While most of the country is digging out from under the latest blizzard it may be hard to fathom but spring has officially arrived.
Okay, so spring may not be officially here according to the calendar but try telling that to the Boys of Summer who are embarking on the start of their work year and getting down to the business of playing ball.
After shaking off the dust during inter-squad drills, and simulated games, it is now time for Major League Baseball teams to face each other in real competition as the games of the 2013 Spring Training season have begun in ballparks across Florida and Arizona.
Spring Training serves as a chance for teams to gel together and learn the strengths and weaknesses on the roster.
Once upon a time there was a cup. This cup allowed people to put their beverage of choice in it and travel from the beverage source to any other place that they wanted without fear of losing the contents within. Gone were the days of cupping one’s hands together to get a drink from the well or filling a gourd, cow stomach or other container with liquid.
And while the cup was good, and practical, it was not living up to its full potential. That is until the cup became known as the souvenir cup.
Travel to most any sporting event or other event of note and odds are one will be exposed to a souvenir cup of some sort. This cup is usually larger than its other cup brethren and includes features like reuseability and serves as a reminder to all who see it that the holder of said cup was at the sporting event it depicts.
I am not sure when I first caught the souvenir cup bug but over the past few years I have accumulated quite the collection of plastic cups from various venues.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Ian Fleming’s master spy James Bond’s debut on the silver screen. As part of the celebration there have been countless ceremonies and other specials to commemorate the event.
From Daniel Craig “parachuting” into the London Olympic Games with the Queen, to the planned tribute later this month at the Academy Awards, it is hard to argue that this is the year of Bond, James Bond. With all of these activities and the DVD release of Skyfall tomorrow it seemed like a perfect time to focus on 007.
Now, it would be easy to try and rank the men who have played James Bond on film. From Sean Connery to Daniel Craig, and everyone in between, most people when asked have a favorite.
One common theory of Bond relativity is that a person’s favorite portrayal tends to coincide with whoever was Bond the first time that they watched. For me, my first exposure to Bond occurred during the Roger Moore era.
Looking back now, the Roger Moore movies were some of the campiest in the franchise. That is in no way speaking ill of them. In fact, Sir Roger Moore himself has stated that he was in on the joke and wanted to play Bond in a campy manner with a wink and a nod to the audience.
In many ways, Sean Connery and Daniel Craig portray a Bond that is truer to the source material than the Roger Moore installment. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the Bond portrayals by Connery and Craig, but for whatever reason I still tend to picture Bond as Roger Moore.
I do not hold the same affinity for Pierce Brosnan and Timothy Dalton. I enjoy other films that Brosnan and Dalton are in, but just do not care for them as Bond.
Timothy Dalton seemed to be trying too hard, and Pierce Brosnan seemed like he wasn’t trying hard enough during their stints in the tuxedo.
The final of the six men to play Bond, George Lazenby, gets an incomplete grade. I thought that his turn as Bond was pleasant enough but it is hard to say with only one movie to go by.
After the list of favorite Bond actor is decided, the next logical step that fans are likely to take is picking their favorite Bond girl. In the early films one knew that there would be two Bond girls; the one that was the first to fall into the arms of Bond and the second more complex one.
It was a well-known fact that, much like the person wearing the red shirt on the away team for the original Star Trek, the first Bond girl in each film would surely meet her demise in some cruel fashion shortly after exclaiming the phrase, “oh, James.”
The second Bond girl could be a baddy that was turned good by the power of Bond persuasion or someone else that we were led to believe won the heart of James and would be seen in some sort of embrace as the credits rolled.
So, debate amongst yourselves and pick your favorite Bond girl. For me, that title goes to Vesper Lynd, played by Eva Green in 2006′s Casino Royale.
One could also set up a list of best cars, gadgets, or villains. There really is no end to the amount of debate that one can give to the subject. This is one of the many reasons for the lasting appeal of James Bond.
But for our purposes, let us focus on the beaches of Bond. The mood for the appeal of the sea and the role exotic locations would play in the franchise was set early on in 1962′s Dr. No.
Ask anyone who has seen the movie, and odds are they will recall Ursula Andress emerging from the ocean in her white bikini with a dagger strapped to her hip as the waves rushed onto the shore.
