The grace of Yu Darvish

The Dodgers may have one of the whitest baseball teams in the Major Leagues, but they do have a Japanese-Iranian pitcher, a man named Yu Darvish.

Darvish started Game 3 of the World Series on Friday and an Astros player, the Cuban-born Yuli Gurriel, hit a home run off him. Yep, that happens sometimes in baseball.

What doesn’t—shouldn’t—happen in baseball is what did happen next: Gurriel returned to his dugout and pulled the corners of his eyes up in a slant while uttering what lip-readers could clearly see was a racist slur.

Major League Baseball was swift to condemn the gesture. They suspended Gurriel for five games. Starting in April.

Where’s the sting in that? As Martin Luther King said, “Justice delayed is justice denied.”

Still, there was one moment of grace—brought to us by the man the slur was directed at, Yu Darvish. Asked about it after the game, he called the gesture “disrespectful” adding:

“Nobody’s perfect. And everybody’s different,” he says. ” And we’re going to have to learn from it. We are all human beings. That’s what I’m saying. We’ll learn from it and we have to go forward.”

“One of the most gracious and helpful statements”

The next day, Darvish expanded on that in a tweet:

“No one is perfect. That includes both you and I. What he had done today isn’t right, but I believe we should put our effort into learning rather than to accuse him. If we can take something from this, that is a giant step for mankind. Since we are living in such a wonderful world, let’s stay positive and move forward instead of focusing on anger. I’m counting on everyone’s big love.”

On the News & Guts Facebook page, journalist Dan Rather wrote

“In all of my years covering civil rights, this is one of the most gracious and helpful statements I have read. It is in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And the response and conversation that this helped spark is bringing us together as a nation, rather than what we are seeing on the political level.”

Rather pointed out that the choices we make can exacerbate the divisiveness in our country or, perhaps, ease it:

Each of us has a decision to make, especially those in leadership or before the public eye. Do we succumb to intolerance? Do we refuse to listen to the voices of others? Do we play with the easy currency of fear? Or do we recognize that the only future worth a damn for our country, and our world, is to try to get along?

What’s your choice today?


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Writers’ batting order—creativity leads off

writers' batting orderAs I said goodbye to the 2017 baseball season yesterday—well for my Mets, anyway—I got to thinking about the magic of the batting order.

You want your swiftest runner batting first. Second, you want a player likely to move that runner along with a base hit or a well-placed bunt. In the third spot, you want someone who can deliver a big hit. And to make sure the opposing pitcher doesn’t pitch around Mr. Big Hit in the third slot, you want a cleanup hitter (the fourth slot) who can reliably hit the ball out of the park.

And then I got to wondering—well, the Mets were down 6-0 in the fifth; there wasn’t a lot of game to care about—I got to wondering what my writers’ batting order would look like. This is what I came up with:

Creativity
Confidence
Commitment
Communication

How I set my writers’ batting order

Some people might flip the first two batters. What do you need first: Creativity to generate the idea? Or confidence to get you to the computer? That would make for a lively discussion if there were a literary equivalent of the sports bar.

But I put Creativity first because you can have all the confidence in the world—not that I’ve encountered many good writers who have all the confidence in the world…But theoretically you could have all the confidence in the world when you sit down at the keyboard, but if you don’t have an idea how are you gonna make those words appear on the screen?

So Creativity leads off on my team. But then you absolutely need Confidence next. That’s what gets your butt in the seat. What keeps your fingers pounding the keys, even when you’re writing badly. Because not even Confidence bats 1.000. Confidence reassures you that even if you have an off day—hey, even the best hitters only reach base about a third of the time.

Commitment’s up third. Confidence may get your butt in the chair, but Commitment keeps it there. And keeps it coming back every day. Whether or not you want to—it’s not up for debate; you’ve made a commitment.

Those three Cs set the table for the fourth one, the one that pays off all this hard word: Communication. You get to share your ideas, your creativity, with the world.

You’re not going to hit a home run every time—and if you expect that you will, you’re in for a big disappointment, my friend. But if you do your best, “take your hacks” as they say in baseball, you have every reason to be proud.

But you have to step up to the plate. You have to try. So stop reading this and write something. Yes, now.


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Can baseball bridge divides? Maybe yes, maybe no

Some activists unveiled a banner about racism in baseball at Fenway Park this week. Baseball has figured into a couple of political conversations I’ve had in the last week. It’s left me wondering: Can baseball bridge divides in our society?

