Wednesday, June 3, 2009

MLB's Role in Reducing the Stigma of Mental Illness?

As ravid baseball fans are no doubt aware of (or maybe not) Khalil Greene, of the St. Louis Cardinals, is on the DL with not a physical injury, but for social anxiety disorder. In a similar situation, Dontrelle Willis also spent time on the DL this year for another mental illness (can't remember what). These are the first two instances in which I've ever heard of players going on the DL or missing games due to mental illness, although I'm sure it has happened before (a little help?). As one who is very familiar with mental illness I can attest to a social stigma, especially attached to men, that exists against mental illness, as well as its debilitating effect on one's ability to even take care of themselves, let alone successfully perform at their occupation at a consistently high level. I find Greene and Willis' stints on the DL with the cause fully disclosed kind of refreshing, especially given the tough-guy, invincible, controlled masculinity that's so espoused in professional sports in the United States. Will acknowledging that one's performance on the field, or whatever the competitive enviornment, has lessened due to mental illness totally reduce the stigma against mental illness? Probably not. Will it help? Probably. But one thing is for sure: it's nice to see athletes admitting their condition and not having the press (as far as I know) trashing them.

Monday, June 1, 2009

A Conversation on the Detroit Red Wings Playoff Octopus

Ok, so over the last few weeks I've been watching about as much NHL playoff hockey as one can. And while I've always been pretty knowledgeable about hockey, had seen lots of it on tv and in person and had played as a youth in Alaska, one area I am not too knowledgeable about is the tradition of throwing an Octopus on the ice when Detroit is in the playoffs. What follows is an email conversation between yours truly and Hubka re: the Detroit playoff octopus.

Fish: Lindsey Soto was very enjoyable last night, but only in a visual standpoint, unfortunately.
I’m disappointed, Detroit won and there was no octopus on the ice. Perhaps that’s only if they win the title? I don’t know. Do you?

Hubka: The octopus is thrown on the ice before the start of the game. But it is thrown on the ice before every home playoff game.

Fish: See, that’s what happens when you are raised on college hockey and a really shitty semi-pro team in your town that’s in the middle of bumfuck Egypt Alaska with the nearest nhl franchise being Calgary and then not growing up with tv. I know hockey, just not the extra-game parts of the traditions and stuff- well, outside the playoff beards.

And here’s something I’ve always wondered: is there like a designated “octopus guy” who the people at the gates know to let in because his cooler is alright because it has a fucking octopus in it?

Yeah, love that shit

Hubka: Now that’s a question I do not know the answer to. I know they raised a big stink a couple years ago about who is designated to go out and pick the octopus up off the ice. It had always been the zamboni driver and he would twirl it around above his head on his way off the ice to get the crowd fired up. The NHL decided it didn’t like the idea of octopus tissue flying around it’s ice surface so it banned that altogether and told one of its linesmen to go pick it up. There were huge protests in Detroit and eventually the league compromised and let the zamboni guy go pick it up, but he isn’t allowed to twirl it until he is off the ice in the zamboni tunnel. There you go, more than you ever wanted/needed to know about a goofy hockey tradition.

Fish: Is there only one octopus per game? I mean I would love to be the guy who brings an octopus – I mean there’s got to be tons of people who want to be the octopus hurler, perhaps it’s first come first serve at the gates, and if you have an octopus and it’s too late, you have to check your octopus at the door, so to speak, like a coat check and you can get it on the way out.

Hubka: I’ve never considered that the team was in some way restricting octopus entry into Joe Louis Arena. I think for certain reasons the team as a corporation tries to stay out of it. I would guess that there are times when multiple octopi are thrown on the ice, but that for most of the fans they understand who it is who is the designated thrower. It’s probably some title passed down thru generations of Detroit hockey fans like some sick family heirloom. But these are all wild guesses. It would never occur to me in the first place to throw a dead sea creature onto the ice before a hockey game so I’m probably not the most qualified person to be speaking.

fast forward conversation to last night (game two of the nhl playoffs)

Fish: At the end of the second period right now with a faceoff for Detroit in the pittsburg zone with four seconds left someone threw an octopus on the ice. assuming there was one at the start of the game this leads me to believe that there are multiple octopi and that this is a very confusing tradition with a lot of ins and outs, a lot of strands running through the old duder's head. We need to find a Detroit red wing expert who can explain this shit to me.
And by the power of Wikipedia [I can't believe I'm using wikipedia - but it's not for school, so sue me], here is all the info you ever need on the Red Wing Octopus:
The "Legend of the Octopus" is a sports tradition during Detroit Red Wings playoff games, in which an octopus is thrown onto the ice surface [or just, ice] for good luck.
During the playoffs,
Joe Louis Arena is generally adorned [passive voice] with a giant octopus with red eyes, nicknamed "Al" after Joe Louis Arena head ice manager Al Sobotka.

