baseball, des moines, humor, Iowa, life, sports

It’s #OpeningDay for MLB … so why am I feeling so ho-hum?

The Major League Baseball season began Thursday. ESPN was already busy ruining the fun of the game as my beloved New York Yankees warmed up for their game against the Toronto Blue Jays.

New York’s starting pitcher is Gerrit Cole; the network commentator immediately calls Cole the “Yankees’ $300 million man.”

Cole makes a lot of money because he is an excellent pitcher. I don’t begrudge him his money.

But baseball commentary — as does so much of sports talk — quickly trends to economics.

NFL and NBA shows talk about salary cap room. Baseball shows talk about labor disputes.

This is not what I want to talk about on opening day. I can tolerate it in the dead of winter if only because I prefer baseball talk to bracketology.

Like the players, managers and umpires, fans take a while to get into midseason form. Thursday, for example, I was too slow to hit the mute button on my remote before the camera switched to Aaron Judge, the power-hitting Yankees outfielder. The first comment is potential drama over Judge’s contract.

Sweet relish on a hot dog! The man hasn’t taken a swing in a game yet this season and we’re already talking about his future financial situation. Am I watching ESPN or CNBC?

This is a long-term irritation. People say baseball doesn’t translate well to TV. I say TV is bad at broadcasting baseball games.

Fox Sports broadcasts rely on the extreme close-up on pitchers and managers as if they were shooting a soap opera rather than a sporting event. Fox national baseball broadcasts often include Joe Buck as the lead play-by-play man.

I like Buck. He has a sense of humor about himself. He takes the hate directed at him in stride. I don’t want to add to that, but the fact remains that I would rather chew a full roll of aluminum foil than listen him patter for a game.

ESPN focuses on where their commentators sit. Sometimes they’re next to the dugout. Sometimes they’re sitting out in the outfield like everyday fans. Gosh, aren’t those ESPN baseball commentators fun? It almost makes you forget the baseball game they’re supposed to be covering.

I have said this before, but it needs repeating: I would pay extra for a network that played the games with five or six camera angles and only the sounds of the game and the ambient noise inside the stadium.

ESPN redeems itself only through Tim Kurkjian, the nebbishy, squeaky-voiced talker who can discuss pitching mechanics as easily as he spins anecdotes of current players and connects the game to the stories of its rich history.

I have a soft spot for Kurkjian. He’s an old newspaper guy. He started his career at the defunct Washington Star, the same newspaper where my journalism mentor, Robert D. Woodward, worked. Woodward was the greatest teacher I ever had. He died last year, and I miss him

Kurkjian is still a reporter, which most commentators are not and never have been.

Maybe that’s the heart of my gripe about TV coverage and baseball. There aren’t many reporters left and there are even fewer writers.

I regularly watch “Pardon the Interruption,” which stars former Washington Post columnists Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon.

Their daily arguments remind me of the ones that regularly broke out in newsrooms at the beginning of my career, before greedy corporate hustlers turned newsrooms into “information centers” and drained the color and flavor from newsrooms to the point they could have been insurance companies.

On a recent episode, Wilbon quoted a line from one of Kornheiser’s old columns.

“I was a good writer,” Kornheiser said. “So were you. But that’s not what we do anymore.”

Writing hasn’t gone away from baseball. My friend Derrick Goold covers the St. Louis Cardinals with a team of brilliant writers at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The Post-Dispatch is a newspaper and people who work at newspapers are an endangered species that is still actively hunted.

Baseball is and has always been a numbers game. Those numbers lose meaning without words to give them perspective.

When I was a boy, I learned who won the previous day’s baseball games from that morning’s box scores. I excitedly studied. I read the long stories about the Midwestern teams and the shorts about teams farther away.

I subscribed to Sports Illustrated to get longer stories about all kinds of baseball people. I subscribed to Baseball Weekly, a USA Today product, for the same reason.

Sports Illustrated is terrible now and Baseball Weekly is dead.

The fan has more access to information and numbers, even the dreaded economics, on their smartphones than I ever did with the newspapers and magazines I read.

Yet something is missing. Baseball needs storytellers.

Baseball is more than numbers. Baseball collects the lore of yesteryear with the ongoing narrative of today. That’s what brings generations together.

But when we start talking contracts and salaries on Opening Day, it makes me feel distant and far away from the game I used to love so much.

Baseball gets good TV ratings in the markets where teams are popular. But the World Series ratings are seemingly worse every fall. Baseball officials worry about how to connect the game of old white men to a diverse new generation.