The case of the curious Lyft driver

I caught a Lyft when I arrived at the Cincinnati airport a couple of weeks ago. It was around midnight but my driver was chatty and I mentioned that I was in town to catch a baseball game. His next question came right out of the blue, like a pop fly in July:

“Are you married?”

He had kind of a thick accent—from somewhere in West Africa, he later told me—so I thought perhaps I’d misheard him. But when I didn’t answer, he asked again. Much more emphatically. Half-turning around in his seat:

“Are you married?”

I laughed and said, “That’s a very personal question.” He explained that he was just wondering because I was a woman going to a baseball game alone.

I tried to smile as I made it a teachable moment: “Well, as you’ve probably noticed in the year and a half you’ve been here, women in the United States often do things without their husbands. And husbands do things without their wives.”

I’m not sure I convinced him that our culture really does allow women to have agency (at least it has historically). But he did ask me how much the tickets were, and said he’d try to catch a game one of these days. If I didn’t manage to enlighten him, perhaps I created a baseball fan.

Can baseball bridge divides? The case of the translator

I found myself watching a game on TV with a relative of mine.

can baseball bridge divides?Baseball is one of the few things we have in common (although he roots for the wrong team). Then in the post-game interviews, one of the players showed up with a translator by his side.

“Now that—that I don’t go for,” my relative said, appending the familiar blather about how if you’re going to play ball here you should learn the language.

I knew I’d have to address the situation—I’m done letting teachable moments pass—but a combination of jet lag and my cold had ground down all my feistiness. So I said quietly, “Oh, I don’t know. Learning a new language is hard.”

And then a question popped into my mind. So I asked it, willing my voice to stay calm and curious:

“Have you ever tried to learn another language?”

I expected to hear something about high school Spanish but he just said, almost sheepishly, “No.”

Was his mind opening a crack?

“Well, it’s hard,” I said, still gently. “And then imagine that you’ve got to speak in this new language you’re learning in front of TV cameras and millions of people will hear you speak, and your bad accent, and maybe you don’t use all the right words. I can’t even imagine having to do that.”

My relative couldn’t either.

Listening, thinking can bridge divides

Now, my relative is not going to run right out and join a pro-DACA demonstration. But he’s thinking about at least one part of the immigration issue in a new way.

Can baseball bridge divides? Maybe. Not with banners but with personal interactions.

One conversation, one new idea planted. Starting right where you are, whenever you get an opening, whoever you can talk with.

It’s a long road, but it can lead to lasting change.


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Writing vs. crafting — “doing my autobiography”

writing vs. crafting —baseball editionSo there I am, watching a baseball game. I thought it was the Mets vs. the Nationals but the contest quickly turned into Writing vs. Crafting.

One of the announcers started talking about a long-ago incident and then explained, “It’s been on my mind because I’m doing my autobiography now.”

Anything strike you as odd about that sentence?

(I guess I gave it away in the title of the post.)

On the one hand, I’m grateful for the announcer’s honesty—as opaque as it is. Clearly he—like many a baseball player before him—has hired a ghostwriter. No shame in that. But that leaves us with this extremely odd sentence:

I’m doing my autobiography.

Stories about “doing” rather than “being” provide a much richer experience for your reader. But when I create those stories, the verb I reach for is “write.” I write blog posts, speeches, books. I don’t “do” them.

He could have said “I’m working on my autobiography.” That’s true enough, whether or not he’s writing every word.

Writing vs. crafting

I think I object to “doing” also because it somehow makes the act of writing sound like, I don’t know, building a cabinet. “I’m doing some woodworking in the basement.” “I’m doing some collaging these days.”

Is writing a craft? Well, I guess we call it that sometimes. I often craft speeches for my clients—yes, I use the verb to blur things. I don’t want to take too much credit for the words that come out of my clients’ mouths, even if I did write every one.

Playwrighting—I still remember the lecture my Playwrighting teacher gave us the first day of his class. It’s memorable not just for what he said but because it was pretty much the only thing even approaching a lecture that we heard for the rest of the semester. He very carefully explained the spelling of the thing we were about to undertake. That it’s “wrighting” not “writing” because we are crafting something.

But playwrighting is a participatory sport, at least once you get a director and a bunch of actors involved. Book-writing tends to be much more solitary. Unless, of course, you’re working with a ghost—and then the ghost puts in the bulk of the alone time.

Look, there’s nothing wrong with crafting. And nothing wrong with hiring a ghost—unless you lay all the blame on the ghost for your own mistakes. But please don’t “do” writing. Just write. Or work with a writer—either way, I’m happy.