The 1952 playoffs featured the start of the tradition—the octopus throw [redundant]. The owner of a local fish market, Peter Cusimano, threw one from the stands onto the ice. The eight legs were purportedly symbolic of the eight wins it took to win the Stanley Cup at the time. The Red Wings went on to sweep both of their opponents that year en route to a Stanley Cup championship. The NHL has, at various times, tried to eliminate this tradition but it continues to this day.[citation needed] [see kids, this is why Wikipedia should not be used as a legitimate source, because they just make shit up and hope that there's a citation out there that backs up what they are saying]

There is a certain etiquette that must be followed for fans that [sic] wish to throw octopuses onto the ice. The most appropriate time to throw an octopus onto the ice is after the national anthem is sung or after the Red Wings have scored a goal. Under these circumstances, the eight-legged creature [aka: octopus] must be thrown onto the ice surface in an area that is clear of all players. It is never acceptable to aim for opposing players. Beforehand, octopuses are usually boiled to reduce the amount of "slime" coating and facilitate the time it takes to clean up the ice and prevent further delay. [see friends, not very well written at all] Since Joe Louis Arena does not condone the throwing of any foreign objects onto the ice, fans often sneak the sea creatures [also, aka: octopus] in wrapped around their bellies in trash bags. The boiling process also lessens the odor and allows the fans to get past security. Tactics are also used to protect the identity of octopus-throwers from arena security. It is common practice for the hurler to ask the surrounding people to stand up with him to shroud the task in anonymity.[citation needed] [for all my students out there: see - wikipedia = whack]

Al Sobotka is the man responsible for removing the thrown creatures [again, octopus, come on, brevity here people] from the ice. [not always - last night at the end of the second period a linesmen picked it up with a toewl, and the octopus before the game was picked up by someone who was not Al] He is known for swinging the tossed octopuses above his head when walking off the ice. On April 19, 2008, NHL director of hockey operations Colin Campbell sent a memo to the Detroit Red Wings organization that forbids Zamboni drivers from cleaning up any octopuses thrown onto the ice and that violating the mandate would result in a $10,000 fine.[20] Instead, it will be the linesmen who will perform this duty. In an email to the Detroit Free Press NHL spokesman Frank Brown justified the ban because "matter flies off the octopus and gets on the ice" when Al Sobotka does it.[21]This ban, however, was later loosened [can a ban be loosened?] to allow for the octopus twirling to take place at the zamboni entrance.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Softball uniforms: an unresearched (brief) history

Fish pointed out that the womens softball College World Series was starting this weekend. So I replied with what Fish feels is my "sickness" -- a treatise on softball uniforms in my lifetime. Just indulge me.

It’s interesting to me but it seems that the college softball uniforms have evolved over time. I remember as a kid when it was all UCLA v Arizona every year they wore basically scaled down versions of baseball uniforms without the hat: the short sleeve t-shirt top, the polyester baseball pants cuffed around the knee, and stirrups or socks. They basically looked like girls wearing baseball uniforms.

Then in the 90’s there was this transition to a softball-unique uniform combination: either short sleeve or banded sleeve shirts (almost tank tops), shorts, and socks. You still see this uniform combination in most youth leagues and high schools, likely because it’s cheaper to buy shorts than baseball pants. I don’t know for sure, but it’s like softball was trying to create an identity of it’s own with this uniform combination.

But then in the last ten years there has been this visual backlash and a pseudo-throwback revolution where most teams now wear baseball uniforms. I prefer the baseball uniforms myself. To me it adds legitimacy to the game they are playing, but that’s a personal opinion. And to be honest, the tight pants are one of the main reasons I end up watching the games.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Wearing white pants on the road: Why do some baseball teams do it?

College and high school teams will routinely wear white pants on the road. Watch the CWS this year and you’re bound to see at least one occurrence of both teams wearing white pants. I’m not sure why exactly, but I think rules only require they wear a different color top than the home team and it is at the home team’s discretion what color to wear. My guess is it is a cost saving measure. Get two different tops, one white, one solid color, and then only one pair of pants and you just saved outfitting your entire team with two completely different uniforms.