So pivotal was that moment in the franchise, years later the producers tried to recreate it with Halle Berry in Die Another Day. And since this is a new era for Bond the fans were given the chance to see Daniel Craig emerge from the surf in much the same way in Casino Royale.
Part of the recurrence of beaches in Bond movies goes back to the source material and Ian Fleming himself. When Fleming was writing the novels that would inspire the film franchise, he had a vacation home called Goldeneye in Jamaica. This proximity to the tropical environment came through as three of Fleming’s thirteen James Bond novels, “Live and Let Die”, “Doctor No” and “The Man with the Golden Gun” have Jamaican settings.
Other beaches would follow in the films after Dr. No‘s Jamaican holiday. In no particular order are several memorable beaches of bond. Khao Phing Kan, Thailand in The Man With the Golden Gun, Holywell Bay, Cornwall, England, in Die Another Day, Praia do Guincho, near Cascais, Portugal, from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and One and Only Ocean Club, Bahamas from Casino Royale.
While the movies allowed the viewer to see the beaches the books allowed one to picture the beaches in their mind as they read along. Arguments can be made either way regarding which is better as the debate over books versus films has raged on for decades if not longer.
For me I tend to prefer picturing things in my mind first and seeing them second. But few can argue that the beaches of the films are truly spectacular and add to the visual story that is trying to be told.
And back to that first beach from Dr. No; you know the one that started it all. It has of course been renamed James Bond Beach. No word on whether the sand is best shaken or stirred when it gets stuck in one’s swim trunks.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I think it is time to update the passport and fly out to see some of these beaches in person.
A few days ago, the Houston Astros continued their fire sale and traded last year’s starting short stop for five minor leaguers, or “prospects.” This is far from the first time that this has occurred, but the Astros are definitely cutting into the marrow at this point since they stopped having meat on the bone a long time ago.
As with the previous salary dumping trades, the Astros tried to spin it as part of their multi-year rebuilding program. As part of the process, the Astros are on pace to have the worst record in baseball for the third year in a row. The team is trying to say all the right things about how the trades make them more competitive in a few years while allowing them to keep salaries in check as they try to build a competitive product. Time will tell if their efforts are shown to be worth the sacrifice though.
The team’s activities of shedding more payroll than they are turning around and spending reminds me of a scene from the holiday classic National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. In the movie Clark W. Griswald is upset to learn that his boss, in an effort to save money, has eliminated the long standing Christmas bonus program and replaced it with a Jelly of the Month Club.
Although, in Cousin Eddie’s words, the Jelly of the Month Club is the gift that keeps giving the whole year long, it is not what Clark was expecting. To make a long story short, Clark blows his top, Cousin Eddie kidnaps the penny pinching boss and the police bust the doors and windows down to try and recuse him. In true movie fashion the boss learns the folly of his ways and reinstates the bonus program since sometimes things look better on paper than they do in the real world.
So, on paper the Astros have this grand plan to build cheap and trade players that make too much money and lather, rinse, repeat, turn around and get more cheap players that can be traded for more prospects. Now, on paper it seems like a winning formula. However, the reality is very few prospects will ever make it to the majors and there is something to be said for not turning over the full roster every year. Further trades are bound to happen in the next few weeks and months as the Astros seem determined to field the best Minor League team that plays against Major League opponents.
I have followed the Astros for around 10 years and have to admit that all of the roster moves have left me scratching my head trying to figure out who is and who is not on the team any more. It has turned into some sort of comedy routine like the famous, “Who’s on First” Laurel and Hardy skit.
Unlike the skit, this is as real as it gets. I am not a fair weather fan by any means and I still support the team, but even my loyalty is being tested by the management’s cavalier approach to sacrificing the present completely in the name of team building. I am sure it is difficult for the players as well to not know when they will be traded or when their next victory will occur. There really seem to be more losers than winners in the short term of this plan to go young and cheap.
This season will mark the first season in the American League for the Astros. Instead of fielding a team of stars, they are fielding a team of could be stars and may never will be stars. Major League Baseball seems perfectly fine with the salary saving measures. Contrast MLB’s lack of response to the Astros fielding what could be called a non competitive team for the third straight season with how things are handled in the NBA.
