Friday, September 28, 2007

TV Sports

I’ve never really understood the allure of watching sports on television.

I do have some fond memories of watching the ABC Wide World of Sports each week with my dad--mostly I wanted to see the poor ski jumper wipe out again, “the agony of defeat” indeed. We also watched stock car racing quite a bit--but as neither of these pastimes survived my passage into adulthood, I suspect I was mostly interested just because these were Dad’s passions.

I’ve also enjoying watching TV sports at times, primarily the Winter Olympics--downhill skiing and ice skating especially. Summer Olympics not so much, except for gymnastics. Tennis can be interesting, watching from above, noting the chess like strategy of the shots, striving to move an opponent to a difficult position. At the same time, it’s never been something I made a point to watch. From time to time I’ve followed baseball, but each time I’ve quickly fallen away.

TV just doesn’t capture the real skill of the players. Once, visiting a friend in Chicago, I went to a Cubs game. We sat just over the dugout and watched a relief pitcher casually warming up. Nice, slow, relaxed toss--and the ball goes flying like a rocket in a straight line several dozen feet, neatly into the catcher’s glove. Amazing. Those outfield catches and double plays? A ball shooting like lightning hundreds of feet in perfectly straight lines in must a second. These are professional athletes. You don’t get that perspective on TV.

So I’m just not the stereotypical sports fan, sitting in a Lazy Boy with chips and beer, proclaiming “We’re #1!” I’d rather get out and be active myself.

Football just seems to be wait, wait, wait, line up, run into each other for a second, fall down. Basketball means endlessly running up and down a court. Hockey seems to be furiously skating around, hitting each other with sticks whenever possible. Boxing just seems brutal.

I can at least understand why others might want to watch these, but other TV sports mystify me completely. Golf, for example--walking, teeing, looking up the course, addressing the ball, a swing, then watching sky sky sky sky sky, bounce bounce bounce bounce bounce. Repeat. Or fishing. It’s a guy or two in a boat casting line into the water. What’s to see for half an hour?

At the same time, I’ve watched engaging movies about all of these sports--even on the small screen. What’s the difference? Of course, movies can spend more time setting up effective filming angles, and of course, feature a carefully crafted, scripted story. Regular sports fans, engrossed in a team’s fortunes, probably see more of a story.

Or perhaps I’m just a loner who prefers quiet time to think. I’d rather hike in the mountains than walk around a golf course, explore the waterways in a kayak than sit in a canoe with rod and reel.

Or maybe I just like a good story.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Sunday Ain't No Park with George

On my way back from Sunday morning laundry, I pulled into one of the small self-service vegetable stands local farmers set by the road. I could use some tomatoes, and 3/$100 certainly beats the grocery store price.

I counted out two dollars worth of dimes--good opportunity to begin to clear up my change tray--when a woman, 65+ I’d guess, swung her SUV in behind me. As I got out of my car and started depositing my dimes, she, apparently having read my bumper sticker, opened her door, and without any greeting at all, countered, “Enough is enough, vote Republican!”

My bumper sticker, “Enough is Enough! Vote Democrat!” is the first I’ve ever sported on any car. The Democrat National Committee sent it to me along with a few other materials in their ever persistent quest for additional donations. I wish they’d intersperse news about party efforts and progress--I’d probably donate more frequently.

Nonetheless, I share the sentiment so strongly that I posted it prominently. I was fiercely independent until Ronald Reagan tried to shut down science, quadrupled the national debt, and convinced Americans that we just had to keep telling ourselves everything is fine. Just like magic. Then he added illegally defying Congress in the Iran/Contra scandal. Let’s not even get into his arming Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan to fight the Soviets. Something had to be done, so I turned to the Democrats.

George H. Bush, a warmonger who in 1979-1980 campaigned against Reagan’s “trickle down” economics fantasy as “voodoo economics,” turned and embraced it to win election in 1988, running unemployment up to double digits--and getting his chance to go to war.

