A Walk in the Park

By Larry Teren

baberuthIt was the last baseball game of the Babe’s career. Now about 50 pounds overweight, his swung gulped hard like a whirling dervish and missed on the first pitch at his first appearance at the plate that day. He ended awkward lying flat on the ground, spitting blood down his cheek, needing help to get back up to his feet. The pitcher was that fellow who three years earlier in the World Series the Babe had mocked by first pointing to the right center-field bleachers and then stroking a mammoth home run to that exact location. Now this same hurler was mocking and taunting him with sadistic pleasure as Ruth stood helplessly at the plate waiting to continue his at-bat.

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A Man on the Moon

Remember when they used to say, if they can put a man on the moon, why can’t they….”? Most of us baby boomers were either in our teens or early twenties when we finally heard those immortal words spoken by astronaut Neil Armstrong, “one small step for man…”. Supposedly we experienced the ultimate, unless you believed it was faked in some New Mexico studio.

But that was so many years ago. It seems as if we haven’t had a good example of prowess and progress to attach to since then. At least our generation could shout to anyone, “damn it! If we can put a man on the moon, then you can build a car that gives 100 miles to the gallon and make it cheap enough for anyone to own.” Or, “you can build your factory in America and figure out a way to compete economically with the garbage they make in China.”

Our parent’s generation used to tell us at meal time, “eat it all up- there are kids starving in Europe.” How was my eating something I didn’t like help some kid in Yugoslavia feel like he went to bed with a full stomach? After a while, with the threat of the cold war, we figured that half of Europe was full of Commies so who cared if they went to bed hungry?

Our parents also told us about not having a dime during the Depression but they all seemed to come out of it unscathed. We weren’t buying it. We wanted a hula hoop or a gun and holster set with plastic bullets that shot. Our parents’ bragging rights were that they finally had a real refrigerator and not an ice box. Or a washing machine and dryer in the basement instead of going to a laundromat and popping coins into a slot to get the clothes cleaned.

Our grandparent’s could maybe shout, “if they can put sound to movies, why can’t they….?” But somehow that didn’t resonate when they were frustrated with seeing progress in more important areas of life. Besides, I don’t think my grandparents went to a movie theater for years until they were older and my parents took them along.

I remember the moon landing day all too well- July 20, 1969 when the historic event took place. I was watching the Cubs that Sunday on television playing a double header against the Philadelphia Phillies, beating them twice. The broadcast was interrupted by a news bulletin to show the moon landing as it happened. Naturally, I had mixed emotions because I would rather be watching the Cubs and figured that space exploration was something that was gonna happen on a regular basis anyway.

The fact is that there were only a handful more subsequent touchdowns of human feet on the moon’s crust surface. But it signified a solid example of American bragging rights, of our desire and willingness to conquer new heights. No challenge would go unturned. It was progress at its best.

So, what do the kids of today hang their hat on? I-pods? I-pads? The Internet? “If I can chat with someone in Kabul, why can’t they…” Or, maybe kids don’t get frustrated. They are so spoiled and coddled. They don’t have to memorize multiplication tables- they use calculators in the classroom. They get all that they want. They don’t get challenged to thinking to demand more fuel-efficient cars or food that doesn’t make you fat but satisfies your taste buds.

I guess I’m beginning to sound like the man on the moon.

Loyalty is a Two-Way Street

Recently the manager of the Chicago White Sox decided to part ways with the organization he coached for eight years. He pushed the issue in the last week of the season. Rather than wait until it was over and then press his demands, he made for a disruptive situation. Apparently, it was his goal to leave if certain conditions were not met because he had an ace up his sleeve, or maybe next to the lineup card in his back pocket. He knew that there was an offer on the table from the Florida Marlins to become their new manager. In fact, it had been reported that the Florida people begged Chicago to release the manager the previous year so that he could switch organizations.

But, my disdain is not for the ex-manager of the Chicago White Sox. He did the smart thing. He knew he was being forced out regardless. He played his hand to his advantage and got what he wanted. This is the realization of the American Dream. Never mind the fact that the ex-manager was born and raised in Venezuela.

