Knee operation 1-year anniversary

knee

In the hospital room the day after the surgery, Feb. 18, 2012

Just about this time a year ago I “blew out” my knee playing basketball. More precisely, I ruptured my patella tendon—on both ends. I had surgery the next day—the doctor sutured the tendon back onto the kneecap and my lower leg—and wore an immobilizer cast for six weeks. (The “best” part of those six weeks was navigating up and down the five flights of stairs to my apartment every day because our elevator was being repaired the entire time…) A few months of physical therapy followed, for the purpose of regaining strength and full range of motion.

I’m happy to report that now, one year later, my knee works completely normally. Other than the huge scar running up and down over my kneecap, I don’t even notice a difference. And I’ve even played basketball a handful of times since the injury. But now I wear a protective knee sleeve—I don’t want to go through that ever again.

The Giants won the World Series and I was there

There are “bucket lists” and then there are bucket list items you don’t even think about because they are so far beyond the realm of possibility. One of those for me has always been getting to see my team, the San Francisco Giants, win the World Series—in person. And yet, yesterday that’s exactly what happened.

First of all, what are the odds that the one year I’m living in Ann Arbor, Michigan, both the Giants and the Detroit Tigers make the playoffs? And then each survive two rounds of postseason play to make the World Series? And then, when the Giants come to Detroit, they go up 3-games-to-0—thereby depressing ticket prices to the point that I can actually afford to buy one? Like I said, beyond the realm of possibility.

Well, along about 3 p.m. Sunday I checked StubHub and found an affordable ticket—prices had dropped from $400 for standing room to $100 for an upper deck seat. I made the purchase, jumped in a Zipcar, and sped excitedly out to Detroit and Comerica Park.

I found parking, strolled to the stadium, and took in my first-ever World Series game. (I had been to a first-round Yankees playoff games a few years back, but the stakes were not nearly as high.) The stadium was packed, the lights were bright, and hopeful Tigers fans (and a few hardy Giants rooters) were streaming in. For me it was like a dream.

Climbing up to my seats (section 211, in right field), it was freezing cold, with the wind howling and shaking the stands. But I was cozy as a cat. As opposed to my normal anxiety and resignation that the Giants would probably lose, up to that point the whole World Series had been going so well that I was in a completely different frame of mind. It was like the Giants beating the Cardinals in the NLCS, after trailing 3-games-to-1, had completely wiped the slate clean. No more sweet torture. The Giants’ pitching, timely hitting—and the obvious rust the Tigers had after waiting so long between their own league championship and the beginning of the World Series—made them the superior team. New emotions!

Now, seeing as how I was sporting my Giants cap and bright orange jacket, I came in prepared to be heckled, jeered, pushed around, and spat on. I shudder to think how I would’ve been treated back in New York—in either Yankee Stadium or Citi Field—but the Tigers fans were totally sweet, everyone just enjoying the vibe of World Series baseball and communal huddling against the cold. (I also think in many ways the fans had already accepted that they weren’t going to prevail in the end; after all, no team has ever come from back down 3-games-to-0 to win the Series.)

The rest of the evening unfolded like a dream. The Giants went up 1-0, fell behind 2-1, went up 3-2, were tied at 3-3, and won the game in 10 innings. And suddenly there I was, hugging two total strangers (fellow S.F. rooters a few seats down from me in my row), watching the Giants pile on each other near the pitcher’s mound! Shortly afterward, as I was wandering around in a happy daze, a young Tigers fan of about 17 years old actually came up to me and shook my hand in congratulations. Now that’s a boy whose parents raised him to be a good sport!

I eventually made my way down to field level—kudos to Comerica management for allowing riff-raff like me down there—to get close to the on-field celebration. All the San Francisco fans who’d made it to the game—a few hundred of us—had gathered above the Giants dugout to savor the moment. I had to keep pinching myself because it was so hard to believe I was actually there in person for the celebration. It was an amazing scene, converging with all these other fans who’d traveled from far and wide. Two guys I talked to had also purchased their tickets that day, had driven six hours from upstate New York, and were preparing to drive back following the celebration. (By this time it was already long past midnight.) Another guy had also bought his ticket same-day and driven four hours from Cincinnati. He was also going back that night/early morning. Given that I had paid less than any of them for my ticket, and only had a 40-minute drive home to worry about, I felt like I was sacrificing very little for the privilege of being there.