Bill Clinton defeated Bush on an economic platform, and despite facing a hostile Republican Congress for most of his term, passed a number of measures and presided over the largest peacetime expansion in the nation’s history--and returned to budget surpluses along the way. He even managed to contain Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. George W. Bush returned us to war and record deficits, committing us to years of expensive occupation all while refusing to pay for it, cutting taxes especially for those best able to afford them, ignoring the complete lack of positive economic impact--except for the wealthy. He’s even strained the military, including the National Guard, so far that all commanders warn we can’t sustain these deployments past the spring. And to top it off, military benefits, including needed health care and proper combat vehicles, have been missing, underfunded. Then there’s systematically destroying then very rights that make the U.S. Constitution our guiding principles. Enough is enough. Vote Democrat.

I really wasn’t up for an argument with this lady. “Well, we’re engaged in economic policies and a war we can’t sustain,” I offer, choosing a nonpartisan point.

“We HAVE to do that!” she insists, stridently, ignoring the logical disconnect. I let it go--the discussion promises to be pointless anyway. She doesn’t. “Bill and Hillary only got that surplus by cooking the numbers--it didn’t really exist!”

“They slashed funding for the military!” she adds, voice rising.

[Incidentally, why do so many Republicans assume all debate is about Senator Clinton? Haven’t they noticed the lively primary debate, featuring a range of strong candidates all with enthusiastic supporters?]

She doesn’t offer any specifics. I assume she’s referring to the long-standing practice of all administrations of lumping the current Social Security surplus into the overall budget--a practice candidate Al Gore promised to end, by the way, in his 2000 bid for the presidency. The practice also means all those deficits are that much worse, a point which seems to have escaped her. Probably just repeating what she’s heard on Rush Limbaugh.

I sigh inwardly. Issues like this need discussion, though, so I start to explain. Immediately she interrupts, her voice nicer, “Well, you have your ideas and I have mine.” The conversation is over.

So thousands of people will continue to die, thousands more badly wounded, because a retired lady in rural New York doesn’t need information to make up her mind. Medicare, headed rapidly for a financial meltdown, will wait until it’s a crisis. The looming Social Security shortfall, completely solvable if we act soon, will similarly wait for doomsday. If she has anything to say about it, America will remain the only industrial nation without national health care, spending billions on emergency room care instead, at far greater cost. Promising stem cell research--and possible cures for a wide range of diseases--will have to wait for scientists from other, more reasonable nations. Tax cuts will remain the magic cure for all ills, continuing the myth that “giving the money back so they can invest as they see fit” will resolve entitlement difficulties, ignoring Americans negative savings rate.

And peacetime prosperity will remain an accounting trick, all while America spends its former greatness and prosperity into the shadows where all myopic empires have been humbled. Instead, this will be the age of China, India, and the European Union.


Monday, September 24, 2007

Summer Saturday with Snow Blower

Dad came over Saturday, the last weekend of summer, to help with my snow blower. My snow blower. I can’t afford such luxuries. When he sold his house to move in with his new wife, he parceled out multiple unneeded belongings. I live in the country with a long driveway, so I ended up with the snow blower. For free. I’m grateful.

Not as useful a device as would seem, though. It’s heavy, and my driveway faces an incline to the road. Even with the tires driving, getting this machine up to the road (I don’t even try to park at the bottom of the drive during winter) is quite a task. Just shoveling is often easier. However, at the end of last winter, snow fell and fell and fell, a few feet each day. Time for the snow blower—but it wouldn’t start, even after heroic efforts.

This is too great a waste of expensive machinery, so when my niece and nephew cancelled a “grandfather” project over schoolwork concerns, Dad suggested coming out to my place to help.

I accepted. Not lightly. Dad takes over. This would mean all day Saturday. He’s retired. I’m buried in career issues. Still, I can’t fix it, he might be able to fix it (he’s much more of a mechanic than I), and it needs fixing. He’s trying to balance out the grandfatherly attention my siblings’ families receive, but nonetheless, admittedly, damn nice of him.

Dad considers this a mission. Early in the morning, he calls—needs the make, model, engine number and so forth. He’s on his way to purchase spark plug, new oil, and garnish whatever information he can at the shops along the way. I find the information, and go run my own errands.

