Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Look To The Skies

As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

A night was getting long in the tooth last week.  My usual bedtime came and went, evidence of a successful battle against “the responsible thing to do.”  A channel scroll had revealed “10th Inning”, the 2010 additive chapter to Ken Burns’s epic nine-episode/inning 1994 documentary “Baseball”.  This was worth forfeiting sleep.  Lord knows I have borrowed from the next day for more frivolous pursuits.

In one excerpt, legendary Washington Post columnist Tom Boswell explained that poet John Keats considered William Shakespeare’s literary brilliance rooted in Shakespeare’s lack of “negative capability” in his writing – the tendency to want to explain everything, to work out every detail, to put a tidy bow on every story or deliver a definitive conclusion.  Keats contended that comfort in passive writing – letting the story breath, letting loose ends dance in the breeze – indicated the potential for creating great literature. 

One of my all-time favorite sports writers talking Keats, Shakespeare and an essential element of great prose…in a baseball movie.  And I was supposed to go to bed?  Or record it and watch later?  No chance. 

Burns’s “10th Inning” devoted considerable time to baseball’s steroid era, years when the sport soiled its most hallowed records, great players compromised careers and legacies and the American pastime lost its innocence.  Every year now, when Hall of Fame votes are cast, we’re left to sort through the rubble and debate the accomplishments and sins of players like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Roger Clemens.  It’s a messy exercise with no satisfying conclusion.  Who was clean in that era?  Who was dirty?  Who was at fault?  The players?  The union?  The owners?  The commissioner?  The rules were loose, enforcement was spotty and too many people were comfortable with either intentional deceit or blissful ignorance.

Boswell’s reference to Shakespeare’s negative capability has interesting application to the steroid era.  It will likely always remain a confounding and disappointing experience, one incapable of being fully understood or fairly judged.  Attempting to force a definitive conclusion is a fool’s errand of well-intended souls lacking negative capability.  Good and bad have always co-existed in the world – the explanation may be that simple, no matter how ungratifying.

Looking around, there’s much to cause concern and thwart any mere mortal attempt at negative capability.  Russia’s war in Ukraine.  Political strife.  Inflation.  COVID.  Inequitable wealth concentration.  “Isms” and phobias – race, gender, national origin, etc.  Climate change and natural disasters. Gun violence.  Erosion of democracy.  Cheap, repackaged corporate music.  Ultra-processed foods.  Electronic friends and virtual existences. 

Sports has its worry list too.  Excessive strikeouts in baseball.  The struggle to balance player safety with the inherent violence of football.  The three-point-obsessed, no defense, no physicality, no walking or carrying NBA.  Big-time college sports that are more bedrock of sports capitalism than amateur athletics. 

It is enough to conclude that this is it: the moral and ethical rot of humanity is complete, final judgment is near and the world and all its sports finally stand at the precipice of Armageddon. 

Such a leap, though, would dismiss all other incorrect doomsday prophecies (Y2K, Mayans, Pat Robertson, Nostradamus, etc.), ignore humanity’s resilience and expose an astounding lack of negative capability.  Yes, the world is flawed.  Challenges abound.  But this is perhaps the most tolerant and among the most peaceful times in world history.  And our sports now…wow.  The athleticism, advances in technology, the worldwide passion – this is arguably sports’ golden era.      

As the holiday season approaches, it brings an opportunity for reflection.  There is, as usual, much to ponder – personally, nationally and the trajectory of our shared human existence on our tiny blue dot of a planet.  And much of it dampens the mood.  But to rally the optimistic spirit and inspire negative capability, I’ll offer a quote, with parenthetical adds germane to this piece: “May you never be too old (or jaded or cynical) to search the skies on Christmas Eve.”

Whatever your beliefs, whether that quote be perfectly aligned or metaphorical, I trust the point resonates: there is magic in this world, and on its fields of play, and it is easy to glimpse with a timely peek.

The Other Football

As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

CNN published an opinion piece by John Avlon last week titled “The tide is turning against autocracy.”  In it, Avlon argued that democracy - beaten down, battered and bruised in recent years – was regaining ground against the global spread of autocracy.  His evidence of a weakening autocratic grip included on-going protests in Iran, recent uprisings in China against President Xi Jinping’s zero-COVID policy and Vladimir Putin’s miscalculations in Ukraine – underestimating Ukrainian resistance, the West’s support of Ukraine’s cause and the reaction within Russia itself. 

There are indications of renewed democratic strength here at home too.  After the unprecedented, violent and baseless internal attack on the 2020 election results, our democracy wavered.  But leadership rose from both sides of the aisle, some on the right knowingly sacrificing seats in Congress, to ensure the will of the people was carried out.  There are signs of further progress: the 2022 mid-term election results suggest that wannabe autocrat Donald Trump’s dangerous spell and destructive want of power is losing support.  

Avlon’s piece concluded with a prediction: 2022 will prove to be a pivot point where democracy, buoyed by bravery of people around the world, regained the advantage on autocracies.  Let’s hope he’s right. 

As I considered Avlon’s optimistic prose, international athletic competition, and the stage it provides for competing political, economic and social ideologies, came to mind.  In 1936, the Olympic Games were held in Berlin, clouded by the rise and provocation of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party.  In 1968, African American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised fists on the medal stand in defiance of racial inequality.  The 1972 Munich Games were marred by the deadly kidnapping of Israeli athletes by Palestinian militants.  During the Cold War, the United States and Soviet Union traded Olympic boycotts – first the U.S. of the 1980 Moscow Games and then the Soviet Union of the 1984 Los Angeles Games. 

With the 2022 Beijing Winter Games months in the rear-view, the FIFA World Cup offers the most convenient connection between international sports and Avlon’s democracy v. autocracy article.  Before launching into the first World Cup “View”, a few confessions.  It will always be soccer to me, Americanized heathen that I am.  And while I appreciate the players’ elite fitness, the attraction escapes me.  Ninety-plus minutes of mostly undramatic scorelessness – a.k.a. nap time.  But the issue is mine; the passion displayed by soccer fans around the globe leaves no doubt. 

So, armed with Avlon’s opinions, I looked closer at this wildly popular game.  The basic tenets of team sports are present on the pitch: trust, reliability and individual sacrifice for a common cause - hints they are at democratic principles.  Selfishness and freelancing for individual good – sports code for autocracy – are strict no-noes. 

But soccer brings much more to the consciousness. 

Even to the untrained eye, and during the long pulse-reducing waits between scoring chances, the enormity of each game remains palatable.  The World Cup’s competitive plot – this being the sport’s pinnacle and the unimaginable journey each player traveled to arrive at this moment - is omnipresent.  But it is only half the story.  The other, more significant component of this grand, worldwide quest is the burden carried by each player and team: to satisfy a national fan base whose passion (dangerously) approaches a religious fervor and to navigate a massive stage coinhabited by competing ideologies.    

