Month: March 2019

Exit 236. I don’t play that game.

Actress Brie Larson, who plays Captain Marvel in the movie of the same title currently in theaters, has stated that the press covering her films are overwhelmingly white and male (https://www.foxnews.com/entertainment/brie-larson-doesnt-want-captain-marvel-press-tour-to-be-overwhelmingly-white-male).  She has made a big deal of wanting her press corps to be inclusive. So I’m going to write about this movie, specifically because I’m a white male and I don’t play the identity politics game.

It was good.  I enjoyed it. I’ve seen all of the Marvel movies at some point, and since Captain Marvel is going to be in Avengers Endgame, this movie is part of the story.  But since it is primarily an origin story, it mostly works on its own as a standalone movie, for someone who hasn’t seen the other Marvel movies. Occasionally, I felt like Brie’s acting was a little flat, but not nearly enough to make the movie not enjoyable.  When Captain Marvel arrives on Earth, she lands in Los Angeles in 1995, and, of course, I loved all the 1995 pop-culture references. I was 18-19 in 1995. That was my time.

That’s all.  I’m obviously not a professional movie reviewer.

But I think Goose the cat needs to get his own movie.  I’d totally watch that.

Exit 235. Is it worth it for the game to lose its soul?

A couple years ago, I was watching a San Francisco Giants baseball game on TV.  The game was tied in extra innings (for my unbaseballed readers: if the game is tied at the end of the normal game length, they keep playing more innings until the game isn’t tied anymore at the end of an inning).  It is well known in baseball that some pitchers are better at pitching against certain types of batters; for example, pitchers tend to be better at getting out batters who bat with the same hand that the pitcher throws with.  Giants manager Bruce Bochy wanted to put in a left-handed pitcher (I don’t remember the names of any of the players involved here, nor do I remember the opponent) because the next batter was left-handed, but the existing right-handed pitcher would be preferable for the right-handed batters following this one.  Once a player is removed from the game, he may not re-enter the game, and being that this game had gone to extra innings, there were very few players left, especially pitchers, who could enter the game.

Something happened here that I had never seen in all the decades I’ve been watching baseball.  Instead of removing the pitcher, Bochy removed an outfielder from the game, and the right-handed pitcher moved to left field, where the upcoming left-handed batter would not be likely to hit the ball.  After that left-handed batter had finished his at-bat against the new left-handed pitcher, the right-handed pitcher came back to the mound to pitch, and a new outfielder entered the game.

Baseball, especially in leagues where no designated hitter is used, is a game of brilliant strategy.  This part of the game seems to be misunderstood these days by all but the most dedicated baseball fans.  For years, baseball executives have been pointing out that interest in the game is slowly declining, because younger generations see baseball as a slow and boring game.  I wouldn’t disagree with the slow part, but I disagree with the assumption that being slow is a bad thing.  I can go to a baseball game with someone and, because of the slow pace of the game, I don’t have to choose between spending time with my friend and paying attention to the game, as is the case sometimes with, say, basketball, where the ball is constantly moving and scoring happens often.  And, if you know enough to follow the strategy, baseball is not boring at all.  The number of strategic moves required to maximize the team’s chance of scoring, and the excitement of seeing whether or not a strategy succeeds, makes for a very exciting game.

Major League Baseball has proposed a number of rule changes for the 2020 season, and as far as I can tell, the brilliant strategy described above, in which the pitcher briefly moved to left field, would be against the rules for two reasons under the new rules.  Players would be designated as either pitchers or position players, prohibiting pitchers from playing any other position in the field.  This situation that I described would be uncommon, but it is fairly common to use pitchers as pinch runners late in the game, and this would seemingly be prohibited as well.  (For the unbaseballed: this means substituting a player when they are already on base, so if a slow player gets a hit, he might be removed from the game and replaced with a fast player to run the rest of the bases and have a better chance at scoring because of his speed.  I should also acknowledge that there are inconsistencies in the articles I’ve read about the rule changes, and I’m not 100% sure that using pitchers as pinch runners would be against the rules.)

But there is another rule that clearly would affect the game in profound ways: a pitcher will be required to pitch to a minimum of three batters.  In the scenario I described above, the pitcher only pitched to one batter, and this is far more common than any of the other unusual strategies I have described.  And this rule change affects so many aspects of the game beyond on-field strategy, extending to front-office decisions about which players a team chooses to sign and the value of pitchers in a trade or free agent signing.  Many pitchers have specifically built careers around being specialists who are brought in just to get one batter out, typically a batter of the same handedness.  This gives them an additional advantage of being usable in more games, since pitching to only one batter does not wear out their pitching arm or require resting over multiple games before pitching again.  Now, their skill sets will be rendered invalid with the stroke of a pen.

