Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

We Will Receive, We Will Receive

Usually I take a dim view of sports talk radio folks who try to talk politics.  Usually, I think to myself, “you were hired to talk about your area of expertise on the radio; therefore you should try not to talk about subjects that are clearly NOT your area of expertise.

This week, it was the reverse.

Stephanie Miller, my favorite left-leaning political talker, turned her eyes to the Super Bowl, and decided to root for the Atlanta Falcons; because the architects of the New England Patriots’ football prowess, Messrs. Brady, Belichick and Kraft, have all been identified as admirers of Donald Trump, to varying degrees.

When I was in the fifth grade, and prone to hero worship … my view of those gentlemen might have become, if you’ll pardon the expression, a little deflated.

This week, I nonetheless came up with this line of thinking:

Political leanings don’t mean spit when you’re trying not to get sacked, or when you’re trying to analyze the other team’s offensive scheme on very short notice, or when you’re trying to draft the exact right lineman. And if they do, there’s something desperately wrong with your approach to football.

I also try not to validate my personal self-image solely by lining it up with the belief systems of multimillionaire professional sports figures.

On the other hand, I do know these things:

[1] Robert Kraft paid for the construction of Gillette Stadium with his own money and extorted zero dollars from the taxpayers of Massachusetts; which is such a rare thing for an NFL team owner to do that I had to look it up to make sure it’s true. It is.

[2] Bill Belichick has a remarkable (again, not perfect – see also “Aaron Hernandez” – but exemplary) record of taking “problem children” from other NFL teams, parking them in a New England uniform, and succeeding in convincing them to hold themselves up to high standards of behavior and preparation, on and off the field.

And [3] every time Tom Brady completes a ridiculous touchdown pass (into triple coverage, threading the needle in a way no one should be able to do), he always, without fail, visits his offensive line on the bench, letting them know how much he appreciates the fact that they kept him from getting killed en route. Slap on the helmet, whack on the backside, that’s what I’m talkin’ about, let’s do it again.

I also know that, as a Patriots fan since the mid-1970s, I have no business taking Patriot success for granted; as they used to have truly repulsive ownership, ineffectual coaching, and highly breakable quarterbacks with nobody to throw to and nobody to keep them alive. In short, they used to stink the joint out.

So for four hours Sunday, I shall reluctantly set aside my concern for the future medical well-being of large people who crash into each other’s heads for a living; and I shall not wonder, on third down, whether that wide receiver thinks it’s folly to have an oil company executive as Secretary of State.

Go Patriots.

February 1, 2017 Posted by | current events, Famous Persons, football, politics, sports | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Puzzlement

This isn’t about politics.

Well, it’s not about national, Presidential-level politics. At least not in spite of the first few paragraphs.

It’s a little bit about local politics, but perhaps not the way I’ve set you up to think.

It’s more about dilemmas.

It hasn’t been too often that I’ve stepped into my local voting booth and filled in the little circle for a candidate for President. Much more often, in my lifetime, in a general election, I’ve voted against someone I definitely didn’t want to be President.

It’s said that in primary elections, you fall in love (with a candidate) and you vote with your heart … and in general elections, you fall in line (with your party) and vote with your head, or at least with a bit more recognition that certain things just kinda happen; that things have been done the way things are done … that you’re participating in “politics as usual”.

And sometimes you come out feeling conflicted, and a bit at sea: I wish it were different than it is, but it is what it is, and for all kinds of reasons that aren’t always as pure as “I frickin’ love this candidate and what they stand for and I think they have my personal best interests at heart”.

You’re participating in democracy, as filtered through a party-oriented political system that is, we are forced to admit, almost hopelessly in thrall to money. Therefore you’re participating in a system prone to corruption, even while you are personally against corruption.

You’re often choosing a candidate that you perceive as the lesser of two evils; and you’re often feeling like you’re part of a political setup that is definitely the lesser of two good things.

The grownup, adult world is full of these dilemmas. There are folks who wish to see the world in strictly black-and-white terms; but, sadly, it’s much more grayscale. Takes more thought, more pondering, more head-scratching in the effort to try and see a solution, or a way out, or a way forward.

Which brings me to my alma mater.

Via the good offices of my college band’s alumni association, yesterday I became aware that the UMass Faculty Senate was to vote on a motion to recommend that University administration [1] downgrade UMass football to Division I-A status, or [2] eliminate it altogether. Their reasoning had to do with finances, as well as some other considerations. The motion was voted down, but not before it got me to thinking.