While generally a high school/college occurrence it isn’t unprecedented in major league baseball. The best example off the top of my head is the Astros. Throughout the last half of the 70s the Astros had only one uniform that they wore at home and one the road: the classic tequila sunrise uniform:

No other team had a combination like this so they were guaranteed to always be different no matter at home or on the road. Things got weirder in the 80s as the Astros added a different away uniform, but instead of being gray, it was cream. So at home they wore white and on the road cream.

For a better visual comparison than the pictures think the Dodgers crisp home whites versus the color the Giants wear at home, that more retro, cream color. As a kid I always thought this to be weird and I’ve never heard a good explanation (I mean the Astros played in the Astrodome for pete’s sake so it’s not like they were trying to avoid wearing dark colors during the heat of the summer). They had this lack of a true “away gray” jersey up until 1994 when they switched to their current logo (albeit without the color red which was added in 2000).

On a side note, I actually had a replica tequila sunrise Astros jersey as a kid. I’m not exactly sure why, but my dad, as noted earlier, had eclectic uniform tastes so he probably bought it for me because it was so strange looking. I outgrew the jersey by the time I left for junior high and it is probably long since given away to Goodwill, but it’s hard not to remember it. In fact, I was pretty well decked out as a kid in the baseball jersey department. I also remember having a replica home Cubs jersey and a green A’s jersey. Probably a good reason I’m uniform obsessed today.

So there is your baseball uniform history lesson for the day.
(Drawings courtesy of the Baseball Hall of Fame's Dressed to the Nines)

Monday, May 11, 2009

Little Help?

Can anyone tell me why ESPN is showing College Football Live right now? It's fucking May. Spring ball is over right now. The draft is long since gone. What the hell is the point?

Oh, I's Notre Dame week. Besides Regis and Lou Holtz, does anybody give a shit about ND football? I don't, and because I don't I will now change the channel.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Three Thursday "What the Fucks?"

Here's the first of what may never be a series of installments I like to call "What the fucks?" Without further adieu.....

1. A couple nights ago ESPN 2 was showing Super Bowl XXX2. Nope, I don't know why, and I didn't watch it.

2. The St. Louis Cardinals have like 8 outfielders........but no closer. Here's an idea: trade one of those 8 outfielders, so you can give the guys deserving of 450-600 ABs ABs, for a closer. So then you have a closer, cause those are good. And shit....throw in Skip Shumaker too so that you can get a real second baseman. Oh, and call up Joe Mather out of sheer principle (I went to middle school with him and his dad was a bit too "friendly" with the 7th grade girls he taught, if you know what I mean). He's got power, and a sicko dad who never taught again and had to move to Arizona after that all went down. Although his dad said that it would be good to have me (a tall, lanky, left hander) pitching for the high school team (he was the coach). Unfortunately my coaches never taught me how to throw a breaking ball, or even how to grip a changeup. complete shelling at the hands of the Bonners Ferry High School Badgers during my freshman year. Yep, never pitched again. You could say I was effectively wild, but there was nothing effective about it. Would have helped to have a curveball that was also non-effectively wild.

3. Todd Bertuzzi is in the NHL? Didn't fucking kill a guy on the ice? Or maybe paralyze the dude? Oh well, him and the Flames won last night, so I'm down with that.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Girls of March Madness

With the NCAA men’s basketball tournament concluding last night with another yawn-fest of a game (it seems like the championship game has become the biggest blowout of the tournament the last couple years, last year’s Memphis collapse withstanding) I thought it would be important to reflect on the most important aspects of the tournament.

Hottest girls of March Madness:

4. Girl from the Lowe’s commercial. There’s something about the way those khaki pants fit her in the back, if you know what I mean.

3. USC Song Girl cheerleaders. Thank God Tim Floyd remained at SC if only to keep the Trojans tournament regulars for years to come.

2. UCLA cheerleaders. The Song Girls may be tops in football, but when it comes to the hardcourt no one does it better (heh heh, he said hard).

1. The redhead from the Enterprise Rent-A-Car commercials. That look she gives when she asks, “Red or black (lingerie)?” is mesmerizing. Unfortunately her dolt of a husband gives the wrong answer. The correct answer is “Neither because we’re not going to need clothes where we’re going.” Then just bring one of your baseball jerseys or a button up shirt and that’s all that’s needed for a sexy weekend with the misses.

Who am I missing?