Pressure caved to

The Marathon has been an integral part of New York City’s life for 40 years and is an event tens of thousands of New Yorkers participate in and millions more watch. While holding the race would not require diverting resources from the recovery effort, it is clear that it has become the source of controversy and division. The marathon has always brought our city together and inspired us with stories of courage and determination. We would not want a cloud to hang over the race or its participants, and so we have decided to cancel it. We cannot allow a controversy over an athletic event – even one as meaningful as this – to distract attention away from all the critically important work that is being done to recover from the storm and get our city back on track. The New York Road Runners will have additional information in the days ahead for participants.

- Michael Bloomberg and NY Road Runners, press release.

So there’s that. Since it’s likely being canceled after many runners have already come to the city for the race, I imagine the hotel-room crunch won’t be entirely averted.

My plans to not run a marathon continue unimpeded.

Pele Out Of Context in context

Reader and email correspondent Mark Weinstein set up a Tumblr worth checking out: Pele Out Of Context. It’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like, and features photos like this one:

Today, on Pele’s 72nd birthday, a Brazilian newspaper profiled the site. That’s entertaining enough on its own, but even better when Google-translated from the Portuguese:

Probably only three words are associated with the football so automatic: ball, goal and Pelé. With the help of the first two items, he reinvented the sport and thus was elevated to the rank of King. But not so complete that this gentleman today 72 years of life left to do everything that a mere mortal do in your everyday life.

Who knew this with great wit was the American Mark Weinstein, 37, who created the social network the Tumblr photo blog out of context Pelé (Pelé out of context). He, who works as a book editor and is also a writer, put practically every day pictures Athlete of the Century by doing everything except playing football.

“The idea came when I found myself repeatedly seeing pictures of Pelé off the field. Here is a guy who is arguably the most famous, most photographed athlete of all time (except for maybe Muhammad Ali) and I thought it would be very interesting (and funny) to just depict him as an ordinary person. Seeing the hero of millions making coffee or waiting for the dentist kind of turns the whole idea of ​​celebrity (and celebrity worship) on its ear.”

Also, if you’re ever strapped for band names, just find a newspaper article in practically any other language and run it through an online translator and you’re sure to find something. I think I’d check out “Football So Automatic” if I saw their name on a marquee.

My mother always said, “If you don’t have anything interesting to say, show some watersports accidents.”

This is a busy day, and slow getting started to boot. Sorry about the P.O.D.

Also, speaking of my mother and watersports, this is her favorite movie scene of all-time. We saw this in the theater and she laughed so hard I thought she was going to be escorted out. Fat people falling, foul language and dudes getting hit in the junk with stuff are pretty much my mom’s three favorite things. My mom has a Ph.D.

Man is awesome at carnival games

Check this guy out, via Boing Boing:

Since this came up today and since yesterday marked the 10th anniversary of my brother’s death, an anecdote: I’ve mentioned my brother’s competitive streak before, but nowhere did it present itself more vividly or more hilariously than in games of chance at carnivals and amusement parks. He knew they were mostly scams, of course, but he was cocky enough to think he could beat them anyway. It wasn’t for the prizes, it was for the satisfaction of knowing he could outsmart or outwork the dude trying to take his money, either through physics or willpower or sheer force. Sometimes he actually did.

Anyway, one time, somewhere — either at a county fair upstate or Adventureland out on Long Island — my sister, my brother and I enter one of the multi-player games in which there’s always a winner. You probably know the one: Every contestant pays a dollar for a water gun on a hose facing a little target, and once the buzzer sounds you spray the target while a mechanical horse that corresponds to your position hops along a track to the finish. The winner gets some stuffed animal that is demonstrably crappier than the stuffed animals you think you’re going to get.

Chris was always an awesome older brother to both of us, but he was never the type to let us win at anything. So my sister and I decided to team up in the water-gun/horse-race thing — again, not for the stuffed animal, but just for the satisfaction of beating him at something.

As soon as the buzzer sounded, my siblings both fired at their targets and I turned and fired at my brother’s face. It was an amazing shot, too — I got him right in the left eye. But — and this will tell you something about that competitive streak — he didn’t scare or fire back or put the gun down and kick my ass. He just closed his eye and kept shooting. Pretty sure he won, too.

Also tells you something about cancer, I guess.

Stickball stuff

Adam Doster’s excellent post to the Classical about Chicago’s regional variety of softball got me thinking about the regional baseball-related game popular in my neighborhood growing up.

Throughout high school and college summers, my friends and I played hundreds of stickball games. Some summers, before stuff like jobs and girlfriends got in the way, it seemed like we played nearly every day. We played other sports too, of course — basketball sometimes and pickup tackle football pretty often. But those typically required more guys or more effort than stickball, our default outdoor activity.

