Category: sports


Now it’s time for me to give you the ten summer Olympic events I can most easily imagine myself doing, whether that’s because I have some experience with them, because I think they fit my personality, or just because I think they might be fun.

 

10.  Sailing

I love to watch the sailing competitions.  Boy, do they look like fun.  Cutting through the water on a clear day, leaning out over the side of the small craft to steer it, using your weight to angle the sail and catch the wind just right.

Of course, I don’t know the first thing about operating a boat– it’s complex enough keeping track of where you are going in a motorboat, let alone a tiny sail craft that will capsize if you lean too far.  So I’m under no illusion that it would be easy to learn.

I’d have to start out by asking my girlfriend Megan to give me some lessons in how to pilot a boat– she at least has some experience in the area, even if it wasn’t as tiny a boat as the craft they race in the Olympics.  And that sounds like fun.  : )
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We’re now into events that I have an easier time imagining myself competing in– at least in a dream.  🙂   In this part of the list, the event as a whole might seem fun, but there’s usually one or two things about it that give me pause.

20. Field events

Another big category lumped together. Basically, you have jumping (the long jump, triple jump, high jump, and pole vault) and throwing (the shot put, discus, javelin, and hammer).

I’ve never been terribly interested in these events, but I like the simplicity of just seeing who can jump the farthest or the highest. I used to try to see how far I could jump with a running start when I was a kid (and much more flexible). I liked the feeling of spinning around, too, so I was always entertained by the way athletes use centrifugal force to throw the discus and hammer.

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Continuing up the list– now we’re into the realm of events I still can’t imagine myself doing, but at least I don’t picture them as pure torture– there’s maybe one thing intriguing about the idea of participating in them.

30.  Judo

I’ve enjoyed watching the judo competition, particularly the amazing dominance of American gold medalist Kayla Harrison in her weight class.  But the thought of being caught in one of her game-clinching pins makes me cringe.  Those big fuzzy blue and white robes the judoka wear in the competition look really comfortable, though, so I had to move judo up the list a few notches just for that.

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Olympic dreams: Part 1

I love watching the Olympics.  Ever since I was little, I was fascinated by all of the countries and flags, the stats and record-keeping, and the amazing variety of events.  At a time when there’s a lot of negativity and stress in the news, it’s inspiring to see what people all over the world can do when they devote their time and energy to becoming the best at something they love.

It must be an amazing experience to win an Olympic gold medal and realize that all of your hard work has paid off.  Ordinarily I’d say that I have no idea what that’s like, because I’m not athletically gifted at all, but actually, I sort of do in a strange way.  When I was living alone working on my master’s degree in Texas, I watched a lot of the 2006 Torino winter Olympics, and I had an incredible dream one night.

I dreamed that I was being awarded a medal in the Olympics!  The ceremony was just like what I had seen on TV, outdoors in the snow near the Olympic torch.  Usually when I have a dream that’s clear enough to remember, it’s because I become aware that I’m dreaming (and that wakes me up).  But this dream felt real.  I woke up with a smile on my face, because I felt like I had actually experienced winning an Olympic medal.  Strange, I know.

One thing that was never clear in my dream was what event I had competed in.  I think that if I had tried to figure that out, I would have realized I was dreaming, because the impossibility of the scenario would have become too obvious.  😉

I still think of that dream every time the Olympics come around.  During this summer’s Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro, I’ve been changing channels like crazy, trying to see as many different events as possible.  The morning I started this post, I watched eight different events over the course of three hours.  It gave me the idea for a blog post.
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Hi!  It’s been a while since I’ve posted here.  There are some new things going on, though.

Probably the biggest is that I have a new part-time job!  I’m editing articles for an online physics journal.  Like my previous job reviewing English papers, it’s work I can do from home, but unlike it, I find it really interesting rather than stressful, so I have been able to get more work done.

I’m mostly doing copyediting for consistency in things like spelling, punctuation, and style of the reference list.  It definitely helps to have some familiarity with physics so that I can recognize the terminology, but thankfully I don’t need to understand everything the writers are talking about, because it’s really advanced stuff!

My coworkers/bosses have been really patient and helpful with all of the questions I have asked about specific grammar and style rules.  (I always have a lot of questions.)  So it’s not full-time employment yet, but I think it’s a step in the right direction, and I’m thankful for that!

I have also been continuing to try to develop my social skills; there is a local young adults Bible study that I’ve started going to.  It’s frustrating to me how little information I retain from talking to people, but I think I am beginning to remember a few names.

Other things that have kept me busy are watching our energetic dogs and following the crazy football season that’s been going on.

I have often thought about things I’d like to post about on this blog, but sadly most of those things fade from my memory when I don’t have time to write (or more often, the words to put them into).  I’d like to get to writing again, and I have at least one idea of something new to try for the video game posts, but we’ll see about that.  It seems that in order to write more, I need to think less, and the results are not always good if I do that.

Anyway, thanks for visiting, readers!

