A baseball player’s day at the golf club

It was supposed to be a Sunday spent accompanying our friends and their kids to a Jurassic fossil excavation pit. I know. But, the friends are nice and one of their kids is actually our Godchild, so you do those things from time to time. And it was indeed a Sunday spent accompanying our friends and their kids to a Jurassic fossil excavation pit until the moment where a tennis ball came flying from Heaven.

It turned out that the pit shares a fence with a golf club where they had some sort of an Open Door Sunday. To show his gratitude, the guy whom we retrieved the ball for invited us over, thus mercifully ending our paleontological endeavors. To be fair, he actually invited the *kids* over to play kids golf with said tennis balls, but you know how much crime goes on these days, you can’t be careful enough and should never leave the children unattended.

So, about thirty seconds later, I had filled some sort of score card expressing my interest in joining the club and was assigned an instructor who took me to the driving range. Sunday was saved.

I was given a club and then shown a series of hand grips, slides, finger interlocks, crossovers and whatnots in an elaborate scheme that would put an average NBA handshake to shame. These were (I think) designed to help me understand how to place my hands on the club properly. After two minutes I interrupted the guy, “I know how to grip a bat, mate”, and was finally allowed to take some cuts:

SWINGING STRIKE, 0-1

To start with, I was not given a big-ass club as you see on TV. Actually it wasn’t a club at all, I have no idea why they call them that. It was a tiny thin metal stick. Also, the balls were so small. And they weren’t put on a tee but on some carpet. Which is perhaps not all bad news, because some of my most embarrassing baseball moments did involve balls on the tees. The carpet turned out to be quite helpful, because I could retrace my swing by examining the well engraved mark on it to see what went wrong. So, I adjusted, reared back and let it fly:

SWINGING STRIKE, 0-2

Score one on my consistency – the second mark just deepened the first one, and I’m pretty sure the repetitive skills are what they are looking for in a rookie. By this time I had garnered some additional attention, above the one that might be attributed to the fact that — having chosen our garments to spend the day in a big hole made of stone, mud and dust — we might have been just a tad underdressed for a Sunday in a private golf club.

My instructor saw this as a great occasion to offer some advice. I should concentrate, watch the ball, visualize hitting it without actually swinging. Breathe. So, I did. And he was right, not swinging was the great choice:

BALL, 1-2

I realized the balls were clearly on the outside, so I decided to crowd the plate. Somehow my first two swings prompted the instructor to ask me in that friendly tone usually reserved for suicide prevention hotlines, “So, you’ve never played before?”

I actually did. I played one fraction of one round of golf when I was seventeen. My girlfriend at the time — who, unbeknownst to me, was also the captain of the high school golf team — took me golfing once. My golf career started and ended when I realized she could not only aim better, but also hit balls further. There is only so much your prototypical South European can stomach. Also, I might have been overly emotional because after a month of dating I had just met her father for the first time. An occasion he celebrated by presenting me with a Bible, so there was that, too.

But, I digress. I inched towards the ball and took another mighty swing:

FOUL BALL, 1-2

Now, to each their own, but the golfers didn’t strike me as a particularly intelligent bunch. About ten yards in front of us, there were wooden boards with some warnings or rules or something of a kind. Given, they were placed some 45 degrees to the left and to the right from where we were hitting, but when I get an outside pitch, I *will* drive it to the opposite field. I got a really good hang of that little sucker, and propelled it directly to the board, from where it bounced, with seemingly undiminished velocity, back towards a neighboring box, fortunately unoccupied at the moment, from where it took yet another bounce, all on the line, and landed some thirty, forty yards into the field.

By now, I had *everybody’s* attention.

Other instructors scampered around and took down all the boards. Mine asked me if I might not enjoy swinging with less intent and more control. If the leg kick was really necessary. I calmly explained to him that I saw the three individuals batting before me hit measly 60-yard singles, and that if I were to drive them in then, sorry, I couldn’t risk a ground ball to shortstop. That even a strikeout was preferable to double play. That if I get another pitch in that general area, that then, oh boy, will the pitcher cry.

As it was probably too late to call security now, I was given another try. And then they just hung one in the middle of the zone for me:

HOME RUN

To my great shame, I have to admit I failed to do the club flip. In my defense, I did finish the swing one-handed and I took my sweet time admiring the shot. However, the long gaze was not pimping what turned out to be my first ever 600+ ft drive in any sport, it was just that I couldn’t see where that bloody tiny thing went. In fact, I might have not even realized how far it had gone, if not for a 100-decibel shout from behind me.

