Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Why do I even play?

Throughout the course of a blazingly hot Sunday afternoon in Mesa, Arizona I became convinced of one thing.

Satan invented golf.

There are probably several factors for this heavy realization, the least of which not being the fact that walking outside attempting to play a game in 115 degree heat is not something anyone should subject themselves to. What makes me truly believe that this so-called majestic game is the handy work of El Diablo is the absolute rage the game produces within me.

I hit very few good drives. Usually I get to experience a vast landscape of nature and wildlife as I search the outermost boundaries of the golf course for anything resembling my poorly hit golf ball. The frustration of mass destruction, however, does not come from the shanks off the tee, but rather following a perfect middle-of-the-fairway drive.

Several times during our outing on Sunday (several being a fairly loose term), I hit a couple of perfect (by my less than stellar standards) drives into the fairway that gave me confidence that perhaps my subpar game was heading to at least somewhere towards bogey respectability. But every time I would walk to my ball in the fairway looking to reach a green in regulation the result would always be the same. A horrendous golf shot.

There are fewer things in sport that I have experienced more frustrating than following a glorious, sexy drive with a 50 yard, laughable ground ball. Never do I long for the use of a time machine more than when I am out on the links. This would allow me to travel to 12th Century Scotland and discourage the locals there from creating such a ludicrous game.

The problem with golf, though, is that like Satan does with all his evils, he tempts you to enjoy its temporary pleasures even when you know they are just that. Has anyone ever had true sustained happiness during the course of a golf round? You tell me their name and I will call them a liar.

And then there is the laughter. The darn laughter. Get four buddies who make a lot of pretty funny shots on the course and you are in for a rib-busting afternoon.

My buddy Hank: Nick, what did you score on that hole?

Me: I don't know. Hey, what's four plus completely horrible at golf.

Hank: I'll put you down for an eight.

Side-splitting laughter occurs.

And as much as I know the horrors golf can bring into my life, though, I will likely never be able to stay away.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

74 Days

That is how long until I begin my dream job. Well okay so the the job I am beginning in two and a half months does not pay enough to cover my monthly rent so I guess it can't be considered my dream job, but it is certainly a step in the right direction.
On Aug. 30, the ASU football team will kickoff its season against the Lumberjacks from Northern Arizona. And I will be in the press box for the start of what should be a very exciting season.

I have spent a good majority of my free time pouring over a seemingly endless pile of statistics about the Sun Devils. I have been studying depth charts, watching highlight videos of incoming freshmen, reading experts' analysis, and trying somehow make sense out of the vast landscape that is college football. Throughout all this I have realized that covering Arizona State football is going to be a class in itself, an icredible launching off point with a world of learning in front of me.

My new office

Monday, June 16, 2008

A Perfect Season

I probably felt the pressure more than he did. So did the rest of his family. Antonio, my 10 year old stepbrother, took the hill on Saturday to pitch in the Sierra Vista Little League Minors Division Championship. His team the Cardinals came in to the game with a 19-0 record, but were playing against a team in the Rangers whose only blemish on their season was a tie ballgame.

First inning. Strikes the first batter out with three straight pitches and I knew he was on his game. He throws pretty fast for a kid his age, but what makes him great is his consistency. He strikes out two in the inning and allows only one baserunner.

In the bottom of the inning the Cardinals got two runs, and it would be all Antonio would need to secure the victory as he game up only one run in five innings pitched, a feat pretty rare in a Little League game.

As they made their last out he threw his glove in the air and raised his fists, the perfect season complete.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Oh the ever swaying emotions

UPDATE ON THE POST BELOW: Tonight they made me a super satisfied fan. Hopefully that will continue.

More than any other sport, baseball is an absolute roller coaster ride. For me, the general highlight of a summer day for me is settling down in the evening to watch my Diamondbacks. My what an infuriating highlight it can be. Take the last two days for example. The boys played day games in Pittsburgh on Sunday and Monday meaning that they started around 10 a.m. here at home. How exciting to have breakfast (both were days off work for me), read the paper and watch my boys play ball.

The problem with all this, though, is my team is playing horribly. So much so that it is infuriating to watch. These days, as I just saw our rightfielder make what has the be the 15th error of this road trip, I can't help but be overcome with Hulk-like anger.

It is a blessing and curse we as fans of the sport must endure. Even when a team is playing well they still go through stretches of three or four straight losses that make in seem like Armageddon is heading for your club's ballpark. On the flip side of that, a nice sweep of a three-game series in the middle of long stretch of losing can still give a fan hope that maybe, just maybe, your team is going to be ok. I just hope the players know what us as hardcore fans go through.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Someone worth rooting for

When looking for a favorite ball player there are a seemingly endless amount of athletes to look to. There are Bunyanesque, all-star sluggers who can crush the ball a country mile and infielders with Ricky Henderson speed who flash more leather than a Harley Davidson clothing store.