We attended two church services while we were in Germany, but I’m having trouble remembering the exact details of when and where they were.  One service was in German, in a large, old church building.  Since I didn’t understand a word of the sermon, I didn’t feel guilty about not getting much out of it.  The hymns were pretty, but I didn’t sing along since I had no idea what I’d be singing if I did.

The other service was a worship meeting at a church that had a lot of visitors from other countries.  It was much less formal, but it was in English.  We sang worship songs and heard a couple of personal testimonies; there wasn’t really a message– it was actually more of an announcement of how they weren’t going to meet at the same time anymore.

Some other random memories of exploring Berlin:

— There were big, colorful painted statues of bears all over the place.  Based on a Web search I just did, the bear statue custom has since spread to many cities around the world, but it apparently all started that very summer, 2001 in Berlin.

— I really like drinking soda (or pop; whichever word you prefer), so I thought it would be a bit tough to get used to drink refills not being free at restaurants in Europe like they are in the United States.  (Really!  In the U.S., you can just go back and refill your cup of soda by yourself in a lot of place!)

But I survived somehow.  ; )  Actually, I discovered a new favorite soda thanks to my trip to Europe:  Fanta.  There was a grapefruit or other citrus-flavored variety that I tried in France, and then in Germany, I discovered orange Fanta, and it ended up supplanting orange Crush on my list of favorites.  I was surprised when I came home and found that they had sold Fanta in the U.S. too all along.

— We visited a department store, with multiple floors and everything!  These seem to be pretty much gone in the U.S., replaced by miniature versions in malls.  I found a computer with Internet access and used it to check on how the Pittsburgh Steelers were doing in their season opener.  They were losing 21-3 in the second half to Jacksonville.

— German is cool because it has an extra letter that English doesn’t have, the eszett: ß.  It’s basically a double S.  The place I saw it the most was on road signs, because the German word for “street” is straße (strasse).

Previously, I had only ever seen the eszett in a shape that looked like a rounded letter “B,” like this:  
But most of the street signs in Berlin used a different shape: 

The eszett on these signs looked a lot like the letters “fs” combined into one symbol, and I realized where the letter had come from.  English used to have two ways to write the lowercase letter “s.”  The most common way made it look a lot like a lowercase “f.”  The short “s” was only used if it came at the end of a word, or if it immediately followed another “s.”  So, for instance, on the Bill of Rights, the end of the word “Congress” looks like this:

Does that look familiar?  If you merge the two letters together, you get the eszett from the Berlin street signs.  If you smooth the letter out so it can be written quickly, you get the more common ß.

I know this is probably stuff that everyone in Germany learns in preschool, but it was fun to figure out, at least for me.

— Sadly, the only German words I really retained from my trip were the basic numbers.  I learned them when I was playing a fun card game with my classmates.  It was like Uno, in that the object was to get rid of all of your cards.  But we kept adding rules to it until it was almost impossible to keep track of them all, and every time someone was caught breaking a rule, they had to draw more cards as a penalty.  One of our rules was to say the value of the card in German.

We visited two Berlin museums, the Egyptian Museum of Berlin and the Pergamon Museum.  There were a lot of incredible and beautiful artifacts; I ended up taking a lot of pictures (not the one shown here; this is one I just found with a Google image search).

The Ishtar Gate

The most amazing thing was the Ishtar Gate, which was built in about 575 BC in Babylon under the rule of King Nebuchadnezzar.  It is almost 50 feet high, made of bricks that are glazed blue and gold.  In the wall are raised images of lions and dragons.  “Daniel walked through this gate,” said Dr. B. with a little tremor in his voice.  The prophet Daniel was led captive from Jerusalem when he was a teenager to serve in the king’s court and spent the rest of his life in a foreign land.

Seeing the impressiveness of the gate made me think about the bravery of Daniel and his friends to trust in the power of the God they could not see rather than the power of the king, which was on display all around them every day in Babylon.  They remained faithful, even when threatened with death, and even when faced with the passage of many years far from home.

One time when I was visiting my grandparents in western Pennsylvania, I was riding in the car with my grandfather when he pointed out a driveway.  “That’s where Bill Mazeroski lives,” he said.

Bill MazeroskiI looked out the car window in silent thought.  There was nothing that stood out about the driveway that disappeared into the woods, nothing that said “A Hall-of-Famer lives here.”  It was humble and unassuming, much like the man himself, based on everything I had read about the Pirates second baseman.

This past Sunday, on his 74th birthday, Bill Mazeroski was honored with the unveiling of a statue at PNC Park.  The statue, based on a photograph from 50 years ago, shows “Maz” in a leaping stride, arms outstreched, batting helmet in his hand, with a look of joy on his face.

“I’m overwhelmed,” said the man on whom the statue was based.  “I can’t believe this could happen to me, a little guy from a coal town on the Ohio River.  Geez, who could have ever dreamed of something like this?”

