Friday, August 25, 2006

Movie Review: Fever Pitch

by Matt Sandler

There often seems to be a fine line that separates fandom from some sort of mental affliction. I consider myself a dyed-in-the-wool, true-blue, diehard Mets fan, but my passion for baseball and my favorite team does not, thank God, approach the level achieved by Ben Wrightman (Jimmy Fallon) in Fever Pitch (2005). In this highly enjoyable, sweet, and funny movie, we are somewhat shocked at the depth of his rooting interests in his beloved Red Sox. I think we can all agree that if you’re 30 and still sleeping with Red Sox sheets on your bed, you’re in some sort of crazy state of arrested development.

Al (Jack Kehler), a diehard Red Sox fan, intermittently narrates the movie. He recalls turning a young Ben (Jason Spevack) into a Sox fan when the kid moves from New Jersey to Boston. Ben grows up into a middle school math teacher, one of those educators in movies that has a great connection with his students, and seems to be on the same emotional level as them. On a school field trip to show his students how people in the real world use math, he meets the beautiful and smart Lindsey Meeks (Drew Barrymore), who does some sort of engineering consulting work. He is challenged by his students to ask her out, and he takes the dare.

They meet in October 2003, and we will see their relationship progress over the course of a year. When they meet is important; it happens right as the Yankees eliminate the Red Sox in the ALCS (the Grady Little-Pedro Martinez series). Therefore, Lindsey will be spending time over the first few months of their relationship with what she will later call “Winter Guy,” as opposed to “Summer Guy.” Winter Ben is a nice and funny guy, in that awkward Jimmy Fallon way, and he has plenty of time to spend with Lindsey due to his hours as a schoolteacher. On the other hand, Lindsey is a workaholic who is desperate to receive a promotion at her job. But Winter Guy is laidback about this, and the relationship progresses nicely.

Then Opening Day rolls around, and although Ben wants to spend it with Lindsey at the ballpark, the next six months (seven if they make the playoffs) of the 2004 baseball season will present quite a challenge. Lindsey learns the true rabid nature of Ben’s obsession with the Red Sox, and they have trouble coming to terms with how they each like to spend their time. Lindsey brings her laptop to Fenway, and gives Ben guilt about causing her to fall behind at work. Ben, on the other hand, breaks Lindsey’s heart in a particularly devastating way. Lindsey invites him to Paris for a work meeting, but he tries to get out of it because the Sox have a big home series that weekend. He realizes the error of his ways, and skips a home game against the Yankees to attend a “Great Gatsby”-themed party with Lindsey. Then, after a session of lovemaking, he calls it the best night of his life. But then he finds out that the Red Sox scored eight runs in the bottom of the ninth to beat the Yankees, and he is crushed. Lindsey is understandably furious at him, and it is surprising in these scenes that what is billed as a comedy contains moments of deep emotion and authenticity. This is a Farrelly brothers movie, after all, but as written by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, a screenwriting team known for the good-natured “City Slickers” and “A League of Their Own,” it achieves real poignancy.

It all comes to a head as Ben realizes that he is going to have to choose between the Sox and the love of his life. Or will he? Perhaps Lindsey will realize that making this decision is a false choice, that this couple can have their cake and eat it, too—the baseball and the love. I will leave it to you to discover what happened. The ending is fairly ridiculous, but when you have a movie that is so eager to please both men and women with the baseball angle and the romance angle, some corny license is granted.

The movie benefits from events for which it could not possibly have planned. Of course, 2004 was the year of possibly the greatest comeback in sports history, the Red Sox’ pulling out the 2004 ALCS against the Yankees after being down 3-0. The filmmakers were lucky enough to be able to film in Fenway and in St. Louis for the World Series. Sometimes, true life is indeed stranger than fiction, and the 2004 baseball playoffs were an amazing time.

The movie is based on a book by one of my favorite writers, Nick Hornby (although I have not read Fever Pitch yet). His book was about soccer, but the passion for the sport translates easily from soccer hooligans to Red Sox Nation. In the movie, Ben speaks passionately about his fandom, about being part of something larger than himself. Maybe this is only justification for immature and immoderate behavior, but it sure beats looking at Excel spreadsheets all day.

Matt Sandler's column, "The Critical Fan", appears alternate Fridays

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Baseball at its Best?: The Little League World Series

by Scott Silversten

Just when you think sports has hit bottom, here comes the Little League World Series.