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WTF Philadelphia?

First stop on my vacation took me to Philadelphia. I think of Philly as a sort of mini-New York. You know, a city on the East Coast. So it must share the kinds of New York City values I’m used to. But apparently…not so much. I found myself bewildered more than once, thinking WTF Philadelphia?

[Yeah, I know there’s supposed to be a comma between WTF and Philadelphia. But I don’t want to anger the SEO Gods.]

My first clue came at the ballpark. Of course I was in Philadelphia for a Mets game. Don’t you know me by now?

RIP Darren Daulton

WTF Philadelphia
Daulton’s 1991 baseball card, image c/o mysticgames.com

The Phillies had just lost one of their great players the week I visited. Darren Daulton was the catcher on their 1997 World Series-winning team, and they paid tribute to him before the game. You know: moment of silence, reverent video—at least 7 of the whole 9 yards. I’m sure they’ll get to 9 later, when they can bring in his family and the men he played with for a more extensive tribute. But he’d only just passed away; the family is probably still making funeral arrangements.

We Mets fans know what it’s like to lose a beloved player too young—”the Kid,” Gary Carter. Carter was a catcher on our 1986 World Series-winning team. And, like Daulton, he was also felled by a brain tumor. I grabbed some extra napkins at the cheesesteak stand to sop up my inevitable tears.

And I did cry at the memorial (enough with the dying, already). But I also gasped in astonishment at the film tribute. After detailing the highlights of Daulton’s playing career—the little film was packed with clips of him in action—the voiceover announcer intoned,

“To the ladies, he was a matinée idol. But he was also a man’s man.”

Now I’ll grant you, the guy was handsome. Chiseled cheekbones, strong jaw, a full head of floppy late 1980s hair. But will someone please explain to me why we needed the caveat that men also liked him—or maybe that he also liked hanging with  dudes. Honestly, I’m not quite sure what that sentence was trying to say.

One thing it did say—loud and clear to me—is that someone thinks the only reason a woman could possibly admire a player is for his good looks. But is that really the story you want to tell your female fans, Phillies management? “Don’t worry your pretty little heads about strategy and skill; just look at the hot bodies. And buy lots of pink gear with the team logo. M’kay?”

WTF Philadelphia?

Still, I did enjoy the game. For once the Mets were in fine form, combining lights-out pitching by Jacob deGrom; stellar defense in the field; and—mirabile dictu!—actual hits, including singles and doubles, so that more than once when someone came along to hit it out of the park we scored not one run but three. Add in a handful of solo shots and you arrive at the very satisfying score of 10-0.

I hopped in a cab outside the ballpark—couldn’t have been easier—and hurtled back toward my hotel. The doorman opened the taxi door for me, gave a deferential half-bow and asked, “How was your evening, sir?”

Sir?

I mean, yes, I was wearing a baseball jersey and matching cap. But I was also wearing my—well, this is a business blog so I’ll just say “curves.” The moment I stepped one daintily shod foot out of the taxi, he started falling all over himself to apologize.

I looked him in the eyes and said,

“You know, girls can be baseball fans, too.”

The minute the word tumbled out of my mouth, I wanted to stuff it back in. I haven’t been a girl in—er, probably since before that doorman’s birth. But I was a little bit rattled, I gotta say.

So WTF Philadelphia? Seems like the “city of brotherly love” still hasn’t figured out that women love things other than men—or, in some cases, in addition to men.

Is this what it’s like in the rest of the country? No, I imagine in some spots it’s probably worse.

Well, I’ve checked the Phillies’s ballpark off my list. I don’t have to go back; in fact, I probably won’t.


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Do unnecessary words slow your game?

I love baseball. But some people find the game too slow. The powers that be in Major League Baseball have lately instituted various rules to shorten the game—they’re even considering a pitch clock.

When coaches consult with pitchers during the game, that’s timed now—and from the moment the coach steps out of the dugout. So we now get to see out-of-shape middle-aged men running at top speed to the pitchers mound, arriving with just enough breath to gasp out their essential advice: “Throw strikes.”

Pitching coaches often teach their charges to eliminate unnecessary movements from their windup. I think the game could also benefit from eliminating unnecessary words. In fact, we all can.

Unnecessary words — yer out!

unnecessary wordsIf the folks who run baseball teams are really serious about shortening games, I direct their attention to the announcer’s booth. Let’s start with a sentence intoned by the public address announcer before the National Anthem that kicks off every game:

“At this time, we ask that you rise and remove your caps.”

