Archive for the ‘updates’ Category

Sandlot Baseball Game Logs – 11.2023

Thursday, December 7th, 2023

Sandlot Baseball – an inclusive recreational adult baseball league that has been described as “Little League for Adults” and “baseball mediocrity on the highest level.”
This unofficial association of social baseball is growing rapidly across the country.
I’ve been playing Sandlot since 2019 and writing game logs since August 2023.

11.4.2023 – Austin Drag vs. Austin Yardbirds
@Govalle – 7pm

Link to instagram post.

There are many reasons for a five-day delay in the publishing of this log. Some personal, some professional, but mostly, this delay is because this specific game’s subject matter is so far removed from what we’ve become accustomed to experiencing.

Our league is often described as an “Adult Little League” (at least that’s how I often describe it). The pitching is a little wild, swings are a little loopy, fielding is a bit shaky, baserunning is always iffy, and the officiating is often… questionable. But that’s the league we play and that’s the league we love.

On this particularly cool and terribly humid evening however, Steven Carrizales elevated the entire tenor of the game. Squaring up against the Yardbirds– who most regard as the “best/most skilled” team in Austin Sandlot (or at least the team with the most dangerous lineup), Steven didn’t take a single misstep. I’ll have to check with the [non-existent] official scorekeeper, but the only runner allowed in the first 4 innings was due to an error.

The man flat-out pitched. He didn’t overthrow. He didn’t just throw. He purposefully pitched. And it was impressive to see him flummox a team that rarely sees an “L” next to their name and damn-near never experiences 5 consecutive innings of shooting blanks.

Generally speaking, your average sandlot pitcher’s mentality is, “don’t issue too many walks, hopefully the defense will help you out, and hopefully we only give up 3-4 runs after pitching 4-5 innings.”

Warming up against The Yardbirds definitely alters that mindset. The expectations shift to, “absolutely don’t walk anybody. Try to keep it in the yard. Hopefully it’ll only be 6-7 runs scored after throwing 3-4 innings and maybe our bats get hot too.”

If each of those Ybirds haven’t won a HR Derby contest, they swing the bat and carry themselves as though they have. For context, I wasn’t aware that seemingly accomplished grown men could get cocksure and heated during a liquor sponsored wiffle ball tourney, but you live to see all kinds of things.

With all of this context, we got to see our Southpaw turn them into just another goofy ragtag sandlot squad. Forget believing these guys to be sandlot’s 1927 Murderers’ Row, these dudes were just like any other quirky, silly sandlot squad complete with players that just bought their first baseball glove six months ago. 

After being tempted to refer to scenes from For Love of the Game, or another baseball movie, I thought this sentiment from Paul Newman as pool shark Fast Eddie Felson in The Hustler was most appropriate
Nobody is just one singular thing, but it’s a reminder that when things are going good, and you’re performing at the best of your ability, we should take satisfaction in that. And we got to see one of our own perform perfectly within the framework of Sandlot against not just any average sandlot squad.

Too bad there was still another three innings to complete after Steven faced his last batter.

How’d the rest of the game go?
Rickner followed up Steven’s best outing of the season with Rickner’s worst. Apologies. I very much wish that I was sharp, but I wasn’t. I put runners on. I didn’t throw strikes and I frustratingly squandered the advantage Steven’s hard work put us in. I didn’t have it.

But, collectively, we battled. Our bats weren’t dead, but they weren’t incredibly explosive either. Keith manufactured a few runs. Stillman continued swinging a hot bat. Luke barreled a ball or two. Rickner got hit by pitches in consecutive ABs while also hitting a sac fly to center and a single down the third base line. Big Rig made his comeback. Regardless of any specific outcome, everyone put together some great ABs.

Note:  whenever pitchers do well, I’m aware of how important it is to throw some recognition towards the catcher– like QBs/RBs do for their offensive linemen.
That in mind– RJ, attaboy. Helluva job back there. Seriously. You caught an incredible game.

Keith relieved me from the mound after I was only able to record three or four outs while giving up too many runs. He finished off the game as consistent and steady as ever.

Remember how sandlot is “Adult Little League”?
I stand by that. As a collective league, many of our clubs may lean a little heavy on the social aspects and less on the between-the-lines hardball aspects. Each organization has their unique proportion of social club to ballclub. This only adds to the overall experience.
And, on a limited basis, with baseball innately including its fair share of pageantry and fanfare, it sometimes feels like there’s a cosplay element to all of this as well.

This is all well and good.
Everyone seems to get whatever they want, whatever they’re looking for, out of this league.
That’s about the most positive thing to maintain and continue to promote.

With all of that said, if The Yardbirds would ever be accused of cosplay, it’d be cosplaying as a hard-nosed, tough-as-nails, honest-to-God, good God-damned legit Ballclub within the lowest-level-recreational, non-competitive adult social sport league anyone could ever imagine existing.

Regardless of how the final three innings played out, the “win” was seeing Steven excel against those fellas for 5+ innings.

Final Score
Drag – 10
Yardbirds – 12

Sandlot Baseball Game Logs – 10.2023

Sunday, December 3rd, 2023

Sandlot Baseball – an inclusive recreational adult baseball league that has been described as “Little League for Adults” and “baseball mediocrity on the highest level.”
This unofficial association of social baseball is growing rapidly across the country.
I’ve been playing Sandlot since 2019 and writing game logs since August 2023.

10.7.2023 – South Austin Lovejoys vs. Austin Drag
@Govalle – 11am

Link to instagram post.

The Day/Weekend’s Austin City Limits + Red River Rivalry/Shootout (OU vs. UT) made it difficult for many sandlot teams to fill out their rosters. It’s as though some teams’ organizers/planners don’t look at event calendars when they’re booking sandlot events. I say this because for the 11am game, the Lovejoys were only able to field five LJ players (+ some pickup sandlotters). However, thank goodness we (the Drag and LJs) made it work, because this evening’s 7pm game featured six Roadrunners showing up to the Govalle to do some BP because the ‘Keets had to unfortunately cancel due to lack of available players.
Obviously, that sucks because people arrange their weekends weeks, months ahead of time and canceling baseball for reasons other than weather is bunk (imo). Players could plan time with their families or book a gig or… whatever. I’m bummed for the Roadrunners, but they clearly made the best of it.

Anyhow, even if the five LJs had to recruit one Tallboy (Sully), a Dragster volunteer (newcomer Mike) and his buddy who had only planned to spectate (Connor, I believe his name was), as well as require one Dragster to fill their 9th spot defensively (usually RF), I’m grateful that we got a game in. Even if it sort of goes down in the non-existent record book as a “forfeit/loss” for the LJs, I’m happy baseball happened.

So, that said, keep in mind that the LJs eight-player batting lineup included five-ish “dangerous” hitters and three-ish maybe not-so-dangerous hitters. Their defense included an accurate, rubber-armed pitcher (Collin) who went the whole game and rarely issued walks, their captain (Trey) was playing out of position behind the plate (clearly not an experienced catcher), and Dragster newcomer Mike held down shortstop for the LJs while making some pretty impressive plays.
Okay, enough about them.

We had 12-13 or 13-14 (Harrison left early) total players and our batting lineup ran 12-13 or 13-14 deep (we didn’t sub in and out of 10-person batting order).

Everyone got PT and everyone got ABs.
With the weather as incredible as it was, the fact that we were playing a ragtag group in a game that was technically a predetermined “win” for us, and included a fairly goofy umpire that I’d never seen before, we all seemed a bit lethargic.
I’d say there wasn’t a collective focus about performing particularly well. Everyone simply seemed content to not be sweating through their uniform two minutes after putting their spikes on. That seemed to make everyone happy enough.

For instance, we defensively had runners on first and second– a groundball was hit to Braden at second. He fielded it cleanly but then threw wide to Nick at SS. The runner broke for 3rd as Nick collected the ball and fired a low strike to Rickner at third. This should’ve had the runner dead to rights, but Rickner didn’t catch it cleanly. On a play where the Drag had an opportunity to get the same runner out twice, we failed. The very fortunate runner remained at third base.
When we say things like, “we get to feel like kids again,” I guess that also means trying to see how many errors we can pack into what should’ve been a routine doubleplay ball.
RJ (catcher), as he’s wont to do, throws out a snarky comment, “Good job defense!”
Thanks RJ.
Funny thing is, baseball is a karmic game, and the next hitter hits an easy chopper to Rickner (third baseman). The fortunate runner foolishly broke for home. Rickner throws a ball that hits RJ’s catcher’s mitt, but RJ somehow found a way to apply the tag to the fortunate runner without securing the ball first.
Runner is safe. RJ is the chucklehead.
Keith’s anger becomes apparent as he dials it up and strikes out the next one or two batters and the Drag defense gets to vacate the field.

With the Drag having a rough defensive sequence or two and with the LJs playing an assorted collection of players, most of whom were playing out of their normal positions, many runs were “gifted” or unearned. Safe to say, it wasn’t a clean game.
But it was a great damn time. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect. The entire field’s collective attitude couldn’t have been better and it seemed as though everyone was truly happy to be at Govalle and playing ball in most favorable weather instead of the hellacious temps we’ve been battling for five plus months now.

About the ump– he was a goofy, stubborn, inconsistent old man. Some innings looked like he was giving Keith a very friendly/large strike zone. Then, sort of randomly, his zone would shrink and the calls that were strikes in innings 1-3, all of a sudden became balls in innings 4-9. 

Ump was a nice guy, but I got the feeling that this was his first day doing sandlot and he wasn’t quite sure what he was getting himself into. ***There’s a story or two about the ump during the 3pm Ramblers-Nightcrawlers game.

If memory serves correct, Keith had just about enough of the ump and asked Marc to come in at some point in the 7th. Marc got us out of the 7th. Threw a clean 8th. And then ran into trouble in the 9th.

I believe Stillman hit his 2-run BOMB in the 6th. It was a great shot; squared up perfectly. The type of contact every hitter hopes to make.

Rickner hit his 2-run double down the leftfield line in the 8th.

We took the field in the top of the 9th with a small lead and Marc on the hill. He got two outs, but lost some of his control/command and we found ourselves with a 2-run advantage as the LJs loaded up the bases.
We made the pitching change and we were very lucky that it only took two pitches to get the final out.
I say lucky, because Rickner’s second pitch was belt high on the outer part of the plate and their cleanup hitter fortunately got a little too under it and hit a pop fly to rightfield that Ash, who had been playing great defense all game, was able to get under it and secure the game’s final out.

Final Score
South Austin Lovejoys – 10
Drag – 12

Post-game chatter:
Most Dragsters went to Central Machine Works to watch UT snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

I stayed behind for the 3pm Ramblers-Nightcrawlers game.
***The story about the ump and game was the continued strikezone inconsistency as well as ANOTHER controversial infield fly rule. I swear, during all sandlot captains’ meetings- it should be determined and agreed upon what that rule is, and then effectively communicated to the ump how and when to enforce it.
For these contentious disagreements to happen as often as they’re happening is pretty darn goofy to me.

10.21.2023 – Austin Drag vs. Los Yonke Gallos de Marfa
@Parque Vizaino (Marfa) – 5pm

Link to instagram post.

Different towns, teams, and organizations do things differently. This is a “no duh” observation.
At the risk of throwing around Goldilocks-ish criticisms, we’re all learning a bit more about what to expect when traveling for Sandlot.
Regardless, you’re reading for a recap– so here goes.

We hit the ball. An inning didn’t occur where we didn’t plate at least one run. We scored 23 runs in only 6 innings of play (18 outs). I’ll answer why we only played 6 innings later.
Granted, this wasn’t a never-ending succession of frozen ropes, but everyone was making good-to-great contact and the not-particularly-sharp-fielding continued to help our rallies keep moving.

Many of the notable hits came from the ladies– Ash, Mel, Katy, and Bethany all struck the ball very well. There were definitely some authoritative drives out there.
For the fellas, Keith hit well from both sides of the plate. Newcomer Colin had some great line drives. Hobson, Waterman, and Rickner all contributed to the hit parade as well. When the offense doesn’t seem to stop, everyone seems to contribute.

