Monthly Archives: July 2013

Thoughts on Narrative in Everyday Life

I was especially excited to watch the Mets game last night because Zack Wheeler was pitching, and I was thinking about the high hopes that I have for both he and Matt Harvey. Specifically, I was thinking, “Well, Harvey is clearly Tom Seaver, and maybe Wheeler can be Jerry Koosman.”

I know that I am not the only Mets fan making these comparisons, but the act of doing so struck me. I think it is an example of how we as humans naturally turn to past narratives to help us make sense of the present. While I am by no means the first person to note this function of narrative (my favorite articulation of it is in the work of Stanley Hauerwas), it is worth repeating. The world is inherently chaotic, and stories help us see how bits and pieces of it make sense.

In this particular instance, I am choosing a narrative that I want to see repeated, a sort of messianic second coming, because Seaver was the best Met ever, and Koosman was either the second or third best Mets pitcher ever depending on how you feel about Dwight Gooden. Of course it is not fair to Harvey or Wheeler to make these comparisons because it is important that they be given the space to write their own narratives. However, connecting them to the past as a fan is one way to fit them into the larger New York Mets narrative. The Mets have been the most successful when they have had stellar home-grown pitchers, and it is enticing to think that with Harvey and Wheeler they are returning to this formula.

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The Comfort of Baseball

Last night I watched the Mets-Atlanta game, and the Mets lost in excruciating fashion, with Bobby Parnell giving up two runs in the top of the ninth to blow a 1-0 lead and Jason Heyward making a fantastic diving catch on Justin Turner’s drive into the left-centerfield gap in the bottom of the ninth for the final out, which would have tied the game if it had bounced out of Heyward’s glove or won the game if it had missed the glove altogether. Afterward, as I have many times before, I thought to myself “Screw this! I don’t need this kind of anguish! I’m not watching the game tomorrow night; I’ll read instead.”

But as this afternoon has worn on and I am thinking about how to unwind after a stressful day, the thought of watching the game becomes more and more appealing, and of course I’ll be in front of the television promptly at seven.

This turnaround, which has also occurred many times before, made me think of Philip Dacey’s poem “America without Baseball” from Brooke Horvath and Tim Wiles’s anthology of baseball poems, Line Drives. It depicts a late twenty-first century America where baseball has somehow died, but subliminally lives on. While “box scores began to look / like Greek or Sanskrit,”

3 and 9 became magical numbers–
all automobile license plates
carried either or both,
as did the logos of some commercial ventures,
though often buried in the design
to work subliminally on customers,
though no one could remember why.

This is the idea from the poem that has stuck with me since I first read it nearly a decade ago. I love the thought of baseball being completely ingrained in the national sub/consciousness, the thought that we could not get away from it even if we tried. This is not really the case anymore for the nation, but I was reminded that it is the case for me, and that knowledge is comforting. No matter what kind of day I am having, I can turn to baseball for solace, even in cases like last night: even though it was a hideous loss, the game itself was an intriguing, exciting one that I would have deeply enjoyed had my favorite team not been playing. The game made me exclaim out loud several times, and very few activities have that power over me. In seeking this comfort I am connected to millions of others, and that connection is significant.

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Books Acquired Recently: Desk Copies Edition

Today I received all of my desk copies for the upcoming semester. I’ll be teaching semester one of the first-year composition course, American Literature to 1865, and American Literature Post-1945. It should be a fun semester toggling back and forth between the two American literature extremes! It will make a fascinating contrast.

I already have copies of most of these books, just not the editions that are currently in print, hence the necessity of acquiring the ones listed below.

Bottini, Joseph P., and James L. Davis. Utica: Then & Now. Charleston: Arcadia, 2007.

Cooper, James Fenimore. The Last of the Mohicans. 1826. New York: Penguin, 1986.

DeLillo, Don. Falling Man. 2007. New York: Scribner, 2008.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. Young Goodman Brown and Other Short Stories. New York: Dover, 1992.

Irving, Washington. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Stories. New York: Penguin, 1999.

McClatchy, J.D., ed. The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Poetry. 2nd ed. New York: Vintage, 2003.

Nelson, G. Lynn. Writing and Being: Embracing Your Life Through Creative Journaling. Novato: New World, 2004.

Poe, Edgar Allen. The Complete Short Stories of Edgar Allan Poe (Volume I of II). N.P.: Digireads.com, 2012.

