Monthly Archives: February 2010

Spring training, my Hyundai and me

Check out this piece of shit car. Have I mentioned that outside of a neat USB port, that it's a piece of shit?

TAMPA, Fla. — Remember that part in “Avatar,” when the group of Navi go to the mountaintop to bond with their dinosaur looking bird creatures? In spring training, baseball writers have a similar ritual, and the bond can be just as strong.

Except instead of dinosaurs, we bond with rental cars, which is why I’m writing about a Hyundai.

During the regular season, I’m mostly indifferent about rental cars because even if I’m stuck with a bad one, I’m driving it for four days at most. No biggie.

But it’s different in spring training, especially when you’re covering spring training in Florida, where drives to opposing ballparks for Grapefruit League can be as long as three hours. That’s unlike spring training in Arizona, where most games are played within a 30-minute radius near Phoenix.

Not so much in Florida. There’s nothing like a drive across Alligator Alley to remind you that rental car selection is crucial.

I lucked out my first year when I covering the Orioles. The lady behind the counter happened to be Filipino. Instant upgrade, baby.

“How about a convertible?”

“Yes, please.”

The car choice worked out well except for the few times I had to make the drive from Fort Lauderdale to Port St. Lucie. Somewhere in between the two cities is a massive landfill. And the few times I had the pleasure of driving past the site, it happened to be garbage burning day. Fun stuff, especially with the top down.

Last season, I got some weird mini-SUV, a Chevy of some kind I believe. Though I probably would have been better with another convertible, this car wasn’t bad.

But this season, my luck ran out.

A few months ago, I tried to convince by boss that for another $100 or so, I could be driving around Florida in a Mustang. Swing and a miss.

So I did the responsible thing and booked “economy,” or whatever term Avis uses for “shit-ass car.” I walked up to the window hoping that maybe I’d catch a little bit of luck. But alas, there was not a Filipino in sight.

With no good signs in my corner, I rolled the dice. And it came up Hyundai.

The photo shows my new pal in all her glory. I’ve only been around Tampa a bit, but already I can tell that she and I are going to threaten to do some sideswiping this spring, because this model leads the league in funky blind spots. With every merge, an adventure!

There is some good news: It turns out that the Hyundai comes with USB port, which means I’ll at least be able to play music with my iPhone. It’s a fantastic luxury for those 2 1/2 drives.

As for the rest of the car, I’m not a big fan. In fact, when another writer friend told me he got a Nissan Versa, I secretly felt jealous. That must have been some sort of first: a guy actually jealous of another guy’s Versa.

But it’s too late to switch now. Like the Navi and their dinosaur birds, the rental car and I have bonded. In the spring, you only get one. No turning back.

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Filed under Baseball, On the beat

And so we begin…

The luggage tag.

TAMPA, Fla. — If the old sappy song is true — and every beginning is indeed some other beginning’s end — then the end of most life outside of baseball for the traveling baseball beat writer begins in spring training.

When I step off the plane in an hour, I’ll say goodbye to home-cooked meals, days spent without leaving my apartment and clean laundry. I’ll said hello to ballpark hot dogs, Marriott points and games of “ah, fuck, mustard stain!”

Preparing for this life transition is somewhat time consuming, which explains my absence over the last week. To those of you who have been reading the blog on a regular basis, I apologize for the lack of updates.

Anyway, after the greatest weekend ever (my gentlemanly sensibilities require me to keep the details private*) I am once again ready to go.

Soon after starting this blog, I wondered how often I should give it my attention. I asked a few friends, and they all said the same thing: “whenever it’s convenient.” But the more I thought about it, the right answer became clearer and clearer.

The evolving 24-hour news cycle, the one that deems players arriving in a moldy clubhouse a Tweet-worthy event, can easily make baseball writing an all-consuming job. It’s (mostly) enjoyable because baseball is something I already love.

That said, I also love Fat Tire beer. Still, as much as I love it, I wouldn’t want to drink that shit from a fire hose.

Beat writers must dive in head-first. That’s just the nature of the job. But in those moments that I feel submerged in the daily grind of baseball — and from here to October I assume it will happen a lot — I plan to use this blog as my way of coming up for air.