Defensively, Jeff looked great on the mound. He had great command for the most part as he overcame a hometown ump who was doing his part (by helping his buddies) to keep the game relatively close as well as overcoming a shortstop (ahem, your humble recapper) who only seemed able to cleanly make half the plays that came his way.

As far as individual defensive plays go, Keith, who caught the whole game, made the most remarkable play by hustling a surprising distance (Vizcaino Park is well known for an enormous amount of foul territory, especially behind home plate) to make an incredible underhand snag on a fouled pop up along the very deep backstop’s fence. It was easily the most impressive play of the day.

I’m sure I missed many things, but I was trying to aid my personal disappointment in my singular poor play as well as the fact that I broke my favorite bat on a crummy swing on an even lousier pitch, as well as my slight disappointment in how the game was going overall (here comes the Goldilocks part).

I get that Marfa is a small community and that many Marfans recently went through a similarly taxing weekend gauntlet like ACL with TransPecos. It was revealed to us Draggos/Dragsters that the Yonke Gallos were a little light on numbers due to injuries, roster turnover, and a few other factors.

With that in mind, it became clear relatively early that with every walk, error, extended rally… this game was not going to be finished before sunset.
We were informed that many of the Gallos had work and other responsibilities earlier that day so– them’s the breaks.

However, an odd turn of events happened in the bottom of the 6th. Jeff’s curveball ran out of bite and his fastball ran out of gas. And somehow, even with the sun falling below the horizon, the Gallos began hitting the ever-living crap out of the ball. It made me think these guys would fare better at the plate if they wore Skywalker’s Blast Shield Helmet during their PAs (jokes).

Sure, that Skywalker crack is a joke, but I have no way to explain how they struggled to square up the ball until the sun went down. They ended up putting up 7 runs in the bottom of the 6th (only 1 run in the previous 5 innings and that run certainly wasn’t earned) by repeatedly peppering the leftfield line in the worst visibility. 

I guess that’s baseball.

Goldilocks critiques:
You always hope for a close, fun game.
If you can’t have a close game, hopefully it remains a fun one.

There is nothing truly noteworthy to report, but a few of their players (like, basically two that I observed) were expressively not happy with how the game was playing out and that’s fine. Nbd.

But, maybe we could’ve had an earlier start time? It’s 14 hours of driving over a 60 hour timeframe. It’d be cool to get 9 innings in, but “you do what you can” and show gratitude for the opportunity to play at someone else’s park; someone else’s home.
I can’t imagine that playing a full nine would change the outcome of the game, but it’d mean more baseball for everybody and that’s the primary purpose of the trip.

What are the secondary purposes of the trip?
Spending a significant amount of time with teammates while camping under the Marfa Lights, eating an otherworldly $3 pancake, ordering cocktails from establishments you wouldn’t normally go to (a karaoke joint), experiencing abstract art with people you wouldn’t normally expect to, sliding into a cowboy pool hot tub at 3am then Balmorhea Pool nine hours later, sharing 14+ hours of discussion during a damned-interesting road trip, sharing in a very important and meaningful toast with exceptional teammates and some very friendly Gallos, and simply getting to enjoy baseball and community, all while escaping Austin for two fleeting days.

And so often, those secondary purposes outshine and have a much more lasting effect than the primary. That’s the point.
We went on a baseball trip.
And baseball arguably wasn’t anywhere close to the best part of the trip.

Final Score after 6 innings (cut short due to light/visibility)
Drag – 23
Los Yonke Gallos – 8 

10.29.2023 – Ft. Worth Panthers vs. Austin Drag
@The Longtime – 10:30am

Link to instagram post.

Rickner– out of town for a wedding.
All I know is that everyone had a good time and that it rained quite a bit.
Possible entry from another Dragster coming.

Final Score
Panthers – 8
Drag – 20

Sandlot Baseball Game Logs – 9.2023 – Part II

Saturday, December 2nd, 2023

Sandlot Baseball – an inclusive recreational adult baseball league that has been described as “Little League for Adults” and “baseball mediocrity on the highest level.”
This unofficial association of social baseball is growing rapidly across the country.
I’ve been playing Sandlot since 2019 and writing game logs since August 2023.

9.16.2023 – Austin Drag vs. ATX Roadrunners
@Govalle – 11am

We’re at the point of the year where Govalle looks more like a beat-up elementary schoolyard and less like a baseball field. Regardless of the field condition, we all have to show up and figure out how to plate more runs than we allow.

There’s no reason to rush to judgment here. We only played half a game and I’m sure both teams felt like they were equally in a strong position to win it. As it was, the weather had different plans.

That said, scoring four runs in four innings aint bad. Offensively, I believe we only had one inning without flow or baserunners. That happens at all levels of baseball.

Defensively, I only remember a single solidly hit ball by one of their lefties. Outside of that, we were clean except for an inning where we decided to give the Roadrunners five or so outs. That allowed them to plate four runs in the third.
I specifically remember helping the Roadrunners by rushing a throw from third and sailing it just out of Luke’s reach at first.

Conversely, our situational hitting was better. When we had runners on, I remember a handful of ABs that netted us some much-needed runs and it felt like we were moving in the right direction offensively.

But, yeah, unfortunately, there’s not much to report.
Right as it began to feel like a really great game was developing, we experienced dark skies, competing fronts, and eventually a shorter than hoped downpour (just enough rain to cancel baseball, but not the deluge we’re all awaiting). These are the less-talked-about gifts that baseball provides its congregants– patience and character-building.
These situations make us heartbreakingly aware that even with preparation and planning, no one can will the weather. We can’t always get what we want– even if that’s something as wholesome and fulfilling as baseball.

Important to note–  I wasn’t thrilled with how the game was called. It felt like the ump knew Keith had better command overall, so Keith wasn’t getting strikes called around the knees (there were at least two I remember), but the opposition’s pitcher (a nice dude named Zach) got at least three shin-high pitches called for strikes.
Oh well. No scenes were made.

From my experience, calling balls + strikes behind the mound makes deciding if they’re too far outside or inside fairly easy. However, it’s a little tougher deciding if they’re too high or low. Anyways, if I were to nitpick the man in blue, that’d be it. Nothing worth going beyond a slight grumble about.

A few of us got to enjoy some inclement weather drinks with the Roadrunners at Central Machine Works. I’ve always assumed they were nice guys and, after a few beers, that assumption was verified.

Score after 4 innings (about 75 minutes)–
Drag – 4
Roadrunners – 5

Rain + cool front – 0.5” of rain (about 35 minutes)

Both teams hope to complete this game in the nearish future.
Let’s get as much baseball in before the year ends.

9.28.2023 – Austin Drag vs. Oak Cliff 86ers
@McCree Park (Dallas) – 4pm

Link to instagram post about Dallas trip.

Acknowledgement of my bias– I don’t like Dallas.
I believe it’s important to note just how much I dislike Dallas. As much as I love Texas (and I really love Texas), I realize it’s odd to dislike Texas metropolises as much as I do (and I really dislike our big cities).
Though I have decades of experience planning, organizing, promoting, and hosting ultimate frisbee tournaments (some with 300+ participants), I have yet to do any “hosting” for sandlot. However, I have been lucky enough to experience the hospitality of exceptional communities like Tulsa + Lockhart (and some not particularly great hospitality of places like San Antonio).

Not having been involved in any communication leading up to this roadtrip (I’m grateful that’s not on my plate), for comedic purposes, I’m guessing the conversation(s) leading up to this two-day event four hours north of Austin would’ve sounded something like this [note:  these convos didn’t actually happen– this is just a goofy Rickner dramatization]:

Oak Cliff + River City Honey Busters Organizers
Hey Drag and Tallboys! We’re pumped to have yall up for a couple of games at the end of September. We’re just hoping to run a few things by yall.

Keith + Risto

OC + RCHB Organizers
Our field situation is a little bit precarious.
How cool are yall with, maybe, having to change field sites, on like, a one-hour notice?

Keith + Risto
Like… what?

OC + RCHB Organizers
Nah, I mean, like, we’ve got fields. We just don’t know which fields are going to be available until it’s gametime or whatever. Maybe, like, it’ll be the morning of or something.

Keith + Risto
Alright. I mean, I guess we’ll be sandlotting it up.

OC + RCHB Organizers
Cool. Thanks for being really cool about that.
How do you guys feel about umpires?

Keith + Risto
It’s better to have them than to not have them.

OC + RCHB Organizers
Okay, well, the thing about that is… we just don’t have them. Ever.

Keith + Risto
So… okay?

OC + RCHB Organizers
But it’ll be alright, we’ll just use our catchers to call balls and strikes, fair or foul balls, force and tag plays, and just… kind of do everything required of both a catcher and an umpire. 

Keith + Risto
Is that how yall normally do it?
Also, about fair or foul balls, are your fields lined?

OC + RCHB Organizers
Nah. I wouldn’t expect any lined fields.
I mean, it’s basically just this neglected community softball field that is totally ungoverned and without any type of league affiliation so… it sort of serves as our de facto home.

Keith + Risto

OC + RCHB Organizers
Yeah. I mean, it’s cool. But let me ask you this, what are your thoughts on fences or pitching mounds?

Keith + Risto
At a ballpark? Those are kind of pretty big ingredients of what makes a ballpark a ballpark.

OC + RCHB Organizers
Rad. Totally. Well, thing is, we don’t have those either.

Keith + Risto
Alright. This will truly be a… sandlot experience.
But, hold on, just so we’re all on the same page here– yall are inviting two teams to drive up that pain-in-the-ass I-35 corridor for upwards of four hours, do the best they can to navigate the oddly difficult Dallas-area accommodations in a fairly vague area of the city because you’re not truly certain about where the games are going to be played and once the games are going to be played, there won’t be an umpire to help officiate and move the games along while doing their best to call a “fair” game?
Are we clearly understanding everything that comes with your invitation?

OC + RCHB Organizers
Well, sort of.

Keith + Risto
Oh, my bad, did we accidentally leave out a mention of a kick-ass pool party, barbecue, or something like that? 

OC + RCHB Organizers
Yeah, no. Nothing like that is gonna happen.

Keith + Risto
Huh. So what are we missing?

OC + RCHB Organizers
Well, depending on which field we play at, we’re gonna institute some oddball ground rules that we’ll communicate to your team, but then not do an effective job at communicating those same ground rules to our players so there will be moments of confusion and you, the visiting team, might have to explain and re-explain our ground rules to our own players.

Keith + Risto
Huh. You guys sure do know how to Dallas.
Cause, with each layer of your Dallas onion revealing itself, this is sounding more and more like Dallas.  Honestly, the only way it could get more Dallas is if every single one of yall drove your Suburbans and F-150s directly onto the field, spilled out your blue jeaned and camo’d children– Liam, Troy, Harper, and Elijah onto the lawn, as well as your dog named Aikman, and forced them all to play tackle football in the outfield during our game.
Well, anyways, seeya in the morning.

OC + RCHB Organizers
Tight. We’ll bring the footballs.

Okay, so I’ll put down the snark for awhile and point out that, collectively, we had an outstanding time. Regardless of the apparent lack of planning– the games, as well as the whole trip, were a tremendous amount of fun.

I know I just said that I would drop the snark, but shit continues to pop up–  we, The Austin Drag playing in Dallas, had no choice but to be the home team. Why? Well, the 86ers’ catcher’s gear didn’t arrive until 4:35pm (game was scheduled to begin at 4pm) and around 4:20pm we simply said we’ll take the field and start the game as the home team and hopefully the 86ers’ catcher’s gear arrives in the next 10-15 mins.

First batter for the 86ers is this athletic kid. Probably in his mid-20s. Keith was clearly getting adjusted to this oddball, transportable, wooden platformed artificial mound. Around the fourth or fifth pitch of the AB, the kid hit the bottom half of a high fastball to left field. Now, this ball carried a bit, but the ground rules we were told was that a fly ball that lands beyond the light poles in the unfenced outfield is an automatic home run. From my perspective, it was kind of difficult to determine if this ball landed past the lights or not, but the kid was fast enough to get around the bases before we really got the ball in anyhow. Pseudo homerun to start the game.

After that, Keith found his groove, the defense avoided any type of disastrous inning, and the offense was steady. Tyler was all over the basepaths. Keith hit the farthest ball I’ve seen him hit. It landed well, well beyond the lights. Simon was great at the plate as well as behind the plate (he had this badass tag on a botched relay that ended up working in our favor).
We had this cool fella named Brian (from the Sheeple), help us out with catcher’s duties behind the dish. Waterman and Braden both played well at short.

