That Michael Vaughn tweet

I have always rather liked Michael Vaughn. Yeah, I know, he’s a blowhard, and all he can ever talk about is how his England squads were the greatest squads in the history of the world. But I don’t mind that. I don’t mind a bit of bluster from athletes. When they are overly humble, it just seems fake. And I also follow Michael Vaughn on Instagram and he seems like an all right guy, enjoying life after a good career, playing with his kids, doing his commentary bit, plus of course slagging off Australians.

And I have also always known — or at least assumed — that most professional athletes are conservatives. Just like everyone in Hollywood is a liberal, most people who put on uniforms and chase balls around for a living are Republicans. It’s a financial thing at its core. Most professional athletes are super wealthy, and the super wealthy — except for the Hollywood elite — tend to vote for the more conservative party. And in America, that’s the Republicans, the party of our president, Donald Trump.

But then the other morning I come out to my phone to find this:

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My first reaction was “fuck you, Twitter, get your algorithms right.” My second thought was: “fuck you, Michael Vaughn. Unfollow, block, report.” But then I calmed down and dialed it back and said: no, I am going to keep following him. It’s his right to express opinions, and I can listen to those opinions and disagree with them and still think he’s an okay dude, still enjoy his bluster, his dorky instagram posts. I was rather proud of myself. Not to toot my own horn, but I bet he lost a lot followers that day, and I am glad that I wasn’t one of them. We can’t poke our heads in the sand every time anyone expresses any sort of opinion that we don’t like. Our echo chambers are why we are in this mess. And despite what a lot of people think, athletes and actors and musicians have just as much right to their opinions as everyone else. And if they want to use the platform they have as a megaphone to voice those opinions, then that is their right, too. We can’t just say: “you have that right as long as I agree with you.” That’s BS and you all know it. We have to allow it from both sides. (Within reason, of course.)

And so I didn’t unfollow, block, report. I just went about my day. And later I watched one of Vaughn’s dumb instastories and didn’t even think about the tweet from earlier in the day.

I will say this though: you are wrong, Mr. Vaughn. The last thing the world needs is more leaders like President Trump. We don’t need more divisive, fragile male egos in power. We need kind, impassioned, educated leaders who lead with a strong moral compass, with the best interests of all in mind, and who see public service as an important and vital mission that will, in the end, hopefully, help raise all boats.

No, Mr. Vaughn, we don’t need more Donald Trumps. That is the last thing we need. Yeah, both our countries’ politics are a bit of a dumpster fire. But reality show politicians who do little but gin up their base with racist dog whistles aren’t going to solve that. We need leaders. Not snake oil salesman.

You are wrong, but I still think you’re all right.

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Tradition

Yesterday was Thanksgiving here in the states, or as they call it in the rest of the world: Thursday. Anyway. Everyone has the day off and we all go to see family and eat turkey (veggie burger for me) and drink beer and watch football. It’s nice. It’s something that Americans have done right with regard to holidays. It’s Christmas without all the nonsense stress of gift giving. It’s always been my favorite holiday — despite its rather unfortunate and not-so-tenuous connections to the mass slaughter of Native Americans by Europeans, but we will save that debate for another day.

My family has its own Thanksgiving traditions, just like every family does. We all meet at our mother’s — it’s small group, just seven or eight of us, depending — and we have some beer and wine and hang out in the kitchen and then we eat around 4 p.m. (which is late for some people) and the meal is very traditional and rarely changes: turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, broccoli casserole, green beans with almonds, cranberries from a can, rolls and pumpkin pie. Then we do the dishes and clean up the entire kitchen and then we usually play a game and then everyone goes home. The whole shebang takes about six hours.

Yesterday was different, though, harder. For there was an empty chair, a chair that many people — myself included — thought would never be empty. Everything else was the same, but one person was missing. And in that sense, the traditions of the day didn’t comfort, as one would assume they would, but instead added to the hurt, the darkness of the day. Furthermore, I knew that that someone who was missing was somewhere else, that the traditions she had had were no longer available to her, that she was instead somewhere else starting new traditions.

It was not a good day.

And in that vein is why I am okay with the evolving nature of things. Traditions are made to be broken and sometimes that breaking is positive, it allows us to see the world as anew, changing, fresh. That life is not the past nor is it the future, it is the present.

