Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Good intentions

I believe I wrote last year about thinking about foul balls while at a Buffalo Bisons' game. If it's not a Friday night game, the contest usually isn't that well attended, there's time to think about what you might do if you get a foul ball. It happened last year, and I got a nice hand when I flipped the ball to a nice little girl.

Fast forward to tonight. Mrs. Inquisitive Mind and I didn't have much company tonight in the upper deck. Sure enough, someone hit a ball in the seat just below mine, so it was no problem getting it as there was no one near me.

I grabbed the ball, walked over to the aisle, and handed the ball to a child who looked to be about four. He was wearing a Superman shirt; some of my friends know that I probably wouldn't give a ball to someone in a Yankees' shirt.

As I was walking back to my seat, the 4-year-old in question took a look at the ball ... and threw it back on to the screen that runs behind home plate to protect the fans from line drives. The ball slowly rolled down the screen toward the field, gone forever.

His father darn near fainted.

Too bad ESPN wasn't there. Definite Play of the Day material.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Big Man

Now, for my one up-close-and-personal, second-hand story about the late, great Clarence Clemons.

It was 1978, and I was attending a wedding reception in New Jersey. Sitting on my table was the stereotypical beautiful blond. I think her boyfriend was there as well, come to think of it.

When the band started playing music, I said brightly, "This is New Jersey. We should hear some Bruce Springsteen." She replied, "Oh, are you a fan?" I said yes. She answered, "It's really nice to see such nice guys make it."

I paused for a moment, and mumbled something about wanting more information. She told me that almost all of the E Street Band, except for Springsteen, used to come over to her house once a week. Most of the guys would play poker, but Clemons was sit and talk to the woman's father, and eat large quantities of chili. Apparently her dad was something of a hippy, and he and Clarence just got along great.

I was mighty impressed.

Like most fans, I can remember the first time I saw Clemons in person, and the last. The first was in February of 1977. The boys (all boys back then) were playing in Utica, having played the night before in Buffalo the day the driving ban was lifted from the Blizzard of '77. I suppose Clemons was wearing a white suit, as he often did back then, and served as Springsteen's on-stage foil. The man could play a saxophone, obviously.

The band only played for about 90 minutes for some reason -- the three-hour stuff was down the road, or something -- and the group left the stage after the last encore. The house lights came up, and practically no one moved. The crowd just stood and cheered some more. Finally, one of the roadies working on the equipment looked off stage and noticed that the band was still around. So he turned to the audience and made a "make noise" gesture that electrified the place. The band came back and played one more song, much to the delight of everyone. When Clemons left the stage, he gave everyone he could reach an enthusiastic high five.

Fast forward to 2009. The E Street Band was wrapping up years of touring with a show in Buffalo. Clarence and Bruce and the boys and a couple of girls were back. This show went for more than three hours. Clemons frankly didn't look too good at that point, and needed something of an elevator to get to and from his position in the stage. But when he stood up from his seat to play, it was still an dynamic feeling in the building.

There were rumors around the end of that tour that this might be it for the E Street Band. Springsteen did a couple of interviews in which he essentially said, "Give up, when we're playing so well? Are you nuts?" But, as we know now, that show will be remembered as the last of that particular lineup.

Clemons and Springsteen were always an interesting combination. The iconic "Born to Run" cover showed the two of them together in a now-classic post -- Springsteen, out front because he was "the Boss," but leaning on Clemons for support and friendship. It was a rock-and-roll relationship that stood the test of time.

And how many of those classic friendships crossed racial lines? Springsteen has always been color-blind when it comes to his music, inviting all sorts of musicians to play with him over the years. The core of the E Street Band, though, was all white except for Clemons, and so was the fan base. At that last concert I asked a friend, "Where are all the minority faces?" She replied, "They are working at the concession stands."

But the relationship between Springsteen and Clemons send a powerful message that, indeed, it wasn't a party unless everyone was invited. Clemons was one of the those larger-than-life personalities who was quickly loved by everyone he touched, even from a distance. Springsteen biographer Dave Marsh remarked after Clemons' death that the two of them were like Huck and Jim ever since Springsteen and Clemons came together in the early 1970's, a time when such a relationship was less common. They were going to be friends as they rolled down the Mississippi, or the equivalent Interstates, to the next gig, and what the rest of the world thought didn't matter.

It's easier to wonder what will become of the E Street Band without Clemons. Springsteen has played with other bands, although Clarence can't be replaced with this particular group. But that will sort itself out over time. As for now, I hope the Big Man is pain-free and in a place where the chili is tasty and the music goes on all night.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Four fans check in

The news wasn't good when I was away on vacation, as Clarence Clemons of the E Street Band passed away. U2 paid tribute to the Big Man the other night:

Sunday, June 12, 2011

... and new champion

No matter where you are right now and when you are reading this, you probably can open up a window in your house and hear cheering.

From Cleveland.


The NBA Finals this year had to have one of the strangest dynamics in history. The Miami Heat became America's (Least Favorite) Team when it signed LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in the offseason, with James announcing at the time that he was after a string of championships.

Outside of South Florida, most fans were rooting for the Anyone But the Heat guys, and they got their way Sunday night when the Dallas Mavericks won their first NBA title. Yes, Dallas was thrilled, as you might expect, but I can't wait to see the TV ratings from Cleveland.