In this World Cup, several teams protested host country Qatar’s oppression of the LGBTQ community and women’s rights, and the deplorable treatment of migrant workers (The Guardian reported over 6,500 deaths since 2010).  And what team was more burdened than Iran?  The Iranian players first refused to sing their national anthem in support of in-country protests of Iran’s autocratic regime, an act that put players and their families in peril; in the ultimate no-win situation, Iran’s loss to the United States was widely celebrated by fellow Iranians because of the national team’s synonymity with Iran’s leaders.    

In America, we laud our football players for their toughness and perseverance, and rightfully so; but perhaps the bravest athletes, and those most responsible for supporting democratic values worldwide, play “the other football.” 


Caution: Fragile

As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

The pivot point is hard to identify.  Sometime in my thirties, I suppose.  It was undeniable by my forties.  The timing matters little.  What is consequential, is that the 180-degree about-face is complete.  A new perspective – on time, moments, relationships and experiences - has been revealed.  It’s better in some ways, worse in others.  Calling it a win or a loss would be far too definitive, too black or white.  It just is - something not to judge, but to observe, acknowledge and, eventually, embrace.

Life begins without a past.  The present is mildly interesting.  The future holds all allure.  From our first memories, we can’t wait for time to pass - its slow, plodding nature a constant frustration.  I can’t wait until my birthday or when I’m in the next grade.  I can’t wait to shave.  I can’t wait for high school, until I drive, until I can vote, until I can drink, until I don’t have to live in this house with my old, irritating, out-of-touch parents!  After that - freedom.  I’ll get a degree and bounce around a few jobs until I find one befitting my talent and value.  Along the way I’ll pick up a significant other.  We’ll move into successively more luxurious abodes.  Maybe we’ll have a kid or two.  Maybe not.  We’ll definitely have a dog.  Ah, the future.  Can’t wait.  Just need time to move! 

These are the things we tell ourselves – the eagerness and ignorance of youth.

Then at some point, as years have rolled by and several of these milestones have passed, you take Ferris Bueller’s advice and stop to look around – the aforementioned pivot.  The road ahead is hopefully still full of grand plans – good friend, fun times, travel…life.  But behind you are many cherished, once-in-a-lifetime experiences.  And it all…went…so…fast.  It happened, slipped through your fingers and resides now in memory and pictures.  How has it been 25 years since I graduated from college?  Has it really been 15 years since I’ve been living here?  Hair is growing out of my ears now?  Who in the hell is that aged face in the mirror?

These are the things we ponder – the wisdom of middle age hinting at the beauty and fragility of life.

Which brings us, awkwardly but inevitably (as “Views” do), to sports.  Legends are struggling and time is more enemy than friend.  Alex Ovechkin, who is pursuing Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goals scored record, will do so on a declining Capitals team that is no longer a Stanley Cup contender.  LeBron James is stuck on an awful Lakers team as he chases Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s NBA scoring record.  Aaron Rodgers, who compelled Green Bay to fork over a $150M extension in the offseason, is playing the worst football of his career, a scenario unlikely to improve at his age (38).  Then there’s Tom Brady.  Dude is having a bad year.  His very public marriage is now a very public divorce.  He’s lost millions in the cryptocurrency meltdown.  And his struggling Buccaneers team shows no signs of authoring a storybook ending to his unprecedented career.

Few tears will or should be shed for these four legends.  But it’s amazing how quickly things slip away.  Remember: Ovechkin won a Cup in 2018, James won his fourth NBA title in 2020, Brady won his seventh Super Bowl in 2021 and Rodgers was NFL MVP last year.

If the world has reminded us of anything in the past few years, it is the fragility of everything – even world health and democracy in the United States, two things easily taken for granted.  Acknowledging that anything could change, that guarantees don’t exist, is both sobering and empowering.  At its best, the mindfulness uncertainty creates - that life is more leaf dancing in the breeze than impregnable structure affixed to a firm foundation - sharpens the appreciation of any present experience.  Or as better said by the cartoonist Bil Keane: “Yesterday’s the past, tomorrow’s the future, but today is a gift.  That’s what it’s called the present.”  Good advice anytime, but particularly as we embark on the holiday season, a most special time of year. 

For Sale

As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Sports fans, the real junkies, chronicle major events like the general population documents lived history; the details - where we were, who we were with, the time of day – are stored in our brains and protected with a level of personal encryption that codes them as “Nat King Cole memories” (i.e. “Unforgettable”). 

Here’s one of mine.

Twenty-eight years ago, I traveled down a two-lane highway lined with white sands and palm trees and surrounded by sparkling blue water in all directions.  The radio played contemporary alternative rock and my hangover faded with each aggressively struck guitar chord. 

Breaking sports news interrupted the tunes; Jimmy Johnson, fresh off consecutive Super Bowl titles, was resigning as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys.  As a then passionate fan of Washington’s football team, and sworn Dallas hater, I was smitten; Johnson’s departure would likely trigger the breakdown of a Dallas dynasty that appeared poised to become the NFL’s greatest.  That the reason was self-inflicted – Texas wasn’t big enough for owner Jerry Jones’s and Johnson’s egos to coexist – only increased my pleasure. 

Hangover?  What hangover?  I was cured – The Dallas Miracle! - and looking forward to a celebratory beer…or six.

While Dallas would win one additional Super Bowl with Barry Switzer as head coach, the Cowboys were never the same after Johnson’s exit.  The Jones-Johnson divorce, to this day, is one of the NFL’s great “what ifs” – and thankfully so.    

Now it gets weird.  Nearly thirty years later, I’m back in that same place – white sands, palm trees, little latitudes.  A smartphone replaced the radio with more planet-shifting sports news.

My buddy’s text: “Snyder is selling the team!”

Me: “Stop.  Are you serious?”

His reply: “It’s legit. I wouldn’t set you up like that.”

No, he wouldn’t.  Not as a fellow long-suffering Washington Commanders fan.  If any Commanders fan stumbled on a genie in a bottle offering three football wishes, only one would be needed: a new owner.  The end of Dan Snyder’s ownership would be nothing short of football salvation…and salvation just might be in the offing.

Details soon followed our text exchange: Snyder, entangled in multiple lawsuits, congressional investigations, boycotted by Taylor Swift and universally hated by his team’s fan base, had hired Bank of America to explore selling the team.  The process will be lengthy, and a new owner is not guaranteed, but this marked Snyder’s first indication of a willingness to sell. 

Hope replaces hopelessness. 

Whatever the end, books will be written about Snyder’s regime.  An ESPN 30 for 30 is inevitable.  Business schools will study it as a great cautionary tale.  So, my words here can’t do the horror of Snyder’s ownership justice.  Suffice to say, he has ruined one of the great brands in sports.  He oversaw a predatory work environment.  He has disenchanted sponsors and alienated former players.  Three governments – Maryland, Virginia and D.C. – have little interest in his want for a new stadium.  His minority owners have fled.  Congress has taken him to task.  Even his fellow NFL owners – many of them bandits themselves - have been shamed into speaking out against him.  Snyder is increasingly isolated and, if appearances are any judge, miserable – frankly, I hope he is. 