People ask me a lot what it will take for cricket to work in America. I have thought about the question a great deal over the years, as have many of you, I’m sure. The short answer that I have finally settled on is: Time. Not the length of the matches, mind you, for Americans have zero problem watching a four day golf tournament or a six hour tennis final. The ODI was been around since 1971 — 47 years, nearly a half century — and hasn’t made a dent on the sport in America except giving ex-pats something to do on Saturdays. The T20 has been around since 2003 — 15 years, oof, that makes me feel old — and same deal. And if anyone thinks the ill-fated 100 is going to change anything, they are sadly mistakenly.

No, I don’t mean time as in the length of matches, but in the time of day. The when, not the what or the how long.

I subscribed to Willow again for the third time earlier this summer and have watched a grand total of maybe two hours of cricket. Why? Because the matches are on in the middle of the night. Even the Australian and New Zealand summers which have kicked off don’t solve the problem completely. Yes, you get a little prime time cricket, but it’s just the first session or two of Test matches and then you are past everyone’s bed time. ODIs start at midnight, U.S. time, T20s as late as 3 a.m.

For cricket to work in America: this is the tradition that needs to be broken: the when of matches. This is why I am in favor of the day-night test. But you’ll need to go a step further than that: have night-night tests, or move IPL matches to the morning in India so they are on during the evening in America. It would be a sea change that the sport — any sport, really — has never seen. But it would work. I think. Americans are thirsty for sport, for entertainment, for new. and cricket ticks all those boxes.

People will disagree, of course, and say that the sport has to start at the youth level. And, fine, I see that point, but if the kids that are exposed to cricket still can’t watch it when they are older and have expendable income, then you are still nowhere.

No, for cricket to work, you need to change the when. Not the how or the why or the what. The when. That’s the tradition you need to not break, but shatter, for cricket to work in America.

If, of course, that’s something you want.

Traditions are made to be broken, but they are also how we mark time, and how we find sameness in an ever-changing world. They are comfort, despite the pain they can occasionally bring, Yeah, Americans might not ever tune in to a test that starts at midnight, but maybe that’s okay. Maybe it’s worth the loss to have the tradition. In that spirit, while yesterday was hard, it was also comforting to know that despite all the change of the last year, some things hadn’t changed. And I think I am okay with that. Because there is such a thing as too much change. And when you reach that point, you need to ask yourself: will everything we change be worth it?

That’s not the question you want to ask in hindsight.

For now, let’s keep the turkey and the late dinner time and the Trivial Pursuit, and let’s also keep those long shadows creeping over Lord’s as the late afternoon of a test becomes early evening and the game is still in doubt.

Change is good. Traditions can be better.

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Overlooking a bakery

It’s snowing in St. Paul this morning. I am sitting at my kitchen table, writing, and watching it drift down onto the parking lot outside my window. The skinny trees at the edge of the alley still have their leaves, their light covering of snow incongruous with their yellow-ish green. The world is wet, and droopy, and lovely, and perfect.

On the other side of the world, in Hyderabad, India, earlier today, Umesh took a ten-for and India beat the West Indies by 10 wickets in three days. It happened as I slept, as I dreamed. As the cold drifted in through my leaky storm windows and I felt its chill settle in the room around me. In Hyderabad it was 90 some degrees with humidity and no breeze. The opposite of this 40 degrees with damp snow. Here, there is no cricket, only wet streets and grumpy midwesterners. Here, cricket doesn’t even exist. It’s like we are on separate worlds, but we’re not, we’re on the same planet, together, linked, hurtling through space.

Umesh’s ten-for reminded me of a post from the Old Batsman:

Simon did it. The last two, from memory, were bowled. We surrounded him. We had Junaid Khan smiles. He was a lovely guy, always great to play with. He deserved it. It had taken maybe an hour and a half. They’d only made 60-odd and we knocked them off quickly, on the ground surrounded by trees, underneath the perfect sky.

It’s a melancholic feeling, thinking about it now. I wonder what happened to Simon, and to everyone that played that day. Have they had good lives since then? I hope so. Nothing ties us except that game, but I doubt that anyone who played has forgotten it. All ten. Not bad. Well done, mate.

