On July 9th, 2002, the All Star Game ended in a tie after 11 innings, when both teams ran out of pitchers. I was not watching when that decision was made. I saw Torii Hunter make an unreal catch on a Barry Bonds would-be homer to center, then watched Bonds playfully pick Hunter up over his head in anger in between innings. Then I went to bed. I had to get up early the next day. The U-Haul was packed in the driveway in front of my house. It wouldn’t be my house much longer.
This week marks a full decade since I first moved to New York City.
A few years ago, I was at an impromptu dinner party at my friend’s house. As the night wore on and the drinks continued to flow, I remember her saying, “You’re not a real New Yorker until you’ve lived here ten years.” That stuck with me. She’s a couple of years older than me and has a British accent, so I’ve always considered her smarter and wiser than me. Maybe I shouldn’t have taken the comment to heart, especially since she had only lived here for a couple of years at the time and, as of a few weeks ago, has no memory of ever making that pronouncement. But it stuck, nonetheless.
It’s fitting that I hit this made up milestone on the heels of a severe heat wave, because there is nothing worse in the world than New York City on a 93 degree day. The heat permeates everything. The asphalt bakes. The century old buildings recirculate the hot air. Subway platforms suffocate. The humidity settles like a cloud on top of the city and just sits there. And 8 million people walk around like angry zombies, complaining about how fucking terrible it is. And they love it.
Being a “real” New Yorker means suspending disbelief. It means believing that a 550 square foot box is a HUGE apartment. It means expecting to pay $2500 a month for the privilege to live in that box. It means keeping your windows open all winter because the steam pipes get so hot you can’t breathe otherwise. It means never questioning why a turkey sandwich and a Snapple cost 12 dollars. It means knowing never to eat a hot dog from a cart , no matter what Lenny Brisco did on Law and Order. It means turning a corner and not batting an eye as you end up in the middle of filming for a scene on “Law and Order” or “30 Rock” or “Louie” or some movie you may or may not ever see. It means knowing not to sit on the benches while you wait for a subway (the benches, you see, are where I imagine the homeless people shit.) It means being able to completely zone out while packed into a confined space with a hundred strangers. It means being able to read a book standing up, while holding onto a subway pole with the other hand and balancing on one foot. It means walking past 80 story buildings, designed decades ago by men who imagined the impossible and built by workers who somehow made it happen, and not thinking twice. It means avoiding Times Square at all costs, because Times Square is the most un-real New York place in all of New York.
Mostly, it means knowing, deep down in your soul, that all of that hassle is a small price to pay. The same friend who said, “you’re not a real New Yorker till you’ve lived here 10 years,” recently said something else that struck a chord. (Like I said, British accent. Instant wisdom.) She was dealing with some shit; annoying land lords, problems at work, a babysitter running off to South America. And she was giving some thoughts to moving. Those thoughts were fleeting. Why?
Because, every once in a while, there’s a beautiful day. The sun is out and the people are happy and you grab a seat in the park and you take a second to consider where you are and what that means.
Or, as she put it, “When New York gets her tits out, you’re powerless to resist.”
As in most special issues, Sports Illustrated loads the “Inside…” section with as many different sports as possible and the columns serve as mini-articles, as opposed to single topic discussions. I was especially pleased to read Tom Verducci’s wrap up of the first half of what has been a really great baseball season so far. Mike Trout and Bryce Harper are probably the two biggest stories of the year so far, but he also touches on the surprise teams in Washington, Baltimore and Pittsburgh and the potential trade targets throughout the league. What he doesn’t do is rely on a litany of dry stats to make a greater point. Verducci always lets baseball breathe. He lets the sport tell its own stories. And that’s why he’s the best in the business.
Why Don’t More Athletes Take A Stand by Gary Smith
This is really two articles in one. The first is about Wonman Joseph Williams, a walk on football player at Virginia, who takes part in a hunger strike to protest the school’s refusal to pay it’s employees a living wage. This part of the piece is an interesting profile of a young man who is willing to sacrifice his athletic career in order to accomplish something he finds far more important. The second article is a discussion of athletic activism through the years. It’s unfocused and never really succeeds in making the point it’s aiming for.
