October 24, 2015

A note on the Jays and baseball

The Kansas City Royals are going to the World Series after defeating the Blue Jays 4-3 on Friday (Central time). The time zone difference between local Eastern time and Japan meant I was dual tasking, as usual, to view the game’s progress in real time. In this case, it was a Saturday morning and we were watching Lady M’s kindergarten sports day events under autumn blue skies, 28 degrees. I periodically checked the score with ESPN Gamecast on the sly. Felt disappointed when the Jays fell after a memorable game 6, ending their season. It was a phenomenal final game to the ALCS. The Jays had an exciting run since the All-star break. KC was just a bit better and they deserved to win. But man oh man the journey was terrific—what an entertaining season.

Munenori Kawasaki, who personifies the 'likeability' of the 2015 Blue Jays team. Photo courtesy of Huffington Post
On the Blue Jays
In fall 1992, I was in Kingston, Ontario, and like so many wanted to get a ticket to the ALCS and then the World Series. I settled for the games broadcast on CTV instead. In 1993, I was in Halifax, watching many games on a big screen TV, nursing a Keith’s and cursing the Phillies. Fast forward 22 years, I sip my ice coffee and catch the game highlights on my PC at home. The 2015 Blue Jays were simply great fun to watch and track, right from the beginning of the season. Now that their season has ended it’s time to just appreciate it all. I enjoyed the spectacle and the drama, even half a planet away, and without seeing a single full game. I lived on Baseball Tonight highlights and whatever I could find on YouTube. It’s enough. Thus endeth my mash note to the Blue Jays.

Baseball propels me through the summer months. It’s background noise to camping, mornings watching ESPN Gamecast (and remembering the glory days of endless free time and NBC’s Game of the Week with Bob Costas), and shooting the breeze with a few other fans at the office. It adds a texture to the summer days that I have come to greatly appreciate and savor. When commuting I listen to the BlueJaysTalk podcast hosted by Mike Wilner. It keeps me in touch with regular folks in Canada, with their opening “How’s it going, Mike?” remarks, his sometimes-terse reply, other callers’ oddball rants, polite cracks, and general musings on the games. I could go through the finer elements that keep my interest: the rookie/veteran player stories; pitching; double plays and all the intricate mechanics of the game—even the business element. The link to long, drawn out afternoons and summer breezes has hooked me since my mid-teens, and as a non-player to boot. Read W.P. Kinsella and you’ll see why. It’s really the artists' take on the game– Roger Angell, George Will, Roger Kahn, hell even Ron Luciano (umpire)--and their writing that hooked me. Ken Burns’ PBS series on the game visually burnished the attractions of the game, too. So I guess you can say that as a Canuck hockey is in my heart, but baseball seems to have occupied my head.

2015: Lucky Charm
I enjoy watching Japanese pro baseball games and this season I attended the most games ever. I saw five Nippon Pro Baseball (NPB) games in three different stadiums this year. Of the five games I saw, the team I was rooting for won four, so my attending enabled an 80% win ratio! This statistic doesn’t make me Bill James, but it did make me a lucky charm this year.
See you in February…
Courtesy of John Lehmann/Globe & Mail

October 14, 2015

Hoist up the main sail

Summer vacation chronicle, continued
15AUG: Tepid canned coffee primed me at daybreak to do my Dad duties. We had a Brady -Bunch-at-the-Beach kind of morning, with five kids having a heckuva time frolicking in the aqua stuff. I hydrated enough to remain alert and keep our offspring from floating away on my watch. Eventually, it was time for the families to go our separate ways. I recall scorching hot sand as I packed our camping gear with the help of the satanically-perky-but-altruistic Anderson McSleeman. Bless you, Sir. I slammed down the rear hatch to the car, then keeled over head-first into the adjacent dune. This led to the Barber of Seville soundtrack with Bugs Bunny cartoon flashbacks in my head. Resurfaced into the world, injected myself into the passenger seat; Naomi wisely took command of our vessel and expertly steered us to…Destination: Shimonoseki.