And so when I pulled up Cricinfo this morning, I didn’t think of India or Umesh or 10 straight home series wins, I thought of the Old Batsman, and Simon, and I wondered too where he was, where they all were. And I thought about life and the places it takes us, and the changes it brings, sometimes without us even knowing that the change was happening. We are always drifting away from a past, always moving away not just from places but from people, things, dogs, books, comfort, homes.

Today I am writing this on West 7th in St. Paul. Earlier this year I was somewhere else. There’s been so much change. Life has taken me not to the other side of the world where the world is baking in high hazy sun, where cricket exists, but still to a place so alien, so new,  so different than all that I am accustomed to. And there’s a life that I had that is now gone, and in that life were people, and I am drifting away from them, and they from me. Some of them were Simons, small heroes that I loved, that I will think about now and again, and I will wonder how they are doing, where they are, whether they still think of me, of a memory of a day we shared.

That post quoted above is from February of 2012. Six and a half years ago. If May seems alien to me now, than February of 2012 feels like another plane of existence entirely. I was writing about cricket a lot then. Almost every day I would post something here. But then I drifted away. But cricket kept going, and the Old Batsman kept writing, though maybe not as much as he used to. I drifted away, but then I came back. It wasn’t the same, but it was still familiar. We hold on to these old houses that we used to call home, we keep them in our hearts, maintain them, keep them up, go back now and again and fix peeling paint and weed overgrown gardens, so that someday, if we want, we can go back, move back in, accept that they’re different, that we’re different, but also familiar.

And then we are reminded that the houses inside us are just that, inside us. We build them, we hold them close, we carry them with us, we can raze them if we want. They are moveable feasts. I can write about cricket and read the Old Batsman at this kitchen table that looks out over a parking lot, or at my old kitchen table that looked out over a half acre of green. You can’t go home again but you can go home anytime want. Sometimes all it takes is an Umesh ten-for to bring you there, to remind you of the way.

A few years ago I wrote a post about how important the smallest of things are — in life, and in cricket. Those small things are not always small, or are different sizes for different people. Umesh’s ten-for was massive for him, but small for me. But did he know just how massive it was? That it rippled across oceans to St. Paul, Minnesota, to a little apartment above a Home Health Care business overlooking a bakery where someone was sleeping, dreaming, and would soon wake and read about it and spiral back through time to someone else’s moment, to the Old Batsman, to Simon. What we do matters, what we do is a wave across the world.

Three days ago I was struggling. Then I found records that I didn’t know I still had. That I thought were gone from my life forever. And a switch flipped. And I felt better. Six years ago the Old Batsman thought of Simon and a day decades in the past. And he felt not better but maybe less alone. And he wrote about it. Today on the other side of this giant world Umeshkumar Tilak Yadav took his 10th wicket and together we spiraled down into a chasm of memory. Years and decades like cliff walls hidden in the black, the rush of air drying our tears, the ground forever away.

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Emotional Rescue

I play on an adult rec-league soccer team. It’s a pub league without the pub. I have played on the same team for 10 years, every May through October. We play soccer, then we drink beer and stand around. It’s the perfect way to close out a weekend. These days, we win or draw just about as many games as we lose, more or less. But when we first started out, we were terrible. We lost every single game of our first season together. And all of the games our second season together, until the very last game. It was a cold late fall night. Mist turned into a light snow in the second half. It was dark. The flood lights were on. Early in the second half we scored a garbage goal and it was the first time we had ever led during a game. The second half wore on and we held onto that lead. But with a minute or so left the other team scored and the game ended in a 1-1 draw. But we didn’t care. We hadn’t lost. For us, it was a victory.

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Earlier this week Australia rescued a draw in their first Test match against Pakistan. It was never meant to be that close. But Usman Khawaja held on for an incredible 302 balls, and Nathan Lyon of all people saw off 11 overs with his captain. It was a great escape from a match they looked destined to lose from the first session onward.

Rescue. Escape. Those are words you don’t hear very often in American sports. And that’s because we, as a nation, abhor draws. We want winners, and we want losers. We want black and white. Never gray. People can wrest victory from the jaws of defeat — and vice versa — but they can never rescue a tie. They can never pull a great escape, walk away bruised, bloodied, but still walking. Still breathing.

