Quite a few things to get to today. (Reader comments, my logo, the origin of this blog's name a fascinating baseball story, not one but two internet endorsements, and the amazingly incredibly amazing U.S. Soccer team.)
- First, I've changed my settings so that you don't have to sign-up for anything to leave a comment. I'm sorry I didn't do this earlier. Imagine me writing this blog as a kid inheriting his dad's car, and every once in a while he hits a button by accident and goes, "Hey, it's got windshield wipers!" I'm still learning. (Another example would be that I'll start making my links open in a new window, so you won't leave the site when you click on something.)
I encourage you to leave comments. In fact, I insist. Who the hell are you, and what are you doing here? Surely I've written something by now that you either agreed or disagreed with. Let me know about it.
My only request is that you keep it relatively clean. Although I don't think she is at present, it's entirely possible that my grandmother could read some of this someday. So if you write something obscene, I'll find out who you are send it to your grandma.
- In a rather obvious Editor's note, I've updated the site with a logo. It's not going to win me any awards, but I think it's a step up. I'm especially proud of the the header because I did it, and the only thing I've ever successfully drawn in my life was a conclusion.
I'll cover the subjects in the logo one-by-one eventually, but just so we're clear (clockwise from top left): Satchel Paige, George Gipp, Bill Russell, Jim Thorpe, George Best, Hunter Thompson, Elliott Smith, Earnest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, Bob Dylan.
For me, that's the list. There are obvious exceptions, people I wished would fit -- Pele, Sugar Ray Robinson, Steve Nash, Pedro Martinez, Mos Def, Dennis Bergkamp -- but if I look at my life in terms of writing and sports, those guys at the top of this page are the who and the why.
But there are a few things that I noticed as I picked my essentials. Apparently I like them to burn bright, especially when they're young. Some of them burned for a while and somehow sustained. (Dylan, Russell, Steinbeck, Paige.) Others burned, and, though they seemed to have survived the flames, could not stand to see the dimming of their own fuse. (Thompson, Thorpe, Hemingway.) Booze killed Gipp senselessly one night in 1920. It did the same thing to Best, though it took decades to do so. And at the age of 34, Elliott Smith took his own life in 2003.
I do not claim to share any of the things that makes me admire these men. But all I want, all I've ever wanted since I knew how to want something, is to burn bright, if only for a while.
- Just to knock this one down, Elliott Smith should get credit for naming this blog. "Needle in the hay," is a perfect and perfectly sad little song about drug addiction, and I wish I had a good reason to use it for the name. My best explanation is that I think it might be the best thing he ever did, and if you know his work like me, that's enough.
- Now, the Satchel Paige connection. It seems that the two of us both did a stint in the same town. And, incredibly, it was not Washington, D.C. Not once, but twice, car dealer and equal-opportunity baseball man Neil Churchill used cash and a free Chrystler to lure Satch to Bismarck to play minor league ball.
According to this account, the first time this happened was in... get ready for it... 1934.
That's right. North Dakota -- a state that usually seemed to me to have about as much color as crust-less Wonder Bread -- was integrated more than a dozen years before the bigs. Those, by the way, would have been the 12 years where Satch would have made his case as the greatest pitcher of all time.
Instead he was stuck inside of Bismarck with the Mobile blues again.
- To the internet we go.
I had written previously about how badly the New York Times was screwing up it's Page one podcast. Turns out, somebody was way ahead of me. The Washington Post has been doing a "From the Pages of the Post" podcast since January of last year. Go get it. Then listen to "The Sole Survivor" from last Monday. (Or read it here.)Please, get to this story before some big team of awful Hollywood writers gets to it. Go get the real thing.
- On a related note, I'd also covered youtube, and how companies should embrace it -- and profit from it -- instead of fighting it.
Well, thanks to the good folks at CONCACAF (North American's soccer conference), the message of those words has served me well. Though I can't watch the Gold Cup because I've dropped the Fox Soccer Channel, I can now see extended highlights courtesy of the concacaf channel of youtube. Now, this is America, and this is soccer, so not a lot of people are tuning in. But can you imagine how many people, on a worldwide level, would watch the NFL, NBA, and MLB if they did the same thing?
- So, now to disect those highlights. We finally gave up a goal to Panama in the quarters. But it was late, and we were up 2-0, and they caught a lucky deflection when Oguchi Onyewu poked at it. No excuse, I admit.
But watching this game, it should have been 3 or 4-1, and it could have been five or six. I know, that's not a good sign, to not be finishing your chances. But that's a lot better than not having those chances.
I've been watching the U.S. closely since about 2000. And as far as technical skill, creativity, and team speed, we've never been this entertaining or this good. Suddenly Demarcus Beasley, Clint Dempsey, Benny Feilhaber, Brian Ching, Landon Donavan, Taylor Twellman, even Oguchi Onyewu -- all of them -- can make that all-important short or long pass to put a teammate in open space.
And we're spending so much time with the ball that other teams are hardly even getting a look at the goal.
Let's go back to January. Bradley's first game in charge saw a patchwork U.S. team facing what was essentially Denmark's back-up team. Denmark took the lead in the 37th minute, and the Bradley era was off to a nightmare start.
We went on to score three goals that day. Then we beat Mexico 2-0, and then Donny hit-up Ecuador for the best hat trick in U.S. history in a 3-1 win.
Then we played a boring 0-0 draw againast Guatemala. But since then?
4-1 over China, 1-0 in a Guatemala rematch, 2-0 Trinidad and Tobago, 4-0 over El Salvador and 2-1 over Panama. Between China and Panama, we went, let's see, FOUR HUNDRED AND TWENTY SEVEN MINUTES without giving up a goal. For all the Americans who rip soccer for not having any scoring, this is ideal: we're scoring, they're not.
For the year, we've scored 21 goals and given up three. One tie, eight wins, and we're not going to lose to Canada or Mexico in this tournament.
I just, I can't make this more clear. We're so, so good right now.
For me, the most telling moment of this tournament may not have been a goal or a tackle. Here's the scene: Late in the game, we're up 2-0. Donny took a long pass over the defense and fed a wide-open Clint Dempsey in front of goal.
10 years ago, any player on the U.S. soccer team would have shot immediately, and probably scored. Instead, Dempsey took a touch, faked a shot and ditched a defender before losing the ball to another one.
He should've scored, yes. But this, this foolish mistake, is a great moment in United States soccer. This was a moment of Dempsey's inherent creativity and flair and cojones leading to madness.
But, as they say, genius and madness are neighbors, and sometimes they bump into each other when they both leave for work in the morning.
And that's how I know this team is so good: I would never have been compelled to write that sentence three years ago.
That'll do it for now.