September 25, 2017

Do unto others.

When I was a kid, my mom used to say, “Do unto others as you’d have them do to you.” Basically, treat people the way you want to be treated.

I always wanted to be treated with dignity and respect. There are countless Americans who aren’t treated with either. Many of them are people of color, who were born into a country that claims 'all men are created equal' but proves from Moment One that that’s not the case.

Over a year ago, Colin Kaepernick sat during the national anthem and inadvertently started an uproar that continues to this day. This weekend, the President of the United States focused not on hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico but on a desire to punish any athletes who don’t conform to his related viewpoints on national anthem responsiveness.

Colin Kaepernick is a black man who is being blackballed by his sport for sharing his views on society. If you exist in or engage with modern-day culture, his views are not unique. But no one has laid them out on this sort of stage quite like Kaepernick, and no one has stuck to them with his level of fervor.

And for this, he suffers. Only now, thanks to the president’s ramblings, he has an army by his side. A brotherhood of athletes, black and white, who are tired of having their life stories dictated by others. Who are tired of being told to stay in their lanes when they can finally explain why the world they’ve conquered isn’t the one future generations should have to face.

Do unto others as you’d have them do to you. All Kaepernick has ever asked is for us to consider his viewpoint. He’s asking the many Americans who can’t understand kneeling for the national anthem to pause, for a brief moment, and ask why others might.

It’s not because those who kneel dislike this country; it’s not because they are disrespecting the flag. It’s because, for years and years, no one asked for an athlete’s opinion. Everyone told them to get a job; when they got one—a major one—they said, “Be happy you have it.”

When the athletes finally spoke up, people said, “Stick to sports.” But in 2015, the NBA was 74% black. According to VICE, 70% of NFL players are black. These leagues frighten people because they no longer represent what many consider ‘typical’ Americans; they largely represent the 12% of black or African American citizens who’ve dealt with racial profiling and societal pressures that many of us cannot imagine.

And though our current media landscape is beset with endless podiums for people who shouldn’t have access to whistles, let alone megaphones, one of its true pleasures is direct access to the Colin Kaepernicks of the universe. He and his peers shouldn’t have to be filtered through ESPN or Sports Illustrated; if LeBron James thinks the president is a bum, he should fucking say it. And he did.

James Baldwin once said, "I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually." That’s the most wonderful quote of all time, and anyone who misunderstands Baldwin’s sentiment misunderstands what it means to be American.

If you are criticizing Colin Kaepernick, or Stephen Curry, or LeBron James, or the countless NFL players who kneeled on Sunday in recognition of their First Amendment right to peaceful protest, you misunderstand America. But that won’t surprise Kaepernick or any athletes of color or otherwise who spoke out this weekend; they kneel specifically because you don’t understand.

If we took time—literally, the briefest moment—to place ourselves in the shoes of black and brown men and women being discriminated against, of gay men and women who only wish to love each other in peace, of anyone disenfranchised who seeks just the bare necessities to survive, the world would be a remarkably better place. If we took my mother’s advice and treated others like we'd want to be treated, there’d be no need for Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling. But until that magical day comes, he’s going to kneel, and you’re going to hear about it.

And if you don’t get it, well, that’s pretty much the point.

January 22, 2017

What we're marching for.

This weekend's Women's March, in Washington, DC, and hundreds of other cities worldwide, had no defined purpose. It wasn't meant to challenge specific legislation. It wasn't in response to a tragedy, like the Movement for Black Lives protests that began after Michael Brown's death in Ferguson, Missouri.

But it had a target in its sights: President Donald Trump. And, given the millions of people who gathered to voice their opposition and release some of the tension that's been building since November, it was beyond necessary.

Nominally, this was a march for women. And in retrospect, that was a far more beneficial theme than "fuck Trump." Though many attending did echo that particular sentiment, loud and proud, it was about more than him.

Because Donald Trump has certainly touched a nerve: millions of people feel removed from the processes that keep this country running. Economically, politically; they can't find their footing as a current of someone else's making threatens to wash away everything they hold dear.

They're right; the United States belongs to the rich, the wealthy, the powerful. But the man who now leads a supposed charge against that system—a man who has nominated the richest cabinet in American history—has shown no real predilection for change. In fact, he's already making moves to hinder those in need.