There’s some stuff on the Wikipedia about stickball, but it includes descriptions of varieties we never played. Our version is what the Wiki deems “fast-pitch stickball,” requiring a spray-painted strike zone on the side of a school building. We played with a wooden stickball bat — available at the local sporting-good store — and a tennis ball. The balls and strikes rules are the same as regular baseball, with no limit on foul balls or foul tips.

Because games were typically 3-on-3, 2-on-2 or even 1-on-1 in lean times, there was no baserunning. Ground balls fielded cleanly by the pitcher were outs, as were any fly balls caught by a fielder. Ground balls past the pitcher were singles, and doubles, triples and home runs were distinguished by predetermined landmarks at each field. At the place we most frequently played, my old elementary school, doubles were anything on the gravel area built around the playground, triples were past the playground, and home runs — which were more or less impossible — were past the soccer goal on the field behind the playground.

The game emphasized the pitcher-batter matchup, even more so than real baseball. Plus if it’s a 2-on-2 or 3-on-3 game, you get to hit and pitch much more often than you do in a regular 9-on-9 baseball game.

Most of the time, I played with the same rotating group of 8-10 guys, so we developed pretty keen scouting reports on each other. One guy, who was the best pitcher on our high-school’s baseball team and could touch 90 with his fastball, was the only one capable of intimidating hitters with a tennis ball. One guy threw a sneaky curveball on both sides of the plate. Another guy had great control but reliably threw first-pitch fastballs down the middle that you could sit on. I honestly don’t want to get into more detail even now for fear I’ll give something away for some future game, even though we haven’t played in eight years or so. As recently as a few weeks ago at a bachelor party, several of us were sharing notes on the guys that weren’t around.

I sucked at pitching, relying on a crappy slider and a loopy curveball that often got too much plate. But I developed into a decent wrist hitter with a good eye, the best way to succeed in stickball. Also, because the strike zone was painted in the crook of the L-shaped elementary school field and everything that hit the side wall was foul, pulling the ball provided no benefit.

And something funny happened. I quit baseball after Little League because I wasn’t very good and took up lacrosse for a while because physically violent sports better suited my body type and mentality and because it seemed like a better way to stay in shape for football. I played stickball religiously, but didn’t try baseball again until I joined an 18-and-under travel team with some friends. By then — and I am sure it was because of stickball — I could hit a bit, leading the team in OBP and finishing second in batting average. I am sure it was because of stickball because I hit almost everything right back up the middle — either a groundout to the pitcher, a single through the hole, a fly out to the center fielder or an extra-base hit over his head. I’ve been playing baseball in Brooklyn for six years now, and it took me at least the first two to start pulling the ball with any regularity. Also, I still want to play stickball, almost always. Old habits die hard.

Notable area stickball alumni include Taking Back Sunday drummer Mark O’Connell and ESPN host Kevin Connors.

Everything even resembling baseball is pretty awesome. What version did you play?

Will athletes ever stop breaking records?

Even if athletes never got any stronger or faster, and if their techniques and training never changed, they would still break records from time to time. That’s because the ability of each person who decides to compete, and the outcome of each competition, are affected by random processes. What happened on the way to the track that might affect the athletes’ performance? What’s the weather like? And so on. Every sporting event is a matter of chance as well as of achievement, and chance always offers the possibility of a breakthrough.

That said, the mathematics of record-breaking—also known as “extreme-value statistics”—tell us that, all things being equal, the frequency of world records will tend to diminish. At a certain point, we’ll have rolled the dice so many times that the chance of our beating our best score drops close to zero. That’s why new sports and new classes of competitors typically produce more records than old ones. Women athletes weren’t allowed to compete in the Olympic marathon until 1984. Since then, their record time has dropped by about 10 minutes, while the men have managed to shave off only five.

-Daniel Enger, Popular Science.

Good read on one of the more interesting aspects of Olympic competition.

Today in Finnish stuff

Yesterday’s post about Finnish baseball will be pushed off the homepage by this one, so I don’t have to break my rule about not being too Finn-heavy on this blog. And thank heaven for that, because everyone who has ever been to the Internet needs to drop what he or she is doing and take a look at what Meredith passed along.

Apparently, a) From the 1920s through the 1960s in Finland, wrestling matches were typically accompanied by accordion music, and accordion players often received top billing alongside the wrestlers; b) Kimmo Pohjonen, the man known as “the Jimi Hendrix of accordion,” is working to revive this tradition by teaming up with a group of 10 Finnish wrestlers and a choreographer; and c) he’s coming to Lincoln Center next week.

Most importantly, just watch this:

They spinnin’!

Your mini-golf question got me thinking: would you watch a PGA Tour event that took place on an ultra-complex mini-golf course?