What would new ownership mean?  Could the Commanders again be a source of civic pride, an entity capable of beautifully uniting the great demographic diversity that exists across the DMV region?  That seems a premature, nostalgic dream.  For now, Snyder’s predicament and potential downfall is the story.  He represents the consequence of hubris, of entitlement, of an insular world of skewed truth, of self-proclaimed martyrdom and failure to take responsibility, of ethical corruption and of, ultimately, the failure to treat people with decency and respect. 

As with Johnson’s departure from the Cowboys three decades ago, time will tell what Snyder’s potential divestment of the Commanders means.  I can only hope it has as much positive impact on D.C. football as Johnson’s departure detracted from the Cowboys.  Like many Commanders fans, I cling to a simple dream.  I just want my team back.  The one I loved, win or lose.  The one that existed before Dan Snyder. 

62...Meh

As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

It was 1998, impossibly 24 years ago now.  As summer charged into fall, the days would start early – had to.  With a long commute and work day, it was imperative to clock in just after the sun turned night into day.  Things were going to happen in the night – big things, historic things, things I’d be writing about nearly a quarter-century later – that could not be missed.  This being a time long before recorded, instant-advancing programming, my derriere had to be on the couch, in front of the television by 7 p.m. – no compromise.    

The daily ritual that September and early October looked something like this.  An alarm clock would start the day with a piercing pulse that hurt – psychologically and physically.  In desperate need of smelling salts and a standing eight count, I would stumble into the shower semi-conscious.  The cobwebs would clear as I shuffled to my truck.  Did I shave?  Did I use both soap and shampoo?  Did I use soap on my head and shampoo on my body?  Whatever – efficiency mattered more than hygiene.  

I would exit the driveway by six, rip through the gears while hauling down Route 4 and report to work by seven.  This would ensure an exit by 5 p.m. and a return home an hour later – just enough time to eat, select a beer and land punctually on that aforementioned couch.  The day would end deep into the night and sometimes into the next morning.  Then insufficient sleep.  Then that obnoxious alarm…again.

It was a fabulous grind.

The carrot this rabbit was chasing was baseball history.  Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals, and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs were conducting an epic assault on Roger Maris’s single-season home run record.  Every night baseball history was under siege, then being re-written.  By September 8, McGwire had broken the record with his 62nd home run; he ended the season with 70.  Sosa was neck-and-neck with McGwire down the stretch and finished a close second in this magical run with 66.  

We know now that it was too good to be…natural.  

Maris hit 61 bombs in 1961 to best Babe Ruth’s 1927 record of 60.  By 1998, Maris’s record had stood several seasons longer than Ruth’s and had, until the late 1990s, never been threatened.  In fact, until 1997, no major leaguer had hit more than 52 home runs since George Foster recorded that number in 1977.  Then everything changed.  Between 1997 and 2001, McGwire, Sosa and Barry Bonds alone recorded seven seasons of 58 or more homers.  Peak ridiculousness arrived in 2001, when Bonds, at age 36 and having never hit more than 49 home runs in a season, launched 73.  Soon enough, the disgusting realities of the steroid error – an abject failure of the sport – claimed all innocence.  

Eventually Aaron Judge, circa 2022, was going to happen – a guy having a spectacular season who threatened Roger Maris’s record – and, with it, so would a forced confrontation with baseball’s willful and pathetic tarnishing of its most cherished records.  Judge hit 62 home runs this season, officially setting a new American League record; but for many purists (and those for whom character matters), Judge is now the all-time single-season home run king.  

That it is unclear how to judge Judge, that his march to 62 was more “meh” than a captivating experience rivaling 1998, that I lost no sleep or adhered to no strict routine to catch his at bats, is the consequence of a sport and a generation of athletes that lost all ethical mooring.  The steroid era eviscerated the statistical baseline, cheated history, disrespected players of the past, undermined players of the present and future, and spoiled the experience for fans.  The best that can be said of bandits like Bonds, McGwire and Sosa, and complicit, money-drunk executives and owners, is this: theirs is a cautionary tale of the inescapable permanence of ethical compromise, of silence in the face of perversion, and of personal and institutional dishonor.  

For everything Judge did right this summer, his incredible accomplishment was unfairly minimized by a sport that once did so much unforgivably wrong.


Where Else Would You Rather Be?

As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Last week’s “View” had a decidedly Buffalo-ian flavor.  With a chill in the air, football season in full swing and the Bills poised for a Super Bowl run, it’s back to the City of Trees again to set the mood for this week’s bleacher conversation.

Buffalo’s Pearl Street Grill and Brewery produces a lovely pale ale that goes by the name Lake Effect.  It is a homage to the famous (for locals), or infamous (for visitors, especially those from the south), wintery weather that is prone to whip in, with little warning, off Lake Erie.  If you’re wired like this writer, and accustomed to the mid-Atlantic’s humid summers and mild winters, you want nothing of Buffalo’s trademark insta-blizzards.  But some people love it; “some people” include legendary former Bills head coach Marv Levy.

Levy used to huddle his Bills before big games, often in single-digit temperatures with snowflakes blowing sideways in a wicked wind, and ask, “Where else would you rather be than right here, right now?”  He sure sounded like he believed it; I would have needed at least six of those Lake Effect pale ales to buy-in.

Last week’s retirement of tennis great Roger Federer, 41, had me pondering Levy’s words (while enjoying Maryland’s temperate early fall climate) with much broader application.  “Right here, right now”: not a single Sunday in frigid Buffalo, but an entire era in sports. 

Federer’s tennis reign began in 2003 when he won Wimbledon, the first of his 20 Grand Slam titles.  How long ago was 2003 in sports terms?  Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick won the Australian and U.S. Opens that same year.  In any other era, Federer, whose 20 Grand Slams is an astonishing six more than Pete Sampras’s previous record of 14, would be exiting as the sport’s greatest male player of all time.  But for a large portion of his career, Federer shared the stage with Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, arguable even greater players who have won 22 and 21 major championships, respectively.

To put that in context, there have been 79 Grand Slam tournaments played since 2003 (COVID canceled Wimbledon in 2020); Federer, Nadal or Djokovic have claimed 63 of those titles.  Now, with Federer gone, and Nadal, 36, and Djokovic, 35, advancing in age, it is reasonable to conclude that the greatest era in men’s tennis, a time when perhaps the sport’s three best players ever were playing simultaneously, is over.  That Federer’s farewell comes on the heels of Serena Williams, a 22-time Grand Slam champion and the greatest women’s player of all time, announcing her retirement, certainly has tennis fans wondering if they’ve seen the best of the sport, regardless of gender.

