Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

Birds, Beasts and Bragging

June 29th, 2011

Rip ’em up. Tear ’em up. Cocks give ’em hell.

That was by far the most popular cheer when I attended the University of South Carolina. My high school in New Jersey also had a bird (bird?!) as mascot, but not with razor spurs and killer reputation. Instead it was a cardinal.

I confess that I am not a true sports fan. I like the team sports I participated in — wrestling, swimming and water polo. When the Olympics coverage shows those, I may watch.

Gamecocks tee shirtIt should surprise no one that I’m not a big USC Gamecock’s fan. Yet I did become aware last year and this, as the team had a shot at back-to-back college baseball national championships. Last night, they did win the College World Series and did it right. It was an all-SEC final, against Florida. The red Carolina swept the three-game playoff after winning all of its CWS games. Or as Yahoo Sports put it, “South Carolina became the first team to ever go 10-0 in an NCAA tournament and the first since Oregon State in 2007 to go unbeaten in a CWS. The Gamecocks’ streaks of 16 NCAA tournament wins and 11 straight in the CWS are both the longest all-time.”

So, self, I ask you, why when friends were were also jocks or even just alumni go on and on when their alma maters do anything remarkable, are you blasé? I still do athletic things, am a hulking guy, and of course, once a jock, you keep that mindset at some level.

I’m understandably indifferent to a second college, Lesley in Cambridge, where many years after journalism school, I got a management degree. That likely has to do with no longer being a teen, as well as taking the courses at what was then a hotel on Route 1 in Norwood, where the business school shipped its professors one night a week for a long, long session. In fact, we called it Ramada U. As it turns out, I was the only one who had bothered to find out that the few, almost entirely women’s teams had a lynx as their mascot. None of us in our study group or the program ever attended any games.RU

In Columbia, I did attend football games, but to sell programs, which was a money maker for the underfunded swim team. I also wrote news, but mostly opinion pieces for the student newspaper. There I ran afoul of the fowl-loving real fans.

Our football coach/athletic director was the allegedly brilliant Paul Dietzel. He built a shakily assembled (really pissy) record there. Then when he had the double slam of thinking the ACC rules kept him from recruiting enough big dummies for football and the very good basketball team got skunked in the conference tournament, he took Carolina independent. It subsequently ended up in the SEC, which is much, much tougher in football. It took them nearly 20 years to morph into truly competitive teams there.

I found his crybaby exit from the ACC pretty stupid and puerile. One of my paper columns that got the most hateful responses was a satire about it. I suggested that we forgo such pretenses as athletic conferences and instead go directly professional, so we could simply funnel the huge alumni contributions into paying jocks directly. We could buy championships and be done with it. Lo and woe, many students and alumni were mightily offended. In a state where nearly everyone in power had at least one degree from Carolina, many threats and curses came to the board and president. In fact another journalism major told me that when he was crossing the horseshoe in the old campus and hailed President Tom Jones, he told him on being asked that I was gone. He said Jones grinned and said, “Good!”

I surely have robbed myself of frequent simple pleasures in vicarious participation in an alma mater’s successes. That’s odd in that I have many cheap thrills. I revel in our own flowers, herbs and other plants, as I do in those I see as I walk or cycle. When I create a new or I think improved dish, as I do several times weekly, I can be smug. I can even delight in a small square of 72% chocolate or snifter of Lagavulin like it was a sacrament.

Those though are all personal and direct.

I admit it’s great for the young Gamecocks that they won it all in their sport, and two consecutive years. I was never on a team that did anything like that. They’ll have bragging rights for the rest of their lives. I just don’t see how it has much to do with me.

ID’ing Fans by Ear

June 15th, 2011

stompFrom our times living in Charles River Park, I don’t miss hockey nights. We did get to have a dawn party when they imploded the Hotel Madison (formerly the Manger from Frank Sinatra and Beatles eras). We could see every kind of transport — the Constitution, the Green Line, 93, the streets, and planes leaving Logan for Europe.

We were also next to the Garden. From the 9th floor of Hawthorne Place, on the Garden side, we knew from the sounds what had happened a few blocks away.