The aggrandizement comes with players on the Chicago Cubs who decided to make some public statements as reported in one of the daily newspapers. Supposedly, the third baseman who had been with the club for eight and a half years expressed a desire to play for Florida and its new manager. This was said before the season was over. When someone in baseball management expresses desire about a player on another team signing with them next year while the current year is still in play, that is called tampering and the team is subject to a fine. But, I guess it is not so the other way around.

What made it worse is that the third baseman allegedly said that he expected the Cubs to officially extend to him to play out his option year at the agreed-upon 16 million dollars. He said it was a formality so that in case he decided to not accept the option and defect, they would then get compensation for him signing as a free agent elsewhere. But, what if he decided to grab the offer? Who wouldn’t want to grab a new one year contract for 16 million? Apparently, not him because he wanted a multi-year contract. I doubt if anyone would give him anywhere near that yearly figure for an extended period of time due to his age, knack for getting injured, and the fact that he was not a top-tier quality player. Okay, there are always the New York Yankees rocking the boat- but they have a Mr. Rodriguez playing third base.

There is also the first baseman who played in Chicago for just this past year. He is a self-confessed .230 hitter with the ability to mix a lot of strikeouts with 25 to 30 home runs a year along with half-decent defensive capability. No one else wanted him at his asking price of 10 million a year but the Cubs got him when he agreed to defer half the pay to the following year when he could be already gone to another team.

The first baseman also expressed a keen desire to play for Florida next year. This after he had several times expressed how he wanted to die a Cub. But, that was before Mr. Guillen was hired by Florida. Again, what irks a baseball fan is when a player makes these comments to newspaper reporters before the season is over.

I would love to hear that these two ballplayers made statements off the record or were misquoted or suffer from short term memory lapses. Anything. In the meantime, these are the reasons that as I get younger, I lose loyalty and adoration to professional athletes.

No Soap, Radio!

One of the first “clean” jokes I learned in high school in the 1960’s from a new group of friends was the “no soap” radio joke. It was a small step up from those annoying “knock, knock” jokes. The idea was to start telling a humorous story that seemed to be directed to a punch line but then instead of delivering it, the teller would say “no soap radio”. The recipient of such stupidity instantly acquired a feeling as if two minutes of their life had been wasted. It is akin to what all Cubs fans experience while watching a Chicago Cubs game where they are leading in the 9th inning only to witness the so-called closer walk the bases loaded and give up the winning runs. You think to yourself, “why bother?”

The thing in listening to the joke was that you knew it was coming to an illogical conclusion but you still laughed because you thought it was supposed to be funny but were maybe too stupid to get it. Sort of like an initiation within a cabal of lunatic friends.

I did a search on the Internet and found a plausible suggestion that the expression at one time had to do with listeners being upset that the show they wanted to hear was not on the airwaves but instead a boring, soap opera. Thus, “no- (it’s) soap radio!” The idea being was to laugh it off and think that at least older folk would be happy because they could hear their favorite dramatic soap opera. The ones who would be frustrated would be those attuned to the half hour sitcoms starring Jack Benny, Eddie Cantor, Fred Allen, Burns and Allen, Amos and Andy, and the list goes on.

Baby boomers, of course, were mostly born after World War II as the beginning of the decline in network entertainment radio occurred. When I came aboard, television was in its infancy but already stealing away audiences from radio. I grew up on the stars mentioned above, but while watching them on their television shows. I didn’t even know that they had a previous career on the radio dial. Sort of like kids today finding it a hard time to believe that their grandparents had black and white television sets that required an antenna and offered at the most six channels in the larger cities.

One day in the early 1970’s Dad discovered a Chicago radio station that found its niche by playing reruns of so-called Old Time Radio. His enjoyment of these shows rubbed off on my kid brother and me. More than fifty years after these shows stopped broadcasting first run, they still provide entertainment. Now, instead of waiting to hear the one Chicago station that still plays old shows at midnight, I go on the Internet and click websites such as:

StreamingThe.Net is also a useful site to find just about any radio station format in the world. No soap, radio!

