Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Fairgrounds Golf Is No More

For many years I can remember driving past Joe Mortara Golf Course in Vallejo and thinking what a cool place it was. It was a nine hole golf course set in the infield of an old horse racing track. However I never stopped. Just kept driving past it. I guess I thought I was too good to play a course situated at an abondoned race track.
Well, last year on a whim, I stopped to play it. I remember the day, July 2nd. I remember the day for a very personal reason. It was the day a TV commercial I appeared in was released. I tried to play my round of golf and was besieged with well wishes from family and friends.
Anyways, back to the round. I went to the "pro shop" and paid my green fees. When I got to the first tee. I was joined by five other people who didn't want to pair up. (I hate playing golf with people I don't know. I'm uncomfortable with the awkward conversation. One time many years ago I played golf with a guy who felt he needed to tell me about his wife, kids, job, boss, etc. I came to the course to get away from my troubles, not listen to someone else's.)
So we waited.......and waited. Finally it was my turn. I hit my first tee shot about twenty yards from where I was and lost the ball. The ground was that bad. Weeds were everywhere. The grass hadn't been taken care of for God knows how long. So I hit my next shot.......on to the racetrack. Not a good start to say the least.
This course had been around for years before I was born and it seemed like when the original greens keeper died, the course management didn't bother to hire another one.
I wouldn't even say this course had grass. Patches of dirt, mud, puddles of water was more like it. 
Needless to say, this wasn't an enjoyable round of golf. I must have lost about a dozen balls. I remember on the ninth hole, I drilled one next to this bridge. I saw where it landed, or so I thought. It disappeared. Worst golf course ever!
Over a year later, I noticed something about the place when I drove past it several times in the last few weeks. The course itself looked abandoned. It was a brown golf course. I thought because of the drought we are experiencing here in California, they were not watering it anymore. After some research I discovered the county decided to shut it down. It was operating at a loss for many years. There are many golfing options to choose from in the area and no one cares to play golf at what could be described as a pitch and putt, and I'm being nice calling it that.
So without even trying, my first time was my last time playing there. 
I'm sure it was a great little course back in its heyday. I played it as it was slowly dying, literally. It was too expensive to maintain. 
Now I wish I would have stopped and played it when I was younger. Now it's gone.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

27 Years Later

Last night I witnessed something I have been waiting to see most of my baseball life. I finally saw an on field celebration after a team won a division title. It happened to have been my favorite team, the LA Dodgers. But I should have seen this happen 27 years ago, but it didn't happen. Allow me to explain.
September 1988. I was 16 years old without a car. (I was a bike riding, walking to school loser. One other reason I didn't have a girlfriend in high school. Thanks mom! Ha!) I had tickets to a Giants/Dodgers game at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. It was a Sunday afternoon game. I had four tickets that cost $11 each. I arranged a ride with a friend. His uncle was supposed to take us along with his younger brother.
So I show up to my friends house to get ready to leave. Then I was told of a slight problem. Turns out my friends uncle wouldn't take us unless I got a 5th ticket for his friend to go. This was blackmail! This was Giants/Dodgers with playoff implications on the line. This is one of the most storied rivalries in sports. We call Ticketron (Before there was Stubhub, there was Ticketron to all you young readers out there. You called for tickets. This was before cell phones mind you.)
The game is sold out. So it looks like my friends uncles friend was bleep out of luck.
It turns out we were bleep out of luck.
No extra ticket, no ride was his rebuttal. He bailed on us.
So now we're three teenagers without a ride. My friends parents had plans. I called every relative I knew and they all said no chance. I was calling everyone I knew who had a car to take me. No luck. (On a side note, my friends mom said she'd pay me back the $33 for the tickets we couldn't use. I'm still waiting for it. What's $33 with 27 years interest?)
So I had to watch the Dodgers possibly clinch on TV at home. Imagine watching the game with tickets to the game in your hands and there's nothing you can do about it. I was torturing myself by watching the game. But I had to see the Dodgers win the NL West pennant.
They didn't. They lost that day. I felt they would have won if I was there. Wishful teenage thinking.
The Dodgers went on to clinch the title in San Diego.
Who knew that day I would have to wait 27 years for that situation to happen again.
It happened last night.
Clayton Kershaw threw a masterpiece. 13 strikeouts and allowed one hit in a complete game shutout. One of the best pitching performances I ever saw.
Funny thing is, Clayton Kershaw was born in 1988. He was 6 months old that fateful day. Who would have known a new born baby would one day control my destiny. (I know, I'm being dramatic for literary purposes).
So I can finally cross something off my bucket list. Life is good!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Baseball At It's Purest