Concerts — Maybe they were doped up or blissed out from the music, but they were calm. They’d leave the garages and just slightly increase the hum and roar of traffic.

Basketball — Celtics fans left in clumps if one team was well ahead as was the norm. There’d be some impatient honking, I’d guess suburban types feeling inconvenienced by hoi polloi.

Hockey — Ah, we knew for sure when it was a Bruins night. There was garage rage, whether the home skaters won or lost. Much honking was interspersed with screeching brakes, audible collisions, obscene screaming, and occasionally what sounded like gunshots. The terms rabid and fan seem to go well with hockey.

We don’t hear any of that in Hyde Park. I suppose the Mayor a short distance away does not either.

Flat Out XC from Milton

February 4th, 2011

The Burma Road trail in the non-hill Blue Hills hiking/cross-country skiing route. The uxorial unit was inspired by the DCR XC brochure (art below lifted from this). Its wee description of this is:

Skiing from Fowl
Meadow Parking Lot
Located at the intersection of Neponset
Valley Parkway and Brush Hill Road in Milton
Burma Road
4 miles (2.5 hours) Easiest
This long, level course through the wetlands of the Neponset River is nearly a straight line, terminating at Interstate Highway 95. Easy terrain but a lengthy route. Great
for endurance-building and diagonal stride practice. Start
behind the bulletin board and follow the trail to the beginning of Burma Road. Ski to the end, at Interstate 95, and
return.

Skiing from Fowl Meadow Parking Lot

Located at the intersection of Neponset Valley Parkway and Brush Hill Road in Milton

4 miles (2.5 hours) Easiest

This long, level course through the wetlands of the Neponset River is nearly a straight line, terminating at Interstate Highway 95. Easy terrain but a lengthy route. Great for endurance-building and diagonal stride practice. Start behind the bulletin board and follow the trail to the beginning of Burma Road. Ski to the end, at Interstate 95, and return.

xcbluehillsIndeed it is very flat. It also runs through what must be marsh and meadow on each side, planted with trees. We kept waiting for the hills, as we are used to in the reservation. It has the feeling of the Cape Code Rail Trail instead. Yet, it was a workout by its length.

We also got to play a bit of Holmes too. One skier had been through before us today, followed by a hiker with a dog.

The latter pair was clumsy and messy. For the first mile of the trail, they tromped and excreted on the ski tracks (an unfavorite of mine). The dog was prolific, wet and dry, gold and brown.

The skier was more intriguing though. The tracks were close together and shallow, suggesting someone slender with narrow hips and light, perhaps 100 pounds or less. The pole basket holes were not far from the tracks and close together, suggesting that she had narrow shoulders and likely short arms.

We appreciated that she had blazed the trail, so to speak. After the first mile the booted one and canine companion headed off and back, leaving a decent track for us. On the way back, our tracks made the route even faster.

I’ll do that again. Also, while it’s not on Ranger Tom’s Suggested Hikes, I’m sure we’ll try it in the warm. If it isn’t too marshy and buggy, it should be a fine adventure and nature gawk.

Ass in Boots

January 29th, 2011

Unlikeassinboots Puss in Boots, the donkey who stomps on cross-country ski tracks is not so clever. This is not the first time I’ve gone on this mini-crusade and acknowledge it is in the rant class, like here.

Today, cross-country skiing on the same Boston golf course, I had a brief bonding moment over it and still feel good. Someone else is in the moment and realizes that XC skiers work to make those tracks, so that they and other skiers can glide rather than grunt on that route.

I thought I might wade into conflict as I headed up a long hill toward the woods. Coming down was a bearded dad with his daughter on his shoulders. He was in boots and maybe walking in the ski tracks. I was ready to discuss it with him.

Instead, as we neared each other, I saw that he was walking in boot and snowshoe tracks parallel to the ski ones. He was indeed clever.

His daughter looked around two and a half and grinned like she was really enjoying the ride. When we are close, I thanked him and he rewarded me, along the lines of:

Thank you for walking beside the ski tracks instead of in them.