In this way, European sports — sports that allow for draws (and ties) — are a better reflection of our daily lives. Life, for us, is rarely black & white. In fact 99% of the time it is some shade of gray. Sometimes we walk away just barely hanging on by a thread to whatever is keeping us whole, and that’s enough, to rescue a day, escape with some loose change in our pocket and a black eye and torn jeans, but able to go out and fight another round.

And while there’s of course the rare joy that is a comeback victory, there’s also joy in the escape. Draws that somehow feel like wins are one of the great parts about following a sport that allows shades of gray — and when that feeling is compared to a draw that feels like a loss, like Pakistan must feel today — it shows the rich textures of these games that we follow, textures that American sports simply do not have to offer.

To rescue: “to free from confinement, danger, or evil”

To escape: “to get away”

Australia rescue a match. And look toward the second Test.

We rescue a day. And we live to fight on.

I watch cricket not always for the game itself, but for the hope that there’s a way out. This week Australia reminded me — reminded us all — that’s there always light at the end, you just have to keep batting. And when you emerge from the tunnel you might not feel like you’ve won, but you’ll feel like you’ve survived, and most of the time that’s enough to see you through.

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It’s a big old world, Sophie.

On Thursday I re-re-subscribed to Willow.TV. It was only $10 a month, which I think is five dollars cheaper than it used to be. I’m not sure why it’s less expensive, as nothing in this world ever gets cheaper, but I will take it.

The subscription to Willow came with a free subscription to Gaana, which is the Indian version of Spotify. Western bands like Radiohead and The National and Sigur Ros are only available to subscribers in India, but I am able to listen to the latest in Bollywood and Punjabi pop music.

I must say, I don’t quite get it. It is so vastly different than the music I usually listen to (see above) and honestly vastly different than pop music here in the states or in Europe. Which, I don’t know, I kind of like. I might not like the music, but I do like that it’s different. India is such a huge and interesting place, and so widely variant from western culture. Sure, it’s a small world, but it’s also a very, very big world, and I take heart in knowing that we aren’t all the same, that we are in fact very different.

There’s a beer that you can only buy Wisconsin called Spotted Cow. Everyone that loves beer loves Spotted Cow. And whenever you drive through Wisconsin, you make a point to stop at a liquor store and pick some up. The owners think that’s how it should be. That beer should taste different in Colorado and Wisconsin and Florida. That everything shouldn’t taste the same, and that you shouldn’t be be able to buy everything everywhere. That you should be constantly reminded of just how big America is. I’ve always rather liked that. But I digress.

India might be very different than western nations, but at the same time the fact that they love the same bat and ball sport that western nations do goes to show the power of the game, as well as the power of Imperialism. Sports really do bridge cultures, and cricket more so than any other sport — even soccer — as the cultures that it attracts are just so different. Of course, I realize that when it was first introduced to India and the Caribbean it was an instrument of empire building, but in the decades since it has become very much an uniquely Indian pastime. Yeah, you could say that parts of the game have been Americanized, but also I think the influence of Indian culture has had a profound impact on the game, which further cements its stance as a bridge between east and west.

And that’s also a part of enjoying global sports that you don’t get when you just watch baseball or basketball: you get exposed to not just a new game, but a new culture. Its music, its fashion, its food, its people. I have traveled domestically rather extensively — been to 40+ states and most major American cities — and I have to say that the differences between, say, New York and Seattle are pretty minor. I was just in Boston this past week and was struck by how much Cambridge reminded me of San Francisco, of how much Beacon Hill reminded me of Cincinnati. But the gap between Mumbai and Minneapolis is vast and wide, and I love that I am exposed not just to a slight variation on my own culture, like I would be if I was an avid NFL fan, but to cultures so different that it reminds us just how big and wonderful this dumb old world is.

And that’s a real gift, I think. Most people in America know India is a place and that a lot of people live there, but honestly that’s really about it. I like that I — and my fellow cricket following Americans — understand it just a bit more than the rest.