Tools of Indifference in Modern Baseball

As soon as I arrived inside the client’s building, I headed to the office of the president of the company to have that dreaded conversation. No – it’s not what you think. We rarely talk business. It would get somewhat embarrassing if we did.

You see, I’m a detail guy and he, being the top guy in a decently sized company is a delegator. He just wants to know the overall picture. The only time I come into his office to do business is to load a software update on his computer. There have been a couple of exceptions where he actually asked me my opinion on a company procedure. And even when he agreed with my observation and asserted that he intended to change things by having a chat with selected personnel, it never happened because no one likes change, despite what the President of the US thinks. Continue reading “Tools of Indifference in Modern Baseball”

A Time for Healing

Some will tell you that time flies, others, it marches on. Shakespeare says that tomorrow creeps in a petty pace from day to day. As for Ma, she and her roommate at the rehab facility are caught in that time-worn frustrating web of hurry up and wait to get better.

On one hand, Ma is in better condition than that day nearly three weeks ago when she fell and broke her hip. On the other hand, due to the nature of the bone breakage, she is not allowed to put any weight on her left foot. So, she hops holding onto a walker twice a day in the therapy room from her wheelchair to the bed she is asked to lie down on and do muscle strengthening exercises. This can go on for two more weeks until she is permitted to progress to the next step in the road back to self-sustenance.

Later in the coming week, she will be re-evaluated and told whether the rehab will continue at the facility or as an outpatient at home. This obviously is of concern because she cannot be by herself for now. In today’s world the decision is made by those who finance the effort to help her recover. Medicare pays for the first twenty days at a 100% rate for all allowable billing. After that, Medicare pays 80% and the private insurance company that handles the part B coverage pays the remaining 20%.

The fly in the ointment is that Medicare has to be persuaded that she can recover in a realistic time frame of six to eight weeks. Otherwise, all bets are off with funding.

The lady who shares her room also improves each day. However, she has a greater road to recovery. She was found by her son laying at the bottom of the stairs in her basement after 8 hours suffering from
a partially broken neck, facial cuts, fractured arm and other surface injuries.

When I first saw her, she was lying flat on her back all bandaged up like a mummy. Now, she can sit in a wheelchair and even goes through daily therapy. Her wit is about her, too, as she readily switches between speaking in English and Swedish depending on with whom she converses. What helps make the sharing of the room pleasant for both ladies is that they are also both long-suffering Chicago Cub fans.

Ma asks me if I write about her and I nod in the affirmative. So she says, “well, make sure you spell my name right, ha ha.” Like I’m gonna screw up two letters?

Ma is impatient to go back home and to the way things used to be. She has been down this road before. Five years ago, she fell and it was her left hip and shoulder that took the brunt and both required reconstruction. At that time, it was while visiting my sister in the East coast. So she spent two months rehabbing there only to find out when she returned to Chicago that the doctors butchered their medical decision out East to ignore the shoulder and let it heal on its own. It required a re-break and more surgery.

How much can a person endure pain and the aftermath of getting better? I guess time will tell.

I Stopped Wearing My Cubs Cap

Yesterday I stopped wearing my Chicago Cubs baseball cap. It’s true that is was dirty and getting a little worn. But, there was a statement to be made. After all, the warranty on blind loyalty expires after about fifty years, right?

It doesn’t mean that I will start rooting for that (cough) other team on the South Side. I just can’t. It would be like voting for a Democrat for President. Truth be told, though, I took the Democrat Ballot in the last national primary three years ago because I did what any true blue Chicago suburbanite would have done- voted for the person I wanted to face the Republican candidate in the national elections that November.

I’ll sit on the sidelines while this disgrace of a major league team goes through the totally embarrassing motions of playing out the remainder of the schedule. In my heart, I know they’ll win it at some point in this century, even if not this decade.

