Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Pacquiao vs. Cotto: Part 1

After much intrepid internet research, my friend Javid found a Filipino barbeque place called Tito Rad’s, on 49th St. and Queens Boulevard where $20 would get you two beers, some unexplained “appetizers,” and, most importantly, a place to watch the Manny Pacquiao fight on pay-per-view. Living in New York these days, you get accustomed to 1) there being at least one of any type of ethnicity-place that you can imagine somewhere in the five boroughs and 2) being able to locate them on the web pretty easily; but if there is a Filipino sports bar somewhere, they have a lousy web-presence, since Javid had been looking for them all week, and Tito Rad’s was all that he could come up with.

Once we had a place to watch it, I gave myself over to eager anticipation of the fight. Indeed, all week I had been feeling excited, to an extent that surprised me, since I am not much of a boxing fan at all, and know little about the sport. As Saturday progressed, I became increasingly happy at the prospect of watching it, as well as irrationally nervous that we would find some way of missing it anyway. I mentioned this to Javid, while we were waiting for some friends of mine to arrive from New Jersey before heading out to the restaurant, and he said that he had been looking forward to the fight all week as well.

The obvious reason for the anticipation was simply Manny Pacquiao. Sometimes an athlete comes along whose combination of extreme talent and intense personal charisma allows them to utterly transcend the boundaries of the sport. Babe Ruth is the classic example; it kind of hurts me to say it, but Derick Jeter is a contemporary one. Pacquiao is definitely in this category: a devastating boxer in a number of weight classes, he possess an almost thoroughly unprecedented combination of speed and power, as well as a charming, smiling demeanor. Pacquiao is a true national hero in a way that it is hard for Americans to understand—possibly because there hasn’t really been anyone who fit the bill for the entire nation since the aforementioned Bambino. Filipinos are probably, as a nation, far more heavily invested in Pacquiao than Dominicans are in Pedro Martinez. Pacquiao’s post-fighting career will almost certainly take him into elected office; he has made movies and lately has been talking scripts with Sylvester Stallone; and his band was scheduled to play in Las Vegas immediately after the fight, regardless of the result.

Additionally several fates rested on the outcome of the contest. A victory for the Pacman would cement his place as one of the all time great boxers and set him up for a fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr.; while a loss would certainly signal the beginning of the end of his fighting career and everything that it had meant. Miguel Cotto, Pacquiao’s opponent, was well known and respected in fighting circles, but not to the general public: a victory would put him in a position to become one of the most prominent faces of boxing.

Furthermore, boxing itself is a sport in obvious crisis. In addition to being hurt by the limitations of the pay-per-view market, it is currently fighting for those pay-per-view dollars with mixed martial arts events, whose growing popularity is eating away at boxing’s fanbase. Boxing needs superstars to connect to the general public, preferably in the heavyweight class, and no heavyweight has drawn much attention since Mike Tyson. Welterweight Oscar de la Hoya had pretty much been boxing’s meal ticket until he got dismantled by Pacquiao in a non-title fight; if Pacquiao could win a title as a welterweight against Cotto, the resulting fight against Mayweather would have the chance to be a defining fight for a new generation of boxing fans. Indeed, regardless of the outcome, if Pacquiao vs. Cotto was in any way a particularly good or interesting fight it would do a good deal to assure boxing’s immediate future and forestall the kick-boxing/jujitsu/grappling masters at the gates.

So, in regard to all these questions, the fight contained the thrill of an election: we had entered a phase of total uncertainty, but, at the end of a defined interval, we would, necessarily, have answers.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Who am I?

What famous director is shooting this ballgame? Post your answers in the comment section. Send a description of your favorite director filming a ballgame to samsmetsblog@gmail.com and I’ll put them up as well.

