Governor
Chris Christie.

 

3.    
3. Stop calling Football “America’s Game”.  The NFL is about to go into a nasty contract
dispute.  Apparently, no one remembers
anything before 1995.  The NFL is as much
about the “Almighty Dollar” as any other professional franchise.  Come to think of it…maybe Football is
“America’s Game” after all.

  

4.    
4. Rex Ryan should get a thesaurus.  He sounds like an idiot.  Ryan makes the cast of “The Jersey Shore”
look like they should be on the faculty at Rutgers University.

 

5.     5. Aaron Rogers is a better person than me.  If I was treated by Green Bay and their fans
the way he was treated during the Brett Favre “Hissy Fit” period, I would have
told them all to suck it the first time Howie Long put a microphone in front of
my face.

Dirt in the Skirt! ALL AMERICAN GIRLS steps up to bat!

Layon Gray’s “All American Girls” had its formal press opening last night at the Actors Temple Theatre (339 W. 47th Street).  “All American Girls” is the story of an all-Negro female baseball team whose coach goes missing in 1945 Chicago right as they are scheduled to play the storied (all-White) Rockford Peaches. Gray invokes an era in American history when women were called on to keep baseball alive as the men went off to fight in World War II. Gray, the show’s writer and director is an award winner with two shows running Off Broadway simultaneously. 

I was pretty excited to check out this show.  I am a huge baseball fan.  In fact, I published several articles on the All American Girls Professional Baseball League, as well as the Negro Leagues.  I interned at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and I just moved to New York from Chicago.

It is about time someone brought to light the indelible impact of the African American Woman in professional baseball.  Effa Manley, owner of the Newark Eagles, is the only woman to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.  Toni Stone, who was signed to the Indianapolis Clowns (a men’s team), took over for none other than Hank Aaron when he was signed by the Boston (soon to be Milwaukee) Braves.  Historians are quick to point out that she was actually better at the position than the future Hall of Famer.  My point is that there are plenty of amazing true stories of African American Women in baseball.  Why not tell them?

So, Gray opted to create a piece of historical fiction.  That’s fine. It’s his prerogative. Nonetheless, the missing coach arc didn’t live up to the time period he worked so hard to place it in.   It felt like an old episode of “The Twilight Zone” in skirts and cleats.  I was far more interested in the girls’ internal stories (how they fought to get there, what was left behind, etc…) and most of those back stories ultimately went by the wayside.

One of my biggest pet peeves is historical accuracies.   If you are going to create a piece of historical fiction, you at least need to get the history correct.  It felt like research for this project didn’t go much beyond watching “A League of their Own.”  The internal layout of Wrigley Field was non-existent. The geography of the city was wrong and the well-documented history of race relations in Chicago, known as one of the most segregated cities above the Mason-Dixon, was periphery at best. 

The one exceptional strong point of the production was the cast.  The actresses, who specifically played the girls on the roster, were for lack of a better word – great.  In fact, they deserve credit for keeping me so engaged when the plot just frustrated me.  Two standouts (if you had to choose) were Chantal Nchako and Yasha Jackson.  Ms. Nchako was enthralling as Jonnetta.  She precariously balanced the rage of oppressed generations before her with the need to keep her job.  Ms. Jackson was also impressive as Sara, who must hide her panic as she does everything in her power to keep the secrets of her team in house.

If you are looking to learn about a piece of history that’s been cut from your school books, this is not the play for you.  However, if you’re in the area, check out this roster of talented actresses.  I’m sure it’s the not the last you’ll hear of them. http://www.allamericangirlsplay.com