This was Marina’s first visit to Shimonoseki. The Rising Family™ last came here in 2009 as the financial crisis had forced our summer vacation plans to shrivel in proportion to the world economy. But what a neat seafaring town! The Shimonoseki Tower was our landmark as I stubbornly turned off the car’s navigation system, preferring to drive around “old school.” Finally, we parked next to the econo-hotel, tried to check in 15 minutes early in the 40-degree heat, but alas Japanese love of the rules cuts both ways. The teeth-sucking and body language of the desk clerk said get back in your car, suckas! So we did.

After checking in – at the right time! -- we stupidly decided to walk to the Kamon Wharf area in the stifling heat. We made it halfway. I experienced sweatlodge-like visions framed around a red post office box, so we boarded the city bus. Despite the heat, local seafood was first on the 'to do' checklist. My family is 50 percent Japanese (1 adult, and 2 half-pint half-kids), so we will eat anything moving that comes from the sea. Therefore, seaport Shimonoseki = seafood Shangri La. Capped the day with a cityscape view at dusk.  
Next day: no family vacation is complete without a visit to an aquarium. This was, in fact, our second aquarium visit of the trip. This city’s aquarium hosts various specimens of fugu, the venerated Japanese blowfish, and many of its cousins from around the globe. The Japanese variety is poisonous, but people still want to eat it. I don’t get it. If I want visions and writhing in pain, I’ll watch a Maple Leafs game.
Anyway, we <♥heart> Shimonoseki. Later that afternoon we left town with life-extending air conditioner at full blast during the return to Hiroshima. By that point our car stank of the beach on our clothes and in our luggage, decaying crustaceans, and stale junk food embedded under the front seats. I quote the girls: “yummy good seafood.”

This your brain on aquarium

Back in the Hiroshima countryside, I recognize that I am not good at “doing nothing, staying still” per mom-in-law's wish. It spatters rain over the course of a few days. That’s when I think about journal entries. Really, that’s all there is for me to do there because the internet reception removes the temptation of the Matrix—3G only in this area. Server access taunts a lot, but never delivers real connectivity.  Used to constant motion, I find it hard to adjust to “n-o-t-h-i-n-g-n-e-s-s.”
Again I chose light pulp over literature. I held my nose and read David Wells’ “Perfect I’m Not.” Thought provoking, it’s not. Yankee butt-sniffing, it is, but again such frivolity is what summer vacations are for. I read, quaffed a few cold ones with Naomi’s dad and watch Hiroshima Carp baseball games—a true luxury I do not have when in Yokohama. The Carp remain my favorite Japanese pro ball team, the Cubs of the Nippon pro leagues. 
Next: solo road trip to A.M.’s place in middle Kyushu. His homestead made me feel like I was in Canada! Nova Scotia, to be exact. In sum: BBQ and red wine in a tub, corn chips, trash talk, just havin’ a few and catching up. I get a case of WiFi envy. 
So…the Return to Yokohama beckoned. First off, hyper-happy morning drive from Kyushu to Hiroshima fueled by the Steve Miller Band’s Greatest Hits. Then morphed into darker passages, a la L.A. Woman by The Doors. I promised Naomi to get a few hours’ sleep to REM it out for the longer stretch northward. I woke up refreshed, but the tension was high—a burgeoning sense of dread not from the drive that awaited me, but that Vacation was nearing its end. I’d just had a great sand- and heat-blasted time and didn’t want it to end.
Road-dueling again with heavy trucks in the dead of night, especially after Nagoya/just after Yokkaichi but before the Tomei expressway splits into two parts. They like to box us in, puerile protagonists of power that they are. Big rigs = villains! The Tomei expressway was split into “old” and “new” sections to reduce toxic testosterone more than traffic congestion. The SleepDep training I got from National Grocers nightshifts and the Navy days of my youth pays off at times like this. I am proudly, resolutely glued to the helm. Inevitably, the 9th hour at the wheel brought on fatigue. In the dark of the real night, somewhere near Hamamatsu, I channeled John Lithgow in that plane-ride-from-hell portion of 1982’s Twilight Zone movie.

We pulled into the driveway at 0430 in the morning.
I sent “We’re alive” post-drive emails to concerned parents and friends next morning. We were indeed alive, but the main event of the summer was over. Cue somber music.

Courtesy of 2014 PEANUTS Worldwide LLC