Early afternoon, he’s here. I’m ready—snow blower outside, cord ready for electronic start. I don’t do any of the usual things I’d do for such a favor—food and drink ready, for example—because I know he’ll disregard all of them. He’ll disregard everything. For example, when he asks if I have a certain size screw on hand, I offer to run to the store. No. We make do. I don’t know why. He always does this—along with recommending later that I go get that size screw.

Early on, I get stung by a wasp. First damn time all year. I’m pissed. Right in the back of the neck. Can’t see it, of course. But Dad’s here. If I can find tweezers. I have them. Can’t find them. We go to the store—he wants to talk to the snow blower repair guy anyway. We have just enough time before they close. He ends up with carburetor cleaner. I end up with “After Bite.” When I finally get tweezers, I’m too swollen to find the stinger. I’m pissed. I hold my tongue.

He’s absorbed with the snow blower, sounding like he’s talking to me, but really not. “I’m going to go cut some grass while you do this, OK?” I ask. “Go ahead,” he nods, barely noticing.

I cut grass. After a bit, I hear snow blower over the sound of the lawn mower. Dad’s still engaged. I keep mowing for a while. Eventually, I cut the engine and mosey over.

“Well, we’ve got it running,” Dad notes, “but it’s running hot. That bolt just shot out of the exhaust.” I look—a six inch lies in a black line on the grass. “It was glowing,” Dad adds. I notice my normally gregarious dog has moved from her favorite spot near where Dad is working to the opposite end of my yard. Smart dog.

I leave Dad to puzzle it out, and return to mowing. Eventually, I hear the snow blower start again. I keep mowing. Again, eventually, I mosey over. Oil everywhere. Still runs hot. Dad is stymied. “Soon as it starts,” he notes, “when you turn the choke, it just runs fast!” I look. “What if you don’t turn the choke all the way to the left?” I ask. Dad considers. He tries it. The machine runs roughly, but without glowing parts threatening to blow up the engine.

I ask if he can change the oil while he’s at it, knowing he’ll actually welcome this. He asks if I have a pan to catch the oil. I find one. He changes the oil, and spends a long time spraying every moving part with WD-40, whipping and cleaning everything possible, leaving everything in as good a shape as possible.

That’s Dad.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Headed Off, Heads Up, or Losing Their Heads?

Each morning I let out Shanti, my husky mix, feed Kira and Tawny, my cats, make coffee, shower, dress, gather my work materials for school (armed with lots of coffee), and head outside to the car.

Shanti will be there, whining. Since she was a puppy, she got some canned dog food as a “treat” to counter her anxiety about my leaving for the day. Now she demands it. As I tip-toe my way down the steps, over the coils of her leads, out to my car, she dances around me, her actions threatening to tangle me in the lead as I strive to haul my bags and laptop safely. She jumps as high as my shoulders, and lately, runs around me and ahead to place herself in my path, heading me off just in case that after four years of feeding her every morning, this will be the morning I forget if she doesn’t press the point. Bit annoying, actually.

Fifteen minutes later I will drive through the village of Cazenovia. Signs prominently posted remind drivers to give the right of way to pedestrians in a crosswalk entering from either lane. Unfortunately, many pedestrians see this as a license to jaywalk, simply walking out into traffic at any point, expecting traffic to see them and stop. Even pedestrians in proper crosswalks step out from the curb abruptly, walking out in front of a car six feet away, expecting it to stop. After all, it’s their right.

What are they thinking? This goes far beyond attitude. Even drivers crawling along at 15-20 m.p.h. can’t stop that fast—and even when they try, as some do, cars behind them are likely to rear end them. Most pedestrians are also drivers—surely they must know that drivers can’t see and respond to people rushing into the road suddenly at any point, ESPECIALLY around dawn and dusk.

But then, plenty of drivers race around fellow drivers, cut them off, pull out suddenly in front of them, all to accomplish little more than irrational displays of impatience and arrogance.

