Morning Mixtape: ‘Take Me Out To The Ballgame’ By Bob Dylan

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Bob Dylan had a satellite radio show called “Theme Time Radio Hour” that ran for 100 episodes between 2006 and 2009. I listened to the first few episodes, but I hit hard times and cut off my satellite radio subscription. One of my favorite moments was the episode “Baseball,” in which Dylan sang the traditional “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” acapella. In honor of tonight’s All-Star Game, the last for my favorite ballplayer, Derek Jeter, here’s that moment. Enjoy this song, my friends.

Moments: On not being able to care everything

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The New York Yankees, my favorite baseball team, played the Boston Red Sox on Sunday night. ESPN broadcast the game. I remember seeing the two teams were on TV and thinking, “Ugh. Not again.”

The Sunday game was only the fourth time they played this season. They’re scheduled to play 19 times. But I am already tired of the Yankees and the Red Sox. And it is only April 13.

This exhaustion is not really the fault of the baseball clubs. They have a schedule. They play it. It’s the hype machine. Whether it’s ESPN or Fox or the MLB Network or whoever is putting the game on TV, the hype machine tries to pretend every meeting between the two teams is another historic clash in an ageless battle.

Sure, both teams have great histories. And they’ve played a lot of interesting baseball games through the course of baseball history. But not every game is meaningful. Most of the games, in fact, are not meaningful, especially in April. That’s the point of baseball. It has no point. It’s a distraction, a pastime. It’s supposed to be fun.

But fun is not enough for the hype machine. It must be epic. There must be storylines and grudges and emotions running high and bulletin board material and tabloid headlines and, of course, tweets, always with the damned tweets.

It’s not just baseball. I was tired of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament a month before it started. I was sick of brackets and bubble teams in February. By the time the tournament actually started, I got angry when anybody mentioned office pools or used the word “busted” to describe their bracket predictions.

I don’t know what happened to me. I liked the NCAA basketball tournament as a kid. I liked the fact that there were teams in the tournament I had never heard of. I would always pick them to win a couple games. Why not them?

Now, though, every team in the country is obsessively scouted. I didn’t even know the mascot of most of the teams not from the Midwest. Now you’ve got “advanced statistics,” whatever the hell that means, on every player down to the student manager’s ability to hand out sports drink in late game pressure situations with less than 2 minutes on the clock.

I don’t care how the network’s panel of experts filled out their brackets. They will play the games and then we will know the actual answer.

I’ve heard so much about that former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and whether he will be the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft that I hope the he is picked dead last and the commentators get laryngitis from shouting about it all day long.

It isn’t just sports. It’s everything. During the basketball tournament, CBS promoted the series finale of “How I Met Your Mother” so much that I went from never having watched an episode to actively resenting the show ever having been on the air.

Some of this, of course, is my own jangled nerves. I waited two years to see the movie “Pulp Fiction” because I was so tired of everyone telling me how great it was. That movie came out in 1995, just seconds after the Internet as we know it came into being. If that movie happened today, I probably would never see it just on principle.

All the cable TV news channels hype every story as if ragnarok was upon us. But they don’t know anything. They just keep repeating the same four paragraphs of facts (and many times rumors) while they call in “experts” to say what they think might have happened.

A buddy and I went to a classy restaurant in a northwest Des Moines neighborhood this weekend. At the bottom of the menu, they had a sign that said “Like us on Facebook.” I grimaced.

What they were really doing is asking me to advertise for them. The thing is, this was a nice restaurant. They don’t need my “like” on Facebook. They’ve been around for years. It’s one of the nicest places in town.

I eat lunch at a Mexican restaurant downtown. You can get 10 percent off your bill if you “check in” at the restaurant on Facebook. I just pay the extra dollar. The world doesn’t need to know where I’m eating, what I’m eating or whether I liked it.

This probably sounds hypocritical from a guy who writes a blog and works at a paragraph factory, but social media is just part of the hype machine, maybe it’s noisiest and stupidest sprocket. It’s no different than professional babblers making too big a deal about a baseball game in April or the finale of a TV series.

Everywhere we look, the world is shouting at us to care — no, more than that — to be relentlessly obsessive about everything. The problem is, there’s no context. It’s nearly impossible to tell what’s important and what’s nonsense.

When things become that murky, the best advice I can tell you is to regard it all as nonsense.

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Moments: On the last charge of Derek Jeter

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This season marks the 20th and last for my favorite baseball player, New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter.

Jeter turns 40 on June 26, the same day I turn 39. Because we share a birthday, I’ve always felt a special connection to Jeter.

Derek Jeter Color Swap 2012 Topps HeritageI don’t mean that in a creepy stalker kind of way. I mean that Jeter and I are of the same generation. We remember Saturday morning cartoons, the terrifying wonder of combining Pop Rocks and Coca-Cola and life before the Internet and the 24-hour fear machine that is the news cycle.

The differences, of course, are overwhelming. He’s a New York idol beloved by scores of Yankees fans and respected by even his most hated rivals. I’m a paragraph stacker in Des Moines who might be Facebook friends with one of the people over at Channel 13.

