Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Booooooo! Barry Bonds Rolls Into Los Angeles

If a tree falls in the forest, and there's no one there, does it make a sound?

If Barry Bonds breaks Henry Aaron's home run record at Dodger Stadium, and 56,000 people are there, booing their guts out...

Tonight, in the middle of Chavez Ravine, San Francisco Giant Barry Bonds will face Brad Penny of the Dodgers in the top of the first inning of a game that could go down in history - not just baseball history, HISTORY - as a defining moment for the sport, for Los Angeles as a city, and for the United States for that matter. More than the story of how a cheater (allegedly) broke the most hallowed record in a game that measures it's history by the numbers, tonight marks the moment when a game's fans, L.A., and the U.S. will show how it feels.

How it feels about Bonds.

How it feels about the game.

How it feels about itself.

What will those 56,000 people do if Barry Bonds makes history in their back yard?

For the Dodgers as an organization, no special ceremony is planned in the eventuality that Bonds hits number 755 to tie Aaron, or 756 to pass him over the next three games in L.A. Why should they? The Dodgers and the Giants have been the bitterest of rivals for more than a century. There will never be any love lost between the two. Major League Baseball has no official plan to make with the speeches yet either. Only a possibility of that exists should Bonds break the record later on in San Francisco, and then only a faint "maybe" for even having Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig make an appearance at an event neither he, nor Selig's long-time friend Hank Aaron desire to be "photo-opped" at.

This leaves only Bonds' teammates and the ticket-holders to determine how this moment in history will be remembered.

Los Angeles has had it's share of defining moments before the watching world. 1968, and the Watts Riots. The beating of truck driver Reginald Denny and the subsequent L.A. Riots in the wake of the Rodney King verdict in 1992. Even what, by comparison, seems meaningless - the burning of an LAPD cruiser after the Lakers' first championship of the Shaq/Kobe era - may become lost in the memory of tonight, of Wednesday, or Thursday, depending what 56,000 people do if...

Does America hate Barry Bonds? Pretty much. And for nothing more than a perception that he has somehow tainted the game that he loves by taking unfair advantage of science in his pursuit of immortality. That, and the belief that Bonds is a class-a a-hole when it comes to his dealings with media, team mates, fans, ex-wives, mistresses, best friends, and personal trainers spending years in prison because they refused to testify about Bonds' alleged steroid use before a Grand Jury.

Is the hatred of Bonds, as some suggest, racial in it's motivation? Hard to say. In part? Probably. Exclusively? Doubtful. Will the fans' reaction to the events of the next few days have more to do with the former than the latter? Definitely.

But how, if the place goes grease fire and the worst of all possible scenarios plays itself out before millions on world-wide TV, will it be recalled by future generations when they look back with wonder?

Los Angeles, what will you do?

Will you make a martyr out of a man who is worthy, neither of your hatred or your worship, simply by how you react to the way a ball flies through the air in your town? Can you be trusted to boo without having to be strip-searched on your way into the ballpark?

How will the world remember?

Game time is at 7:10.

Copyright © 2007 Bill Friday

Friday, July 20, 2007

Harry Potter, Or A Good Night's Sleep?

Tuesday, July 10th, 11:59 p.m.

The question wasn't if I was going to get in line for the next instalment of the obnoxiously successful Harry Potter and the Whatever Movie is Next... series. It was only a matter of when. I have a thirteen-year-old who lives on this planet. It's Death, Taxes and Get-in-line-for Harry Potter and the Whatever Movie is Next...

A better question would be, "Which line am I willing to stand in the longest?"

I've never been one to stand in lines. I always believed the DMV has chairs there specifically for me. Amusement parks, with their one-and-a-half hour waits in line for a one-and-a-half minute payoff, has never been that hot a ticket for me. Given a choice, I'd be eating fried chicken in New Orleans Square, not standing in the burning sun in anticipation of another go-round of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride.

The same with movies. Movies come and go, and lines of movie-goers come and go with them. And standing around for hours on opening night with a bunch of strangers who already know the ending of the movie, while I lose sleep on a work night, is not my idea (maybe my kid's idea, but not my idea) of a great time. And drinking cold coffee from the Starbucks on the other side of the Promenade just to stay awake long enough to fall asleep in a Lazy-Boy theater seat with the stub of a $12 ticket tucked in my shirt pocket (for the buy one-get one bowling coupon at the Gable House) loses something in translation between the age of thirteen and... old.

