Maybe I Shouldn’t Blog About the Cubs …

Cubs Brewers Box Score 20160519

Yesterday’s box score.

And today they head to San Francisco to take on the Giants, who’ve won eight in a row.

Jake Arrieta (7-0) starts for the good guys. So we got that goin’ for us. Which is nice.

© 2016 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.

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Late Night Cubs Confession

Cubs W Flag

Yes, I admit it. I bailed on last night’s Cubs-Brewers game in the 8th inning with the Brewers leading 1-0 and the Cubs having squandered several chances to tie or take the lead. I switched to hockey, as one does when it’s the playoffs and one’s baseball team is struggling. (Side note: The Penguins beat the Lightning 4-1 to take a two-games-to-one series lead, which made me happy because I have a bad attitude and I don’t want to see Tampa Bay, last year’s runners-up to the Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Final, win this the Cup year. It all makes sense if you’re both addicted to hockey and yet hopelessly partisan.)

Of course, the natural and probable consequence of my decision to change the channel was that the Cubs scored the tying run in the 9th, and ultimately took the lead for good in the top of the 13th. But it was more than just an ordinary early season extra-innings win. Brett Taylor at Bleacher Nation explains:

In the bottom of the 12th inning, the Brewers loaded the bases on an error, a walk (which was not actually a walk, but whateves), and another walk. That last walk came via Travis Wood, who’d replaced Hector Rondon. So Wood was left with the bases loaded, nobody out, and a single run giving up the game. He managed to get three pop ups (one to shallow center, and then two in the infield) to end the threat, which was shocking enough.

But then, thanks to the depleted bench, Wood got his own chance to bat with the bases loaded. And, in true weird baseball fashion, he worked a bases loaded walk to give the Cubs the run they needed to win.

This is the sort of win that, for better or worse, will only add to the evolving mythology of the Cubs’ 2016 season. Loading the bases with nobody out in the bottom of the 12th. The improbable safe exit from that frame, not by striking out the next three batters or getting somebody to hit into a double play, but by allowing three balls hit into the air – the first of which could possibly have scored the game-winner for Milwaukee. Then, too, the perhaps overly cautious decision not to send the runner on that first pop-up led to the invocation of the infield fly rulethe infield fly rule! – on the second pop up, as if to underscore the seemingly mystical quality of the game. And if that were not enough, Travis Wood, the very pitcher who first loaded the bases and then extricated himself from that jam in the 12th, came to the plate in the top of the 13th with the bases full of Cubs and drew a walk, which sealed the 2-1 victory.

Games like this make it increasingly difficult for a cynical Cubs fan to maintain his or her grip on reason, particularly when the team has gotten of to such an amazing start. The Cubs not only hold the best record in the Majors but are off to their best start since 1907the year they won their first World Series. With 124 games remaining, the Cubs could go .500 the rest of he way and still end up with 90 wins.

But a real baseball fan knows that there’s nothing magical or mystical about the game. You go out, you play, you win or you lose. As great as this season has been so far, there’s nothing inevitable about the Cubs reaching the World Series, let alone winning it. And – sorry, haters – there’s nothing inevitable about the Cubs choking and not winning the World Series, either. The only real truism about baseball, or any sport for that matter, is the well worn adage: That’s why they play the games.

I’m reminded of a meme I came across on social media the other day:

Stupid Facebook Meme (Miracles)

Miracles? No. What you’re describing is science. Just regular old science.

Likewise, the Cubs will win games if they score more runs than the opposition. That’s it. No miracles, no myths, no mystery. Just wins or loses.

Enjoy the randomness of the Universe, sports fans. It’s a long time till October.

© 2016 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.

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It’s a Brave New World: Running With A Hernia Edition

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We are living in curious times.

The mighty Chicago Blackhawks, winners of three Stanley Cup Championships over the past six years, lost in the first round of the playoffs to the St. Louis Blues, who, improbably, have now won two playoff series are tied with San Jose at a game apiece in the Western Conference Final. Meanwhile, Your 2016 Chicago Cubs lead the Majors with a sterling record of 27-10 (a .730 winning percentage), and, perhaps more remarkably still, the Chicago White Sox have the most wins in the American League at 24-15. (The Orioles have a slightly better winning percentage at 23-14.)

And while the very real – albeit still remote – possibility of a Cubs-White Sox World Series would undoubtedly open the Seventh Seal and usher in the Apocalypse, that’s not necessarily the most curious thing about the times in which we now find ourselves.

