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Theater of the Absurd: King James Goes to Miami and a Vuvuzela Fatwa

Lebron James Flies Away

Well it is settled.  After weeks of speculation and media prostitution “King” Lebron James the First is leaving the City on the Lake and the Cuyahoga River, the fair city of Cleveland for the sunny beaches and maybe if you are a Clevelander the sunny bitches of Miami.    Of course as always I want to be fair and balanced about this as I am in all things to ensure that Lebron supporters and detractors find something to be mad about when they read this.

You see I don’t condemn Lebron for taking a pay cut, yes a pay cut to go to Miami to play with two buddies and 2010 Summer Olympic teammates, Chris Bosh and Dewayne Wade who are like King James among the top players in the NBA.  The NBA above all is about titles if you are to be considered a great, not individual statistics and regular season wins as important as those are. Everyone looks at rings and King James’ fingers are conspicuously naked in this regard.  I can understand the desire of King James, Wade and Bosh to band together and maybe enjoin others to their cause in the quaint South Florida village of Miami Beach from whence they shall go out to do battle flying on Miami Air across this great land to put the rest of the NBA in its place and establish themselves as the “Three Kings” of the NBA. Unfortunately he has left his legacy in the toilet in the manner that he made his exit from Cleveland.

Now of course I think the way that King James and his court went about this was pathetic and self serving and obliterates his reputation as an otherwise decent man who had given a great deal to his home town and state. King James was a beacon of hope in a land of otherwise abject misery, at least according to a recent poll and an icon of all that was good.  Unfortunately his little show made him look like a spoiled child.  It would have been better for him to let the people of Cleveland know that it had been a good ride that he loved them and appreciated all that they had done for him over the years early on and let them know that he wanted to move on while continuing to do good things for the community.  Sure Cleveland fans would still hate King James but it would not give the appearance of rubbing their faces in Cav excrement.  King James hurt his town while actually doing something that most people would never criticize him for and would never hold themselves to.  How many people would move to another city to get a job where thought he money may not be as good that they can work with friends who like them are among the best in their business and have the chance to do something special together? I doubt that many would not blink an eye in signing the contract and calling the moving van.  However it seems that while King James was repugnant in the way that he made his move that most of us would not condemn him for the actual move.

This was an unseemly affair but it entered the realm of the absurd when Cavaliers’ owner Dan Gilbert published a letter in Comic Sans font on the Cavaliers website.  The letter using great invective sounded like a teenager who was just dropped by his girlfriend screaming betrayal and cursing the person’s future endeavors.  My God and this man owns and NBA franchise? I guess that if you have enough money you can buy anything. But even so to act this childish and churlish flies in the face of what any smart PR agent would do like issue the following statement: “While we disagree with and are incredibly disappointed in Lebron’s decision and the manner in which he announced the decision we wish him well and commit all of our talent and resources to building a better franchise and bring the NBA championship to Cleveland and the loyal fans that deserve it.”  You see that would have been smart, but Dan Gilbert appears to have the emotional maturity of a 14 year old boy in heat, or whatever hormonal surges we as 14 year old boys are wont to have.  Gilbert has made himself look like a complete fool in his published tirade. I can see being upset but this tantrum is best done off the world wide web in the privacy of one’s home or office with no one having a cell phone to video it for You Tube.  No smart Mr. Gilbert; you could have been the hero but instead have played the fool. What agent is going to recommend that his clients sign with Cleveland now with the possibility that they might be demonized when they leave? I reckon that not many will be beating down your door for that privilege.

Despite this he had been good to King James; he was willing to spend a butt load of money to keep him Cleveland, fired his coach shuffled the front office and if they could have convinced other players to come and enjoy the six months of lake effect snow offered by the City on the Lake King James might still be in Cleveland, but neither King James nor Dan Gilbert could get them too.

The people of Cleveland should be disappointed and I don’t blame them for being angry. King James was one of them a hometown kid and that was beloved by his fans and they rightfully feel betrayed by him and this sense of betrayal was only made worse by King James’ silly display of self in making this announcement and the media prostitutes that began this talk even before the Cavaliers were eliminated from the playoffs.  The Cleveland fans deserved better from everyone involved in this sorry display, tantalized by the prospect of maybe finally having a championship team after more than 50 years they have seen their best chance of a national title die for good Lord knows how long and Dan Gilbert has ensured that the Cavaliers will not field a championship team anytime soon.

