As Steve Nash Goes, So Goes The Last Remaining Self-Obsessed Straggler Who Finally Lets Go Of The Stupid Chip On His Shoulder

The Suns are playing the Jazz in about 15 minutes or so, and depending how it goes, Phoenix may be out of the playoff race.

Not that they were expected to do very well this year — the fact that they're still in the hunt with only two games left is pretty remarkable.

Besides the fact that I still root for Phoenix teams, I am rooting for Steve Nash and Grant Hill to win a NBA championship, something which neither player has accomplished. Both players seem like really wonderful, nice people, too. Grant Hill recently participated in the "Think Before You Speak" campaign. Steve Nash is into all manner of interesting, important stuff — soccer, directing films, saving children, speaking out against war. And Nash is 38 and Hill is 39, "old" for basketball but not old if you remember watching their respective college careers while you were in college yourself.

In fact, for quite some time I thought that I saw Nash in person while he played for Santa Clara. I had a distinct memory of watching him make a ridiculous number of three-point shots at the West Coast Conference tournament in 1992 while I was in school in Portland. I believed this until about a half-hour ago when I factchecked myself and discovered that Nash didn't start at Santa Clara until the 1992-93 season. The person I watched was Tomas Thompson, who played for the University of San Francisco Dons and was 8-8 for three-point goals, which was a new NCAA Division I record (since broken — see page two of this .pdf). So I was correct about something exciting happening. It just wasn't Steve Nash. Because he was still in high school then. (Tomas Thompson, in case you were wondering, seems to work as a PE teacher in San Jose now.)

My time in Portland, Oregon was limited to two "trimesters" at Lewis & Clark College. Shortly into the first "trimester," I realized that I probably made a bad choice about college. I'd tell you I realized this during an introduction to anthropology class, but I can't factcheck stuff like this, so I'd feel bad if I was mistaken. But I'll take a gamble and confirm that it was probably during intro to anthropology that I began to think that this educational experience probably wasn't worth what was being spent. I thought this because the instructor mentioned pretty early on that he taught the same class at the local community college. If you could get the same education anywhere, I reasoned, then it seemed kind of dumb to continue at a second-tier private school. Or so went my thinking.

That's not to say that the introduction to anthropology course wasn't really interesting, or that the instructor wasn't really good — it was and he was — after all, he was the one who tried to explain "culture" (and I'm probably paraphrasing) by announcing that "culture is a scam." What I think he meant by that was that culture is an arbitrary set of rules and rituals that humans impose on themselves to make order of things. It was one of those lines that seem so packed with meaning, you miss the rest of whatever someone says while you try to figure out what it could possibly mean. (Referred to — here and here — as a "Get Up and Get a Beer Line.")

Which is to say, I think it was just that this particular environment seemed too much like summer camp for me, especially back then, when I was much more earnest and probably more uptight about shit. I stuck around one more "trimester" just to be sure about my decision to leave. That was when I saw the WCC tournament on the University of Portland campus in March 1992. I had a good time that "trimester" hanging out with the Japanese foreign exchange students I dormed with, getting to see a lot of Portland and the region and seeing various shows. (I haven't been back to Portland since March 1992, which is why watching Portlandia is such a kick.)

In retrospect, attending Lewis & Clark was the best worst choice I could have made. If I had gone to Reed, I think I would have been that much more of a contrarian dickhead. If I had gone to Evergreen, it's possible I would have known Miranda July.

So I transferred to Arizona State University that fall and still graduated in four years. That made a lot more sense for me, and at that point in time, tuition only cost $1000 a semester. I think I saw that tuition is closer to $9000 a year there now. Still better than what Lewis & Clark apparently costs ($38,500 for 2011-12) or Reed ($42,800 for 2011-12) or even Evergreen ($18,978). With all due respect to people who graduated from places like these (some very close friends, even!), $42,000 a year is fucking idiotic.

That's not to say that a liberal arts degree from Arizona State is particularly useful in a job market like, say, the New York Metropolitan Region. Which is to say, I can't believe an employer — if they cared at all — would be very impressed with ASU. The only time I ever heard of anyone registering any particular reaction was when Jen got on a subway in Lower Manhattan one day and a guy yelled at her across the train that the only thing ASU teaches you is how to suck dick. Just a little Territorial Cup humor there; this guy went to the University of Arizona. Jen liked the old Sparky logo. It looked something like this, which is a T-shirt Goober bought for me, and which I understand is now seen as a "throwback" or "vintage" look, which should depress you just as much as the idea that you were in college when Steve Nash was still in high school:


They've since dismantled the Sparky elements on the uniforms, which was a pretty crappy thing to do.