Whether it’s a deep breath or a quick breather — a long post or two paragraphs of silliness — I’ll be blogging at least once a day. At least that’s the plan.

Well, it’s time to run. The pilot just announced it’s 61 degrees in Tampa. Gotta pick up the rental car, check into the hotel, stock the fridge, write something for work.

Yep, it’s time for spring training. Time for the beginning.

* Hey you, thanks for the “before strippers,” Fe, and… the other stuff. You know who you are.

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The ugly, hyphenated truth behind my byline**

Oh, if only my name was as simple as this nameplate...

HARLEM — We had just gotten back from lunch recess when a girl in my class got up to use the old pencil sharpener bolted to the wall. This was as a mini-event in our class, because if you turned the handle of the sharpener fast enough, the grinding of metal blades shaving down wooden pencils was loud enough to drown out our teacher’s voice.

For easily-entertained fifth graders, this was good times.

But not this time. At least, not for me.

Before the girl could even start turning the pencil sharpener, she stopped in her tracks and turned to face the entire class.

“Marc,” the girl said. “Lester?”

“Your name’s Marclester*?”

For five-straight years, I managed to keep my secret hidden away from my classmates, dodging detection even when I should have been caught. The first day of school, field trip sign-ups, back-to-school night, they all came and went and my secret remained safe. I was lucky.

But for some reason, which I have yet to figure out and suspect never will, my teacher posted a full copy of the roll sheet on the wall. And he made sure to put it in one the most conspicuous spots possible, just above the pencil sharpener.

“Oh my god,” the girl said, now realizing the full destructive power of her discovery.

“Your name is… Marclester!”

Yeah, that made for a really shitty week.

Somehow, I got through high school without an issue. But in college, I once got too sick to pick up a prescription. A friend of mine volunteered to run the errand. I thought it was a nice thing until I realized that the doctor used my fill name. So when my buddy dropped off my medicine, he couldn’t resist:

“Clesta Cless!”

A few years later, at a conference I attended when I was still in college, somebody in the group found out. Yeah, there’s nothing like hearing an Ivy League honors student laugh hysterically as she put it all together:


One day, I asked my mother the obvious question: Why? I expected a decent explanation, maybe a funny story. Instead, she shrugged, lit a menthol, and phoned a friend.

Good talk, mom. Thanks!

* Technically, my birth certificate reads Marc-Lester, two words, hyphenated. But somewhere down the line, some negligent school clerk decided to mash the two together, and nobody bothered to change it. And I doubt it’s ever been right on any driver’s license I’ve ever had. Whenever I fill out the application with a hyphen — Marc-Lester — it gets dropped so it’s just Marc Lester. But that damn school clerk must have gotten a job working for the Nevada DMV, because in the Silver State I was again Marclester. Of course, dad could have fixed this nonsense by making me Franklin Jr. Instead, that honor went to my kid brother, who we called J.R. and eventually, just Jay. Good name. Not that I’m bitter or anything, pops.

** I once considered changing my byline to sound snottier. The choices were M.L. Carig or M. Lester Carig. I thought the latter sounded appropriately snotty, except I couldn’t shake its resemblance to “Molester!”



Filed under Random

Send a scribe to spring training! (No not me, somebody way cooler)

Help scribe Mark Zuckerman raise enough cash to cover spring training, even if you could care less about the Washington Nationals, which judging by attendance is pretty much all of us. Boom, roasted!

HARLEM — There are obviously a lot of things in this world that are way more important than baseball, or for that matter, baseball writers.

Still, I must tell you about a fellow scribe I got to know during my days in Washington, D.C, and why he now deserves our help in sending him to cover spring training.

Mark Zuckerman covered the Nats until the Washington Times laid him off earlier this year, when in a cost-cutting move, they dropped the entire sports section.

Though I was never employed there, I worked alongside a lot of people on the Times’ staff. And when I was a summer intern filling in for our Nats beat writer, that included Mark.

I learned quickly that it’s easy to become jaded as a baseball writer. The gig might seem glamorous in some ways. And there are some parts of it that truly are special. But while the highs can be really high, the lows can often be really low. Sounds strange, because baseball is at its heart a lot of fun, but it’s true.