I probably won’t stream Gaana very often, but I will now again, to recall that there’s seven billion people on this rock, and each and everyone of us is a completely different person, with different interests, values, knowledge, passions. The fact that it takes cricket to teach me that some might say is evidence of a flawed educational system, emblematic of how insular America is. And yeah they are probably right. But I will also say that I don’t care what makes you a global citizen, as long as you get there in the end. Music, sport, literature, travel, film: whatever it takes to know that the world doesn’t end once you step off American soil.

You’d be surprised at how many Americans believe that.

Then again, maybe you wouldn’t be.

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Cause and effect

Oh, right. This is a cricket blog, haha.

Cricinfo has been posting this graphic a lot:

Which got me thinking: is there any correlation between winning or finishing second in the Asia Cup and a team’s performance at the next World Cup? I mean, it would make sense, when you think about it. Cricket is like all sports: it’s about momentum and confidence and getting hot at the right time. And winning and finishing second at a major tournament would be indicative of all three.

So I had a look:

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And, interestingly (or not), winning the Asia Cup is not the slightest bit indicative of World Cup performance. India is the only team that won an Asia Cup and a World Cup back to back. In fact, it’s twice as likely for the team that lost the Asia Cup final to win the next World Cup. On top of that, no team has gone back to back — winner or runner-up — at a World Cup that didn’t take place on the sub-continent.

So, there you go. Bad luck, India and Bangladesh.

My money is still on New Zealand.

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Say it ain’t so

Yesterday we all watched as Joe Mauer played what was probably his last home game for the Minnesota Twins. He hit a double in his last at bat, then donned his old catcher’s gear and caught one pitch before waving to the crowd and disappearing into the tunnel. It was a wonderful end to his 14 seasons at the club, 14 seasons that had their shares of ups and downs — and about a million seven hoppers to second base — but that never quite reached the heights we were all promised when the Twins drafted him out of high school, choosing baseball over a chance to play quarterback for Florida State.

He made his debut in 2004 against the indians to much fanfare. Like he was the second coming of Christ. He went two for three that day and caught a good game. A few days later I was standing in my kitchen listening to the game as it wasn’t on TV. Drinking cans of beer and ducking out between innings for cigarettes. My wife and new dog were upstairs. I could hear her laughter every time the dog did something funny. It filled me with all this love, all this happiness, emotions I wasn’t sure how to deal with then.

The game was at the Metrodome. A tired old stadium with artificial turf like concrete. The Twins batters would bounce the ball off the turf in front of home plate and easily convert the hoppers into singles. Around the fifth inning or so, Mauer tracked a fly ball back behind home plate, making the catch but sliding knee first into the wall. He would end up having to leave the game with an injury to the medial meniscus in his left knee. He came back in June but the knee still kept giving him trouble and by July his season was done

I think about that incident a lot. Yeah, sure, Mauer had a good — if not a great — career. He won batting titles and an MVP. But injuries always seemed to hound him, and never let him get over that proverbial hump from good to great, from All-Star to Hall of Famer. And I always trace those injuries back to that night in 2004, when he had all the promise, all the potential, and then it was just gone in the span of a few seconds. So while Mauer’s career was, of course, one to be proud of, there was always this note of tragedy in his eyes, his gait, his body language. Like he carried the weight of the team’s failings, of his massive contract, of the sneers of fans on his back, on his sleeve, and in his heart. His was a tragic character. Something you don’t see a lot in sports. Maybe even an introvert in the mold of Mesut Ozil. Quiet, quality players lambasted for not being bombastic captains.

Mauer then joins other Alastair Cook (who’s farewell was somehow even more poetic than Mauer’s) and Paul Collingwood and Jonathan Trott (speaking of tragic figures) who walked into the tunnel this summer, never to emerge again. Who let the sun sit squarely on their backs one last time before hanging their boots up forever. It adds to this sense of a chapter closing that I just cannot shake. Life feels like a series of endings these days, and I am in desperate need of a beginning. Of potential and promise not marred but one ill-timed slide on artificial turf. When life just opens up, and all you see is clear road ahead of you.

“There are endings and then there are endings,” Hanif Abdurraqib wrote. I keep waiting for the latter, because the former is all I have, and I have them over and over and over again.

Cheers for a great career, Joe, though I wish you would have given it one more season. I’ve had enough change, enough endings, to last a lifetime, but it feels like that’s all that life is now: endings. Endings and change. Every week, something or someone gone forever.

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