Nope. The most curious thing about the times in which we live is that, apparently, a reasonably healthy, running-obsessed, fifty-four year old person can develop a hernia from nothing more than getting old. And, curiouser still, that same person can be told by his family doctor that even though he developed a hernia out of the blue, and even though the hernia might hurt like the dickens when he starts to run each god-forsakenly-early a.m. when he typically heads out the door, that’s okay; he can keep on running until such time the darn thing can be taken care of. (Ordinarily, that means by surgery, in case you’re wondering how the taking care of a hernia is accomplished.)

So, here we are. Follow up appointment with the surgeon isn’t until next month; and who knows how long after that the actual procedure will occur.

And so we run, with the near-constant reminder of a hernia.

Or, at least I do, anyway. I can’t speak for you.

In any event, except for those first few steps early in the a.m. – which do, in fact, hurt – it’s mostly just an irritant. But I never would have guessed that it’s okay to run with a hernia, and that initial pain when I first step off is the kind of thing that would give a fairly knowledgeable runner pause. As in, I shouldn’t be running if it hurts like this, should I?

But what do I know. If the doctor says it’s okay to run till the procedure is scheduled, and the procedure’s not going to take place for weeks down the road, what am I going to do but run? I mean, I’m not going to take a couple of months off in prime running weather, am I? No, I’m not.

Unless, of course, as the doctor nonchalantly suggested, the darn thing should become (ahem) strangulated … in which case his sage advice was: Seek immediate medical attention.

And how would one know if it became strangulated? Oh, you’ll know.

Um … thanks?

So, there you have it. Running with a hernia is a thing, apparently. I guess it beats the alternative.

But I’d still keep my eye on those baseball standings if I were you. And maybe get your affairs in order. You know. Just in case.

© 2016 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.

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When the Greatest Game in the World Breaks Your Heart

Shaw in the Penalty Box

Screen cap via YouTube

I don’t write about it much, but if you’ve taken the time to read the “About” page on this blog, you might have noticed something about me. I’m gay. I’m also married and have kids – I didn’t come to fully accept being gay until about a year ago – but there it is. Life is weird and complicated, and so, you know. That’s just that.

I only mention this because I’m having a hard time collecting my thoughts on the Andrew Shaw controversy from last night’s Blackhawks-Blues Stanley Cup Playoff game. If you don’t know what happened – or if you aren’t as obsessed with hockey as some of us (cough, cough) – Shaw got called for a stupid penalty with only 2:04 left in the third period and the Blues up 4-3. That meant the Blues could essentially close out the game on the power play, and they didn’t even have to score. Mind you, this happened as the Blackhawks were mounting a comeback, having been down 4-2 until Duncan Keith scored a power play goal with about 5:20 left to play. Basically, Shaw’s penalty cost the Blackhawks a chance to tie the game, and possibly even to win in regulation, by pulling goalie Corey Crawford and playing six-on-five.

Who knows what would have happened, but it was an awful penalty to take.

Anyway, after being called for interference, Shaw blew a gasket, calling the referee a “fucking faggot” – twice, actually: Once when he was still on the ice, and once more from the penalty box. The second incident was caught on video, plain as day, but I saw both. In the moment it happened, I knew exactly what he said, and it felt like a punch in the gut. It’s hard to explain. It’s not so much that it hurt my feelings or even made me angry; it’s that it’s really humiliating. So much so, I had to pretend I didn’t realize what he said. But I did.

The hard part, though, is not that some jerk called somebody a “faggot.” The hard part is, Andrew Shaw is one of my favorite players. That’s not a popular opinion among hockey fans. Shaw is irritating, talks too much, seems to be a little thin-skinned. And he often gets called for stupid penalties, like he did last night. Yet, sometimes he plays with a level of intensity that you don’t see from more traditionally gifted hockey players. He has an almost Dennis Rodman-like ability to get under opposing players’ skin, and so he draws them into making stupid mistakes of their own. Also like Rodman, he’s actually an exceptionally skilled athlete; so he’s not just a goon who fits a particular niche. I don’t know quite how to explain it, but there’s something compelling about the way Shaw plays, flaws and all.