Jeter has dated beautiful actresses and pop stars. I haven’t been on a date in about three years. He can still hit a curveball and field his position. I once struck out hitting off a tee and have been known to let more than a few typos slip by me.

Now he’s soon to be 40 and before you know it, his baseball career is going to be over. It’s a milestone for him, to be sure, but for me as well.

I was never good enough to make junior varsity let alone the majors. But it is a strange thing to realize that nearly everybody who is playing professional sports is younger than you.

I’ve been through the retirements of favorite players before. Don Mattingly, my boyhood hero, retired unceremoniously before the 1996 season, his body and badly injured back unable to keep up with the rigors of the season. The Yankees won the World Series in ’96, the first time since 1978, and Donny Baseball, the face of the franchise during the darkest of the George Steinbrenner ownership years, wasn’t on the team.

That always stung a little bit, but Mattingly was always an adult and I looked up to him the way a boy looks up to a man who is good at sports.

By the way, 1996 was Jeter’s rookie year. It was my senior year at Drake University. Jeter wasn’t like Mattingly. He was a kid like me. And he was in the World Series with my favorite team in my favorite sport.

Jeter was like a buddy, somebody who might have the dorm room down the hall. Sure, he’d have all the best-looking girls over, but I bet he’d nod at me in the hallway once in a while.

The next year was my rookie year of sorts. I graduated from college and got a job working at a weekly newspaper for $8.75 an hour. I’m not sure what the Major League minimum was in 1997, but I think Jeter was doing better than me. He still is, by the way.

1997 was a mixed bag for me. I had this wretched jalopy of a used car. It seemed like every day I drove the thing to work, something else broke on it. I spent thousands of dollars of that $8.75-per-hour paycheck to keep that thing running.

One day, I was hustling home from work — I still lived with my parents, something I’m sure Jeter did not do his second year in the majors — to catch the Yankees playoff game against the Cleveland Indians. The old car threw a rod and died. Somehow I was going to have to figure out how to buy a new car on my small salary.

I was depressed. I settled in to watch the game. The great relief pitcher Mariano Rivera, who was in his first full season as closer, gave up a home run to Cleveland catcher Sandy Alomar. The Yankees lost the series.

But in 1998, I made the finances work and I bought a shiny new car. I got hired by The Des Moines Register, which for me was like catching on with the Yankees, as a reporter in the suburbs. The same year, the Yankees won the American League and the World Series by a wide margin.

The closest I ever came to meeting Jeter was in 1999. I spent a summer on loan to the baseball desk at USA Today, which is owned by the same company as the Register. It was a great job. I got to watch baseball on TV all day and write about it.

One hot July day, I took the train up from Washington, D.C., to New York City. I took the subway out to the old Yankee Stadium and watched the Yankees beat the Braves. Jeter was 0-for-5.

It was the same weekend John F. Kennedy Jr.’s plane disappeared over the Atlantic. They had a moment of silence for him those aboard the plane during the game. I got a call from a colleague at my hotel that night. They wanted us in the office early Sunday because the paper had early deadlines because of JFK Jr.’s death.

When I got into the office, everybody was gathered around one of the TVs. David Cone, another one of my favorite players, was pitching a perfect game against the Montreal Expos. I always liked Cone. I read a story in Sports Illustrated that he made up pitches on the mound because that’s how he used to throw Wiffle Balls in his yard as a kid.

I grumbled that I was just in New York that morning and just missed a historic event. The editor made it work. He said if he’d known I was in New York, he would have had me stay there and cover the game because they didn’t have a reporter at the stadium. It remains the single biggest disappointment in my journalism career.

Jeter won some more championships. He lost a couple, too. And there were some years, not many, but a few, when the Yankees weren’t really in it at all. I stayed with paragraphs. I had some very good years and some very bad ones. But I’m still getting paid to be a writer in the 21st century, and there’s something to be said for that.

In October, Jeter will be retired. But I’ll keep typing. I probably won’t notice until next spring, when they announce someone else at shortstop for the Yankees.

But an era will have passed. And my favorite player, whom I admired and cheered for, is now too old to play the game we both love.

I feel a little melancholy. Or maybe that’s just jealousy. After all, he’s retired at 40. I’ve got another 28 years to work.

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Moments: On basketball cliches curing cancer

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A dear friend is fighting cancer again. I love her like a big sister. I’ve known her for 20 years. She was a good mentor for me when I was a young reporter.

She’s a great writer and a skilled editor. She’s smart. She’s funny. And she has never once chided me to be more cheerful, outgoing or optimistic. She accepts me as I am. And that’s why I love her.

She also hates the sanitized sappiness of greeting cards, making things pink to symbolize breast cancer, the amorphous and meaningless “cause” of awareness and sports cliches. So of course I wrote her an email in the form of an endless stream of sports cliches.

Dear friend,

I am sorry to learn of your latest health issue. We must remember that health is a game of matchups so I hope you matchup well with your doctor and medicine.