No, I’m not suggesting that we stop singing the National Anthem. But look at that sentence:

“At this time”—to use a technical term: Duh.

You’re not saying, “In 15 minutes, we’re going to ask that you rise and remove your caps.” No, you’re making the announcement now. The cap-removal starts now. You don’t need to add that NOW is when we’re asking you to do it.

And if you really feel a need for a redundancy, then a simple “Now” will do. “We now ask…” But again, now is clearly when you’re asking.

And “ask”? I mean, yes, it’s nice to ask. But it’s a law or something that we remove headgear when they play the National Anthem. So is the announcer really asking?

Note: There’s no law, as far as I know, that requires any particular reverent gestures for Irving Berlin songs, and yet a security guard in Yankee Stadium once ejected a paying customer who tried to leave the stands to go to the bathroom during the singing of Berlin’s “God Bless America.” The man sued, and won.

At any rate: “At this time”—redundant; “we ask”—unnecessary. Which leaves us with:

“Rise and remove your caps.”

I’d throw a “please” in front of that because my mother raised me right.

“Please rise and remove your caps.”

There: I just shaved 30 seconds off the game.

At this time, you may thank me. A simple tip of the cap will do.


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Women love baseball — Song for a Sunday

Women love baseball. Always have, always will. Just ask Katie Casey.

Who?

I know, I know—most people, even die-hard baseball fans—have never heard of Katie Casey. But the song that introduced her to the world remains ubiquitous, even 109 years after its creation.

Women love baseball
detail from an illustration of “The Average American Woman of 1908

Yes, friends, Katie Casey is the heroine of the song “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” We don’t know about her because we never sing the verses of the song, only its chorus. For the record, then, here are the original lyrics (now out of copyright), by songwriter and vaudevillian Jack Norworth:

Katie Casey was baseball mad,
Had the fever and had it bad.
Just to root for the home town crew,
Ev’ry sou
Katie blew.
On a Saturday her young beau
Called to see if she’d like to go
To see a show, but Miss Kate said “No,
I’ll tell you what you can do:”

Chorus

Take me out to the ball game,
Take me out with the crowd;
Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack,
I don’t care if I never get back.
Let me root, root, root for the home team,
If they don’t win, it’s a shame.
For it’s one, two, three strikes, you’re out,
At the old ball game.

Katie Casey saw all the games,
Knew the players by their first names.
Told the umpire he was wrong,
All along,
Good and strong.
When the score was just two to two,
Katie Casey knew what to do,
Just to cheer up the boys she knew,
She made the gang sing this song:

(Repeat Chorus)

Women love baseball, then and now

We tend to think of Edwardian era women as all buns and corsets. But enough of them spoke their minds, even back then. Women participated in the 1908 Democratic Convention that summer, even though only a few states had granted them the right to vote. Earlier in the year, 15,000 women garment workers marched through the streets of New York City, demanding political rights and economic justice. That was March 8th, the day we now commemorate as International Women’s Day.

So the idea of a woman speaking her mind and demanding that her beau take her to the ballgame rather than the theatre—well, it probably amused audiences in 1908 but her outspokenness wouldn’t have come out of left field.

I’m not surprised baseball embraced the chorus of the song. It’s an anthem of consumerism: Buy a ticket. Spend lots of money on the concessions. But I am surprised at how thoroughly Katie Casey has disappeared.

Not just because women love baseball. Although—news flash—we do. And not just because male-dominated society always finds a way to make women invisible.

But why in over 100 years has no one has thought about how odd the lyrics are if the “me” in the song is the guy in the stands singing it:

“Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack”

Just who’s doing the buying here? And why are you, red-blooded American male baseball fan, incapable of buying your own?

There’s more to say about this song, and the men who wrote it. But I can’t say it now. Gotta run—I’m going to the ballgame.


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Play ball! Happy opening day, everyone

There’s one day a year my clients are guaranteed not to find me in the office: Opening Day of the baseball season. That’s today, for those of you who don’t keep track of such things.

How much do I love baseball? It’s right there in my email signature, which identifies me as “Award-winning speechwriter, writers’ guide, Mets Fan (unbeaten so far in 2017!)” That parenthetical phrase will no doubt disappear one day soon, but my Mets fandom is likely to stick.