Hockey is, far and away, the quirkiest of all the major sports, and that quirkiness is a huge part of why the sport is so addictive. It has its own language (they’re sweaters, not jerseys, and the space between the goalie’s legs is the five-hole). It’s the meanest sport ever invented, but it was invented by Canadians, the nicest, politest people on the planet. It makes absolutely no sense (it’s basically soccer or polo, but you play it on ice so no matter how skilled you are you fall flat on your ass on a regular basis). And because of all that, it’s exactly what Eddie Olczyk says it is. It’s the greatest game in the world.

So for reasons I can’t quite explain, Andrew Shaw just sort of fits it perfectly.

But it’s more than that. There’s a lot to like about Shaw as a person. When he first came to the Blackhawks, he wore a wristband with the name of the local iron workers’ union from the small town in Ontario where he grew up, because most of his friends back home worked in the steel mills. During the 2013 Stanley Cup Final, Shaw took a puck to the face, costing him a half-dozen or so stitches. He later auctioned the stitches on eBay to raise money for charity. And during last year’s Stanley Cup run, his brother came to Chicago to work construction on the Wrigley Field renovations.

All of this makes Shaw more of a three dimensional person than the typical hockey troublemaker, and I do think that, for the most part, he’s a decent guy. On Twitter, Chris Hine, an openly gay sports reporter for the Chicago Tribune who covers the Blackhawks, said that after both Shaw and the Blackhawks organization issued their most likely PR-inspired apologies for the incident, Shaw took the time to talk to Hine personally:

That’s not the sign of a horrible person; that’s the sign of a good guy who made a horrible mistake.

At the same time, as Hine noted in today’s Tribune, even causal use of a slur like that has a real impact:

That word is why gay athletes everywhere hide their sexual identity and often live lives of torment. It’s why some contemplate suicide and develop emotional and psychological issues they might never rectify.

Obviously, it’s not just athletes who feel that pain. We all do, whether or not we’re out, and whether or not we have supportive family and friends.

Truthfully, it’s a lot worse when a likable person – a good guy – uses a slur like that, because it causes you to question all the likeable people you know. It causes you to question all the people who appear to be open-minded and supportive, because you realize even open-minded, supportive people grew up in an environment where the casual use of words like “faggot” was generally accepted.

I hate to say this, but incidents like Shaw’s rant are the sort of thing that make me leery of, even uncomfortable around, people I don’t know. They make me wonder if I’m safe around other people, especially strangers, and whether it’ll ever be okay for me to be myself.

When you can’t even sit down to watch a playoff hockey game without being confronted with questions like these, it’s … I don’t know. It’s just hard, I guess.

And lord knows, playoff hockey is stressful enough.

© 2016 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.

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Happy St. Patrick’s Day

Starry Plough

The Starry Plough flag, flown by the Irish Citizens’ Army during the 1916 Easter Rising

While some of you may have been dying your hair green and preparing for a day of cultural appropriation and debauchery, I was up at the usual ungodly morning hour to run, which is how I like to commemorate the day. As I (ahem) might have said on various social media platforms, I don’t get drunk on the Feast of St. Patrick because I’m actually Irish and I’m not a goddamned amateur.

I do, however, like to mark the occasion in honor of My Sainted Irish Mother™, whose ancestral home, County Sligo in Connacht in the northwest of Ireland near Ulster, is where William Butler Yeats came to rest beneath a tombstone the reads:

Cast a cold Eye
On Life, on Death.
Horseman pass by.

And there’s no better way to mark the occasion than with music, Irish being a particularly lyrical culture. While the Pogues’ “Thousands Are Sailing” is nearly perfect and is easily the most poetic rock ’n roll song ever written …


Where e’er we go we celebrate the land that makes us refugees

… my go-to song every seventeenth of March is Thin Lizzy’s version of the Irish saga, “Róisín Dubh,” or “The Legend of the Black Rose”:


Tell me the legends of long ago, when the kings and queens would dance in the realm of the Black Rose …

Here’s the thing about “The Legend of the Black Rose.” It’s a great song. It’s loud and fast and epic, and it has guitars that sound like bagpipes. What’s not to like? But more than that, “The Legend of the Black Rose” satisfies, in and of itself, the entire universe’s need for a lengthy, bloviating rock ’n roll saga. This one song, bagpipe-sounding guitars and all, easily surpasses – and could easily replace – every self-indulgent eighteen-minute rock ’n roll opus written, recorded, and bludgeoned to death by the likes of Yes, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, the Moody Blues, early Genesis, Jethro Tull.

And don’t even get me started on the mid-to-late ’70s prog-rock imitation bands (your Kansases, your Styxes, and whatnot). Just … no.

