Grass was greener even at 19-31

One year ago my hometown baseball club, the Washington Nationals, were in second-to-last place in the NL East, struggling with issues on and off the field. (At least one well-known local writer–who has since repented–was calling for the manager’s dismissal.)

On May 24, 2019, the Nats began to win. And win. And win. The rest of the season, playoffs included, they won two of three ballgames they played after that now-famous 19-31 start. Including their final contest of the season… Game Seven of the World Series.

Of course the world is a little bit different today. I’m watching reruns of games past and silly “simulated” contests played out on computers. It’s cool, but just not the same, though I did enjoy watching the Nats’ “virtual ring presentation.” Flipping back and forth last night between that and the Tiger-Tom-Peyton-Phil golf match was a kind of bliss.

But oh what I would give to watch real live sports.

Even a second-to-last-place team.

Well, at least they tried

Wednesday’s post detailed a traffic issue near my home, a description that was supposed to run in October. (Whoops.) Today again we examine a traffic issue near Virginia State Route 7, just a few miles down the road, also serving as a great lesson in economics.

God bless the folks in Loudoun County. (That would be the wealthiest county in America.) On Wednesday morning the county and Mako Medical, its contractor, administered free coronavirus testing to those who came to Philip A. Bolen Memorial Park, henceforth known as the epicenter of the largest traffic jam Loudoun County has ever seen. Hours before testing was even scheduled to begin, cars had packed the park and surrounding highways, causing delays for those out there still in the habit of leaving their homes.

Officials seemed surprised.

Hours before the event was scheduled to end, administrators were turning customers away, “demand” having already exceeded supply.

Officials, again, seemed surprised.

Yup. Take something valuable and give it away for nothing, then act surprised when a lot of people want it. Classic government. Classic econ lesson.

Again.

Well, at least they tried.

And at least there are plans in the works to try this again.

With different expected results of course.

This happened not too long ago

Like digging up a relic from the past, mining the vaults of mikeoconnelljr.com brings genuine surprise from time to time. The following piece, which should have been published on October 18, 2019, I found last night in the “events” folder of the site, not the “posts” folder. Whoops. It reads like something from another time (it is), back when people used to, you know, drive their cars around and go places. Let me take you back to those pre-corona days…

 

Phantom traffic

A traffic light near my house was “decommissioned” last week.

Decommissioned.

That means they turned it off.

Actually, I’m not sure whether it’s off or not. There are giant black garbage bags over the lights, obscuring the fixtures themselves and whether or not they are in fact functioning. The cross street is now closed, giant orange barrels blocking would-be turn-offers and turn-oners. Genius.

Presumably this should cut 30 seconds or a minute off my average commute time. But there’s one problem. People still slow down as they approach the erstwhile light, thinking, perhaps, it might turn red. You know, after the bags fly off and the barrels simultaneously disappear.

Psychologists call this condition “phantom traffic.”

I call it #smh.

Ready for the real sports

This weekend I hit the full trifecta of sports on TV.

Bundesliga, NASCAR, and Korean baseball.

Not exactly the Triple Crown, but it got the job done.

Until this week I had sort of dismissed the idea that sports could exist as TV-only events, played in empty ballparks and arenas.

I’ve changed my mind.

(And who am I kidding? This was the way of the world anyway. We were all just running home every evening to get to our screens, right?)

Follow all necessary precautions, of course, but yes… bring on the real sports!

Reliving childhood yet again

Still looking for useful things to watch on Hulu. Well, there are a few, but they can easily be seen elsewhere.

What Hulu lacks, of course, and Netflix lacks, and Amazon lacks, is anything from The Walt Disney Company. Disney got its own service, you see.

Last night I watched a movie on Disney+ I hadn’t seen in at least a decade…  Return to Oz. Released in 1985,  Return to Oz is one of a thousand “sequels” to The Wizard of Oz, and on a very short list of sequels actually worth watching. It’s also terrifying, and I have no idea why I was allowed to watch it as a kid, let alone watch it 300 times. Thirty-five years later it’s still fantastic. And it’s great to hear the word “TikTok” without meaning a stupid Internet video.

I keep finding ways to relive my childhood. It’s actually pretty great.

Anybody got anything good to watch here?

This week I finally broke down and ordered Hulu, pretty much the only online streaming service I hadn’t yet subscribed to already. (Now I’ve got them all.) I figured since I can’t buy anything else these days I might as well splurge.

The impetus for the Hulu purchase was to watch Brockmire, a show that would seem to be right up my alley. Hank Azaria playing a washed-up sports announcer for a misfit team in a Podunk city? That’s me all day.

And yeah, it still is, though I’ve found the idea of Brockmire much better than its execution.

So much for that.

I surfed about Hulu a bit more and found something called High Fidelity. Yeah, High Fidelity, like the movie and the book from–Jesus that was a long time ago. The series stars Zoe Kravitz. And yeah, that’s about all I can say about it.

Anybody got anything useful for me to watch on the Hulu? I’m oh-for-two so far.

Now if you’ll excuse me I’ve got some old cartoons to watch on Disney+.

