There are a lot of stories to react to today and none of them involve the Phillies at all. But then again, why would they? Why do people think that writing about and watching the Phillies is vital to our national discourse and sovereignty? Because you know what – I’ve been around and I know for a fact that most people don’t care.
How? Well, grab a seat…
Not too long ago my wife, then two-year old son and I drove from Estes Park, Colorado to Cheyenne, Wyoming. Along the way we stopped at a handful of roadside stands in the Big Thompson Canyon, where I remember buying some wild chokecherry jelly. Apparently it was native to that small, specific region of Colorado where the altitude and elements affected the chokecherries just so.
Plus, it was kind of cool stopping at a roadside stand outside of Lancaster County outposts like Blue Ball or Intercourse where they don’t have things like chokecherries. Apparently, the chokecherry can kill a horse even though it makes a helluva jelly.
Anyway, we drove to Wyoming where we saw nothing and realized that something called Major League Baseball was just something else other people did.
Here’s what I wrote after having lunch at the train depot at the end of Capitol Street in Cheyenne:
I don’t know how many of you folks out there have ever been to Wyoming, but there is nothing there. And when I say “there is nothing there,” I don’t mean, “We went to Wyoming and all they had was a freaking Wal-Mart and a bunch of rednecks hanging out at the mall…” There was no mall. There was no Wal-Mart either. In fact, the reason we met the Governor was because we walked into the state house thinking there would be some sort of historical tour or something (there wasn’t). Instead, we marched right up the front steps, entered the building without going through any security clearance, and then made a hard right into the Governor’s office. Yeah, that’s right — the Governor of the entire state was sitting about 25 yards from where some sporadic midday traffic was halfheartedly whizzing by.
Crazy, huh? Think Ed Rendell would get his ample ass up from behind his desk for anything less than a 6-foot hoagie? No, me either.
There was a lot I learned about Wyoming and Cheyenne that I’m saving for a more ambitious project and won’t bore anyone with the details here. I’m sure no one wants to hear about the finer details of the drive from Estes Park, Colo. through Northern Colorado and into Wyoming. I have pages on that. Nor do I think anyone is too interested in how Wyoming was the first state to allow women to vote — they have a big statue for Esther Hobart in front of the capitol. She led the suffrage movement.
Sure, Dick Cheney is from Wyoming, but so is Jackson Pollock and Nellie Taylor Ross, the first woman governor of any state in the union.
Forget all of that, but remember this: according to the 2000 census, the population of Cheyenne is 52, 011. That makes it the largest city in the state. It also is quite a bit less than Lancaster, Pa., and Lancaster has a whole bunch of things Cheyenne doesn’t — a few Wal-Marts, Taco-Bells… you know, suburban sprawl. Wyoming has none of that. From my experience, the nine miles from the Wyoming state line to Cheyenne makes the Pennsylvania Dutch Country look like Manhattan.
Or how about this: Nobody in Cheyenne gives a [bleep] about the Phillies, nor has anyone ever heard of Bill Conlin. Of course, we didn’t get a chance to talk to everyone, but we got a good start in a walk up and down Capitol Street and into a Western clothier called “The Wrangler,” where they have all the gear stocked up in anticipation for this weekend’s Frontier Days, which, if my rudimentary knowledge of professional rodeo is on the money, is akin to the U.S. Open in golf.
So, nope, most people don’t care about the Phillies, which is kind of a roundabout way of getting to the interesting things I read over the past 24 hours.
Jack McCallum of Sports Illustrated led a series of stories about performance-enhancing drugs and how they have a grip in American society beyond the sporting world. Actually, look no further than the entertainment industry for a good primer as to how the steroid culture pervades public life.
In fact, during last week’s Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame inductions, little Justin Timberlake and Madonna spoke quite cavalierly from the stage about injections of B-12 and even described the 49-year old pop star’s travel kit with her supplements of shots… you know, because everyone walks around with needles and doses of B-12.
Few segments of society depend as heavily on physical appearance as Hollywood, and it turns out that Sylvester Stallone, who may one day give us Rambo: The Assisted-Living Years, needed more than one-handed pushups and raw eggs at dawn to stay cut. Last May in Australia the 61-year-old Stallone paid $10,600 to settle a charge of criminal drug possession after he was found to have 48 vials of HGH and several vials of testosterone. Stallone has since acknowledged that he takes HGH and testosterone regularly, and legally. “Everyone over 40 years old would be wise to investigate it [HGH and testosterone use] because it increases the quality of your life,” Stallone told Time last month.
Adds a prominent Hollywood plastic surgeon, who requested anonymity because he has many clients in the industry, “If you’re an actor in Hollywood and you’re over 40, you are doing HGH. Period. Why wouldn’t you? It makes your skin look better, your hair, your fingernails, everything.”
Chuck Zito — former Hells Angel, former bodyguard to the stars, former Hollywood stuntman and beefcake extra, former sinister presence on HBO’s Oz — was an enthusiastic steroid and HGH user for three years during his acting days earlier this decade. “It’s just something everybody did,” says Zito, “and they’re still doing it. It’s ridiculous that we only talk about it in sports. You think these actors who suddenly get big for a movie, then go back to normal get like that by accident? You put 30 pounds of muscle on and you expect everybody to believe that just happened?”