Today it was announced the city of Sacramento was awarded a baseball team in the Great West League.
What's the Great West League you ask? Why does Sacramento need another baseball team when there's already the AAA River Cats? Where will they play?
Well, all that's still being figured out.
This new team won't pose a threat to the River Cats as this new team in the new Great West League is a summer college league for college players looking to get some at bats with a wood bat.
For the most part, summer college leagues like the Cape Cod League, enable players to get used to swinging a wood bat, and play everyday as they will if they're fortunate enough to get drafted by a major league organization.
This league is going to be quite the same.
I had the pleasure of watching one of the teams in the new Great West League, the Marysville Gold Sox, play ball this past summer.
It's great baseball. The kids a little raw, as they're getting used to the grind of playing everyday. In college, most teams play on weekends with an occasional game played during the week.
Marysville was part of the Horizon Air Series. Most people would call this type of baseball semi-pro. I'd take out the word pro.
These kids don't get paid. Some work jobs during the day at a retail store to make some pocket money. Mostly all of them stay with a host family that provides them room and board.
As I said, it prepares them for life in the daily grind of minor league baseball.
It was my first time watching a summer college league game. Marysville drew a very big crowd and I got the impression the locals look forward to the Gold Sox coming back every summer.
One franchise I'm looking forward to seeing is the Chico Heat.
In my days a clubbie for the Solano Steelheads in the old Western Baseball League, Chico was like the major leagues.
Great facilities, great fans and an all around great roadtrip. (Why Chico isn't in the California League is beyond me).
Now back to Sacramento. Today is day number one. I'm sure as I write this, the search for a general manager is being done. Then a manager will be named. The team needs a name.
So it looks like I have another team to watch next summer.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Deconstructing A Playbook

The good old playbook. The book of secrets. It's been the subject of books movies and TV shows. Marcia Brady git duped by a rival high schools quaterback over a playbook in The Brady Bunch. An assistant coach left behind his playbook in a diner a night before the national championship game on Coach. How many times have you seen a movie with football players studying their playbooks?
So the question is, why are these books so secretive? (Kinda like my uncles Playboy's as a kid, but I'm getting off the subject).
Well, I got my hands on a playbook. One of my cousins played for UNLV. He was a medical red-shirt, but he still had to study a playbook.
I got to look into a playbook preparing for a game against Arizona in 2013. No playbook scandals here, the coaching staff from UNLV's 2013 season have been dismissed and a new staff is put into place. Thats why the book wasn't returned. (I hope they lose every game until coach Sanchez is fired!) I was hoping to see a secret, hidden world of football.
I just saw things I didn't understand.
To someone such as myself who didn't get to play football (thanks Mom!), the diagrams and schemes made no sense. Lots of diagrams.  In George Plimpton's book, Paper Lion, he said to the outsider, a football playbook would disappoint someone looking for inside information of the game. He went on to say a professional playbook was no different than a college or high school playbook. Just the terminology will be different. The terminology is different from team to team.
A college playbook is far more advanced than a high school book, not that I'd know, I never saw one in high school (thanks Mom!), but that's what I'd assume. You have to be at every team practice and every meeting to understand the terminology, your assignment and your teammates assignment.
So to interpret the playbook, I took a few pictures and sent them to a friend of mine, Cameron, who played Jr high, high school and college ball at Mesa College.
Right away he deciphered the plays. He told me which play the play should be run, if it was a run or pass play. This was a defense book, so the play were to defend against Arizona's offense.
What I found interesting of the playbook was the section on some of Arizona offensive players tendencies. It went on to describe what a player might do in a given situation. How he's reacted in the past. Is he easy to upset? Does he keep a cool head? Does he tip off what the offense might do? It's all there in the tendencies. (Reminds me of the movie North Dallas Forty, when the North Dallas Bulls lost a big game, an assistant coach yells at his defensive players for not studying the other teams tendencies).
A playbook has a lot of information to absorb. As I just said, not only does a player have to know his own assignment, he also must learn the assignments of his teammates.
So much for the dumb jock stigma  football players are supposed to have.
Lots of meetings take place so a team can learn as one how a play works.
After the play is learned, it's practiced on the field over and over again until it's executed just right.
Then game day comes. The result on the scoreboard dictates who executed their playbook as flawlessly as possible.
Then mistakes are shown on film during film meetings.
Then it's back to the old drawing board and make up new plays, or slightly change existing ones.
It's creativity, imagination and innovation in those playbooks.
It takes intelligence to understand it. I'm  smart, but not football smart.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

I Got Me Some Ink!