In a sense proving true what most non-New Yorkers think about those who inhabit the Big Apple, the Staten Island team in this year’s LLWS made the wrong kind of news this week, with a 12-year-old sending curse words to the nation via ESPN, only to be reprimanded by an overzealous coach.

For those who don’t follow the LLWS – count me among that group, but it’s hard to ignore stories on Page 2 of the newspaper – ESPN on Monday broadcasted a Staten Island player’s profanity, which was being used in an attempt to fire up his struggling team.

The coach, Nick Doscher, responded by slapping the player’s hat to remind his outfielder of the wireless microphone he was wearing.

Whether or not Doscher was more upset at the slur, or just that the player forgot about the microphone, is a discussion for another day. In response, Little League officials reprimanded both parties, threatening removal if more unsportsmanlike behavior was displayed.

ESPN is now forced to show all Little League games with a five-second delay, in order to prevent future such instances of misbehavior from reaching the viewing public. Obviously, the World Wide leader in sports doesn’t want to ruin the youth of other 12-year-olds. You know, the ones who aren’t talented enough to provide mid-summer programming.

This latest Little League debacle comes only a few weeks after Sports Illustrated’s Rick Reilly penned a column that detailed how, with the game on the line, a coach in Utah walked a star player to instead pitch to a weaker hitter, who just happens to be a 10-year-old cancer survivor.

Of course, it was only a few years ago that a team from the Bronx relied on an over-age star pitcher named Danny Almonte to reach the LLWS in Williamsport. And this year, the Arabian-American squad features a 6-foot-8, 256-pound player who dwarfs all his competitors.

This can all be summed in one short, little, all-encompassing word … sad.

What ever happened to Little League? The version in which everybody got their time on the field, where the highlight of the day was the post-game orange slices, where getting your jersey at the beginning of each season was truly one of the best moments of childhood.

To be very honest, I don’t know what should be done to stop this snowball rolling down the mountain. Where the LLWS championship game was once a novelty on ABC’s Wide World of Sports, now we get televised regional match-ups and way too much coverage of crying kids following a key error or lost game.

Everyone is to blame. Little League for selling the games, ESPN for televising them, coaches who put winning above all else, and parents who are re-living their childhood through their kids, all the while yelling and spewing profanity themselves as they watch from the bleachers.

Many will ask, what’s the point of playing if you aren’t going to keep score. Those people are missing the point. You keep score so those on the wrong end of the final tally will learn that 1) sometimes hard work is necessary to achieve a goal, and 2) what it means to be someone’s teammate. You win as a team and you lose as a team. If you don’t like those rules, go play chess.

The day after he made his team’s final out, a kid named Romney, that cancer survivor who watched a coach try to humiliate him all to win a Little League baseball game, was asked what he was going to do.

“I’m going to work on my batting,” Romney said. “Then maybe someday, I’ll be the one they walk.

And that is what Little League baseball is all about.

Scott Silversten's column, "Age of Reason", appears every Thursday

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Questions for Doug Silversten

by Sarah (The Fanatic's Wife)

For this week’s Wild Card Wednesday, I have decided to conduct an interview with my husband (the fanatic) in the hopes that I can continue to gain a deeper understanding of his baseball obsessed ways.

Q: Doug, would you give up your left pinky to ensure that the Yankees would never again win the World Series?

A: [Pause] No…(I am slightly worried about the pause and the far off look in his eyes right now)

If George Steinbrenner was running against George Bush in the presidential election, who would get your vote?

Do I have to answer this question?


This is painful. Next question. I don’t know what I would do.

Fair enough. If Manny was running would you vote for him?

Over George Bush? I consider that a wash.

Well, you know I’d vote for Manny. Speaking of which, how painful was the s$*@p this weekend?

It was my most painful Yankee moment since Aaron Boone.

Ah yes…it brings tears to my eyes. I had to watch the fifth game with your brother (a huge Yankee fan) giving me pitiful looks…now that was painful. But I keep telling myself that the Sox are a bunch of drama kings and that they need to keep things exciting. Do you still think they’ll make the playoffs?

Odds are no. But I don’t think it’s as unlikely as the pundits are saying.

The answer is: yes. Wildcard. Okay…I have to ask: what was it like growing up in a house with your diehard Yankee-loving father and brother? Post traumatic stress? What?

In a way it was a good thing because if it wasn’t for them, I would honestly think that all Yankee fans are evil. Just like there was some good in Darth Vader, I know deep down there is some good and they may come over from the dark side.

Deep. I love your father and brother. They are just seriously misguided. So, how bout them Mets?

Looking good. As a Met fan, I am not used to this much success. I don’t know what to do with myself. But I am past the point in worrying that they’ll blow this lead.