Isn’t just like people to look for shortcuts? That’s especially the case when staying fit and looking “healthy” takes nothing more than a little bit of work and discipline… but who has time to eat properly, exercise well and get the correct amount of sleep?
A good work ethic is just too old-fashioned.
Because I have ties to the sports world and academia, I often hear about parents that push their kids into athletics with the hope of the kid getting a college scholarship. Sometimes the parents spend tens of thousands of dollars a year for special camps and private coaching with the hope of making Little Jimmy the next great Big Man on Campus.
Certainly such sentiment is a sea change from how things were in my day when we were told very early on (like in sixth grade) that we wouldn’t be good enough.
And it was true. The high school I attended was (and is) widely regarded as the area’s best school for athletics. Through many different eras the track and basketball teams have been more than dominant – they’ve been unbeatable. During my senior year the golf, track and cross country teams won 70-plus league meets without a loss. Meanwhile, the football and basketball teams tore through league play and into the district title matchups.
And we weren’t that good.
Yet throughout the school’s 70-year history of owning the area’s top athletic programs, there have been just three alums to make it to the Major Leagues and two others to get to the NFL. Of those five, three of them are currently active.
What this means is that it’s a long way to the top if you want to rock ‘n roll.
But what The New York Times offered in a three-day series chronicling the stories of scholarship athletes and the coaches at Villanova and Delaware is that it might be easier to go from college to the pros than it is to get a full ride for even the best high school athletes.
Excluding the glamour sports of football and basketball, the average N.C.A.A. athletic scholarship is nowhere near a full ride, amounting to $8,707. In sports like baseball or track and field, the number is routinely as low as $2,000. Even when football and basketball are included, the average is $10,409. Tuition and room and board for N.C.A.A. institutions often cost between $20,000 and $50,000 a year.
“People run themselves ragged to play on three teams at once so they could always reach the next level,” said Margaret Barry of Laurel, Md., whose daughter is a scholarship swimmer at the University of Delaware. “They’re going to be disappointed when they learn that if they’re very lucky, they will get a scholarship worth 15 percent of the $40,000 college bill. What’s that? $6,000?”
Within the N.C.A.A. data, last collected in 2003-4 and based on N.C.A.A. calculations from an internal study, are other statistical insights about the distribution of money for the 138,216 athletes who received athletic aid in Division I and Division II.
¶Men received 57 percent of all scholarship money, but in 11 of the 14 sports with men’s and women’s teams, the women’s teams averaged higher amounts per athlete.
¶On average, the best-paying sport was neither football nor men’s or women’s basketball. It was men’s ice hockey, at $21,755. Next was women’s ice hockey ($20,540).
¶The lowest overall average scholarship total was in men’s riflery ($3,608), and the lowest for women was in bowling ($4,899). Baseball was the second-lowest men’s sport ($5,806).
Interestingly, NCAA president Myles Brand pointed out in one of the stories that if kids are really hell bent on getting free money for college, they are better off applying themselves in academics than in sports.
“The real opportunity is taking advantage of how eager institutions are to reward good students,” he said. “In America’s colleges, there is a system of discounting for academic achievement. Most people with good academic records aren’t paying full sticker price. We don’t want people to stop playing sports; it’s good for them. But the best opportunity available is to try to improve one’s academic qualifications.”
Finally, there was an interesting story on the South by Southwest festival in The Wall Street Journal on how the Austin, Texas-based fest organizers are trying to keep “the suits” out.
To that we say, “Good for them.”
Also at SXSW, the legendary Lou Reed was a keynote speaker and was feted in a tribute concert in which piles of bands played his songs. I bet it was kind of cool, though some old dude writing for Austin’s newspaper though the Reed-fest was a little much.
The old dude named Corcoran wrote:
SXSW keynoter Lou Reed played the “Lou Reed Tribute” Thursday evening at the Levi’s/Fader Fort. He performed “Walk On the Wild Side” with Moby, not really an adventurous choice. The songs I heard for two hours, many of them sounding alike, kinda rat out Reed as an overrated songwriter in the right place, right time. Where’s his “I Say a Little Prayer?.” What’s the great song he’s written in the past 30 years?
OK, where do we start… look, it’s fine – and maybe even correct – to write that Reed might be a little overrated. Frankly, who isn’t a little overrated these days. But that last sentence, What’s the great song he’s written in the past 30 years? … oh my.
Talk about a pile of crap.
First, Reed, as a schoolboy at Syracuse, had a direct link (through poet Delmore Schwartz) to T.S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound and Vlad Nabokov. But then again, why would something as heady as that matter to a newspaper writer?
But I just can’t get past that line — What’s the great song he’s written in the past 30 years? Really, is Corcoran that dim? Reed’s album Magic & Loss, released in 1991, is one that I have owned since it came out but have only been able to listen to one time because it’s just way too real and I’m not enough of an adult to deal with it. It’s as much of a bleeping knockout punch as it is haunting.
In 1990 Reed teamed with old Velvet Underground mate John Cale for the romantic Songs for Drella, which is an elegant, funny, sweet, trenchant and unflinching tribute to Andy Warhol as could ever be produced.
In 1989 Reed released the epic New York not only led the back-to-basics movement that spawned the so-called grunge sound a half decade later, but as rated 19th best album of the 1980s by Rolling Stone it is criminally underrated.
So what great song has Reed written in the past 30 years? I don’t know, are three great albums that aren’t bound by such trite media notions as time or era enough?