You see I view King James’s desire to want to join together with some of the best players in the league to win championships and take less money to do so amazing. So many players will get some team to pay them abhorrent sums ensuring that few other players of quality can be signed and these overpaid players do nothing but revel in themselves for years while producing no championships for the teams that they play for and the fans that pay their salary.  Yes this is about King James but he wants to win. In fact in Cleveland he was the franchise and opposing teams knew that and the good ones that faced the Cavaliers in the playoffs were good enough to shut them down because it was Lebron against the other team one man against five.  See in the regular season the Cavs could get by because most of the league is pathetic and had no answer to him but the really good teams deep in the playoffs stopped them in their tracks.  Lebron had to want more; one of the most celebrated players in the game without a ring and despite his efforts as well as the efforts of the Cavs couldn’t land the high powered players to play in Cleveland.  Lebron decided to look elsewhere and when the Heat signed Chris Bosh and Dewayne Wade was willing to go from being the main man to one of a triumvirate no wonder he went there.  Of course there is no guarantee that they will win as many real NBA commentators suggest but there is something to be said for the camaraderie of these men, something that is not always seen in professional sports.

So enough about this sordid saga it will play out eventually a Fatwa will be issued against King James, in fact I think that Dan Gilbert did just that in his letter.

Subject of a Fatwa

Speaking of Fatwa’s this is too good.  The good Imams of the United Arab Emirates General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments have decided that the favorite annoying noisemaker of South African football fans is verboten in the UAE, at least the loud ones, but wait are there any others?  Anyway the  General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments fatwa against vuvuzelas (Fatwa 11625) is now the law of the sand in the UAE much to the disappointment of UAE football fans who were so looking forward to using them at matches in that country.  I guess it really blows for them; don’t tell Pat Robertson he might get ideas.

Peace and laughs,

Padre Steve

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Dallas Braden; Perfect Games and Memories of Home in Stockton California

Dallas Braden celebrating with teammates (Getty Images)

On Sunday Dallas Braden of the Oakland A’s did what only eighteen men had done in the history of Major League Baseball, he pitched a perfect game.  However there is more to this story than meets the eye and some that touches me personally.

The setting of Braden’s feat was the venerable Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, the “other” ballpark in the Bay Area.  Sitting in an area just off of the Nimitz Freeway the coliseum and its surrounding parking lots are in one of the most un-picturesque venues in the Bay area.  While one can see the Oakland Hills to the East the Park is just far enough away from San Francisco Bay to lack the ambiance of the San Francisco Giant’s home across the bay AT&T Park which sits on the bay with views of the Bay Bridge and the Skyline of the City of San Francisco.  While the ballpark has been the home of multiple World Series Champion A’s teams, numerous League Championship teams and had its share of Hall of Fame players tread upon its natural grass it has never been considered a great ballpark for either pitchers or hitters.   The fact that it is a multi-use stadium and the home of the Oakland Raiders football team contributes to un- remarkableness as a baseball venue.  All of this said it is a place where magic has occurred before when in 1968, in fact almost 42 years to the day of Braden’s magical win, May 8th 1968 Jim “Catfish” Hunter threw a perfect game against the Minnesota Twins.  Like Hunter’s win in 1968 the A’s won the game by a score of 4-0 however Hunter’s win came before the American League adopted the Designated Hitter meaning that Hunter had to hit for himself in the game.  That being said he did hit and I mean that he really did hit.  Hunter went 3-4 including a double and knocked in 3 of the A’s 4 runs.  That was no fluke as Hunter had a .226 lifetime batting average with 6 career home runs and 51 RBIs.

Dallas Braden with Grandmother (Getty Images)

With that little bit of trivia said Braden who is not your typical power pitcher that usually pitches perfect games pitched a solid game which was far different than one year ago when he was hit in his pitching hand with a 109 mile an hour line drive off of the bat of Vernon Wells which left the imprint of the seams on his hand.  Braden as I said is not a power pitcher.  He has one of the 10 slowest fastballs in the game topping out at a mere 87 miles an hour.  Normally an 87 mile and hour fastball is a dish served at a perfect temperature for most good hitters and they eat the pitchers that throw them for lunch.  However Braden has a remarkable equalizer, it is not his curve or slider but his change up.  I drive faster than his change up on a typical commute to and from work.  Braden’s change up comes in at a leisurely 72.9 miles and hour.  This pitch is the slowest change up in the league and it baffles batters by making his fast ball seem faster than it is. Batters at the Major League level are not used to this type of ultra-slow deception for a pitcher and it served Braden well but even so coming into the game he had a lifetime record of 18 wins and 23 losses and a 4.49 ERA.  He is not the pitcher that one would put money on to throw a perfect game and I’m sure that Jimmy the Greek, Larry the Latvian, Johnny the Walker and even Pete Rose would have wagered against him pulling this off. Yet he did it against the hottest team in baseball, the Tampa Bay Rays.

Braden’s biggest notice came earlier in the year where he and Alex Rodriguez had an exchange of rather terse barbs following an incident where Rodriguez ran across the pitcher’s mound during the game.

