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Left Field, Right Field, and the Center of America

The best part of our gloriously warm and sunny Memorial Day evening was spent at the venerable Lawrence-Dumont Stadium just across the Arkansas River from downtown, where our beloved Wichita Wingnuts used some solid pitching and even better fielding to eke out an entertaining 1-0 win over the visiting Cleburne Railroaders. We relished every pitch and play wistfully, though, as this is likely the last season for the venerable ballpark and its beloved independent double-A team.
This is mostly a matter of local interest, of course, but it should also be noted by readers far from our humble prairie hometown. The city government and the handful of big-time local building contractors they always contract with are proposing to demolish an important piece of America’s baseball history to lure a Major League-affiliated team and perhaps get an upgrade to the city’s past triple-A status, and it also has national political implications that we discussed at length with our cigar-chomping old hippie friends in the smoking section along the first base line.
Lawrence-Dumont Stadium is the seventh oldest professional ballpark in the country, for now, and to our eyes is a beautiful example of classical American baseball architecture. Last season they took down the old manual scoreboard with a cut-out wooden goose that slid along the box score and dropped an egg in the opponent’s slot after a shut-out inning, and replaced it with a big video screen that has the current batters statistics and lots of ads and presumably more entertaining music videos, but otherwise the old ballpark imbues a visitor with a comforting frisson of a better era of baseball. If you’re the sentimental sort of fan that baseball seems to attract you’ll even get a slight sense of all the great play that has happened there over the past 84 years.
Lawrence-Dumont is so named in honor of the otherwise long-forgotten mayor of the city on opening day, and a still well-remembered cigar-chomping and fedora-wearing promotional genius and unabashed hustler named “Hap” Dumont. A brand new baseball park was a risky venture in the dustiest days of the Great Depression, but Dumont was able to lure a sufficient number of fans by concocting the National Baseball Congress championship of America’s semi-pro teams. To kick it off Dumont rounded up a few thousand bucks to get Satchel Paige, who was relegated to the Negro Leagues by segregationist tradition but was widely regarded as the best pitcher of his day, to desert his regular team for a couple of weeks and participate in his semi-pro championship, which set still-standing records and established a still-ongoing tradition. One of the best parts of the NBC is the “round-the-clock baseball” portion, which always draws a number of hard-core fans who want to brag about watching 24 hours of baseball and many more who seem to show up in a raucous mood just after the bars close, and who once memorably booed a 12-year-kid who was up way past his bedtime and dropped a foul ball hit his way.
Nobody knew their names at the time, but the NBC wound up drawing such future Major League stars as Ron Guidry and and Barry Bonds and Rafael Palmeiro and Pete Incaviglia and Bob Eucker, and the various minor league teams yielded such future Major League stars as Lee Smith and Andy Benes, and according to local legend during one of the occasional college games Wichita State University Wheatshocker great Joe Carter hit a homer into the Arkansas River that was even more impressive than the walk-off homer he hit in the 1993 World Series to win the Toronto Bluejays their only title. There were countless others who play in the ballpark and made it to the bigs, even they weren’t as notable, and on Memorial Day the Railroaders’ line-up included the aforementioned and 53-years-old Palmeiro, who was still playing partly in faint hopes of a Major League comeback but mostly for the fun of playing with his son, a promising third baseman who’s batting average is currently a full hundred points better than the old man’s.
Even on a gloriously warm and sunny Memorial Day such an intriguing subplot didn’t fill a fourth of the venerable 6,400 seat ballpark, though, and one of the arguments the city and its big-time contractors are making for a new one is that a Major League-affiliated and maybe even triple-A team would draw more fans. We have our doubts, though. The people who do show up at Wingnuts games mostly have the tattoos and wife-beater t-shirts and tough look of the surrounding Delano neighborhood, which has a wild west history of its own, but they also have the cutest kids that they carefully watch over and explain the game to, and despite their affection for cowbells that disturb our political conversations with our cigar-chomping friends after every opposing out they’re a very charming lot of real deal baseball fans. Wingnut fans seem to like the outlaw status of unaffiliated baseball, which allows it to welcome the banned-from-Major-League-baseball great Pete Rose and hire his son as the manager, and doesn’t mind that Palmeiro’s remarkable Major League career was cut short by his proved steroid use and the fact that he lied to a congressional committee about using performance enhancing drugs, even though at the time he was a paid spokesman for Viagra.
Some number of more respectable east-siders and west-siders and suburbanites and their overly-watched kids might be lured to a Major League-affiliated team with a less goofy name in some fancy new ballpark, and the city government and its handful of big-time local building contractors are all making the same promise from the corny Kevin Costner movie “Field of Dreams” that if “If you build it, they will come.” If you’re the kind of minor league baseball fan who follows a player’s progress to the big leagues, though, you’d probably be showing at Lawrence-Dumont. Whatever features the sort of fancy new structure the city and its big-time builders might construct, it won’t be able to claim that Satchel Paige and Ron Guidry and Andy Benes once pitched there and the likes of Bonds and Palmeiro and Incvagilia and Carter once roamed the outfield and batted there.
Another argument for tearing the venerable old ballpark and piece of American baseball history down is that it has aging pipes and wiring and whatnot, and although we don’t doubt that’s true we’re suspicious of claims that the remedies would be less expensive than a whole new ballpark. The city and its handful of contractors are admittedly more expert on these matters than we are, but they also have their own self-interested ways of reckoning things, and we cast a suspicious eye on their stats.
These public and private partnerships pop up almost everywhere at the local and state and federal level, and we’ve noticed that somehow it’s always the poor folks and liberals who want to conserve that physical remnants of the best of our culture, and that lately it’s the conservatives who are chanting “burn it down.” One of our cigar-chomping aging hippie friends in the smoking section along the blinding first base line is a predictably liberal professor at the local university, the other is a semi-retired systems analyst and reluctant Trump supporter, but we all agreed it’s a damned odd thing.
Around here the far-right and the far-left always align to oppose whatever the city government and its big-time building contractors concoct, the former being offended by government involvement in private business and the latter offended by private business’ influence on government matters, and for now that’s the only hope for venerable Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. The folks on the far fancier east side and west side and the suburbs seem more comfortable with these arrangements than those of us on the old side of town, and don’t seem to give much of a damn about the better era of baseball and the way some things used to be. Which made for a bittersweet Memorial Day, no matter how warm and sunny.