Defensively, once again, we were unable to catch an infield pop-up while the opposition had two runners on. Without an ump though, there really wasn’t a disputed infield fly call and all that happened is that we were able to convert a force out. No big deal.

Without any fences, the Tallboys began setting up their lawn chairs, coolers, and such in the foul territory near third base, and late in the game, a popup was heading their way. I gave chase and got to complete a play that wouldn’t have been possible in a fenced-in situation. I kinda, sorta got to dive over a wheeled cooler and through some occupied lawn chairs to snag a ball.
It was nothing like this, but allow me to think for a second that it was kind of like this.
That was fun.

Offensively, they threw a soft-tossing lefthander that took us a few innings to adjust to his style. We eventually hit their pitching with the power we were expecting, but it just took us two innings to adjust and produce. 

Keith pitched a complete 7-inning game from a strange, narrow, wooden platformed “mound” that required implementing ground rules such as, due to not being able to safely perform a pickoff move from that tiny wooden mound, there could be no steals and the runners were only permitted to take a “two-step lead.”

So, again, just a weird thing that it never really seemed that everyone was on the same page about.
I did have one strange conversation with an 86er who made it seem like he’d never heard of his own team’s ground rules we had been playing with for six innings at that point.
It was weird. He acted like we brought these ass-backwards rules up from Austin, which, I suppose–  Dallas is just gonna Dallas.

But, in the end, no big deal. We more or less controlled the entire game. The defense + pitching barely bowed and certainly never came close to breaking. 

Final Score
Oak Cliff 86ers (away) – 5
Drag (home) – 12

The catcher’s gear delay ate up a possibility for an 8th or 9th inning because the 7pm game couldn’t be pushed back any later.

Post-game chatter:
We’ve all traveled in professional, social, or non-familial groups before. And, I guess one thing worth pointing out is how Dallas can bring out the Dallas in just about anyone.

I’d say our team has a wide-range of personalities and tastes, but only Dallas could have our team debating about eating at Texas Land & Cattle (that was certainly named and chosen as the joint for the majority of Dragsters), Buffalo Wild Wings, or Chili’s (I can’t really remember what was competing against TL&C, but they were definitely chains). So, I say again, Dallas is going to Dallas.
Luckily and thankfully, Ash and Katy were as opposed to those suggestions as I was and we found a unique joint called Lakewood Landing. We had a pretty damned great time before Ash and I cruised for roach motel options before Katy saved me from a night on the streets (thank you!).

Anyways, Dallas will give you 100 options, and 99 of them will be Wal-Mart, Taco Bell, Subway, Texas Roadhouse, Red Lobster, and the like. 

Well Dallas is a rich man with a death wish in his eyes
A steel and concrete soul with a warm hearted love disguise
A rich man who tends to believe in his own lies
Yeah Dallas is a rich man with a death wish in his eyes

9.29.2023 – Austin Drag vs. River City Honeybusters
@McCree Park (Dallas) – 11am

With the RCHBs having brought all the lumber to Saturday evening’s game vs. The Tallboys, their offense looked a little on the depleted side when we eventually faced them midday Sunday. My guess is that they had 5-6 “heavy hitters” on Saturday night and about half as many made it out for Sunday’s game.

But, you know, that’s adult recreation. Each game has its own unique lineup. Sunday was a Dallas Cowboys gameday and… Dallas is gonna Dallas.

That acknowledged, Steven took a little bit of time adjusting to the mound but controlled the game as we were able to navigate through the first five or so innings without defensive disaster. Offensively, please allow me to indulge myself in hyperbole, but our lineup decided to transform itself into a Who’s Who in Baseball Lineup and just about barrel everything that was thrown anywhere close to the plate.

Other than a game or two at The Longtime, I don’t believe I’ve seen five dingers out of our lineup before. It was pretty great seeing our bats let loose. Simon, Keith, Steve, myself, and RJ (aka “Tugger” or “Tuggernaut”) all hit roundtrippers. Tugger’s was a Grand Slam while wearing shin guards.

All in all, we plated 24 runs. Two dozen. And this wasn’t due to a ton of walks issued by their pitchers or a ton of errors on their side, we just flat out hit on Sunday. It was a ton of fun.

Defensively, Ash made the play of the day with an incredible grab in left. She tracked and covered a ton of ground to make an impressive, outstretched, tumbling catch. Braden also had a sharp play or two at short.

Steven, more or less, pitched in cruise control as our offensive runs steadily came in and our defense didn’t do anything memorably negative to throw him off his rhythm. Just solid six innings by him.

I came in to pitch and was wild in the 7th, threw a clean 1-2-3 in the 8th, and it took either 7 or 8 batters to get our three outs in the ninth.

Final Score
Drag – 24
RCHBs – 12

If you haven’t already heard RJ’s “tugger” story, I’m sure you will soon.

I forgot to mention–
The field we were originally “scheduled” to play on was occupied by a men’s league Sunday morning. So, we reversed course and returned to the field that we played on Saturday.

Sandlot Baseball Game Logs – 9.2023 – Part I

Saturday, December 2nd, 2023

Sandlot Baseball – an inclusive recreational adult baseball league that has been described as “Little League for Adults” and “baseball mediocrity on the highest level.”
This unofficial association of social baseball is growing rapidly across the country.
I’ve been playing Sandlot since 2019 and writing game logs since August 2023.

9.4.2023 – Austin Drag vs. Austin Grackles
@Historic Down’s Field (Austin) – 10am

Link to instagram post.

If our individual motivations for being Dragsters in this kooky sandlot league (scene? community?) were broken down into pie charts that visualized our value scales, perhaps many of ours would be equal parts community, camaraderie, friendship, plus throw-in some [mostly] friendly and inclusive hardball. For others, maybe a large portion of the pie chart is indeed dedicated to community/camaraderie/friendship, but possibly leans a little heavier on the fact that it’s adult recreational baseball that comes with only a faint whiff of this type of bullshit as opposed to many other hardball leagues where toxicity seems to range between commonplace and rife.

In any event, us Dragsters are all here for the same reasons, but the weight of those reasons vary from teammate to teammate.

First things first–  Historic Downs Field. What a park? To be able to verifiably do anything at the same location as Satchel Paige, Buck O’Neil, and Willie Mays is incredible. When it comes to historical baseball stories, I’m reminded of what the Tigers’ broadcaster said leading up to Tiger Stadium’s final game:

Ernie Harwell, the team’s beloved broadcaster for 42 seasons, famously remarked that if he could take one artifact from Tiger Stadium, it would be the urinal in the visiting clubhouse. Everyone from Babe Ruth to Mark McGwire used it, and Harwell hoped to put it in the garden and use it to hold roses. (Shockingly, his wife objected.)

Back to Downs.
That mound. That outfield. Those basepaths. Those toilets. They were all inhabited by some of the game’s greats. And we got the privilege to do the same.

So, the game?
I arrived early (8:30am) to set up the PA. Bo, the Gracks captain, arrived all of two mins before I did and claimed the first base dugout. At the time, I didn’t think much of it. In fact, I thought, “cool, we get to be close to the batting cage and restrooms.”
A little after 9:30am, the pleasant cloud cover broke and our dugout got ripped apart by the sun. It made many of us ask ourselves the question many ballplayers routinely ask themselves– “What Would Willie Mays Do?” 

He would figure out a way to not complain and be happy to play ball and take great satisfaction that he wasn’t at some lousy day job at that moment. 

Honestly, even though the dugout (the actual structure), didn’t provide a respite from the sun, we collectively did a good job of not bellyaching and played ball.

Is this the part where you talk about the game?
Look, because the game was included as part of a much larger event, each game is rigidly timed. That sort of means, to borrow a football term, there’s a “time of possession” aspect to a game that only provides 2 hours and 45 minutes to get in as much baseball as you can.
We’re not going to be given all nine innings to overcome any early deficits and those Gracks haven’t shown that they’re adept at giving up leads once they get them, so…

Going into the 4th, we were up 6-2 (or something like that). And that’s even with some miscues/miscommunications on our side. Even while not playing our absolute best ball, we were still in control. That felt good.

However, we collectively ran into a rough inning where Steven was making great pitches and drawing soft contact, but those weakly-hit pokes found some holes and the Gracks took advantage. 

I mean, no Dragster was happy with how the rough inning went, but I felt two conflicting emotions–  due to how our last game against the Gracks went at Austin High (we lost 10-1 where they were hitting everything, we were “okay” in the field, but, were lost offensively as a whole)–  I was happy we got out in front of them, but bummed that I could feel us losing this “time of possession” battle with each softly batted ball we couldn’t convert into an out.
There was satisfaction that at least we struck first, got out in front, but baseball is a humbling game and we were quickly humbled.
My arithmetic comes to 1 rough inning + 1 not-so-clean inning + 5 solid innings = 7 innings.
That’s how I remember it.

But that’s baseball when you play against a good squad. And those Gracks are good players with pretty damn good attitudes. Damn-near all of their players are dangerous at the plate, they’ve got quality pitching, and they do a good job of limiting their mistakes in the field. Definitely an incredibly solid sandlot club.

Dragsters absolutely made significant improvements compared to our last game against them.
We get one more opportunity against them (Oct. 28th) to maybe get that W or at least make it interesting all the way down to the final out of the game. Selfishly and admittedly, that’s what I’m chasing. If we’re all out here to play a child’s game and sort of relive our childhood in some varying capacity, doesn’t “2 outs, bases loaded, bottom of the ninth, down by 1” sound and feel better than “2 outs, nobody on, we’re down by 8, five mins left until we’re kicked off the field”? 

Regardless, I’m stoked for our upcoming schedule and I fully anticipate some loose games where we’ll be able to overcome some not-so-clean innings without too much trouble. But those dirty birds– the yardbirds, gracks, and keets– them birds just don’t wanna seem to let up if we give them a lead.

Good news! Offense looked good.
8 runs in 7 innings against a solid team ain’t nothing to sneeze at.
As mentioned in the groupme– great knocks by Hobson, Ash, Jeff, RJ, Stillsy scored 3 runs (maybe 4?). I forgot my lumber (sorry), but I won’t forget it next game.

An overall great experience. Downs is incredible. So happy we all took that field together again. Just a mild bummer that our first game there was heavily one-sided in our favor (vs. Ramblers) and we weren’t able to take our second game at that beautiful location down to the wire.
It’s obviously something that’s easy to get over, but I’m just chomping at the bit to play in an 8-7 game headed into the 8th or 9th. Anyone else miss that feeling?

Nevermind. I’ll sate those cravings with memories of Waterman laying out for a liner in left field at The Field of Dreams, shooting the ball to Braden who gunned down a Rumbler trying to score at the plate in an incredible one-run game that reignited all the exceptional things that I could have ever imagined baseball to be.

There’s no doubt more of those moments are right around the corner.
I can’t wait for all Dragsters to breathe them in.

Final Score
Gracks – 16
Drag – 8

^ Only photo I took from this game.

9.9.2023 – Austin Drag vs. Texas Tallboys
@Govalle – 7pm

*****NOTE: I originally wrote this game log on 9.10 and want to add that what follows are my thoughts the day after the game. Since then, I’ve seen the Tallboys play multiple times with exceptional sportsmanship, zero hostility, and straight good times. As always, I’m psyched to take the field with or against that squad. The following game log recounts a crummy situation that kind of snowballed.
Don’t be undude.*****

Anytime I feel critical of a person or situation, I refer to this George Carlin bit and reflect on it to ensure I’m not making the same mistake that George Carlin supposes we’re all guilty of making one way or another. Admittedly, this is going to be a critical Game Log (more on critical junk later).

The last time I started a game on the mound was mid-May 2002. It felt great toeing the rubber to start things off. Our defense was strong. Steven made some rangey plays out in center. Jeff did a good job at short. Katy made a solid play on a grounder at 2nd. RJ was as perfect as ever behind the dish.
Offensively, we just struggled getting timely hits. Myself and others hit well when nobody was on, but then struggled to make solid contact once we got a few runners on base. Excuses could be made (not adjusting to a starting pitcher’s style), or we could shrug our shoulders and say, “that’s baseball.” Honestly, I’m down with either.