Setting aside for a moment the unlikelihood of the latter [1], within American culture – although my colleagues and I from Boston University in the late 1990s might offer a bit of perspective about killing football programs – and set-ting aside the attractiveness of the former proposal [2] … I will admit to being more than a bit conflicted.

Football has almost always caused me to at least raise an eyebrow. Long before former NFL players were putting it to the NFL that concussions were not just a roster-management nuisance to teams, but were in fact a health crisis generated by the very nature of the sport, I saw football as dangerous to the health of its participants, and let’s face it, a bizarre sport. Football has never been my idea of a great sport to play, myself – I’m pleased that my young nephew is all about baseball – and is assuredly not my favorite sport, period.

On the other hand, as regular readers of The Blogge will know … I did marching band for eight years in high school and college.

The original idea was that American scholastic bands marched because of football games. Then we invented band competitions, so we could have somewhere to perform wherein the spectators were entirely made up of people who cared at least a bit about marching music. But it’s the uncommon ensemble that is deprived of its football context and still thrives. Rarer still is the school marching band that never had a football team to root for, to begin with.

I’m sure that studies have been conducted to determine the adverse effect upon band recruitment of “no football games for your band to play at”, but I can’t quote any right off the top of my head. Do band people care much about that? Would it keep them from continuing to march? (Some of the college bands with whom I have worked have contained people who lived for the exhibitions at high-school band shows, and gritted their teeth all the way through football games. On the other hand, how many people join the Michigan Marching Band and don’t get a little worked up for games against the Spartans or Buckeyes?)

At the same time as I must acknowledge that cutting the football program at a major state university is unlikely … I must also acknowledge that Donald Trump as a major-party presidential nominee was considered most unlikely. So … Starred Thought: never assume anything.

For a brief moment, upon hearing about the vote (before it happened and ended up being a big Emily Litella “never mind!”), I had a Moment: –would the hypothetical axeing of UMass football lead to the end of my beloved Power and Class of New England? If so, at what pace? Via implosion, or erosion?

Now, not just because the motion did fail, but even if it had passed, non-binding as it was … and even if passage had meant something (which current University administration officials appeared to think was highly unlikely anyway!) … in the cold morning light … I’ve decided that I’m not losing sleep over this. (I *am* mixing metaphors like a one-armed bartender.) (And my similes are feeling similar pain, apparently. Sorry.)

After all, if the Boston University Terrier Marching Band could have its football team yanked out from under it (fall 1997; I was there) and still survive and thrive and get into movies and such … then surely the 380-member juggernaut from the Pioneer Valley (with a Sudler Trophy and a DCI-Hall-Of-Fame instructional staff and, dang it, a reputation) ought to be okay. Yes?

I think?

I’m already on record about the decision to move UMass football to Division I (or the BCS, or whatever the folks in charge are calling it). From the get-go, I felt it was among the more ill-considered, more pie-in-the-sky, more arrogant decisions my alma mater has ever made. No need to go into the reasoning behind that opinion, here, since all you have to do is click here and read.

From a strictly football point of view, I never felt there was either the existing interest or even the potentially-develop-able interest (from current students, from local alumni, from the general eastern-Massachusetts public) in supporting Your Alma Mater’s Football Team At Gillette Stadium Squaring Off Against the Mighty ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Big-Whoop Famous Football Teams. And (as it became quickly clear) there was hardly a hope of attracting the kind of football talent necessary to keep UMass from being perennially “Your 2-and-10 Minutemen”. Let’s be honest: this is New England. We don’t have anything remotely like Alabama/Auburn – and, at least as importantly, we don’t have anything remotely like Texas high-school football. (Which for many reasons might be just fine, actually.)

Downgrading (or, as I prefer to think of it, returning) UMass to Division I-A would mean that football would be played in the cozy confines of McGuirk Stadium, not the cavernous one-sixteenth-full Kraft Family Canyon. And it would be enjoyed by the relatively small but loyal constituency of western-Massachusetts fans which has been propping up that little UMass football program for decades. It’d be shorter money (you don’t get a big payday from a major network for playing against the University of Maine) … but UMass would get much closer to breaking even. And the student section would be full of kids who actually would be able to roll out of bed at noon and walk down to the game, rather than having to hop a bus at Absurd O’Clock and kill an entire Saturday.

And the relationship between the band and its halftime and postgame audiences would be far less diluted by the physical distance from stands to front sideline. Which, at UMass, has always been a pretty big deal at least as far back as the first time George Parks perched on that narrow concrete rail at the base of the McGuirk home stands. At Gillette Stadium, when the band crashes the sideline, the audience is still in another zip code. At McGuirk, the band crashes the sideline and the audience can see individual band members’ smiles.