— Bud Norman

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Opening Day

There’s plenty of serious and seriously depressing news out there, as always, but it’s hard to shake a certain sense of hopefulness on baseball’s Opening Day. It’s one of our favorite secular holidays for a number of reasons.
Much like the upcoming sacred holiday, Opening Day heralds the imminent arrival of warmer weather, for one thing, and after another long Kansas winter that will be most welcome. The first games played in the northeast will be chilly, but by the all-star game break they’ll be sweltering, and they’ll still be playing when it cools down in October. There’s something reassuring about such certainties.
Also much like the upcoming sacred holiday, baseball’s Opening Day offers everyone the chance to start life anew with an unblemished record and a shot at immortality. When the day’s last out goes into the record books half the teams will have a losing record, the other half will be briefly undefeated, but the next day brings another chance to win or lose, by the end of the season the worst teams will have won some and the best ones will have lost some, and there’s also something reassuring about such certainties of life as that.
As with politics and the rest of real life, we all take sides in baseball, and on this opening day we like our guys’ chances in baseball a lot better than we do our guys’ chances in politics. It’s a long story involving our Okie heritage and the late, great Mickey Mantle, but we’re lifelong fans of The New York Yankees, who look to be pretty darned good this year. Last year their emerging core of youthful stars, including a Rookie of the Year who smacked 51 homers, came a game short of reaching the World Series, and during the cold winter they signed a free-agent slugger who knocked 56 out of the park.
On a presumably warmer night a few weeks from now the unaffiliated Double-A Wichita Wingnuts will have their home opener down at the aging but venerable local ballpark by the Arkansas River, and that’s when baseball becomes serious. We’ve seen the Wingnuts play some great baseball from our seats in the smoking section with a couple of cigar-chomping friends, and last year they fell just a couple of runs short of a league championship, and we’re expecting another great season from our guys.
It looks likely the city will then tear down that aging but venerable local ballpark, which is the seventh-oldest professional ballpark in the world and witness to performances by such legends as Satchel Paige and Ron Guidry and Barry Bonds, and replace it with some shiny new structure and an affiliated Triple-A team with a presumably less goofy name than Wingnuts. Our old-fashioned conservative souls hate it, of course, but in baseball and the rest of the secular worlds things don’t always turn out to our liking. We’ll be back on the news today, in between watching the scores, but we’ll take time out to wish your team the best of luck and to wish you a very happy Easter.