Which brings me to my wife and to a piece of advice for you young partner-seekers out there. If you ever find a girl who will accompany your dirty ass into a posh golf club, and then raise her arms, walk off and scream “HOME RUN” from top of her lungs over a murmur of checkered-trousers wearers – you know you’ve got yourselves a keeper.

Najbolji nepoznati sportaš svijeta

Ako ne znate tko je Ashton Eaton i ako mislite da je Oregon dio Kanade, niste sami – društvo vam vjerojatno čini i dobar dio žitelja SAD. U medijski najjačoj zemlji svijeta, u zemlji toliko zaljubljenoj u vlastite sportaše da se ligaški pobjednici nazivaju prvacima svijeta, a neamerikanci u izboru za svjetskog sportaša godine pojavljuju rjeđe nego prijenosi Olimpijskih igara uživo na HTV-u, Ashton Eaton je i dalje – nepoznat. Ne pomaže mu niti činjenica da je lako moguće najbolji sportaš u državi, ako ne i na svijetu.

Na dan kada je Usain Bolt osvojio novo zlato, na dan kada je David Rudisha otrčao povijesnu utrku na 800 metara, na dan kada je ženska nogometna reprezentacija SAD u finalu pobijedila Japan, Eaton je ponovo bio relegiran na „u ostalim vijestima: …“. Svjetski rekorder u desetoboju postao je i najmlađi olimpijski pobjednik u posljednjih 20 godina u disciplini u kojoj su dostignuća i hvalospjevi u većem nesrazmjeru no u bilo kojoj drugoj.

Desetoboj, poput skijaške kombinacije, nije televizičan. U doba kada je većini uspjeh zadržati koncentraciju na istoj temi već i pet minuta, višebojci se natječu dva dana. U doba kada našu cijenjenu pažnju zaslužuju samo što noviji i što apstraktniji rekordi, Eaton i ekipa trče sporije od Bolta, skaču niže od Uhova i bacaju kraće od Hartinga. Tko će to gledati? „Ha! 5,20 u skoku s motkom? To ziher mogu i ja, daj pridrži pivu.“

U srpnju je u Rijeci održano Prvenstvo Hrvatske u atletici. S rezultatima s američkih kvalifikacija za Olimpijske igre, Ashton bi bio među pet najboljih u svakoj od 10 disciplina. Uzeo bi sedam medalja, od toga pet zlatnih, i srušio tri državna rekorda. Prije nego što počnete pljuvati po hrvatskoj atletici – sa svojim rezultatima, Eaton bi ušao u polufinale Olimpijskih igara na 100 metara, bio četvrti na 110 prepone i osvojio srebro u skoku u dalj, iako svakoj od tih disciplina posvećuje manje-više desetak posto treninga.

Atletika je kraljica sportova, a najbolji desetobojac je njen kralj. No, već dugo ne živimo u monarhiji, već u svijetu vođenim show businessom i markentinškom propagandom koja je barem toliko važna koliko i sportska dostignuća. Tako će Usain Bolt nakon svoje utrke smireno objasniti svima da je legenda i najveći svih vremena, a američke nogometašice će još na terenu obući sponzorske majice kojima svijetu poručuju da je u njima „pronađena grandioznost“. U nevezanoj vijesti, Nike je u Americi iste sekunde pustio te majice u prodaju za $26,99. Kao što kažu, i hrčak je samo štakor, samo s boljim marketingom.

A Eaton? Nakon pobjede nije bilo niti poza, niti majici, niti velikih izjava. Već zajednička slika sa svim protivnicima, kao uspomena na ono što su postigli. Oni znaju. I svi koji su se ikada bavili ili pokušali baviti atletikom znaju. Zato ćete za vrijeme desetoboja često vidjeti čestitke kojima natjecatelji jedni drugima pokazuju poštovanje. Kada Hans Van Alphen publiku zamoli za podršku prilikom skoka s motkom, prvi će zapljeskati Leonel Suarez, njegov konkurent za medalju. I to neće biti show već pristup sportu u kojem se ne bori protiv protivnika već protiv samoga sebe i svojih granica.