One big part of me agrees with the Faculty Senate (if not its tactics). Football is, at best, a double-edged sword – one that benefits greatly from the phrase about tradition that goes, “but we’ve always done it this way”. It often offers more long-term risk than long-term reward for its participants. From the standpoint of concussions alone, some commentators have advocated abolishing the sport altogether, and I grasp their passion on the subject, oh yes I do. And the Division I version of American college football opens its participating schools up to great sweeping plains of temptation and corruption and mistreatment of people and academic hypocrisy that would make a mud bath feel clean and pristine.

But another, equally large part of me knows that a fall Saturday afternoon at halftime is a great place for the Minuteman Marching Band to do its thing.

It is … a puzzlement.

April 29, 2016 Posted by | band, BUMB, football, marching band, politics, sports, UMMB | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sticky Wicket, Part 2

I pulled into the elementary school parking lot across from the field and was intrigued to note that there were lots of cars there already.

I’d tracked down the location of a sporting event which I judged to be rare enough in this country that this many people coming to watch it was a really exciting prospect.

Then I crossed the street, walked through the chain-link fence gate and realized that, no, all those cars belonged to the players.

I seemed to be the only spectator. (At least, the only one not related by blood or romance to any of the players.)

Well, I guess that made more sense.

Cricket is not a sport that has exactly made inroads in the United States. It’s played, but rarely enough that it makes soccer look like the king of the hill going away.

But, that day, at least twenty-two people (eleven per side) were making it their business to maintain a bit of cricket presence. And I got the impression that this was not a bunch of pretenders, a re-enactment crew who were trying out somebody else’s battlefield activities … this was a group of people who had brought their original home’s sport with them to America – as something of a link to their homelands; a brace against homesickness, perhaps.

I unpacked my collapsible lawn chair, applied my sunblock, sat down and set to work looking (and being) attentive. I was prepared for anywhere between two and six hours of continuing to try and grasp this sport. (I thought that if the heat continued to be its upper-80s self, two might be more likely. It was August in New England, and the sun was out.)

Actually my previous study of cricket video had helped me quite a bit. So when one of the uniformed players sauntered over and said hello, and began to explain how the game was played, I let him go on for a bit. I was hardly offended, even though I was hardly (by that point) cricket-illiterate. It made sense to me that most of the fellows in the track suits and shin pads were prepared to explain their sport to outside observers, in the same way that I’m prepared to talk about horns and drums and rifles and flags and such, in my corner of the world. “I know, it looks weird, but stay with me …”

At a convenient moment, I murmured that my father had been an Englishman, and I knew just enough about the sport that I wanted to see it live. The nice man looked a wee bit taken aback, but I quickly said something that implied I was always open to hearing about the sport from one of its purveyors, and could he talk a little bit about how they decide where to position their fielders, since after the bowler and the wicket keeper they only have nine guys to cover the whole soccer field and there’s no foul territory? He smiled at that.

Must not cause one’s hosts to be put out; especially when you’re the only guest at the party.

The match began.

One of the teams appeared to be comprised mainly of men of Caribbean descent, with one extremely Dropkick Murphys-looking exception. It probably helped that their uniforms were green-and-yellow enough to remind me of the Jamaican bobsledding team … although I recalled reading somewhere that cricket was a big deal in Barbados, so … anyway, the Green-and-Yellows took the field.

The batting team, decked out in navy blue and red, seemed to have come largely from the vicinity of India or Pakistan (although, I mused, possibly not both simultaneously – I paid attention in Social Studies class). That was the team that had sent an emissary to greet me. It was also the team that seemed most interested in holding the umpires to the rule book; or perhaps I should say they were very enthusiastic about taking issue with lots of calls.

This was a new one on me. All the video I’d seen online of cricket matches (such as England and Australia duking it out to see who would take home the Ashes that year) contained intense players who nonetheless followed up their appeals to the two on-field umpires with apparent smiles and jokes … as if to say, we’re serious about our craft, but we’re not going to kick dirt on ya. This local amateur match, though … lacking as it was in Ashes or other fabulous cash prizes to take home … at a number of points it sounded like a whole lot of middle-school boys whose voices had all descended into baritone at the same moment.