Roth, Philip. Goodbye, Columbus: And Five Short Stories. 1959. New York: Vintage, 1993.

Walker, Alice. The Color Purple. 1982. Orlando: Harvest, 2003.

Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass. 1855. New York: Penguin, 1986.

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Books Acquired Recently

The Mennonite Encyclopedia, Volume II: D-H. Scottdale: Herald, 1956.

The Mennonite Encyclopedia, Volume III: I-N. Scottdale: Herald, 1957.

I bought Volumes I, IV, and V of The Mennonite Encyclopedia over a decade ago at a conference at a steep discount ($15.00 apiece when they are normally $85.00) because they each had a few damaged pages. I’ve been meaning to complete my set since then, but there were numerous other book purchases that took priority since admittedly I rarely consult the volumes I had. But they look so pretty on the shelf!

My Mennonite Encyclopedia set, right next to Martyrs Mirror and The Complete Writings of Menno Simons.

My Mennonite Encyclopedia set, right next to Martyrs Mirror and The Complete Writings of Menno Simons.

I finally decided to complete my set when I received some money from my grandfather’s estate. He was very interested in Mennonite history, thus I think he would appreciate the purchase.

Bought on amazon.com.

Silverman, Matthew. Swinging ’73: Baseball’s Wildest Season. Guilford: Lyons, 2013.

I bought this book from the National Baseball Hall of Fame bookstore during my visit to Cooperstown on Monday. It’s a signed copy. I am intrigued by 1970s pop culture in general and am especially intrigued by the 1973 baseball season because the Mets won the pennant that year, so Silverman’s book caught my eye immediately.

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Visiting the Baseball Hall of Fame

Today I visited the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York for the first time since my eighth birthday. I don’t remember much about the museum itself from that visit, only that I had a milkshake for the first time ever. I loved them immediately and actually had three that day–two chocolate and one chocolate chocolate-chip. I also remember being surprised and disappointed that there were no fast food chains in town because I was wanting to have lunch at McDonald’s and supper at Wendy’s (how said that I had already been trained to assume that these chains were ubiquitous!). There are still no chain restaurants along Cooperstown’s main strip, which now makes me happy.

The "Jumbo Burger" and  chocolate milkshake from the Cooperstown Diner. I got a chocolate shake for old times' sake even though now I prefer vanilla when drinking one with a meal.

The “Jumbo Burger” and chocolate milkshake from the Cooperstown Diner. I got a chocolate shake for old times’ sake even though now I prefer vanilla when drinking one with a meal.

Anyway, it was good to get back to see the artifacts. Both Cooperstown and the Hall itself were packed because it is prime tourist season, and I saw many families with children who looked about the age I was on my first visit. It pleases me that the ritual of visiting is one that continues through the generations. Many people were wearing gear from their favorite teams, which was also neat. It gave the town a central meeting-place kind of vibe; we all had our individual allegiances, but ultimately we have our love of the game to unify us. I was planning to buy a new Mets cap, and was happy to find one for only $9.95 at one of the numerous shops selling sports memorabilia.

There are a number of players that I think deserve to be in the Hall of Fame that are not (Mike Piazza, Pete Rose [even if he did bet on baseball], Craig Biggio, Keith Hernandez…), and visiting did not make me change my mind about any of the players that I just mentioned, but reading through the amazing statistical achievements on the plaques of those who are members did make me feel that the Hall should be more exclusive than I’ve wanted it to be in the past.

Me in front of the Hall. I'm wearing my Keith Hernandez shirt because he should be a member.

Me in front of the Hall. I’m wearing my Keith Hernandez shirt because he should be a member.

Here are some of the photographs I took during my visit, most of them Mets-related:

An old Wrigley's gum ad. Who knew that chewing Wrigley's "gives an added firmness--a vigor, to the whole body"?

An old Wrigley’s gum ad. Who knew that chewing Wrigley’s “gives an added firmness–a vigor, to the whole body”?

Tom Seaver's plaque.

Tom Seaver’s plaque.

The Tom Seaver display.

The Tom Seaver display.

Nolan Ryan's plaque. Seven no-hitters! Unbelievable.

Nolan Ryan’s plaque. Seven no-hitters! Unbelievable.

Gary Carter's plaque. R.I.P.

Gary Carter’s plaque. R.I.P.

A close-up of Gary Carter's plaque detailing his importance to the 1986 Mets.

A close-up of Gary Carter’s plaque detailing his importance to the 1986 Mets.