No, I’m a skier too and know what it means.

I guess those who walk in the tracks aren’t skiers and don’t understand what they’re doing.

That’s got to be it. Have a great rest of the day.

You too…both of you.

If there’s anything better than feeling self-righteous, it’s not having to.

Winter Fluffer

January 16th, 2011

After a glance, my uxorial unit declared the backyard looks like a field of Marshmallow Fluff®.  That’s how winter should be, and how it is in my childhood recollections.

We’ve been a week with scant new snow. We had a pathetic dusting last night, sky dandruff. Yet, the air has been colder than average and not modulated by that famous ocean effect that Boston gets. Our 18 inches up on this hill stays a solid foot, even after several sunny afternoons.

For much of my childhood, I spent vacations and for a few years lived in the Eastern panhandle of West Virginia. To my memory, snow that came stayed.

Romney is in the mountains and on a plateau surrounded by them. The huge apple orchards and corn fields overlooking the Potomac were white from the first flakes, on and on, with regular new snows.

Normally fluffin-town snow in Boston, if it deep enough to cross-country ski in, stays that way one to three days. Temperatures above 30F, bright sun, and no new snow quickly reduce the good stuff to intermittent grass decoration and junk that sticks to skis.

I’m quick to grab the skis (sometimes snowshoes instead) and head to one of my Boston ski resorts — the Arnold Arboretum, Franklin Park’s golf course or the nearby Blue Hills Reservation in Canton/Milton. Alas, I used to walk to the Forest Hills Cemetery when we still lived in Jamaica Plain, but two years ago, the management there got grumpy, nasty and non-accommodating.

It’s not a huge deal to drive 45 minutes or even a couple of hours to get to a bona fide cross-country course. They have groomed trails, warming houses or huts, places to pee and such. They do charge say $20 a person, but the big thing is that they are OUT THERE. It’s fabulous to ski Boston. I have an odd pride in being able to do so, even hitting someplace twice a day or more than one location.

So, I’ve been grokking the cold weather keeping the deep snow for my amusement and sport. Tomorrow again will be bitterly cold — more obvious in the arboretum or particularly on the Devine golf course, which only means faster skiing and no slogging in the gummy stuff.

If global warming means hotter summers and colder winters, at least the second part keeps my fluff deep and hard enough for play. Bring it on and keep it on the ground, if you please.

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Tracks in the Snow

January 16th, 2011

devinesnowCoastal New Englanders get to experience and describe at least two types of granular metaphor generators — snow and sand. Their natures make them all too similar. They fairly cry out for imagery of the ephemeral.

For the warm stuff, you could do a lot worse than invoking Jimi Hendrix’ Castles Made of Sand. The pretty nasty little song has it in refrain that “…castles made of sand fall in the sea…eventually.”

When I cross-country ski over the same ground on successive days, I think of such transience. Today on the Franklin Park golf course, I looked for the tracks I had laid down Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.  I skipped yesterday and in that absence, evidence of my passage, poetically my existence, was either greatly diminished or gone entirely.

There’s our metaphor. We come, we act, we make a difference (we believe), we leave and our traces may soon be faint or forgotten.

For the non-Nordic skier, the tracks one cuts are both work and legacy. Following in ruts cut by a human on skis or a machine is much easier than pushing through six or 10 or 18 inches of snow and ice. When you put down the tracks, you invariably think you’ll return on them or at least other skiers will benefit, and likely do the same for you when they are first.

We can torture that trope even more with other snowfield visitors. Finding previous ski tracks obliterated and deeply pitted by those in boots or snowshoes is annoying and disheartening.

They might tromp in through ignorance or thoughtlessness or malice or simple lack of breeding. It’s a little thing for them to walk elsewhere and having extensive walking-in-snow experience I know they won’t gain much by using the ski tracks. Yet, what they do causes considerable inconvenience to skiers. I’m betting most don’t know.

Of course, given the modern self-centered America, if you’d call this to a tromper’s attention, you’d likely get some defensive and hostile tirade about no one owning the snow, it’s a free country and worse.