— Bud Norman

The End of Football

This was the football season when we at long last stopped caring a whit about the game, but lacking anything better to do on a cold winter Sunday night we wound up watching most of the Super Bowl. It proved an entertaining game, and we enjoyed the company at the Super Bowl party where we spent most of the first half and the dive bar where spent all of the the second half, but we’re in no hurry for another football season.
Enthusiasm for the professional game is apparently down around the country, judging the attendance at the stadia and ratings on television, and there are various explanations afloat in the sporting media. One school holds that fans are offended by some of the players’ kneeling rather than standing during the national anthem, another holds that the public is put off by all the debilitating injuries so many players suffer through the rest of their troubled lives, and a certain minority complains the game has become too sissified. The even more rough-and-tumble sport of American politics somehow has something to do with all of this, and we think also has something do with the pro game’s declining popularity.
Football always was our third favorite of the big three sports in America’s holy athletic trinity, and the only one we never played on an organized basis or with any zeal. Being mostly but not entirely left handed, and possessed of poor eyesight and an instinctive fear of fast-moving hard objects, we were entirely ill-suited to baseball but nonetheless learned to appreciate our more athletically gifted peers and the mathematically quantifiable brilliance of what they did. As slow and earthbound as we always were, we could at least drive to the left or right and fade away and hit a short jumper if the defender shut off either lane, and we developed a fade away hook shot with either hand that even the bouncy kids couldn’t block, and although we were never anywhere good enough at basketball to even try out for a high school team that had two future National Basketball Association players and a couple of other top-tier collegiate players and another guy who would have been a star if he hadn’t accepted a baseball scholarship instead, but we got good enough that we held our own in some local and even back east pick up games and learned to appreciate how very good are the truly great players of the beautiful game of basketball.
Football, on the other hand, always seemed a more primal sort of sport. Our backyard and cow pasture experiences of playing the game with neighborhood kids taught us that it mostly involved players running into one another as fast and hard as they could, and thus advantaged the bigger and faster and harder fellow to an extent that the other fellow’s wile and cunning and strength of character could not negate, and by high school we opted for the debate team rather than the football team. Our pop attended the University of Oklahoma back when Coach Bud Wilkerson was racking up national championships and a still-standing record win streak, so all those Saturday afternoon Sooner games taught us an appreciation of the game’s subtle nuances and undeniably essential-to-civilization masculinity, but it was always our third-favorite sport.
The Super Bowl party we attended is annually hosted by a couple of local folk musicians as an excuse for all their folkie friends to have a winter hootenanny, and the few regulars at the dive bar were similarly uninterested in the game playing on the television, and according to stadia attendance and television ratings the rest of country is similarly losing interest in the pro game. That probably has something to do with those players who don’t stand for the national anthem, but as far we’re concerned they’re being disrespectful jerks to a flag than stands for their right to be disrespectful jerks, and we’re more bothered by all the wife-beating and bar-brawling and firearms violation charges all the hyper-masculine players rack up every year. All the head traumas and other debilitating injuries the players experience during the spectacle also take some of the fun out of it, as do the politicians who make hay of the national anthem and decry the supposed citification of the game.
Still, it was a good game. The long-suffering Philadelphia Eagles upset the recently dynastic New England Patriots, and it involved some missed point-after kicks and a risky-but-successful trick play on a crucial fourth-and-short situation at the end of the first half, and all-time great Patriots quarterback fumbling the ball at the end of the game because the big and fast and hard guys on the Eagles defense were bigger and faster and harder than the guys on the Patriots. We had no rooting interest in the game, just as we have no rooting interest these days in the more rough-and-tumble sport of politics, but it proved a diverting spectacle.
In any case, football season is over and the remaining cold weeks of winter will be preoccupied with the most beautiful game of basketball, and although our beloved Wichita State University Wheatshockers have lately been slumping we hold out hope they’ll be back in championship form come the championship tournament in March, and our beloved Boston Celtics have the eastern division’s best record in the pro game. Before the basketball season ends the pitchers and catchers will be reporting to spring baseball training, the first sure sign that summer’s soon to follow, with our beloved New York Yankees and Wichita Wingnuts looking good, and we’ll hold out hope the more rough-and-tumble game of politics turns out just as well.