The justification for this rule change is to speed up the game.  Some of the proposals to speed up the game I’m perfectly okay with, like shortening slightly the breaks between innings.  But changing the strategy and the value of certain skill sets will change the game so fundamentally as to render it almost unrecognizable to some of us long-term fans.  And I’m not sure I buy the argument that the young have attention spans too short to appreciate baseball.  After all, younger fans have embraced soccer at levels heretofore unprecedented in the USA, and soccer is certainly a game requiring patience with so few goals being scored.  Or maybe the problem is that fewer kids are playing baseball, with other sports and activities such as competitive video gaming taking up their recreation time, so they never learn all the strategies involved with baseball.

Bruce Bochy and his strategic brilliance will not see these rule changes, since he is retiring at the end of the 2019 season.  But there is another generation of fans for whom the game will not be the same as it was before.  So how does baseball revitalize and reinvent itself for the younger generation?  I don’t know.  The world is a different place than it was a generation ago, and I realize that baseball has been through major rule changes before.  One theory I’ve heard is that MLB owners receive so much revenue from licensing deals that they have little financial incentive to put a winning team on the field, which makes some organizations perpetually not competitive. Maybe we need to look at that.  I don’t have a definite answer.  But is it worth it for the game to lose its soul over this?

Exit 234. No good for an old memory to mean so much today.

The title comes from this popular song from my childhood.

My other blog (on which I use a pen name, in case any of you check it out and are confused by what my name actually is) is an episodic continuing story currently set in 1994 (about a decade later than the song I just quoted, so the song isn’t connected to this story except for the enduring relevance of that quote).  The main character in that story, currently an 18-year-old in his first term away from home at a large university, recently looked up something in a yearbook from high school and noticed some things that people wrote to him inside.  For the purposes of making the story authentic, I used actual words that people wrote in my 11th and 12th grade yearbooks for the yearbook signatures in the story.

When I was in school, the day that the yearbooks were distributed, and the following days when classmates and friends would sign the blank pages in the front and back, were always one of the major highlights of the year for me.  I’ve always struggled with feelings of being an outcast, feeling like no one likes me. And, not to sound like an attention whore, but yearbook-signing time is a way to get it in writing that people really have nice things to say about me.  And now, as a middle-aged teacher, I feel the same way about yearbooks.  I always enjoy and look forward to getting to read students’ wishes for me to have a great summer, and to wish the same to them.

As an example, one of the actual quotes I used in the story came from someone who I had just met during senior year.  A class I was in and a class she was in did a project together, with a few students from each class randomly assigned to work together.  I hadn’t thought of her in years, and I mostly only remember two things about her: that project, and the fact that she wrote something really nice and thoughtful in my yearbook at the end of that year.  It was the kind of message I might expect to read from someone I’ve been friends with a long time, not from an acquaintance two grades younger than me whom I had just met six months earlier.

I didn’t stay in touch with most of my high school friends.  The majority of people who sent me their best wishes for the future, told me how I would go far in life, and encouraged me to be confident and smile more, did not speak to me in my college years.  I tried to stay in touch with some of them, at least, but only a few responded, and after a couple years I didn’t hear from them anymore either.  For years, that left me wondering… did people really mean all the nice things they would write to me in the yearbook? Or did they just write nice things because that’s what you were supposed to do, and they were all empty words?

I don’t know.  Honestly, it was probably a combination of both, depending on the person.  And to be fair to my friends who didn’t stay in touch, it was a lot harder to stay in touch in 1994 than it is now.   There was no social media, no texting, and email was a new (or at least newly mainstream) technology that my friends weren’t using often, if at all.  Although I did try to stay in touch with some people, I didn’t try to stay in touch with everyone. I was even more socially awkward back then. It also felt a little inappropriate to me to make an effort to stay in touch specifically with cute girls who had boyfriends, unless I had been close friends with them for a long time (the girl I mentioned above whom I knew from the class project was in this category).  And I was pretty terrified of using the phone.  I should point out for any of my long-time friends who ever got a phone call from me in the 20th century that I probably sat there for at least 20 minutes agonizing over whether or not I should really call you, and wondering if you really wanted to talk to me, or if your parents answered and things got awkward if they knew who I was, crazy stuff like that.