Even without stamped out tracks though, the ephemeral nature of tracks in the snow is that clichéd reminded that we are passing through and may leave no lasting trace. Given that, let us:

  • Revel when we find tracks left by ourselves or others that ease and mark our journey
  • Gladly cut trails for the benefit of those who follow
  • Be in the moment of the journey, whether following or making tracks

Scaly Moose Season

August 22nd, 2010

Sharing a coast and an ocean, being rife with the rural, and depending heavily on nature and tourism, South Carolina and Maine have some striking differences. Consider that one is nearing moose season and the other prepares to issue its permits for gator hunting.

gator1Up in these parts, Maine has a lot more wishful moose baggers than moose. It has an elaborate lottery/licensing system and a hunting guide. Unwritten in any of those or its FAQ is the danger quotient. You are much more likely to be killed or injured in a moose encounter if you drive into one on the highway than if you confront one nose to nose.

Down there though, the risks of death, dismemberment, even fatal infection are integral to the homey thrill of gator hunting.

Yet there are basic similarities, like:

  • S.C. has zones (management units 1 through 4) with a permit specific to the zone
  • S.C. sells up to 1,000 alligator permits per season (second September Saturday through second October Saturday)
  • Everyone pays $10 to be in the lottery
  • Lottery winners pay an additional $100 for the permit (an additional $200 as of this year for non-resident gator grabbers)
  • As with moose, it is not that easy. Last year’s hunters got 452 alligators.
  • As with moose, successful hunters tag and report a kill to the Department Natural Resources

S.C. has only permitted these hunts for the past couple of years. This is so popular that the Palmetto state holds two-hour informational sessions. One just happened. The other will be in Spartanburg next Saturday, 8/28 at 2 p.m. as part of the Harry Hampton Hunting & Fishing Expo. These cover the essentials from paperwork to safe gator handling.

A mildly gruesome recap of the first session appears in The State. It is replete with such info as a dead gator can still maim or kill the hunter. The hunt is likewise sobering. Harpooning is the preferred capture method. Then you and as many quirkily willing chums as you have get the beast close enough to the boat to slice key arteries or use a pistol for final dispatch.

Your immediate reward, should you successfully land it and get it ashore without injuries from the tail or claws, might be a BBQ. You can eat, but not sell, the meat.

Clearly, a moose-hide rug would be better in front of the fire than an alligator hide, although I bet they have similar worth if you sold them. Plus, down South, fur and indoor fires are not the hit they are up here.

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Up the Creek with Paddles

July 24th, 2010

…and down…

We joined 18 others today in the second Neponset River canoe-arama or as the hosts called it, CANOE the Future Greenway. As in an earlier post, we did the wet parts. Chris Lovett joined a landlubbers version on a Neponset Greenway Walk.

Moreover, I’m now a believer. The bike tour we took with the ever dour Doug Mink earlier didn’t have a lot to show for it. He pointed to where the bike/ped path was supposed to eventually come. I was skeptical. Yet, as I found last week, the DCR sprang a new park off Mattapan Square at the beginning of the completed section of the path. You can picnic, launch your canoe or kayak, sit at river overlooks and laze.

I’ve cycled up and down the Neponset bike paths, on and off-road as well. Nearly all is paved now and has very active pedestrian traffic, with a few cyclists. The section around Pope John Paul II Park has a long loop that is walkers only for some strange reason, but there’s lot of bikable trail.

Pic click tricks: Click a thumbnail for a bigger view. Use your browser back button or keys to return.

canoes Rob McArthur of the DCR starts unloading the canoes. He supplied the boats, paddles and life vests…plus instruction and nature lore.
My wife and I were early, so we got the newly donated the beast, a two-person kayak, simultaneously heavy but still swift enough for the non-raging Neponset. beast
choco The 20 of us paddled a bit upriver to the Baker Chocolate Factory. Originally, we were to head up toward Paul’s Bridge at the lower Hyde Park/Milton line. Despite our wettest-ever spring, water levels prevented that. BNAN guide Shea Ennen had scouted the Neponset before and knew the story. So he used his back up plan and headed us East to Gulliver Creek and more of the story of granite and the building of the Bunker Hill Monument.
Near the factory, the cormorants had seen it all at the little marina in Milton. Even about a dozen colorful boats and nearly twice as many flashing, splashing paddles didn’t rate with them. divers
sean Doing his best Lance Armstrong imitation, Shea was a font of history on the Neponset and its human users, industrial and recreational.
At the Eastern end, Rob and Shea tag teamed to describe the granite blocks that remain from the wharf where the 60-ton slabs were staged for barges. Rob also describe his love for his totally recycled Walden kayak. Rob