That’s a legitimate worry. They should also worry about middle-aged fans like me, who’ve lost their Opening Day enthusiasm. If baseball isn’t getting new fans and the old ones are losing interest, what do you have?

Baseball’s story is fading.

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311. Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com. Venmo: @newsmanon. PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.
Crime and Courts, des moines, Des moines police, humor, Iowa, Media, News, People, Pop Culture, sports, Uncategorized

HOT SHEET: #OldManStudent update, NFL notes, Iowa celebrates small COVID-19 gain, absentee ballot confusion and police success stories

From the desk of Daniel P. Finney, sergeant of the watch, Drake Precinct Station.

ITEM ONE: Update on #OldManStudent. The ol’ Paragraph Stacker takes all his classes online via Zoom meetings at Drake University. This format works better than anticipated, but there are pitfalls. Example: Your typist’s bathroom is about 12 feet from his computer. Always remember to mute your microphone when you answer nature’s call because mics will pick up certain sounds one would just as soon remain private.

ITEM TWO: Other Zoom meeting notes: No one looks good eating a sub sandwich on camera. If you happen to have the NFL season opener on in the background, mute the TV and make sure the TV is not in direct line of the camera.

ITEM THREE: The NFL season began Thursday. The defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs beat the Houston Texans. It still feels odd to say “defending champion Kansas City Chiefs,” perhaps the only good thing to occur in 2020. Then again, I’m old enough that it feels weird not to say Houston Oilers. The Bears also did well Thursday evening. The team owes this mostly to not having played.

ITEM FOUR: The typist turns almost all his sporting attention to pro football. His beloved New York Yankees cling to the eighth seed in the American League playoffs. This spot only exists because baseball executives expanded the playoffs to make up for the coronavirus-shortened 60-game regular season. The ol’ Paragraph Stacker questions the wisdom of Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman’s “protect all prospects” approach. The typist grimly notes the Chicago Cubs and Kansas City Royals have won more World Series in the last decade than the Yankees. The Yankee batters may be “savages in the box,” but they’re sad sacks in the standings.

ITEM FIVE: Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds held a press conference to celebrate Iowa dropping from No. 1 in coronavirus spread to No. 3. Wow. What an accomplishment. What did Reynolds do, bus some people to Missouri?

ITEM SIX: Just a day after Hot Sheet warned of absentee ballot confusion from well-meaning non-profits, two Iowa judges ruled absentee request forms that were pre-filled with the voter’s name and address were improper, per the Associated Press. The county auditors in Woodbury and Johnson counties sent the request forms to make it easier for people to seek absentee ballots during the COVID-19 pandemic. Again, the typist supports efforts to increase voter turnout. However, at some point people must take responsibility for themselves — especially in challenging circumstances. To quote retired Drake University professor Herb Strentz, “Democracy is not a spectator sport.”

ITEM SEVEN: Recommended viewing for the weekend:

  • Louisiana at Iowa State, noon, Saturday, ESPN. The Cyclones are playing without fans in the stands and the Hawkeyes aren’t playing until spring. Regardless of your allegiance in the Cy-Hawk rivalry, you might as well give ISU your eyeballs.
  • Philadelphia Eagles at the Washington Football Team, noon, Sunday, regional coverage. Hot Sheet knows no teams of regional interest play in this game, but we want to see how many times the announcers accidentally say “Redskins” and then fall all over themselves to apologize.
  • The Boys, Season 2, streaming on Amazon Prime: Superheroes with sex, blood and breast milk reheated with heat vision. I’m not making this up.

ITEM LAST: Lest we be cajoled into thinking the local constabulary only makes news in officer-involved shootings or amid racial tensions, Hot Sheet turns your attention to three items of note in the most recent Des Moines city news letter.

  • Chief Dana Wingert promoted Lillie Miller to captain, naming her the first Black female captain in the department’s history. Miller, an officer since 1999, was also the department’s first Black female lieutenant under former chief Judy Bradshaw.
  • Jeff Edwards, a former public information officer and DMPD Medal of Valor recipient also attained his captaincy.
  • Wingert recognized Senior Police Officer Scott Newman, a 21-year veteran and a member of the department’s tactical unit, with the DMPD Lifesaving Award. Newman rescued five people from a burning car wreck on his way home from work early July 5.

The typist takes a lot of heat from liberal extremists for his support of police. That’s fine. Honorable people disagree. And who gives a damn what dishonorable people think? The ol’ Paragraph Stacker recognizes every police department has problems. No one lives in a utopia. But the typist notes that no matter how bad things get, no matter how many people hate them — when the shit breaks bad and the citizenry cries out for help, the police come running.