Life’s Roses and Sausages by Lee Jenkins
Now we begin the “where are they know” section of the magazine. First up is Earl Campbell. I will be completely honest. I thought Earl Campbell was dead. Why else would we never ever hear from him? So, in that sense, he’s the perfect subject for a “where are they now?” profile. He seems like a nice and genuine man who has overcome his problems to lead a good life. Good for Earl Campbell.
Deepness in Seattle by L. Jon Wertheim
Shawn Kemp! I’m glad he’s doing well too. My favorite part of this profile is the fact that Kemp refuses to turn his restaurant into a sports bar and refuses to put his name on the place. It’s not about him. It’s about the customers. That’s cool to hear.
Worshipping at the Church of Baseball by Chris Nashawaty
Here we have an oral history of “Bull Durham.” Two thoughts:
1- I’m getting tired of oral histories. It seems like the ESPN book began a trend. What was first a cool way to share first hand memories of historical events is starting to turn into a lazy and cliched way to approach a story.
2- Bull Durham may be a great baseball film, but Major League is a much better baseball MOVIE. It’s funnier. Simple as that.
The Perfect Game by Ted Keith
The main article here is a profile of John Paciorek, who went 3-3 with two walks and three RBI in his only major league game. He seems like an interesting guy. I was more interested in the sidebars, especially Ray LeBlanc. He was the goalie for the 92 US Olympic hockey team. I actually remember watching his NHL debut for the Blackhawks against the Sharks. I had no idea it was the only game he ever played.
The Strength To Carry On by David Epstein
Ben Helfgott survived the holocaust to eventually become an Olympic weightlifter. This may be controversial, but I think the holocaust is a bummer. I don’t enjoy reading about it.
Flying With Ease by Rebecca Shore
Shore catches up with Greg Louganis, who is now a trapeze artist or some shit. I’m not really sure, because she barely writes about where he is now. Also, I recently spent some time at a party with the author who wrote Louganis’s autobiography. I kind of wish he had gotten a mention while they discussed the book in this article.
Hockey’s Minus Man by Michael Farber
This is fun. The main article focuses on Bill Mikkelson who has the worst single season +/- in NHL history (-82.) The sidebars catch up with Johnny Newman (most losses in NBA history,) Anthony Young (most consecutive losses in MLB history,) and Chris Dudley (worst single season FT% in NBA history.) All are doing well, despite their ignominious titles.
Still Swinging Away by Phil Taylor
Reggie Jackson was my first favorite baseball player. Aside from Don Mattingly, he is still my all time favorite. He is, quite literally, the key to unlocking every secret in my life. And yet, every time he opens his mouth, I find it harder and harder to like him. To be clear, I don’t have an issue with him speaking out about whether or not certain players belong in the Hall of Fame. Yes, it’s in bad form to say something negative about Gary Carter just a few months after he died, but if that’s what you really feel, then you should say it. My issue with Reggie is how he differentiates Andy Pettitte from other steroid users. He has questions about whether ARod belongs in the hall, but he’s ok with Pettitte. Why? Because he likes Pettitte personally and has known him for a long time. With that single piece of twisted logic, Reggie undercuts nearly all his own credibility on the issue.
Future Game Changers by SI Staff
SI identifies young people who will eventually exceed in their chosen sports. I will take your word for it, Sports Illustrated. I don’t care that much.
Where Have I Been by Roy Blount Jr.
What the fuck is this? Blount writes about his long career. But he’s all over the goddamned place. I think he’s trying to write like Hunter S. Thompson. He did take a shot at Curt Schilling, though. I liked that a lot.
Point After by Phil Taylor
I got about three paragraphs in, then Taylor wrote something about President Tebow in 2042 and I’m done. This is dumb as shit.