Category Archives: Sports

Jazz vs. football

anat cohen
Anat Cohen, of the Anat Cohen Quartet.

Last night my wife Jennifer and I went to a jazz concert at the Walton Arts Center. As host Robert Ginsburg pointed out, we could tell everyone afterwards that we had been onstage with the Anat Cohen Quartet: during the remodeling of the intimate Starr Theater, concerts are being held on the stage of the main auditorium. The band plays at the front of the stage, and the audience is seated behind them, stage rear, both on risers and at cabaret tables.

Jen and I had one of these tables, and were just a few feet in front of the band leader, Anat Cohen, an Israeli woman who played jazz clarinet with a verve and vivacity that drove away any blues we might’ve come with in our baggage. Pretty soon Jen and I, and most of the crowd, I think, were bopping in our seats as the group banged out — no, make that explored — one theme and then another. She was particularly impressive, swaying and hopping, calling out to her band, on a Brazilian number called “The Roses Do Not Speak,” about a lost or dead love, delving into dark notes and then essaying high and breaking wails as if, no, the clarinet could not speak, either, but Cohen would try, damn it, and then the trying burst into flame, as it were, and transcendence came, the joy and understanding beyond words.

Cohen’s pianist Jason Lindner was especially impressive, playing, often simultaneously, the hall’s Steinway grand piano and his Rhodes keyboard. This multi-tasking produced a delicious effect, the bass played on the piano and a drumming, insistent, repetitive melody, or rhythm, on the electronic keyboard. Lindner also reached into the Steinway, at times, and stopped the strings with one hand while he played a muted, or dulled, tune with the other.

Cohen played about 90 minutes, a good energetic first set, in front of this on-stage audience maybe 60% of capacity. Then she sold CDs and signed autographs, and readied herself for the second set.

After the first set Jen and I went across the street to the Cork & Keg, a wine / beer bar that also serves a few snacks. We enjoyed a few Naked Porters, by Bentonville Brewing, and watched the end of the Razorbacks’ game. When we came in, the Hogs were up 42-31, but they ended up losing, as you might know, by one lousy point, 51-50, when a last minute field goal, a chip shot really, was blocked.

The stadium was full to capacity, unlike the music hall — 80,000 fans screaming, moaning, and turning away, most of them, in depression and defeat. We had lost! We, who derive our identity from these athlete mercenaries awarded scholarships to play for us and represent us in our smallness, insignificance, anonymity. We, who have delegated the task of identity to these athletes, gifted athletes if not scholars, delegated the task of representing the body, anyway, never mind the intellect or soul.

The body, we know, in this sedentary society, this office-based economy, is alienated. It sits there, eight or ten hours a day, at a desk, at a computer, typing away — so much for exercise! Chained to the desk, shackled to necessity! And then, turned loose at the end of the day, it plops on the couch and watches TV! It parties on the weekends, drinking beer and wine, smoking dope! It twitches and feels its afferents and efferents trying to get it together!

(Some of us, it’s true, may use the weekends, even the weekdays if we’re retired as I am, to exercise, to bike, or hike, or swim, you name it, to go to the gym, to do push-ups and chin-ups, to run, to skate, to fly! And, oh sure, let’s not forget, to drink beer!)

Hey, I was rooting with the rest of the Hog fans. A damn shame they lost. There was just no stopping Mississippi State, it appears, which ran up and down the field at will behind a strong-armed and strong-running quarterback. There was, however, stopping Arkansas’s last-minute field goal attempt, as one of our offensive linemen was turned inside out by a State defender, who leaped and blocked the field goal.

Alas, we lost. They say we lost.

I say, rather, we all enjoyed a good tight game, and if footballs don’t talk any more than roses, can you blame them? You might want to try, instead, a jazz clarinet, an inspired piano, crashing drums, twanging bass. Man, Ms. Cohen’s group was humming last night, and she wasn’t playing anyone but her audience. We were all in the same lineup, and we won just as much as she did.

 

Baseball has been good to me

Beisbol has been berry berry good to me.