I know sometimes my post-game reports can feel like Goldilocks and The Three Bears:  “This porridge is too hot. This porridge is too cold. / This pitcher throws too hard. This pitcher throws too soft.”
But the point remains that– be it golf, baseball, trying to learn a new language or instrument, whatever… if you only do something only 1-to-3 times a month, it’s going to be hard. Consistent success is going to be near impossible to get a hold of. We’ll enjoy the successes while understanding that we can’t expect it all the time.

That’s adulthood. That’s adult recreation. Whatever will be, will be. You get your reps in when you can and do your best come gametime.

There are no punitive stakes in sandlot. Nothing can be lost. There isn’t an elimination game. Only personal enjoyment partaking in a satisfying pastime and collective camaraderie can be gained…

…which brings me to sandlotters getting ejected from a sandlot exhibition (here comes the critical junk).
I can’t really make sense of it.

I’m going to acknowledge my partiality to this specific umpire. I like the guy. I don’t know him (I don’t know his name), but I feel he’s got legit baseball experience, he understands our sandlot league, and he calls a pitcher-friendly strikezone (which encourages the hitters to approach the plate with a free hacking mentality– exactly how sandlot should be).

Close game. 4-2 in the top of the 5th (maybe 6th). Marc is on the hill. Tallboys get runners on 1st and 2nd. Their hitter pops up somewhere between the pitcher’s mound and somewhere near the basepath between 1st and 2nd base. With runners on and the ball in the air, I could feel the question floating in the air whether or not the “Infield Fly Rule” was going to be called by the ump. Please pay special attention to the “Catchable by an Infielder” and the  “Ordinary Effort” sections of the linked article.

The term “ordinary effort” considers all circumstances, including weather, lighting, positioning of the defense, and the abilities of the players involved in the play. A pop up catchable with ordinary effort in Major League Baseball might not be considered as such in a junior high school game, due to the ability of the players involved.

Now, given that it’s very easy to lose the ball off the bat at Govalle anytime, and even with considering a few other factors, I was still a little surprised that we didn’t have a defender within reach of that ball as it fell towards the playing field, but the fact is that we didn’t have a defender with a good shot of catching that ball in the air and Braden expertly corralled it off the bounce and made a strong throw to third to get the force out. No harm done. No infield fly ruling was called/made by the ump.

Here’s where things get silly–  had a defender caught that ball (or if the ump ruled that batter out by enacting the Infield Fly Rule), the Tallboys would have 1 out with runners at 1st and 2nd. As it played out, Braden made the play off the bounce and the Tallboys had runners at 1st and 2nd with 1 out. So, nothing lost; nothing gained. For anybody. This non-call truly ended up not mattering.

But a few of the Tallboys wanted to throw some lip at the ump. There was a “you don’t know what you’re doing” feel to the vocal criticisms.
The ump was not happy about that. At all.
Some Tallboy decided to push a shit-talking ball of snow down a snowy hill and I became really curious to see how big it was going to get.

I pointed out to a few Tallboys that I didn’t think we had a fielder with a legit play on that ball. So, if I were an ump, it’d be difficult for me to enact the Infield Fly Rule. After those words fell on deaf ears, I just kept quiet and took in a scene that I never would’ve thought I’d see at the least competitive, most community-oriented, recreational adult athletic “league” that I could ever imagine being a part of.

A few insults were hurled towards the ump. He shot back by calling some of the Tallboys “scrubs” and proceeded to point out that no pop up in this league is a “sure thing.”
It was cringey. It was funny. Some of the dialogue was so corny it’d make the Pope weep

The delay was lengthy. I’m not kidding. I could’ve changed a vehicle’s tire in the time it took for the ump and the Tallboys to settle their shit. Other than my purposely brief words, Dragsters truly stayed out of it.

Baseball? Oh yeah, baseball.
So, runners on 1st and 2nd. 1 out.
The Tallboys were a bit amped after all the chatter and, if they had been playing it “cool” before, they were about to turn things up a notch. So, of course, the runner at 2nd broke for 3rd on the very next pitch. RJ made a perfect throw. Rickner applied the tag (maybe, just possibly a hair after the Tallboy had already reached base) but, of course, the ump had to let everyone know what was what and he emphatically let us all know that the runner was OUT at third.

2 outs.
Did we learn a lesson here?

Nope. Tallboys got to chirping again.
All the while, anyone with a team sports background or a basic concept of psychology knew exactly what was going on. And all the while, Steven stood hunched over in shallow center, his face aglow with that very specific cellphone glow that only happens when the Longhorns are putting it to Alabama on a football field four states away. Seriously, I think Steven caught more of the UT football game while in centerfield than he did while in the dugout.

I’m sure I’m missing some things, but that was the big thing. Of course the Tallboys weren’t happy with the strikezone. They didn’t chirp at us, but they were clearly unhappy with the ump. It was evident and it was interesting.

After that, the game was a bit awkward. The ump really would’ve rather been watching UT football. The Drag would’ve preferred to play a team that… I don’t know… could roll with whatever lumps one believes the ump is delivering and focus on the game. We would’ve preferred playing a team that understands that the game isn’t the final score. That how one plays the game is more important than how well they play it. That making your teammates happy is indicative of a good teammate, but leaving a good impression on your fellow opponents + competitors is the mark of a good sportsman (sportsperson).

Speaking of which, the Tallboys had a hitter who hit a pop up just in front of home plate. RJ (catcher) was under it. The hitter screamed at RJ as the ball came down. That’s not a favorable way to be remembered by an opponent. But some folks aren’t aware that this type of thing is considered poor sportsmanship and some folks don’t care (which is even more of a shame).

Anyways, Marc pitched outstandingly. His best outing that I’ve seen.
I remember us playing strong defense in the field until the unfortunate 8th. In the 8th, Keith pitched very, very well. The Tallboys hit some choppers that had a lot of topspin on them and we missed a few of them. Govalle ain’t easy to play defense on. While at third, I could’ve/should’ve cut at least one of those off, but I hesitated (and there’s a chance I might’ve biffed it as well).

The 8th inning was unfortunate in the field, but we left Govalle playing eight solid defensive innings while most everyone recorded a hit. To improve for the next game, we just gotta cluster those hits together while eliminating that one inning where our wheels fall off defensively and continues to be the thorn in our side.
That’s doable. For sure.

Ash went 3-4 at the plate, which was awesome. Happy she broke out with some solid line drives.

Like I said, most of the team got themselves at least a base knock. It seemed we always had runners on– we just gotta drive them in. We’ll bring’em on home next game.

So, why bring up the George Carlin bit?
There are times when I find myself thinking “Holy shit, that person is really freaking good (example:  the Tallboys have a player who was drafted into a Major League Baseball organization)– what are they doing out here at sandlot?”

And sometimes I apply that same line of questioning to some of our teammates and friends, but there’s not a hard-and-fast talent level that makes a player a sandlotter (or decidedly not a sandlotter).

To continue with the analogy, nobody’s talent is “driving too slow or too fast”– it’s whether or not their attitude/how they play is “too fast (or shitty, arrogant, discourteous, Bush League, etc)” to be at sandlot.

Now, I’m obviously not the arbiter of sandlot, but I do understand team sports/leagues, and it was my understanding that a player/team comes into this league knowing what makes this thing unique is that there isn’t this type of bullshit.
It’s a bummer that, as sandlot grows, that type of bullshit has percolated its way into some of the games here and there.

Final Score
Tallboys – 8
Drag – 5

What sandlot thinks tallboys are.
Two things I consider tallboys to be.

Sandlot Baseball Game Logs – 8.2023

Saturday, December 2nd, 2023

Sandlot Baseball – an inclusive recreational adult baseball league that has been described as “Little League for Adults” and “baseball mediocrity on the highest level.”
This unofficial association of social baseball is growing rapidly across the country.
I’ve been playing Sandlot since 2019 and writing game logs since August 2023.

8.12.2023 – South Austin Parakeets vs. Austin Drag
@Southeast Metro (Austin) – 10am

Link to instagram post about game.

I know what yall want. Yall want a spiffy, concise Nick Stillman recap, but we don’t have that today so, I’ll give it a shot.
Today was hot and the playing surface was somewhere between Death Valley and South Texas Ranchland. Keith was throwing strikes and the Keets remembered to bring their lumber. Their hard liners weren’t finding gloves and, unfortunately for Dragsters, their swings that drew soft contact didn’t find leather either. They put up some runs. However, we also remembered our bats for a few innings and put together some rallies of our own.
Our defense did complete a few doubleplays and had another opportunity for a third (or fourth?). The Keets’ former college baller, Randy, showed out more in the field than he did at the plate robbing us of a few knocks. They had a big fella, who isn’t a well-experienced or polished player go yard off both Keith and then Rickner. I wouldn’t have expected that fella to put two out in the same game, but–  that’s baseball.

How’d The Drag play you ask?
Mike Miller went yard with a no-doubter to Left Center (easily the deepest Jack of the day) and played better at short as the day went on. It’s always a tough position to field, but he settled in and made some great plays in the last 6 innings or so.
Collectively, we all put some great swings on some good pitches while also having the occasional less-than-great swing on some not-so-good pitches, but–  that’s baseball.

We lost 17-10. A five-run mercy rule (five-run maximum allowed in every inning other than the final inning) was not in effect and we ran into a tough inning where we gave up 9 runs. Take that inning away and it’s obviously an entirely different game, but–  that’s baseball.

To take a step back and get a broader view of the big picture–  I successfully did not shit myself (I have been fighting a mean stomach bug or… something).
And to take a further step back and get an even broader view of this team and our game, I enjoyed today far more than the past games in San Antonio and Temple.
It’s not the driving distance. It’s not the end result. It’s simply the experience and history between our two teams (Drag + Keets) and how, when we get down a few runs, we’re helping one another, we’re joking with one another and really feeling like a team. When we’re sort of cruising through recently-formed teams, we kind of feel the opposition’s frustration and the game becomes more about managing ourselves while trying to keep the opposition from getting too cranky when, in the end, we all just want to play baseball.

Aside from the dude who hit two homeruns not having bat control in his backswing (he oddly flung the bat near RJ’s head both times he hit a dinger) and the ump not giving 50/50 calls to the team that was down by a bunch (ahem, The Drag), the game was fairly jovial and light-hearted. You know, the way that grown-ass adults playing a child’s game should be.

Final Score
Keets – 17 
Drag – 10

8.19.2023 – Austin Drag vs. Los Slowpokes de San Antonio
@San Antonio – 7pm

Link to instagram post about game.

Two truths were reinforced last night:
-Baseball is a humbling game.
-San Antonio is a strange place.

I know exactly what happened. We all got the same Slowpoke scouting report—  “Mostly inexperienced team with about three ballplayers with a legit baseball background.”
Honestly, that kind of scouting report could apply to most Sandlot squads on any given day.
We all arrived sort of/kinda late (between 6:30pm-6:45pm when 6:10pm would’ve been preferable so that we’d have the option to do some infield/outfield warmup, pepper, etc.), but still somehow earlier than 90% of the home/host team.

We all watched our hosts struggle during warmups. And you know what we did? We collectively thought, “this game is. in. the. bag.”

And you know what? I’m mad at someone on this team. Last week I published on this very document that– paraphrasing here– the ump is supposed to give 50/50 calls to the team that is down by “a bunch.” Well, some Dragster must’ve shared this document with the Sandlot Umpire Society [not a real thing] because we had the privilege of competing against both the Slowpokes as well as The Large Man in Baby Blue (TLMiBB).

It’s well documented that I don’t like folks, specifically sandlotters, who publicly and loudly bitch about a Sandlot umpire in a performative way. So it’d be absolutely hypocritical for me to loudly protest an umpire. That said, I’ll give all Dragsters kudos for keeping their in-the-moment comments about how terrible TLMiBB was fairly discreet. We pretty much held our criticisms under our breaths.
That said, in my 5+ years of sandlot ball, I’ve never seen an ump call a more lopsided game.
When Dragsters were at bat, the zone was basically the Stargate Portal.
When a Dragster was on the mound, the zone magically shrunk to the size of a shoebox.