As a member of Gen-X, I will admit to being a little jealous of Baby Boomers for having lived through the birth of rock and roll, the brilliance of 1960s music and the killer soul and funk of the 1970s.  But with sports, I’ve often felt spoiled.  I grew up watching Bird and Magic, and Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert.  I saw Jerry Rice break every receiving record, Dan Marino throw for 5,000 yards, and Cal Ripken Jr. break Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game streak.  I experienced the greatest era of college basketball and the NBA’s and NHL’s GOATs - Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky. 

I thought all of that was as good as sports could get.  But these last 20 years…wow.  Add these names to the list of aforementioned contemporary tennis greats: LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Tom Brady and Alex Ovechkin.  And what about the technology?  On-the-go viewing devices.  Big screen televisions.  High definition.  The NFL RedZone channel.  Has sports ever been better? 

Back to Levy’s question.  He asked it to focus his team on the opportunity in front of them.  But it’s a bit of a time-traveling remark – a reminder of a moment’s, or an era’s greatness, and, that as good as life may seem, something even better may await. 

Where else would I rather be than right here, right now?  I suppose nowhere…but using the past as a guide, the future holds tremendous intrigue. 

Hopeful Reboot

As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Captain’s log star date July 2021.  My wife and I had planned a vacation to a location with smaller latitudes, palm trees and, as much of a lock as the sun’s morning rise, plenty of adult beverages.  In the weeks leading up to the trip, spiking airfare costs and the surging Delta variant of our ever-mutating, but ever-present nemesis COVID caused us to postpone “Plan A” to another day, another economic situation and another less sinister phase of our COVID dance.

The question then was, if not a tropical paradise, where would this adventure lead?  While I prefer to characterize my wife and I as open-minded and flexible, indecisive is completely fair too.  A coin flip is sometimes (or usually) how we choose a dinner location.  As our scheduled departure date neared, the pressure was detectable.  Several destinations were discussed with neither of us selling or buying any candidate.  The waffling mercifully ended when my wife, while staring at a Google map on her computer screen, ended an awkward pause in our conversation with an unexpected question. 

“Do you want to go to Buffalo?” 

The suggestion was bizarre enough to be intriguing.  It was an order off the menu; a play call draw up in the dirt, not off any rehearsed script.  Buffalo bound we were.  Two days after heading north, I was standing in front of Buffalo’s City Hall when a 30-year-old sports memory came rushing back: this was where Buffalo Bills fans gathered after a difficult Super Bowl XXV loss to the New York Giants to welcome their Bills home and comfort kicker Scott Norwood, who, after missing a game-winning 42-yard field goal on the game’s last play, would have been a scorned goat in any other NFL locale.

About a year later, Labor Day weekend 2022 to be exact, Norwood and the Bills’ moment at City Hall was on my television screen.  A late-night channel surf discovered a documentary on the early-1990s Bills – teams that appeared in, and lost, four straight Super Bowls.  In the season after that heart-breaking loss to the Giants, Washington defeated Buffalo in a much more definitive way in Super Bowl XXVI.  Long-time Bill Steve Tasker, a 13-year NFL veteran who played in Super Bowls against Bill Parcels’s Giants and Jimmy Johnson’s Cowboys, called that 1991-92 Washington team his Bills lost to in Super Bowl XXVI the best he faced in his career.

I rewatched Tasker’s statement several times (sometimes technology is great).  Washington’s football franchise used to be the very best; confirming artifacts – Sports Illustrated magazines, pennants, t-shirts and Wheaties boxes – have consumed a closet in my house.  But after three decades of mostly misery on the field and embarrassment off of it, the joy of that far-off time has dulled.  The sea of burgundy and gold that used to dominate at home games is now counterbalanced by the opposition’s colors and empty seats.  It is a perfect – and sad and undeniable - metaphor for a franchise torn down to its foundation.

That I stumbled on this Bills documentary and Tasker’s homage to Washington’s 1991 championship crew just days before the 2022 team’s first game as the rebranded Washington Commanders, felt like something more than just coincidence.  It was a reminder of what once was, how far the organization has fallen and what this reboot might make possible again.  Of course, the promised culture changes and actual name and branding changes lacked what Washington needed most – a new owner; but last Sunday’s Commanders’ debut, a win no less, did feel like something more than just the start of a new season.  Maybe the last few disgraceful years – the latent and awkward burial of the R-word, the disgraceful treatment of women in the organization, the league and Congressional inquiries – will provide the scorched football landscape that Washington needed for a meaningful rejuvenation.  Difficult periods in life - divorce, unemployment, personal loss, etc. – sometimes work that way.  The good news for the Commanders: the bar is incredibly low.  Most fans, this one included, would settle for a competitive team, an ethically and morally grounded organization, and not a single peep from ownership. 

Trust

As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Four weeks have passed - enough time to temper the shock, but not nearly enough to ascertain the ramifications.  That will take years.  For the time being, a baseball executive has stayed on message: it was the right move for the organization.  The logic trail is reasonable, and the repetition helps the sales pitch, but reality remains a cold and sobering place – for him as much as anyone.  He was, after all, the architect of a dominant decade, assembling All-Stars and future Hall of Famers through the draft, free agency and shrewd trades.  Through his work, and with a dash of luck, he delivered a yearning town pure euphoria - its first World Series championship in 95 years. 

Then the talent trickled away.  Retirements and injuries claimed a few cornerstones.  Deep-pocketed competitors poached others.  He would admit to being in a slump himself, having whiffed on a series of patchwork personnel moves.  But his greatest asset, a 23-year-old phenom who resembled Ted Williams, remained and promised to be the bedrock of an epic rebuild.    

Then Mike Rizzo, Nationals President of Baseball Operations, made the most significant transaction of his career: he traded Juan Soto.

In San Diego, Rizzo’s peer with the Padres, A.J. Preller, was on the receiving end of Washington’s crown jewel talent.  Preller was facing his own dilemma: an uber-talented team with a rich farm system that was, by all accounts, a significant notch below a division rival and baseball’s best team – the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Preller’s Padres had recently signed Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr. to a 10-year, $300M contract and a 14-year, $340M contract, respectively; despite the financial commitment, the Padres flamed out early in last season’s playoffs and showed little indication of serious contention this year.  But Tatis, after missing the entire 2022 season with a shoulder injury, was nearing a return.  And Preller was holding that bounty of prospects.  With Washington disintegrating, on the field and off with ownership in flux, Rizzo’s inclination to sell met Preller’s urgency to buy and one of baseball’s biggest trades was consummated.

The movie “Braveheart” contains an unforgettable scene of betrayal.  William Wallace, thinking he had united Scotland’s disparate clans with Robert the Bruce, led his countrymen into the Battle of Falkirk against England.  The tenuous Scottish unity dissolved during battle.  Wallace, wounded and in a desperate rage, pursued King Edward Longshanks’s detail.  One of Longshanks’s men knocked Wallace from his horse, dismounted and hovered over the fallen Scottish hero.  Wallace snapped up, ripped the helmet off his “English” adversary only to reveal it was Bruce.  Wallace, stunned by the betrayal, slowly slumped to the ground.