So said the comic Bill Dana, in his role as José Jiménez, back in the 1960s, and so say I. José, you might remember, once upon a time, praised the friendliness of the American people towards Latino immigrants. José had gone to a baseball game, and though he could afford just a nosebleed seat out in center field, everyone stood up before the game began, looking his way, doffing their hats, and sang, “José, can you see?”

Naturals' players stretching before the game.
Naturals’ players stretching before the game.

Last night I went to the Northwest Arkansas Naturals game in Springdale with my son Gabe. Because school has begun already, attendance was sparse, maybe 1,500 fans in the seats (out of a capacity of 6,500). We got excellent seats, behind home plate, and sat among a cadre of score-keepers and statisticians for both teams. These young men, some ball players, kept charts and used radar guns to measure the pitchers’ speed.

Our speed, Gabe’s and mine, was measured in beers rather than innings pitched, batters up, or balls and strikes called. We didn’t keep track of much of anything besides the score at the moment and the status of our beer cups. Ended up having three each (local craft beers) and one hot dog (mystery meat).

pitched ball
Our starting pitcher delivers to a Cardinal.

The game loped along, in no particular hurry, and the Naturals beat the Springfield team 5-3. (The Naturals are a AA affiliate of the KC Royals and the Cardinals of the St. Louis Cardinals.) Our seats afforded us a great view of hitter, umpire, and battery (pitcher and catcher). We could see balls and strikes almost as well as the umpire. I took a bunch of photos with my Fujifilm camera, the only hindrance the backstop netting between us and the action.

Sure, the team has Latino players, who may or may not have been welcomed as heartily to the US as José Jiménez, those many years ago. (The last game I attended, two weeks ago, was led off by two solo home runs on the part of two compact Latino infielders, Ramon Torres and Raul Mondesi. Last night, Torres had an RBI triple and scored on a throwing error after his hit. Jorgé Bonifacio, from the Dominican Republic, had a game-winning, two-RBI single in the bottom of the seventh.)

But the biggest impression made, on the field, was by Naturals’ third basement Hunter Dosier, who though he’s having a tough season at the plate, made two spectacular plays at the hot corner, snaring a wicked half-hop early in the game and throwing out the baserunner and, then, late in the game, helping to seal the victory, diving to his right and snagging a bullet, again throwing out the runner with his fast, accurate arm.

infield preparation
Hosing off and brushing up before the game at Arvest Park on a perfect late-summer evening.

So why do I care about beisbol? How has it been good to me? So many people these days knock the game, saying it’s slow and boring. While these may not be the people who say the same thing about classical music, these knocks show a certain blindness to both sports. Those who don’t see the beauty of baseball are not looking very hard — the cat-and-mouse game between pitcher and batter; the chatter of batter and catcher, teammates, fans; the largo and then slap-bang allegretto of the innings; the idyllic pasture of the outfield, the hosed-down, swept-up neatness of the infield. (As for classical music, I’ll address that issue another day, saying for now only that those who pooh-pooh it most probably have hearing, and learning, disabilities.)

I grew up playing baseball, sure, in Little League and Babe Ruth. I might not have been a force of nature in the game, whether catching or playing third, but I enjoyed it. Have always enjoyed playing, and watching, organized ball.

And, way back in my childhood, playing an unorganized game called “fenceball” that my best friend Mark may have invented, where at the local park the batter stands between home plate and pitcher’s mound, facing the screen, and the opponent throws to him. The screen acted as a measurement for your hits, divided into three horizontal sections and three vertical. If you hit the bottom section, it was a single; the middle, a double; the top, a triple; and if you smacked any of the four vertical posts, or the fringe extending at the top, that counted as a home run.

Mark died young, at age 23, in a truck accident. And although he is buried long ago and far away now, on a hillside overlooking the Minnesota River, in a Catholic cemetery (Resurrection) maintained by a faith I no longer subscribe to, I do believe in the power of the game of baseball to soothe, smooth, and relieve our lives of stress and pain. To provide an idyll on a perfect summer day. (Though my son Gabriel Mark doesn’t play or enjoy baseball like his dad, he’s the perfect companion for watching the game and guzzling a few cool goodby-summer brews, toasting the fleeting season and proclaiming, “Hello, Brother Summer, and farewell.”)