Friday, June 21, 2013

Last 39 seconds of the NBA finals were all the professional basketball I needed... yes, the NBA has problems

Played softball last night. Arrived home from the park about 9:30 p.m. My wife was watching Star Trek and, exhausted, I settled into the couch next to her. Like an alien force, a species previously unknown to man, I was sucked into the Enterprise, a vapor existing only in the big ship's computer grid.
When the Enterprise was safely on its way again, I returned instantly to human form and suddenly remembered Game 7 of the NBA’s final contest of the season.
That’s the point of this screed.
I went upstairs and turned on the television. When the picture came up, I saw a long shot of the court from high in the arena. The players were returning to the court from a time out. The announcer told me the game was down to the last 39 seconds. It seemed like it took half an hour to play those 39 seconds – in reality, well… it may have. I didn’t put a clock on it. It was good basketball – tough, smart, skillful… full of fury, joy, despair, and balletic feats so contrary to the laws of gravity they were bound to amaze even the most jaded watcher.
But those 39 seconds were all I needed. I didn’t pine for the other 47:20. I didn’t hope for overtime. I didn’t wish for another game. I didn’t regret missing entirely four games of the series. Those final 39 seconds were quite enough.
Yes, the NBA has problems.
And, I’m not a casual basketball fan. I love the sport. In winter, the smell of the gym was ambrosia to me. I sat parked on the floor in front of our black and white television countless Saturday afternoons in winter watching Russell and Chamberlain do battle. A freight train could have rumbled through the living room and I wouldn’t have budged. I didn't miss a single game my alma mater played this past college basketball season. Not one.
But, somewhere along the line, professional basketball lost its luster for me. Maybe it began to seem too easy for the players. Maybe the chest bumps and styling to the sideline cameras got old. Maybe it’s the simple fact that the finals are played in June -- on the longest day of the year -- when my body has retooled completely for summer, for outdoors, for sun and wind and cottonwood in the air.
Whatever the reason, it was surprising to me to realize those final 39 seconds were all I wanted of professional basketball for the year.


Monday, June 17, 2013

If I were GM...

Some of this may be obvious to the casual baseball fan, but if I were General Manager of the Kansas City Royals, I would do the following things over the next several weeks:

* When Jarrod Dyson is healthy enough to re-join the major league club, release Jeff Francoeur. Dyson and David Lough have proven this season that they're better contibutors than Francoeur, despite his power surge in yesterday's game. Francoeur is an amazing personality and a great guy to have in the clubhouse. But with the exception of his exceptional throwing arm, Francoeur is a liability. I would recommend trading Francoeur, and obviously as GM I would take that route if available, but who's gonna want him in any kind of decent trade? Releasing him is the only option. And heck, if he is claimed off waivers, the Royals might get some salary relief or a player-to-be-named-later in a waiver trade.

* Give Dyson a chance to earn the extra starting position. He's earned it. But I would keep him on a short leash. If he stops hitting, and if his incredible speed doesn't help to produce runs, I would flip David Lough to the starting position with no hesitation. Heck, since Dyson's injury, Lough has practically been the starter anyway.

* Trade Ervin Santana, even if the Royals are in the chase by the trade deadline. Santana is having a pretty solid year so far, and it turned out to be a really good pickup. I think he could help us win down the stretch. But not long after the trade deadline, two really promising arms - Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino - will be returning to the team after recovering from Tommy John surgery. And they're gonna need a spot to fill. I would trade Santana for either prospects or a run-producing second baseman to a National League contending team in need of pitching.

* Figure out the infield situation. George Brett's presence as hitting coach has coincided with a resurgence by first baseman Eric Hosmer, but the same can't be said for third baseman Mike Moustakas. He may need to spend some time in the minors to figure things out. I'd give him to the All-Star Break, and if he doesn't get it together, send him to Omaha. Alcides Escobar is struggling at the plate this year, but I like him as the NO. 9 hitter instead of the No. 2, and I don't have any problem with him remaining the every day shortstop. Then there's second base. I love Chris Getz' attitude, but he's not a major-league caliber everyday player. The second base job needs to belong to Eliot Johnson and/or Miguel Tejada until a more permanent solution is found. That solution could be a trade (see above) or the emergence of Christian Colon in the minor league system.

* If the Royals don't have a winning record by the All-Star Break, it's time to fire Ned Yost. This team should be winning. And some of his decisions as the field skipper have been downright baffling. And keep this in mind: the last time a team fired Ned Yost during the season, by the 2008 Brewers, that team made the playoffs. If Yost fails, I like John's idea of offering the job to Frank White. If the Royals have to fire Yost, it probably means we're mostly writing off this season, so I'm good with giving an inexperienced White a chance to prove himself. But long-term, I think we should be looking for a successful, experienced major league manager.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Book sale justice

Jamie and I took a trip to Metcalf South Shopping Center tonight for the annual Johnson County Library Used Book Sale. It's awesome - seriously, check it out. It's the best used book sale in Kansas City, and it's going on all week.

After a few minutes at the sale, we noticed one of the things we despise most: poachers.

What are poachers? If you've been to a used book store, a thrift store or a used book sale in the past few years, you've probably seen one. They have little barcode scanners attached to their smart phones, and they scan each and every book they run across to see if they can make a profit by selling it online.

To put it plainly, these people are assholes. I hate them. If you are one, I hate you. What those people do is not illegal, but it's annoying an immoral as hell, in my opinion. Book sales are for people who love books; people who come in and take all the best ones simply to resell them at a profit are despicable human beings. They don't care about the books they're scanning; in fact, they generally don't look at anything except for the barcode.

Pictured: the hand of an asshole.

The poachers were out in force tonight at the book sale. They were working in teams; I saw three women who were connected to each other via bluetooth headset, talking over strategies wirelessly. All the poachers carted their finds around in big wheeled carts that, of course, blocked the stacks of books from the regular people who were just looking for good things to read. And they were aggressive, too; pity the poor soul who gets in between them and a table of potential profit.

Jamie and I shopped around for about an hour, then before exiting we found a bench and sat down to take stock of our selections and weed out the ones we really didn't want after all. We ended up with a stack of four or five books in a discard stack.

Before Jamie had a chance to re-shelve the books, I stopped her. I saw a poacher in front of us and I was struck with inspiration. I laid out my plan to Jamie, and we executed it brilliantly.

The poacher was scanning a table of books and had started to wander away from her cart. When the space between her and her cart got big enough, I stepped between the two. Jamie swiftly came in behind me and gently placed our leftover books in the poacher's cart, then walked off. When the poacher turned around and noticed I was between her and the cart, I apologized and walked away in the opposite direction.

We met up a few minutes later and high-fived.

The beauty of our revenge mission was that the poachers don't actually look at the books they scan, so she probably never noticed our books in her cart. When she gets home and scans the books again to post them on Amazon or eBay or wherever, she'll be confused as hell wondering why she put those books in her cart. Heck, maybe the four or five bucks we cost her will make her reconsider whether it's a profitable venture. Probably not, but a boy can dream.

As I said earlier, these people are completely within their rights to poach at used book sales. And I feel like I'm within my rights to screw with them. I have zero remorse, and I would happily do it again.

In fact, if you're a poacher, and I run across you at a book sale, don't be surprised if you end up with a few duds in your basket.