So, which line will I to stand in?

This one.

After I spend several leisurely hours browsing through the 30 or so books I've always wanted to read, then relax at a cafe table, enjoying a spinach-mushroom Strada while sipping a really, really big iced coffee, I stand in a line of another kind.

Friday, July 20th, 11:59 p.m. Inside Barnes and Noble Booksellers, People, faces familiar to each other, gather together, probably for the last time.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the 7th and last book in the series authored by J.K. Rowling (not some junior screenwriter who would "really like to direct some day"), will be released to the reading public as the clock strikes midnight. This night, hundreds of fans, readers, will be the first of hundreds of thousands who, at the stroke of midnight, will receive their copy of the final installment of a story that, to date, has sold over 86 million copies.

Barnes and Noble, as well as Borders stores, Vroman's in Pasadena and a host of smaller, local bookstores, will host events on the night when the whole world finds out what fate awaits Harry.

Here is a short list of L.A. locations offering some kind of Harry Potter activities.

Skylight Books will let you make your own Book 7 book cover, and offers an all-night reading party that goes till 9 a.m. Saturday. 10 p.m., 1818 N. Vermont Ave., L.A. (323) 660-1175.

At Borders Torrance, the Grand Hallows Ball will include a life-size Harry Potter checkers game and a 15-foot snake cake. 9:30 p.m., 3700 Torrance Blvd., Torrance. (310) 540-7000.

Other Borders stores in the area will be holding similar but smaller Grand Hallows Balls at 9:30 p.m., including a Harry Potter spelling bee and the "Great Snape Debate".

Book Soup is giving away copies of the book with the purchase of a $100 gift card. 10 p.m., 8818 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 659-3110.

Storyopolis is holding a Diagon Alley Party and games till the late, as well as an autographed print by Mary GrandPré, the books' illustrator. 11 p.m. to 1 a.m., 12348 Ventura Blvd., Studio City. (818) 509-5600.

At Barnes & Noble stores there will be events from 6 to 10 p.m. These Midnight Magic parties include photos with a Harry look-alike, magic shows, and trivia scavenger hunts. Use the store locator at storelocator.barnesandnoble.com/findaspecial_event.do

At Vroman's, bands Wild Youth and Dirty Spanglish will perform, in addition to storytelling, crafts and face painting. 10 p.m., 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. (626) 449-5320.

Any of those lines are worth giving up a good night's sleep for, because reading always beats a movie, no matter how much stuff gets blown up. Big screen, summer blockbusters are often little more than over-long video games, or music videos with 100-page scripts written by the same junior screenwriter who "would really like to direct someday". And for an event that promotes literature for my thirteen-year-old, video-addicted son, well... I would drag him to that.

If I had to.

My son's plans for the weekend involve locking himself in his room and finishing Deathly Hallows before he walks face first into a spoiler before finishing the book.

Besides, a book like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows would sure pass the time sitting in one of those chairs at the DMV.

Copyright © 2007 Bill Friday

Friday, July 13, 2007

Philadelphia Phillies Celebrate Phailure

10,000 losses.

Let that number sink in. Even for the hard-core sports fan, the phrase ten-thousand losses takes a little time to register in their consciousness. To the more casual fan, the words are a part of the ethereal. Vague. Just a big, round number symbolizing a futility beyond measure.

Ten-thousand losses.

To the non-initiate, the number is without meaning, on par with how many under-weight cows there are in India or the atomic weight of Boron.

The atomic weight of Boron is 10.81 and all cows are under-weight in India.

But baseball hallows numbers. And for the fan - the true fan, the idea of a Major League team losing ten-thousand games is like living in the moment of history. It becomes the, "I remember where I was when..." of the oldest American game.

The Philadelphia Phillies, formed in 1873, are the losing-est professional baseball team in history. Their generational ineptitude is legendary. And tonight, when the Phillies take the field, they do so with the chance to become the quantifiable worst team in sports history.

9,999 and counting.

That's what it says on the website http://www.celebrate10000.com/.

