Hi, all. I'm back from Dallas.
Among the many highlights of my trip was sitting in the first row of section 114 at the American Airlines Center for a Dallas Stars-Colorado Avalanche game---as in, we were right on the glass, pretty much where everywhere on that side got checked into oblivion. Whenever a player was slammed into the glass, he'd leave as evidence of his visit gobs of sweat on the plexiglass; as the action would move away from our area, the sweat would begin a long and winding road, dripping down the plexiglass.
We were also right next to where the "Ice Girls" hang out while they're waiting to "assist the club's game operations staff with ice maintenance during television timeouts." Essentially, they dress in "arena dancer"-type garb but don't dance; instead, they are accomplished skaters who tote shovels and push-bins around during timeouts, ridding the playing surface of excess ice rather efficiently. There's an interesting sociological study somewhere in there.
At any rate, the friend-of-a-friend who filled out our practically-on-ice foursome advised us to look out for some fights, because the teams plain don't like each other. Sure enough, four minutes in, some Colorado defenseman named LaPerrier was mixed up with a Star, his jersey (sweater?) turned inside out and upside down. LaPerrier got into it again later, tussling with another Star, while a fight broke out simultaneously on the other end of the ice.
For two of the periods, we were sitting inside the Stars' offensive zone. Insofar as Dallas scored five of the game's eight goals, our side was the more exciting side of the ice---even more so because Dallas scored all of its five goals on our end. The Stars tormented Colorado's goalie, some guy named Budaj, who I think was Slovakia's goalkeeper during the Olympics. In the first period, Budaj let two "easy" saves (I'm one to say, right?!) bounce off his chest, right into the goal. Later, an absolute laser stoinked right off of Budaj's mask; we observed a black mark on the cross-bar of the mask and, when the period ended and the 'Lanche players filed past us into their lockerroom, we noticed the bar was bent-in. Excuse me for being overly-dramatic, but if that bar did not exist, then Budaj would've died. Makes a better story.
Anyway, it was a fun time. I felt like a Johnny Jaguar way down there (our connection: my friend's mother-in-law works for Ross Perot, Jr.), but truth be told, I didn't observe many Johnny Jaguars in the building. The Stars have loud, intense, knowledgeable fans. For a night, I tried to play one, although I'll admit I didn't stay at a Holiday Inn Express.
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There was an episode of Growing Pains---I'll note I also hate to admit knowledge of this---where Kirk Cameron's character was exposed as so self-centered he was shocked that daytime television programming continued on even on the rare occasions he actually went to school.
Similarly, imagine my surprise when Nats-related stuff occurred in my absence. My absence!
Ah, but the big story didn't really conclude until yesterday, and as a strung-along Nats fan, I can only hope that it's actually concluded: there's an actual stadium deal, lease deal, all kinds of deals, owner to be shuffled in promptly . . . .
Someone cue the fireworks; I'm too tired.
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When I got in the car after landing on late Monday night, I heard on the radio that Kirby Puckett had died. I was shocked. Sure, I had seen a headline earlier that he'd suffered a stroke, but I confess I didn't actually read the article, so I didn't know how grave his situation was.
Thus, like I said, I was shocked.
Ballwonk, a long-time Twins fan, has posted a heart-felt tribute to Kirby. I suggest everyone reads it.
Kirby Puckett was one of my favorite players from my youth. I was about ten when he went on an unexpected homer binge in early 1986. The next season, we was a star on an unexpected world championship team. The next season, he hit (by recollection) .356/24/121, finishing second in the MVP voting. The next season, he won the batting title, back when that was a bigger thing (or at least I considered it a bigger thing) than it is now. Two seasons later, Kirby was a star on another unexpected world champion; his heroics, the sportswriters remarked, "willed" the Twins to a seventh and deciding game. By the time I was about twenty, glaucoma had claimed the eyesight in one eye.
In other words, for a decade or so, Puckett was a huge star. Other players hit higher peaks of stardom for periods of that decade---Jose Canseco, for instance---but Puckett was just about the most revered baseball player over the entire decade. Puckett and Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken, Jr., I suppose.
On my drive home, I heard a snippet of an interview in which Peter Gammons said, "The sabermetrics people said, 'He didn't do this, and he didn't do . . .' He did. He was a great, great player." And, sure enough, that's my memory of Puckett.
Puckett was either the last star of the pre-sabermetrics era or the last star of the period before I immersed myself in the sabermetrics literature. (I've read Bill James since I was about thirteen, but didn't find much significance in his work for a few years.) Whatever it is, I have fond, fond memories of watching Puckett play, and the awareness that he didn't walk a lot does not retroactively reduce the fondness of those memories one iota.
Baseball lost a legend.