Someone at the Sandlot Umpire Society must’ve decreed a new edict stating “if the majority of the home team shows up late and has fewer than four experienced ballplayers, the home team is awarded a diminutive offensive strikezone AND an incredibly expansive defensive strikezone.”
They call this “homecooking” and boy did we ever get a healthy serving of it?

As far as 50/50 bang-bang plays go– there weren’t many, but TLMiBB correctly called a play at the plate (great play by Stillman, Marc, and RJ) that favored us (much to public and performative dissent from many malcontented Slowpokes). TLMiBB had to return to form however, so he decided to biff a call on a play where a Slowpoke was definitively out on a third-to-first across-the-diamond play. This incorrect call, more or less, led to the only Slowpoke rally.

The following statement is true, accurate, strictly factual— before arriving at the ballpark, I enjoyed two Modelo Especiales in a lovely San Marcos River alcove.
On a purely speculative note, I heard that TLMiBB was spotted knocking down three shrimp cocktails and seven avocado margs at the nearby Puerto Vallarta just before rolling up to The Capitol Park Baseball Complex. You know what they say about hearsay though…

Wait, wait, wait—  why was last night a “humbling” experience?

I’m not a tennis guy, but I’ve read that some tennis pros approach the game as though they are not competing against their opponent. They view their opponent as a vessel that provides the opportunity to compete against themselves. The opponent is not an enemy. A tennis pro is simply striving for individual athletic perfection and the opponent makes this pursuit possible.

You hear similar things in other individual sports such as golf, “You’re not competing against an opponent; you’re competing against the scorecard.”

All this philosophical bullshit and criticisms on TLMiBB aside, we collectively didn’t perform offensively the way we’re capable. We scored 10 runs against a MUCH better Keets team last week. We put up 16 runs in five innings against a similarly-skilled SA Dingers team before an active UT Longhorn ballplayer took the mound, pumped gas, ate our lunch, and mowed us down.

It’s all good though. It’s only my humble opinion that we were all a little lethargic and we just assumed that a big rally would just sort of occur naturally… and it didn’t. It was a humbling experience. The pitcher isn’t who we’re competing against. The pitcher only provides us the opportunity to identify a favorable pitch and give it our absolute best swing. 

And we just couldn’t string our hits together. TLMiBB did make many of our ABs unnecessarily difficult, but we can still barrel the two pitchers we saw last night even if we were forced to start every AB down 0-2.

I’m already getting pumped about our next offensive explosion. It’s going to happen soon and it’s going to be outstanding. We’re going to bat up and down the lineup and we’re going to work our hands raw with all the consummated high fives.

Wait, wait, wait—  why is “San Antonio a strange place”?

I don’t believe that sandlotters wake up every morning with the thought, “I’m going to bring my malcontent attitude to the ballpark today.” Somehow, if a team doesn’t have 3+ years of sandlot experience, the likelihood of that team having four or more malcontents skyrockets.

In the fourth inning or so, the Slowpoke with the worst attitude (Most Malcontented Slowpoke) was awarded first base on a walk because TLMiBB just didn’t feel like calling Steven’s pitches that entered the strikezone as “strikes.” Fascinating. MMS took second on a passed ball. We all took notice that MMP was getting pretty jumpy at 2nd. Steven wisely picked him off. MMP ended up in a pickle. Steven delivered the ball to third base. MMP decides to zag seven feet towards left field in an attempt to evade the tag. Rickner lightly applied tag to the shoulder of MMS. TLMiBB correctly calls MMP out (Thank Christ) signaling that MMS ran out of the basepath.
MMS responded by dropping these verbal gems to the ump, “What the fuck? Are you fucking kidding me?” To which I interjected, “Yall can’t have a problem with this ump. He’s been helping yall out all game.” MMS had some words for me, “Shut the fuck up. Go fuck yourself.”

To MMS’s credit, Stillman later reported that MMS did eventually apologize for MMS’s exhibition of his lousy character. 

Second Most Malcontented Slowpoke reaches second base due to an actual walk (unassisted by TLMiBB– I believe our pitcher actually threw four balls before delivering three strikes this time). SMMS advances to second somehow. SMMS attempts to steal third. RJ (catcher) was having none of it, delivering a very strong, knee-high throw that just happened to be about five feet off the bag inside fair territory. It was a great throw, not knocking RJ’s placement, but this throw affected how the tag was going to be applied to SMMS. Since I was up the line a little bit and SMMS employed a surprisingly textbook feet-first slide, I had to tag whatever part of SMMS that I could. It happened to be SMMS’s face. SMMS was not happy about it. He angrily expressed his displeasure to the thirdbaseman, the ump, and then his dugout.

An inning later, a Slowpoke third base coach tried to advocate for SMMS, the attempted thief, and echo his resentment with the tag. I replied with, “who told him to steal third base? Did you? I didn’t. Tags happen.” Sometimes they’re painful.

Now, the majority of The Slowpokes were mild-mannered and/or positive. Big time positive. It wasn’t a team raging with a shit-ton of malcontents, but they were out there and there didn’t seem to be anybody on their squad attempting to reign in shit attitude.

I’ve said it before and I’ll continue saying it, I’d rather lose to teams like the Keets, Gracks, Jards, Cobras, and the like over sometimes getting into angsty business with less experienced “younger” teams. The new addendum is that I really don’t enjoy playing relatively tight games with malcontent teams because it somehow turns some ballplayers into the assholes they were when they were teenagers (and perhaps still are).

Most sandlotters come to sandlot knowing they never even had “Asshole Teenage Jock Years” or that they’ve matured well beyond their asshole teenage jock years. I’m just so goddamned grateful that Stillman dug deep and struck out the the game’s final hitter because MMS and SMMS were on-deck and in-the-hole when the game ended and had one of those fellas somehow managed to hit a walkoff— that would’ve been a difficult pill to swallow. 

As it was, we didn’t play our best baseball, it wasn’t pretty, but we got a win.

Sometimes sandlot feels like every participant and spectator are truly valuing their time at the ballpark. Other times, San Antonio sandlot will make you circle the deepest recesses of your mind taking you to the precipice of an existential crisis—
“Why is this the thing we choose to do?”
“What is happiness?”
“Does my glove get to experience the same love I feel?”

Final Score
Drag – 7 
Slowpokes – 6 

Extra notes:
-Braden and Rickner’s college bar, Showdown (San Marcos), is remarkably still a pretty good spot to tie a few on at.
-Dr. Williams is about the best-damn umpire in San Antonio (the paid ump left with two innings left in the game, Braden’s father finished up as umpire).
-Rickner and RJ dove into the San Marcos River on the way to and from San Antonio.
-Mel and Tyler caught their separate Sunday morning flights.
-Somewhere, TLMiBB is still making terrible calls.
-Somewhere, MMS is still being very malcontent.

Film Log #12 – 11.2023

Thursday, November 30th, 2023

The Paramount Theatre’s Summer Film Series ended in September.
Here are three negative reviews and one positive.

The Age of Innocence
(screened 6.27.23)

Should’ve been more appropriately named, America’s Obsession with Opulence.
I don’t see the appeal of this subject matter.

As I sat in The Paramount Theatre watching Daniel Day-Lewis perform Scorsese’s vision of Edith Wharton’s literary depiction of 1870s New York City, I thought about another period piece DD-L appeared in– 1985’s A Room with a View and basically wished to be rewatching the latter instead of viewing the former for the first time.

I realize that Hollywood has always beaten trends to death and from the mid-80s to the mid-90s, there certainly was a rash of making this style of period pieces. And, perhaps like most people, when I’m experiencing movies from a certain era or about a certain topic, I just immediately compare what I’m seeing to what I already know.

And even though I don’t particularly love ARwaV (I’m not hustling out to rewatch or re-read it so I can provide an in-depth write up), I still remember enjoying it far more than The Age of Innocence/America’s Obsession with Opulence.

One piece of art celebrates the wealthy (and their inconveniences of their own design); the other mocks the attitudes and habits of the wealthy. For Scorsese to begin production on The Age of Innocence in 1991 and for it to be released in 1993– the timing seems telling. It’s as though when New York City, along with the rest of the country, was beginning to make some necessary noise about 1980s Trickle Down Economics and the growing disparity between the haves and the have nots, Scorsese’s response seems to be, “Hey, this is America and this is how it has always been.”

The story should be something that most people can relate to. A young couple gets involved and as the relationship progresses, one begins to develop feelings for someone outside the relationship. Plenty of people have been there.

The film then delves into the “agony” between these two lovers that, due to the social and cultural attitudes of the era, simply cannot be. I’m just not the demographic for this type of story. Considering the two films’ endings, I prefer George Emerson’s success in A Room with a View over the down-and-out mopiness of The Age of Innocence’s Newland Archer.

This is a specific film and you’d have to be very into costume design, set design, and emotional repression in order to enjoy this film.

Barry Lyndon
(screened 8.30.23)

For all the pomp and circumstance that comes with Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon (1975), I’m only grateful for having seen it so I can confidently know just what I wasn’t previously missing.
Yes, it’s incredibly well shot. “Every frame is a painting.”
But none of that matters if the story doesn’t engage.

The titular character is an unscrupulous man that isn’t interesting. The story does an excellent job at portraying nearly everyone involved as a static, one-dimensional character that never does anything truly transformative through the plot points.
Lyndon marries for money, lives inconsiderately, and doesn’t possess a single redeeming quality unless you fancy a man with fencing skills.

Character and story have to mean something. I’m the type of viewer that needs a reason to be invested. I need to be intrigued, invested in what is happening on screen.
This is admittedly sounding a bit high maintenance.

I think about films that have engaged me and I reflect on characters, on conflicts:

Almodovar’s Hable con Ella (2002) whose main character, Marco, supports a person (Benigno) who did a reprehensible and complicated thing because that oddly sympathetic villain once supported him during a difficult period.

Rafelson’s Five Easy Pieces (1970) and a man who can’t find fulfillment within academic or working class circles or intimate relationships, so he seems to continually feel lost; without a community. (There will be a write up on this film soon).

Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show (1971) and how “sexuality/adulthood” can sneak up on teens and how those who aggressively seek it are often most unprepared for “maturity” while also detailing cultural and generational shifts as well as highlighting the deep personal regret many people live with. 

This is just to name a few. And what sticks in my craw most is when a filmmaker doesn’t first make me care about characters before telling me their story.
Why do I care? Why should I care?

As previously mentioned with Cool Hand Luke (1967), we are instantly shown Luke Jackson’s character and how that magnetic stubbornness would be his success and demise.

Conversely, Barry Lyndon paints the picture of a self-centered prick who seems to have been born a prick and dies a ne’er-do-well prick.
He’s definitely not a protagonist and there’s never a consistent antagonist, just a series of characters (who also aren’t worth rooting for) who go toe-to-toe with Barry Lyndon. I never really found the conflicts or personalities interesting.

To put it as concisely as I can–  I saw a beautiful picture and didn’t care about whose portrait was being painted.

[This has nothing to do with The Paramount’s Summer Film Series– I recently saw this at Alamo Drafthouse in San Antonio– screened 11.10.23]

When a new film is released that I already have every intention of seeing, I avoid reading any reviews prior to screening. I prefer having a “clean slate” and not allow my first impressions to be coaxed one way or another.
This was the case for the much anticipated viewing of Killers of the Flower Moon.

Like most Americans born after 1970, Martin Scorsese’s work has certainly had an affect on me. After consulting his imdb page– I’ve seen 26 of his directed projects (there are 68 films, short films, music videos, and various TV projects listed), including 17 of his prominent 24 full-length features that were given wide releases. 
Apologies for sounding like Dwight Schrute there.

It’s safe to say that I’m a Scorsese fan. Allow me to point out that I mostly defended his previous 3.5 hour release.

Before I earnestly begin listing the many ways I feel this film fails, may I recommend googling “Films about Native Americans/First Nations” and watch ANY two of those before spending 3.5 hours watching Killers of the Flower Moon.
Or hell, just read the Killers of the Flower Moon book instead.