Just over a week after gutting his farm system and scoring Soto, it wouldn’t have been misplaced humor to transpose Preller’s face onto the broken-hearted Wallace’s.  See, much of Preller’s calculus in making the aggressive, win-now move to acquire Soto was linked to the pending return of Tatis.  Adding Soto in the order around Machado and Tatis, three probable Hall of Famers in their prime, would create a murderer’s row to compete with any other in baseball history. 

But that plan will have to wait until next season.  On Aug 13, Tatis received an 80-game suspension from MLB after testing positive for performance enhancing drugs.  The air that was pumped into the Padres’ championship balloon with the Soto trade, immediately leaked out with the Tatis suspension.  With Soto under contract through 2024, Preller’s three-year playoff window with Machado, Soto and Tatis has been trimmed to two.

Trust is an interesting thing – beautiful when it is unequivocally shared between parties, often irrecoverable, even psychologically scarring for the victim, when broken.  It is best first earned, but when humans are involved, be it in personal or professional relationships, it is extended at great risk, no matter the circumstance.  Preller and the Padres trusted Tatis with a $340M commitment and a franchise-altering trade.  Preller must now feel a bit like the betrayed Wallace, minus the arrow wounds and thought-lost fight for independence.  I’m sure Mike Rizzo would take his call to chat about the trade that may have been best if it never was. 

The Only Way Out

As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

It was a beautiful June day.  Brilliant sunshine made ball caps a practical necessity, not just a fashionable accessory.  The blessings of low humidity spared all the clamminess typical of mid-Atlantic summers.  Best yet, the day in question, a Wednesday, would be filled with recreation and lack even a trace of what dominates most mid-weeks – work.

Three friends met locally for a short trip north.  Two others huddled for a jaunt south.  The quintet met in the middle – Washington D.C., generally, Nationals Park, specifically.  Each one a busy dad, they had started an annual tradition of catching a ball game together a decade ago.  They never missed a year through 2019.  Then COVID foiled their plans the next two seasons.  This being the reboot, it carried increased spirit and an upspoken feeling of gratitude.  After a quick greeting inside the park, beers were in hand, playful ribbing ensued and belly laughs echoed from their seats.  Three years apart evaporated in minutes; COVID proved no match for strong friendships.

I first heard Jimmy Buffett’s “A Pirate Looks At Forty” when that milestone was decades off my bow.  Now it’s trailing nine years off my stern and this “pirate” is staring at 50.  Make sense of that - even in a pair of blown out flip flops while wastin’ away in Margaritaville - I cannot.  Suddenly the Talking Heads lyric “And you may ask yourself, ‘Well, how did I get here?’” makes perfect sense.

True to that confession of confusion, “The Mindful Midlife Crisis” podcast often has my ear.  Michelle Pan stopped in for a recent episode to discuss her COVID pregnancy and six months as a first-time mom.  The content was largely expected – the shock, the grind, the lack of sleep and the unexplainable joy.  Then Pan got to the good stuff.  She described part of her post-partum depression as an identity crisis.  After totally committing to her daughter’s care, she began to wonder who she was other than a mother.  Pan – a trainer, yoga instructor and all-around wellness practitioner - had had an enriching career, but struggled with “mom-guilt” as she sought a new personal and professional balance.

On that delightful June afternoon at Nationals Park, I stared at a team of mostly strangers and pondered how much had changed since our last trip here in 2019.  Juan Soto was still in right field, though, and despite the rumors about his Washington future, his age (23), remaining team control (2.5 seasons) and generational talent made his departure seem farfetched.  I would have bet an expensive round of stadium pints that day on Soto being a National deep into his 30s.  Six weeks later, Soto was in fact the key to the franchise’s future, but it was via a historic trade to the Padres for a handful of prospects, not a record-setting contract extension.   

As one of my pals in our Nats group likes to say, “There’s just a lot going on.”  He often uses the quip to add a hint of shameless martyrdom to a mundane plight – working a little overtime, in-laws coming to town or the Steelers losing a couple games.  But there is truth in his nonsense.  The world is stranger now.  The Nats are unrecognizable.  D.C.’s football team has a new name, logo and fight song.  The Orioles are…pretty good!  Similar to Pan’s struggles adapting to motherhood, I am, like many parents my age, struggling to adapt to a quasi-adult child heading off to college.  Parenthood is an ever-evolving gift.  Macro-level, America has arrived at another inflection point in its history, as it is apt to do.  Something was triggered in 2016 and amplified by the pandemic; it continues to threaten our commitment to our national concept, to democracy, to truth, and to ourselves. 

Identity crises are indeed everywhere.  But I’ll figure mine out.  You’ll figure yours out.  The Nats roster will become more familiar and “Commanders” will feel less awkward.  And if history is any guide, America will find its footing too.  As for the how, Pan made a suggestion by quoting one of her tattoos: “The only way out is through.”  

Favorite Places

 As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

It is hard to look, D.C. sports fans.  Reality is burdensome.

Early returns on Johnny Davis, the Wizards’ first round pick, are underwhelming to say the least.  He looks like “just a guy”.  The Wizards have a bunch of “guys”.  They have but one “dude” – Bradley Beal.  They need more dudes.  They’ve needed more dudes since the late 1970s – literally. 

The Capitals are looking questionable.  Zero: that’s the number of Caps playoff series wins since hoisting the Stanley Cup in 2018.  Alex Ovechkin will turn 37 in September.  A balky hip may claim Nicklas Backstrom’s career; a rebuilt ACL will compromise a part of Tom Wilson’s upcoming season.  Did I say questionable?  I meant dicey.    

Diamond dreams?  There are only nightmares here.  The disintegration of the Nationals, a team that won the freaking World Series 21 months ago and is now the worst team in baseball, is nearly complete.  Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon cashed out.  Max Scherzer and Trea Turner were traded.  These departures only make sense if Juan Soto - a modern-day Ted Williams absent the prickly personality - is a National for life.  Two years from free agency, he's now on the trading block.  Because…it’s D.C.

You know what’s left.  Are you actually seeking solace, some reason for hope in the Commanders?  The Fightin’ Snyders?  Yeah, it’s the NFL and anything can happen, but…just stop.  The ceiling for this outfit is flirtations with a .500 record and no more Congressional inquiries.

From zero to depressed in 250 words - you’re welcome?  A song will enliven the spirit.  “Oh, sing with me, sing for the year, sing for the laughter and sing for the tear.”  Aerosmith demands, in this D.C. sports swoon, that we “Dream On” together.    