And all those votes for Hillary Clinton weren't necessarily votes for the status quo; for many, they were votes for incremental-yet-genuine social progress, or votes against the fear and hate preached by her opponent.

Well, Hillary Clinton is gone now. She did not attend the Women's March; her time has past. And as such, the people are now untethered. It's no longer about support for a flawed, unpopular presidential candidate; it's women, men, everyone, in support of themselves and their neighbors, standing up for the rights they believe in. This was a reminder that, while the people may not have the power now, they can take it back.

I was lucky enough to attend the DC march; as we approached the National Mall at 7th Street and Constitution Avenue NW, a bevy of pussy hats, loud chants, and excited ladies filled the streets that were strikingly empty during Friday's inauguration parade. It was impossible to make your way to the actual march route; there was a sense of controlled confusion, that we were in the right place but uncertain about what came next.

At first, it was a little frightening; anything could happen in that big of a crowd, especially if someone who disagreed with the march's message wanted to spark chaos. But as we moved through the throngs of humanity, listened to the rolling cheers that would spontaneously emerge every few minutes, took in all the handmade signs, and saw the excitement—and concern, and passion—on people's faces, lingering fear turned into a sense of belonging.

This did not feel like a day where trouble lurked on the horizon. It didn't matter if we were marching on the "official" route, or that there was an official route at all. The march's organizers, and the no-longer-looming threat of a Donald Trump presidency, had gotten us here; now it was time to be loud, gain strength, and turn all this energy into something real.

Unfortunately, not all marches and protests go this smoothly. It's telling that this march for women, attended by many white people, proved peaceful while so many marches led by people of color end in police interference, mistreatment of protesters, and unnecessary arrests.

But, as one woman's sign proudly exclaimed, "We all belong. We will defend each other." That's a bold sentiment to voice in America, one we haven't often lived up to. This time, we'll need to. When the current administration enacts policies that hurt black and Hispanic people, white people need to show up. When women are impacted, men need to be there.

By all indications, this will be a rocky four years for anyone who supports equality and intolerance; yesterday's march was proof that we can gather to oppose policies that cripple honest, hard-working Americans of all colors and genders. What we'll have to prove, present company included, is that we will.

November 13, 2016

The value of protest.

My girlfriend and I had just left the movie theater, a brief two-hour respite from all the craziness of the last week, when our phones lit up. There was yet another protest in front of Donald Trump's hotel in Washington, DC. Neither of us is the protesting type, so it was a little surprising to see the attraction on both of our faces. The times, they are a-changin'.

Things we've learned in the last several days: Democrats almost universally failed in the 2016 election, Donald Trump is preaching a vague message of tolerance while handing the reins of his administration to career politicians with hate in their hearts, reports of hate crimes have increased considerably, the Western world is trending toward far-right rule that will place blame on those who cannot properly defend themselves.

Those are all excellent reasons to protest.

These protests are not for a recall or redo (unlike the petition going around to sway Electoral College voters, a blatant attempt to circumvent the process we were so staunchly upholding mere weeks ago). No one is flooding the streets of Los Angeles or DC thinking that Donald Trump will abdicate the throne.

Protesting does not have to be laser-focused at one initiative, movement, or piece of legislation. It's about making people uncomfortable, forcing them to reckon with the reality of the situation and take a hard look at those who refuse to sit silently. It's about exposing hypocrisy; you're pro-Trump and anti-hate, yet you can't fathom why those potentially threatened by his policies (young people, the LGBTQ community, people of color) would gather so soon, and with such frequency.

It's about taking chances: this man will be president in less than two months, with a vast surveillance apparatus at his disposal and a penchant for vengefulness. But to waste this passion, and ignore this moment in history where the world is taking a step backward out of confusion and fear, would be a passive failure at a time when action is needed.

It's about reminding the world—many of whom can't fathom how you go from Barack Obama to Donald Trump—that only 60 million of the 318 million people in the United States chose Trump as their leader. And it's a note to those in Congress, in state legislatures, and in governors' mansions across the country: if you back any hateful policies, this all will be turned against you next.

It's about inspiring crowds in other towns and cities to follow along with Portland, New York City, Chicago, Cincinnati, and Oklahoma City. It's about using social media for its best possible purpose—helping like-minded people organize and communicate in communities around the world—and reinforcing hope when you feel like the only voice among the silence.

