Papi – and the stink of the asterix

It was going to happen. The halo over the Red Sox clubhouse was sure to get tarnished.

Take one larger-than-life clutch slugger, humanize him with a nickname like “Big Papi”, canonize him as a Boston hero for breaking sport’s greatest curse, and then watch as he too goes down the doper drain with his former comrade in bats, Manny “Tranny” Ramirez, into doper ignominy.

They all dope. The cyclists. The swimmers. The underage gymnasts. The marathoners, the curlers, the badminton players. I say we embrace it, wrap our arms around, and adopt better living through chemistry.

Because until we do, we’re going to be dashing our naive hopes that someone, somewhere is truly a clean hero. So bring on Big Pharma and let’s see what science can do.

As my wife said this morning, “You said it yourself, Ted Williams probably would have doped too if he had the chance.”

But Yaz wouldn’t. Right?

San Francisco in a day —

A couple weeks ago I was driving around San Diego with two colleagues. Between the three of us we probably are travelling internationally half of the year. I said — the world needs a guide for people like us who have three, six, 24 hours in a city.  The business traveller’s condensed guide to seeing the best a city like Tokyo has to offer. There is nothing more tragic than someone going to Paris for the first time in their life and staying in a Novotel at La Defense without seeing the Seine, the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame. It’s just a matter of a taxi ride and the will to explore.

Anyway, I just wrote an email to a colleague on her way to San Francisco next week:

dinner at Brandy Ho’s — 217 Columbus Avenue near Broadway
spicy – like seriously f#$king  spicy
so don’t get silly and dare them to bring on the heat. They will poison you.

Deep fried dumplings
Chicken salad (ask them to substitute the noodles for the “thick” or “fat” noodles)
smoked ham with cloves of garlic
Bean curd with meat sauce
spicy eggplant

those are the must-haves for me. The rest is up to you

Then, across the street,  the Tosca
242 columbus. Booths or the bar
Irish Coffee is the classic San Francisco drink but I am not a fan
A Negroni — basically an Italian martini — straight up. And some opera on the jukebox …..
heaven…..

I used to bartend at a great place called the Balboa Cafe on Greenwich and Fillmore in the Marina District.
ancient bar with an awesome awesome restaurant.
The bloody mary’s there are made from scratch and are .,…. well. I make the world’s best bloody mary as a result.

That’s it.
The rest is sightseeing.

Random vacation thoughts: July 2009

I decided to take the last week of this month off to recharge some batteries and sooth my stressed nerves. Ishmael’s remedy for burn-out applies here:

Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off – then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball.”

New Boat

This is the first week of full use of the Bald Eagle Too – a 1985 Endeavour 33′ sloop – that I gained use of last fall when my brother’s business partner and childhood friend, David Rowe, decided to sign the boat over to me rather than consign it to a charity auction. The boat had been beloved by his dad, Brian Rowe, a close friend of my late father’s, and when Brian passed away a few years ago the boat began to sit, out of the water, unused. So … one day last November, while I worked in my home office, I heard a commotion out of Main Street, heard the back-up horn of a large truck, and said, “Shit. It must trash day!”

It was John Peck, owner of the boatyard of the same name, and master at yacht haulage, delivering the Bald Eagle to my yard for winter storage next to the garage.

I spent the winter crawling around inside, reading all I could on 12 volt electrical systems, marine diesel engines; the sort of things that I haven’t messed around with since I delivered sailboats up and down the East coast in the early 1980s. An adolescence spent on the water, particularly as a deckhand on the Nantucket ferries, inculcated me with a respect for the maritime version of Murphy’s Law, but I took some comfort in knowing the was well-loved and owned by an engineer.

I was ready to launch in April, but mooring regulations and the incredibly impossible situation of getting a new mooring in Cotuit Bay had me stymied. I filed a “change of vessel” request with the town’s mooring officer to upgrade a 75-lb. mooring for a 14′ Cotuit Skiff into a 500-lb. mooring for a 33-foot sloop. The issue wasn’t the permit. It was space. And I had to wait until the mooring field filled in until the mooring officer could find me a spot.