I discovered when I lived back in San Francisco in the late 1990s that Giants fans really are a special breed. They are as devoted and dedicated as any East Coast fans, but without the caveman edge. For one thing, there are lots of rabid female fans, and they all have a good sense of humor. And Giants fans wear all sorts of ridiculous outfits: panda hats, Brian Wilson beards, orange and black Rasta wigs, you name it. And pins! Giants fans love to wear pins. All this “character” was in evidence among the assembled throngs, and it really made it feel like some beautiful Bay Area weirdness had settled down for the night in the middle of the Great Lakes.

As Giants players emerged from the dugout—mostly drenched with Champagne—the crowd serenaded them: Panda—your World Series Most Valuable Player! Baby Giraffe! The Freak! RallyZito! Marco “Blockbuster” Scutaro! (Why isn’t his named pronounced MARco ScuTARo? And if he’s Venezuelan, why does he have an Italian name?) Even injured closer Brian Wilson made a quick appearance, scuttling by before we even registered it, almost like a Sasquatch sighting. Giants announcers Kruk & Kuip were there too, also greeted by the crowd. And writers like Ray Ratto and Yahoo Sports‘ tiny Jeff Passan were there too.

The crowning moment was when Giants GM Brian Sabean emerged from the dugout with the distinctive silver World Series trophy, which he held up in triumph for the adoring crowd. That was truly special—a tribal chief exulting with the spoils of victory.

Finally satisfied, I left my clansmen (and clanswomen), headed back to my car, and made the drive back to Ann Arbor. It was 2 a.m., I was exhausted, and I was as happy as I could ever be.

Definitely not too much of a good thing.

happy throng

Amidst the happy throng

Typical Giants fan

Sabean with the trophy

Random musings on the San Francisco Giants and the 2012 World Series #2

Is it possible to have too much of a good thing? When the Giants won the World Series in 2010, it changed my life as a fan forever. I had always been the underdog, the guy whose team never won. Now all of a sudden I was a winner! That moment was like a release valve for a pipe that had been clogged for 32 years. Before that, I had almost literally lived and died with each Giants’ win and loss. Since then I’ve had a much more… balanced… relationship to my fandom—the stakes just don’t seem as high. No matter what happens in the future, I’ll always have the memories of that great 2010 run.

Yet now here it is a scant two years later, and improbably—almost impossibly—the Giants are back the World Series! My mind is having trouble processing that. If the 2010 Giants were all about Fear the Beard, the 2012 team is about playing one more day for each other. They’ve had six wins in the current post-season where their backs were against the wall—win or go home. Talk about “sweet torture!” If the 2010 team was about Aubrey Huff’s rally thong, the 2012 team is about Hunter Pence’s pregame football-type hypefests. And if the 2010 team was about Brian Wilson’s beard, the 2012 team is about Brian Wilson’s even bigger beard (and his painted fingernails)! It’s about karma! And Pence’s broken bat triple-hit double. And the ultimate “player to be named later,” Marco Scutaro. (And—update post-game 1—Panda Power! And—update post-game 2—Mad Bum Power!)

I don’t want to get ahead of myself here, but 2012 is shaping up to be very 2010. The key difference for me as a fan—in addition to my more Zen-like approach to watching the games—is that I’m actually here in the States to witness it. Back in 2010, I was tooling around the Middle East for most of the postseason, unable to catch any of the games due to the time difference—and the general indifference to baseball in those countries. I made it back just in time for games 2-5 of the World Series, which of course was great. But getting to see this whole postseason unfold, in real time, has been a thrilling, once-of-a-kind experience.

Too much of a good thing? Let’s hope not.

Random musings on the San Francisco Giants and the 2012 World Series #1

Two is better than one!

When I left San Francisco and moved out East in 1980, it was like being forced to move away from my first love. I had devoted myself to the Giants for two years in 1978-1979, listening to most of their games on the radio (we didn’t have a TV), keeping score of many of them, keeping track of the player’s stats, collecting all their baseball cards. (Remember, I was twelve years old.)

But I stayed true to my team. Out in Brooklyn, I was relegated to seeing them twice a year—if I was lucky—when they came to New York to play the Mets. (If I tuned in the radio really well, I could sometimes catch their games on WPHT when they played the Philadelphia Phillies.) And the Giants being a West Coast team, most of their games took place long after I had gone to sleep; their box scores never even made it into the sports pages of the New York Times.(I’m sure I don’t have to remind you that this was long before the Internet, or even the late-night scores published each morning in USA Today.) In New York the San Francisco Giants were completely irrelevant.