It’s about climate change, climate change, climate change. One of our presidential candidates believed in its detrimental effects and supported the Paris climate agreement; the other thinks it's a Chinese hoax. We elected the second one, and that particular stance of his is more likely to doom us than any social or economic legislation enacted or rescinded during his tenure.

It's even about reminding the Democratic Party that the people have the power, that Hillary Clinton ended up being the wrong choice for this time and place but we can make the right ones in 2018 and 2020. President-elect Trump was right about his rallies creating the fervor that won the election; we need candidates and ideas to inspire that same fervor, or the consequences could be dire.

We didn't protest last night, but it could be a very different story come Inauguration Day. And though President-elect Trump spoke outagainst the protests post-Election Day, he called for the very same thing after President Obama's victory in 2012:
It seems that Trump's stances on protests, much like his campaign promises, flip when convenient. All the more reason to make our voices heard.

November 9, 2016

When the promise is broken, you go on living.

I grew up in a small South Jersey town, borne into a loving family that didn't care much for politics. I don't recall a single conversation at the dinner table about the left wing, the right wing, or anything in between; we just didn't delve into that realm.

If I was forced to assign Teenage Me a political designation, we'd go with "horrifically uninformed conservative." My town was a fairly affluent Philadelphia suburb, sans diversity but full of neighborly love. I barely knew any people of color or of varying sexual orientations, which you could've guessed by the casual epithets my friends and I would throw around. A stubborn person was "being a faggot," the black chip on a poker table was the "N-stain." It was known hurtful language that no one challenged, one of the side effects of an otherwise challenge-free upbringing.

Fast forward a few years: I'm now a student at Boston University and surrounded by people of all shapes, sizes, and colors. Despite 18 years gestating in a bubble, the idea of a city-based multicultural college held great appeal; I can only guess that my movie-soaked teenage years unlocked a smidge of interest in the world outside New Jersey. That, plus monthly trips to nearby Philadelphia and the dawning realization that not every rowhome was like my grandmother's, warmly lit and full of buttered toast with Cookie Crisp on top (don't ask).

BU wasn't exactly a love-fest, where race and creed were thrown out the door and friendly cross-pollination occurred without a second thought. But it was where I met people, black white and brown, from other parts of the country. Berkeley, California; Denver, Colorado; Springfield, Massachusetts; Cleveland, Ohio. Not always towns or cities bigger than mine, but always humans with different perspectives and exceedingly more liberal viewpoints.

It was there, with nudges both gentle and vicious, from professors and from some dude down the hall, that I started to learn how sheltered I really was. That the words I had tossed around with friends were steeped in deep, disgusting historical meaning. Or that human beings with a slightly darker skin tone, or with XX chromosomes, had fought for years to gain rights that I often took for granted. I was blessed with intellect and a bevy of advantages; the world came fairly easy. This was not the case for the bulk of humanity, then or now.

This is all to say that, when it became clear on Tuesday night that Donald Trump was about to become the 45th President of the United States, it was a direct repudiation of all the realizations, hopes, and desires I've come to understand and embrace over the last decade. The argument has been made that he's not necessarily an evil person, that he's just engaging in politics, that he's the "change candidate," ignoring that he ran on a platform of extreme hate, led by men and women with hateful backgrounds, and has allowed that particular genie to permanently leave behind its bottle. Even if he embarks on a traditional Republican presidency, his victory has emboldened thousands of misogynistic, racist, angry people who have suddenly found themselves an honored champion.

I have been fortunate for all 31 years of my life: well-off, white, healthy, bereft of any real tragedy. I've known suffering in small, short bursts, free of the hardships and tribulations that so many others go through. And, despite coming to believe fully in tolerance, acceptance, and understanding, I've never been a saint or devoted more than a few hours or fifty bucks to a worthy cause. But I've been lucky enough to receive an education, not just from schools but from the world around me. I've read about, talked to, and met those who've been challenged every day of their life, and want so little in return. Just the basic decency of their peers, and enough resources to get through each 24-hour stint with a reasonable amount of normalcy.

This election has abruptly become about change, where the desire to "shake things up" overcame the inching-forward of the last eight years. It is also about the fear of change, speaking directly to many who are still wholly uncomfortable with electing a woman to our highest office. Yet democracy has spoken, and all we can do is hope that what happens next will not diminish the innate goodness in our hearts, will not primarily serve to inspire those fueled by rage, and will do less damage than months and months of furious rhetoric and race-centric provocations would hint at.