I’ve lived a lot of life since 1994, and I’ve made and lost a lot of friends.  I have come to realize that, yes, there are a lot of people who will be nice to me to my face but not care about me once my back is turned, or once it takes effort from them to stay in my life, or once they have gotten what they need from me.  But I have also come to realize that sometimes people just lose touch from natural causes. Life is busy and hectic and chaotic and unpredictable. Yes, it is easier to stay in touch with people in the social media era.  And I’m back in contact with quite a few of my high school friends thanks to Facebook and Instagram, and Myspace before that.  But that takes time too, and there is only so much time to go around, especially now that my classmates and I are in our early 40s with careers and responsibilities and (many of them, but not me) children to raise.  There are plenty of good intentions to go around, but not plenty of time.

I like closure.  When someone disappears from my life, I like to know why, so I can learn from the experience if necessary.  But that doesn’t always happen, and that’s ok. I shouldn’t be dwelling on it.  It’s in the past.  Time to move on and focus on the present.

Exit 233. Living for the first time.

A few of you, specifically people who have known me long enough to know all of my obscure little-known favorite movies, and probably not many others, will recognize the title of this post as a line from a song in the 2008 movie The Rocker.

Sometimes, I’ll read a book, or watch a movie, or interact with a work of fiction in some way, and I’ll feel like I want to know more.  I’ll want to know what happened to the characters after the end of the story, or more about the background of the characters or story. Or I’ll just wonder more about a certain minor character in the story, which specifically happened to me recently while watching this movie.

Critics didn’t really like this movie, but then again critics aren’t me.  The film stars Rainn Wilson (Dwight from The Office, the shirtless guy in the picture above, but I never got into that show so don’t ask me about Dwight), singer-songwriter Teddy Geiger (left), some people who became famous later (Josh Gad, Emma Stone, the other two pictured) and other people who were in other better-known stuff (Will Arnett, Jason Sudeikis, Fred Armisen, Christina Applegate, Jane Lynch, Jeff Garlin, Bradley Cooper, and I’m sure I’m forgetting others).  Ex-hair band drummer Robert “Fish” Fishman (Wilson) never got his life together after his friends (Arnett, Armisen, Cooper) betrayed him and kicked them out of their band in 1986. His friends went on to become immensely successful, but the present day finds Fish living in the attic of his sister (Lynch)’s house and struggling to keep a job. Matt, Fish’s 18-year-old nephew (Gad) is in a band with his school friends Curtis and Amelia (Geiger, Stone), and they need a drummer.  After Fish struggles to fit in with the much younger band, the band gets a big break and attracts the attention of a typical Hollywood-weird producer (Sudeikis). Fish gets another chance to live the wild rock star life he dreamed of as a young man, but not quite in the way he imagined. I really enjoyed the story, even if it is a little unrealistic, and the soundtrack is an album that is still in my regular music rotation a decade later.

So about a week ago, this movie came up in a random Facebook conversation with a friend who hadn’t seen it, and I told my friend that it had been a while since I had seen it too, and now I wanted to watch it when I got home from work, which I did.  (In fact, I can remember exactly when I watched it last before last week; it was November 1, 2015, because it was my last date with SN1604 before we broke up the second and final time. She had never seen it, so I showed it to her. But we don’t need to talk about that…)  

Watching it again got me thinking about a certain minor character in the movie.  About halfway through the movie, the band is playing their first gig, and Fish is checking off all of their firsts as a band: first venue, first marquee sign (which has the band’s name misspelled), first sound check, first technical difficulties.  While they are playing, the camera switches to the crowd, where initially unenthusiastic people sitting at tables start paying attention to the music. One girl in particular starts watching the band, nodding her head enthusiastically to the music, and after the show she runs up to the band, blushing, and says “You guys are sweet!” before awkwardly running away.  Fish points out that they have their first fan. The same girl appears in the crowd at several future shows wearing a shirt that says “I ♥ MATT.” At an after-party, Matt tells Amelia that he wants to talk to this girl but doesn’t know how to talk to girls; Amelia gives him some pointers, and Matt goes over to talk to her. At the last concert in the movie, Matt throws his hat into the crowd, and she catches it (again wearing the I ♥ MATT shirt)..

This girl is a minor character in the movie.  No one says her name in the movie, and in the credits, she is listed as “I ♥ Matt Girl.”  But there is an interesting subplot here. In one scene, during the filming of a music video, Amelia gets frustrated at the people making the video wanting to change her look.  She says something along the lines of if they want someone who looks like all the other girls out there, they should just grab one of the girls that are always hanging around Curtis after the show.  But this girl, their first fan, isn’t one of the girls hanging around Curtis. She ♥s Matt, the dorky awkward member of the band. Even the dorkiest and most awkward of us have someone out there who cares about us.

So will I ever have a girl following me around with a shirt proclaiming that she ♥s me?  Doubtful.  Will I ever have someone who feels that way about me, though? I might, I might not. But who knows, it could happen. And it isn’t irrelevant that I have a lot of good friends who care about me.