After perusing a few of those lists, a few films that jumped out to me are:
Smoke Signals (1998)
Atanarjuat the Fast Runner (2001)
Drunktown’s Finest (2014)
Songs My Brothers Taught Me (2015)
Geronimo:  An American Legend (1993)

I haven’t seen any of the above, but boy I wish I had instead of spending time with KotFM.
To return back to the matter of character– KotFM makes it difficult to find a three-dimensional character worth rooting for. 

Obviously, provided the historical context we all know, The Osage characters are worth rooting for. But, for the most part, the film introduces The Osage as one-dimensional victims, and in most cases they die as victims very soon after their introduction. 

The few times we are shown dimensionality, it’s fairly predictable– this character loves her mother, she’s a bit wild, she is loyal, but we all know the character we’ve been introduced to is about to be heartlessly murdered because that’s the entire premise of the film.
The three Osage characters given the most screen time aren’t particularly fully formed (more on that later).

Onto the white characters. The intention is to depict these people as evil, vile, and stupid. The film is successful in this regard. But villainy, stupidity, and evil alone don’t make for interesting characters worth investing in. 

I’m reminded of films where evil foes had power over their victims and titles like Schindler’s List, The Shawshank Redemption, and Cool Hand Luke come to mind. Itzhak Stern (portrayed by Sir Ben Kingsley) is the very definition of a victim, yet that historical character’s dimensionality is wholly revealed in time. 

In Shawshank and CHL, the inmates’ (victims) personalities are vibrantly displayed and the villainous warden/guards remain flat, one-dimensional.  

In KotFM, every character is flat, motives are obvious, and the amount of screen time awarded to The Osage (the victims) vs. the screen time dedicated to depicting the witless lengths these white men (the antagonists) go to conduct heinous murders is terribly lopsided. So, what’s so damned interesting about seeing a clumsy collective of evil people casually discussing their villainy?

I haven’t seen Oppenheimer yet, but I imagine the crux of that film is that, as these brilliant people worked towards historic scientific breakthroughs, they had to consider that their project’s success may eventually lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands.
That’s tension. Is the pursuit of scientific breakthroughs worth costing immeasurable human life and environmental destruction?
Do the ideas and discussions in Oppenheimer shape how we discuss current topics (AI, biological warfare, etc)?

KotFM, however, depicts eight evil simpletons dead set on getting the financial/oil rights belonging to The Osage people. Because killing many in hopes to misdirect their oilfunds is so abundantly abhorrent, there isn’t a tension to the narrative. The audience has nothing to consider other than will an Osage character die, how soon will they die, and will the evil people succeed in getting the money or will there be justice?
It plays out like a two-bit horror flick; not a poignant historical drama.

The flow of KotFM reminded me of Aronofsky’s Mother!. In Mother!, the audience is presented with an allegory about mankind, religion, and their relationship with our planet (“Mother Earth”). It slowly builds a torturous depiction of humanity and the audience mostly just wants it to end (or at least I did).

Other quick observations to note:
Scorsese has made hundreds of millions making violence and racism entertaining when done by east coast Italian-American or Irish-American characters. Now that he’s tackling a Central Standard Time storyline (flyover country), well, I guess violence and racism just isn’t as entertaining as it used to be.

Who is the protagonist? If you were to say it’s the main Osage character, Mollie Kyle (played by Lily Gladstone) who marries Leo DiCaprio’s character– due to the evil committed by her husband and in-laws, she spends most of the film bedridden and never truly has her moment of triumph.

About her being bedridden for much of the film, there are only a few scenes where the two main characters have meaningful conversations that go beyond the first act’s flirtations, and one of those precious scenes depicts the evil doer using modern medicine to push his disturbing plans.
I understand being truthful to the text and historical account, just odd in a post-covid world to hear the villain pushing modern medicine and for the audience to root for the heroine to reject modern medicine.

If you offer that the film’s protagonist is the FBI detective played by Jesse Plemons, it feels like his character isn’t even introduced until about the 2 hour 50 minute mark, giving his character only 35-40 mins to exist and he also doesn’t have a triumphant conclusion. Considering the history, it’s also kind of strange to position federal agents as advocates for Native Americans.

Unless you are determined to watch every Scorsese film, I recommend watching any of the “Films about Native Americans/First Nations” google search prior to watching this one.

Lost in Translation
(screened 7.27.23)

I’d like to end on a positive note.
The Paramount/State Theatre’s Summer Film Series screened Lost in Translation on 7.26.23 as a celebration for its 20th anniversary.
It was an excellent time warp.

There were a few disagreeable jokes made about Asian accents and such that wouldn’t pass today’s studios, but in the film’s defense, those poor-taste jokes were made by characters the audience is supposed to dislike. The “hero” and “heroine” of the film spend significant time immersing themselves in Japanese culture and nightlife.

That said, the film isn’t about celebrating Japanese culture, but about how someone recently out of college as well as someone who is more-or-less retired are both facing similar internal challenges.
Do I love my partner?
Am I in love with my partner?
What shared connections do I have in my life?
Am I happy with where my life is heading?
Has everything up until this point been one misstep after another? 
What does happiness look like today and what do I believe it will look like a few weeks, a few months, a few years from now? 

These existential and relatable dilemmas for these two very different characters are expertly exhibited; shown. If you ever took any sort of creative class, you’ve heard “Show. Don’t tell.”

Show us a situation that allows the audience to understand deeply personal quandaries; don’t just use expository dialogue to push the narrative.
Lost in Translation executes this perfectly.

It was refreshing to revisit.
I hope to review more refreshing experiences sooner than later.

Film Log #11 – 8.2023

Tuesday, August 15th, 2023

Vulcan Video died during Covid and I haven’t been particularly motivated to stream new-to-me classics. Thankfully, The Paramount Summer Classic Film Series as well as Austin Film Society’s programming have motivated me to return to the theaters.

1967’s Cool Hand Luke

Adapted from the 1965 novel of the same name, and unless you read it (unlikely), the audience brings very little context into their screening. If you’re familiar with Paul Newman, you’re aware of the talent and aura he can bring to a picture. For most younger contemporary viewers, all one brings is whatever they know about 1960s media productions based on 1950s American culture.

The film opens with an inebriated Luke Jackson (Newman) in a small southern town; presumably after the bars have closed. Luke takes a No. 2 pipe cutter to 2” parking meter pipes and cuts the meters’ heads clean off. He rewards himself with a beer after each parking meter head clunks on the concrete. When the cops roll up and authority shows its face and potential force, Luke behaves as though they were nothing but ladybugs resting on his shoulders.

The first act introduces us to a very specific type of man. This man of certainty and stubbornness. Regardless of circumstance– be it war (WWII), late nights in small towns, or on a chain gang– this man only knows one way to act, with very little regard for authority.

Maybe that’s not heroic, but we see so many characters (or people in our actual lives) mimic, ape, and contort themselves to make it through their days. It’s refreshing to see people/characters who are thoroughly authentic even when it absolutely doesn’t suit them and, in many cases, when it’s to their detriment.

Dragline (Top Dog inmate prior to Luke’s arrival): “You don’t listen much, do ya boy?”
Luke: “I hadn’t heard much worth listenin’ to. A lot of guys laying down a lot of rules and regulations.”

Throughout the first act, Luke wins over the men in the chain gang while also winning over the viewing audience. As the viewers and chain gang grow to support Luke, the authority figures’ concern about Luke’s motivational power and leadership grows.

Many, many similarities to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Shawshank Redemption, and other films about conformist institutions and the rebels determined to break them come to mind. With so many of today’s discussions revolving around anti-heroes, it should be noted that Roger Ebert wrote, “I think he’s [Luke’s] more a willing martyr– a man so obsessed with the wrongness of the world that he invites death to prove to himself correct.”
That’s damned admirable.

The second act masterfully solidifies the bonds we have with Luke. There’s a particularly touching scene as his mother visits the chain gang’s quarters/prison camp. We see personal sides of Luke as he suffers heart-sinking sadness, excruciating indignities, and elating triumphs. It’s a film that puts its hooks in you and makes you feel, really feel for a character (provided you allow yourself to give a shit in the first place). 

Cool Hand Luke places us into an oppressive machine and points out the idiocy and injustice of it all. In the final scene of the film, Luke addresses God– 

“It’s beginning to look like you got things fixed so I can’t never win out. Inside [chain gang, military, etc], outside [as a “free” man], all them rules and regulations and bosses. You made me like I am. Just where am I supposed to fit in? Ol’ Man, I gotta tell ya. I started out pretty strong and fast. But it’s beginnin’ to get to me. When does it end?”

When I describe 60s and 70s cinema as subversive, this is what I’m talking about. He’s questioning religion, an individual’s function within American society, and obviously authority. This was commercially-successful pop art whose main message is that society’s rules and its status quo are terribly backwards. 

With awareness that it’s easier for audiences to connect with characters who share physical characteristics and have been through loosely similar sets of circumstances, I don’t come across too many contemporary characters delivering Luke’s lines–  “You made me like I am. Just where am I supposed to fit in?”

Today’s cinematic conflicts feel bonkers-fantastical or incredibly specific to the point that there’s a significant disconnect (with me). Granted, provided my background (admittedly, a demographic that dominated well over seven decades of American media), I understandably haven’t felt like the target market of a culturally relevant art-film for some time. But after anyone has been wrought through the ringer just for being true to themselves, who wouldn’t ask Luke’s final question? 

Chatter about Barbie

Before I write about The Age of Innocence (1993), Mr. Arkadin/Confidential Report (1955), F for Fake (1973), Kansas City Confidential (1952), Out of the Past (1947), Casablanca (1942), Lost in Translation (2003), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), or any of the other films that I have watched/rewatched lately, I should take a minute to speak on a film that has so much buzz that it must be addressed:  Barbie.

I haven’t seen it (and maybe I should just shut up– I know), but here are my thoughts before even viewing it. When I reviewed 2019’s Joker (in 2019), I wrote:

The thought I had going into the film was, “The Hollywood hype machine has made it seem that ever since movie studios have simply become creators of serial comic book blockbusters, that this particular film is what high art and Academy Award films are now destined to become.”
While watching the film, all I could do was pout, beg, and hope that this isn’t where art films (or films worthy of high praise) are headed.

To put it another way, we seem to be unable to tell stories without already knowing half the story before buying our tickets. This is a problem. Given that I’m hearing so much about a movie I’ll never even care about, this trend of not only having our shallow BIG TIME Summertime blockbusters built upon previously-established/borrowed/unoriginal content, but also our “high-brow, arthouse, Academy-considered” films are being pulled from similar content is troubling.
So, why is this an issue?

I’d argue that these films are lowering our ceiling of what powerful storytelling can/should be. I’m sure there are arguments that would counter by saying this maximizes our “powerful storytelling” capabilities because it serves a much, much larger audience and perhaps these films will serve as a gateway for many people to dive into Greta Gerwig’s (and other female auteurs’) films.

I get that using the “Barbie/Mattel Universe” as the vehicle to drive a message about the toxicity of the patriarchy we all live in is an easy way to bring this message to a large audience. I get that. However, it is possible to communicate this message without tethering it to a corporate doll. 

Furthermore, I don’t see too many Barbie fans deciding that they’re now going to see Frances Ha (2012, starring Gerwig and written + directed by her then boyfriend Noah Baumbach), or dive into Agnes Varda’s filmography, or what I’d argue are films actually representing female empowerment such as Gravity (2013) or His Girl Friday (1940) [two of my favorites].

What is going to happen is that there are reportedly 45 Mattel film projects in development based on products such as Barney, Polly Pocket, Bob the Builder, Uno, Hot Wheels, Magic 8 Ball, American Girl Dolls, Bass Fishin’, Rock’em Sock’em Robots, He-Man and She-Ra, and I’d speculate that Barbie is more likely to create fans of the Mattel media universe instead of actual “women-powered art films,” but does any of this even matter?

If it’s your optimistic viewpoint that we’re going to receive thoughtful films illustrating a meaningful viewpoint that will help us collectively gain a unique and more learned perspective through these dozens of Mattel Films– then the future looks very bright. As for me, my realistic pessimism will remain that just as I didn’t care for this entire corporation’s product line as a child, and regardless of how much financing and talent they throw at these projects–  I will care even less about these films that the Mattel brand is spawning. 