At the very least, I hope it inspires more dinner tables like that of my childhood to suddenly become awash with conversations about culture, religion, skin color, police brutality, wealth distribution, climate change, and any number of topics with sudden and immense relevance. They're not easy subjects to broach, but discourse (and education) are needed now more than ever. Not everyone finds the places or the people to help burst their bubble and widen their eyes while they're still capable of hope; if this election cycle is any indicator, our job is to restock that particular brand of hope and try to fill these darker days with a whole bunch of light.

April 30, 2015

A brief overview of baseball player nicknames.

(all nicknames "created" and compiled by myself and @peterwtrue)

Michael Brantley - Mikey B
Michael Pineda - Mikey P
Michael Taylor - Mikey T
Nick Castellanos - Nicky C
Adam Jones - Pacman
Jake Lamb - Lamb Night
Steve Pearce - Snowpearcer
Miguel Montero - MiggyMon
George Springer - Spring Dinger
Oswaldo Arcia - Waldo
Denard Span - Nard Dog
Hunter Pence - Hundred
David Robertson - DaveRob
Dalton Pompey - Pompey the Great
Huston Street - Baby Huey
Phil Hughes - Will Lughes
Bartolo Colon - Bart Bart
Derek Norris - DeaNo
Ian Desmond - I-Dez
Lucas Duda - DudaDay
Danny Santana - DanSan
Danny Salazar - DanSal
Yangervis Solarte - Solarte Party
Michael Cuddyer - CUDDY
Josh Harrison - Spider
A.J. Pollock - Chat Show
Justin Smoak - The SMOAKer 
Steve Cishek - Cishy
Fernando Rodney - Fraudney
Matt Shoemaker - The Cobbler
Charlie Blackmon - Charlie O'Blackmon
Tyson Ross - RAWSE
Brandon Moss - MAWSE
Ubaldo Jimenez - Ubaldeezy
Mike Fiers - Michael Fuckin' Fiers
Trevor Rosenthal - Big Trev
Trevor Cahill - Big Trev
Trevor Bauer - Big Trev
Chris Tillman - Tilly
Freddie Freeman - Fredward
Kyle Seager - Bob Seger
Mark Melancon - Melly
Darin Ruf - Ruf Daddy
Jesse Chavez - Jesse's Girl
Drew Pomeranz - Drew Pomegranate
Dustin Ackley - ATTACKley
Daniel Murphy - DanMurph
David Murphy - DaveMurph
Todd Frazier - Frazier Crane OR Bob Frazier
Melky Cabrera - Melkster
Carlos Gonzalez - CarGo 1.0
Carlos Gomez - CarGo 2.0
Anthony Rizzo - The Rizz
Andrew McCutchen - CUTCH (the originators)
Kolten Wong - Kolt and the BOYS (his teammates)
Lorenzo Cain - The Cain Train
Corey Kluber - The Klubes
A.J. Griffin - AEEJ
B.J. Upton - BEEJ
C.J. Wilson - CEEJ
Adam Eaton - Big Eatin'
Jarrod Parker - RodPark
Ender Inciarte - Ender's Game
Wade Davis - Wadester
Wade Miley - Wadester
Wade LeBlanc - Wadester
Chris Archer - Sterling
Mark Trumbo - TrumBOMBs
Neil Walker - NeilWalk
Drew Hutchison - DrewHutch
Brian Dozier - The DOZ
Jimmy Paredes - Bulls on Paredes
Pedro Alvarez - Fat Pedro
Andrelton Simmons - Drelly
Christian Yelich - Yelly
Rick Porcello - Porch

Free Agents

Matt Hague - The

February 17, 2014

I've been busy: A recap of my work so far in 2014.

I haven't had much time to compose any posts of late; I've been too busy writing and reviewing movies at In Reel Deep. So I thought it would be nice to link anyone who stumbles upon to my new home of sorts; please take a look at everything I've written in 2014. As always, I appreciate your love and support.