A few months back, the coach of the San Antonio Spurs decided that most of his star players could use a night off. Unfortunately the team had a game scheduled with the Miami Heat instead of an off day. Still, the coach stuck to his guns and sent the star players home early and played against the Heat with a roster of bench players.
Fans who had payed to see the superstars of the Spurs were livid. Some even sued for damages because they didn’t see the people that they paid to see. The bench warmers actually played a competitive game, but in the end the Heat won and the coach of the Spurs was fined by the league and reprimanded for not putting his best team on the court.
The Miami Marlins recently traded most of their stars away in a similar salary dump and were put on notice by the league as well. Yet, the Astros who are moving into one of the more competitive divisions in baseball are not receiving any warnings from the league for the quality product they are putting on the field. Granted, the Marlins are repeat offenders at dumping salaries at the end of each season but still they seem to field a way more competitive product than the Astros.
Another example of lousy ways to save a buck comes to us from the federal government and in particular a certain division of the government that shall not be named. Yes, I know it is hard to believe that the government would try to save money since most of the news always covers the spending overages, but there are always exceptions to every rule.
Around the first of the year, it was decided by this particular government agency that in an effort to save money from purchasing individual trash can liners the custodial engineers would no longer pick up trash at individual desks.
Instead, several large trash cans were placed strategically around the building and people were responsible for taking their own trash to these collection points. It was believed that this process could be done with fewer people as well which would lead to additional cost savings. On paper it seemed like a sound idea. In reality it was one very smelly issue. The cans were only emptied twice a week so the halls became littered with overflowing trash and a stench that one should really not encounter in an office building.
After a month of centralized trash, logic prevailed and the desk side trash pick up was resumed. It seemed that the powers that be decided that saving a buck that way was not worth the stench that it caused.
Here’s to hoping that the Astros realize the same thing and do not put a stinker of a team on the field. Although, the past two seasons do not leave a warm and fuzzy feeling that it will happen.
Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about trash has reminded me that it is time to take out the garbage.
We are a society that enjoys placing people on pedestals.
Whether it is actors, athletes, or any number of other categories, people who possess certain skills are often elevated above the rest.
As long as the elevated people behave in the manner that the masses below expect there are no issues.
But, once they start to slip, the lofty spot gets a little wobbly ahead of the inevitable crash back down to earth.
As a youngster, I had a few role models/heroes from the Baltimore Orioles. I would watch these players and coaches on the television each night. Despite them being broadcast in my living room every day, all I knew of them was the persona that was projected through the television screen and sports page.
These were the pre-internet years and still part of the time when the media didn’t feel the need to report every aspect of a person’s private life.
So, the elements that were broadcast were largely related to actual performance on the field. If a player happened to go home with someone other than his wife after a game, or went to a bar until it closed, it was not blasted across the sports section the next day.
The media considered it their job to cover the game between the lines and anything else was considered a personal matter between the player and his family and not something to be broadcast across the wire for the world to see.
This relationship tended to bond the players and the media together, as did the countless hours that members of the media spent traveling with the players.
It was not that the reporters were withholding information from the public, it was that they respected that the athletes were flawed people like the rest of us. As such, there was no need to air dirty laundry that was not related to their jobs.
Sadly by the time I entered the profession, the 24-hour news cycle was already in place. With the arrival of around the clock coverage, players lost some of their privacy forcing reporters to dig deeper into stories that were not really stories leading to a tabloidization of the sports section.
I would love to think that we would grow tired of trash journalism and return to a more noble way to handle things. Sadly, that genie has been out of the bottle for far too long to go back now.
Adding to the difficulty of returning to simpler times is the fact that we have generations of people who don’t know any other way to do things.
A few years back, okay a decade or two back, my mother picked me up from school to go see a Spring Training game for my birthday.
This particular game featured the Baltimore Orioles and the Minnesota Twins.
We arrived early at the ballpark and as we were reaching our seats Hall of Famer Frank Robinson came out to the wall where people were signing autographs. I took my game program over and waited to get his signature.