— Bud Norman

The Days Grow Short When You Reach September

Labor Day went well around here, with the Wichita Wingnuts heading into the double-A American Association playoffs with a 4-1 regular season finale win over the Salina Stockade that featured several defensive gems, a hospitable old hippie friend of ours charbroiling copious amounts of bratwurst and burgers and other red Kansas meat while handing out Pabsts and blaring old Doors records on the sound system, and the weather was nice and hot. Still, there was no shaking that melancholy feeling the holiday always brings.
Although the autumnal equinox is still a couple of weeks away and the warm weather is likely to linger past that, today nonetheless marks the end of the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer. School is back in session, Congress is ending its recess, and by longstanding social agreement everybody else also gets down to serious business. The rigorously timed violence of football has already started to supplant the more leisurely paced and gentlemanly sport of baseball, the white shoes and straw hats are replaced by more somber apparel, school buses are once again slowing traffic, and conferences are being convened all over to assess the various messes the summer has left us in, and what might become of it in the fall.
The reconvened Congress finds itself with plenty of work to do. Summer’s end brought a thousand-year-flood that left America’s fourth-most-populous city under several feet of water, so they’ll have to find some way to pitch in on the calamitous cost of that, which wouldn’t be easy in the best of circumstances. In these circumstances they also face hard and fast end-of-the-month deadlines to pass a continuing spending resolution to keep the government fully open and a debt-ceiling increase to pay for it, which is always hard enough even without a thousand-year natural disaster to help pay for, and that’s not to mention the nutcase North Korean dictatorship that’s been making increasingly plausible threats to start a nuclear war that would make that thousand-year-flood look like a minor inconvenience.
There’s also the complicating factor of Trump, and everything he’s been up to over the summer. The Republican-controlled Congress was never technically in recess, for fear that Trump would make some crazy recess appointment to inoculate himself from the ongoing congressional probes into “Russia,” and nothing that has transpired during their unofficial vacation has likely been reassuring to them. Trump threatened to force a government shutdown unless all the spending resolutions and debt ceiling increases and whatnot included funding for his campaign promise of a border wall, which is a cause few other Republicans and absolutely no Democrats are willing to fight for, but that was before the thousand-year flood happened so there’s some hope Trump once again won’t make good on his threats. He’s also ramping up the anti-immigration rhetoric on other fronts, and although there are plausible arguments for some of them this probably isn’t the best month to be making them.
Throw in the nutcase North Korean dictatorship threatening a nuclear war and Trump’s intemperate responses, the leaks about “Russia” that are reaching thousand-year-flood levels, and the more open animosity between the Republicans in Congress and the relatively newly-fledged Republican in the White House, along with the ongoing fact that the Democrats are as always a complete disaster, and it looks to be an anxious September. The political consequences of not offering needed help to the flooded fourth-most populous city of the country or allowing the government to shut down its assistance would be dire, though, and the federal default that would shortly follow a failure to pass another damned debt-ceiling increase would be comparable to a nuclear war, so we’ll hold out hope that all the self-interested parties involved will reach some mutually beneficial agreement just ahead of the hard-and-fast deadlines.
In the meantime we have own bills our to pay, as we’re sure you do, and we’ll trust that most of the rest of us will somehow get down to such necessary business. There’s still some baseball left to provide solace, and not long after that ends basketball season starts up, with the Wichita State University Wheatshockers looking like a championship contender, and there will always be another summer, perhaps one more lazy yet not quite so hazy or crazy as the past one, and hope springs eternal.

— Bud Norman

How to Spend a Late Summer’s Afternoon

The weather around here on Wednesday was unusually perfect, and despite a recent losing streak the local Wichita Wingnuts baseball club has secured a spot in the double-A American Association’s playoffs, a most delightful and unusually good-looking young married couple we’re friends with have recently given birth to a healthy baby boy, and pretty much everyone we’ve run into lately has been eager to have a friendly talk about pretty much anything other than the latest politics.
It’s been a nice diversion, we must admit, and has led to some interesting discussions about the Film Noir genre and the hidden subtexts of “The Man Who Liberty Valance” and the subtleties of the Book of Acts, and of course how unusually perfect the weather has been lately, along with other more local and personal topics. Still, there’s no avoiding all the rest of the more noisome news of more national and international interest, and we’re still doing our best too keep up with it.
None of it is at all conducive to the happy mood that has lately prevailed around here, though, regardless of what your political beliefs might be, so despite all we have to say about that we’ll skip all that until at least tomorrow. In the meantime some delightful and good-looking couple is having a healthy baby near you, the sun is shining at a perfectly warm temperature somewhere, whatever local sports team you root for probably did its best even if it failed to make the playoffs, and you really should watch those great Film Noir movies and re-watch “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” for all the hidden subtext about how great nations are created.
We’ve still got lots to say about all the rest of it, none of which any of our Republican or Democratic or many somewhere-in-between friends will want to hear, but we’ll take a day off from our usual screeds about all that. Thanks for dropping in, though, and we hope that you have good weather and good news and friendly conversations with all the people you run into. From our reading of the rest of the  news, America could use a whole lot more of that.

