What made me fall in love with my Saturdays was my decision, in 2001, to spend much of the day jogging, sometimes twelve or more miles. I am slow, slow . . . there is no getting around this; these long jogs would consume three hours, four if I drove somewhere and parked, then drove home.
Slow. But very cathartic.
I attempted such a run today, the second or so in a few months, and I wondered: how could I have let this routine escape me? For absolute bliss, the pieces must be in place. I must jog:
1. at least twelve miles
2. on a Saturday
3. when the sun is shining
Mess with any of these elements (or have God mess with number three, I suppose) and bliss is avoided. Do all of these . . . and, well . . .
Headed out around noon, having seen the first few picks of the NFL draft, and with Astro-Girl ensconsed on the sofa, nursing a sore knee, and promising to call with developments. Love that Astro-Girl, cranky knee and all. (Or is it more of a balky knee, as she hyperextended the joint on a treadmill? George Carlin was right: sports injuries somehow involve rhetoric that is never used elsewhere. Who besides an athlete is hobbled by an injury? Do you trip and fall, sprain your wrist, and describe your injury as merely a wrist?) In any case . . . with Cleveland, at number three, having chosen offensive tackle Joe Thomas over Notre Dame quarterback Brady* Quinn, the day bristled with possibility.
Last year the big story, after the Mario/Reggie/Vince saga, was Matt Leinart sliding all the way to tenth, after being rated as high as third. That slide would have nothing on Quinn if Minnesota (seven) or Miami (nine) didn't pick him. Off to jog.
Down Westpark to Kirby, then a right on Kirby down the business district, then a left on Bissonet and a stretch through a residential district known as Southampton (south of Hampton Street; no private beaches here). A right down Hazard. Ring.
"Tell me something," I said. "Minnesota took Quinn."
"No," she said. "Adrian Peterson."
"Why Peterson? They already have Chester Taylor."
"That's what the guy said."
"Well," I said, "Miami for sure."
Occasionally, at a poker table, the best hands are those I have no participation in, having thrown in my 3-7 off-suit and paid no money, and thus reduced myself to a spectator as the pile in the middle of the table rises and one person (the cranky old guy with the Budweiser hat, say) will suffer humiliation in the presence of nine other players. Today was such a day, even as I was twice removed, my Walkman having gone missing months earlier.
Miami was Quinn's flush draw. Dolphins or bust.
Rice University, turn left. The dirt track is a shade less than three miles around, or so I'm told. Ring.
"Miami," I said.
"No," she said. "Miami took Ted Ginn, Jr. Who's he?"
"The guy who scored the opening touchdown against Florida in the BCS. Then his teammates piled on him and hurt him and he left the game."
"And they picked him over Quinn."
"That's what you're telling me."
"Quinn doesn't look so good. He was talking about how he knew the Dolphins' playbook and their coach, and then when the announcement came he kind of hid his face. How can you feel sorry for a Notre Dame quarterback?"
"Life of the green room."
Adult athletes--paid hugely, with access to the best restaurant in town, a meal ticket through life, and incredible tail--are subject to very few off-the-playing-field humiliations. One is this: The Last Man in The Green Room, subject to the classic ESPN medium-wide shot, just enough to take in the spread of empty tables around him. In the past, it used to be worse: no family, agents, or friends. Just one solitary soon-to-be millionaire looking like one of the unicorns Noah left behind. Now, help is other people. I wished I was there.
A cut through Rice, a drink at my favorite fountain, the one attached to a building that probably goes by a different name but is certainly the computer lab. Into the quad. Ring.
"The Texans," she said.
"No," she said, "Amobi Okoye."
A good pick, at tenth, with Okoye having three hundred pounds and about as many IQ points. Good Will Punting is nineteen, the youngest NFL draftee ever, by virtue of graduating from Louisville at such an age. (Sniff--Louisville. Save it. Okoye was accepted to Harvard.) His family emigrated from Africa, he spoke no English, but a few years later, at twelve, was begging the local high school principal to let him enroll. Two months, he said. If I can't do the work I'll leave. Instead of leaving, he finished high school at fifteen.
Wonderful story. Now if he can use all those brains and motivation to placing Peyton, Vince, and Byron on their collective asses.
"So," I said. "I almost hate to ask. Quinn."
"He's still there," she said. "He's got a hot girlfriend with him."
"She's about to go sit with Ted Ginn."
"San Francisco," she said.
"They've got Alex Smith. Next."
"Maybe. But I think they'll stick with Losman."
"Carr backing up Delhomme. Next."
"Pittsburgh," she said. "Would Pittsburgh take him?"
"Ever hear of someone named Rothlisberger?"
"Yeah. Okay. Next is Green Bay."
"Aaron Rogers backing up Favre. Next."
"Carson Palmer. Don't think so."
"Yeah, don't think so. Then the Giants. Oh, Eli Manning." She ponders this. "So in other words, he just slid out of the top 20. I mean, we're getting to the good teams. And good teams are usually good because they have a good quarterback. So like the lower he goes, the lower he goes."