I’ve written about baseball several times in this blog—mostly about the baseball writers who taught me to notice and love the nuances of the game. But I’ve never written about how I became a baseball fan. That has nothing to do with words at all.

It was early in the 1986 season and I turned on the TV one night to find a Mets game in progress. Before I could find the remote to change the channel, one of the Mets got hit by a pitch—deliberately—and a benches-clearing brawl ensued. Now, I’m not a violent person; I’m not a fan of fighting. But something about how the players had each others’ backs spoke to me and I found myself tuning in to the games to see if it would happen again. I also tried watching some Yankees games, but the Yanks were harder to follow—thanks to a stingy owner half a century earlier, their players did not have names on their jerseys. So back to the Mets I went.

The Mets in 1986 had heart. They had fun—like the World Series-winning Cubs did last season. They were a team, a family. And they drew me in quickly. I watched every broadcast game and when they played on cable, I tuned a rickety radio to the AM station and listened. I lived in Brooklyn back then and Brooklyn—believe it or not—had not yet been wired for cable.

Fortunately for me, the Mets’ lead announcer in the booth was the erudite former catcher Tim McCarver. Fans tend to either love or loathe him, but I appreciated the way he explained the fine points of the game. I also loved seeing him struggle to hide his impatience with the idiots they sometimes paired him with. Timmy was my kind of guy. He taught me the game of baseball. As did Roger Angell in The New Yorker. But Tim called his class to order almost nightly; I had to wait months for every new Angell piece.

I was devastated when the team let McCarver go, replacing him with Tom Seaver—who may have been a terrific pitcher back in the day, but who was not a gifted communicator. The broadcast team today includes two players from the ’86 team, Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling. Smart men—if a little backward sometimes about women—and smart players. I’m almost over losing McCarver, who retired completely a few years ago.

The Mets won it all in 1986—the most thrilling playoffs and World Series in my memory, until the Cubbies’ Series last year. Can the Mets do it again 31 years later? We’re coming into the season with the top-rated pitching rotation in all of baseball. Hope springs eternal on Opening Day. And I am smiling.

Time Out

The irony is not lost on me.

Last week, Freelancers Union published a piece I wrote about the need for balance, unplugging—the importance of using the other F-word, Fun.

Now, I’m cursing my calendar, trying to find a clearing for just one day off somewhere in the next two weeks. Actually, I think my root canal today should take care of that, but it might be nice to unplug when I’m not in pain.

Now I’m not complaining. (I can’t; I started a “no complaints for a week” challenge today.) I love my work and I’m grateful to have clients who understand flexible schedules and the need for balance. But sometimes deadlines don’t flex, and this is one of those times.

A “busy season” in the summer seems cruel, especially for a baseball fan. Then again, the Mets haven’t exactly been tearing it up lately.

So enjoy your cookouts and your fireworks; I’ll be hunched over my desk. At least I won’t have to worry about mosquitoes.

“A thoroughly decent human being”

One of the only things I love more than baseball is writing about baseball. Occasionally, I have the good fortune to write for a fellow baseball fan. Imagine getting paid to learn more about the thing you love, and to share those feelings with an audience.

A couple of months ago, I wrote a speech for a lifelong fan of the St. Louis Cardinals. And in the course of my research I came across a speech I mentioned in yesterday’s post, the eulogy Bob Costas delivered for baseball legend Stan Musial. I thought you deserved to hear a little more about it.

Costas noted that Stan Musial never got the kind of accolades his peers did. He didn’t break Babe Ruth’s home run record, like Hank Aaron. He didn’t hit a legendary home run in his last at-bat like Ted Williams. All Musial represented, Costas said, was—quote—”more than two decades of sustained excellence as a ballplayer and more than nine decades as a thoroughly decent human being.” Costas quotes Hank Aaron as saying, “I didn’t just like Stan Musial. I wanted to be like him.”

I couldn’t use this story in my client’s speech, but after the funeral mass, the hearse drove Musial’s casket to the Cardinals’ ballpark, and the family laid flowers at the foot of one of the two Musial statues there. I’ll let Cardinals fan and blogger Janice Person describe the scene:

What I will remember most though is that after the bagpipes played “Amazing Grace” for the family, I began to hear “Take me out to the ballgame” softly coming from the many ushers and other staff members of the Cardinals organization.

The hundreds of fans gathered there joined in, too. I don’t know about you, but that kind of display of community always gets to me. I think it’s because it’s so rare for people to share their emotions so openly. I’ll have more to say about that tomorrow—in a non-baseball context.