My favorite movies of 2013

"It's difficult to put something like 12 Years a Slave on a list of 'favorites.' It's not designed to entertain so much as make you weep like a baby. But that is an even more engaging experience, and one I'm constantly looking for in a movie theatre. You wouldn't take your friends to see 12 Years before a Saturday night on the town, but there is forever a place for art with the ability to provoke such visceral reactions. In the hands of director Steve McQueen, one of the best at recognizing the power of silence, Chiwetel Ejiofor's crushing journey becomes that much more haunting."

The Lego Movie reviewed

"The Lego Movie is living proof that putting together a worthwhile screenplay and letting imaginative people mold a generic idea into their own unique creation pays dividends. You don't just get a successful film; you get a franchise fueled by loads of devoted fans who, rarest of the rare, genuinely want to see a sequel. Simply put, it's blockbuster entertainment done right."

The 2014 Oscar Nominated Live Action Shorts reviewed

"The best of the five turned out to be Avant Que De Tout Perdre, French for Just Before Losing Everything. A woman (Léa Drucker) plans to flee from her husband during an otherwise nondescript workday. We’re privy to all the minutiae of her decision: Gathering up her children, putting in her notice, asking for an advance on her final paycheck, organizing a ride to safety with her sister. What isn't discussed is why: Aside from a few briefly visible bruises and several offhand comments from her kids, their backstory isn't elaborated upon. Only a glimpse is offered of the husband himself. But a deep fear is palpable throughout its 29 minutes, and the ending reminded me of Michael Haneke’s Caché in its quiet open-endedness."

A look back at the life of Philip Seymour Hoffman

"Does it matter what killed him? Maybe, but only because he seemed like the kind of person who would never die. For some reason, character actors have an eternal vibe to them. Hell, Harry Dean Stanton has been alive for what, 120 years? Even the character actors turned leading men — Nicholson, Pacino, Hoffman, De Niro — they live forever. It would've been fascinating to watch Philip Seymour Hoffman age on the big screen. I think we all expected him to. But now he's gone, and there's nothing up next."

Lone Survivor reviewed

"[Director Peter Berg] is brutally honest; he does not paint his four leads as white knights who've arrived to save the country from evil. Their mission is essentially to assassinate a Taliban leader. They openly discuss their desires to kill every motherfucker who's keeping them from home; they're blunt, efficient war machines. But that's something, as audiences, we should see."

The Past reviewed

"I don't think [Asghar] Farhadi's latest endeavor, The Past, matches the brilliant despair evoked by its award-winning predecessor [A Separation]. But it doesn't strive to document the disintegration of a loving marriage; the focus is on how (to paraphrase Maximus Decimus Meridius) what we've done in life echoes in eternity. Or at least, for the rest of our days."

January 3, 2014

Thankful for Chip, thankful for Nick.

Three hundred and fifty-seven days ago, I wondered aloud who the next head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles would be. Now I'm prepping for tomorrow's playoff game. As Road Warrior Hawk would say, "Ueeawwwwaaah, what a rush."

This resurgence, led by future bumper sticker magnate Chip Kelly, hasn't always been pretty; anyone going with the "wunderkind coach runs roughshod over the NFL" narrative must've missed a few of 2013's real stinkers. But it has been quite an enjoyable turn of events, and one you may have been able to predict if you squinted just right at the roster in early September.

At the very least, you can see why the Chipper wanted to coach in Philadelphia and not, say, Cleveland. An offensive line fueled by the return of Jason Peters and the drafting of Lane Johnson was sure to be vastly improved (and it was). LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson were, and are, two of the most explosive players in football. And while healthy, Michael Vick looked like a tantalizing choice to run Kelly's offense.

But the two wildcards - the defense and Nick Foles - are what helped this team rise from "thoroughly mediocre" to "slightly to very good." The defense started off hideously; 138 points surrendered over the first four games meant an already-explosive offensive attack would have have to be downright perfect to keep the ship afloat. But thus began a stretch (from Week 5 to Week 14) where the Eagles gave up 21 points or less in every single game.

Yes, their competition (Tampa Bay, Oakland, Detroit in the snow, Green Bay without Aaron Rodgers) wasn't particular fierce. And yes, Minnesota somehow uncovered the key to torching them in Week 16. But you could see young players like Mychal Kendricks and Brandon Boykin growing up before your eyes, while veterans like Trent Cole began to grasp the subtleties of existing in Bill Davis's defense. Essentially, what looked like a serious minus turned out to be a bit of a plus.