It's been quite a year in the NBA. Almost a year ago, James became a free agent after several reasonably successfuly but title-less seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Looking at the move in hindsight, James gave the Cavs plenty of time to put together a winning team, but they just couldn't do it. If you can't put together a champion with one of the best players in the game who is from just down the road in Akron and wants to win in front of everyone from his youth, you may never be able to do it. Plus, James reportedly couldn't recruit another star to join him in Cleveland; Chris Bosh was said to be interested in playing with James, but not in Ohio 41 times a year.

If you remember, James decided he wanted to play for a winner and took less money in Miami so that the Heat could attract more talent. If he had done that in Cleveland, that statue would be finished by now. In a day when pro athletes are criticized for only going after money, James went the opposite way.

But James made a couple of mistakes. He made the announcement of his choice of a new team in an ESPN special that was designed as a way to raise money for charity but instead merely struck people as bizarre and self-serving. Then was the introduction of James, Wade and Bosh in Miami that was too over the top even for Vegas. James then piled the pressure on himself by announcing he had hopes of winning a string of titles.

The Three Amigos, or whatever you want to call them, had their ups and downs, but they did make it to the NBA Finals. There they ran into a Dallas team that was peaking at just the right time, and had a couple of veterans with something to prove. Plus, Miami never did seem to have an answer for Jason Terry off the bench. The Mavs showed a knack for rising from the dead throughout the playoffs, and came through enough times to get to four wins against Miami to take the title.

Not to take anything away from Dallas, but Miami looked as if the weight of a season's worth of expectations took their toll in the second half of Game Six. As for LeBron, he's now one championship behind Jason Kidd ... and Henry Finkel.

What happens next? James has enough issues now to keep a team of sports psychologists in business. The obvious one centers on his play in the fourth quarter, as James suddenly has a national reputation for disappearing at crunch time.

(Joke making the rounds: Don't loan LeBron James a dollar. He'll only give you three quarters; he vanishes when it comes to the fourth quarter.)

The championship window will be open for Miami for some time. The Heat had to scramble to fill the roster because of the salary cap last season, and that situation may get a little better with time. James is still a great player; that part is not going away.

On the other hand, if James thinks this was a tough time of year, wait until the playoffs open next spring. The magnification of the spotlight will get even greater, just when we thought that wasn't possible.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Stuck in a moment you can't get out of

I've been through dramatic, breathtaking transformations in the world of electronics before. It comes with being an old guy. I'm not talking about hearing the 1920 election returns on the radio, or seeing television at the 1939 World's Fair. But I do remember when our family got its first color television around 1965, and how we all used to fight to watch our favorite shows in living color. (Funny how Dad eventually won all the arguments about prime time, leaving me with Officer Joe Bolton and the Three Stooges in glorious black and white.)

My most obvious example of this came in the late 1980's. I had an all-in-one stereo unit of sorts that included a radio, a turntable, and a -- gasp -- eight-track player/recorder. You used to see eight-tracks at flea markets, but they are even getting rare there. But at least I could tape the albums I liked and listen to them in the eight-track player in my car.

But then I got a compact disk player. As Glenn Locke put it, I jumped about 20 years in technology in one trip to the store. Like everyone else at the time, I bought "Brothers in Arms" by Dire Straits, which was practically a demonstration of the CD's abilities.

Now, the process is happening again. Sort of.

Our television in the bedroom recently died, a 20-inch Magnavox that was nothing special but worked well enough for some years. Now, it's silly at this point to buy a set that doesn't have high-definition capability. It's pretty obvioius that all of television will be there sooner rather than later. But I really don't watch enough television to justify a full switch to HD, and it's cable price-tag of more than $100 a month. I was merely counting on a somewhat better picture on the LCD screen for the same price I had been paying.

There was a surprise waiting when I installed the new set. It turns out that the cable company doesn't go out of its way to reveal that the HD signal for local stations is buried on basic cable. In other words, out popped NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox -- all in HD. Yes, the picture is a nice step up; I can tell how long it's been since Dirk Nowitzki of the Mavericks shaved by watching the NBA Finals. I told a local television personality that she'd better brush her teeth when her station makes the conversion to HD; she'd hear about it from me if she didn't.

The television in the den still has its picture tube, though, and I have to say that the "framing" of the picture size when going back and forth between sets can be maddening. The old, standard broadcast has a 4/3 ratio of width to length. I believe HD is in something like 16/9.

These days, when I watch a show in the den, there's a good chance that I get a picture that doesn't fit the screen. It's particularly evident when graphics come up. For example, I can never see the scoreboard graphic completely when Fox does a baseball game. When my wife asks what the score of the game is, I have to say, "Well, the Mets have three, but I can't tell about the Phillies." One time we were watching a PBS show, and singer "Ichie Havens" was listed in the opening credits. Does Richie Havens have a rash or something?

I'm a patient man; I still have a VCR because it works fine and I have no need to spend extra money for digital cable and its tricks. (Well, I miss C-SPAN2 and HBO, which was bumped to digital cable only, a little -- but that's another argument.) And when my den television dies, as it surely will in a couple of years, I'll upgrade to another HD set and probably break down and spend the extra money.

But in the meantime, I have a toe in two different pools of water, and one is hot and one is cold.

Friday, June 03, 2011

The NBA's turn

In March, we had a version of March Madness highlights through the use of Legos. Now it's the NBA's turn.