I'm in year four of this project. I've changed the name multiple times. I almost pulled the plug on this blog a few times. I've lost my patience with this blog before. I have two suscribers and they're the same person.
I knew I was going to be a very teeny tiny fish in a very large pond when I started this. If anyone wants sports news, one can go to their local paper, the Four Letter Network or one of the many blogs out there.
I tried to promote this blog. I had Vista Print make me cards and pens. I would then give them out and people would pocket the pen and card and I wouldn't hear anything more about it. (Talk about fishing for a compliment!)
I had 250 of those cards and gave out probably 25 and threw away the other 225.
But I kept writing despite no one reading. This was initially a top secret invitation only project. I'm very sensitive to criticism and I just didn't want to hear it. Criticism as a high school student changed my mind about becoming a sportswriter. Well, that and a stubborn football player who didn't have anything to say to me during an interview, and that fateful day I met one of my journalistic heroes and she told me to consider doing something else as the money isn't very good.
I lost my way. I stopped writing. Thanks to modern technology, I started to write again. First it was on Sports Illustrated's blog section. I wish I could find those blog posts. This was probably in 2007/8. Not sure. My writing was terrible. I wasn't the best writer to begin with, but as I told someone, if you stop throwing your fastball, you'll lose your zip on the ball.
I lost my fastball completely.
I remember writing about Mexicans in the NFL. I knew what I  wanted to say, but it came out wrong. Maybe it'd good I can't find those first posts.
Then in late 2011, I discovered Blogger. I had heard blogging was taking over the internet. So I tried again and stayed with it. Here we are almost four years later.
I was still keeping my blog a secret from friends and family. Then one day I offered to help the local sports editor of The Napa Valley Register to help out with the US Open qualifier in Napa. I mentioned my blog to show my writing experience.
Well, much to my surprise, the sports editor wanted to interview me. Not for a job, but for an article.
Initially I was hesitant. I told Mr. James I kept my blog a secret. He told me it was time to let the world know about it.
It was so nice to hear from a sports editor  at a newspaper that my writing was really good. He liked my writing style.
We eventually met for an interview. Then a few weeks later as I was at the airport in Sacramento having an early morning gin and tonic, (hey it was 12 noon somewhere!), I got a text from a friend saying she saw my article. Then I took off to southern California. By the time I landed, I got so many texts, phone calls and Facebook posts about the article.
It was kinda like being famous!
Now the world knew about it. It wasn't a secret anymore. Anyone is welcome to read it.
Now the mini publicity tour begins. I'm going to be on the Napa Show in Napa and talk about it on Wednesday night,  then on Thursday I will be appearing on the Marty James sports show. Marty James is the Mr. James I spoke of.
Thanks Marty for the praise. It means a lot!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Not The US Open But It's Still Tennis

Today I attended the Silverado College Invitational at the Silverado Resort in Napa. It featured schools from across the country. Pacific, U of San Francisco, Hawaii, Tulsa, Oklahoma State and SMU.
There were two sessions, 10am and 12 noon. I got a late start and attended the noon session. Hawaii and USF were playing. For a college match, there was a nice crowd. Most of the patrons were rooting for USF. I was watching a player named Nils from USF. Not because I wanted to, because the seats were next to his match. There was another match on the middle and outer courts, but for seating comfort, we all watched the court closest to us.
I tweeted the action. It was very good tennis. The matches weren't as organized as I thought they'd be. There was no chair umpire per se. I think coaches acted as ballboys, or else they were very bored Silverado members with nothing better to do on a cool Saturday afternoon.
The players themselves called balls in or out, much to the point both players agreed to disagree.
Sometimes things would get hot under the collar, but the players would settle their differences quickly.
Both players I watched must have been from an eastern block country, probably from mother Russia. Each player played flawlessly.....compared to my game! As I said in my title, this isn't the US Open, but at least it was tennis on a very entertaining level. Being up close and personal, I could hear when they would get very upset with themselves, at each other or pumping themselves up with tennis tactic.
As for the crowd, let's say they thought they were in Flushing, New York. Everyone around me was enjoying wine and conversation amongst themselves. If it wasn't for a black guy being there, I would have been the darkest person there. One young lady looked at me like she was smelling poop. Oh well, you can't charm them all.
I was only there for about an hour and a half. Hawaii won the match.
Tomorrow I'm going back, bringing a small picnic, and watch future club pros play for the Silverado College Invitational championship!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Rooting For A School You Didn't Go To