And then there's Foles. Sweet, sweet Nick Foles. A healthy Michael Vick torched the Redskins and Chargers in the season's opening weeks, but we all knew that wouldn't last forever. The pesky Chiefs defense started his downfall in Week 3 (13 for 30 with two interceptions), and a Week 5 hamstring injury meant it was Nick Foles or bust.

Minus the stinker against the Cowboys in October, there's been nary a bust to be found. Foles has been nothing short of spectacular as the starting quarterback. Most people know about his nearly record-setting 119.2 QB rating, but that's not all the work of Chip Kelly's wacky offense. His intelligence in the pocket contributes to a rare brand of mistake-free football (only 19 giveaways, tied with Seattle, New Orleans and Carolina for fourth-lowest in the NFL) that has kept the defense off the field at inopportune moments (and certainly helped with their late-season resurgence).

Mix that with NFL rushing champion McCoy and Bryce "No More Fumbles" Brown -- not to mention a truly wonderful season (44.9 yard average, 33 punts inside the 20) from Donnie Jones -- and you've got an offense that often comes out on top in ball control and field position. And oh yeah, one that also led the NFL in plays of 20-plus yards. Not saying the Chipper is perfect as a head coach, far from it, but these are some aspects that he's nailed thus far.

I don't think the Eagles are a true Super Bowl contender, but home versus New Orleans followed by Carolina on the road is probably the "easiest" possible path to the NFC Championship Game. And if you told me before the season "the Eagles will win the division against Dallas in Week 17, but they won't win it all," my response would've been "Wait, what? Woo! Who the fuck cares?!"

That doesn't mean expectations haven't changed from the preseason to now, but I'm trying to sit back and enjoy the ride. Chip Kelly looks like a legitimate NFL coach, Nick Foles looks like a legitimate NFL quarterback, and the team that employs both of those men happens to be my favorite, and participating in the postseason. That's a lot to be thankful for.

December 12, 2013

He's our huckleberry.

The date was October 7, 2011. It was Game 5 of the National League Divisional Series.

I was living in Bethesda, Maryland at the time, and some friends from Philadelphia had come down for the weekend. You'd think that we would be going nuts for this crucial matchup, but it was actually quite the opposite. We sat sipping beers, preparing for the night ahead, occasionally ignoring the pitchers' duel in front of us.

We'd grown complacent; in those days the Phillies seemed to be perpetually in the playoff hunt, including a delightful World Series championship in 2008. We couldn't have realized that this was the last important baseball game Roy Halladay would ever start.

He was 34 years old, not a spring chicken but nowhere near the age of typical depletion. He was coming off a 19-win, 233-inning, 220-strikeout season where he finished second in Cy Young voting and ninth in MVP voting. As studly as ever, Halladay seemed to be.

There was no reason to believe that his body would break down, that he'd throw only 218 more innings in his major league career, that the Phillies themselves were about to tumble from a half-decade of elite contention.

But here we are, in December of 2013, and Roy Halladay is officially out of baseball.

He retired on Monday as a Toronto Blue Jay, a fitting tribute to the team that helped him blossom into one of the game's finest pitchers. The Jays could never leap to the top of the AL East and get Doc into the postseason, but it was Toronto who gave the young Halladay a chance when a rocky start (10.64 ERA in 67 innings in 2000) would've doomed so many other arms.

Still, as Michael Baumann noted on Tuesday, Halladay made the most of his time in Philly. Despite only a few short years in the city, Doc found himself revered as one of the few universally beloved Philadelphia athletes.

Developing strong feelings for Roy Halladay was easy; we could tell from second one that he wasn't out for personal glory. He wasn't trying to round out his resume with one more bullet point; he wanted to win. You could sense that in every fiber of his being, with every pitch, in every photo snapped of his insane early-morning workouts. His icy stare could burn holes through a catcher or manager, but he seemed to love both Carlos Ruiz and Charlie Manuel. He was like a exacting father; he demanded the best, but earning that smile made it all worthwhile.

He came to Philadelphia because they were the hottest team in baseball: two straight World Series appearances, three straight playoff appearances, bona fide superstars in Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Cole Hamels. His arrival was the icing on the cake; add a Cy Young winner to a perennial contender and watch the magic happen.