— Bud Norman

Reality Intrudes on a Otherwise Nice Weekend

The weather around here was atypically perfect over the Memorial Day weekend, with none of the vicious thunderstorms and potential tornadoes that usually drive all the campers away from the nearby lakes at some point in the holiday, and the news cycle was as slow as one can hope for these days. Still, there was no shaking a certain sense that real life and all its discontents would start up again today.
We did our best to put it aside for a weekend of gratitude to fallen heroes and other uplifting thoughts, attending church and doing some pressing chores and pursuing plenty of procrastinating, while sticking mostly to the sports news. On Monday we slept late and eventually got together with some gray-haired hippie friends who meet every year on the date at a charmingly dilapidated house in a charmingly dilapidated neighborhood, and we had some barbecue and drank some beer and talked mostly about music.
They were playing the Allman Brothers Band on an old stereo sound system, apparently in memoriam of Gregg Allman, one of the eponymous co-founders of the band and its longtime vocalist and organist and songwriter, whose obituary we had noticed in the news over the weekend, and we have to say it sounded great. As natural born rockabillies our tastes in rock ‘n’ roll tend to the pre-hippie generation, and in our relative youth we embraced the punk sensibility that rebelled against those aged hippies, but we could never resist that Allman outfit doing “Crossroads” or “Whipping Post” or especially that enticingly melodic “Jessica,” which we played over and over on our old stereo until it drove our mom crazy, so we shared with our hippie friends a sincere toast to an undeniably crazy old hippie who was also an undeniably great and quintessentially American musician.
There was plenty of grousing about President Donald Trump, too, of course, but our natural born rockabilly punk and old school Republican sensibilities weren’t much stirred to offer any defense. We left early and dropped in an another old friend, a woman who is a bit younger and far punkier than ourselves, and still quite attractive in an exotic and ripened sort of way, and after she she showed us some cell phone video of her cute grandsons she also started grousing about Trump. After such a long friendship she usually avoids political topics with us, but we invited her to vent her spleen without any fear of recriminations. This lead to an eerily civil discussion about our bedrock conservative principles, however weird they might seem at the moment, and even some lengthy discourse some about the authoritarianism on her side of the political divide, and it ended in a hug.
After that we still managed to make the last inning of the Wichita Wingnuts’ home-opening victory over the Salina Stockade at the old Lawrence-Dumont Stadium on a glorious early summer night next to the Arkansas River, and although our New York Yankees lost to the Baltimore Orioles the Boston Red Sox also so lost so the Yankees were still comfortably in first place in the American League East. In our perusal of the sports pages we also noticed that Frank DeFord had died and Tiger Woods had been arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, so it wasn’t a great day in sports. DeFord was until his final day the best sportswriter of his generation, and at one point around 2008 Woods seemed poised to claim the title of greatest golfer and most heroic sports hero ever, and both of those stories came to a sad end over the weekend.
We dropped in on the last Wingnuts inning with a couple of our cigar-chomping friends in the smoking section of Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, one of whom is a graying hippie professor at the local university and the other a gray-pony-tailed hippie who still musters a full-throated defense of Trump, and they briefly filled us in on what they’d been arguing about during the home team’s victory. At that point we tried to talk about the home team’s victory, and if we’d arrived early enough to purchase a beer we’d have raised a conversation-changing toast.
We can’t help a late night glance at the news, though, so naturally Trump came up in that. They don’t observe Memorial Day in Germany, so Chancellor Angela Merkel went ahead with a speech that didn’t mention Trump by name but made clear that in “my experience of the last few days” she spent with Trump she had concluded that Europe could no longer count on the support of “outside sources,” and her opponent in the upcoming election more explicitly agreed with her more subtle denunciation of Trump. Our liberal Facebook friends were meanwhile exulting in Trump’s admittedly unusual demeanor during the national anthem at Arlington Memorial Cemetery, and although we don’t think it necessarily damning we have to admit it is unusual. There’s the carry-over from the previous work week’s stories about Trump’s son-in-law and all-purpose appointee, too, and we had to warn our Trump-apologist friend that the upcoming testimony of the fired Federal Bureau of Investigation director will likely require some difficult apologetics.
He seemed to take our warning to heed, and inquired about the well-being of our folks, whom he has also lately befriended. We appreciated the sincere inquiry, and assured him they seemed to be doing fine, and felt a hopeful thought that all this politics and sports and whatnot doesn’t really matter.
We also took a moment or two to remember Jerry Clark, who grew up in the Depression at an Atchison orphanage and got his toes blown off at the Battle of Manila in World War II and somehow wound up in the darkroom of the newspaper where we worked as young punks,  where he became one of our very best friends ever. For all the difficulties of his life he was one of the funniest fellows we’ve ever known, and as we face the coming week we’d love to hear what he would say about this particular moment in time.