Maybe some people believe 2019’s Joker does a commendable job of depicting how mental illnesses affect people and we should all be more aware and sensitive of this issue? And perhaps 2023’s Barbie perfectly presents how women have to exist and fight within this suffocating patriarchy?
Those aren’t my experiences. I have, however, felt as though I’ve been wrought through the ringer and shared many of Luke Jackson’s sentiments.

“Sometimes nuthin’ can be a real cool hand.”

Film Log #10 – 3.2021

Tuesday, March 16th, 2021

During the early stages of covid-19 (April 2020), Vulcan Video, my local video store closed its doors. Since then, the entertainment industry has been undergoing substantial changes. The industry was already heading towards an exclusively streaming direction; covid-19 just gave it an unfortunate shove.

Packing up Vulcan Video

Gone are the days where I look forward to my 2-for-1 mid-week deals and have friendly conversations with knowledgeable staff about cinema while making a concerted decision about how I was to spend a specific evening.

What has replaced this is browsing various streaming services’ category of films that are approaching their streaming expiration such as HBO Max’s “Last Chance” section and watching however many worthwhile films before they depart (usually at month’s end).

This is a poor substitute for Vulcan Video, Austin Film Society, and The Paramount Theatre’s Summer Classic Film Series, but it’s what we currently have.

If you have read any of these posts before, it’s obvious that I have a predilection for classic films. I generally prefer most media (film, music, literature) that was created before the 1980s, but because The Oscars are approaching, I had relatively recently figured to give a few contemporary films a shot.

The Beach Bum (2019) – this doesn’t have anything to do with the upcoming Oscars, but it is relatively recent and I’ve been meaning to write about it.

McConaughey, playing a character named “Moon Dog” (it’s unclear if Writer/Director Harmony Korine intentionally gives the film’s lead the same name as respected experimental jazz musician Moondog, either way, odd choice) parades around south Florida in skiffs, tour boats, yachts, extravagant SUVs, sports cars, and other random vehicles performing a hedonistic, ‘let everything come what may’ type of journey.

But, I couldn’t attempt to call this a “journey” or a narrative. After Korine introduces the main characters, he awkwardly thrusts idiotic plot points at the audience and I’m not certain how the people involved in this production could believe an audience could care about any on-screen happenings.

The movie is directionless, pointless, awful. 

Watch it if you genuinely enjoy spending time with this type of cast on your screen regardless of any type of discernible story, character arc, intended meaning.

Nomadland (2020)

Frances McDormand portrays Fern, a recent widow who was committed to a community whose lifeblood was a gypsum plant. We meet Fern after her husband has passed and the gypsum plant has closed. We see a town in decay and a person at a crossroads.

However resilient she may be, Fern’s options look arduous and disheartening.

This film serves as a fairly powerful commentary on corporations that create and discard communities they deem disposable, American family dynamics and how financial gaps strain familial relationships, how the U.S. healthcare system doesn’t have much use for anyone without a secured, corporate salary (seasonal workers, gig workers, etc), and the trials/difficulties that come with living life on the road.

This film was something of a revelation for me.

Dave, played by David Strathairn, repeatedly tries to make inroads towards a friendship or romantic relationship with Fern, but is consistently kept at bay. A connection of sorts is created though as the characters continue to cross paths and keep in touch. 

How was this film a revelation for me? For perhaps twenty years now, there have been repeated calls for the entertainment industry to diversify their protagonists’ points of view. The criticism being, hasn’t our society seen enough films told from a white, male, heteronormative point of view?

My initial reaction to that criticism was, regardless of pov, I simply hope to watch something good.

‘Good‘ is subjective. POV is not.

That acknowledged, I can’t care about shallow, shitty films regardless of whose perspective/story is being told. However, it’s been awhile since I’ve seen a good film where I felt myself wanting to know way more about a tertiary character than the film’s lead. During the screening, I felt myself wanting to know more about Dave, Strathairn’s character, and it’s not complex calculus as to why that might be (gender/perspective has something to do with it).
I realized that what I was experiencing while watching Nomadland is what many non-white-heteronormative-males have been experiencing over the course of American mainstream cinema’s history.

There have been countless times where others have experienced, “I want to know more about that supporting character” or “why isn’t someone more like me driving the narrative?”

Due to my personal background paired with my proclivity towards classic cinema that tells stories from a very narrow demographica’s perspective, it is few and far between that I experience this feeling.

My recommendation:  Nomadland was good. I most likely won’t see it again, but it was an extremely worthwhile story that was expertly told.

Judas and the Black Messiah (2021)

Speaking of POVs, we come to a film whose only two named white characters are in supporting roles.

Judas and the Black Messiah is a film about Bill O’Neal’s (played exceptionally by Lakeith Stanfield) real-life relationship and conflicted involvement with the Chicago chapter of The Black Panthers.

To continue the discussion on perspective, the character that resonated with me was Stanfield’s O’Neal. This character was approached/preyed upon by the FBI to infiltrate and betray the Black Panther Party. If O’Neal didn’t do what the FBI requested [demanded] of him, O’Neal would be looking at years in federal prison.

Now, I haven’t been faced with a life choice like that before, but I’m very familiar with choices and options that range from “sucks” to “shitty.”

I don’t know many people that would identify with FBI Special Agent Roy Mitchell (played by Jesse Plemons) or FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen who doesn’t showcase putting on his jacket in a signature way in this film), but the people I do know would easily choose to see the film from the perspective of a passionate political revolutionary (Fred Hampton played by Daniel Kaluuya) or someone who is extorted and forced to survive primarily on self-interest (O’Neal).

That said, if you know your history, you knew where this story was heading. Still, this film is worthwhile for many reasons including the depiction of The Panthers’ attempt to unify and cooperate with street gangs, how the FBI was complicit in disinformation, assassination, and so much more during The Civil Rights Movement, as well as simply guiding the audience through a tough, powerful story about moving characters making principled stands or succumbing to outside pressures.   

I haven’t even touched on the production of this period piece, but almost for the music, cars, and clothes alone, I enjoy watching films like this.

I recommend. It puts a different perspective on “The Rat” trope usually associated with Italian mafia movies. Not only that, but I love the music, respect the subject matter, and believe that Lakeith Stanfield is a star. I can’t wait to see what’s ahead in his career.

Promising Young Woman (2021)

On this particular film log, we’ve covered some bases (gender, pov, subjectivity/objectivity, etc). We now come to intention versus execution. This film has its intentions displayed for all to see (rape and sexual assault are rampant, violent, terrible crimes that are carried out by supposedly “good” guys without any penalty or justice brought to the predators). There’s never a need to ask, “what is this film about?”

That’s not exactly a bad thing, unless the execution of the story becomes an issue.

To borrow a storytelling cliche, this story doesn’t unfold like “peeling back layers of an onion.” Rather, it takes the onion, then grabs your intermediary hammer you received after you outgrew the small one provided to you when you were seven-years-old and proceeds to periodically pound the onion every five minutes.

If you are looking for dynamic characters that are faced with challenges and undergo any type of growth or transformation, look elsewhere.

That said, this film tells its story worse than 2019’s Joker did (I mean that as an insult). I loathed Joker, but at least there was a backwards and twisted metamorphosis of the lead. In PYW, there is a very understandably upset woman on a mission and, though that mission was briefly sidetracked by an inexplicable 15-minute romance complete with the strangest “falling in love” montage that I’ve ever seen, the lead character’s path/arc is essentially a straight and downward trajectory.

While writing about Joker, I mentioned the revenge fantasy film Falling Down. Other than the odd inclusion of a far-from-needed romance, PYW plays out similarly to Falling Down (again, I mean that as an insult).

A quick aside about Bo Burnham’s performance, it’s as though he studied Rich Sommer’s reel from his portrayal as “Harry Crane” in Mad Men and “Alex” in The Office and decided to duplicate that schmucky, unwholesome “ahhh geez, I really like you but I’d really like to be in you” kind of character. He’s about as charming and likable as the title character. That’s saying something.

Speaking of likable characters, there are none.

MOWs (Movie of the Week) were an unavoidable aspect of television from the 1970s through early 1990s. Throughout my primary public education, these films were routinely shown. One that stands out in my mind was about a high school swim team that all got drunk together after celebrating a victory, then piled into a station wagon only to suffer a tragic death due to drunk driving.
These were more Public Service Announcements and less Oscar-nominated feature films.

PYW shares many similarities to any poorly executed MOW.

The intentions of most (all?) MOWs are usually good, but what makes an MOW an MOW is how blatant, shallow, unapologetically scripted, staged, and Styrofoam the narrative can be. I don’t see many differences in PYW. Intentions/meaning are important, but a project’s execution of the narrative is just as important.

While writing about Joker, I posited that “The thought I had going into the [Joker] film was, ‘The Hollywood hype machine has made it seem that ever since movie studios have simply become creators of serial comic book blockbusters, that this particular film is what high art and Academy Award films are now destined to become.’
While watching the [Joker] film, all I could do was pout, beg, and hope that this isn’t where art films (or films worthy of high praise) are headed.”

After seeing that PYW has been nominated for FIVE Academy Awards, this seems terribly prescient and further reinforces my desire to keep contemporary cinema at arm’s length while embracing foreign and classic cinema. 

Contemporary films like The Beach Bum, Promising Young Woman, and the not-even-worth-writing about films like The Little Things (or the never-ending swarms of infantile blockbusters) make me feel more and more comfortable with digging further into historical film studies while paying very little attention to recent projects.

Recommendation for Promising Young Woman, google “women empowerment films” and watch any of those before this one.

A Retrospective on What Shaped My Views on Race – Part I

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2020

Without recounting specific moments of my life, I would like to point to some people who have shaped how one white male’s perspective on race has landed where it currently is.
Here are some ideas/works/videos that shaped me in my earlier days as well as some current videos that have recently affected me.

James Baldwin was brilliant. I was lucky to read Notes of a Native Son and Nobody Knows My Name: More Notes of a Native Son while in college and, for obvious reasons, recently picked up his texts again.

“The country will not change until it reexamines itself and discovers what it really means by freedom. In the meantime, generations keep being born, bitterness is increased by incompetence, pride, and folly, and the world shrinks around us.
It is a terrible, an inexorable law that one cannot deny the humanity of another without diminishing one’s own: in the face of one’s victim, one sees oneself. Walk through the streets of Harlem and see what we, this nation, have become.”

“What it comes to, finally, is that the nation has spent a large part of its time and energy looking away from the principal facts of its life. This failure to look reality in the face diminishes a nation as it diminishes a person, and it can only be described as unmanly. And in exactly the same way that the South imagines that it ‘knows’ the Negro, the North imagines that it has set him free. Both camps are deluded. Human freedom is a complex, difficult –and private– thing. If we can liken life, for a moment, to a furnace, then freedom is the fire which burns away illusion. Any honest examination of the national life proves how far we are from the standard of human freedom with which we began. The recovery of this standard demands of everyone who loves this country a hard look at himself, for the greatest achievements must begin somewhere, and they always begin with the person. If we are not capable of this examination, we may yet become one of the most distinguished and monumental failures in the history of nations.”

— both excerpts are from Nobody Knows My Name: More Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin 1961

Here’s a terrific 1965 debate between James Baldwin and William F. Buckley Jr. held at Cambridge University on the question: “Is the American Dream at the expense of the American Negro?”
It is an hour-long. Baldwin begins his argument around the 15-minute mark, Buckley begins his retort around minute-39.

The 1968 film adaptation of Lorraine Hansberry’s renowned play A Raisin in the Sun provides context as to how fleeting, or non-existent, opportunities were/are for minority households to improve their circumstances:

Continuing with the theater, Athol Fugard’s “Master Harold”… and the boys (the production premiered in 1982, but is set in 1950) is a powerfully-written play about a white South African boy and his relationship with black employees of his mother’s business and household who had a very active role in raising “Master Harold.”
The play illustrates the ugliness of racism and how it’s able to boil inside someone impressionable and become a privileged person’s last-ditch effort to clutch onto some backwards, convoluted form of ill-perceived superiority.

This scene from The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 had a profound effect on me. When asked by a foreign reporter about the Black Panthers’ violent measures, Angela Davis does a great job at explaining how her entire life has been encircled by state-sponsored violence.