But while there are so many players to see on TV day after day in big cities across the country, my favorite professional baseball player steps on the diamond in a small town in Tennessee with rarely a television camera in sight.

The four people who read my blog (and sadly I am probably inflating that number) have likely already heard me talk about Donald Veal, the left-handed starting pitcher for the Tennessee Smokies, a Double A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs. I can hope, though, that at least one other person can find their way to this and hear his story.

I first came to know Donnie when I was 10 years old. I played for the hapless Twins and he played for the Expos. When I first stepped to the plate I was suprised that this was the guy who created buzz around the Sierra Vista Little League. He was skinny and his goggles, which were far too big for his face, pushed his ears seemingly a mile out from his head, hardly a visually intimidating presence. Three pitches later was the first of what seemed like 100 strikeouts I would suffer against the flamethrowing southpaw during the next couple of seasons.

It was evident, even then, that he was going to be special. He could run, hit, jump, and he pitched like few his age had the ability to do. I got to know Donnie better when I was in seventh grade and he was in eighth as we both attended the same middle school and played on the school's baseball team. When he pitched I played first base that season. He almost always pitched. This gave me a chance to have a front row seat as I watched the formerly rail-thin Veal turn grown into a bonafide, hard-throwing sensation. It was probably the most fun playing baseball I ever had and he was an incredible teammate. Despite the fact that talentwise, and sizewise for that matter, he was head and shoulders above everyone on the team, he treated everybody with respect and was always encouraging.

In high school I stopped playing baseball, but Donnie blossomed into a star becoming the best baseball Buena High School had ever seen. It was clear a path in professional baseball was in his future. After his senior year at Buena, where he broke about every pitching record at the 40 year-old school, Donald was drafted by the Chicago White Sox, but did not sign a contract. Instead, he chose to attend the University of Arizona, as he was as talented in the classroom as he was on the field.

Then in November of 2004, Donald lost his best friend, his mother Tanya Veal to cancer. Tanya was a driving force behind Donald and his younger brother Devin, and knowing her it was easy to know why. Mrs. Veal was freshman basketball coach, and was one of the best I've ever had. Her passion and intensity pushed every player on her team to be better and earning her respect was at the top of everyone's priority list.

After greiving over the loss of his mother, Donald did what she would have wanted him to do, he got back on the field. After struggling to get on the field at U of A (he suffered some injury problems) Donnie transfered to Pima where he was one of the most dominating pitchers in the region.

After dominating for the Aztecs, Donnie shot up on scouts' lists and was drafted in the second round of the 2005 draft by the Chicago Cubs and was ready to begin his career in professional baseball.

He started play in the summer of 2005 and pitched pretty well as he did his best to get his feet under him not one year removed from the death of his biggest mentor. In 2006, Donald had an amazing season. The second half of his season was spent in Florida with the Class A Daytona Cubs where he posted a 6-2 record and a stifling 1.67 ERA in 14 starts. He was named the Cubs Minor League Player of the Year along with current Cub Rich Hill and fans in the Windy City began to take notice of this rising prospect.

Coming of a strong 2006 campaign, Donnie started the year with the Smokies with the hope of moving up. Much of the season, though, turned out to be a struggle.

"I put a lot of pressure on myself at the start of the season to get to Chicago instead of enjoying myself and continuing to improve and get better," he told MLB.com earlier this year.

At the end of the season, though, Donnie finished strong with a 2-1 record with a 1.93 ERA in his last four starts of the season.

As he began to get ready for his next season in November of last year the unthinkable happened. Donald lost his father, Donald Sr., to a tragic scuba diving accident. It had been only three years since his mother passed away, how could this happen? I remember hearing the news from my own dad after work one night and I, like so many others in a close knit community who knew the Veals, was shocked.

It would have been easy to quit at that point. It's not, though, what his parents would want him to do. Donald started 2008 with a renewed focus on his sport. Baseball has become an escape and therapy for him. A place where the essence of the game he has always loved soothes him.

So far this season Donnie has recaptured the stuff from his 2006 season. Through 13 starts he has a 2.67 ERA which is good enough for seventh in the Southern League. On May 31, he went eight scoreless innings giving up only three hits. He is currently in the top five on many Cubs top prospect lists.

Through it all his faith has grown and he knows his parents are with him.

"I've got two angels on my side now," he said in his MLB.com interview.

I can't help checking his player profile page every couple of days, even though I know he'll only pitch every five or so days. Sure, I am bias towards a player that was such a great teammate of mine, but his inspiration is universal.