I wondered: who, in the twenties, would take him? The draft was face approaching the realm of the elite, the territory of Rivers, Brady, and Peyton.
Would Chicago, at #31, dump Rex Grossman?
I concluded my jog an hour later. She met me at the door. "They're up to 22," she said. "They took Quinn out of the Green Room and into the Commissioner's private room."
Hey, I thought, not fair. This kid (who by the way is 2-8 vs. USC, Michigan, and bowl opponents) gets to run and hide from ESPN when the going gets tough? Is he saving his gumption for Ray Lewis?
On TV, someone announced that Dallas was shopping #22.
"Oh," I said, "That's it. Probably to Cleve--"
I said it here, it came out there. Magic. And out came Quinn, with the expression of a latter-day Willie Loman who had just been told that the head buyer will see him, after all.
Then it was off to the ballpark, to the Astros, and to the newest discoveries at Minute Maid Park:
1. Really, really good fajitas that cost less than hot dogs, and
2. Hunter Pence.
Sportswise, it is hard to endure the week I just endured. My first team, the Yankees, and my second team, the Astros, lost an aggregation of fourteen games in a row. As Robbie-Boy pointed out, the best Yankee game all week was the rain-out. The Yankees followed form by leaking in the press that Torre might be gone by Sunday sundown, should the Sox sweep. (For whom? Girardi? Mattingly? Is this a team that will respond to Torre lite? Mount Piniella was the only logical replacement if Torre had to go, and Sweet Lou--by virtue of so many years in the American League--is slowly discovering that the Cubs are less a ballclub than an excuse to drink in the afternoon. Piniella is taken.) The Astros, fully used to falling behind and mounting a cavalry charge late (it worked in '04 and '05, not so much in '03 and '06), simply brought up centerfielder Hunter Pence, aka, Brightest Everyday Prospect Since Berkman.
Arrived at the park at four. (Beach blanket day, first ten thousand.) Roof open. Let us take the scene as read: Long shadows chiseled against the bright green grass, etc. Astro-Girl went off to look for t-shirts, I went down to watch home batting practice.
At the cage, there were the guys: Bidge, Brad, Berkman, Lee. The new guy, Loretta.
I decided to be cynical. No one pretends to mountains of knowledge like the batting practice crowd--the people by the cage, that is, not the minions out in the bleachers shouting, "Here! Here!" every time a ball makes the warning track. These were serious people. And this was serious business, aided by dialogue inspired, it seemed, by Kiss Me Deadly.
"Puma looks good."
"Needs to go the other way."
"Should stay in his shoes."
"He'll get going."
Okay, I thought. Here's my chance. To everyone and no one I asked, "Where's the boy wonder?"
Silence. Finally, painfully, a woman asked, "Who?"
"Pence," I said, feeling an onslaught of ass-sweat.
"Oh," one guy said. "He's busy throwing up in the dugout."
Ah. smiles all around. A look to the outfield scoreboard: 2-0 Yanks. Yes, but for how long?
Then, to my seat, and to the Astros-Brewers game:
Second inning, 0-0. Up comes our boy: lanky, with the classic hiked-up pants leg look. First major-league at-bat. Pence goes to two strikes, fouls off about a thousand pitches, then takes called strike three. First time I've ever seen a hometown player get a standing O for striking out.
Up again a few innings later, he's hit by pitch. Pence trots to first. One batter later, breaks up a double play. Cheers.
Few innings later: There now, his first hit, a clean single. Then a call for the ball, one of the all-time coolest sports traditions (rivaled by, top of my head, buying a round for the house after a hole-in-one. And maybe Midnight Madness. And that USC plays Notre Dame every year).
Now, the really good part. Batting behind Pence, Adam Everett, the Doctor of Leather, gets one of his two doubles of the night. And . . . here it comes . . . Pence flies around the bases . . . no, he glides around the bases in huge, effortless strides that recall Dave Winfield in pinstripes, or perhaps Bernie Williams circa 1998.
"Good Lord," someone says.
Imagine this: From the crack of Everett's bat, 40,000 minds were as one: second and third. No. Left field in Minute Maid is the smallest in the National League, the smallest in all of baseball save Fenway's. Three-fifteen to the foul pole, and it damn well stays three-fifteen until the scoreboard gives out, at the power alley. Everett's double, then, travelled 315 feet on the button. Not an inch further. Length of one football field, plus half of one end zone. And by the time Geoff Jenkins had collared the ball . . . done deal.
Pence scored standing.
Didn't even draw a throw.
There were other hi-lights--a great running catch here, some clever Berkman baserunning, good pitching from Sampson and Lidge--but really, this was the game.
Along the way I saw: 3-1 Yanks. Torre keeps his job for another day.
Both losing streaks over.
Oh, it got dark eventually, without my noticing.
Not every day is a great day.
But today was a great day.
(*Corrected by Anon.)