Dedicated to the glory of Phillie futility through the ages, Celebrate 10,000 offers Phillies apparel, as well as insight into what it means to be a true fan of the biggest loser baseball has ever known. Articles, links to blogs and the ever-present reminder that, "Real Phans Love Their Losers". The site is worth a look if for nothing more than to see how a city that has the reputation for being hardest on athletes than any other (booing Santa Clause, sending death threats to Phillies all-time home run leader Mike Schmidt, even cheering when Dallas Cowboy's wide receiver Michael Irvin was taken from the field in cervical restraints after breaking his neck in a game against the Eagles) has taken up the mantle of mediocrity with seeming joy.

That, and the knowledge that even though the city is home to the piss-poorest franchise in memory, they still aren't the Chicago Cubs. After all, the Phillies one-and-only World Championship, won in 1980, is still more recent than the Cubs last World Series victory back in 1908.

And to make things a perfect as possible, the big night could come as early as tonight, as the Phillies resume play after the All-Star break with a game at home against the St. Louis Cardinals. And on Friday the 13th, no less.

Dare to dream.

So tonight, as those of us who follow this craziness turn on Sports Center, maybe everyone can remember they too can be in on history. They too can one day say, "I remember exactly where I was when I heard that the Phillies lost their 10,000th game". If you're not passed-out in your Lazy-Boy like a true Phillie Phanatic.

Baseball hallows numbers. And history is written by the winners. Which is probably why we celebrate number 10,000 like the winners the Phills have never been.

And if you're a Phillies fan, remember this baseball truth, "You're only as bad as your next loss". And nobody has more of them than you.

Copyright © 2007 Bill Friday

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Cleaning Out The Notebook: Sports Stories I Never Told You

DATELINE: Los Angeles.

Long-time Los Angeles Times sports reporter Mike Penner had a problem. It's a problem many writers experience on a regular basis.

Writer's block.

"I was always a tortured soul when I wrote," the sports columnist said.

Years on the job had taken their toll. Deadlines. Distractions. Decisions. Something bigger than what Penner saw in the mirror each day was at work within him, making his chosen profession a chore, a burden. An insurmountable wall, higher, wider and deeper than he knew how to deal with. And all the while, that nagging, dragging writer's block. The bane of a journalist's existence.

So what did Mike Penner do to break through? To overcome that rock solid barrier that threatened to ruin his career?

He underwent gender reassignment.

Yep. Beneath it all, Mike Penner came to the conclusion that his writer's block was due to the fact that... he was a woman.

On April 26th, Mike Penner wrote his first column for the Times as Christine Daniels.

"I am a transsexual sportswriter," Penner/Daniels wrote.

And that pesky writer's block?

"All I can say at this point is that I am now happier, more focused and more energized when I sit behind a keyboard. The wicked writer's block that used to reach up ant torture me at some of the worst possible times imaginable has disappeared... That should come as good news to my editors: far fewer blown deadlines." http://www.latimes.com/sports/la-sp-oldmike26apr26,0,2709943.story?page=la-home-headlines.

When the story first broke, this reporter attempted to contact fellow Times sportswriter Lisa Dillman, who also happened to be Mike Penner's wife. In interviews with Penner/Daniels, no mention was ever made of Lisa Dillman or her thoughts on her husband's transition. To date, I have received no response from Dillman.

Too bad. Every good story should allow both sides as close to equal time as possible. It was reported at the time of the story that one prerequisite of any interview with Penner/Daniels was that no mention of Lisa Dillman would be made. http://www.sportsbybrooks.com/christine-daniels-transsexual-sportswriter-not-sure-about-surgery-or-sexual-orientation-12766.php

It would have been nice to allow both sides of an interesting story to be represented. Unfortunately, it appears that wasn't meant to be.

Well, at least that pesky writer's block has been taken care of.

DATELINE: Fort Collins, Colorado.

April 21st. The final day of spring practice for the Colorado State University Rams dawned crisp and clear. Today was the day of the Rams' Green-White intrasquad scrimmage, where all CSU fans would have an opportunity to take part in the "Spring Youth Football Festival", where supporters would even be allowed to be on the sidelines inside the Rams' stadium to view the proceedings close up.

Colorado State football fan Mike Thomas and his sons were in attendance that day, roaming the sidelines just like they belonged there.

One problem. Mike's youngest son Caden was there with the other men in the family, enjoying the day, paying only as much attention as any four-year-old is able to. With all the intensity of a late-season game, the scrimmage played out on the field. And with it the competition spilled over onto the existence of little Caden as he wandered unsupervised on the sideline.