I’m reminded of a movie I saw in class as a child. Without looking, a pedestrian properly stepped into an intersection in front of an unseen car, exercising right of way. The movie’s title? “Dead
Right.” Doing that for SEEN traffic just seems stupid.


Monday, September 17, 2007

Doesn’t Add Up

Aside from the ethical and legal problems private security firm Blackwater has amassed in Iraq, I’m troubled by a few economic issues.

Private contractors like Blackwater have become essential to U.S. military operations, even protecting State Dept. officials. These companies hire not only retired special ops personnel, but also current special ops troops away from the military, as the pay is substantially better.

So the military hires private contractors “to save money,” yet highly trained military personnel can earn more working for these contractors. Anyone else raising eyebrows about this fuzzy math? No wonder we spend several times what other countries spend on the military—yet we can’t muster sufficient veterans’ health benefits.

Add this to the list of my macroeconomic concerns. A short version:

The U.S. spends more on health care than any other nation, yet we’re the only industrial nation without universal health care, insuring only 75% of the population. The rest wait until their health concerns are costly crises and go to the emergency room, where taxpayers ultimately pick up the tab. How is this saving money? Forget the labeling slogans and socialize the process.

The U.S. is the richest nation in the world—yet we have a negative savings rate. What’s wrong with this picture?

We again have ballooning deficits, a negative trade balance, a credit crunch and a falling dollar. Our policies are based on fantasy, not economics, and government and citizens share the blame.

These practices cannot be sustained.


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A Meme Deferred

What happens to a meme deferred?

When I started blogging, I just wanted to write my real thoughts, without coloring them for any given crowd, as we all usually need to do. This would help me explore new areas in writing without undue danger, and I could see if I could attract and keep readers on the strength of the writing alone.

This has gone well, but as the first few months passed, I found I had become part of a community of bloggers. Life in the blogosphere often didn't mesh well with my intentions, but overall, this too was a comfortable and interesting experience. As that evolved, I was awarded by fellow bloggers the "Thinking Blogger Award," the "Creative Blogger Award," the "Awesome Guy Blogger Award," and now I've been tagged by the Super 8 meme.

I'm happy to be recognized by these people, just as I'm happy other bloggers have listed my blog on their sites, for various reasons. I'm grateful. However, I haven't yet displayed the graphics for these awards, primarily because part of the award is to recognize other blogs, passing on the award. I'm happy to do this, but as my work life as a professor/writer/musician/farmer (not to mention housekeeping and pet ownership) keeps me incredibly busy, more tasks appear almost daily, and I just haven't had a chance. I see discussion board posts by bloggers who state they read 100-200 blogs each day. I doubt it. But true or not, I'm lucky if I get to read one or two a day, and I want to choose carefully. Hence the delay.

I will eventually get to all that, as well as recognizing the sources of these various memes, but in the meantime, let me at least show a bit of good faith by complying with the immediate part of the Super 8 meme tag, to share eight random facts about me. Here goes.

1) I love hazelnut coffee.

2) Most people see me as a hard realist. Friends know better. After being crushed by former girlfriends, after getting slammed by ambitious and dishonest coworkers, after living through political moves that should jade us all, I'm still optimistic. I believe in the true girl, the cooperative work team, the possibility of better leadership. I'm either delusional or a slow learner, but that's me.

3) My favorite ice cream flavor is vanilla, and I'm not afraid to admit it. I do, however, also care for mint chocolate chip and run raisin.

4) I believe Bush has seriously wounded the U.S., and that we will spend a few decades at least recovering, even under the best leadership. This is one of the reasons I save heavily--the U.S. cannot sustain itself under its current policies long term, and only accumulated fat allows the country to continue for a while relatively smoothly.

5) I deeply, deeply care about teaching. Some students think I'm too tough and that I just don't care about them. They're wrong--but I do think they're adults and need to start learning about how to take responsibility for themselves. [I'm frequently in my office very late helping students or planning new approaches.] Fortunately, I work in a department that sees this as a good quality (not all do).

6) I have around 2,000 trees that I planted myself as seedlings. Many of these now dwarf telephone poles.

7) James Joyce is my hero. Amazing writing. I've read Dubliners several times, and still want to go back and study it yet again.