Finally, after the Fourth of July, my polite pressure paid off and I was given permission to launch. I broke out the pressure water, blasted the decks, and John Peck returned to pick her up and launch her at Prince’s Cove in Marstons Mills. Fisher and I used the Tashmoo (my outboard skiff) as a tugboat, and pushed her, unrigged, through the Mills River and North Bay to a temporary mooring in Cotuit. The following week Oyster Harbor Marine, the boatyard in Osterville, took her in tow, stepped the 50-foot mast with a crane, topped off the diesel, re-commissioned the engine, and by the middle of the month I was underway.

The best part was taking David and my brother out for a maiden voyage and getting the insider’s guide to how she sails. That led, of course, to the impulsive decision to quickly take some vacation. Now I take the Cotuit launch out to the mooring field, and spend my day tinkering away, looking at the boat as a triage project. For example. First thing before slipping a mooring is the man-overboard situation. The decks are at least three, maybe four feet above the water. How do you get a person back into the boat? The swim ladder on the transom? A life ring? What if that person is a fat-whale like me and the only person who can haul me back aboard is my poor wife? From there the triage leads to fire extinguishers, radios, life jackets.

All clichés about money and boats can be inserted here.

Baseball:

I was scoring the Cotuit Kettleers-Chatham Anglers game last night at Lowell Park and became confused by a mysterious hit that was showing on the scoreboard but not on my card. The couple sitting behind me were obviously seriously into the game – from what I could overhear – and the woman seemed to be scoring, but freehand, without a card. I asked her to help me clarify the play – she held up her hand, she needed to see the next pitch (an obvious sign of a good scorer is undivided attention) and she told me where the hit came from. I asked her if she was a parent of a player, and indeed, she and her husband were there from Kentucky to see their son, Zach Cox, play. Cox won the MVP in the Cape League all-star game last week at Fenway for his two RBIs and last night he had three hits and an RBI as Cotuit moved into second place in the League’s western division going into the final stretch. Good thing earlier, when Reverend Jeremy came by to tell me about his pilgrimage to Cooperstown for Jim Rice’s induction to the Hall of Fame that I answered “Cox” when he asked me if I had a particular favorite on the team.

Reading:

Vacation is about the reading, and I’ve loaded the Kindle up with some weird stuff. First, I’ve never really worked my way through Dickens, and lo and behold, one can score some massive free stuff from Amazon. So I downloaded the complete works of Dickens and am now working my way through it in chronological order, beginning with the Pickwick Papers.

Having a restless need to jump around, I am immersed in The Economist and New Yorker, and also reading the legendary How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. This is one of the original self-help books. The ones our grandfather’s read in the 1930s and 40s along with Rev. Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking. Given that Carnegie was arguably one of the greatest pop cultural influences of the pre-war generation, I figured what the hell. Tedious going, but refreshingly American in its optimism and emphasis on “hail fellow, well met.”

Based on the Willam T. Vollmann profile in this morning’s NYT, I ordered Europe Central for the Kindle. Also waiting in the wings, Paranoia by Yale classmate Joseph Finder, The Baseball Economist by J.C. Bradbury, and The Food of a Younger Land, by Mark Kurlansky (Cod, Salt)

Miscellaneous:

Lance Armstrong is the man. His podium showing and his performance on Mount Ventoux was stunning. He makes me miss the bike in a big way.

WordPress continues to amaze. Chris Murray showed me the site he built using WordPress, and all opensource tools. This is where small media sites are headed. Check out directorship.com

 

 

Mosquito Boats: A History of the Cotuit Skiff

Mosquito Boats: The First Hundred Years of the Cotuit Skiff

The Association
of the Cotuit Mosquito Yacht Club held a dinner dance recently at the Cotuit Son’s of Italy hall to raise some funds, eat some spaghetti, and conduct a launch party of sorts for a 15-year project, a massive piece of research and writing that spans over a century of one of the oldest American one-design racing boats.