When Mark Cuban showed strong interest in purchasing the Cubs two years ago, I along with all the real fans were excited because he was as much as fan as the rest of us. He was willing to make significant changes to put the entire organization into a winning attitude. But, he took one look at the asking price, the non-willingness of the former owners to budge and the realization that the team was no where near the perceived value. At the time, I thought that the club was over-valued by two hundred million dollars. Now I hear that the debt is more like four hundred million. So, why bother to take on such an investment? As had been done with other ball clubs in the past few years, the Cubs should have been allowed to go into bankruptcy and let the creditors, banks and courts find someone at a more reasonable price to take on this giant mess.

But, greed, ego and stupidity get in the way. I read where the club management acknowledges that attendance is down about 8 percent, which supposedly translates into three thousand less per game.
However, that does not tell the real truth. There has been many games where less than half the official attendance was actually sitting in the park. True, the weather has been bad. The sale of seat regardless if occupied does count but it also means less money to be made on concessions.

Management had a chance to hire a popular ex-Cub who is also a hall-of-famer as well as a winning manager at the minor league level. Instead, it felt an obligation to give the job of manager to a perennial minor league coach with little big league credentials and charisma to offer to the fans.

If I had a chance to meet the Cub owners, I’d break out in that classic early 1960’s Allan Sherman hit parody, “You Went the Wrong Way, Old King Louie.”

Now, at least for the time being, I wear a black cap with white trim- yes-a little dorky looking, that is emblazoned with the word Ottawa in the front. A neighbor whose parents live there brought it back to me on their last vacation a couple of months ago. I hear it has something to do with hockey, whatever that is.

Now, if someone wants to buy me a new Cubs cap, it has to be all-wool, not the cheap stuff. I’ll hold onto it even if I don’t wear it because you never know. Hey, c’mon- didn’t Sherman also write words such as, “wait a minute, it’s stopped raining. Mother, father kindly disregard this letter”?

That Cubs Disease

There is a disease that is mostly unique to Chicago North Siders although I understand some people have experienced similar symptoms in other cities and countries. I’m speaking, of course, of blind spiritual devotion to the Chicago Cubs baseball team. Once the fever is caught, it is known to last a lifetime. Efforts are made by those with affiliation to other baseball clubs to try to detoxify those of us who indulge in Cubbie Blues but most adherents are resigned to die hard.
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Under The Weather? Impossible!

Why do people say they are “under the weather” when they don’t feel well?. If I recall correctly, you need a temperature above 98.6 to have a fever. Considering that most people drop dead when their temperature goes over 103 degrees, it would have to be pretty hot aside to be under the weather.

When I was in third grade at the tender age of eight I used to come up with stomach ailments to try to avoid going to school or at least until a little later in the morning when I felt better. By shortening the school day even a little bit I felt I was cheating “The Man”. Ma didn’t seem to mind since she was from that generation of ladies before the feminist revolution. She stayed at home and did the housekeeping unless she had to go shopping which meant taking out the baby buggy with a kid sister in it and walking three or four blocks to Madison Street in the Austin neighborhood. In 1960, you could park your stroller outside a store front and expect to see it again thirty minutes later.
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Life is a series of compromises. As a kid, you learn essential things at your own pace such as toilet training, walking, talking and eating and then you go to school and they tell you- like it or not- that you will learn what everyone else learns in the same time period and at the same mental capacity.

Of course, this is not fair to the kid who excels in a specific area and is held back because the teacher cannot deal with thirty individuals at each their own pace. In second grade, we had a “Think and Do” book which was a workbook full of arithmetic questions and challenges. I found the examples too easy to do and finished them very quickly much to the shock of the teacher. So, she had me go around the room and help all the slowpokes.

The same thing happened twenty years later when I took a course in computer flow charting. Another student and myself- both of us were not coincidentally about ten years older than the other students- had figured out the logic flow for just about the entire workbook we were using. The workbook was written by the instructor herself who admitted that there were some factual errors. She said if anyone could find them, she would be grateful. Naturally, yours truly found them all. She had me help her teach the logically challenged ones in the class and took over for her one week while she was having a hysterectomy. No kidding!
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