Dog Days

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The dog days of summer are upon us. Although originally related to the rising of Sirius (the Dog Star) over the horizon – an omen of trouble and pestilence during the hottest days – nowadays we mean those late days of summer when nothing seems to matter. All the fervent plans we made are either done or abandoned and it’s too late to start something new.

In baseball, the teams are contending for first place but everyone knows it will not be decided now but in September and October. While the day to day doings of our heroes may pique a little interest, it really doesn’t matter in the long run. Other sports are either on hiatus or in their early days.

The same can be said of politics. In the USA, Donald Trump continues to lead the Republican polls, filling the headlines and social media sites with outrage or amusement but we all know that leading anything in August is a mug’s game. Nothing of significance will happen until the fall or maybe the winter. Call me after the first primaries and let me know where the toupee is then.

The Canadian election has been grinding on for three weeks now though it seems endlessly longer. People like me, who follow politics as closely as others follow baseball or, in Canada, hockey, eagerly lap up every bit of news and follow every shift in the polls, still know that it will all come down to the final five weeks. Who can say what another month of lackluster campaigning will bring? Will the voters remember who called the media “lying pieces of shit” or care who knew what about the Duffy affair? Will they be swamped with the commercial messages of all parties until they don’t know up from down or have they already made up their minds? Will this be the election where campaigns don’t matter?

Hard to say.

During the dog days, we want to care, we want to still wring the last bit of fun out of the ever shortening days, we want to get up and enjoy the heat while it still lasts before the snow flies (sorry Alberta – I feel your pain) but somehow it just seems easier to sleep in and lay around, dreaming perhaps of all the things we’re going to do as soon as Labour Day passes and the real world starts up again.

Which is of course foolish. Life is short. That is not an admonition to have an affair but a warning that every day not lived to its fullest is a day you will never get back, a day you may in the future regret as having been wasted. There are no lazy days when you are dead – no days at all.

So get up! Do something! Even if it is only to read that book you promised to read over the summer but never got to. Even if it is only to walk by the river with your dog. Every dog has his day and every dog day is still worth living.

But that’s ten minutes.

Sports

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Sports are supposed to prepare you for life – so said my last gym teacher in school while he actively tried to humiliate the students he was in charge of. Most people put up with it – even flourished under it – but I quit Phys. Ed. at the earliest opportunity, naturally preferring to spend my time in the school library than running around the track.

Sports are a massive part of most cultures. Though the sports vary from place to place, every country has its stadiums and playing fields. Wasn’t the battle of Waterloo famously won on the playing fields of Eton?

But does sport actually prepare us for the intricacies of life? We all are told that it builds teamwork but real teams should be made up of equals whereas sports teams are made up of stars and journeymen. Sports teams teach us that everything is about hierarchy, blaming and self-loathing. Or maybe that was just my experience.

One has to wonder what life lessons we are supposed to take from the abandonment of players suffering the results of multiple concussions or by the willingness of some leagues to turn a blind eye to domestic violence – at least until it is caught on video tape. And let’s not even get into the lessons we should take from sexual assault by coaches and players cheating with drugs or officials bribing officials to get sports events for their country or region.

Now that I think about it – sports do prepare us for life. At least life in a dysfunctional society.

Despite my general aversion to sports I see the value in physical activity. I was a lifelong runner – just ask my poor aching knees – and found the process of moving over long distances a great way to get into the zone for creativity. It must have been the endorphin high but I composed most of my 3-day novel in my head while running in the weeks before I sat down and wrote it in three days. And I have to admit I love the mathematical beauty of baseball.

Nothing I say or think is going to diminish the role of sports in everyday life – especially its role of determining who belongs to the tribe and who doesn’t. I learned a long time ago that if you wanted to belong in male dominated groups you needed to learn how to speak ‘sport.’ Fortunately the intricacies of most games are not all that intricate compared to say organic chemistry or Australian Aborigine kinship systems that can only be figured out with higher algebra. Watch a few games and peruse the sports pages for a week or two and you can soon be talking sport along with the best of them.

Of course, it is just possible that half the people you are talking to are faking it as well. Which would be funny if sport talk and team affiliation wasn’t so often used – especially by men – to control entry into the inner circles of power. Even learning the jargon won’t necessarily open the door – especially if you are a woman or a less-than-macho-man. Maybe we need – those of us who can no longer care enough to fake it – our own secret language. Any one for learning the language of ‘art?’

But that’s ten minutes

Baseball

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The baseball winter meetings are being held this week. Trades will be made, free agents signed and at the end of the week we’ll start speculating about what it all means while we dream of the return of summer.

Baseball. For a Canadian it is almost heretical to prefer baseball to hockey. As the son of an English mother, it is strange that I refer it to cricket or soccer — yes, I know, football.

But I do. Maybe because it is one of the few sports that the tragically unatheletic can play (I have played soccer but too much running). You stand there while someone tries to throw a ball past you and you try to hit it. You are considered a huge success of you hit the ball 30% of the time. Well, hit it where no one can catch it or throw you out at first. But still, a modest success rate for limited odds.

Of course, you can only do this if the pitcher is as unskilled as you are. If you’re facing someone who is actually athletic, you’re lucky to see the ball 30% of the time.

But this is not about me. This is about the most entertaining and exciting sport ever invented.

Stop yawning.

The trouble is: most people only see baseball on TV. TV does not do baseball justice. TV focuses on too little of the field. It fails to show the real majesty of a long home run. A fan — a real fan — can see a home run as soon as it leaves the bat. It’s not the sound or the trajectory of the ball that tells you — it’s the way the outfielders react.

Similarly TV hides the speed of a shortstop making a diving catch on a hot liner going up the middle, the agility and strength of throwing the ball from your knees, nearly a hundred and twenty feet. TV lies about the way a knuckle ball comes to the plate, tantalizingly slow, so slow, you think, I could hit that. Except it is still going 75 miles an hour and not going anyplace in particular either. Just somewhere past you.

Swish.

TV doesn’t show how big many baseball players are or when they aren’t big, how whip-like fast. No, it fails to capture any of that. As well, baseball has the best characters in sports — only snowboarding comes close.

Where is Bill “Spaceman” Lee in hockey? Point to a single thug as charming as David Wells in the National Felons League. And why can’t we all love Manny being Manny?

Oh, yes, there are people who cheat (true in all sports) and who don’t handle money well or elegantly (true in all walks of life), but for every one of those there is a Derek Jeter, a R.A.Dickey or a Roberto Clemente.

And then there’s Jackie Robinson. ‘Nuff said.

And that’s ten minutes.