Larry Odence is a stalwart sailor of Cotuit Skiffs — he was a contemporary of my late father — first learning to sail the boats as a summer kid in the 1930s aboard his first skiff, the Watersprite. Today he is still out on the waters of Cotuit Bay, racing his beloved Swamp Fox with his grandchildren. His masterpiece is finally in print and was worth the wait.


Fifteen years ago, when the Skiff fleet was beginning its massive revival, Larry began to research the history of the design by taking an unusual and very intimate approach. He focused on each individual boat, rather than their sailors or builders, creating in effect a detailed genealogy around each and every Mosquito. The task was massive – records were loosely kept, stored in a drawer at the Cotuit Library – memories faded, some builders kept no records (I know, Larry was tireless is asking me if my grandfather, Henry Chatfield Churbuck had kept any records of his short-lived Skiff building activities in the late 1940s) and some owners had hazy memories of who owned what, and what sail numbers went with which hull.

Larry’s efforts have been published and given to the ACMYC as a fund raising tool. But what comes through after a thorough reading is this is a remarkable history on three or four levels.

First, the Odence book is the history of an eccentric, uniquely American boat design that was derived from a simple inshore working boat and adapted to local waters by a very innovative and enigmatic designer, Stanley Butler. Butler refused to standardize, he was an inventor and an innovator, so no two of his boats were alike and his customers – the first summer people in Cotuit – began to get unhappy with the unfair differences between one boat to the next.  The concept of one-design sailing is founded on standards — to remove the advantage of technology and to make the competition about the sailor, not the boat or the sail. Children would come home, doubtlessly unhappy that their boat was slower than their friend’s, and before long the history moves from one of experimentation to standardization, a pattern that would repeat itself over the decades, time and time again. Debate over standards persist to this day.

The Mosquitos were handmade boats, built from oak and white Atlantic cedar, canvas and iron nails. Little 14-foot hulls with impossibly big sails, designed for rounding short courses inside the lake-like harbor of Cotuit Bay. Hurricanes took their toll, as did sloppy maintenance, corroding fasteners, and waves of popularity and decline caused by wars, economies, and other distractions. I majored in American maritime history in college and have read a lot of histories, especially indigenous boat design such as Howard Chappelle and others. Larry’s work is the equal of those academic works and in many regards, superior to them because of the intense amount of detective work he did in gathering profiles of more than 150 boats and the personalities behind every one of them.

Second, the book traces the history of a community formed around a yacht club that for years owned no property, had no clubhouse, and was run by young people with little help from their parents. Not until 1960 was a parent’s association formed to pay for motorboats and sailing lessons – before that it was a club of unmarried juniors under the age of 25 who tolerated older sailors on their own terms. By emphasizing the ownership of each boat, the book brings forth a very interesting story of families than came and went through the town – from townies who have been here forever to vacationers who arrived for a month or two never to return.

Third, this is a history of a village and the entire phenomenon of New England summer resorts. Cotuit was one of the first summer destinations for wealthy Bostonians – the names of the first residents are a roll of Brahmin pedigrees: Lowells, Ropes, Cabot, Coolidge – and the Skiff played an important role as the only recreation in a village with no beach club, country club, golf course, or other typical summer diversion. The Mosquito was it and remains the icon of the village.

Mystic Seaport, the preeminent American maritime museum in Mystic, Connecticut, awarded the Cotuit Mosquito Yacht Club its William Avery Baker award for its efforts in preserving the Cotuit Skiff over more than a century. The president of the Seaport, Steven White, came to Cotuit to give the award to CMYC Commodore, Michael Dannhauser.

Update: This is a sample of what each boat’s entry looks like:

Click on the picture for a link to the original full-sized scan.

