My favorite baseball team has been in a slump for over 20 years, and this year, their season is not starting well. Could poetry help in any way?

— Henry

I’m going to give you two answers: one that reflects my idealistic opinion that poetry can fix everything by virtue of simply being itself, and one that is more practical (but ultimately reflects the idea that poetry can fix everything).

The Poetry-Can-Fix-Everything-Simply-By-Being-Poetry Solution: Fans have shouted chants and slogans and other lines of light verse to opposing teams for years: “We want a pitcher/ Not a belly itcher!”  Nowadays, there isn’t so much of that clever heckling going on, so I think you should bring it back. This advice does come from my inner 10-year-old, so take it with a grain of salt:  Write some jeering lines of light verse for every fielder and shout them or print them on posters… More…

 

Based on the headlines I’ve skimmed, the World Series spurs a lot of questions — questions I don’t really care about involving starters and lineups and blah blah blah. I’ve got a question: How about that Philly Phanatic?!

If the Phanatic takes top billing this Series it’s partly because, well, New York doesn’t have a mascot. I suppose it reflects a minimalist sensibility that non-New York cities lack the confidence to adopt, but whatever the reason, the absence of a mascot is a point of pride. In a 2001 New York Times story on the injuries sports mascots suffer in the line of duty — broken legs, heat exhaustion — writer George Vecsey noted: “It is a tribute to my hometown, New York, that mascots are generally not seen cavorting on the playing fields. New York fans become engrossed… More…

Making too much of the gender divide is outmoded nowadays, and yet there are areas where the division still holds. One is the area of narrative. Women like it; men don’t. Granted, if you walk into a random funeral, you’re going to hear a narrative when they give the eulogy, whether the person in the casket is a man or a woman. But I’m talking about a tolerance for narrative beyond the bare bones (or dead body) variety. When it comes to that, women want more, men less. It’s the old foreplay-versus-sex-act thing, and it translates into other diversions — like fine dining (women like the ambience, men the food) and movies (women like character-delving plots — i.e. French movies; men like action films — i.e. anything with weapons or, barring that, anything not French). The whole thing can be boiled down to a simple dichotomy: Women like stories, men… More…

At the bouldering gym my instructor was wearing a shell-and-nut necklace. A choker, really. He was ripped and humble like most climbers, with the defined veiny forearms of a heroin addict, but the good nature and good looks of someone who gets high the natural way: from climbing rocks and walls.

I hadn’t been at all sure about even moving from my futon to the floor in the morning. But when I feel that way, sometimes I make myself leave my bed, get out of my house, and pursue some activity anyway, just to make things better. I left, the morning faded, and by late afternoon I was at the bouldering gym deciding that a sport like this, something done by healthy, hip people who probably love to get out of bed in the morning, sounded promising, so I decided to take a beginner’s lesson.

Oberlin College is a Division III school better known for incubating Ph.D.s than pro athletes. Athletic events attract a smattering of fans. The sports teams lose with astounding regularly. The last time the Yeomen made national news was when the football team ended a 44-game losing streak in 2001. Academically, athletes are, taken as a whole, the weakest group on campus, according to a study of athletics at selective schools. Many varsity athletes are outliers on campus; they are generally recruited from traditional jock cultures, and often feel alienated from the rest of a student body so clichéd as a bastion of queer, vegan, hipster progressivism that Gawker dubbed it the “most annoying liberal arts college in the country.”

I was a varsity athlete at Oberlin some 20 odd years ago. I can prove it to you by showing you the team photo on the walls of Philips Gymnasium. There… More…

When I first visited Paris many years ago, I’d assumed the old racquet sport of Jeu de Paume was a mere historical footnote, as extinct from the city as the monarchical elite who once played it. Like most tourists in Paris, I’d come to associate “Jeu de Paume” with contemporary art (from the Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, near the Louvre) or the French Revolution (which was stoked by the 1789 Serment du Jeu de Paume at Versailles), but it never occurred to me that actual Frenchmen might still be playing the Ur-tennis game that peaked in popularity 400 years ago.

Hence my fascination when, on a warm day in Paris earlier this year, I discovered a thriving Jeu de Paume club along a quiet street in the 16th arrondissement. Watching French businessmen bashing the felt-and-cork ball across the elegantly sagged net with asymmetrical wooden racquets, I felt as… More…

The other night I went to women’s roller derby. The Penn Jersey She Devils were playing Canada’s Hammer City. I didn’t have a clue what roller derby was, but I’d been intrigued to read in the local paper that this was National Roller Derby Hall of Fame Weekend, and it was being celebrated in the New Jersey town next to my own.

The game was held at the Mount Laurel International Sports Centre — another surprise. I had no idea there was an international sports centre so close to where I live. As it turns out, I had passed the International Sports Centre many times without knowing it. It was that warehouse-like building next to the strip mall where my allergist has his office.

When I arrived at the International Sports Centre, there were about 50 roller derby fans waiting at the door. They were a lively group, amply adorned… More…

Figure skating is the quintessential American sport, not merely because it is fiercely individualistic while at the same time incredibly conformist, but also because the athletes and fans, like the American electorate, have an extraordinarily high tolerance for corruption. It is surprising that the sport is not more popular in the U.S. It has long been the most popular sport in the Winter Olympics, but that is probably damning with faint praise because winter sports tend not to be very popular spectator sports, what with the standing out in the cold and all that. Still, figure skating has experienced a marked decline in popularity in recent years, so much so that the United States Figure Skating Association, now known simply as U.S. Figure Skating, lost its long-standing television contract with ABC and has had to accept what is rumored to be a much less lucrative arrangement with NBC.

There has… More…

Heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis had just beaten a suddenly old Mike Tyson that evening at The Pyramid, and now Dad and I were back in the courtyard of our hotel in suburban Memphis, far from the crowds that spilled from the arena and choked the highways leading from downtown. I remember thinking as we sat there how the years had accumulated on him, how he had been unable to walk even short distances in the clammy haze that June week without breathing hard; I had to drop him off at the door wherever we went. But even so it had been a busy trip, full of big meals and good cigars and long conversations punctuated with laughter. He had never been in better spirits than when he had work to do, nor happier than when he had some jingle in his kick.

He’d come to Memphis to begin a book… More…