Long-time Met broadcaster Bob Murphy's plaque in the broadcaster's wing.

Long-time Met broadcaster Bob Murphy’s plaque in the broadcaster’s wing.

Casey Stengel's retired number from Shea Stadium.

Casey Stengel’s retired number from Shea Stadium.

A portrait of Tom Seaver (as a Red, alas) by Andy Warhol.

A portrait of Tom Seaver (as a Red, alas) by Andy Warhol.

The Mets 1969 World Series ring.

The Mets 1969 World Series ring.

The Mets 1986 World Series ring.

The Mets 1986 World Series ring.

A sign celebrating Jesse Orosco's record for games pitched.

A sign celebrating Jesse Orosco’s record for games pitched.

Two members of the Mets current broadcasting team in the baseball card section.

Two members of the Mets current broadcasting team in the baseball card section.

A display celebrating Pete Rose's all-time hits record. At least the Hall acknowledges his existence.

A display celebrating Pete Rose’s all-time hits record. At least the Hall acknowledges his existence.

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Taking Myself Out to the Ball Game

Last night I went to my first Utica Brewers game. The Brewers, who are not, to the best of my knowledge, affiliated with the Milwaukee Brewers even though their primary logo uses one of Milwaukee’s script logos, play in the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League, a wood bat collegiate summer league.

A scene from the game. Note the scout holding the radar gun in the first row.

A scene from the game. Note the scout holding the radar gun in the first row.

Another shot of the game. The Utica catcher is wearing his school catching gear rather than gear matching the Brewers' uniforms.

Another shot of the game. The Utica catcher is wearing his school catching gear rather than gear matching the Brewers’ uniforms.

I always enjoy going to games (usually minor league games) in small, intimate stadiums, but I often feel that I can’t really root for any of the teams because they are not affiliated with the Mets, and thus to root for one of them would be an act of disloyalty. Thus it was nice to feel that I could truly “root for the home team” last night.

Aside from the endearing cheapness of the ticket–only $5.00 for a grandstand seat!–one bonus of going to the game was that it was Cap Night. Now I can feel like a true Utican as I wear my Brewers cap around town.

Cap Night!

Cap Night!

The game itself was a wild one. I bought a program and kept score (see Paul Dickson’s excellent book The Joy of Keeping Score for an explanation of how doing so enhances the baseball-watching experience) even though the program itself inexplicably did not contain a scorecard, only team sheets (this is why I only kept batting statistics). I love how the scorecard (badly drawn on the fly as it may be) graphically illustrates the game’s zaniness.

The away team scorecard.

The away team scorecard.

The away team, Amsterdam, scored eight runs in the second inning, with eight of their first nine batters scoring. They batted around in the fourth inning as well, putting four more runs across the plate. They also had four batters get hit by a pitch, the last one right in the helmet, though thankfully he was uninjured. All of these were clearly as a result of wildness on the pitcher’s part, but nevertheless it showed great restraint that no Utica batters got plunked in retaliation.

The Utica scorecard.

The Utica scorecard.

Amsterdam’s early offensive explosions put the game out of reach, but the Utica nine were no slouches at the plate, either. They sent nine men to the plate in the fourth inning, and scored seven runs on seven hits, which most nights would be enough for victory. Alas, when the starting pitcher only goes 1.1 innings and allows eight runs it is difficult to win. It is also unusual to see a team score seven runs while also accumulating fifteen strikeouts. Amsterdam pitchers struck out the side in the eighth and ninth innings.

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Books Acquired Recently: Last Names Beginning With K Edition

Keogh, Theodora. The Other Girl. 1962. N.P.: Olympia, 2009.

I read a number of Keogh’s books last summer and have been wanting to read more of them, but hadn’t had the time. I plan to rectify that this summer.

Klosterman, Chuck. I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling With Villains (Real and Imagined). New York: Scribner, 2013.

Klosterman is one of my favorite writers because he thinks in ways that I have never encountered before about a wide range of subjects, including sports and all facets of pop culture. He’s one of the few authors whose books I buy automatically whether they sound interesting to me or not because they inevitably are, and this one sounds quite fascinating. Klosterman writes essays considering a long list of villains, mostly men. Some of the ones I am most excited to read are those on Nancy Botwin (from Weeds), Michael Stipe, Ice Cube, Al Davis, Darth Vader, and Patrick Bateman (from Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho). You can read an excerpt from the book here.

Both books bought on amazon.com.

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