Colorado State running back George Hill, after catching a sideline pass, ran helmet-first into the small boy, driving him backwards into the thinly-padded brick wall at the rim of the playing surface.

Following an ambulance ride to a near-by hospital, thirty stitches plus a little plastic surgery by a local doctor, and a full neurological exam, Caden was declared sound and released.

Colorado State coach Sonny Lubick gave the kid an autographed football. Mike Thomas said later that Caden would have, "a scar to rival Harry Potter."

No one as of yet has given Mike Thomas a full neurological exam to determine if he's sick in the head or just an unfit parent for bringing a child that small within 20 feet of a hand-to-hand combat zone, then leaving him unsupervised long enough to get drilled by a 200-pound, padded missile.

Of course, Mike Thomas was close enough to his son to give this eyewitness account of the incident:

"Well, there's the sickening thud. I was tremendously worried about the rest of his life. You make automatic assumptions there will be some damage when you see something that horrific."

Ya think?

Caden summed up the moment like this: "It was kind of scary cause I got bonked by the football. It kind of hurted."

And finally...

DATELINE: Fayetteville, Georgia.

June 25th became a day that will live forever in the hearts and minds of professional wrestling fans across the United States. But not for the sad, sentimental reasons that fans of the scripted, pseudo-reality sports franchise known as the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) might wish to believe. That afternoon, Fayette County Sheriffs found the bodies of wrestler Chris Benoit, his wife Nancy, and their 7-year-old son Daniel, all victims of a murder-suicide in which Benoit strangled his wife, suffocated his developmentally disabled son, and then hanged himself.

In 2003, Nancy Benoit filed for divorce and a restraining order against her husband, later changing her mind and reconciling with him.

In a press conference held the next day, Fayette County D.A. Scott Ballard described what Sheriffs' investigators believe took place in the Benoit home over the weekend just past.

Some time on Friday, June 22nd, Chris Benoit bound the hands and feet of his wife Nancy, then strangled her with a cord. Then following day, Saturday, the 240 pound Benoit then, according to investigators, put his son in a single-arm choke hold and strangled him. Finally, on Sunday, the 24th, Benoit killed himself by wrapping a cord around his own neck that was attached to a weight machine in his home gym. Benoit released a stack of weights that matched his own body weight, causing his own strangulation.

Deputies found Bibles placed next to each of the murdered family members.

Bad enough that the Benoit family is dead. Worse still are the details that surround those deaths. Details that, at first glance, seem questionable. Details that, upon further review, move right past questionable, and straight into heinous.

Hours before Sheriffs found the bodies in the Benoit home, a Wikipedia article on Benoit was updated to include news of his missing a match, scheduled at the time of the first murder, telling readers that Benoit was replaced by another wrestler. Then, on Monday, June 25th, at 12:01 a.m. EDT, an additional phrase was added to the post.

"...stemming from the death of his wife Nancy."

This update was made 14 hours, 29 minutes before investigators found the bodies. In addition to that, the IP address of the editor of the entry was traced to the town of Stamford, Connecticut, the location of the headquarter of the WWE. Since that time, police have taken computer equipment belonging to the person responsible for the posts. Police say that this "anonymous editor" could face possible criminal charges if they had any knowledge of the deaths prior to the discovery of the victims.

Oh, and one other thing.

Speculation regarding the part that anabolic steroids may have played in the emotional story of Chris Benoit led officials to investigate, and subsequently arrest, a doctor for regularly prescribing Benoit the equivalent of a 10-month supply of steroids every three to four weeks. http://www.latimes.com/sports/la-spw-wrestler3jul03,1,3341276.story?coll=la-headlines-sports&track+crosspromo (news video is included with this link).

All that, while Benoit continued to pass "mandatory" drug testing performed regularly under the WWE's wellness program, set up to monitor wrestlers for drug use and other health concerns.

So, my sports notebook is empty. And, cathartic as this was supposed to be for me, I think I'm going to need a little more detox from this one. I"m headed to the beach for an interview an AVP beach volleyball player. I'm reasonable sure she has never: a) been a man; b)left her child alone on the sidelines at a sporting event, or c)done steroids. It might just end up being a regular sports story.

I miss those.

Copyright © 2007 Bill Friday