Are they going to the big show? Is that what you call it?

That’s when someone makes it to the major leagues.

Oh yeah. I knew that didn’t sound right. Anyway, are the Mets going to the World Series? And how much money would you pay to get seats at one of the games?

I’m a realist and odds are that the Mets will not go to the World Series. But considering that this is most likely my last year living in the city, if they make it, I’m there.

Okay, last one: would you take $10,000 to never participate in Fantasy Baseball again?

No. (No pause this time. The look is more like, “are you crazy, woman?!”)

Thank you, Doug. It has been a pleasure conducting this interview.

I love you. sweet. Try to keep it professional here!

"Wild Card Wednesdays" appears every Wednesday

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Another Med Student Perspective: Glavine's "Clot"

by Alan Eliot

The beauty of baseball is that, as we as fans gain life experience, the game reveals more to us- and we are privy to a much more enriching experience as a result. The act of being a die-hard fan, so primal and irrational at one level (for most fans, you pick your favorite team like you pick your religion, aka not really), is enhanced at another level by our intellectual gains.

For example, the physics major has a newfound respect for batted balls, paying particular attention to the angle of trajectory and mass of the bat, along with its velocity and acceleration, in determining its ultimate flight path. The economist is more interested in the backroom negotiations, along with the forces of supply and demand that drive the business of baseball. The ten-year old might not appreciate the subtle undertones inferred when a guy like Pat Burrell reportedly says that he's slept with half of the female population of Philadelphia. To other, older fans, they might infer that he is referring to a phenomenon common to men of high status and possessing vast amounts of wealth- and to the social and sexual access they have to society's most beautiful women.

So it alarmed me, as a medical student, when I heard of a possible blood clot in Tom Glavine's shoulder. However, what alarmed me even more than that was the sort of misinformation that I had seen in the press. Specifically, to this following statement:

"Blood clots restrict blood flow and can lead to a heart attack or a stroke"

Even more disappointing was the source of this piece of information- the normally very reliable New York Times. Source is here. The same was found in an article by the Daily News.

Now, to be clear, that quote is actually 100 percent correct, scientifically speaking. However, given that the article was clearly discussing a clot somewhere in an artery in Glavine's arm, the inferred conclusion is that worst-case scenario, Glavine's presumed clot could lead to a heart attack or a stroke. And that is completely untrue.

To bring it into perpective, I'll make an equivalent but equally ridiculous assertion. Let's say there were an article about a man shot in the arm. Here is how I would cover it, Daily News or New York Times style:

Last night, Tom Glavine, of New York, NY, was shot in the left arm by an unknown gunman. Gunshot wounds to the heart or brain are fatal.

It's alarmist at best, and given that most people don't know much about blood clots, it borders on misinformation.

The reason is that if you have a clot that forms in a heart vessel, yes you can have a heart attack, because it may end off cutting off blood supply to your cardiac muscle. And if you have a clot that forms in the brain, or leading to the brain, yes a stroke may occur, for the same reason. But we are not living in lala-land full of hypotheticals, we are living in the real world. And in this real world, there is a man with a possible clot in his arm. HIS ARM.

This is something we should have fun with though. Imagine the following exchange:

Tom: Hey David, slap me five!

<slaps him five>

Tom: You know, that was great. You slapped my hand.
David: That I did.
Tom: But you know, had you slapped my face that would be considered battery.
David: Um...yes, but...
Tom: And if you slapped my ass that would be sexual harrassment
David: Um. OK. But I didn't slap your ass. I slapped your hand.
Tom: Right, I'm just saying. It would have been sexual harrassment.
David: <silence>
Tom: Same slap, different location, totally different results.
David: Yeah. So I'm questioning both the relevancy of the preceding fact, as well as your sanity...

To be absolutely clear, if there is a blood clot in Glavine's artery in his arm, there is a ZERO percent chance it will lead to a heart attack or a stroke.

Blood is carried away from the heart in arteries. They are like one-way streets. If the clot dislodged from the presumed shoulder site, it would be carried down further into the arm towards the hands, and only in that direction. And sure, damage could result, but at worst, it would involve cutting off blood supply to parts of the arm or hand, and would necessitate emergency surgery to prevent death of tissue. But certainly not death itself.