Alright, camera 1, I want you to stay focused on the pitcher’s eyes; camera 2, I want you to stay focused on the batter’s eyes. Now, in the moments leading up to the pitch we are going to franticly cut back and forth between camera 1 and camera 2, then a quick cut to camera 3, which will have been focused on the batters hands, and stay with camera 3 for only the split second when the bat is actually being swung. Now, someone call up Ennio Morricone and see if he can do anything with “take me out to the ballgame.” Oh, and for the post-game interviews I want all the Latino players to use fake Irish accents, and all the white guys to pretend that they are Mexicans.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Game 6

“No! I am not Alex Rodriguez, nor was meant to be…”

I watched an inning or so in the local pizza place. The guy behind the counter argued that the Post-season had been rigged in the Yankee’s favor and he claimed that the dimensions of new Yankee stadium were illegal according to an obscure rule in Major League Baseball. A friend of his, a customer at the pizza place, had worked on the lights at the new stadium, and he said that the Stienbuners paid off more people than anyone else in the state of New York.

After this, he went into a sadly predictable anti A-Rod rant. If he were given the chance, he would not ask for more than $2,000 a game to play baseball because he, the pizza place guy, loves to play baseball; he did not understand why it had to be all about the money. He was also annoyed that A-Rod identifies himself as Dominican when he was actually born in the States; the pizza guy is Italian American, loves Italy, couldn’t be prouder of his heritage, but is also proud to acknowledge himself as an American first. I submitted, at this point, that while A-Rod’s claims about his heritage did not necessarily speak highly of him, it was only to be expected because A-Rod is clearly mad, but the pizza place guy remained hardened to A-Rod’s plight.

I like A-Rod because so many things about him--Kabala, Buddhism, the centaur pictures, the photo shoot of him making out with his image in the mirror, the steroids, Madonna, Kate Hudson-- seem calculated to fly in the face of the things that it is easy and pleasant to believe about people who are extremely, extremely good at baseball.

My feeling is that the truth is that A-Rod, and very few other players in the history of the game, posses a quality related to their extreme excellence that place them somewhat outside of the ordinary human understanding. Ted Williams was like this: he feuded with the Boston media, remained aloof from fans, and had his body frozen by a bunch of delusional crooks.

The pizza place guy judges A-Rod by the standards of the pizza place and by these standards A-Rod inevitably fails; the specious process of relating the experiences of A-Rod, baseball superstar, to his own experience as a pizza place guy is somehow important to how the pizza place guy perceives with the world and defines himself. This is ok—it does not make much more or less sense than what most people think about their lives, but it also does not lead him to wise opinions about player evaluation in baseball.

Later, I was watching Matsui come to the plate in my apartment. As he stepped in, the camera cut from a shot of Matsui’s face, to a shot of a fan with a poster with Matsui’s number and a picture of Godzilla, and then the camera cut directly back to Matsui’s face. The Godzilla on the poster seemed strangely childish, a young and whimsical monster, and I realized that it must be hard for Matsui to interpret the weird racial/cultural meanings of this image, and hit major league pitching all at once. Immediately after that, I realized that it was preposterous to think that Matsui had seen the Godzilla poster-- I had only been lead to that conclusion by the grammar of the camera. The truth was that Matsui probably could not see into the crowd at all, do to the lights, and there was little chance that he could focus on an individual poster-- in all likelihood all of his attention was focused on the positioning of the defense, if he was not completely taken up by some inner process, only understood by himself. However, from a life time of watching movies and television I had learned that a shot of a face, followed by a shot of a thing, followed by a return to the face, means that the owner of the face is thinking about the thing—I was so accustomed to this, that, for an instant, I had been completely sure that I knew what Matsui was thinking about, and I felt completely comfortable in applying my own values and beliefs to what I imagined were Hideki Matsui’s experiences.

In order to capture an audience’s interest, telecasts try to get the audience to identify with the player as much as possible; they accomplish this through a series of codes that they have adapted, perhaps subconsciously, from movies and television. This makes for interesting broadcasts; it also encourages people to participate imagine a sympathy with ballplayers that has no basis in reality whatsoever.

In other words, what if baseball telecasts were directed by Werner Herzog? If they were, I think that the pizza place guy would have a totally different opinion of Alex Rodriguez.