The travel involved is exhausting. The time required to even attempt doing a good job is overbearing. The nature of competition and the never-ending news cycle affords few opportunities to unplug. In essence, covering a big-league team can dominate one’s life.

Yet, from one of the first times I ever talked to Mark, I knew that he still loved his gig, and that very few things would change that.

We talked about the game, the teams we watched growing up, the reasons we got into journalism. We chatted about all the fun that can still be had despite the not-so-nice things about our business.

The chances are slim that Mark even remembers this conversation. But I can tell you it has left a lasting impact. For a guy who was just getting started out in baseball — as I was at the time — it was really important for me to see that it was possible to retain that kind of enthusiasm.

This is why I wasn’t all too surprised to read today that despite his recent layoff, Mark hasn’t disappeared into some corner to mope. He could have joined the legions of bright folks who have left the business in what appears to be journalism’s great brain drain. He certainly has the smarts do be doing something more lucrative, not to mention, more stable. It would be hard to blame anyone for getting out.

Instead, as he has from the franchise’s first day in D.C, Mark remains committed to delivering high-quality coverage of the Nationals.

Through his own blog,, Mark is raising money to finance a trip to spring training, where he hopes to provide the coverage that can come only from someone with his access, credibility and institutional knowledge. Mark’s work is based on the strong relationships he’s built and the trust he’s earned among people in the organization, both things that can be acquired only through years of hard work.

The people who make up the baseball blogosphere have become valuable resources when it comes to the coverage of a team. So many bloggers provide intelligent analysis and have evolved into news-gatherers themselves. If you are a Yankees fan reading this, you know how indispensable the blogosphere is to elevating the dialogue and enhancing the coverage of the team.

Yet, no matter how much change we’ve seen, the daily beat writer continues to play a vital role.

When there are fewer of them mining the clubhouse, fans have access to fewer sources of information. From the journalists themselves, to the bloggers who pour so much of their own time covering their teams, and ultimately to the fans who devour all this information, everybody loses.

Now, I realize that there are causes way more important than baseball and the plight of baseball writers. Yes, I’m quite sure that if you are reading this on my blog that you likely don’t care too much about the Washington Nationals.

But if you care about the game, if you care about the future of independent news coverage, and if you understand the value that people such as Mark provide to all fans of baseball regardless of team allegiance, please give him a few minutes of your time.

Check out his blog. Follow him on Twitter @MarkZuckerman.

And while you’re at it, spot him a few bucks, too.

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Super Bowl ads: Why we love Megan Fox… and Betty White

The Megan Fox Motorola ad was my favorite during the Super Bowl. But it was my top ranked ad for many more reasons than just Fox's hotness. I freely admit, however, that her hotness played a factor.

HARLEM — Because I was mostly indifferent about the teams playing in the Super Bowl (though it was nice to see the Saints win it), I spent a lot more time than normal breaking down the commercials.

Ever year, I’m amazed at how much money gets flushed down the toilet with piss-poor attempts (I’m looking at you, Doritos). But fortunately, there are always a few that leave their mark.

Here are my Top Five. What are yours?


5. “This is the worst Super Bowl party ever.”

Jay Leno and David Letterman doing a funny bit together while promoting CBS’s “Late Show” makes this an automatic entry on my list. Letterman hammered Leno pretty hard all throughout the Conan O’Brien “Tonight Show” drama and there’s a long history between the two from their famous fight for Johnny Carson’s job.

The added bonus is Letterman doing a the same high-pitched imitation of Leno that he broke out on the “Late Show.” Oprah’s presence was kind of strange though.


4. “And that Milk-a-holic Lindsay wasn’t over?”

The E-Trade baby is hilarious on his own. Throw in a few female friends and he’s even better. I love that the commercial pushes the idea that makes this campaign so funny overall: the kid still craps himself but nevertheless lives the life of a baller. Love it.


3. “Impress a French girl.”

There wasn’t a smarter Super Bowl commercial than Google’s entry into the sweepstakes. The ad’s minimalist style helped it stand out from the rest. The brand identification remained clear. And the use of search terms to tell a story gave it a distinctive touch. Very, very clever.


2. “That’s not what your girlfriend says.”

Over the holidays, when I was back in the Bay Area, I had a few old friends over. My kid sister, who also happened to be hanging out, suggested that we watch “The Proposal.” I wasn’t thrilled. But you know what? It was hilarious, and 90 percent of it was because of Betty White.