Speaking of songs that set the mood, just hearing Julie Andrews belt out “Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens” lightens the mood and dissolves the tension.  “The Sound of Music” is a cinematic gem, but the musical’s song “My Favorite Things” is a transcendent, multi-generational classic in and of itself.  The song’s message warms the coolest heart, but its smooth, orderly cadence has an addictive quality that has even escaped Taylor Swift’s songbook.  As if “My Favorite Things" needed further validation, legendary saxophonist John Coltrane paid the song the ultimate tribute by recording an instrumental version and issuing an album under the same name – it’s jazz gold.   

My favorite things?  Yours?  Lists too long for a column.  Focus we need, as Yoda might say.  Here’s a favorite things sub-genre to ponder: favorite places.  A simple prompt gets the mind-gears churning.  Thoughts rush in from far and wide – places lived, dining spots, sports stadiums, hang outs or locations where extraordinary things happened.

These are the moments when I wish this was a conversation with you, my dear reader, instead of a typed monologue.  Nevertheless, I’ll press on.  My list of places includes my childhood home, two restaurants my wife and I hold dear, the man caves I’ve fashioned at various abodes, a theater where my kids have gifted me cherished memories, RFK Stadium, Memorial Stadium and a brewery in Baltimore.  That’s the quick list.  Thoughts of each place bring warm feelings, comfort and an involuntary smile – evidence of the magic that happened there and special content each added to my life’s scroll.

Time has altered the physical presence of my favorite places.  The man caves were sold with the surrounding homes, occupied and repurposed by others.  The brewery in Baltimore closed years ago.  Memorial Stadium was demolished.  RFK, abandoned and disintegrating, is in its last chapter.  Others are making memories now in my childhood home.  And as my kids rocket through the teenage years, my time with that school theater is growing short.

Things do indeed change - even favorite things and favorite places.  But new ones get added, lists of “favorites” grow and cherished memories are safely stored in the mind – proof that intangible feelings transcend tangible sources.

Ms. Andrews might conclude with this: “So when D.C. sports bite, when life stings, when you’re feeling sad, simply remember your favorite things (and places) and you won’t feel soooo bad.” 


Mostly Good

As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

A Washington D.C. media luminary fired off a tweet.  That alone isn’t news; it is a routine act occurring hundreds of times daily in this time of supercharged communications.  This one was short, even by tweet standards, but it efficiently cut through the random nonsense, political insanity, self-aggrandizing and mindless star-worship that typically dominates a Twitter scroll by posing this simple question to D.C. sports fans: “When did you know for sure that Snyder was the problem and your favorite team was in deep trouble?”

Kevin Sheehan, veteran voice of D.C. sports radio, was the tweet’s source.  The “Snyder” it referenced is, of course, Washington Commanders owner Dan Snyder.  The power of Sheehan’s query was its casual lack of qualification.  There was no “if you believe Snyder is a fatal franchise flaw”; Sheehan asked matter-of-factly “when” fans realized Snyder was an overwhelming force under-cutting any hope of success.  The unspoken (or untweeted) – that there simply is no reasonable doubt about Snyder’s organizational malignancy - speaks loudly about Snyder’s dysfunction and ruinous 23 years of ownership.

The comments to Sheehan’s tweet were validating.  It was a scroll of dubious (and depressing) football decisions and embarrassing headlines across two decades.  Most telling: No one challenged Sheehan’s question or defended Snyder. 

Like all long-time burgundy and gold fans, I have my own answer to Sheehan’s question.  Admittedly, I was late to the party.  Fellow fans as far back as the early 2000s had concluded the impossible coexistence of Snyder and a winning football team.  But I kept nibbling at the cheese, hoping “Dan the fan” and his willingness to spend (frivolously) would yield results.  Things started to break down for me after Mike Shanahan was fired and a talented staff, one that included three future NFL coaches (Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay and Matt LaFleur), was disassembled.  Full stop came more recently with the embarrassing off-field controversies and the arrogant defiance and vindictiveness of the owner himself.

Now it is all too much.  The rose-colored glasses have been removed, tossed to the ground and stomped under foot.  My stubborn mind has been convinced: Snyder is Washington football’s fait accompli, hope’s great kryptonite.  There is nothing profound in that conclusion.  In some ways, Snyder is just another name on a long and ever-growing list crossing all aspects of life.  It’s a dubious and unfortunate scroll, and we all have our own. 

Live long enough, cobble together numerous diverse experiences, and fellow humans will inevitably deliver a recurring emotion: disappointment.  The church won’t practice the basic morality it preaches.  Politicians will be exposed as more ego-centric, special interest operatives than public servants.  Most social media friends will prove to be otherwise.  Spouses will fall short of vows.  Many fellow Americans will value political identity over shared national origin.  Companies who claim to care about their people will confirm a greater concern for their financial health.  Left to reconcile such irreconcilable hypocrisy and character deficiencies – like a self-proclaimed fan-owner hoodwinking everyone (for various lengths of time) and turning his asset into the embarrassment of professional sports – well, that’s why we grind our teeth at night.

It's enough to drive the most ardent optimist to exclaim, as Buddy Guy crooned, “Damn right I got the blues!”  Enter This American Life podcast episode 775: The Possum Experiment, to save the day.  The episode starts with a story about a woman who posted a few “Lost Cat” flyers around her home.  The catch: The flyers included downloaded pictures of a possum.  She did it as a joke, something of a social experiment.  She bucketed the return calls into three categories: the mean ones that took pleasure in her idiocy, those who knew it was a joke and offered a humorous reply, and kind-hearted people who expressed genuine concern for her and the “cat’s” well-being.

What surprised her was the distribution of calls.  Just 10% were mean.  Another 20% were the fellow pranksters.  And 70% were folks simply trying to help.  Is the world soured by swindlers, dark hearts and Dan Snyders?  Sure - but a “lost” marsupial offered a timely reminder that people are still mostly good. 

Wealth

 As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

This is going to be a busy “View”.  Grab a chair.  Here it goes.

Last week, Bradley Beal resigned with the Wizards for five years and a cool $251M, Terry McLaurin signed a three-year, $71M extension with the Commanders, Kevin Durant asked the Nets for a trade, and UCLA and USC further fractured college sports’ landscape by jettisoning the PAC-12 for the B1G conference.  Oh, and pro golfers continue to exit the PGA Tour for the Saudi Arabia-backed LIV Golf.

Breathe.  The defectors are up first.

Remember August 21, 2021?  Just a 11 months ago, per the calendar.  Forever ago, in NBA terms.  Durant signed a four-year, $194M contract extension on that date, a contract that kicks in next season.  And he just asked the Nets for a trade, because, well, this is the move for NBA stars now.  Durant’s tenure with the Nets has been choppy.  His running mate, Kyrie Irving, is a bit of an eccentric and a steadfast anti-vaxxer (a choice that rendered him unavailable for home games in the vaccination-required state of New York).  A trade for former MVP James Harden didn’t work (he was dealt to Philadelphia late last season) and the Nets’ season ended with an embarrassing first round playoff exit.  Then Durant’s former team, the Golden State Warriors, won the championship.  So, Durant’s torqued, and instead of grinding through the challenge, he wants to jump and parachute into a situation offering an easier path to the championship.

