Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Everything has changed, absolutely nothing’s changed

Jason Varitek didn't take kindly to Alex Rodriguez criticizing Three Doors Down. Photo from this site.

There were very few negatives about coming of age in the 1980s. We grew up in a time of unprecedented peace, during which our biggest enemies were a bunch of cartoonish Communists who, in the same calendar year, refused to show up to Los Angeles for the Olympics and had their invasion of America foiled by a bunch of kids from Colorado who looked suspiciously like the warring Greasers and Socs from The Outsiders.

We’ve been reminded over the last year or so that the early ‘80s economy was lousy, but people sure seemed happy in re-electing Ronald Reagan in 1984. Our parents sent us on bike rides without helmets and to school without cell phones. Music television actually showed, you know, music television. The Legend of Billie Jean received a well-deserved theatrical release.

The biggest downside, as far as I can tell, was that movies made me believe that every big moment in life had to have an appropriately bombastic soundtrack, or at least a song with fitting lyrics. Like “Invincible,” the theme from the afore-mentioned The Legend of Billie Jean, or any of the 72 hits off the Footloose soundtrack, or the simply perfect theme to St. Elmo’s Fire. Another reason the ‘80s ruled: We had no idea the song was written with a wheelchair-bound athlete in mind, not a bunch of yuppies in training.

Anyway, here I am, twentymumblemumble years later, and if I’m preparing for a Big Day of some sort, I still find myself parsing the songs I hear on the radio looking for signs or symbols that said Big Day is going to be a good one. And so it was Saturday, as my wife and I neared Fenway Park for my first baseball-themed visit to Boston since the 2007 World Series.

Heard “Glory Days.” Not encouraging. I didn’t want this weekend to turn me into That Guy waxing poetic about his one shot at the big leagues. “Back in my day you could stay in the locker room until 45 minutes before first pitch!”

Heard “Welcome Back” by John Sebastian. Better.

“I’m going to take this as a good sign,” I said.

“That what? The writers in the press box are the Sweathogs?” my wife asked.

We drove on to Beacon Street as Cinderella’s “Coming Home” began. I’ll take that, I thought, and pulled into one of the multiple open parking spots in front of Myles Standish Hall. Ha! Take that, The System! (Not The System behind this awesome ‘80s hit)

So it ended up ironic, in that it’s not ironic at all, that Pearl Jam—the band that symbolized the super-serious, self-conscious ‘90s—authored the soundtrack to the weekend. Obviously, things are a lot different for me than the last time I was at Fenway, and outside of having two books to my credit instead of one, not at all in a good way.

But the familiarity inside and outside of Fenway was strangely comforting. To weave through the crowd in the hour before the game, the sights, sounds and smells of Yawkey Way filling the eyes, ears and nostrils, is to be reminded that a home game at Fenway is like a college football Saturday, except it occurs at least 81 times a year.

Fenway Park is still home to crazy, marathon games in which you have a pretty good shot at seeing something you’ve never seen before…like Miguel Olivo getting forced at home by J.D. Drew during a 15-9 win by the Red Sox Saturday that was played in a tidy three hours and 44 minutes. That’s right fielder J.D. Drew. That’s 9-2 in your scorebook.

The Royals are still bloody awful. I don’t usually like to resort to using toxic adjectives to describe professional sports teams, because those are cheap shots and the folks on those teams are at the very top of their profession and I am not, but holy smokes, the Royals are a horribly run franchise.

There is no reason, none at all, that a major league team should be employing Tony Pena Jr. at shortstop, but there he was, airmailing a throw to second base on a potential inning-ending double play to extend the first for Gil Meche Saturday. Fortunately, Pena’s bat carries his glove, as he proved when he kept his average above .100—for the moment, anyway, as of now he resides at an unspeakable .098—and collected his second RBI of the season later in the game.

Manny Ramirez is long gone and David Ortiz may be in the decline phase, but the Sox are still a cruelly efficient offensive team that batted around three times in a six-inning stretch that spanned the two games. Meanwhile, the Royals did their best to make sure Josh Beckett was well-rested for the All-Star Game by hacking their way into five first-pitch outs and 10 other outs of three pitches or less during Beckett’s masterful three-hit shutout.

Two days of watching the Royals confirms that all they have going for them is Trey Hillman’s mustache, which Chad Finn so accurately and hilariously described on Twitter as something that Hillman probably found “…in the back of Bill Buckner’s old locker.”

Sox fans are still wildly interested in the people providing the Sox coverage, which is a giant relief, since that phenomenon is a pivotal part of Fighting Words (read Chapters Four and Five for more!). My friend and former roommate Joe Haggerty, the multi-media and multi-sport maven, was stopped by a trio of fans as we walked back to the park after hitting UBurger before the game Saturday.

And Sunday morning, Yahoo! Sports’ Gordon Edes posed outside the Sox dugout with a bunch of fans, a few of whom were asking him the identities of the other media folks milling about in the pre-game hours. Sunday night at 11:30, meanwhile, is still the domain of multiple late-night sports shows, which, trust me, you do not get anywhere else.

Jason Varitek still comes to the plate, every single time, to the Three Doors Down song “Kryptonite.” As someone whose iPod features about 12 songs recorded after 1991, I shouldn’t be calling anyone’s musical tastes dated, and that Varitek hasn’t changed his song in at least five years is appropriate for a guy so consumed by his work.

But still…geez, man, would it kill Varitek to switch it up once in a while? Maybe throw in some Harvey Danger or something? Or perhaps even a tune that any child of the ‘80s identifies with determination, like Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger?” That’s a pretty good song to hear on a Big Day, by the way, even though we didn’t hear it all weekend. Maybe next time.

Email Jerry at jbeach73@gmail.com.

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