Also, the Giants were a bad team—in the first five years I lived in New York, they had a losing record three times, and barely squeaked over .500 the other two. (They had similar half-decade-long dry spells from 1991–1996 and 2005–2008.) When they did play well for a whole season, they specialized in losing in heartbreaking fashion in the playoffs: their 1987 breakdown against the Cardinals in the NLCS; their 1989 4-0 dismissal by the A’s in the Earthquake Series; their 2002 meltdown against the Angels. (Still hard to talk about that one.)

Until their 2010 championship, the Giants were very much under the radar. Of course there was all the hype about Barry Bonds, but for the most part that was about celebrating individual achievements (achievements that now seem very tainted). Despite it all, through those teenage years in New York, then college in Ohio, traveling and living abroad, and four years in Chicago, I kept the faith. Fate would have it that I was able to return to my team in the late 1990s, when Sari & lived in San Francisco. Those were special years, though the team didn’t fare particularly well then either. But then it was on the road again, and the last dozen years in New York again (and now a year in Ann Arbor).

Essentially, the Giants have mostly seemed like my own little secret. That’s why, even now, it’s especially weird to see the team being covered by the national media, the Times, etc.

Baseball/Softball Encyclopedia: Josh Neufeld

[Originally posted April 12, 2006 — updated for 2016 with final 2015 stats]

Image hosting by PhotobucketIn honor of the new baseball season, I’ve asked Bill James and the good folks at Baseball-Reference.com to compile my career (so far) statistics. Unfortunately, the records are spotty. Though they date as far back as my 1982–1983 stint as a Little Leaguer playing baseball against such classic teams as 15th Street Iron Works and Aurora Phoenix Construction, there is a disturbing absence of information for almost the next twenty years!

I know! No stats from the glory days of the mid-1980s, when man_size, larrondo, thamesrhodes, pango_lafoote, and I tested the confines of Riverside Park during summer softball?! Or the three years at the helm of the Oberlin College intramural softball teams — The Dascomb Lords of Fresh (1987), Better Than You (1988), and Like a Big Dog (1989)? Or those great seasons in the early 90s as captain of The Nation magazine softball team, as we squared off against the likes of The Village Voice and Money magazine? I know: a travesty.

But, since I joined their “league” in 2003, the nutty nutjobs of Prospect Park Sunday softball have stepped up to the plate. With an obsessiveness for stats I can only stand back and admire with awe, they record every out of every game we play during our April–November season.

So sit back and peruse my (admittedly sparse) stats, which prove beyond doubt that I was a born softballer. As the records clearly show, I couldn’t hit a curve — or a fastball, for that matter. (Though I was a pesky hitter, working out a fair number of walks and wreaking some havoc on the basepaths.) And the results some years later weren’t any better: I was cut from the Oberlin College baseball team, a Division III team with no athletic scholarships!

Anyway, my softball stats are a bit better — at least I’m over the Mendoza Line. However, I believe hitting anything less than .400 in softball is nothing to be proud about, so I’ve got plenty of work to do. (The two stat lines for the 2004 season reflect two leagues I played in, the first being P.P. Sunday Softball, and the second being the weekday Zen League, featuring real umpires. My team, the Plug Uglies, won the championship, but I found it all a little too intense — and time-consuming — and didn’t return the subsequent season.)

So the 2006 season has just begun, and assuming I don’t break any more fingers, I hope to really get my swing in the groove as the summer moves along.

NEW! UPDATED FOR 2016 [with 2015 stats]!