- Dan, via email.

What? Yes. Definitely yes. And I never watch regular golf unless for some reason it’s the only palatable thing on TV or there’s some guy with a great beard or hilarious pants or something. Have you seen golf on TV? These guys are awesome at golf, no doubt, so it’s impressive. But it’s just golf guys hitting golf shots, all business-casual, and no matter how many times I say, “wow that guy hit one hell of a golf shot,” I’m always, in the back of my mind, wondering how that guy would fare with Randy Quaid in full hockey-goalie gear menacing him, Caddyshack 2 style.

So yeah, I’m all-in for a PGA Tour event on a full-scale, impeccably maintained mini golf course full of hilarious obstacles, and preferably one that includes human defenders. Because as gorgeous as elegantly manicured lawns with rolling hills and smartly placed sand traps and water hazards can be, nothing is so beautiful as a stark-raving-mad Randy Quaid dolling out wedgies on behalf of the proletariat. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say I’d travel to play said full-scale mini-golf course, taking my chances against the Peter Blunt system.

As for my mini-golf question from last week, this weekend I found a course that nearly met my requirements. Unfortunately, it’s not very close to New York.

Last I played Sunset Playland in Bennington, Vt., the course looked forlorn, with too-trodden artificial turf guiding balls into holes and cracking concrete under empty one-time water hazards. Last I saw the place, it appeared closed for good, a sad reminder of fun times spent there with my family in summers past.

But upon passing it while en route to breakfast at the spectacular Blue Benn diner with my wife Saturday morning, I spotted a freshly painted course with brand-new obstacles including a windmill on the old first hole that appeared apt to meet my stated desire for “one colorful moving object somewhere on the field of play.”

We returned later to find that, indeed, Sunset Playland offered everything I was looking for in an outdoor mini-golf course, save the (rather important) short ride from the city. And, perhaps amped up by the discovery, I started off playing as good mini golf as I can ever remember.

My wife is normally good for nine competitive holes of mini golf before she loses focus and fades on the back 9, but this time she struggled from the outset. The battle, from the outset, was between me and par for the course.

Now, I don’t know who determines the par on a mini-golf course, or even, really, why there always is one noted on the scorecard. I’m not aware of any USMGA. At many places — including Sunset Playland — the pars for many holes seem somewhat arbitrary, with plenty of par-2s more difficult than par-3s, and so on.

But as far as I’m concerned, once you’ve cemented a victory over everyone else in your party, every mini golfer should play to beat the course’s par. At an amateur level, this sport is about personal bests, after all. And I must admit now that I’ve never parred or beaten the par for a mini golf course in my life. Maybe you have and you’ll tell me about it in the comments section. I won’t be ashamed. My mini golf game normally hinges on the type of high-risk, high-reward play that often results in a couple of sixes on the scorecard and at least one frustrated on-course meltdown.

This time, I played conservatively from the outset and shot two-below on the front 9. Perhaps due to nerves, my game grew shakier on the back half of the course, and I bogeyed a couple to fall even. The 15th hole featured a barn obstacle with a tunnel only slightly larger than the golf ball in its base and an obvious wimps-way-out around the side. Sitting even with par and realizing this was my chance for mini-golf glory, I shot for the tunnel and nailed it. On 99 percent of mini-golf courses around the country, putting one cleanly into such a tunnel with the right amount of force means a hole-in-one or a gimme putt for 2 — which would have been good for a birdie. But here, apparently, the tunnel was a trap. The ball rolled straight out the backside into a rocky hazard, and it took me an extra stroke to play out of it. Plus one.

I was still within sight of parring the course come Sunset Playland’s 17th hole, which has flummoxed me since my youth. The Par-3 starts with a narrow, bending, steeply inclined track, the top of which features a hole that sends the ball down a tube and out onto the green below, like this:

Getting the ball to the top of the incline requires a strong putt, but a ball hit too hard that misses the hole on top might bounce off the rocky waterfall and roll all the way back down to where you’re standing. It needs a perfect touch, and one I apparently lack. I hit the ball way too hard, sending it skipping up the incline, where it hit against the back wall and bounced into the grassy area between the incline and the green.

Since the course’s final hole — the ball-collector hole — is a Par 1, I needed a miracle. Rather than taking the one-stroke penalty and providing myself some forgiving drop on the course, I opted to play through from the grass. This is definitely not safe or sanctioned mini-golf play, but par was on the line. So I chipped the ball back toward the green, successfully launching it over the concrete barrier and, in fact, right on line with the hole. But it bounced over the hole and off the course again, destroying my dreams of glory. After another failed chip, I took the drop, humbled.

The part of Randy Quaid, Saturday, was played by this cartoon cow:

It taunts me still.