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For The Love of Baseball

For The Love of Baseball

It’s April.  And that means that baseball season has begun.  This year, for the first time since 1968, every team’s season began on the same day, March 29.  And that is somewhat odd, too, to open the season on a Friday.  It used to be that the Cincinnati Reds always had the first home opening game of the season, though that had more to do with the prospects for good weather.  Cincinnati – this may be hard for some of you to understand – used to be one of the southernmost cities in the National League.

“The game begins in the spring,” wrote A. Bartlett Giamatti, “when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings.”  That is from Giamatti’s “The Green Fields of the Mind.”  Giamatti, some of you might recall, was a Yale professor of English literature, and Yale President for eight years, until he was named president of the National League and then commissioner of baseball.  Giamatti says that he first wrote the piece in 1977 for the Yale alumni bulletin; he was secretary of his class, and he submitted it as class notes because “I had absolutely nothing to say about my classmates.”  It was rejected, of course, but resurrected when he became Yale president.

“As soon as the chill rains come, it stops, and leaves you to face the fall alone.  You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.”  Giamatti goes on to describe a 1977 Red Sox-Yankees game, though that specific game isn’t the subject.  It is the poetry of the game that is his subject.

About the same time that Giamatti wrote his piece, George Carlin had been delivering a masterful stand-up routine, comparing baseball and football.  A few lines from that are worth remembering:  “Baseball is different from any other sport. In most sports, the ball or object is put in play by the offensive team; in baseball, the defensive team puts the ball in play, and only the defense is allowed to touch the ball….Baseball begins in the spring, the season of new life.  Football begins in the fall, when everything is dying….Football is concerned with downs; what down is it?  Baseball is concerned with ups; who’s up?….In football, you receive a penalty.  In baseball, you make an error.”

Consider how unique the baseball park is:  Though the infields are the same throughout, the outfields throughout the game are all quite different.  Fenway Park is quirky, a metaphor for the game.  In baseball, the foul lines extend forever; a ball that is fair, is fair no matter the distance it travels, and foul is always foul.  There is no clock in baseball; 27 outs (at least) are necessary, no matter how long it takes.  Ask the 1986 Boston Red Sox about that.

Carlin might have pointed out that baseball is poetry, football is prose.  Baseball is independent of some rules, obsessive about others.  It is quirky and colorful.  Life, in fall and winter, lacks something, and that something is baseball.  It’s good to have it back.

August Blog: Captcha

August Blog: Captcha

Ever buy a concert or sporting event ticket online?  You’ve neared the end, entered all of your information, credit card and such, and then the website asks you to recognize and write a bit of gibberish, that shows up in a strange box, sometimes with its letters distorted.  Well, that’s a CAPTCHA, a Completely Automated Public Turing Test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart.  The Turing is named after Alan Turing, often called the father of modern computing, who proposed a test to determine whether or not computers can think, and can mimic humans. Those CAPTCHAs are there to stop a computer program from buying up all the Springsteen tickets.  A CAPTCHA is based on the understanding that the human mind is more adept visually than any computer can be.  We (humans, that is) try to find patterns where none exist.  It’s called pareidolia; that’s why we see the Man in the Moon, or the face of Jesus in a tree stump.  It’s why we are so prone to believing in conspiracies; it’s not paranoia (well, not always), but pareidolia.  However, computers, at least so far, weren’t as likely to see those patterns.  Although I understand that some computer geeks are working on correcting that.

Most of the time, when you’re typing in those characters, there’s nothing else going on; you are simply proving that you are not a computer.  But Luis von Ahn, who is credited as one of the inventors of the CAPTCHA, has created a company called reCAPTCHA, that is working to digitize books, using you.  The problem with digitizing old books is that, when scanned, the computer cannot always clearly identify the words (proof again that computers aren’t very visual).  So, those indecipherable (by the computer) words are thrown to TicketMaster, or whoever.  You are buying your Springsteen tickets, and when the box pops up, this time it’s a real word, just blurred.  When you type in the word, TicketMaster shares that with reCAPTCHA, which then inserts that corrected word into the text of a book being digitized.  Mr. von Ahn says that he wants to make sure that for those five seconds while you’re typing that word, your time is put to good use.  Without knowing it, you are multitasking.

The Side Bar by Joseph McDonagh is a monthly blog of random topics on local interests. Joe is a writer posing as an independent insurance agent. His interests include the Red Sox, healthcare, etymology and linguistics, history, and the cultivation of democracy. Contact Joe at josephpmcdonagh@gmail.com

July Blog; Madras & the Golf Tournament

July Blog; Madras & the Golf Tournament

Madras. First, the correct pronunciation. Is it MAD-russ, or muh-DRASS? Merriam-Webster says the latter, but dictionary.com says the former. It may depend on whether you are naming the city or the fabric. Even though the fabric got its name from the city. According to gentlemansgazette.com in 1626 the British East India Company (famous for its success in the opium wars in China, and its imperialism everywhere) discovered the Indian village of Madraspatnam, where the locals manufactured a calico cloth “so much desired,” according to Francis Day, an officer of the Company.  The original fabric was overprinted or embroidered in elaborate patterns using vegetable dyes. The quality of the water had a significant impact on the colors, so the local weavers had to know which water would produce a certain color.  The plaid colors that we currently associate with madras were a later development, the result of a tartan craze started in 1822 when King George IV visited Scotland.

Although madras fabric appeared in the US as early as 1718, as part of a donation made to the Collegiate School of Connecticut by then Madras Governor Elihu Yale (yes, Gov. Yale later lent his name to the Collegiate School), it really started to gain popularity in the 1930s, when Ivy League students would return from vacationing in the Caribbean, wearing their madras purchases (and thereby proclaiming their wealth). One problem, however, was that madras cloth, if not washed properly (in cold water), would bleed. Turning a problem into a marketing gimmick, Brooks Brothers and Seventeen Magazine (no, really) collaborated on an article in 1958, bragging in a photo caption that the material was “guaranteed to bleed.” How to tell if it is true madras? Is the pattern the same on both sides of the cloth?  That is the mark of true madras.

For the past three years, at the Hamden Regional Chamber’s Annual Golf Tournament, emcee Ray Andrewsen – Station Manager at WQUN, and owner of a voice so perfect for radio that Gugliemo Marconi must have had Ray in mind when he invented the radio – has auctioned off a beautiful madras jacket, proceeds going to the Make A Wish Foundation.  In 2014, I was the proud winner, though of a jacket intended for someone about twice my size.  In 2015, Mike Coassin won the jacket, and this year’s winner was Ross Cooper of iHeart Media.  Ray seems to have an endless supply of madras jackets, good news for the Chamber, and for Make A Wish.


The Side Bar by Joseph McDonagh is a monthly blog of random topics on local interests. Joe is a writer posing as an independent insurance agent. His interests include the Red Sox, healthcare, etymology and linguistics, history, and the cultivation of democracy. Contact Joe at josephpmcdonagh@gmail.com
Emcee, Ray Andrewsen General Manager & Host of AM 1220 WQUN

Emcee, Ray Andrewsen General Manager & Host of AM 1220 WQUN

Presenting Sponsor Steve Zion, Toyota of Wallingford & 2016 Madra’s Jacket Winner Ross Cooper, iHeart Media.

2015 Madra’s Jacket Winner, Mike Coassin