Soon, I hope, my favorite player will be in one of those big cities, in one of those huge parks full of fans who won't be able to help but root for him. And I hope I am right there to see it.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Salazar brings the heat

I have come to find out that as much fun as playing sports is, it is perhaps more enjoyable to watch those close to you out on the field. Last night my 10 year old stepbrother Antonio took the mound in his team's first game of the playoffs (He's number five sitting in the dugout, though you can't make him out to well in the rest of the pictures because I took them with the camera from my phone).

It was really funny because he talked about how nervous he was before the game and I just remembered back to how fun it was being a kid and having an opportunity to step on the mound.

Now, I knew the kid could pitch pretty well, I had gone to practice with him earlier this week, but when he started throwing strikes by batter after batter, I was pretty blown away. He possesses some accuracy I was not so fortunate to have when I pitched, because while I could throw the ball pretty hard I don't think I ever went a game without beaning some unlucky young kid from the other team.

I was really impressed with the way he brought it. For such a small kid he is a fierce competitor and it was a joy to watch.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Uphill battle

So there are various things I told myself I wanted to accomplish during my time back here at home.

First was to wake up early. I am not a morning person by any stretch of the imagination, but I know that I always tend to have more energy throughout the day when I wake up early. This goal has been going quite well. The latest I have slept in has been 9:30, but most days I have been up before nine.

The second was not necessarily go on a diet but be a lot more conscious of the various food items I was depositing into my body. Living at home has made that endeavor much more feasible. Up at school I am so busy and find myself going out way to often and I really do not care much for fast food. My parents keep a lot of healthy stuff in the house so I figure after eating so well here for a month it will just be second nature when I go back up to Phoenix.

I also wanted to read a lot of good writing and do a lot of writing myself. This has also been going pretty well. I have some good books that are a collection of some great sportswriting, feature stuff like the kind of work I would ultimately like to do. I am also working on memoir of my childhood athletic prowess or lack there of.

Lastly, and the one I knew would take the most effort, is to get into an excersise routine. When I was in high school I remember how good I always felt after a long cross country practice, as much as I wanted to quit during practice, because I knew I was in shape. Now I can't get myself to work out despite how good I know it feels to do it. Today I decided it was time to really start. I went on about a 7-8 mile bike ride, not treacherous but a good start. A rode to a friend's house where he was going to join me for part of the ride and was just really enjoying being on the bike, as I used to ride quite a bit when I was younger (just another one of many athletic activities I used to perform that are hiding in a corner somewhere). As we made our way back from his house though, I realized the majority of the rest of the ride was going to be uphill! Crazy how that works. Muscles in my legs, which previous to the ride I was unaware even existed, began to burn with fire of a thousand suns. Ok dramatic, but geeze I felt like I was in the tour de France! While the adventure proved exhausting and illustrated my immense need to get in shape, as I sat on a swinging chair in the back yard drinking an ice cold glass of beautifully purified water, that old familiar, euphoric, borderline enlightening end-of-workout feeling came creeping right back in.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


Congratulations Sun Devils! 2008 Women's College World Series Champs!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Boys of Summer

I think spending a good chunk of my summer down here in Sierra Vista will actually end up better than I expected. For all the friends that are staying down here and just kind of messing up, I have a good group that I really do like down here doing well for themselves. It may not be the kind of doing well that I would necessarily envision for myself but it works for them and I guess that is all that matters.

So I got the opportunity tonight to get myself involved in a little bit of athletic competition. I have come to realize that I feel so much more average as an athlete now than I did when I was younger. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't an exceptional athlete growing up, but it is funny the wisdom you gain as you grow up and just how much that humbles you.

I played softball on my dad's team tonight which is comprised mostly of police officers. In the field I didn't actually play that bad, though I was pretty nervous to start it off. They put me in left, which is softball is where most people with any power hit the ball. The first ball that came I had very little chance of getting too, but was able to make a pretty decent throw to hold the runner to a double.

The next ball, though, was a pop fly right at me. Did catching a fly ball seem this difficult when I was younger. The ball seemed to dance in the air as I akwardly tried to place myself underneath its downward trajectory. With much relief I caught it, though I am sure I made it seem much more difficult than it needed to be. After that I settled down and actually made every play that came my way.

While I made good progress in the field, the batter's box was my most comedic of performances. I don't think I wait on the ball enough and all of my power lurches forward. The result tonight? A weak pop-up to the catcher followed by a lazy fly ball to the left fielder. We got crushed something like 17-0.

It reitterated to me, though, just how much fun sports are. So many of us spend a day in an office or at school, but then for a couple hours you get to lace up the cleats and you feel like a player, even if the image you project to the crowd illustrates otherwise.