8) I own a sitar. I'd like to learn to play it, but it requires a LOT of time--just tuning (it must be detuned when not in use) takes a significant time commitment.

9) My music career has allowed me to meet many famous artists. One of my favorites was Rudolph Nureyev. He started in a revival of "The King and I," and I was the bassoonist. Nureyev was a wonderful dancer, but not a good vocalist. In one of his songs, "Puzzlement," I play his note, an F#, repeatedly before he comes in to sing "When I was a boy / World was better spot. / What was so was so, / What was not was not. / Now I am a man; / World have changed a lot. / Some things nearly so, / Others nearly not." I don't think I've ever played so loud. People probably heard that note in the parking lot. He died not long after this show--a wonderful, gracious man.

10) I love movies. I buy a pile of previously viewed DVDs at a time, watching a bit of each as I have time, watching some again and again--some because they're great films, and some just because something in them speaks to me for whatever reason--"Mannequin" and "The Shadow," for instance.

My apologies to anyone waiting for me to catch up with the blogosphere, but I hope you're mollified for now by my humble offering. Consider it ten for the price of eight.


Sunday, September 9, 2007

Shanti and the Kayaks

I start with a stop at the corner store for something for dinner, vainly hoping for something in the produce line, settling for an onion, a pepper, and a bunch of celery. Pretty much their vegetable inventory. No fruit. I add a bunch of carrots for my neighbor’s horse. And a six-pack.

Two twenty-somethings walk in, chuckling. “Never seen a dog driving a car before,” they laugh. “Oh, that’s his,” the woman behind the counter notes, nodding toward me. “Always does that,” she adds, referring to my dog Shanti, a white husky mix, who moves to the driver’s seat and patiently scans the scene for my return with each stop.

On the way to the state land at Stoney Pond she whines. I’m exhausted, but she’s bored. While I’ve been working my bizarre schedule all day, home now only as dusk approaches, she’s been stretched out under evergreen trees, watching birds, barking at an early morning hot-air balloon flight, rested and ready to go.

The weather has turned cooler too. I love September—I used to always schedule my vacations somewhere in the middle of the month. I had little competition for the dates, and it’s a perfect time to backpack in the Adirondack High Peaks—not too hot (the cool weather an asset when climbing), few bugs, no summer crowds on the trails, lean-tos readily available, and only early bear hunting season to circumvent. But alas, since becoming a college professor in 1990, Septembers are spent frantically fielding all the fruckus administration and circumstances channel my way. Hence my fatigue. But the cool weather also energizes my dog even more than her light daily itinerary.

Further, a week or so back she somehow slightly injured her foot, limping for a few days. “Give her these antibiotics, three times a day,” the vet instructed. He knows my hectic schedule, and added, “If some days she only gets two, that’s fine. Just continue it for two weeks. Also, here’s some Rimadyl—twice a day.” My last dog, a shepherd mix, lived almost sixteen years, so I know Rimadyl well—a powerful non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory pain killer. I shook my head. Shanti already is a mountain of energy stuffed into 50 lbs. of fur. Now she’ll feel no pain.

We start our walk—it’s usually a run, but I can feel myself getting sick—pain in my chest, the first signs of the bronchitis that twice has taken me out for a week in the past few years. Emboldened by the lack of people relative to August, deer wander across the path, and Shanti takes off like a jet, slamming around in her harness when she abruptly reaches the end of her 26’ retractable leash. She looks at me, then spins around and tries it again. And again. And again. “Shanti!” I finally intervene, my lungs aching from the effort. Damn. I’m definitely getting sick. I later contemplate those leftover antibiotics—500 mg. Cephalex. Keflex, I know from my pharmacy tech days. Usually prescribed every six hours, but for 7-10 days. I can think of several reasons not to flirt with a short course. I eventually give in to temptation, spreading eight doses over three days, hoping my immune system and some rest can pick it up from there.