JOSHUA MICHAEL ROSLER NEUFELD
Born: August 9, 1967 Home: Brooklyn, New York
Ht.: 5’9″ Wgt.: 200 Bats: Left Throws: Left

YEAR G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB AVG. OBP. SLG. OPS
1982 9 17 5 3 0 0 0 5 9 6 6 .177 .391 .177 .568
1983 15 17 6 3 0 0 0 3 13 5 4 .177 .533 .177 .711
2003 60 19 25 6 0 5 18 4 0 .417 .453 .767 1.220
2004 104 22 38 5 1 4 29 13 0 .365 .436 .500 .936
2004 50 6 17 3 1 0 14 4 0 .340 .389 .440 .829
2005 24 69 20 26 3 1 3 18 9 0 .377 .449 .580 1.029
2006 43 127 48 67 13 2 3 31 17 0 .528 .568 .732 1.300
2007 40 133 42 71 9 5 3 50 12 2 .534 .565 .744 1.309
2008 23 82 26 41 8 5 5 27 4 2 .500 .667 .902 1.402
2009 25 78 30 41 9 2 2 26 8 1 .526 .570 .769 1.339
2010 26 82 28 43 8 4 4 43 9 1 .524 .542 .866 1.408
2011 23 67 26 37 7 5 2 30 11 2 .552 .578 .866 1.444
2012 11 37 7 17 2 1 0 12 1 1 .459 .474 .568 1.042
2013 14 45 11 19 4 1 1 12 3 3 .422 .458 .622 1.080
2014 25 74 40 40 5 3 3 40 9 2 .541 .577 .811 1.388
2015 19 73 19 36 9 1 2 25 1 2 .499 .500 .699 1.199

New Orleans’ Perfect Storm

Yesterday kicked off a momentous fortnight in New Orleans, with a mayoral election, the Saints’ participation in the Super Bowl, and Mardi Gras all taking place in a span of eleven days.

Saturday’s election of Mitch Landrieu ushered in the city’s first new mayor since Hurricane Katrina. (Ray Nagin was term-limited — and surely would have been voted out this time). You may recall that back in August, I signed a copy of A.D. for one of the mayoral candidates, State Senator Edwin R. Murray, at The Doctor’s A.D. release party. Well, Senator Murray pulled out of the mayoral race last month. In any case, although Landrieu will be New Orleans’ first white mayor in over thirty years, he won 66% percent of the vote, including a large share of the African American electorate. Let’s hope Landrieu truly is a mayor of unity and progress, and speeds up the Crescent City’s post-Katrina rebuilding.

As for the Saints, all eyes will be on them and their stars Drew Brees and Reggie Bush this evening. And when I say "all eyes," I really mean it — I’ve never seen a more football-crazy town than the Big Easy. I’ve lived in some big sports towns in my day, including Chicago and my own New York City, but New Orleans beats ’em all when it comes to the Saints. They truly are a team that unites folks from disparate backgrounds: black & white, rich & poor, corporate-type & artiste, etc. — which is all the more remarkable given that for most of the Saints’ history they’ve been worse than mediocre. But this year they’ve been pretty damn good, and it should be a good match with the (slightly) favored Indianapolis Colts (whose quarterback, Peyton Manning, is a New Orleans boy himself).

So what’s A.D.‘s connection to the Saints and the Superbowl? Check this out: Last August, right at the beginning of the NFL season, A.D. character Leo McGovern published an editorial in his music zine Antigravity. It took the form of a dream he’d had, and went like this: "It’s the morning of February 7th, 2010. I’m cleaning my Mid-City apartment and making the final preparations for what will surely be the greatest party ever thrown. All the food is simple — chips, dips, vegetable trays, and pre-made sandwiches, as to not give the hosts (me, my wife and our roommate) any chance of having to be away from the television for any reason. . . . So I’m now putting the finishing touches on a clean apartment, tapping the kegs and arranging the sandwiches, because tonight we’re watching the Saints play in the Super Bowl."

Unfortunately, Leo’s dream didn’t reveal who won the big game, but like any good New Orleanian, Leo will "have two kegs of a local amber and, for backup, a few bottles of a local rum — enough to make us forget, if it comes to that." But should the Saints win tonight, you can be sure next Tuesday’s Mardi Gras parade will be a city-wide party to remember.

On The Road of Fantasy Fanatacism

An article in today’s Times about Jack Kerouac’s fixation on fantasy baseball caught my eye. (The term “fantasy,” in this case, refers to a sort of role-playing baseball, rather than the rotisserie-type “fantasy” baseball that is so popular nowadays.) Seems most of his life Kerouac was obsessed with a baseball simulation game of his own creation, peopled with entirely made-up leagues, teams, and players. He chronicled the results of his games in various ways, including fake newspaper stories. (He also had a thing for fantasy horseracing, of all things.) Anyway, it appears that Kerouac kept this particular obsession entirely to himself, so even Beat buds like Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs knew nothing of it. I find it fascinating that the celebrated author of On The Road and The Dharma Bums had this secret life… as a nerd.