Umpy!!” cried the leader of the Red-and-Blues in the direction of one of the umpires, a stout, possibly-Indian fellow in a red polo shirt and slacks, who was probably in his late sixties. The Red-and-Blue leader shouted at the umpire quite often; and the umpire looked as if he didn’t care in the slightest, but was determined to be polite about it. There was even a moment – as a very, very heated argument broke out regarding whether the Red-and-Blue batsman should have been considered Leg-Before-Wicket and therefore Out – when I wondered whether I should run out there and try to separate a couple of the players. Or perhaps whether it might have been politic to clear my throat and retreat to my car until it all blew over. C’mon, kids, play nice … ?

I’m not prepared to say that the whole cloudburst blew over “just like that”. I am very prepared to suppose that some of the wives and girlfriends, sitting under the tents just outside the field’s boundary line, thirty yards to my left, must have said something persuasive (in a language other than English). Most likely, something that implied that if they all didn’t grow up right this moment, they were going to have to cook their own darn supper tonight.

Shame there was no video reply review available.

Meanwhile, a certain amount of sport actually was going on. There appeared to be one player on the fielding team whose two major responsibilities (aside from actually fielding) included [1] telling other fielders where to be on the playing field, the better to be prepared for wherever the batsman hit the ball; and [2] loudly critiquing them when they appeared to be dogging it. So, not unlike the goalkeeper in soccer.

It occurred to me, at one point, that cricket balls must be expensive, or hard to find in stores around here. The Red-and-Blue batsman took a mighty swing at a ball that was properly bounced off the dirt in front of him, and deposited it, on the fly, over the boundary line, over the aforementioned chain-link fence, across the street, and into the foliage beyond. An impressive six runs awarded to the batting team; and about six minutes spent by the fielding team looking through the weeds for the thing, till there was a cry of triumph at least as loud as the one that went up on the actual swing.

Some time afterward, as the match continued (and shortly after the bowler lost the handle on the ball and managed to hit the batsman square on the shoulder without even bouncing the ball off the dirt first – “hit-by-pitch” is relatively common in baseball, but a staggering rarity in cricket) … I glanced up from my dogged study of the sport in front of me, startled: one of the Red-and-Blues had come over in an impressively stealthy fashion. I was prepared to have to answer a question of some kind. It was hard to tell whether his expression was suspicious or friendly in that moment.

He held out a bottle of water. “For you,” he said. “It’s hot.”

Well! I finally found my voice and stammered something appreciative as he turned and shambled back under the tent. I wondered if that was the door prize for being the lone spectator. It was awfully kind of them, in any case. Keep the fan alive.

I had been trying gamely to keep track of how many runs the Red-and-Blues had been scoring, and how many overs had been bowled, so as to attempt to know how many runs the Green-and-Yellows would have to score when they came to bat. (And yes, this also was a point of contention. The Red-and-Blue leader was clutching a clipboard and swearing blind that he’d been keeping exact and proper track of the score. The Green-and-Yellow leader doubted that his team had given up quite that many runs. … Kids? That supper threat? And besides, that umpire has been scribbling madly in his notebook, and shouldn’t that be the standard? I’ll just be in my car…)

My estimate was far smaller than the number the teams eventually agreed upon. The players on the field were talking about a hundred and eighty-some, and I was hovering around a hundred forty, but by that point, water bottle or no, I decided it was time to access some shade that would be best found inside my house. I had seen nearly three hours’ worth of cricket, and the Red-and-Blues weren’t even done batting yet. This is a sport which can make extra-innings baseball look positively brief.

So I tucked my lawn chair into its carry-bag and headed toward my car, and then home. A couple of days later, I logged onto the state cricket league’s website, to see how it had all come out.

Red-and-Blues, batting first: 269 runs for 10 wickets, in 39 overs. Green-and-Yellows, trying to match that target number of runs: just 133 runs for 10 wickets, in 26 overs.

In other words, the Red-and-Blues didn’t run out of batsmen before scoring one hell of a lot of runs. The Green-and-Yellows kinda did. And if I’d hung around for only another two and a half hours or so, I’d have been able to see the match end.

Sounds odd to say that, well, I may have to work up more stamina in order to sit and watch a whole cricket match. It may take training, and practice. Hmm.

But I don’t think I have to build up more interest. It’s a sport that is just similar enough to a few other sports that one can get the idea … but just different enough that it still sometimes appears to be from another planet.*

Weirdly, in spite of the fact that it can look like the same thing happening 240 or so times in a row … and then the other team goes up to bat!! … as I mentioned previously in this space, one can get strangely hypnotized into liking it.


*Which may explain Douglas Adams’ “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” theory of the origins of cricket, detailed here and here.

September 11, 2015 Posted by | sports | , | Leave a comment