— Bud Norman

The State of the Mid-Season Race

The New York Yankees have traded away their three best players and pretty much the rest of the season in exchange for better prospects in the hopefully near future, The Wichita Wingnuts are holding a comfortable 6.5 game lead in the double-A American Association’s southern division, and with help from an adorable rifle-toting teenaged girl America has already staked a lead in the Olympics medal count. As the stock markets are closed over the weekend our next check of the standings is the Real Clear Politics average of presidential polls, which currently shows the Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton edging up to a 7 point lead over Republican nominee Donald J. Trump.
This strikes us as a fair assessment of the race at the moment, given how widely reviled both candidates are and how Trump had an even worse past week than Clinton did, which took some doing. There are a couple of polls showing Trump behind but within the margin of error, but a couple of others showing Clinton with a landslide lead, and even most Trump’s loyal analysts agree that it all averages out to a substantial if not insurmountable lead for Clinton of 7 or 8 or even 9 points or so. When you throw in the third and fourth options of Libertarian Gary Johnson or Green Jill Stein, both of whom are polling conspicuously far better in their crazy election than their parties ever have done, the Clinton lead is narrowed to 6 or 7 or 8 points or so. A savvy sports fan’s closer look at the all-important electoral map will reveal that he’s behind but still in contention in some key swing states, clinging to a slight lead in a couple of others, losing ground in several more, and suddenly having to worry about a few states that more traditional Republicans long took for granted.
There’s a whole lot of baseball and presidential politics left to be played between now and the cool of November, and we’ve been following both sports long enough to expect surprise endings, but at this point in a season the teams that come from behind are usually making adjustments. Nothing in the political press suggests that Trump is making any personnel changes, or adopting new tactics, or even bothering to master the fundamentals of the game. Trump is being outspent on the widely-watched Olympic broadcasts and the rest of the airwaves to make the case that he’s a puppet of Vladimir Putin, a President of the United States who somehow has an over-50-percent approval rating and is therefore the most admired man in American politics is making the poll-tested argument that he lacks necessary temperament to be commander in chief, and Trump is responding with the schoolyard taunt that his opponent is “Unstable” Hillary “Rotten” Clinton, which will no doubt delight his so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters but do little to convince that pesky 60 percent or so of the rest of the country that he’s particularly presidential.
Clinton is indeed rotten, as we’ve been publicly complaining since long before Trump was contributing to her campaigns and inviting her to his third wedding and telling everyone what a great President she would be, and it appalls us that the current rotten president is so unaccountably popular, but we’d much prefer a Republican nominee who could make that case in more compelling terms than a schoolyard taunt. That seems to be where the race stands, though, and from now on we’ll try to pay more attention to baseball.

— Bud Norman

The Ballpark and the Rest of the World

The Wichita Wingnuts looked promising in a 5-1 victory over the Kansas City T-Bones on Tuesday, continuing a recent hot streak and putting them a full game over .500 and into a statistical tie with the Laredo Lemurs in the double-A American Baseball Association’s southern division, but even on such a pleasantly hot late spring evening of the national pastime on the Great Plains there was no avoiding all that other dreary news about the state of the world. We always watch the home stand games at the nearby historic old ballpark with a group of cigar-chomping friends in the smoking section along the first base line where the evening sun will burn the retinas right out of yours eyes during the early innings, so it’s an eclectic bunch we root with, and the between-innings opinions about everything else going on in the world were predictably diverse.
Our cheapskate tickets are always provided by an old polymath and underemployed friend with a gray pony-tail who keeps coming up with the most ingenious rationalizations of the presumptive Republican nominee’s most recent blathers, and he’s always accompanied by a similarly seasoned and equally charming and erudite fellow who’s on the faculty of the local university and can predictably concoct similarly construed apologetics for whatever the he presumptive Democratic nominee is lately spewing. We were joined by a couple of young and appealing  women who were happy to join in on the cigar-chomping but reluctant to talk about that politics stuff, even if they were obviously unimpressed with the presumptive Democratic nominee’s ceiling-breaking candidacy and clearly averse to something about that presumptive Republican nominee’s proudly sexist public persona. The cigar-chomping good old boy barber and former minor league umpire who will almost surely wind up voting for Trump didn’t show up, but we learned from our gray pony-tailed friend that his beloved homosexual son who lives in Orlando and frequents the nightclub where the mass murders occurred over the weekend was safe and sound because he’d decided not to show up on on the club’s “Latino Night.”
There was also some talk about music, with that fellow from the local university offering some sound opinions, which did not surprise us as he once gave us a well-chosen collection of favorite tracks by Porter Wagoner and his Wagoneers, and we found out that our young and appealing and cigar-chomping young female friends had never heard of Carmen Miranda and her fruit-laden hair-dos, although one of them looked her up on her cel phone and admitted she was stunned by such Latin and fruit-laden beauty, and the end of the world seemed all the more looming. In the end the home team won, though, and we went home with some faint hope.