Instead of moving through the line of children that were waiting, Mr. Robinson proceeded to flirt with a pair of women and totally ignored the waiting children.
And while this event happened over 25 years ago, the memory is still as fresh today as it was then.
While Frank Robinson had every right to not sign the autographs, the manner in which he left me and the other kids waiting left a lot to be desired.
He could have just said, “sorry kids, I don’t sign autographs” and we would have gone back to our seats but for this “role model” to totally ignore his fans was not the best way to handle things.
Actress Natalie Portman has famously said on numerous occasions that she is not a role model, and that her celebrity alone for doing her job does not make her feel any additional pressure or responsibility to all of the people who look up to her.
While Natalie is right, what is it that makes people look up to celebrities and athletes and consider them role models?
For me, I consider a ball player who plays the game the right way and doesn’t get caught up in scandal a person I can respect.
Of course, it is getting harder and harder to know who to respect thanks to almost daily reports of players who were either caught using, or suspected of using steroids and other banned substances to get an advantage over the competition.
Often times it is a no brainer to catch the cheaters. There was never any doubt in my mind that Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, and Alex Rodriguez had a slight advantage that perhaps was pharmaceutical based when they were posting their monster numbers and crashing through the record books like a runaway train.
While certain players make it easy to determine guilt or innocence through failed drug tests and other means, the line between guilty or not guilty of Performance Enhancing Drugs, or PED use is a little murkier for some.
Another player caught up in the web of suspicion of using PED’s was Roger Clemens.
While only “The Rocket” knows for sure what he did and didn’t take, I, and a federal jury, do not believe that he took anything that was illegal to gain an advantage.
Do I think that he is a good role model? Not really based on some of his off field activities.
Despite not considering Roger Clemens a role model, I do respect the way he played the game and the dominance that he showed on the mound for decades.
Despite being cleared by a jury in a perjury trial, Roger Clemens will face an uphill climb in his bid to gain entrance into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Logic says that based on his career numbers and the legal victory he should be a lock for Cooperstown.
But after failing to gain entry on the first ballot, it appears the voters have a different take on the matter. the being deemed guilty by association tag will follow him for years to come.
One player that I followed that always seemed to play the game the right way, and never got into any controversy was Cal Ripken, Jr.
Cal was the longtime shortstop and third baseman for the Orioles.
Cal played all of his 21 seasons with the Orioles and became known as “The Iron Man” for breaking Lou Gehrig’s 56-year-old record of 2,130 consecutive games in 1995. Cal would extend his record by playing in 2,632 consecutive games overall before missing a game for the first time in 1998.
To put things in proper perspective, from 1981 to 1998 Cal Ripken, Jr. did not miss a single day of work. Granted, work consisted of playing baseball from April to September. So, one could argue he had around half of the year off.
Still, I am not sure there are many people in any profession who can say that they have gone that long without missing work for vacation or sick days, etc.
I looked up to him for the way he played the game and the quiet manner in which he approached things while amassing some huge numbers for his position.
Cal Ripken, Jr. has also written several books on how to play the game and in his retirement is active in placing ballparks in underprivileged areas to ensure that everyone has access to quality baseball fields.
So do players and other celebrities bare a responsibility to be role models?
It is hard to say.
Is Natalie Portman correct in her assessment that she just does a job and people need to leave her alone, or should ballplayers and other celebrities be expected to be more like Cal Ripken, Jr. and continue to give back after their playing days are done?
I like to think that players would want to be someone that is worth looking up to, but I also know it is the media and the public’s responsibility to identify people who are worth emulating, and those who have behavior traits that should be ignored.
Do I realistically think that this approach will ever come to pass? I like to think that I am optimistic about most things, but must admit a large dose of pessimism on that regard.
It seems we have now entered a phase where pedestals are built to be broken. While we tend to honor people who build themselves back up after the fall, it also seems like many people are knocked down just for sport, and the people who just go about their business without drawing excessive attention to themselves are ignored.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I think younger me needs to come to terms with Frank Robinson giving him the brush off.
Copyright 2013 R. Anderson
Observations from the cheap seats, the beach seats and everywhere in between