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Posts Tagged ‘sports’

The Liminal Space

August 7, 2013 | by

Hiroshi Watanabe. Photo: Ivan Weiss

Hiroshi Watanabe. Photo: Ivan Weiss

For the past thirty years, the photographer Hiroshi Watanabe has split his time between Tokyo and Los Angeles. I met him at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park when he reported for his first day of work on the Bull City Summer project. He’s a compact man who moves carefully but fluidly; at age sixty-two, he resembles a boxing trainer or a retired gymnast. On meeting, he said to me, “I have a question—why did you invite me? I don’t follow baseball and I’ve never photographed it.” He already knew the answer—I think he wanted to find out if I did.

A few days later, during one of that week’s many rain delays, Hiroshi wandered into the dark, narrow room inside the left-field wall, behind the manually operated scoreboard on the thirty-foot Blue Monster. In this barnlike storage space, placard numerals are lifted and installed in the appropriate slots, facing outward into the stadium, to indicate runs, hits, and errors during games. Here’s how Hiroshi described what he found there:

I saw all these panels with numbers on them. I realized that the number zero had a certain translucent quality the other numbers didn’t have. The paint on the zero has been faded by more exposure to sunlight. This fading has made beautiful patterns—maplike, veinlike cracks. The passage of time offers different textures on different materials. In the scoreboard numbers, it’s just faded paint. Only zero shows the passing of time I’m looking for. Read More »

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Bergtraum v. Beacon

June 25, 2013 | by

The visiting team is already waiting at the fence when Murry Bergtraum High School coach Nick Pizza arrives on Cherry Street to open the gates to his field, which are kept locked. His players haven’t arrived yet, though the visiting team, Beacon High School, has already dressed on the sidewalk, a cluster of parents standing a few feet away, averting their eyes. No metal cleats are allowed in the complex, because the turf and dirt are that nice. The backstop opens up toward the Manhattan Bridge, and right field ends at the FDR Drive. The Brooklyn Bridge unspools to the south. The field is well dragged, and a custodian walks around its edges, using a leafblower to blow stray baseball dirt off the surrounding track. Back in October, the field looked different: after Hurricane Sandy, for almost a week, it was under three feet of water.

By the time Coach Pizza (“Brooklyn born and raised”) has changed into his uniform, his players are beginning to arrive, some of them on rollerblades, from Murry Bergtraum proper, a jail-like facility wedged between the Brooklyn Bridge and City Hall. “I got a good bunch of kids,” Coach Pizza says. “Gotta find that balance, get the classroom stuff out of the way.” Bergtraum, with a record of 3-10, is a perennial underachiever in Manhattan A West, while Beacon, 10-3, has won the division the past two years. One problem for Pizza’s team: eligibility. Too many players have failed too many classes to play. Hurricane Sandy didn’t help—early games had to be rescheduled, and Bergtraum didn’t have use of their field until mid-April, well into the season: after trucks of clay were redeposited over the infield, the locker rooms dug free of sand by the custodians.

Bergtraum High School, a once-proud jewel of the city education system that prepared students for practical careers in business, is now perhaps more famous for hallway riots and the fact that it’s one of the few large schools that the DOE hasn’t broken up (more positively, too, for its phenomenal girls’ basketball team). The student body, predominantly black and Hispanic, comes from all the far reaches of the boroughs, along the stretch of the J, M, Z, and L lines, necessitating commutes of over an hour in some cases. Read More »

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A Sport and a Pastime

May 9, 2013 | by

red-rover-small1

Art credit Kiersten Essenpreis

Wikipedia has, of late, been in the crosshairs for its regrettable classification of certain American writers as “women authors” (and businesswomen) and its utility as a platform for petty “revenge editing.” You can watch battles play out in real time now, as people edit and re-edit each others’ work, manipulating facts and public perception at will. With very little power comes, apparently, no particular sense of responsibility.

And yet at its best, Wikipedia is, if not the objective repository of all human knowledge its founders envisioned, a rather delightful showcase of human weirdness. The enforced aridness of the site’s format only serves to heighten the brilliance of those moments when the peculiarity shines through. I was reminded of this the other day when I decided to look into the origins of the game red rover. (Why? Don’t worry about it.)

I had hoped to learn that the game had some sort of specific historical significance—maybe involving the Gunpowder Plot, or the Reformation, although I would have settled for the Black Death—which it doesn’t. (The name might, or might not, allude to pirates.) But the Wikipedia entry had greater treasures to offer the armchair investigator. I refer, specifically, to the following:

As with any game involving physical contact between players, there are those who maintain that its inherent risks, however unlikely, must be weighed against the pastime’s potential to generate personal enjoyment. For example, when the runner breaks through a link (or attempts to break through), it is worried that the action can hurt the linkers’ arms or body or knock these individuals to the ground. Practices particularly discouraged are linking players hand-to-wrist or hand-to-arm (rather, players should hold hands only), “clotheslining” an opposing player at throat height, or extending the hands so an onrushing player runs into a fist.