Now, blood is returned to the heart in veins. It is also possible that a vein has a clot in it, which could cause symptoms as well. Now technically that CAN dislodge and travel to the heart, but not to the heart's vessels. It would travel to the heart's chambers itself, like regular blood, and then would be pumped to the lungs, where it would get stuck. That would be called a pulmonary embolism, and that could be fatal, but would most likely not be. The only time a clot travelling to the heart could cause a stroke is in the very rare chance that Glavine has a hole in his heart.

Regardless, the issue, as seen on imaging, is presumably in one of his arteries. So we won't go into a vein hypothetical.

Finally, articles on the issue have brought up that Glavine has had Raynaud's Phenomenon for at least 16 years, which is a condition that causes sudden decreased blood (and thus oxygen) supply to fingers/toes, especially in cold weather. Experiences like Glavine's, in which he'll complain of intermittent finger coldness, is common. In a person with a history of Raynaud's, a sudden cold finger, then, isn't very alarming, even if it is one that was previously unaffected. It is possible that there is no serious issue in the shoulder at all, and that this is just a natural progression of his underlying condition. This was my first reaction when I'd heard about the Raynaud's. In fact, with how vague the reports have been detailing what, if any, clots have been found, Mets fans for the time being can continue to hope that there is no clot to worry about at all. Amazingly, without any official released reports, media outlets are already presuming a clot. How to treat? How long will he be out? Are the Mets finished? With so much still unknown, they would do well to stick to the facts, both actual and contextual.

Interestingly, the debate occasionally comes up wondering which sport Glavine would have excelled at more: hockey or baseball. Glavine was an ice hockey phenom growing up, and was drafted into the NHL the same year he was drafted into MLB. Given the fact that we now know Glavine has an underlying condition brought on and worsened by cold, I think baseball was a wise choice.

Just another foray into the mind of a medical student. Like I said, we all think of baseball- that same game of pitchers and catchers- very differently, based on our personal past experiences and interests. And when you consider 50,000 fans in the stands with 50,000 very unique experiences of the very same plays, it sheds a light onto how truly awesome baseball is. You may all be cheering or booing at the same time, but baseball's still a lot of different things to a lot of different people, and that's what makes it great.

You can read some previous medical ramblings about steroids here.

Alan Eliot's column, "The Stories We Tell", appears alternate Tuesdays. He is currently in his final year of medical school.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Hawaii: A Baseball Fan's Paradise

by Doug Silversten

Hawaii? A baseball fan's paradise? "No way," you say. You are probably asking yourself if this is some sort of weird April Fool's Joke in August? Nope. I recently returned from 11 nights in Hawaii and I can assure you I mean it when I say that for a baseball fan, especially a fantasy baseball player, it doesn't get any better than Hawaii.

For starters, the weather is almost always perfect. Want to have a catch with your dad? Play some wiffleball with some friends? No need to check Grab a ball and go.

Next, no local team. While the negative is that it takes a pretty long plane trip to see an MLB team in action, it also means that the papers cover a little bit of everything (although there seemed to be a slight focus on the Angels).

Also, there is a great fascination with Hawaiian athletes, which often means that no-name average players become superstars on the island. Who is Shane Victorino? Decent fill-in outfielder for the Phillies? Or Hawaiian hero from Wailuku whose daily accomplishments are profiled like he was the second coming of the Babe. Great stuff.

Ok, these things are nice, but a baseball fan's paradise? That's because I haven't told you about the single advantage that makes Hawaii great...the timezone! The 6 hour time difference with the East coast creates several huge plusses, for fans of all kinds:

1) You never have to worry about games ending past your bedtime. Ever. Four-hour marathon night games on the east coast end at about...5pm Hawaiian time. Those west coast late games that keep us east coaster up way past 1am? Last pitch: Maybe 4pm local time. And every paper has every more missing out on the West Coast games in the morning.

2) If you're a fantasy freak, what's better than a slate full of day games to keep you occupied at work. Unfortunately, unless it is getaway day, weekday afternoon games are hard to come by. Not, my friends, in Hawaii. A slate of night games across the board? No need to worry. Sit down after lunch, go to your fantasy site, and voila...let the game following begin. Fantasy nirvana.

3) And finally, the best treat ever...morning baseball! A 1pm EST game can be enjoyed in the comforts of your own bed. Enjoy your morning cup of coffee and breakfast with some meaningful, live baseball...not a mere recap of last night's game. Got to love it.

There you have it folks: As long as you have an MLB TV package, Hawaii is a baseball fan's dream. Oh, and the beaches are nice too.

Doug Silversten's column, "The Big Picture", appears alternate Mondays
"I've had a pretty good success facing Stan (Musial) by throwing him my best pitch and backing up third base."
- Carl Erskine

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