Anyway, this one badass Irish rock ’n roll legend could easily replace – really, ought to replace – the entire oeuvre of every band that ever attempted an album-side-length historical/fantastical rock ’n roll saga/epic/lyric poem/ballad snooze-fest.

Ever.

In case I wasn’t abundantly clear.

Plus, it’s got guitars that sound like bagpipes.

I mean, it’s not Joe Strummer singing “I Fought the Law” with the Pogues …

… but it’s pretty freaking great just the same.

Sláinte!

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Catching Up On Running: From Winter to Spring and Back Again

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You are reading that right. Today, the last day of February in the Year of Our Lord two-thousand and sixteen, the temperature hit fifty-two degrees Fahrenheit in the midst of my midday run. Which is nothing, actually, when you consider it was a balmy 54º on Saturday afternoon for an easy five miles on the high school track …

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… and we hit a new record high of 63º on Sunday …

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… while Your 2015 Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks were squeaking past the League-leading Washington Capitals 3-2 at the United Center.

So, naturally, we’re supposed to get between two and four inches of snow overnight tonight and through the day on Tuesday.

We live in wondrous times.

Truth be told, last week was pretty awful. Between the stress of work and other related nonsense, I basically took the week off running … except for that five-miler on Saturday. And with the dicey weather we’re facing over the next couple of days, who knows how much running I’ll get in this week.

Which made today’s run in spring-like temperatures all the more necessary.

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Side-note: The great weather we’ve had over the past few days just proves my Theory of Weather, which is this. In an ideal world, we’d have about four-and-a-half months of autumn, followed by two months of winter, another four-and-a-half months of spring, and about a month of summer. And that’s just to break up the monotony.

Because heat is the enemy of good running. Or maybe that’s just me.

Meanwhile, the Blackhawks are (temporarily, at least) back in first place in the Central Division (which means first place in the West), and are looking like a legitimate contender, while the Cubs are back at Spring Training and are likewise looking legit. As to the latter, I note that the 2016 season will mark 108 years since the Cubs’ last title, and I’m going to turn 54 soon. I really don’t want to have to say that I’ve lived through more than half of the Cubs’ World Series draught, so, you know …

No pressure Cubs.

© 2016 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.

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A.M. Run: This Is Madness

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I’m not going to lie. It’s been a rough week. (I know what you’re thinking. Wait. Does that mean you ordinarily do lie? No. It’s just an expression. Calm down.)

But, as I was saying, it’s bee a rough week. For reasons that remain a mystery, I haven’t been able to sleep much over the past seven days. So, although I managed to get a run in every day this week, I only made it out early on one occasion. We took Monday off because the kids were out of school, so I headed out in the afternoon for an easy run. On Tuesday, I headed out around noon, and Thursday and Friday I made it out by about 9:00 a.m. Wednesday was the only day I got up at the usual 4:45 a.m. and headed out. I’m glad I got each run in, but the lack of sleep and the inconsistency wreaks havoc on my actual work schedule.

The thing is, I run primarily because it relieves stress and anxiety. But getting little to no sleep night after night only adds to that stress and anxiety. So, when I get up insanely early to run, and therefore don’t get enough sleep, I’m cranky all day despite running. And when I opt to sleep in instead of getting up early to run, I’m anxious and stressed out (not to mention guilty-feeling) because I didn’t get up to run. But this week was the worst of all possible situations, because I struggled to sleep most nights, then couldn’t drag myself out of bed super early to run; and then I went out to run later in the day when I should have been working because I desperately needed the stress-relief. Which meant I didn’t get enough work done. Which stressed me out all the more.

So let’s just say it’s been a frustrating week all around.

On the upside, the weather was freakishly gorgeous for a February morning in Chicago, so I most certainly will not complain about that.

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It’s supposed to be equally beautiful on Saturday, so I’m looking forward to a nice, long (albeit slow!) run tomorrow. And when the Western Conference leading Chicago Blackhawks play the Wild outdoors in Minneapolis on Sunday, it’s still supposed to be in the 40s here, which is still unseasonably warm for this time of year. I hope it’s a little cooler up there in The State of Hockey so the ice doesn’t melt.

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The only downside to unseasonably warm temperatures – the premature Spring thaw!

Meanwhile, what you really need is a little Friday afternoon Clash to make it all better …

“Gates of the West” from The Cost of Living EP (1979)

Happy Friday, everybody!

© 2016 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.

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