It’s at moments like this when misanthropy is most alien to me.

True, my interest might be keener than most. As a child I had an almost unlimited enthusiasm for red rover. From the moment I first played it—at the home of an intermittent best friend with whom I had very little in common (now a wedding planner)—I recognized it as my sport. (I suspect it may still be my sport.) Read More »

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Bull City Summer

April 17, 2013 | by

At Durham Bulls Athletic Park. Photo: Kate Joyce.

At Durham Bulls Athletic Park. Photo: Kate Joyce.

Unless you are a baseball adept, or familiar with Durham, North Carolina, your relationship to the words Durham Bulls may be an inverted one. Perhaps your mind flips the words to Bull Durham, the 1988 movie about life and love in the minor leagues. Kevin Costner stars as journeyman catcher Crash Davis (there was a real player by that name, long ago), who is sent to Durham to tutor the young, talented, and wild Nuke LaLoosh (Tim Robbins), a flamethrowing pitcher who is never sure where his pitches will go. Nuke spends the summer canoodling with Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon), an aging baseball groupie, before he is called up to the “Show,” the major leagues. That clears the way for Crash and Annie to become the batterymates, as baseball argot puts it, they were destined to be. It is a mellow, even melancholy consummation, a sadder-but-wiser ending to an antic, shaggy, often profane baseball tale of getting all the way to the major leagues, or just to the end of summer—to the end of a dream.

Bull Durham gets a lot right, and real minor-leaguers approve of it—my multiyear polling of ballplayers in clubhouses shows it to be the truest baseball movie: they identify with the bus-ride scenes (the minors are still known colloquially as the bus leagues), with Crash lamenting the “dying quail” difference between hitting .250 and .300 (the difference that’ll get you to the majors), and with the lecture Crash gives Nuke on how to fob off sports clichés on reporters like me.

But Bull Durham does omit a crucial detail, one that the casual viewer will probably overlook. Read More »

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Offsides, Part 2

January 24, 2013 | by

Jelena Tomašević, Joy of Life, 2006, mixed media, 22.3 in. x 33.2 in. © conrads duesseldorf.

This is the second installment of a multiple-part post. Read part 1 here.

Like Savićević, the Croatian Zlatko Kranjčar, fifty-six, had been a successful, offensive-minded player in his day, and one who understood the importance of international soccer. Nearing the end of his career in 1990 at the age of thirty-four, Kranjčar captained Croatia’s first national game of its post-Yugoslavia era. As a coach he led the Croatian national team into the 2006 World Cup. He had experience, and a lot of it. When Savićević hired him in 2010 as Montenegro’s new manager, it was Kranjcar’s eighteenth year of coaching and his twentieth job.

Also like Savićević, Kranjčar had historically favored an attacking style of play, one that resembled the Yugoslavian teams of Montenegro’s past. “The former Yugoslav players have the reputation as the Brazilians of Europe,” said soccer journalist and Financial Times columnist Simon Kuper. At first glance, the Montenegro team appeared to be no different. Its two star players were strikers: Vučinić, the team captain, and Stevan Jovetić, who also plays in Italy, for Fiorentina. Read More »

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Offsides, Part 1

January 23, 2013 | by

Mirko Vučinić showed up to the first day of soccer season this summer with a mustache. It was a thin one, and it made him look like a character out of an Italian neorealist homage to the dignity of the working class—handsome and proud, and heroic because ultimately he is up against forces that are far too great for him to succeed. Vučinić is the starting striker for Juventus, Italy’s Serie A defending champion. To date, though, he may be most famous for dropping his shorts, placing them on his head, and running around the pitch in his underwear after he scored a goal in an international match against Switzerland in 2010. You likely wouldn’t see that in an Italian neorealist film. But that’s all right, because Vučinić isn’t Italian. He’s Montenegrin, and Montenegro has a story of its own.

The country, once a part of the former Yugoslavia, is one of the tiniest in all of Europe. Incredibly, its population of 657,000—about the size of Baltimore’s—is the same as the number of registered soccer players in Poland, Montenegro’s first opponent in its 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign, which began in September. In order to automatically qualify for the World Cup, Montenegro has to finish first in its group of six, or make it to a playoff match and finish second. The team’s other opponents in the group include Ukraine, whose population of forty-five million is a mere seventy times larger than Montenegro’s, and England, whose team is ranked sixth in the world and is the group favorite. Read More »

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