Of course, it's not that easy, and he never got that ring. The Phillies ran into two future world champions in 2010 and 2011, then the wheels came off in spectacular fashion. In fact, I wonder what Roy might've done if the 2014 Phillies looked like title contenders. They aren't; they'll be lucky to sniff second place. But if the stars had aligned, would he give it one more try?

In the end, though, he didn't want to ply his trade for some mediocre team (in Philadelphia or otherwise), hoping that they'd catch lightning in a bottle. His body was falling apart: labrum, rotator cuff, back. We saw him labor on the mound throughout his ill-fated return in late 2013, sweating profusely and looking nothing like the Roy Halladay we'd come to love. The gradual decline turned into an all-out free fall faster than anyone could've anticipated; I know I wasn't the only Phillies fan who breathed a small sigh of relief when I found out that he'd hung them up.

Roy Halladay spent four seasons in Philly; only two of them ended up mattering. But in a way he validated the city as a premier baseball town; his time in a Phillies uniform confirmed our lingering suspicions that the team was (albeit briefly) among Major League Baseball's elite. For a while it was Boston or New York, Boston or New York, but for a fleeting moment, there was also Philadelphia.

Despite eight 1-run innings from their ace, the Phillies lost that night in October of 2011. Their anemic offense was mowed down by Chris Carpenter, another aging superstar who was also nearing the end of his dominance in St. Louis.

"Ho hum," we yawned. The bats were garbage; that's all it was. Roy and the boys would be back next year.

But they weren't. And now Roy is gone forever. While it's hard to feel bad for a man who's made $148 million and will probably make the Hall of Fame in a few years, I'm genuinely sad that he never won a World Series in Philadelphia. He doesn't need one, but athletes like Roy Halladay don't seem to come along very often. And it's a goddamn shame to leave them hanging when they do.

December 7, 2013

In praise of Eastbound & Down.

In this age of television antiheroes, let us kneel at the altar of Kenny Powers.

An oft-deplorable man who toed the line of irredeemable on a weekly basis, only to win us back through crippling honesty and sheer force of will. Comedy or drama, now or then, there's been no character quite like him.

We were overjoyed to live inside Tony Soprano's head for a while, but there wasn't much to love. Vic Mackey's finest hour was admitting all the horrible things he'd done and walking out a free man. Walter White did some right at the end, but only after so much wrong. Al Swearengen comes close, but by the end of Deadwood he was firmly on the side of good.

And when it comes to comedy, there's no competition. No show has ever pushed boundaries like Eastbound & Down, and I don't just mean all the boobs and butts. A drama can slowly peel back the layers of its tortured protagonist -- by the time Don Draper is at his most deplorable, we have some insight as to why -- but comedy, as it exists on television, demands some sort of relatable lead. Or at least a sympathetic buffoon like David Brent.

But Kenny Powers asks for no sympathy. He was fully formed from day one, a man-child unable to function in society. He mistreated pretty much everyone around him, sometimes humorously but often just to reestablish his standing in a very sad pecking order. But we understood why his essence could be so intoxicating, and we appreciated every fleeting moment of clarity as he struggled against his own demons, and what he felt was expected of him by the world at large.

And in a roundabout way, that's what made him relatable. He's a man striving for the gold in a disposable world, with no use for those its already chewed up and spit out. His 30 seconds of fame ended a while ago, but Kenny still struggles against the tide. This is noble at times, sad at others, but it helps him discover what he needs to fill the void in his soul.

What ultimately redeems Kenny, in both the universe of the show and for us viewers, is his self-awareness. His eyes and facial expresses betray a hidden intelligence; he knows when he's burying himself. He looks for a release in sex and drugs, but that's never properly satisfying. He wants to be loved and admired, at first by the world but eventually by the people he cares about. And the real trick is accepting that such love isn't conditional; he doesn't have to remain impressive, bombastic or outrageous. He can just be.

Of course, employing the charms of Danny McBride don't hurt. That hidden intelligence belongs to McBride, and he perfectly captures Kenny as a man unable to convey the churning emotions within. So when he finally does reveal his inner thoughts, it doesn't feel forced, or in service of the story. It feels like he's finally sunken low enough, or become so desperate, that they can't help but seep out.