Kinda nuts, eh?  Yeah, until you check behind door numbers two (college football) and three (golf).

USC and UCLA just determined the future of college sports by shunning the PAC-12, a conference the schools had been members of since 1922 and 1928, respectively, for the B1G.  With the entire Los Angeles market now in the B1G’s coffers, and the Southeastern Conference (SEC) poised to add Texas and Oklahoma in 2025, there will be two super-conferences in college sports.  Never mind long-standing rivalries.  Forget competitive balance.  “Follow the money,” as Deep Throat said.  Listen to the cash register ring.  Same goes for those shameless pro golfers – Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson to name a few – who signed up for dirty checks from Saudi Arabia.

Cringey flashback: It’s 1982 and I’m in the back of my mom’s station wagon while Michael Martin Murphy’s “What’s Forever For?” blares through the speakers.  “Why doesn’t anybody ever stay together anymore?”, he sings.  I don’t know, M-cubed.  I don’t know.

With all semblance of continuity and commitment fading, McLaurin and Beal arrived like two stabilizing Avengers.  Beal’s choice to remain with the Wizards is curious; he was due stupid money nearly everywhere, to choose Washington is to choose mediocrity, at best.  Beal is now poised to end his career as one of the greatest Wizards of all time, and certainly the best in generations…for what it’s worth.

McLaurin’s decision to stay with the Commanders is pleasing but unsettling.  For Commanders fans, McLaurin’s extension was Christmas in June.  For McLaurin, it was lottery day – $71M in total and a $28M signing bonus.  But McLaurin deserves better.  Not more money, necessarily, but better.  Good luck finding another NFL player with McLaurin’s level of professionalism and character.  He is everything a Dan Snyder organization is not. 

With the paydays inevitable, Beal’s and McLaurin’s decisions to stay with middling (Wizards) or embarrassing (Commanders) franchises remind that wealth is more than money.  Sahil Bloom (@SahilBloom), a self-described entrepreneur, creator and investor, dropped an epic Twitter thread last Saturday – “22 Powerful Ideas from the first half of 2022.”  One of the 22 ideas defined five types of wealth – financial (money), social (relationships), physical (health), mental (knowledge, faith) and time (freedom). 

Whatever their calculus, Beal and McLaurin determined that remaining in Washington generated the most personal wealth.  And on second thought, Durant’s decision may be less cowardice and more a grasp for non-monetary aspects of wealth.  However, the LIV golfers, and USC and UCLA’s abandonment of the PAC-12, leave only one conclusion – this was a money-grab, holistic wealth be damned.  Perhaps Bloom’s powerful, multi-faceted wealth equation excludes institutions and pro golfers.  It’s their loss – and ours.


If Cal Ripken Jr. Had A Podcast

 As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Tim is an eccentric.  He is bombastic, enjoys music and likes to dance.  Many good times have been shared with Tim.  There were little league games, high school parties and several seasons of rec league softball.  He’s been your wing man at sporting events and a member of your foursome during rare trips around the links.  With a shared circle of friends, he’s turned up at bachelor parties, baby showers and barbeques over the years.  Tim is, by all accounts, your friend.  He has enriched in your life at several stages and in various capacities.  And if you needed something – a couple eggs, a cup of flour or a beer - Tim would deliver with a smile, no questions asked. 

But your relationship with Tim is challenged.  He can be arrogant and self-centered, and isn’t above a shameful remark about various demographics other than his own.  With an unspoken understanding of irreconcilable differences, politics are an uncommon topic.  Tim’s smartphone is dangerous territory for wholesome souls and immaturity is a personality trait he pridefully maintains. 

The specific details vary, but everyone has a “Tim”: that imperfect soul who is best seen in small doses (so as to create needed breathers from his unbecoming traits).   

As a child of the 80s and a long-time Maryland resident, Cal Ripken Jr. is the most significant baseball player in my life.  Between my ninth and twenty-ninth birthdays, Ripken won the Rookie of the Year, the World Series, two MVPs, eight Silver Slugger awards and two Gold Gloves.  He amassed over 3,000 hits and 400 home runs, and in 1995 broke Lou Gehrig’s record of 2,130 consecutive games played.  His life-size “Drink Milk” poster hung on my wall.  He hit a game-winning home run during my eighth-grade class trip to Memorial Stadium.  Years later, I was at Camden Yards when he tied Gehrig’s record.  I watched thousands of his at bats on Home Team Sports and only my death will separate me from his rookie cards. 

Then there’s the grander-than-fiction/beyond imagination stuff: Ripken grew up in Aberdeen, Maryland, suited up for his hometown Baltimore Orioles, and played part of his career for his dad and with his little brother.  It was a little league story taking place at the major league level.  But the most impressive chapter in Ripken’s fairy tale?  He built and maintained one of the most impeccable reputations in professional sports history – a true icon on and off the diamond.

The world’s “Tim’s”, human flaws, and today’s unfiltered communication and social media scoundrels, beg the question: would Cal Ripken Jr. be possible today?  Launch Ripken’s career 40 years into the future.  Now he’s a 22-year-old charismatic phenom winning Rookie of the Year in 2022, not 1982.  The Orioles would expect him to maintain an active social media presence.  His every public move would be captured on fan video.  And he would have one of MLB’s most popular podcasts. 

Try has he might, there would be missteps – a regretful video here, an impulsive response to a social media troll there.  The social interaction filter applied to make “Tim” tolerable wouldn’t be available to Ripken; fame leaves few hiding places.  Not that Ripken ever had such regrettable traits as our hypothetical “Tim”, but it would be na├»ve to think Ripken’s impeccable image was absolute reality.  Imperfection is an innate human trait, and character destruction and chaos are preferred today to character building and order.  Moreover, with everyone wielding a smartphone, and masquerading journalists/click-bait chefs whipping up salacious nonsense, today’s social environment leaves no reputation unscathed – fair or not.

The result: a modern-day Cal Ripken Jr. experience, even assuming the identical baseball accomplishments, would be decidedly different.  Ripken’s character would likely not be as irreproachable (how could it be?).  But the greater consequence would be his predictable self-preserving retreat to only the bare minimum of carefully choreographed public interaction, an act that would deprive Baltimore and its fans of the unique, intimate relationship they had, and still have, with him. 

What if Cal Ripken Jr. had a podcast during his playing days?  I’m glad he didn’t.


Like Home

As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Three years ago, the Washington Nationals were in the midst of a lost season.  Rock bottom had been reached weeks before, on May 23 to be exact, after a four-game sweep by the Mets left the Nats with a 19-31 record and squarely in the running for the most disappointing team in MLB.  There was talk of manager Dave Martinez being fired and stars Max Scherzer and Anthony Rendon being traded.  Even the most ardent optimist struggled to find a path to relevance, much less jubilation.

