Have you guys seen Gaelic football?! Son of a bitch. This is a really fine achievement. Fast paced and well conceived, this hybrid of American football, soccer, and rugby, thrilled me to no small extent over the course of two Sunday afternoon matches (Donegal 0-11 over Fermanagh 0-08 and Laois 1-9 over Offalay 0-04) part of the coveted Bank Of Ireland Championship tournament. There is something seriously unruly about this sport — the players routinely scrap and slap at each other in a way which would bring about immediate fining and suspension in an American context. Both games I witnessed were passionately contested to my eyes (I'm not sure they were considered good by local standards) and cheered by a vigorous regional fan base. I will not endeavor to explain the rules of Gaelic football, principally because I have no idea what the rules to Gaelic football are, but one is given to ponder what has kept this provincial treasure so local a phenomenon? Is it the case that the Irish have been purposefully content to let their game go largely undetected and undiscovered? Or is this some accident of mis-marketing? Either way, the Proven System would like to provide its highest possible endorsement.
I am reminded that the environment where an individual finds themselves watching a sporting event is often of equal or greater importance than the game itself. I write to you now from the west of Ireland, where for the better portion of the last hundred hours, sitting comfortable on the premises of the fine Ennis watering hole known as Tipsy McStaggers. I have in front of me: one pint of warming Guinness extra stout, one small glass of Bailey's Cream, one cold 500 milliliter can of Murphy's Draught Irish Stout from Cork (purchased for me by a man from Cork, demanding my acknowledgment that this is the superior beverage to Guinness) a small scale map of the city, and a blue composition pad. Also in my line of sight are the framed photographs of the countless giants of Irish literature, accompanied with the years of their birth and death. The Irish it would appear, regard their authors as we do our rock stars and sports heroes. I have seen these kind of posters all over since I arrived, and on postcards, in working-class bars, on factory signposts. It would also seem to be the case that a sort of morbid pride is taken in the short, emotionally violently nature of the lives these men and women seemed to have almost invariably led. Here is the stern, sad visage of Oscar Wilde (1854-1900). And just down the way, the turmoil-addled face of James Joyce (1882-1941). All and all, a somewhat grim but nevertheless inspiring tableau. My composition notebook is blue, but my demeanor is anything but. It is hard to feel badly in Tipsy McStaggers: part community center, part penitentiary, in each of its elements it's synonymous with a transcendent evening. In short, not the ESPN Sports Zone.
Consider for a moment, if you would, the pleasingly oxymoronic ring of this moniker "Tipsy McStaggers." What are we to take from this pub's sublimely well chosen name? Is there, in fact, an entire McStaggers family? If so, it only makes good sense that Tipsy, that lightweight, would be the only with his act together sufficiently to actually run a business. After all, he is only tipsy. As opposed to say, DT McStaggers or Violently Ill McStaggers, who couldn't open a barn door let alone a bar. But this place does have the feeling of a family affair. I suspect those boys are here alright, the McStaggers siblings, staring at the giant plasma screen and singing a fight song of narrowly comprehensible and possibly vulgar character.
The Long Goodbye:
A Slow Demise After The Major League Trade Deadline
With the passage of the trade deadline in Major League Baseball, one is given to ponder the grim responsibility of each team's General Manager, he who must take all factors into consideration and then elect either to pull the plug and deal established veterans for prospects or else proceed in the opposite direction, adding payroll in a desperate attempt to keep alive his team's marginal prospects for a run to the playoffs.
The addition of the wild card has in recent years served to elevate the stakes of trade deadline maneuvering, while simultaneously heightening the perversity with which many teams proceed. There is apparently something chimerical for bad and mediocre teams looking at the standings and realizing that despite their being completely atrocious, they are technically only five or six games back in the race to qualify for the playoffs. Such scenarios tend to lead to a sort of parlor game insanity with results turning hilarious and inexplicable.
Has there ever been a better example of this phenomenon than my hometown Washington Nationals – an inarguable non-factor currently 15 games under .500, and nine games out of the NL Wild card – who have nevertheless careened through the past several weeks with a peripatetic vigor resembling nothing less than an amphetamine-crazed monkey house? In a flurry of mad, nonsensical activity, Nats veteran General Manager Jim Bowden – no visionary, but certainly a credentialed longtime baseball man – has proceeded to unload half of his bullpen to the Cincinnati Reds, then refused to move star slugger Alfonso Soriano for an enticing trove of prospects, and then dealt veteran innings eater Livian Hernandez to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
This extraordinarily strange one step forward, two steps back approach has caused even the most seasoned observers to scratch their chins and ponder whether the Nationals are attempting to compete for the wild card or not. One questions whether Bowden himself even knows the answer. In any event, it figures to be a long, hot, weird summer playing out the string in DC.
And yet one cannot help but feel real compassion for Bowden and the Nats, as they careen from the polar extremes of whole scale fantasism to cold blooded reality. This sensation will be knowable to any first time pet owner who, upon the inevitable onset of geriatric illness in their animal companion, will suddenly recognize with no small degree of mortal terror that it is incumbent upon they themselves to commence with the ultimate cost/benefit analysis. That impasse is where you look at your kitty cat or beloved mutt in a significant way and ask yourself: "Do we keep this thing going for another year? Or is it really time to prepare this franchise for the future?"
These are morbid callings, pet ownership and roster maintenance, and not for the faint or feeble of heart. I was reminded only too viscerally of this dynamic during the previous week, when my mother was charged with bringing her aging, ailing German shepherd across the final goal line. As an observer, it was difficult not to be impressed by the stoicism with which she made the call. Arrangements quickly fell into place which would result in the dog's final drive to the ultimate post season. No tears were shed, no excess of sentiment openly displayed. I cannot say precisely how things were handled behind closed doors – one expects that a certain tenderness may have been privately in evidence – but amidst the daylight glare of open public scrutiny there could be no doubt that the correct decision was being made. And that is simply how these things must be handled. An elite executive can never brook second guessing when making a move of this magnitude, in this life or any other.