When I was a kid of about eleven or twelve years old, right when I really got into Dungeons & Dragons, I also really got into baseball (specifically the San Francisco Giants, as I lived in Frisco at the time). One of the things that drew me to both pursuits was their almost religious reliance on statistics: constitution values, batting average, hit points, earned run average, armor class, slugging percentage, saving throw — this way of measuring the world made sense to me. (A shrink would probably say it was my way of imposing a sense of order on what had been a fairly rootless, chaotic life up to that point.)
Read more of this post

Adam Morrison in “Escape From New York”

Who says Japan has produced the best basketball comic? Steve Morrison’s fumetti-style strip gives Slam Dunk a run for its money. The newest chapter features Adam Morrison trying to pick up new Charlotte coach Larry Brown at JFK airport; and co-stars Michael Jordan, Carmelo Anthony, Allen Iverson, Yao Ming, the entire roster of the New York Knicks, and Ron Burgundy! Check it out…

Subway Series: A City Divided

Yankess vs. Mets

This illustration of mine was published by The Washington Post in July 2007

“Let’s-Go-Yankees!”

“Yankees-Suck!”

That was the soundtrack to my Friday evening, at Shea Stadium for the second game of Yankees-Mets doubleheader. (In a rare event brought about by an earlier rain-out, the first game was played at Yankee Stadium, and the nightcap was at Shea.) The fans in our section were about 60-40 Mets-to-Yankees fans, with me sitting it out in my S.F. Giants cap. It was an entertaining place to be, though, as the Yankees fans would chant “Let’s-Go-Yankees!” and the Mets fan would instantly retort with “Yankees-Suck!” There was something poignant about this song of opposition: they were “singing” the same tune, and each side would dutifully wait for the other to finish their part.

The game started out evenly, with each group of fans getting their chance to make rude gestures and flaunt their team jerseys at the others, but the Yanks took control in the fourth inning, and ended up winning in a rout, nine-zip. Actually, it was when the game got out of the hand that the fans did too, and what seemed good-natured at first started to turn ugly. Groups of young men from each side got louder and more raucous, and security came by a couple of times to make sure things didn’t get violent.

As a fairly rabid Giants fan, I don’t have a problem with loudly rooting for your team, but there is something odd about this kind of intra-city rivalry. Unlike San Francisco and Oakland, two separate cities; or the North Side Cubs fans and South Side White Sox partisans; Yankees and Mets fans seem to split up much more raggedly once you get beyond the borders of the Bronx and Queens. For instance, in my experience, it seems like most Brooklynites favor the Mets, while those from Manhattan and Staten Island are Yankees lovers. Come to think of it, there definitely seems to be a class thing in evidence: Yankees fans proliferate in the Jersey suburbs and Westchester. It’s weird taking the train to Yankees games, with all those beefy Italian-American kids in Yankees jerseys and caps — who ever sees anyone like that in New York anymore? My assumption is they’re a bridge-and-tunnel crowd.

So maybe what was going on in our section Friday night was not so much a baseball rivalry as the first blow of a full-fledged class war?

NOLA, Hoops, and All That Jazz

The National Basketball Association has hit New Orleans this weekend for the annual All Star Game, which tips off tonight at 8 p.m. Television coverage of the event has been… interesting… as it simultaneously celebrates the glitz of the French Quarter and bemoans the sad state of the rest of the city. Shots of commentators and tourists thronging Bourbon Street alternate with NBA stars lending helping hands to redevelopment projects in neighborhood schools and community centers. And of course there’s been a big effort to incorporate as much local musical flavor into the weekend spectacle as possible, with (among others) Marc Broussard and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band performing during the slam dunk competition, and Harry Connick Jr. and Branford Marsalis scheduled to play for the main event this evening.

Larry Blumenfeld, a pickup basketball playing buddy of mine and an accomplished music writer, has a piece in today’s New Orleans Times Picayune about the connections between jazz and hoops. Larry is currently a Katrina Media Fellow with the Open Society Institute, and has been documenting cultural recovery in New Orleans for The Wall Street Journal, Village Voice, and Salon.com. And he has a blog at www.artsjournal.com/listengood. Check it out while you enjoy the game and all that good music.

[cross-posted to A.D. website]