The few times I've ever had to look at resumes I avoided looking at where someone went to school.

The Suns are down in the second quarter.

From time to time I thought about what I'd do differently if I was less of an idiot at age 18, which is quite the counterfactual. And as "fun" as it sounds to go to school in a "fun" city, I don't think I'd do anything differently. If anything, I feel even more strongly about not participating in such a corrupt undergraduate system. People are correct to complain about the student loan system, but the only logical solution is to either restrict subsidized loans to public universities or not have them at all. Or what if people stopped going to expensive private schools altogether? That would be something . . .

Of course, once you get past your first shitty job or past the age of whatever or just move on and don't have to think about what a degree confers, then it kind of doesn't really matter anyway. And then once you have a child of your own, you start to freak out about making sure he or she makes it into a quality school, if not a place like Northwestern then hopefully at least a Madison or Michigan, or perhaps even UVA, because if they don't get in or don't feel comfortable in a good small private liberal arts school then there are several top-notch public options east of the Mountain Time Zone — totally kidding!! Actually, you just forget once and for all why any of it — any of it — matters in the slightest (as it were).

The Suns are down at halftime. Back in March Steve Nash said that he wouldn't want to remain with the Suns if there wasn't "improvement", which to me means that making the playoffs is kind of a big deal for the franchise. Not that they're going to the finals or anything anytime soon, but still . . .

It's late in the third quarter and I should probably go to bed because I'll probably have to get up at some point soon and change a diaper or whatnot. Which is just as well . . .

Posted: April 25th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: M+/MR | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Yesterday's Stars Of Tomorrow Today . . .

So here's someone I haven't thought about since probably 1991:

After being selected No. 1 overall by the Yankees in the 1991 MLB draft, Taylor was expected to take the Bronx by storm.

A shoulder injury suffered in a bar fight derailed the left-hander's pitching career and, despite a then-record $1.55 million signing bonus, he never made the majors.

On Thursday, Taylor was arrested on drug charges in Carteret County, N.C.

There's a thrill in knowing about "tomorrow's stars today" and before Royce Clayton, I think the first person I thought to pay attention to might have been Brien Taylor. This was back when I started to conceive of baseball as I would, say, a record collection. In retrospect, I'm glad I didn't go down that route. I would have probably wasted a lot of time on stuff like fantasy baseball or something.

That's not to say that a little part of me feels like I want to know about the stars of tomorrow. It's a latent impulse in everyone, but probably mostly male collector scum types. I continue to indulge this impulse: I'm still waiting to see what happens with Dellin Betances — if we position him right, he could do for the Lower East Side what Jeremy Lin did for, I don't know, the continent of Asia, I guess. Speaking of Linsanity, even the president has a bit of collector scum in him:

[Bill Simmons]: So you're catching up, obviously, on the fact that you had been surpassed as the most famous person who was a Harvard graduate.

Obama: Jeremy is —

BS: Jeremy Lin.

Obama: — doing good. And I knew about Jeremy before you did, or everybody else did, because Arne Duncan, my Secretary of Education, was captain of the Harvard team. And so way back when, Arne and I were playing and he said, I'm telling you, we've got this terrific guard named Jeremy Lin at Harvard. And then one of my best friends, his son is a freshman at Harvard, and so when he went for a recruiting trip he saw Lin in action. So I've been on the Jeremy Lin bandwagon for a while.

BS: Are you taking credit for "Linsanity"? It kind of feels like you are a little bit.

Obama: I can't take credit for it, but I'm just saying I was there early.

It's an intoxicating feeling, knowing something most others don't. And it's even better in baseball, because so few players in the minor leagues make it to the majors, so knowing about tomorrow's stars today is an especially satisfying feeling.

Which is to say, I remember thinking something along the lines of, "Oh, I should remember Brien Taylor because he's probably going to be awesome." That was of course the last time I thought about Brien Taylor. I could never be Tim Kurkjian, much, much less Will Leitch.

