Thursday, October 9, 2014

A post post-season post

It’s hard enough to wake up at 6:30 a.m. for school in this last month. This last month of daylight savings and baseball. It’s getting darker each day and though the solstice is two and a half months away, we are in the darkest of days. Our beloved home team Nationals lost 3 games to 1 against the Giants in the so-called National League Division Series. I still call it the playoffs but that doesn’t matter. All that matters now is that we lick our wounds and figure out how to move on.

For moving on, at least in this baseball post-season, we are somewhat fortunate to have a secondary home team. The Orioles, just 30 miles up the road, are the home team for many in our area. But where we live in Maryland, saddled up against the border of the nation’s capital, is solid Nationals territory. And though the O’s are as good a team as any to root for, the aging, but still reviled owner, Peter Angelos, and his all-out campaign to thwart locating a professional baseball team in Washington, D.C. will forever prevent anything more than a passing interest from this writer. It’s one thing, perhaps, to forgive. It’s another to forget.

View of Nats Park from Center Field
Our Nats were a mere 62 days old when my younger son was born. And his older brother was two months shy of three-years-old on the very first Nats opening day. Thus, unlike older kids (and adults) around here, they have no real experience of not having a home team. I grew up in South Jersey as a Phillies fan. I suffered through the mid-70’s then came of baseball age during the late 70’s and early 80’s glory years of Phillies baseball (and Philadelphia sports in general). Thus, I also don’t have the same experience many have around here of not having a baseball team. Older kids and adults who came of age after the second incarnation of the Senators fled to Texas in 1971, and before the Nats arrived in 2005, are naturally inclined to be O’s fans. And that is okay for them. All that is to say is we have not suffered that pain of that loss. The Nationals are my boy’s birth team and my adopted team. 

Two years ago we watched from the left field stands in utter dismay as our boys collapsed in what is one of the greatest implosions in sports, giving up a 6-run lead and the decisive game to the Cardinals. This year's Nats seemed stronger, firmer, more tested than the 2012 version but the outcome was about the same. Our 2014 Nats held the scores tighter and were in every game. The pitching, with a few notable gaffes, was strong. Our hitting, however, with the exception of youngsters Anthony Rendon and Bryce Harper, never left the dugout. And rookie Manager Matt Williams is taking plenty of heat for his stubborn orthodoxy which put a little-tested rookie reliever in a most critical game and situation while more seasoned, and perhaps able, relievers watched from the bullpen.

And that is the way with a 5-game series. Enough has been written about the unfairness of it all: Playing 162 games to then have to face another good, if not excellent, team in a best of 5 hardly seems right or fair. As a result, in the postseason, every move, every pitch, and each at bat take on a magnified meaning.

The baseball gods are trickster gods. And they will turn even the slightest miscue into folly. Throwing to the wrong base on a bunt?  2 runs. A late inning walk to load the bases? Wild pitch. Can’t field a bunt at all? The baseball gods will frown on that for sure. In the regular season a deflected ball off the pitcher’s glove is little cause for concern. In the postseason it’s a death sentence. Which is why, of all the sports, the lessons of life are found most in baseball. Just like in baseball, in life, not everything is right or fair.

Baseball is a team sport comprised of individual performances. Pitcher against batter. The lone outfielder sprinting for a ball. An infielder's errant throw. The team wins or looses and can do so on the heroics or failure of one individual. There are times when a team rallies to shield the miscue and all is well, like the epic 15-inning come from behind game against the Dodgers in LA in September. We thought the baseball gods were smiling on our boys then. Now we know they had more devious plans in store.

And just like in life, in baseball there is always the possibility of redemption. Or perhaps not possibility, but hope. Redemption may not happen today. Or tomorrow. It may be next year. Hopefully. For some, redemption takes years. And patience is only rewarded after interminable waiting. Ask any pre-2004 Red Sox fan.

For us Washington Nationals fans, there is the hope of next year. Pitchers and catchers report in four and a half months.

And I like our chances.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

There goes the galaxy!

Renaming geographic areas is nothing new. Especially areas developers wish to make seem more attractive to prospective homebuyers. Here in the Maryland suburbs of Washington D.C., we have North Bethesda (formerly Rockville) and North Potomac (almost Gaithersburg). It seems to be standard operation for an area about to go from semi-rural, low-density ex-urban, to something more suburban or citi-ish. North Bethesda, for example, was mostly the space between Bethesda and Rockville along Rockville Pike. It had a private school and a failing mall. But a new music center was built, and then town houses arrived, then an upscale marketplace. You can’t sell an area to potential retailer and residential investors by calling it, you know, “that really nice place between Bethesda and Rockville.” It needs its own real name: North Bethesda!

Well, guess what? It’s happening again, just on a slightly larger scale. Welcome to Laniakea! It’s Hawaiian for “immeasurable heaven.” Sounds positively lovely, doesn’t it? When I close my eyes and slowly whisper Laniakea I imagine reclining in my lounge chair on a white sandy beach shaded by coconut palms. A young lady with a grass skirt and flowers in her hair winks at me as she hands me a cool drink with fruit and a paper umbrella (or maybe for you he’s a bronzed young-man with no shirt and white cabana pants rolled up above the ankles). I take a sip and take in a deep breath. As I exhale I say to myself, “ahh, Laniakea.”

So where is Laniakea you ask? You are in it! Yup, Laniakea is a new designation for a place that has been around for a while. Turns out our Milky Way resides in the outskirts of  a “super-cluster” of galaxies. That super-cluster astronomers now call Laniakea. According to this article:

Our home galaxy, the Milky Way, lies on the far outskirts of Laniakea near the border with another supercluster of galaxies named Perseus-Pisces. "When you look at it in three dimensions, is looks like a sphere that's been badly beaten up and we are over near the edge, being pulled towards the centre," said Brent Tully, an astronomer at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu.

Solar System image courtesy NASA
(NASA Identifier: C-1980-1550)
Oh boy. Here we go again. It’s been so peaceful here in our “far outskirts” part of the edge of the universe. No other life forms from other star systems really hassle us. Interstellar crime? None at all, hardly. There was that whole Roswell thing a while back, but they don’t bother us anymore. But now? Now our little out-of-the-way galaxy is part of “Laniakea” a so-called “super cluster.” It sounds peaceful but don’t be fooled. Times they are a changing and our simple Milky Way way of life is under attack! Before you know it there is going to be a lot of construction going on, probably right here in our happy little Solar System. It’ll start with something simple. Probably a model planet will go up between Earth and Mars where some sales rep tries to sucker in investors. There will be a giant sign you can see for light-years teasing, “If you live here you’d be on your home planet by now.” Once they have enough commitments and cash they’ll build out a whole new planetary subdivision. Then they’ll have to tear down some of our empty space and put in wormholes for all the new spacecraft. Ugh! The noise, and traffic, and congestion. What a mess! Who needs it?

Mark my words, some slick huckster from the inner part of the “super cluster” is going to make an offer our Solar System can’t refuse. They’re going to buy us out and put in some retro “Laniakea Super-Clustre Centre” with a Starbucks, Panera Bread, and Chipotle.

I’ve seen it before. But we can stop these so-called "astronomers." There are environmental impact studies and re-zoning petitions. Call up your stellar reps and tell them to “say no” to galactic development. And with our environmental woes right here on Earth, surely we humans are an endangered species. We can throw that at them and slow this whole thing down in the courts.

Are you with me?