We were all set to be disappointed at the duplication of river section from the previous paddle. Most of this batch of river tourists were different. We had hoped to head up toward where we live and explore the Western end as it goes into Hyde Park. However, Shea and Rob made sure we experienced different aspects of the river.

We want more.

Pedal for Plunder

May 21st, 2010

tuneupWhat could befit our New England frugality than useful and free goods? If Bike Fridays on Boston city hall plaza do not appeal for their athleticism nor for their camaraderie, perhaps as much swag as you can carry, inside or out will.

It must be the endorphins. Biking can turn you sappy sweet, the antithesis of the crazed messenger stereotype. The reasons to cycle are many and those to attend the jolly mornings of Bike Fridays are several. Yet, grabbing useful or delicious freebies doesn’t hurt as motivation. Plus, the stuff is useful.

More chances

I just returned from the first of the season. You can redeem your self and join in the last Friday of the next three months — June 25, July 30, and August 27. Get there at 7 for the uncrowded shot at free bike tweaks from pros, plus the goodies. It all continues for nearly three more hours.

Today’s ridership seemed typical. There were huge (well, 10 to 20 in a bunch) gangs coming together from various neighborhoods and towns. You can come on your own, but the convoys have regular stops and times.

We can all fit it. There’s folks in suits, in skirts, in Spandex. There’s every somatotype and age. I only saw one pet, a pup in a trailer who seemed quite used to a chauffeur.The only warning is that over half the cyclists acted like suburbanites in a supermarket; like their counterparts fearful of losing their carts, they clung to their bikes rather than locking them on a rail or bike rack. That clogs up the works, such desperate ownership.

shadows

Over a dozen tented booths filled the upper plaza next to the T-stop, which disgorged amused and bemused commuters gawking and greeting the cyclists. Exhibits included organizations like MassBike and the DOT, Landry’s and Wheelworks bike shops, the Swiss tourist folk, and food and drink.

Swag to Consume and Carry

So, to the goodies. There was food and drink. We cyclists need or pretend to need replenishment, even after a short ride. We can justify treating ourselves, even at 7:13 a.m.

Boloco had the only real line, handing out burritos by tray. They also joined the city and state in offering high-end water bottles. In fact, TD Bank North accosted the convoys as they arrived — in the ear with cowbells, to the eye with YOU MADE IT signs, and in the hand with the event water bottle.

muffins

Abutting boxes elsewhere had muffins the size of a newborn’s head and healthier fare such as bananas. If you arrive hungry, you don’t have to leave that way. For drink, there was coffee but the water bottles were dry. Likewise, Harpoon held a raffle, but didn’t expect us to drink and ride.

So the various exhibitors offered goodies including:

  • A great trousers-leg strap from the DOT and MassBike, with a secure slot for a key. This is keen for runners as well. It is also a reflector.
  • A slap anklet like a slap bracelet that keeps the cuff out of the way and is also a reflector. That was from the Swiss tourist folk, who also offered those fab Lindt chocolate balls.
  • A pair of tire levers.
  • Bike maps of Boston.
  • Bike Week t-shirts.
  • Key chains.
  • Clif bars, Bare Naked and other brands of energy snacks.
  • Zipper eyeglasses cases and foldable Frisbees from TD North.

It went on and on. Being judicious  and only taking stuff I thought I’d use, I still ended up stuffing my small messenger bag. I had had two personal water-bottle tragedies recently; replacements were timely. The anklets with key slots should be good for three of us.