The deer now gone, Shanti turns to sticks. She’s not fond of “fetch,” but she love to jump for sticks. I hold them out at shoulder height, and she jumps two and a half times her height to grab them. She plays hard, and I remember to hold the stick lightly, or she’ll sharply wrench my wrist or elbow yet again. [Even other dogs don’t like to play with her, since she’s just too rough.] The stick game, though, eventually tires her, at least a bit.

We round the corner of the pond (a small lake, really) and find three kayaks full of loudly laughing, joking people. Shanti goes ballistic, lunging and lunging to run out and do just-what-exactly-I-can’t-even-begin-to-imagine. As much as I love these daily outings, I’m relived when we’re back at the car.

I haven’t been kayaking all summer—just too much work. I love doing it, and even take Shanti with me—she sits right in front, anxiously watching the geese, ducks and beavers. I did think about going, although transporting the kayak is now a challenge; I used to put my short kayak atop my Toyota Echo’s roof with some hard foam designed for the purpose and a complicated system to tie it with rope to the frame. My new Yaris, however, has an antenna right in the middle of the roof (by the hatchback). Perhaps I can get it in the back with the seats down. Wonder how far it would stick out. And where would Shanti sit?

Then again, there’s always my girl’s Taurus. And where she’ll sit. And whether it can handle two kayaks. And the irony of transportation for transportation.

I had my first kayak lesson twenty feet offshore at Stoney Pond, capsizing and swimming back to shore. I’m an excellent canoeist, capable of a speedy pace in any size canoe, capable of righting a canoe in the middle of a lake and getting back in (a skill I had to learn in Scouts). I accidentally impressed my coworkers years ago at a summer gathering when my shepherd mix took off after me when I borrowed a canoe. With motor boats racing about, she wasn’t safe in the water (she was an excellent swimmer—we used to swim long distances together), so I pulled a wet, 90 lb. dog into the canoe, keeping us level and above water. Kayaking was a little different.

Balance. Sit low and straight. Soon you can even race about the lake with a dog in your kayak with you. Balance. Something my work life and, apparently, health could use. Maybe I should kayak more often. Maybe I should spend more time under evergreens myself. Maybe Shanti should drive.


Thursday, September 6, 2007

Puccini, Pavarotti and Performance

Just arriving home today, I heard “As It Happens,” the Canadian news magazine presented in the evenings on NPR, the third airing I’ve heard today about the death of Luciano Pavarotti. “I was on the N.Y. Subway listening to an aria on my iPod,” reported an interviewee, “and I just cried at the beauty of his voice. I looked up and saw the headline of the newspapers about Pavarotti’s death, and the woman reading the newspaper was crying too. He just touched so many people’s lives.”

Indeed he did.

As a young music student, not from a musical family, I struggled to understand why opera was such a big deal. Among the recordings I heard was Puccini’s “La Boheme,” sung by none other. I got it. I still cry at the beauty of those passages—and this as a jaded musician who’s heard a lot of music so many times that it’s practically aural wallpaper. Pavarotti’s singing stands out, and I not only learned to appreciate opera, but also learned that the performance mattered greatly I the appreciation of the work (probably no small part of my decision to pursue music as a performer, not primarily an educator or scholar (those would come later).

I started teaching college only because I was asked to take on an Intro to Music course at a local college—part Music Appreciation, part Music History, all for non-majors, so I strove to offer students quite a varied taste of the music world—including opera.

“We have to listen to an OPERA?” they’d complain.

“Have you ever heard an opera?” I would counter.

“No…we just hate it.”


They didn’t know.

So, each term we took two class periods to watch a video of an excellent performance of Puccini’s “La Boheme” produced by the San Francisco Opera, staring Luciano Pavarotti. Students settled down into their most attitude-broadcasting postures, feet up on the chair in front, elbow on an adjacent chair, head leaning resignedly into the palm, fingers draped like a ledge to “shade” the eyes. I ignored the passive aggressive protests, started the video, and turned off the lights.

In retrospect, I should have been amazed that the class proceeded in silence (I was still new to teaching).

I DID notice that each term, the second day, almost all of the students returned. They assumed the same defiant postures, I again pretended not to notice, and picked up the opera from the previous class period.