For those of you who don't know, I have a men's clothes blog. It's on life support since I don't focus on it much anymore, but it's still up and running nonetheless. 
I wrote about a conundrum I faced more than twenty years ago. As a young man, I collected college sweatshirts and I would wear them all the time. I never gave it much thought. I would wear a Cal sweatshirt, head out the door and go on with my day. But I was mistaken for a Cal student and I would eventually be asked "The Question". 
"Oh wow! Do you go to Cal?" When I would sheepishly answer that I didn't and attended one of California's junior colleges, I would be met with the same response, "Oh."
One time at the gym as a young man wearing a Cal T shirt (I had a cousin graduate from Cal, I got the hookup on Cal gear) an older gentleman stuck out his hand, introduced himself as So and so class of '70. He asked me my graduating year, I told him I didn't go to Cal. He immediately turned around and walked away. (This was Natomas Racquet Club, you would have thought it was the New York Athletic Club in Manhattan.) It was then and there I decided to stop wearing all college gear. I was so embarrassed answering the question of where I went to school and feeling like I was less than acceptable person for not going to a big school. 
Fast forward to 1999. A friend and I rented a house. A bachelor pad. (It was for him, not for me. Women still treated me like I had the plague!) I was watching some college football. I believe it was A couple of SEC schools. I was rooting for one of them. My friend asked, "What do you care about that team? You didn't go there." I sat there for a moment and pondered the question. Why did I care? I don't think I even set foot in the southern state the game took place. I couldn't answer the question, I didnt know the answer.
Let's jump a bit to 2004. I've always loved UCLA. I made the trek to see them at the Rose Bowl and I would go see them at Cal or Stanford. I has so much Bruins gear, you would have thought I was an alumnus or on the UCLA coaching staff. I saw them at Cal. I was sitting in the Cal section of the stadium. (What was I thinking, the whole stadium was the Cal section). I had on a UCLA sweatshirt and hat. With all the looks I was getting, you would have thought I was naked. I could just feel the looks. I was by myself. I was there to watch UCLA. No big deal. The UCLA band was playing the 8 clap cheer and I was clapping along........all by myself.........awkward. All around me everyone had reason to be there because they were students, alumni or parents of students. I was just a fan of a school I didn't go to. 
What was my attachment to UCLA? When we would go on family vacations we would go to Corona in Southern California and visit family. My uncle Joe was a UCLA fan. I was about ten and I can remember him asking me who my favorite college football team was. I told him I didn't know. I probably didn't know what college football was. He said to me that if I wanted to be welcome in his house, I had to root for UCLA. He said it with a smile and a wink. But at that moment I became a UCLA fan. 
I also remember a few years later as teens, my cousin Richard and I would sit in his room and talk about going to UCLA to play football. As I wrote a few weeks ago, I never tried out for football, but Richard did. I think he played for his junior high school 9th grade team, played in 10th grade. He experienced heartache as he didn't play his Jr year, the year Corona High won the CIF. 
Anyways he played. We had dreams of playing football together for UCLA. Little did we know the academic requirements, others in the western US who wanted to play there and the biggest obstacle, the expense of tuition, room and board. (Richard as a parent is experiencing this. College is expensive and he has another boy in high school who's athletically gifted. Richard should just sign over his pay checks to that future school!)
Now I'm in my early forties. I'm not mistaken for a student anymore. I can wear any college gear I want now. But recently I got to thinking, why did I care so much about what people thought if I went to a specific college or not? I was just a fan. Does a redneck from Alabama who wears Alabama gear from head to toe care if people thought he went to Alabama? Probably not. 
We root for pride. Pride for living in a certain state and we just start rooting for a certain college team. Sometimes you're born into rooting for a school or you marry into it. 
I root for Notre Dame because I'm Catholic. I didn't embrace my Catholicism until my early 30's. Before hand I never gave cared about Notre Dame or the history behinds it football program. I actually hated the Fighting Irish. Cousin Richard loved them in the 80's. It gave us something to talk about. 
Week one of college football just passed. I lost my favorite Notre Dame shirt a few years ago. I think I need to visit