But truth is, indeed, stranger than fiction.  In reaching these improbable depths and dashing all logical hope, the Nats created the foundation for one of sports’ most incredible redemption stories.  Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined in late May 2019, that on All Hallows’ Eve’s eve, I would be hugging my dad, my wife, my kids and drying tears in the wake of a Nats World Series Championship.  But that’s exactly what happened.  Somehow.  Some way.  It was like living through a fairy tale. 

For Nats nation, the time since that late October night in 2019 has been hard to process.  Star third baseman and postseason stud Anthony Rendon signed with the Angels in the offseason.  COVID robbed the team and its fans of a 2020 victory lap.  Stephen Strasburg got hurt, multiple times, and has started just seven games since being named World Series MVP.  Howie Kendrick and Mr. Nat, Ryan Zimmerman, retired.  Scherzer and Trea Turner, among others, were sold off in last season’s fire sale.  Now the team itself is on the market, rumors are swirling about a possible trade of Juan Soto, and Martinez and General Manager Mike Rizzo, both with contract options looming, face an uncertain future.

Other than that, it has been steady as she goes.  Does Meriam-Webster define “tumultuous” with a Nats logo?

As of this writing, the Nats are rocking a 21-35 record this season.  It is similar on paper to the woeful 19-31 record in 2019, but there’s no comeback in the offing for this young, undisciplined, modestly talented, scrambling band of ballers.  The organization is years from competing again. Meanwhile, many of its former stars are wearing other MLB uniforms (Scherzer, Harper, Rendon and Turner) and its best player not named Soto is rehabbing in the minors (Strasburg).

The disintegration happened so fast.  In some ways, the realized fragility of that World Series experience has enhanced it; in other ways, it is hard not to feel gypped.  Where was the afterglow?  The happily ever after?  Is there nothing to do other than file it away, hang some memorabilia to remember 2019…and move on?    

Afraid so.

Now almost three years removed from that magical World Series and with mostly strangers in Nats uniforms today, the team has morphed into a COVID metaphor.  The ballpark is the same.  The team colors are unchanged.  Hot dogs and beer still fit together like peanut butter and jelly.  But the familiarity is superficial.  Rendon isn’t at third.  Turner isn’t at short.  Zimmerman isn’t at first.  Scherzer isn’t on the bump.  The Nats are like the classic Abbott and Costello skit “Who’s on first?” – literally.  Watching them feels a little bit like life since COVID jumped species (or however it infiltrated humans).  Everything looks the same, but something is off.  It is still our house, but doesn’t feel like home.  The missed family gatherings, disfigured school years and graduations, lost sports seasons, mass telework, weird supply chain interruptions (cars, microchips, furniture, baby formula), canceled flights, gas prices cratering and now spiking, inflation partying like it’s the 1970s at Studio 54’s peak, curbside take-out and grocery shopping, and masks strewn about – it all requires considerably more psychological processing. 

In the meantime, life marches on.  And there is little else to do, little more that needs to be done, other than to march with it.  When the umpire yells “Play ball”, grab a bat or a glove, take the field and play.  Who’s on first?  What’s on second?  Not sure who’s on third?  Don’t mind the awkwardness.  It will all feel like home again soon.       

Becoming Your Father

As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

As I sat down to hammer out this latest “View”, news broke of a potential NFL coup to oust Washington Commanders owner Dan Snyder.  Please let this not be a cruel tease.  Having lost my two front teeth many, many years ago, the removal of Snyder is all I want for Christmas.  And I’ll take the present early without an ounce of shame – I, you…all Commanders fans…deserve this. 

Talk about a great unifier, a dream shared by all D.C. football fans, regardless of political persuasion or demographic profile: Snyder getting the boot would cause Burgundy and Gold nation members to come out, come out wherever they are to celebrate like boisterous Munchkins after Dorothy Gale of Kansas dropped her house on the Wicked Witch of the East.  But we’ll see.  Snyder’s is the COVID-19 of owners; he gets beaten back, mutates and returns in similar sinister form.

Until then, there is this story: a fab four of old friends talking sports and the confusing passage of time.  We’ll call them John, Paul, George and Ringo, just for the sake of familiarity.  So, John pokes George about turning 50 this year.  George’s first thought is his pal has it wrong - he’s only 48 and will be 49 after a few monthly flips of the calendar.  Then it hits George – it’s 2022, he was born in 1972.  He is turning 50.  It’s just math.  George has always hated math.  Perhaps never more so than now. 

The reality stuns George.  His mind drifts to things of identical vintage.  If he is turning 50, that means his favorite Rolling Stones album, Exile on Main Street, and his favorite muscle car, the 1972 Chevrolet Chevelle (Have one for sale? Email me…I’ll send to George) are turning 50 too.  Both are classics; George…doesn’t feel like a classic.   

Paul, the oldest of the group and a few years into his sixties, offered George no sympathy.  Ringo, the youngest, sat with a quiet smirk, knowing any smart remark about age from the band’s baby would draw the ire of all others.

Mercifully the conversation moved from personal odometers to sports and the confounding passage of time.  The group consisted of Pittsburgh (John and Paul), San Francisco (Ringo) and Washington (George) fans.  With that backdrop, they jumped across the obvious topics.  From John and Paul: How can Ben Roethlisberger’s career be over?  Ringo, bad comedian that he is, remarked that it “hurts” to see Jerry Rice in Copper Fit commercials.  And George, tying into the lede, went on a five-minute monologue/screed about Snyder’s 20-plus-year reign of terror that ended with him ordering a round of shots.  Sheesh.

The conversation meandered to NBA basketball, where each of the foursome registered gripes about this generation’s players.  The condescending thoughts included lackadaisical, soft, three-point-shot-obsessed, matador defenders, selfish and competitive deficiency.

George, the group’s biggest basketball fan, spoke up after this healthy round of criticism.  He suggested that they all had become their fathers – crusty gray-beards barking from the porch that in all things, “back in the day” - where tough times built tougher character - was better than today.  It prompted a guilty laugh from all. 

George continued with a passionate defense of today’s NBA.  The shot-making has never been better.  The playoffs are exceptional.  Young players in the league, guys like Ja Morant, Jordan Poole, Jayson Tatum and Luka Doncic, are must-watch.  Bigs like Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic have reinvented the center position.  The amazing return of Klay Thompson, after griding through two major injuries, and the reboot of the Stephen Curry-Draymond Green-Thompson-et al. Golden State Warriors, a transcendent team that will be talked about for decades, should be consumed, enjoyed and appreciated.  Sure, Michael Jordan and Larry Bird were phenomenal, but maybe time has over-inflated their greatness, and maybe, just maybe, “these kids today” are doing comparatively special things. 

It’s food for thought, for sports and otherwise.

As George rose slowly and stiffly from the table, he pondered his genuine affection for this modern NBA.  Perhaps he wasn’t as old as the impending arrival of age 50 sounded – at least in mind, if not in body.