You must be careful. Cancer plans an uptempo game. So you have to guard your health with a sense of urgency, kind of like if you had to pee but you were on deadline and really couldn’t get up right then. That kind of sense of urgency.

You will have to step up your game to get through this, possibly with the use of a climbing machine at the gym. Be sure to play within yourself. Because if you played outside of yourself, it would be some kind of hallucination, which is not the kind of thing you want to get into when you’re dealing with cancer.

Put on your game face. It probably looks a lot like your regular face only, you know, gamed up somehow. Maybe it’s like a war cry in “Full Metal Jacket.” That’s how you beat cancer. Scream like R. Lee Ermey.

Don’t be afraid to throw somebody under the bus if you need to get ahead. You might be feeling a little weak from treatment, so you might have to ask for assistance on the throwing of a full-size adult under a bus. Children and pets, though, will be easier.

I am not worried. You have ice water in your veins. Actually, I hope that isn’t true. If it were, you would already be dead. Or you would be some kind of new organism that the world has not previously seen that can survive with ice water rather than blood. If this is true, you may ask your doctors to reconsider your cancer treatment regimen. Maybe they can fix the whole thing with a Brita filter.

I am sure your medical team has so many weapons on its offense to defeat this disease. I am told small ordinance and RPGs work best against most forms of cancer, but the side effects can be brutal.

There’s no need to Monday morning quarterback this, especially since your surgery is on a Tuesday. Just be sure to answer the bell because you don’t want to be late.

Just get in there, take your cuts and keep your eye on the ball. If you see a ball, ask some questions. There shouldn’t be a ball of any kind in the operating room. That’s a sign your doctor may not know what he or she is doing.

Try to keep this out of the news and off social media, as the media will just blow this out of proportion. That can really take the crowd out of the game. You need to get on the same page and pretend you’re a team player who isn’t afraid to play hardball

That paragraph was so awful I got a little nauseous. I’d better wrap this thing up.

Just remember there is no “I” in “team” and there isn’t an “O” or “U” in there either, since we’re doing a roll call of vowels.

Defense wins championships and the best defense is a good offense. If you can make sense of that nonsense, surely you can beat cancer.

Anyway, I know you’re a Packers fan, but stay off the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field until you’re feeling better — or at least wear a warm coat and sunscreen.

Don’t pull any punches because this is gut-check time.

All in all, it is what it is.

Laugh at all that stuff. Promise to punch me in the arm later. I’ll buy you the first beer.

Just get better. Because you’re my friend and I love you. And earth is a better place with you on it.

Love,

Finney

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Moments: An ode to benchwarmers

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Here’s to the mediocre ones.

The 30-30-30 guys. The ones who play when the team is 30 points up or 30 points down with 30 seconds to play.

The round kids in the skinny uniforms.

They’re not fond of conditioning.

And they have no chance of making varsity.

Nobody wants their autograph or quote after the game.

You can mock them if you can remember their name.

They lead the team in fouls per minute played.

Their batting average is measured by the same  scale as wind chill.

Their 40 times are measured not in tenths of seconds but tenths of hours.

Coaches can ignore them — unless they are required by league rules to play them a mandatory inning in the field and at least one at-bat.

Here’s to the below average ones.

The ones who think a cutoff man is the guy who caps the line for “The Avengers” panel at Comic-Con.

The ones who think 6-to-4-to-3 is math problem.

The ones who would prefer not to shower with their teammates.

The ones who play right field, way out where the dandelions grow.

The ones for whom there is no such thing as a “routine ground ball” and a “can of corn” can only be found at the grocery store.

The ones who are just in it for treats at the concession stand after the games.

Here’s to the last ones picked and the first ones cut.

The ones who only get covered in Gatorade because they spilled it on themselves carrying the jug out to the dugout.

The ones whose worst sports injury is a paper cut from the page they take rebounding statistics on.

Here’s to the other guys.

The ones who weren’t born for this.

The ones whose parents didn’t hold them out of kindergarten a year to improve their athletic chances.

The ones who had interests other than how well they could handle a ball.

The ones who cheer the loudest from the bench.

The ones who learn the other team’s offense so the starters can practice against it.

The ones who are the first to greet you at home plate after the big home run.

The ones who lead the league in high-fives and fist-pumps.

The ones who sweat beside you for every practice.

The ones who show up on time every day even though they know they’re not now and never will be the star.

The ones who just want to be a part of the team.

The ones who just wanted a free hat and T-shirt.

The ones who believe.

The ones who aren’t afraid to fail because they often do.

The ones who try again.

The ones whose most coveted trophy isn’t MVP but “Most Improved Player.”

The ones who really played just for the love of the game.

The ones who just played for fun.

It’s easy to dismiss them as losers, as the weakest links as not good enough for prime time.

But in life, most of us will never feel the sting of champagne in our eyes after winning the championship. These guys and gals, the benchwarmers, they’re the ones who really get it.

They know how to get knocked down and get back up again. They know life is lived in the great, wide middle.

And they understand Rocky Balboa had it right: “Life ain’t about how hard ya can hit. It’s about how hard ya can get hit and keep moving forward.”

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