OK. That’s it. Listen to our podcast. Be careful out there and, as always, donations welcome and appreciated.

Behave and be kind.

Daniel P. Finney hopes Rick will finally return him to Earth C-137.

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way poking fun at the passing parade.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I launch this new venture continuing the journalism you’ve demanded. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

News, sports

Why a depressed football player and an anxious baseball player should give us all hope

Photo by Owen Lystrup via Unsplash

Two sports stories popped up Saturday that I thought were important beyond the ongoing and exasperating discussions of pandemic preparedness and social justice.

The University of Texas cornerback Kobe Boyce announced he was “taking a step away from football” to focus on mental health. Boyce cited depression.

Boyce is a junior who played in 19 games for Texas, including six starts.

I commend this young man for being so open about something that society still has a hard time talking about — mental health.

I know how hard it is to live with depression. I have lived with it most of my life. I control it with medication and talk therapy.

I have been open about this for years. I’ve talked about it. I’ve written about it. I’ve podcasted about it. I’ve tweeted about it. I will continue to do so.

I have my own kind of recognition from my time as a paid paragraph stacker for the local corporate news outlet store.

But I am not a player for the Texas Longhorns, one of the premier programs in college football.

Boyce openly said he was depressed. That is tough.

Sports comes with a culture that despises weakness or the perception of weakness.

Some of that, I suppose, is necessary. To compete at the top levels of amateur and pro sports, one must meet the highest physical and mental demands of the game.

If you cannot reach those levels, you cannot contribute in the way that your coach, your team and your sport demands.

Sports accepts injuries of the physical kind. Broken bones and ligament tears of all kinds are understood.

There was a time when this wasn’t true. I know older sports fans — and older retired players — who glorify playing with injuries that left players crippled after their careers.

Today, people expect top quality medical treatment for all sport-related injuries. Even an obese wobbler like me goes to a sports medicine doctor for pain in his knees and back.

What Boyce has done is say he is injured in another kind of way. He’s hurting in a way that you can’t see.

There’s no limp with depression. His body may look shredded, but his mind is not right.

I am sorry he is dealing with depression. It’s hard to describe the disorder to people who have not walked that path. It’s like looking directly into the sun and not being able to see light. It’s like taking a deep breath and feeling like a tank is parked on your chest.

And, if it goes on long enough, it’s a numbness. You can see joy. You can recognize fun. But all you feel is the dull desire to sleep and shut out all stimuli.

I don’t know Boyce, of course. I don’t know what he’s been through or how he came to recognize he was in pain.

But he has done the most important thing any of us with mental health issues can do: Admit that it’s a problem and take steps to take care of it.

I pray for Boyce. I hope his care is top-flight. And I hope he saw the other sports story that caught my interest Saturday.

That is the story of Daniel Bard, a right-handed pitcher. Bard made the roster for the Colorado Rockies after a seven-year absence from baseball.

Bard came up with the Boston Red Sox but developed control problems, a condition baseball fans colloquially refer to as “the yips” or “hiccups.”

The issue is a legitimate mental health problem. Something goes wrong and an athlete starts to overthink motions that were once routine. Pretty soon they can’t find the strike zone or can’t make a throw to first base.

Baseball people are sympathetic to it, but they also fear it. The idea that one day you suddenly can’t do what you’ve always done — and done at such a high level — is absolutely terrifying.

Bard developed anxiety disorder. He remade his life. He got treatment. He got back into baseball as a pitching coach.

The guys he played catch with told him he still had good stuff. He should try to make camp.

He did. And he made it — from out of the game to all the way back.

Now, sometime in this bizarre, 60-game season, he’ll toe the mound again as a Major League Baseball player and whip the ball to the catcher.

I hope Bard has a terrific year, but even if his ERA or win-loss record isn’t great, he’s already an MVP.

The weight of mental health issues is one of the most difficult burdens for humans to bear. That Bard was able to regroup after all those years and earn a second chance in an unforgiving sport that casts aside people for far less faulty performance is a testament to his mental toughness.

“Mental toughness” is to sports what “resilience” is to psychology. All it means is you refuse to let your troubles define you.

I hope Texas’ Boyce reads about Colorado’s Bard and sees a path forward.

And I hope soon both men are enjoying the sunlight again.

Daniel P. Finney, independent journalist

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life ignored by the oligarchy.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I launch this new venture continuing the journalism you’ve demanded. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.