To me, the first and last seasons of Eastbound are the only ones that really matter. Kenny's journey from comeback kid to reluctant father-slash-husband is important, but the bookends are the whole story. His readjustment to society, and then his acceptance of life's simpler pleasures, bring his character full circle. And an opportunity as a sportscaster is such a logical spot for Kenny to end up; it's almost the same amount of fame for even less work, a world his outsized personality could probably inhabit forever. The fact that he walks away is tantamount to his growth, or at least his understanding of self.

It's not like Eastbound gets preachy and insists that marriage and kids are the only path to happiness. But Kenny has seen the strength its brought his brother Dustin, and the (usually fucked-up) joy it brings Stevie Janowski, and we know he loves April. What it ultimately comes down to, more than dedication to holy matrimony, is the realization that satisfaction may lie in a place he never anticipated. We don't know how things will work out for the family Powers, but Kenny seems to comprehend that stability isn't failure. That feels like definitive progress.

In a way, Eastbound & Down ends similarly to The Shield. Not from a thematic standpoint; Vic Mackey remains an animal on the prowl, while Kenny Powers finally appears content. But as both wrap up, we're left to ponder the future of these fully formed characters. Will Vic strike back at those who've caged him? Will Kenny be able to exist in a domestic world? It's open-ended but also a summation of the story as a whole, which is the lofty goal that every television series should shoot for. Everything doesn't have to end when the cameras stop rolling. The adventures of Kenny Powers continue on, even if we can't see them, and that's the show's final victory.

Plus, there's this:

November 18, 2013

Catcher conundrum causes concern.

In 2004, the Philadelphia Phillies selected Jason Jaramillo in the second round of the MLB Draft. In the fourth round, the team chose Lou Marson. Travis D'Arnaud was their supplemental first round choice in 2007, and Sebastian Valle was signed out of Mexico that same year. Cameron Rupp was their third-round pick in 2010. Tommy Joseph was the "crown jewel" of the Hunter Pence trade.

These catchers have logged a combined 38 plate appearances for the Phillies, and today Carlos Ruiz was signed to a three-year, $26 million contract at the age of 35. This is not a coincidence.

I'm not here to slander Ruiz or his fancy new deal -- for the most part I agree with David Cameron's take -- but to chastise the Phillies for having one decade to develop a new catcher and utterly failing at the modest task that was their charge. Bill Baer touched on this very topic earlier today; minus D'Arnaud, who's been gone for quite a while, the luster has faded on every single one of those once-touted prospects.

Granted, Marson and D'Arnaud were part of the packages that brought in Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay. And most prospects bottom out eventually; only a chosen few end up contributing in the majors. But it's still relatively jarring to consider the resources dedicated toward grooming the catcher of the future and how empty the cupboard turned out to be when the team needed it the most.

I'm certain the plan was to amicably part ways with Ruiz in late 2013 and allow either Valle or Joseph to assume the starting job, but Valle's struggles and Joseph's concussions quickly changed that tune. Rupp had four hits in 14 at-bats near the end of 2013, but the 25-year-old has practically no experience above single-A ball (Darin Ruf alert!). For a team with no choice but to pretend that they can compete in 2014, the only realistic option was to meet Ruiz's demands.

I can't help but be reminded of December 2010. Much like now, the plan was to let Jayson Werth receive a much-deserved payday elsewhere and fill the hole in right field with a cheap, talented prospect. But that prospect (Domonic Brown) did not impress management in his 210 plate appearances. Eventually it was decided that some combination of Brown, Ben Francisco and John Mayberry was not going to suffice. Ignoring that the Phillies were, at the time, the best team in baseball, two top prospects (Jonathan Singleton and Jarred Cosart) were traded for Hunter Pence. And we all know how that story ends...curiously enough, with the aforementioned Joseph.

The Ruiz deal isn't the exact same scenario; unlike Werth, I'd define what it took to keep him around as "understandably excessive." And their other options at the position, both internal and external, were either nonexistent or highly unsavory. There was no Dom Brown to even try out in this scenario, let alone ignore.

But it's yet another check mark in the negative column for an organization that hasn't been able to develop talent for quite a while. Spending for middling free agents (or overspending on your own) is exactly the mindset that helped the Phillies devolve from contender to pretender. Carlos Ruiz will be a plus in 2014 and (hopefully) beyond, but the fact that he had to return at all can only be described as a serious minus.