Sunday, November 17, 2019

Remembering Irv Noren

I was sorry to hear about the passing of Irv Noren, a fine hitting outfielder who achieved most of his fame with the fabled Yankees of the 1950s, as a fill-in successor to the just-retired Joe DiMaggio, when the truly-anointed successor, Mickey Mantle, still suffered from an injury in the 1951 World Series (getting out of Joe D's way on a ball hit by Willie Mays). The Yankees of that era often picked up key pieces of their teams from the less successful American League teams, in this case, Noren came from the hapless Washington Senators of the early 50s.
Noren had played pro basketball in the 1940s alongside Jackie Robinson on an integrated team before Jackie's Dodger historic stint began. Noren had a great rookie season with the Senators in 1950 (with 160 hits, 10 triples, 14 home runs, 98 runs batted in, and a .295 average; he hit .319 for Yankees, and made the All-Star team in 1954). His salary for the Yanks in 1952 was a meager $19,000, and the stingy Yanks first offered him a $2000 raise. But he went on to be part of three Yankees championship teams, and a third-base coach on two championship Oakland A's teams in the 70s. Noren's career as a player in the majors spanned eleven seasons and six teams and he played all outfield positions and first base, and he had a respectable lifetime batting average of .275. Irv Noren was a modest yet talented utility player who journeyed after his time as a key piece of a legendary franchise.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

P.S. A Footnote to History: Motown Revived

P.S.   It is great for fans of all teams to see two pitching masterpieces in a row from Sanchez and Scherzer against a usually powerful Cardinal lineup. The Nats threw in some clutch hitting by Adam Eaton for good measure. The Sanchez and Scherzer back to back hitless pitching was only the second time in MLB postseason history that teammates pitched at least five hitless innings in consecutive games during a league championship series. The first to do the feat, were the self-same Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer, as Detroit Tiger pitchers, during games 1 and 2 of the American League championship series in 2013. The Nats remake a almost perfect Motown beat.
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Saturday, October 12, 2019


Washington sports teams are often the underdog in big games, and generally not as well supported as teams from other places. This is due in part to the DC population that is transitory; we have many people who come to DC from other places for a relatively short time, who naturally tend to root for their childhood favorites--their home teams. Thus, we often host games at which half the fans are in uniform or rooting for the visiting teams--so there is frequently not the home field advantage that other teams have.
But a couple of our teams have learned or are learning to deal with it, and showing heart and soul, and building more of a loyal independent fan base. The Caps, the Mystics, and the Nats are climbing out of their state of "underdogness," and winning big games, showing a level of durability, spirit, and resilience to rise above it, and win some key playoff games on the road and at home. They are rising to a level of mastery and a positive, never-give-up spirit, that is fun to watch and inspiring at the same time. In just two days, the Mystics came back to win a first WNBA title, and Nats opened a series in St. Louis with a Sanchez/Doolittle 2 to 0, one-hit gem.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Forces of Nature At Play

When all else fails, gather and bring some forces of nature into the playoff game, and you have a good chance for success. The Nats, after a frustrating 10 to 4 loss at home to the Dodgers, turned to true natural sources to tie the series 2 to 2 and take it back to LA for a winner take all game.
The Nats worked a misty rain to fall more heavily in the Dodgers half of their innings, so the Dodger batters had less chance of seeing and timing Max Scherzer's sliders and fastballs. But the rain never fell so heavily to cause a delay or to cause a tarpolin to be brought onto the field of play.
When then was not enough, the winds were brought in to make catch able well-hit Dodger baseballs that were stopped just short of the fences. And then there were the true forces of nature--Max Scherzer, and Ryan Zimmerman--experienced and competitive enough to make the difference against the less motivated and less focused Dodgers. While a little wet and chilly, this baseball night was made for the Nat fans and for witnessing the acts and actors of nature at work.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Just another great day in the August summer...