— Bud Norman

Over at the Other League

Every now and then we avert our eyes from the desultory Republican primaries and check in on what the Democrats are up to, just as we’ll occasionally glance at the National League standings now that major league baseball is at least underway, but what we find over on the senior circuit of politics is no more heartening.
The putative front-runner in the two-person race, former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and long-presumed First Woman President Hillary Clinton, is on a six-game losing streak that includes some embarrassing blow-outs, and all the kids seem to dig her pesky rival, the self-described socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders from the hippie retirement village of Vermont. That’s before the Federal Bureau of Investigation concludes its criminal investigation of Clinton’s well-worthy-of-investigating e-mailing and charity fund-raising activities, which cannot end well not matter what, but it looks as if the fix is in just like one of those phony-baloney professional wrestling matches that the putative Republican front-runner used to perform. None of this is at all heartening when you suddenly recall that this isn’t mere sports, or “sports entertainment,” as the lawyers of professional wrestling like to call their “sport,” and that one of these awful people will likely enter the general election with a realistic chance of becoming president.
The game is played differently over on the Democratic side, too, and in ways that are even more egregious than forcing pitchers to be humiliated at the plate instead of letting a more competent designated hitter take the plate. There’s an unsettling preoccupation with racial and other political identity grievances, for one thing, and it’s lately been the big story. Both campaigns have been hectored by the “Black Lives Matter” movement that is the latest rage among the outsized portion of the Democratic primary electorate that is black, but Clinton’s husband, who was once the first First Black President, and has thus far endowed his frequently betrayed wife with all the political good will of that achievement. The self-described socialists’ promises of perfect economic justice and lots of free stuff is starting to resonate in the “Black Lives Matter” movement, though, and the first First Black President’s welfare reform and tough-on-crime measures are no longer fashionable, and it does make for an interesting situation. Clinton’s husband, who still somehow looms larger than his frequently betrayed yet putatively front-running wife, decided to make a full-troated defense of his past policies, albeit with less throat than his former McDonald’s-fueled from once had, and he threw in some factual stuff about how black folks generally had fared better during his administration than during the first seven-and-a-half years of the First Black President’s administration.
Oddly enough, we found ourselves rooting for the fellow, even if the sorry old son-of-a-bitch is still everything we loathe about the senior circuit. That welfare reform bill he signed really did reduce poverty by forcing people into gainful employment, the tough-on-crime stuff really did save a lot of black lives, which truly do matter, and even though he was forced on both policies by his equally sleazy advisor Dick Morris and the almost as sleazy Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich and a whole of Republican voters we hope aren’t so sleazy, we see no reason he should apologize for any of these less famous matters. Then again, we’re not rooting for his awful wife, who until recently had been running against her frequently betraying husband to keep those “Black Lives Matter” people on her side.
Still, we can believe that the fix is in and none of this matters, and that it will come down to whether our league can put up a worthy challenger.