Već danima tražimo najbrže, najviše i najjače. Nitko tom opisu ne odgovara bolje nego desetobojci, kraljevi kraljevske discipline, s Eatonom kao prvim među najboljima. S Eatonom, koji, onako usput, ima i crni pojas u tae-kwon-dou i koji je kao atletičar procvjetao tek kad su mu treneri napokon uspjeli objasniti da je u redu na treninzima biti bolji od ostalih u svakoj disciplini te da to nije znak da se pravi važan. S Eatonom koji živi i trenira u medijski neatraktivnom Oregonu i o kojemu se na Googleu može naći deset puta manje vijesti nego o Hope Solo, vratarki nogometne reprezentacije i 40 puta manje no o Boltu.

Iz polusjene olimpijskih natjecanja desetobojci su se bez pompe povukli u punu sjenu napornih treninga. Sljedeće natjecanje čeka i do onda teba još malo popraviti izdržljivost, snagu, skočnost i brzinu. Još malo poraditi na zaletu za skok u vis, na napadanju prve prepone, na postizanju savršenog slova „C“ pri odskoku skoka s motkom, na pravovremenom otvaranju kukova u bacanju diska ili na koračnoj tehnici skoka u dalj. Valja zaliječiti bolna koljena, laktove i kukove.

Ali, barem mogu u miru trenirati kada se ne moraju brinuti o navali medija, kada se daleko od očiju svijeta moraju, smiju i mogu samo – baviti sportom. Svima im je jasno da bez obzira koliko dobri bili, koliko nevjerojatno dojmljivi bili njihovi rezultati da nikada neće biti zvijezde. Ali, ono za što se bore ionako im ne može donijeti nitko osim njih samih i zato će se i dalje daleko od očiju i slave natjecati za titulu najboljeg nepoznatog sportaša svijeta.

Chasing a dream

A few days after winning the 1994 Amateur Baseball World Series, Jimmy Summers entered the house in Eastern Ohio alone. He was about to negotiate his first baseball contract and all he brought to the meeting was a six-pack of beer, a burning desire to play ball and an open mind.

As he reached the cellar, he saw that Kruno and Damir Karin, the representatives of Baseball Klub Olimpija Karlovac, were already there. The brothers K were standing between the bar and the Ping-Pong table, flashing broad smiles and holding a bottle of vodka.

Jimmy looked at his beer and realized that he had brought a knife to a gun fight.

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Što donosi skijaško sutra?

Ne tako davno, sport je pripadao sportašima. Tradicija, sportski duh, traženje najboljeg među najboljima – sve je to bila bit koja je vukla natjecatelje u vječnu borbu protiv još jedne sekunde, metra ili kilograma. Danas? Danas smo gazde mi – vi i ja – svaki sa svojim daljinskim upravljačem, a sportaši su svedeni na zabavljače čija je svrha postojanja nastup u predstavi koja nas mora zadovoljiti.

Outfield assist of another kind

In a sense, there has been an air of spring training atmosphere around September baseball in Oakland for a while now. Only without the hope part.

The weather is great. The games don’t really decide anything. And not too many watch them to start with.

So, when Jeff Francoeur and his 59-83 Royals rolled into town to take on the 64-77 Athletics last September, the world wasn’t exactly holding its collective breath.

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Sportska priča godine

Dok na tribinama sedamdeset tisuća ljudi drži dah, na travnjaku ispod njih sve je jasno – nakon rovovske borbe i taktičkog nadmudrivanja, njihov klub je na rubu poraza. Preko dva sata svaki od pedesetak igrača Denver Broncosa dao je sve od sebe, ali sada ih može spasiti samo jedan, čovjek koji mora svu odgovornost preuzeti na sebe i biti najbolji u situaciji koja ne obećava mnogo. Ali on vjeruje u sebe, najjači je kad je najteže i vodi svoju momčad do pobjede. Continue reading

Another one bites the dust

I’ll be honest with you.

Had I known from the beginning that the idea of designing a model to estimate the difficulty of blocking every major league pitch is not a new one—let alone a groundbreaking one—I might have spent significant portions of my free time doing stuff that involves sun and physical activity instead. But, I didn’t. And, anyway, as Jovanotti already sang: “Se tutti i grandi libri qualcuno li ha già scritti, mi chiedo ragazzi voi che cosa fate?”

And, yes, I am aware you have no idea who Jovanotti is. Your loss, really.
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