The plot of La Boheme is not complicated. Mimi meets poor artists. Mimi falls in love with Pavarotti’s character. Mimi is sick. Gets sicker. Gets sicker and sicker. Then she dies.

Students sat in the darkened room, eyes covered. “Sniff,” I hear, as we enter the final scene. “Sniff, sniff!” comes another. Faster and faster—soon the whole room, still visually unmoved, is sniffling. At Mimi’s death—the end of the opera—a chorus of sniffles accompanies the applause as the cast takes its bows. I graciously wait to turn the lights back on.


Monday, September 3, 2007

The Way Sports Should Be

Clay Buchholz brought a welcome fresh breeze to sports news Saturday night when the rookie pitched a no-hitter against Baltimore the same day he was called up to the Red Sox.

Seeing Barry Bonds break Hank Aaron’s record under a steroid cloud was news for a day or two. Who cares? What’s inspiring about drug-induced performance? Hank Aaron is clearly still the more inspiring player. When Buchholz reached deep down to pull off such a great start to his major league career—that’s inspiring, that’s fun to watch, that’s worth talking about and remembering. And even better is that this was also a TEAM effort—second baseman Dustin Pedroia saved this no-hitter with a spectacular catch and throw in the seventh inning, and certainly catcher Jason Varitek played no small role in this success.

When professionals forget why we like to watch sports in the first place, the games are dull. Sure, no one wants to cheer for NFL’s Michael Vick, a stupid, mean criminal, but the slide in quality goes beyond that. Basketball writers, for example, are complaining that while the NBA is chock full of stars, the games have become slow, with few points scored, since the stars insist on making spectacular shots, sacrificing fundamentals and team play, and so make too many mistakes when the play is fast. What happened to the hard work needed for precision? The drive to be a star and to win at all costs kills it. Maybe it’s too much TV exposure.

I’d far rather watch high school wrestling than the silly, scripted presentation euphemistically call professional “wrestling.” It’s a show, a movie, theater, not a sport—and it’s dull.

Amateurs reaching deep down to find that something extra is far more exciting than prima donna pros.. Instead of a “professional” hockey player sucker punching another player from behind, I love games like the U.S./U.S.S.R. Olympics match in the 1980s. The Soviets were better skaters, more experienced, but the U.S. team just tried harder—a series of good, clean, fascinating games. Or after Tonya Harding figured to way to out skate rival Nancy Kerrigan in the 1994 Olympics was to have her boyfriend attack her knee, fifteen year old Oksana Baiul flawlessly skated her way to the gold in a stunning performance.

I have no patience for the temper of a John McEnroe or the bad boy image of an Andre Agassi, convinced “image is everything.” Give me a game like this one—I forget now whether it was Wimbledon or the U.S. Open:

Pete Sampras faced only one more challenger to win the event—a completely unknown newcomer to the tour. They were quite closely matched, and set after set we watched the champion defending his title and the newcomer fighting for his shot, matched with the reigning king of tennis. The play was so close that the last game would determine who would leave champion. That game went to match point, changing hands again and again and again and again. The weather was very hot, and both players were exhausted, slowly dragging their worn muscles back to the baseline each time, Sampras actually vomiting one the sidelines between points. Finally, though, the physically beaten champion pulled off the match, walking over to congratulate his opponent, excepting the trophy from the judges.

Then I saw something I’ve never seen before—as the poor guy who came so close slowly walked off the court, tears streaming down his face, clearly feeling crushed, the crowd rose to its feet for a standing ovation. He lost, but he played a remarkable game. That’s how sports should be.

My best friend in college, an avid baseball fan, used to complain about how people would say, “Oh, this team sucks, that player sucks” and so forth. “The worst player on the worst team in the Major Leagues is an incredible athlete,” he noted.

He’s right. And watching contests among gifted players reaching down for that something extra, that better team play, that better, long-disciplined control of fundamentals (true of musicians and dancers, too), is a far better way to appreciate the games.

Real people. Real contests—not drugs, cheats, egos and even criminals.

So thanks, Clay! I needed that. And congratulations on a game well played.