White, famous for her comedic wit and perfect timing, struck again on Sunday, dropping a money line in a funny ad for Snickers. (Abe Vigoda was in it too, but wasn’t featured as prominently as White). Anyway, the best exchange, starring everybody’s favorite Golden Girl:

Dude: “You’re playing like Betty White out there.”

Betty White: “That’s not what your girlfriend says!”

Boom, roasted!


1.) “Timmy, what are you doing!?!”

Here’s why this Motorola commercial featuring Megan Fox earns my top ranking. In 30 seconds, we’re exposed to:

  • Fox soaking in a bubble bath.
  • A dude falling off a ladder (old-fashioned slapstick is still money in the right context).
  • Two gay men slapping one another, the implication being that Fox’s hotness was enough to briefly make both of them question their sexual orientation.
  • And finally, the smartest little gag of the entire night, an angry mom banging on a locked door, and yelling “Timmy, what are you doing!?!” That’s right, in front of a Super Bowl audience of zillions, we get a thinly-veiled joke about a kid jerking off self-pleasuring to Megan Fox. And in case you didn’t catch it the first time, the mom reaches over and jiggles the door knob, which only drives home the message.

It wasn’t that long ago that people freaked out about Janet Jackson’s nipple-slip, which is why I’ve got to give these folks a hand for sneaking in a well-played reference about masturbating to a naked Megan Fox.

Indeed, this was a 30-second stroke* of genius.

* See what I did there?



Filed under Random

Hey you! It’s ‘Super Bowl’ not ‘Superbowl’

HARLEM — This is not a new rant, but considering the day, it’s worth a reminder. Super Bowl is two words, not one. In your blogs and tweets, please get it right. Two words. Super Bowl. Drives me nuts.

  • I’ve included an old Raiders video, just as a reminder to all that they weren’t always a joke of a franchise, and used to regularly have a legitimate chance at participating in the Super Bowl. Actually, it hasn’t been that long since they’ve made a Super Bowl. But that game didn’t go so well.And we all know what’s happened since.
  • Speaking of jokes of a franchise, I’m pulling for the Saints. They’ve suffered for most of their history. It’s time to bring one home.
  • For the last time, mom, Joe Montana is not playing this game.

I started this blog a week ago, and already we’re closing in on 3,700 page views. Honestly, that’s a lot more than I could have hoped for or expected. A lot more. I can’t thank you enough for checking in.

Also, special thanks goes out to Alex Belth and Cliff Corcoran, who were kind enough to link to this space on their excellent Yankees blog, Same goes for Jay Gargiulo, who was nice enough to put the word out on his blog,

One of the coolest parts of starting this project has been watching the different folks who have congregated here: old friends, new friends, friends I have never met. It’s a neat thing. And I can’t thank you all enough for the kind words.

But the neatest thing by far has been seeing my sister and my friend start their own blogs, partly because they saw what was happening with this one. So check them out:

My sister’s blog is at As you’ll see quickly, she’s way cooler than I am. Another fact: she is the second member of the family to have their writing published. Among a whole list of artistic endeavors, she’s also a published poet. Like I said, she’s way cooler than I am.

Also check out fellow baseball scribe Jordan Bastian, who can be found at Despite his Canadian leanings, he’s a heck of a guy, and a fine writer.

In eight days, my life as I know it changes dramatically. That’s when I fly down to Florida for Spring Training, thus beginning a ride that, barring some strange development, won’t stop until sometime in October. But I’m committed to keeping up with this blog.

Knowing that you guys have been checking in should provide plenty of motivation.

Wherever you are, I hope you enjoy the Super Bowl. Not Superbowl. Super Bowl.



Filed under Random

Things that make me laugh, Part I

HARLEM — This season, I got into a show called “Community,” about a group of people from varying backgrounds who surprise themselves by forming a tight bond while trying to survive a community college Spanish class.

So, the show hits close to home. To this day, some of my closest friends are the ones I spent hours slaving away with at the school newspaper at Contra Costa College.

Anyway, after each episode of Community, a few of the characters do a bit for the closing credits. This one is by far my favorite. Enjoy!

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Filed under Random