I’m not sure how or if the Odence book will be sold outside of the club. The price is $100. If interested please leave a comment and I’ll find out how to fulfill an order.

I Like to Score

Since reading Michael Lewis’ Moneyball, I’ve been more and more drawn into the statistical elegance of baseball, geeking out on the exceptional symmetry of the game and the subtleties that can be revealed through an understanding of the various numbers that have been used to track the progress of teams and individual players since the invention of the box score in 1876 by Henry Chadwick.

It wasn’t always so for me. Baseball was a sandlot pastime as a kid – I played a couple undistinguished seasons in the Georgetown, Mass. “Farm League” – as a very error-prone nine-year old first baseman who never could anticipate the play, even when it was hit right at me. But I could hit, and will forever remember the clear click of my only homer in the field behind the town’s library, a soaring wonder that earned me a gasp from the crowd and a short moment of redemption for all the missed catches and wild throws that made me the gimp of the team.

Baseball to a nine year old – drawn to the magic of the Boston Red Sox and their 1967 Impossible Dream bid for the World Series — was not a game of numbers, but of heroes like Rico Petrocelli, Tony Conigliaro, Jim Lonborg and the Carl Yastrzemski. I barely understood the game, but remember the incredible phenomenon of my fourth grade class hearing the scores of the day games announced through the public address system of the Perley Elementary School – the beer jingles “Schafer is the … one beer to have. When you’re having more than one” and the beginning of a long abusive relationship as a battered Red Sox fan.

As this has been a summer of Cape Cod Baseball for me. I try to make every home game at Lowell Field, walking up Main Street in my shorts and flip flops at 4:30 pm the home team’s cap on my head, and a nub of a yellow number 2 pencil stuck behind my ear. A few dollars in my pocket for when they pass the hat*, a bag of popcorn, and a can of Moxie – the soda that tastes like shoe polish but prevents softness off the brain.

Every game has a photocopied page of stats for the home team and visitors. A dense list of stats that tells the spectator details such as number 3, Rico Noel, the second baseman is 5’8″, weighs 190 pounds, comes from Bristol, Virginia, plays for Coastal Carolina, and is hitting .210 after 23 games and 54 at bats. The rest is all numbers. Stolen bases. Runs. Homers. Walks. Hit by balls ….. interesting stuff, but nothing compared to what has been revealed from my personal revelation of the summer of 2009 – the mysterious score card. One day I saw on the raffle ticket table a stiff piece of paper with a complex grid like a paper spreadsheet.. I picked it up. Looked at the rows and columns of little diamonds and realized: “you have no clue how to score a baseball game.”**

No one ever taught me now to score a baseball game. Sure, I can follow a count of balls and strikes, I know most of the rules (but have a hell of a time figuring out silly concepts like the bunt exception on the infield fly rule) but I have never sat in the stands and kept score. Up until this June, if you’d asked me to score a game, I d have looked at the scoreboard and read it.

Look at picture of a ball game in the 1950s. The men wore ties and hats. And nearly every one of them is holding a score card and a pencil (always a pencil, because even the best scorer makes mistakes). I loved Red’s tribute to his late dad on my favorite Red Sox blog, Surviving Grady when he fondly remembers the man habitually scoring games. So people even score from the radio. So I set out to teach myself something that, like my friend said after dropping Mandarin Chinese lessons in college, something no one knows except a billion other people.

Off to Google and Wikipedia and instantly I discover there is a subculture of scoring fanatics. Being obsessive compulsive I start printing out copies of the PDF score card blanks and start practicing in front of the television with the Red Sox.

Everyone knows a strike is a “K.” Why? Because the father of scoring, Henry Chadwick said it was so, and well, because there is a K in the word “strike”. A backward’s K means the batter struck out without swinging, “looking.” And from there it’s an amazing world of abbreviations and conventions. Put it this way. There is no official way to score a game – but, it has to be done in such a way that another scorer can look at one’s scratches and symbols and mentally recreate every swing, hit, force out, fielder’s choice and managerial ejection as if they has been there.