Braden pitched for 5 or parts of 5 years in the minors for 7 different clubs in the A’s organization, the Kane County Cougars of the Midwest League, the Vancouver Canadians of the Northwest League, the Arizona Athletics of the Arizona League, the Stockton Ports of the California League, The Midland Rock Hounds of the Texas League and the Sacramento River cats of the Pacific Coast League.  This year he has stayed in the majors and now after the win has a record of 4-2 with a 3.33 ERA in 7 starts.

Braden’s story is that of a young man who lost his mother Jodie Atwood in his senior year at Stagg High School in May of 2001.  His parents had separated when he was young and his father was estranged from the family.  His grandmother Peggy Lindsey took over and helped him through that last year of school providing the stability, love and care that he needed to survive his mother’s loss and not fall into the mire of Stockton’s often violent and crime ridden streets.  The story of this young man and the women who raised him is the story of how mother’s day ought to be.  Braden had the love and support of his late mother and grandmother during the turbulent times of his youth and as a result still remains closely connected to his grandmother and his home town.  In fact he commutes the 67 mile trip daily from Stockton to Oakland which means unlike many professionals, athletes, businesspersons, those in other professional fields to include the military that leave their home town and only make occasion visits home is able to keep himself ground in reality.  He does not live in a glamorous town; he plays for a very blue collar city on a very “Green Collar” team.  I think that is one of the stories that some people will miss, not all, Jeff Passan mentioned Braden’s connection to home in his column on Yahoo Baseball.

Downtown Stockton

You see there is something about this story of relationship and connectedness that I think may be uniquely Stocktonian.  You see for the past number of years Stockton has been ranked number one or at least in the top 5 of the nation’s “Misery index.”  This year it dropped to second as it was edged out by Cleveland Ohio, I guess Cleveland does rock. It is routinely in the highest percentage of crime, violent crime and murders in the nation.  In the economic downturn and the real estate crash it was hit particularly hard and for a fair amount of time led the nation in foreclosures, or may still I just haven’t checked.  It is a town that in many ways has experienced for many years and reflects the reality that many other locations in the country are just beginning to know in today’s economy.

Foreclosure capitol (Getty Images)

All this said there is still something that native Stocktonians appreciate about our city, even those of us that have moved away.  We tend to remain in contact with our friends who still remain in town or have moved away.  I currently am in contact with over 100 friends on Facebook alone. My Edison High School Class of 1978 still has well attended reunions and is very well connected to each other and the classes that came before and after us. I look at the Stockton Record website every day. I used to read the obituaries until the Record started charging for them.  When I go home there is a certain familiarity with the city and though it has grown to a rather sizable city it still has a small town feel to me. I can still go to Arroyo’s Café when I go home and see the same people. The same is true with Donut King, Chucks , Manny’s burgers, the Fox Theater and a bunch of other places.  While other cities built huge super-malls Stockton still has Weberstown and Sherwood Mall.  Yes they have changed some over the years but they are still much the same. Yes much has changed but much is still the same in Stockton and I think that it one of the things that makes Dallas Braden’s story so remarkable to me he has not forgotten where he came from.  He still loves and cares for Stockton.  In an age where the really “successful” people move to New York, Los Angeles or San Francisco Braden didn’t cut himself off from his roots.  Are there others who have done such as this one that comes to mind is Joe Mauer in Minnesota but why leave if they will pay you more money than God gets in a season?

Another interesting thing that stuck me about Dallas Braden was his mother.  She was close to my age and I remember her, I thought it was in Junior High School but I couldn’t find t  find her in the yearbooks, it could have been the church youth group when I was in High School but regardless I am sure that I knew her.  I mentioned this to my mother today and she remembered the name.  Interesting how closely peoples’ lives are linked together.

My Oak Park Little League team back in 1972

I guess what strikes me the most about this game even more than the game itself which I must say that I am in awe of is the story of a man, Dallas Braden  who despite pitching in the Major Leagues still remembers home and family and stays connected to them.  This is becoming rare in our society and maybe given the state of the nation and how deeply divided we are it is time to return home, maybe not physically but returning to relationships with the people that we grew up with, schools, workplaces, churches and other activities.  Maybe Dallas Braden points us to something that matters more to many of us than the achievements of athletes or entertainers but to where we really need to be connected to one another as Americans, friends and families.  Yes it is wonderful to succeed and all should strive to be the best at what they feel called to be or do, but if that success destroys and alienates people from family, friends and home is ti really success? Maybe it is the pastoral environment of the baseball field that makes this happen for some of us.  Maybe like Terrance Mann played by James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams we can understand that

“The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good, and what could be again.”

Thank you Dallas Braden for helping to remind us what is important as you play this game of baseball.  I do hope that you do well in your career and that this perfect game is a foretaste of a great career for you.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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