— Bud Norman

On the Day After Opening Day

For such avid fans of the blood sport of American politics as ourselves, the quadrennial Iowa presidential caucuses are like the opening day of a once-every-four-years baseball season. Some youthful enthusiasm left within us wants to extrapolate the rest of the reason from the season from the first day’s statistically insignificant scores, some more sober sensibility acquired over the years reminds us that are plenty of games left to be played in what is always an up-and-down season, and we always wind up indulging in the obligatory speculation.
Over on the Democrats’ senior-in-more-ways-than-one circuit we note that former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and long-presumed Next President of the United States Hillary Clinton is still going into extra innings as we write this against self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, which bolsters our pre-season suspicion that it’s going to be a long and hard-fought contest. In a far more crowded field the upstart Republicans’ winner was controversial right-fielder Texas Sen. Cruz, who had a plurality of 28 percent, with real-estate-and-gambling-and-reality-show-and-professional-wrestling mogul Donald J. Trump coming in from way out in the metaphorical left field to take an unaccustomed second place with 24 percent, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, now cast as the party’s steady center-fielder, just behind with an intriguing 23 percent, which at least provides hope for another long and hard-fought race.
Of course, one needs to keep in mind the peculiar ground rules that govern Iowa’s opening games. The Democrats require caucus-goers to spend all night standing with their fellow rooters in the corners of various frigid high school gymnasiums and senior centers spread across the state, staring one another down to attract the rooters from the candidates disqualified in the first rounds, which should have given her opponent’s more youthful and fired-up supporters an edge, so even a slight win will still count as a win even by pliable rules of politics. The next game will be played according to more traditional primary rules in New Hampshire, but that’s right next door to Vermont and Sanders has held a comfortable lead in the polls there for some time, so a win in Iowa means at least Clinton won’t get off to that 0-for-2 start so many formerly front-running candidates have never recovered from. Still, those bettors who put their chips on Clinton a full four years ago are likely in for a nervous season. Veteran political sports fans will recall that a similarly spirited far-left candidacy by Sen. Eugene McCarthy knocked sitting President Lyndon Johnson out of the race with a win in New Hampshire way back in the memorable ’68 season, and although those with more reliable memories will more accurately recall that Johnson eked out a victory it was close enough it was still enough to convince Johnson that he wouldn’t make it to the general election finish line, which makes it a potentially worthwhile analogy.
Cruz only won eight delegates to Trump’s and Rubio’s seven, and long-shot retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson got three, with even longer shots libertarian Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and erstwhile starting center fielder Jeb! Bush of the erstwhile Bush dynasty getting one apiece for finishing fifth and sixth, respectively, so with 1,114 delegates needed to clinch the pennant there’s still plenty of race of left. It’s still a crucial tally in the win column for Cruz, however, and although he’s starting from behind in New Hampshire the Iowa winner has traditionally picked up a few points in other contests. Veteran political sports fans will also recall how little-known Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter got a sudden amount of name-recognition-generating publicity from an upset win in Iowa and rode it to the Democratic nomination back in that sub-.300 year of ’76, and although those with more reliable memories will recall that Carter actually finished second to “undecided,” which ultimately proved poetically appropriate enough, the point still obtains. For someone running against a reality-star with almost unlimited free publicity and near-universal name recognition, it’s an especially important point.
In an ordinary season an ordinary candidate could claim more than seven delegates from a second-place finish in Iowa, but Trump is no ordinary candidate. The most likely explanation for the front-running Trump’s second-place finish is that Iowa’s Republican caucus is largely dominated by evangelical Christians who prefer a Baptist minister’s son such as Cruz to a thrice-married gambling mogul who publicly boasts of the billions he made by buying off politicians and all the married babes he’s bagged along the way, but we don’t think even Trump will attempt that spin and we don’t think New Hampshire voters would buy it even if they are next door to Vermont. Much of Trump’s appeal is based on his argument that he always wins, and that Americans might even get bored with all the winning he’s going to do for America, making it hard for him to spin an actual vote where he not only came in second but a full 76 percent of the voters went for someone else. He wisely declared himself “honored” by a second-place finish, noting only obliquely how many observers had thought Iowa an unfriendly field, and he’s still got the lead in New Hampshire before getting back on evangelical turf in South Carolina, but to mix the sports analogies somewhat at least he won’t be getting that early-round knock-out.
Rubio’s close third-place finish, on the other hand, should be worth more than just seven delegates over the coming weeks. It represents a significant bump in his previous poll standings, will merit enough mention to up his name recognition a few notches, and will likely even knock out some of the other players vying for the centerfield position. When the fourth-place Carson sooner or later bows out we suspect most of his support will flow to Cruz, so Rubio will need all the meager votes scattered about the rest of the soon-to-drop-out candidates, and when Bush makes his inevitable exit Rubio will at least be spared the millions of dollars of negative advertising that have been aimed him, so in this game opening day does matter more than in baseball.
Both leagues might wind up battering themselves into a sorry state for the eventual general election World Series, but that’s way too far away to speculate about now.

— Bud Norman