So there I sit in the home team bleachers, freezing my ass off because I never think to bring a sweatshirt in this summer of damned rain, sunspot anomalies, and El Nino disturbances that makes the sighting of a lost snowflake a distinct possibility one of these evenings. I take my card – with the Kettleer’s Gothic Germanic Script on one side, the ad from UBS Wealth Management Services of Hyannis utterly out of place during this Deprecessionary Summer. And I settle in, arriving 15 minutes early to get a prime spot in the top row of the old bleachers (the pipe railing is a nice back rest and the old gents who have the Knowledge sit there). Popcorn bag gets wedged on the springy green foot plank of the bleachers so it won’t blow over and shower the miscreant delinquents under the stands with my dinner. Moxie gets saved for the end of the bag when the popcorn salt makes it imperative.

Then the card gets filled out. First the opponent. The Wareham Gatemen. The Brewster Whitecaps. The Chatham Mariners. The Falmouth Commodores ….Then the weather – whether or not it is raining and which way the wind is blowing. Then I wait for the announcer, a broadcast journalism intern from Northeastern University, to welcome me to the “60th Season of the Cotuit Kettleers and lovely Lowell Field” and tell me the lineups.

In college wooden bat summer leagues the lineups change with every game. Cotuit’s manager – Mike Roberts (father of Baltimore Oriole Brian Roberts) and the coach of the UNC Chapel Hill baseball team for two decades — is a big bunter and short ball aficionado, so he’s constantly mixing up his lineup from game to game.

Visitors get announced first and I start scribbling – easy names are easy names (this is the summer of Zack’s and Zach’s) – hard ones get approximated. The main thing is to get the uniform number and the order down right. Spelling can be corrected later. Down the left margin I go. One player after another. Following along as the announcer names the foes and then the hometown heroes. The important thing is to assign each name their place on the field – and this another revelation of the scorer’s art. You don’t write 1B for first baseman or LF for left fielder. The players are numbered one through nine, starting with the pitcher and moving to the catcher (2), the first baseman (3), second (4) and then … not the shortstop, but the third baseman (5), then the short stop (6), then the outfield – 7 for left, 8 for center, and 9 for right. This is the basis of the system and the thing that drove me insane the first few games. But suddenly I felt I had been let in on some dark Masonic secret when Don Orsillo called a Red Sox double play on the television as a “Six-four-three double play” and I instantly knew that the short stop (6) caught the chopped hit, threw it to the second baseman (4) who tagged the base and hurled it to the first baseman (3) in time to nail the batter. Duh.

In such illumination I find great profundities.

First up the visiting team’s lead off man. I check the stat sheet, and write down his average so I can tell at a glance if he is a slugger or not. The pitcher winds up and ……Then the scorer’s trance settles in and I immediately —  the first time I did it — realized why people score baseball games…. It’s simple. It puts you into the game at a level of attention and detail unknown to the average fan. Take your eye off the batter and you can miss some seriously strange stuff. Go to the bathroom and you come back with no idea of who did what to whom and with what effect. Baseball, I would argue, is the only game that is played at a pace where a fan can note with amazing accuracy every detail of the game. Basketball? Too fast. Football? Way too chaotic. Hockey?

I embarrass my children. “Geek” they call me. “Weenie.” But in this primal form of very real baseball, baseball without music blaring, mascots mugging, the real game of wooden bats and veritable boys of summer, scoring just seems like the right thing to do. There’s no rewind. No laptop at hand. If I want to know the score, the real score,¸then I have to keep it myself.