Weekend sports fix

In this otherwise sportsless world you’ve got to take it wherever and whenever you can. But I draw the line at UFC.

To get my sports fix this weekend I started rereading John Feinstein’s Play Ball: The Life and Troubled Times of Major League Baseball. A detailed account of the 1992 MLB season, Feinstein gives a picture of the era and a recap of the previous half dozen seasons or so, the exact period I took an interest in the game. “Troubled times” is one way to describe them… Giamatti/Rose, Giamatti’s death, Fay Vincent’s ouster, labor struggles, Steinbrenner, Bonds when he was just a skinny jackass instead of a bulked-up cheater.

God I would kill for any of those so-called issues now.

An amusing aspect of Play Ball–and this seems to be the case in nearly all of Feinstein’s 30+ books on the subject of sports–is how true it is today. As in, Feinstein recognizes a problem, and three decades later it’s still there, probably worse. Inflated pro salaries, owner/labor squabbles, the farce of “amateur” athletics. Mostly it comes down to money. It is a business after all.

But in 1992, when I was 10 years old, the game was just a game. And getting to relive it in the pages of a 28-year-old book is exactly how I want to spend my quarantine.

Remember when the Pittsburgh Pirates were good? When Ken Griffey Jr. was still the Kid? Tony Gwynn had an off year and hit .317. A young Gary Sheffield flirted with a Triple Crown and Greg Maddux won 20 games for a Cubs team that finished 18 games out of first.

I could go on.

Wait, I will, because it just feels so good.

Puckett, Winfield, Larkin, Eckersley, Strawberry.

Clemens, McGwire, and the aforementioned Bonds when they were just… good players.

Kenny Lofton, Mickey Tettleton, Lance Johnson, Brett Butler, Andy Van Slyke.

The Braves had Glavine, Smoltz, and Steve Avery… then added Maddux in ’93.

And Deion Sanders led the league in triples.

Ninety-two was Buck Showalter’s first year as Yankees manager and began the resurgence of that storied franchise (the franchise of my youth). It was the debut of Camden Yards and the beginning of the downtown-retro-ballpark era.

Major League Baseball had 26 teams. I could recite the starting lineups and probably the entire 25-man roster of each. (I think I had half a dozen of every player’s baseball card and spent hours memorizing the backs of them.) This is what I miss. Not winner-take-all divisions, not intraleague-only play. I had time to engross myself in the sport.

Well, now I have the time but I don’t have the sport.

But I’ve got Feinstein. And that book, like the backs of those cards that never update, is there for me forever.

And I kind of like being 10 years old again.

Jerry’s still got it

Wednesday evening I watched a new comedy special on Netflix. It’s called 23 Hours to Kill. The comedian? One Jerry Seinfeld.

Recorded at New York’s Beacon Theatre (back when we used to get together for such things), our host shows us he’s still got it. And still does it better than anybody. A man, a mic, and an audience. That’s the real Jerry. There’s nothing better.

Saying Jerry Seinfeld’s new show is good is a little like telling Michael Jordan “nice game.” Of course he played a good game; he’s Michael Jordan. Noting it is practically an insult. Same goes here. Jerry Seinfeld is the Michael Jordan of comedy.

A few things Jerry does not need: swearing, gratuitous sex jokes, unnecessary accolades, and resting on his laurels. Nothing recycled from the TV series, though there are bits taken here and there from 40 years in standup. He’s the master observer, of the human condition’s good and bad.

He’ll tell ya about the rotten side of life, and the awful people you meet along the way. It’s funny because it’s true. Life does suck pretty often. Maybe even 23 hours a day.

But for one hour… you’ve got Jerry.

Jeopardy! goes old school

If you were watching Jeopardy! last night or the night before you were treated to something unusual.

Ken Jennings in the middle.

First, Monday…

Re-airing an episode that was originally broadcast on June 2, 2004, Jeopardy! went old school, showing the first time Jennings appeared on the show. Appeared human too, missing questions and betting only $2,000 on a Daily Double.

I think the most amusing scene was Ken’s contestant interview. Rather than telling a story about his wife or kids or anything silly like that, he took time to thank the anonymous strangers who had rescued him along a Nevada highway some unknown time ago.

If that had been the only time he’d appeared on the show it would have been a pretty weak story. Good thing for Ken he had 75 more times to chat with Alex about, well, Jesus, by the time they were done they were like old friends weren’t they?

Last night  Jeopardy! pulled one from the vaults as well, this time going back only a few months to its million-dollar “Greatest of All-Time” challenge.

Ken, though positioned in the middle, looked like the Ken Jennings we know.

Damn that guy’s good at Jeopardy!

May the Fourth

May the Fourth be with you.

I’m not sure the first time I heard it, but it wasn’t that long ago (in a galaxy far, far away), and I’ll admit it was pretty funny.

At first.

You hear it a few dozen times and it sort of loses something though.

Then you forget about it for a year and it’s once again mildly amusing.

My students these days do get the reference, and unlike an earlier generation, can actually say about Star Wars movies, “I like the new ones” and not have me gagging.

May the Fourth be with all of us indeed.