Monday, October 23, 2006

Hope Takes A Beating

Once upon a time, there was this thing called Hope that lived in the KU football program. It used to frolick in the fields, thinking of Bowl Games of yesteryear and good times to come.

Then one day, Hope took a road trip to Toledo. Hope got smacked upside the head. Hope took another roadie to Nebraska. In Lincoln, Hope received a punch in the stomach. Getting tired of the welcomes it was receiving in foreign lands, Hope decided to come home. Unfortunately, some Aggies were waiting there to trip Hope and Hope landed on its face. But Hope picked itself back up in order to meet with some Cowboys. It was a pleasant encounter for a while. Then the Cowboys decided to push Hope over and kick Hope in the ribs. Hope was feeling pretty sore and insecure and decided that a little time away might cure what was ailing it. So away to Waco went poor Hope, looking for a fresh start. All Hope got was a reminder of the previous mistreatments as Bears mauled it and send it back home.

Will Hope be able to frolick and play any more this year? Only if Hope toughens up and starts winning some freaking football games.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

I Know What I Like

I like trotting out to the infield, getting the feel of my cleats in the dirt. I like taking the slow, rolling warm-up toss from the first baseman and slinging it right back. I like pounding the leather of my glove, readying it for its future occupant. I like the ever-so-slight taste of dirt in my mouth. I like looking at the other team's third base coach, who seems to have an easy-going, "We shouldn't have a problem scoring on these guys" look on his face. I like knowing that smug look won't last long.

I like the butterflies in my stomach as my pitcher winds up to make the pitch. I like the tension in my legs as I take a step forward into a half-squat, anticipating the pitch being hit to me at third base. I like the split-second of time that elapses between my recognition that the ball has been hit and the realization that the ball has been hit at me. I like watching the ball bound toward my glove and find a temporary resting place. I like feeling the seams underneath my fingers as the ball rolls off of them on its way to first base. I like seeing the umpire cock his arm into a right angle: "OUT!"

I like sitting in the dugout, waiting for my turn to bat, clapping and shouting "Let's go!" and "Come on!" to my teammate in the batter's box. I like selecting just the right bat and taking practice swings in the on deck circle. I like taking both right-handed and left-handed swings, imagining that the other team is getting nervous trying to decide which way I'm going to come up to bat. I like high five-ing my teammate as he walks past me after scoring a run.

I like stepping into the batter's box, eyeing home plate and fixing myself just the right distance from the both the plate and the catcher. I like looking back at the catcher as he sets up and the umpire as he gets ready to crouch. I like surveying the outfield, looking for the one gap in the defense that I'm going to exploit. I like looking at the pitcher who mistakenly thinks he can get me out. I like the tingle in my hands as the pitcher goes into his motion.

I like the non-feeling of hitting the ball squarely on the sweet spot of the bat, a feeling that would seem jolting and violent, but turns out to be completely missing. I like seeing the ball arc into the gap that I had picked out just seconds earlier. I like seeing the outfielders converge and run towards the outfield wall as the ball skips past them and just keeps rolling.

I like the feeling of my legs pumping, trying to make my body move at maximum speed. I like putting my head down in complete concentration on swinging my arms and alternating my legs. I like hearing the opposing team's bench collectively moan as I round first base. I like hearing my teammates yelling "Run! Run! All the way!" I like knowing that the third base coach will be frantically waving me around even before I've looked up to see him doing exactly that. I like knowing that I'm running as fast as I possibly can and I don't even have to break stride in order to hit the inside corner of the second base bag. I like the growing feeling of urgency as I rush past third base, knowing that relay throws are madly trying to catch up to me. I like the feeling of my legs turning to rubber, yet still charging as hard as can be for the last few strides to home plate.

I like seeing the eyes of the catcher and umpire tracking the ball as it hurtles toward its final destination. I like the feeling of hard earth hitting my leg as I slide past the catcher and his desperate attempt to tag me out. I like the cloud of dust that arises and the hazy figure of the umpire stretching his arms out wide, signaling what I knew to be true before I had even reached first base: "SAFE!"

I like the feeling of being out of breath, panting out "Thank You"s to my teammates who push out congratulatory knuckles to be bumped. I like sitting back down in the dugout, eager for it to start all over again.

I like baseball.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Football Fiasco

I had a vested interest in three football games this weekend: David's on Friday night, KU on Saturday afternoon and the Chiefs on Sunday. Coincidentally, all three games wound up with the same outcome: a blowout loss.

Usually, David's games are on Saturday afternoons. But this past week was an exception. His team (named the Fighting Irish, for some strange reason) plays their games on a field at the Derrick Thomas Academy in KCMO. The field is very nice and the atmosphere is competitive, but not out of control. A fairly typical suburban youth athletic event.

But this night was different.

The Fighting Irish were pitted against the home team, the team from the Derrick Thomas Academy. And it looked like a scene out of "Friday Light Nights", without all the Texas rednecks. This team of 6th through 8th graders had a marching band, cheerleaders and a flag squad. The atmosphere was raucous, which was cool, but totally distracting to Dave and his teammates. Of course, that wouldn't have made a bit of difference, anyway; the DTA team had a significant edge in athleticism. Being that they play flag football, there's a pronounced emphasis on speed and quickness. And these teams were at opposite ends of that spectrum. The kids from DTA looked like waterbugs skitting about the field, spinning and juking and breaking away from their pursuers. And the band dutifully played the SportsCenter theme each time they scored a touchdown, which was at least seven times (I can't remember as I lost count). And as if they needed more of an advantage, the band would only play during the Fighting Irish's offensive possessions. Dave's team couldn't hear a thing. Throughout the game and well after, David and his teammates all had a glazed-over look on their faces. It was rough.

On Saturday, I traveled to Lawrence to witness what I was confident would be a victory for the Jayhawks. And the first half lent credence to my thoughts with KU up 17-0 at halftime. Oklahoma State turned the ball over four times and was making one stupid decision after another. KU didn't seem to be taking advantage of every opportunity, but there was no reason to think this wouldn't be a blow-out win in the Jayhawks' favor.

Then came the second half.

KU's secondary was torched for three passing touchdown in both the third and fourth quarters. KU's offense could barely get into field goal range until they inserted freshman Jake Sharp at running back and gave fullback Brandon McAnderson a couple carries. And after that, it was essentially garbage time as OSU tacked on two more scores. At least it was a pleasant afternoon weather- and company-wise.

Sunday came with the Chiefs being my last shot at redemption for local pigskin squads. I should have known something was wrong when I needed to count on the Chiefs to improve my fortunes.

They made the defending Super Bowl champs look like defending Super Bowl champs, even though Pittsburgh had a shiny 1-3 record heading into the matchup. The only highlight of the game was the The Best Tackle Of The Year. Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu intercepted a pass in the 3rd quarter and was streaking towards yet another touchdown. But Larry Johnson never gave up and lunged to make a tackle. Johnson could only grab Polamalu's hair, but he dragged him down, nonetheless, to save another score. Unfortunately, Johnson pulled him back to his feet by his hair after the play and was assessed an Unsportsmanlike Conduct penalty. It was still pretty cool, though.

So the weekend was not a keeper when it came to football. Oh, well; KU basketball season is just around the corner...