We may not have been part of a later-day Woodstock nation, but we were several hundred thousand strong at the Library of Congress' National Book Festival--
We headed on down to DC Convention center;
To join in a literary, spoken-word band,
And we camped out on the poetry and prose laden land,
Getting our souls free.
From a 600 BC Odyssey we traveled back to today
And felt stardust,
We were golden
And we got to get ourselves
Back to the garden.
Just another great day in the August summer.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Sunset, Creativity, Friendship, and Jazz

I admit it. I caught the live outdoor music bug, at least for a time.
It was my third visit to Wolf Trap for live music in five or six days. But who’s counting? This time, it was time to hear some visionary jazz with recently-acclaimed and gifted saxophonist, Kamasi Washington, much acclaimed after his work with rapper Kendrick Lamar; and the legendary, jazz-fusion keyboard visionary, and ambassador of jazzian good-will, Herbie Hancock.
Kamasi and his group opened the show and worked together flawlessly and produced modern works of art that led to many standing ovations. The ensemble is a family and neighborly affair with father, Rickey, a talented and experienced woodwind musician in his own right, and boyhood friends. As sunset fell on the park, it was so natural that they connected with each other and with the audience, leading to an outpouring of joy and standing ovations. It was innovative jazz the way it was meant to be.
After a relatively long intermission, Herbie Hancock and his group came on. From the start, they were the more experimental and had more difficulty connecting to each other and to the audience. Herbie Hancock is truly a gifted artist and he remains one, but coming on late with a somewhat impatient crowd did not help, and many in the crowd uncharacteristically started to walk out. It was hard to match the earlier warm links of Kamasi and grou[, and Herbie and his group seemed to be just getting to know each other by contrast. Herbie commented that “tonight you will hear things never heard or played before,” and tonight it just did not fully work. Overall, it was great to once again hear live music under the cool nighttime sky and to enjoy the creativity of gifted players at work and at play, especially when they succeed, but even when they do not quite bring it home.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Summer Chestnuts Roasting In An Open Park

The magnetic pull of live music once again drew me back to Wolf Trap National Park on another beautiful summer evening (second concert in three nights). It was back to the pleasantly wooded shed to bathe in the oh-so-clear and floating sounds of the National Symphony, playing effortlessly the lyrical Tchaikovsky‘s Violin Concerto, and Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony – – both chestnuts of the world of classical music. In a pre-concert dialogue with NPR’s Rich Kleinfelt, I learned that both pieces, while so widely accepted now, were very poorly received in their first performances and caused serious emotional setbacks to their sensitive composers.
Tchaikovsky‘s Violin Concerto was considered unplayable at its completion (because of its many double stops, trills, leaps, and bounds into somewhat dissonant notes for its time), and was very poorly received at its debut in Vienna in 1881. Tchaikovsky apparently never forgot that chilly reception and could recite by heart the full review of one severe critic who commented that the work “gave out a bad smell.” By contrast, on this night at Wolf Trap, the piece was eminently playable, and effortlessly mastered by the orchestra (its musical director, Gianandrea Noseda, in his first Wolf Trap performance) and the soloist, violin virtuoso Ning Feng, playing a 1721 Stradivari violin.
Beethoven’s Fifth premiered in a poorly organized and somewhat under-rehearsed and overlong concert of Beethoven’s pieces, played in a cold and uncomfortable hall in Vienna in 1808, with Beethoven conducting the orchestra himself. The reaction and the reviews were very negative that night, at a time when Beethoven was fighting growing deafness, and the reception that night was a setback for the emotional Beethoven. Beethoven’s Fifth starts quickly with those memorable four notes (three short and a longer one, a kind of “knocking at fate’s door”), which are repeated throughout the piece in various ways. Those four notes became associated with British resistance in World War II and symbolized “V” for Victory. Later, the notes ironically influenced the beginning of John Fogerty’s rock classic “Proud Mary.”
On this night, I remembered my deep connection to those four notes, because, in my childhood, I wanted to explore the world by becoming a radio amateur operator (a pre-Internet way to interact with people throughout the world). To be a radio amateur, I needed to master the seemingly impenetrable Morse Code. The four key notes of the Fifth, which are “V” in Morse Code, were relatively easy to master, and gave me the confidence that I could learn the rest of the letters. This forgotten connection to Beethoven and learning, filled the night air with a sense of joy that Beethoven, unfortunately, could not experience at the debut. I was also joyful at the large (full-house) crowd filling Wolf Trap for the National Symphony, at a time some symphony orchestras are sadly struggling.