I fill out my card. It is a very social thing. I ask people around me to confirm that I saw what I thought I saw. The old timers asked me the other night for the pitch count – and , um,. Let’s see, he’s got 84 pitches, I bet he doesn’t come back after the stretch ….I know when a batter comes up in the ninth inning how he’s done at his previous at bats. I am the bearer of the knowledge. The Score Master. I know he’s two for three and all of his hits were singles to third. I know that the errors are piling up around the short stop. My son arrives in the third inning and I can give him a play-by-play synopsis of the game in under a minute. I can look at the scoreboard and tell when it is wrong.

The other night, at the end of the game, as we walked out of the park, I rolled up my smudged card and stuck it in my back pocket and my daughter asked, “What do you do with those things?”

Nothing.” I laughed at the existential uselessness of it all and think of the Grantland Rice line – he, the great poet laureate of the game:

“For when the One Great Scorer comes
To write against your name,
He marks – not that you won or lost –
But how you played the Game.”

But I could never throw one away. I stack them on my desk. And when the official score is posted on the Kettleer website the next day check my work and I see where I went wrong. I go back and correct, or, I shake my head and realize the official scorer had no clue on a particularly chaotic play. As the games have gone by and I’ve scored more than a dozen, I am going back to the online sources – I even bought a used book on Amazon – and I’m getting a little fancier. Modifying my system to make it more efficient. Adopting, for example, the official hit notation method used at Fenway Park. Adding footnotes. Little embellishments that make the card even more useful ….. marking it up with asterixes for particularly stunning plays.

Like playing a song on a ukulele (The Princess Papoolie Has Plenty Papaya, And She Loves To Give it Away), knowing how to shoot a noon sun shot with a sextant, shaving with a straight-edged razor, changing a tire, using jumper cables, reciting a long poem from memory, and having three awesome dirty jokes for any occasion and a good toast when called upon to give one, I am a step closer to another merit badge in manliness.

And in conclusion, a little postscript on the topic of Cotuit baseball and what it means to this little village:

Last Sunday I went to church — the Cotuit Federated Church where I got married, but do not attend *** to hear my neighbor, the Rev. Jeremy D. Nickel, preach a sermon on the Red Sox. I buy into the whole “Fenway is a cathedral” Field of Dreams spirituality of baseball thing, but the Rev Jer avoided the clichés and metaphors by accurately homing In and nominating Dave Roberts for sainthood for his curse-killing steal in the fourth game of the American League Championship Series against the Satanic Yankees and their Dark Lord Steinbrenner ****– and made me think about the importance of staring down the baseline of life at second base and not caring about what lies behind in the past, just going for the glory when it needs to get gone for. Then we stood and sang Take Me Out to the Ball Game (twice), Jeremy’s wife, the pastor Rev. Nicole Lamarche recited Grantland Rice’s “Casey At Bat” and I put a bill in the collection plate handed to me by a nice lady wearing a red Red Sox shirt with David Ortiz’s name on the back. Give Jer a follow on Twitter

*: Plastic kettles actually, because the team, the Kettleers, is named for Myles Standish’s 17th century screwing of Chief Paupmunnuck out of the village for a kettle and a hoe

**: which is where college Deadhead buddy Timothy Grand, The Omega Man of Miami, chimes in to say I would have been shot as a Nazi at the Battle of the Bulge for impersonating an American and failing the secret password challenge question known to all true American males.

***: I am, according to my spiritual guide Paul Noonan, a “Devout Home Baptist and member of the congregation of St. Mattress”

****: aka SIAS or FIAT ( “s**t in a suit” or “feces in a turtleneck”)which I said, not the right reverend.

Does Comcast really care?

Comcast got all sorts of PR for using Twitter to calm down pissed off customers. Great. The issue is does it change the reality of making them happy?

Peter Hirshberg posts his exchange on Twitter with the vaunted leader in Twitter customer service:

“So in the space of a few tweets we’ve gone from the lofty possibility of customer service in the era of transparency to “Dude, don’t you know, phone service can suck. Just call my mom. Help in today’s world….””

via Peter Hirshberg’s weblog on disruptive culture and technology: Comcast and Me: a Twitter tale, in seven (little) acts.