Here's a selection of Taylor stories from the New York Times archives:

And then now he may go to jail for dealing cocaine.

Posted: March 4th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: M+/MR, The Thrill Of Victory And The Agony Of Defeat! | Tags: , , , , , , ,

They Took All The Walkup Music, Made It Seem Really Exclusive, And They Charged The People Ninety-Nine Cents Just To Rehear It

The other night I came across this article "What's Up With Former Baseball Player Royce Clayton?" and clicked on it because I actually was really interested in what was up with former baseball player Royce Clayton.

I suppose it says something when you have to specify "former baseball player." I didn't need the clarification, though — I totally remembered Royce Clayton. Clayton was one of the Giants' top prospects in the early 1990s. He came through Phoenix on the way up to the big leagues, back when Phoenix was San Francisco's AAA affiliate. He played there the summer I worked at Scottsdale Stadium selling programs. I remember watching Chris Berman call him "Royce-A-Roni The San Francisco Treat Clayton" when Clayton was called up and made some sort of big play.

Part of the fun of watching minor league baseball — for me, at least — is the possibility that you'll see "Tomorrow's Stars Today" (which was a Phoenix Firebirds slogan, if memory serves). I don't know that I saw many stars of tomorrow in the Giants organization — Clayton was probably the biggest — but I did see Mike Piazza and Pedro Martinez when they played for the Albuquerque Dukes.

If you click through to the article and read between the lines you'll glean that Clayton had a mediocre career:

I don't look back with any regrets. I played my ass off. I never cheated anybody. People can say whatever; I know I'm not going to the Hall of Fame. But a lot of guys did a lot of different things and I never had to do that, and I stayed in the league 17 years. I can tell my kids that's what I did and that's what matters to me.

I guess you don't really have to even read between the lines.

Anyway, besides acting in the recent adaptation of Michael Lewis' Moneyball, Clayton has been involved with something called Balltunes, which sounds like the sort of enterprise stoned characters in Judd Apatow films might come up with. Clayton explains how it works:

We create original content for walkup songs. We get input from the player and coordinate with the artists and the producers. It will be the players' original song. Like Xavier Nady has come up to (songs by rapper) DMX his whole career, so we have interest in getting those two together. They're both very excited. We're finishing up a deal with Derek Jeter, and we've talked to a lot of other players: Mike Napoli, Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Ryan Braun, Ryan Howard. We're talking to some of the top players in the top markets.

Talk about commodifying just about everything! At the risk of sounding like an old frump, walkup music was one of the last remaining "authentic" things about watching baseball. Think about it — the messaging tends to be so tightly controlled and/or disciplined that you never get a sense of what players are actually like. It's the reason post-game interviews and newspaper quotes are so boring, and why unscripted Twitter moments are so interesting.

The only other way you see through to a player's core is his walkup music. You get a real feel for Jayson Werth, and that filthy flavor-savoring facial hair, when pivotal bars of Kings of Leon's "Sex On Fire" blast through the ballpark. Eric Byrnes' "Your Love" by The Outfield (get it?) showed how much of a goof he was. It's important stuff.

Some folks talk about what they would request if they were entitled to walkup music — and that's fun to ponder — but it just doesn't work that way. Walkup music seems thrust upon a player. It's cool because no player seems to overthink it. In this way, Chase Utley's "Kashmir" is as natural as it gets.

Maybe you want to believe Chase Utley sits up at night making walkup music mixtapes for himself, carefully choosing the exact right song for how he feels when he needs to hit something out to the alley in right field. But that's absurd. Chase has better things to do than worry about his walkup music. Plus, "Kashmir," while a nice groove, isn't really a unique song. It just fits.

Here's a list — from a few years back — of different walkup music. It's pretty funny.

But back to the point. Having your own original walkup music just ruins something. When Tino Martinez plays Stone Temple Pilots' "Interstate Love Song," you get a sense for what kind of man Tino Martinez is. Your own walkup music? That's just too slick.

And I don't like the sponsorship opportunities. Would Derek Jeter get a cut of the money from iTunes downloads of his own walkup music? After a point it seems a little unsavory.

Let walkup music be. It's one of the few ways fans get a sense of players as individuals and not gladiators. Because how can you really hate a guy who is that big a 3 Doors Down fan?

Posted: January 12th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Jukebox, M+/MR, Shiftless When Idle | Tags: , , , , ,