Angela Davis echoes many points made by Malcolm X and if you’re not well-versed in his speeches and what he stood for, please take some time to deep dive his work.
Or, at minimum, enjoy Spike Lee’s direction and Denzel Washington’s portrayal as Malcolm X in the film by the same name (1992):

Speaking of Spike Lee, in 1999, at sixteen years-old, I first saw Do the Right Thing (1989).

To briefly summarize what the film is about– it follows Spike Lee’s character, “Mookie,” who works in an Italian-owned pizzeria in a predominantly black neighborhood in Brooklyn. Lee does an excellent job introducing the large, dynamic cast while positioning dominoes we all know are bound to fall. The film’s tragedy is initially brought on by civilian stubbornness, cemented by police brutality, and concludes with public rage.

Here are some thoughts from Roger Ebert’s book entitled The Great Movies about Do the Right Thing
“Spike Lee had done an almost impossible thing. He’d made a movie about race in America that empathized with all the participants. He didn’t draw lines or take sides, but simply looked with sadness at one racial flashpoint that stood for many others.”

———[spoiler alert]———

“On and on, around and around, black and white, fear and suspicion breed and grow. Because we know all of the people [the characters] have spent all day on the street, we feel as much grief as anger. Radio Raheem is dead [video of that scene]. And Sal, who has watched the neighborhood’s kids grow up for twenty-five years and fed them with his pizza, stands in the ruins of his store. A pizzeria does not equal a human life, but its loss is great to Sal, because it represents a rejection of the meaning of his own life, and Spike Lee knows that–feels bad for Sal and gives him a touching final scene with Mookie in which the unspoken subtext might be: Why can’t we eat pizza, and raise our families, and run our businesses, and work at our jobs, and not let racism colonize our minds with suspicion?”

“None of these people are perfect. But Lee makes it possible for us to understand their feelings; his empathy is crucial to the film, because if you can’t try to understand how the other person feels, you’re captive inside the box yourself. Thoughtless people have accused Lee over the years of being an angry filmmaker. He has much to be angry about, but I don’t find it in his work. The wonder of Do the Right Thing is that he is so fair. Those who found this film an incitement to violence are saying much about themselves and nothing useful about the movie. Its predominate emotion is sadness.”

Spike Lee recycled the “Racist Rant” tool first used in Do the Right Thing once again in 25th Hour (2002).
Both implementations of this tool illustrate just how ugly conversations, perspectives, ideologies, etc. are when racism is the principal factor.

Since we’ve made it to Edward Norton, might as well give a nod to American History X (1998) and how that film depicts the philosophical circle of a white man who went from youthful optimism to a garden-variety prejudice that paved his way to becoming a leader of a hate group only to experience just how wrong and hypocritical organizations based on hate are.
This film completes this philosophical arc while exposing the dangers and fallacies of extreme beliefs + briefly touching on systemic racism:

John Singleton’s Boyz N’ The Hood (1991) was released a few years after Do the Right Thing as Hollywood discovered there was actually a market for heartfelt, thoughtful, and profound stories from a minority perspective instead of recycling the same blaxploitation films of the 70s and 80s.

Documentary filmmaking made giant strides in the 1990s. One of the most successful documentary films to date is Hoop Dreams (1994).

When I was in middle school, my brother returned home from Blockbuster with Hoop Dreams in hand. We watched it together and I remember thinking that, though it was slower than Hollywood productions, it was my first non-Ken Burns documentary and I could feel its importance.
Much like the two main focuses of the film –high school athletes Arthur Agee and William Gates– I also had dreams of becoming a professional athlete. That was the most obvious similarity as the differences between the circumstances surrounding these young men in inner-city Chicago and my suburban setting were stark. It injected perspective and gratitude in me at a young age.

Once again, here’s Ebert’s thoughts on Hoop Dreams:

“No screenwriter would dare write this story; it is drama and melodrama, packaged with outrage and moments that make you want to cry. Hoop Dreams (1994) has the form of a sports documentary, but along the way it becomes a revealing and heartbreaking story about life in America. When the filmmakers began, they planned to make a thirty-minute film about eighth graders being recruited from inner-city playgrounds to play for suburban schools. Their film eventually encompassed six years, involved 250 hours of footage, and found a reversal of fortunes the could not possibly have anticipated.”

“The sports stories develop headlong suspense, but the real heart of the film involves the scenes filmed in homes, playgrounds, and churches in the inner city.”

Speaking of sports documentaries and Ken Burns, Burns’s Jack Johnson: Unforgivable Blackness provided a look at the most celebrated African-American during the Jim Crow era:

Of course it’s easy to reference the many comedians who have absolutely nailed race and race relations in the United States. Names like Pryor, Murphy, Rock, Chappelle, and many others repeatedly create stand-up specials, bits, shows, movies, and so much more to add both levity and poignancy to our everyday dialogue.

With that in mind, allow me to bring up an often overlooked comic strip and subsequent animated series entitled The Boondocks. Aaron McGruder created the comic strip in 1996 and it was adapted for television in 2005. The Boondocks welcomed controversy and created outstanding criticism of popular black culture, black media (specifically BET), as well as all politics.
The series is definitely told from the perspective of someone who desperately wishes for everyone in our society to wake up, sharpen up, and become more proactive and resolute.

You’d need an awful lot of context, but the episode that poses the scenario of “what if Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t die from his assassination, but instead remained in a coma until he awoke thirty years later– how would the remainder of his life play out?” is a bitingly critical episode. And it still stays with me.
The entire episode is worth watching, but if you’re limited on time, here’s an animated two and a half minute speech delivered by a hypothetical Dr. MLK Jr. after being put through the grinder of contemporary society.

Of course, even though I saw this show a little late in my life, The Wire is exemplary in showing “the other side of the coin” than your stereotypical cops & robbers or generic Hollywood-stylized look at crime and the criminal justice system.
The Wire presents what life is like for those born into extremely difficult situations and it goes to great lengths, as far as following characters from public education system and onto how they end up in the streets, falling into a career/lifestyle of crime, or finding their way out.

It would be a mistake to not include this monumental TV show and its brilliant, sprawling, and realistic narrative ecosystem.

Last year, I resumed writing for this site by posting a review of The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019).

The highlight/meat of that review:

“Though the film is about a man’s quest to reclaim what once belonged to his family, the film doesn’t linger too long or incessantly draw from the well of ‘gentrification as the villain.’ Sure, the film includes roles that are very much in line with illustrating just how shitty gentrification is, most obviously a very easy-to-dislike realtor as well as some malcontent techies, but TLBMiSF does an exceptional job of balancing gentrification themes with the challenges Jimmie and Monty, the two main characters, face within their own community.

This culminates in the third act when Jimmie declares that ‘people aren’t ONE thing’ which leads to Monty protesting moments later that [very loose paraphrasing here] ‘people are born into systems and walls. That these walls are what hold people back and that we all need to break through and break free from all the shit and uselessness we’re all born into.’

People are not one thing.
Regardless of circumstances, people should not blindly and willfully perpetuate exactly what they were born into.”

These are just a few examples of how African-Americans and their stories have shaped how I view race.
Even with all of the above, I have yet to even mention sports figures like Jackie Robinson, Bob Gibson, Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, and many others as well as the countless musicians –Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Nina Simone, Max Roach, Charles Mingus, James Brown, Curtis Mayfield, Ray Charles, Sammy Davis Jr., Lightin’ Hopkins, Muddy Waters, Jimi Hendrix to name a few– who have also influenced me.

The point is– even if you are far removed from any type of diversity or meaningful relationship with someone outside your own race– race, and specifically African-American culture has been ever-present in the books we read, the music we listen to, the films we watch, the sports we participate in, and essentially most things Americans enjoy.
Though I’ve become more politically moderate as I’ve aged, I have difficulty understanding those that can’t see the obvious value and merit in the above perspectives.

For all of my lengthy chatter on the matter, please click on the link to see Langston Hughes succinctly hit the nail on the head in his short poem “Theme for English B.”

Onto what is presently in front of every American.
The 10-minute video of George Floyd’s death.
The video is harrowing.
With a knee on Floyd’s neck and hands deep in his pockets, Officer Chauvin displays a cruel nonchalance and unaffectedness that I’ve never previously seen. No novel, no film has depicted such callousness for human life.
The American public has seen videos such as the billy clubbed abuse administered to Rodney King, a fatally choked out Eric Garner, tragic shootings of far too many–and all of those videos are damning of law enforcement– yet the footage of George Floyd’s death shows an officer so calm and deliberate while ending a citizen’s life.
This isn’t an insecure and frightened cop incorrectly assuming that someone he pulled over may be drawing a firearm (which isn’t forgivable/excusable but a least it doesn’t seem calculated– rather, it fits the actions of one who is easily frightened and doesn’t have the stomach for law enforcement), this is an officer who relentlessly and unmercifully positions his bodyweight and knee on the neck of a man for nearly nine minutes as the victim pleads sixteen times for air before tragically taking his final painful breaths.

Like with any situation involving law enforcement (and I mean any situation– from the most innocuous traffic ticket to a complex conspiracy investigation), there are questions. It’s been reported that the cops were originally called by a convenience store employee because Mr. Floyd allegedly attempted to use a counterfeit $20 dollar bill to pay for cigarettes.

I recommend this New York Times video that does a pretty good job at addressing the obvious questions like how did a disagreement over a $20 bill lead to a 911 call and end with a tragic murder?

Officer Chauvin is unfazed and unconcerned. This is speculation, but it seems as though Chauvin’s attitude is #1 – he, Floyd, shouldn’t have used (or allegedly used) counterfeit money, #2 – he should have cooperated, followed commands, and peacefully entered the squad car, and #3 – since he didn’t peacefully submit to entering the squad car, Chauvin is going to pin him to the ground until the medics arrive.

In a very, very loose world (or in the America depicted in most of the works above– John Singleton’s Boyz N The Hood, Spike Lee’s many films, James Baldwin’s America, etc), maybe this type of thought process and interpretation of what happened might hold water in a court of law. But the videos obviously show, beyond a shadow of any doubt, that the methods used were so extreme, needless, cruel, and without regard for human life.

And now the country is in the understandable state that it is in.
I admittedly haven’t spent a ton of time researching and analyzing all the different types of protests, marches, demonstrations, and unfortunate riots. That acknowledged, there does seem to be a mixed bag of peaceful protests/demonstrations as well as destructive riots.

I’m uncomfortable even attempting to judge what constitutes an “acceptable/understandable” riot or release valve for a distressed community and differentiating that with what appears to be bored kids trying to get away with playing the role of malcontent anarchists.

It seems as though Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta has had enough of kids “playing” the part of civil justice soldiers and participating in this summer’s riots as though they were attending a music festival.
(Please watched the hyperlinked video if you haven’t already. That video is unable to be embedded).

Here’s another intelligent woman in Harlem fed up with rioters who seem to suffer more from FOMO than grief, anger, or rage with societal injustice (explicit language).

One of the more appropriate things I’ve seen shared on social media was an updated repost of Juxtapoz’s write up on Arthur Jafa’s short film entitled Love Is The Message, The Message Is Death.

I remember when this originally came out in 2017. It was powerful then; it’s powerful now. The film moves through seven-plus minutes of representations of Black America and pairs it with the Kanye West gospel track, “Ultralight Beam”.
One can’t help but feel those images. Juxtapoz accurately labels the piece as “bodies in various states of elation and despair.” Accurate.
Being swung in and around this time machine through Black America is nothing if not emotional.

Clearly, we have an enormous problem. Even if you’re a staunch conservative, here’s George W. Bush’s statement admitting as much.
Now comes the hard part, what to do about it?
That will be a more difficult post to write, but it’s forthcoming.

Election Season is Over

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012


And on the day before the election, Jon Stewart delivered the thought that appropriately closed 2012’s Election Season:

It seems that political organizations and political parties have become whiny bastions of faux-persecuted-victimized individuals that feel like anyone who doesn’t agree with their worldview is persecuting them– do you want to punch them?

—- Jon Stewart to Martha Raddatz on 11/05/2012

It would not be correct to leave out the “punch” part of the bit, but yes, it was in jest- and it was meant to all of those who feel like whoever disagrees with them is, in some way, out to get them.

The meat of that quote- using “faux-persecuted-victimized individuals” to describe partisan folks  is too good to ignore.