So, you have three more shots this year. Go to a Bike Friday because it’s fun and there’s fellowship…or go for the goodies.

Welcome Evolution

About 8:30, the orations began. Some downtrodden city hall fellow brought a podium and mic by dolly to the upper level. The resulting queue of speakers was an obvious shift from when this was the end of Boston Bike Week and not as it was today, Bay State Bike Week 2010.

Even ownership has become dispersed and diverse, and likely more sustainable. It used to be that a few Boston bureaucrats emerged from the cave that is city hall. Typically, Mayor Tom Menino, Bike Coordinator Nicole Freedman, and a city councilor who likes bikes, like President Mike Ross, would chat and whoop it up. Today, a series of state-level organization and agency folk took the mic.

They heaped praise on each other, only taking credit tangentially. In fairness, there’s lots worthy of praise. The shift in those attending and speaking also suggests that many more machers at higher levels see the short- and mid-term future in biking around here.

More cycles, fewer cars, healthier citizens, less noise and pollution. Everyone involved should get credit.

A Bike Friday is a feel-good morning.

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Spangled Self-Righteousness

February 20th, 2010

The Olympics seem typified by extremely hard-driving athletes and arrogant schmucks, sometimes in the same person. Two giggle inducers in the current contests are figure skater Evgeni Plushenko and snowboarder Shaun for-Christ-sakes-stop-calling-me-Flying-Tomato White.

The amusing nexus of this pair is their proclamation of their superiority to their events’ competitors…by virtue of an advanced skill. Both hold they are they manliest of humanoids in their pursuits. By inference, anyone who shows up without matching their specialty trick is unworthy of praise or prize.

score displays

The Russian skater is more risible this Olympics because he’s  off to the boudoir in its old meaning of pouting room. Coming out of retirement for these games and able to pull the athlete’s/chess player’s gambit of how long it’s been since he competed, he instead did the very un-Olympic I’ve-been-robbed when he came in second in men’s free skate to Evan Lysacek.

The Russian says that the American is undeserving because he didn’t do a quad jump to match Plushenko’s. His prime minister, Vladimir Putin, amplified the whining and looked even sillier than usual in doing so.

The no-longer-the-FT White simply taunts  other snowboarding men. He holds that what he used to call the Double McTwist and now wants to rename it the Tomahawk move is necessary to win the halfpipe. So there.

Even before the skate final, Pluskenko openly teased Lysacek about the quad, even knowing the American had given himself a fracture with it not long ago. The quad is physically demanding, currently only performed by a few men and no women, and moderately dangerous to bones. Similarly, White’s move is dangerous and trying to master it may lead to broken necks, death and so forth.

Yet the bluster from these two slight-bodied champions is so similar. The fact is that bluster aside, outside their venues, they’d be girly men to many. They work very hard to be athletic winners but both are really in frilly, silly sports to many. Thumping your spangled or floral clothes to make the point about your manhood is more silliness.

The argument for Plushenko appears best in a column by another skating champ, Elvis Stojko.  He agrees about the lack of a quad jump and pretends that the Russian’s routine was nearly flawless.

Tip of the Toupee: To chum podcaster Ryan Adams for pointing me to the real injustice in this event.  As explained in Kevin Marshall’s blog, openly gay skater Johnny Weir deserves a hell of a lot better than he gets from judges.

The fact that Plushenko, Putin and Stojko gloss over is that the Russian didn’t play the game. Skating scoring has changed. Lysacek paid attention, skated to the new rules, and edged the other guy…without a quad in his routine.

We can’t even say that Lysacek gamed the system. He produced what generated the necessary points. He ended up with more points. He won. In contrast, Plushenko played the salesman and tried to dazzle ’em with bullshit. He figured the hardest trick would give him the gold, ignoring the reality of the scoring system. Honk. Thanks for playing.

There’s no question that snowboarders and figure skaters are real athletes or that they can do things I could not begin to even try. However, the Olympics are not public-park sports. Daring the other guy is a ploy that shouldn’t make any difference in results in Vancouver. One trickster won and one lost the top prize. The one who lost thought he was above the rules.

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