In all likelihood, it’s a dream that almost anyone who has played with a bat and ball has imagined at least once.  You’re batting in the biggest game there is, Game 7 of the World Series.  It’s the bottom of the 9th inning, and the score is tied.  You wait for the pitch, hit a deep fly ball, start rounding the bases, and hear the crowd roar as the ball goes over the outfield fence to win the championship for your team.

Countless people have surely imagined it, but in over a century of World Series baseball, only one has lived it.  And one of the most endearing things about Bill Mazeroski is that he seems to be more amazed by it than anyone.

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In my last post, I talked about some of the things about being an “Aspie” that can be depressing.  In this one, I want to talk about one of the things that’s awesome about it– and that is the enjoyment I get out of doing something related to my “special interest.”

The past couple of weeks, I’ve been working on writing some code in Javascript for my football Web site that will generate a graphical record of every drive in a football game from a set of numbers and names.

For example, the code will create this image…

… if you enter this data:

[[“kick”, 30, “S.Hauschka”], “pit”, 14, “G.Russell”, 34, 84, 7, “3:38”, [“FG”, 34, “good”, “J.Reed”]]

The image represents a kickoff from the Baltimore 30 to the Pittsburgh 14, returned to the Pittsburgh 34.  Pittsburgh drives 50 yards in 7 plays to the Baltimore 16 using 3:38 on the game clock.  Finally, Pittsburgh tries a 34-yard field goal, which is good.

All of the data comes from the list of numbers and names.  (In case you’re wondering, the player names would show up in info boxes when you move your mouse pointer over one of the lines in the image; I didn’t demonstrate that in this example.)

There are typically 25-35 drives in a football game.  If I tried to make images like the one above manually, I could do it, but it would take me days to create the image for a single game, and I’d never be able to keep up with all the games I’d like to cover for my site.  But if I can use Javascript to generate the image automatically, all I will need are the numbers and names.
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Baseball is a team sport, but every play begins with a pitch.  The pitcher has more direct influence on the entire game than any other position, which is why baseball statistics assign wins and losses to pitchers, not to shortstops or right fielders.

It’s also why pitching can be one of the most high-pressure roles in pro sports.  All nine players take their turns trying to score runs, but it’s primarily the pitcher’s job to keep the other team’s batters from getting on base.  Managers are evaluated, criticized, and even fired over the decisions they make about when to pull a tired pitcher out of a game and who should replace him.

Phillies celebrate Halladay's perfect game

The Phillies celebrate after Roy Halladay completes the 20th perfect game in major league history.

The best possible outcome for a pitcher is a perfect game, a game in which not even one opposing batter is allowed to reach base.  This is harder to do than pitching a no-hitter, because there are several ways for a batter to get on base without getting a hit.

Nine innings, three outs in each– 27 opposing batters will come to the plate in a perfect game.  The pitcher can’t allow a single hit.  There must be no fielding errors (bad throws or misplayed balls) that allow a runner to reach base.  The pitcher must not hit a single batter with a pitch, and– perhaps hardest of all– he must not walk a single batter.

In 27 consecutive at-bats, the only acceptable outcomes are a strikeout, a ball caught in the air by a fielder, or a ball scooped up and thrown to first base before the batter can make it there.

A perfect game is certainly a testament to the pitcher’s skill, but it also requires a lot of luck– many of the things that need to happen for a perfect game to take place are outside of the pitcher’s control.  The outfielders need to anticipate where the ball is likely to be hit and be in the right place to catch it.  The infielders need to have quick reflexes and be on target with their throws.  The umpire needs to have a perfect game as well.

Needless to say, recording a perfect game is a huge accomplishment.  In the 135-year history of major league baseball, there have been only 20 perfect games.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have been around for most of that time, but the Pirates have never had a perfect game.

They just had a game that was even better.

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Roberto Clemente

Roberto Clemente

For most sports fans, the Pittsburgh Pirates have become synonymous with losing baseball.  They are currently working on their 18th consecutive season of losing more games than they have won, and there’s no indication that streak won’t continue.  I was 12 years old the last time they were good.

But I’ll still always be a Pirates fan.  How could I not be?  I’ve cheered the Steelers and Penguins on as they won championships for Pittsburgh, which is more than some die-hard sports fans get to see.  What kind of fan would I be if I gave up on the Pirates?

Historically, the Pirates have a lot of great moments to look back on.  They are one of the National League’s oldest teams, and they own 5 World Series championships.  And they’ve done some things that no other major league team has done.

One of the things that gives the sport of baseball its charm is its eclectic set of statistics.  The stats for football are measured in familiar terms like yards and seconds.  But baseball is a weird game; it has its own language with things like at-bats, earned runs, and 4-6-3 double plays.  In the oddest cases, the statistics become more important than the game itself (something that I don’t always agree with).   A batter purposely stops at first base in order to record a single because he already has a double, triple, and home run.  A crowd stays breathlessly to the end of a game that is not even close because the pitcher has a chance to record a perfect game.  It’s all because of the chance to see or do something so rare that you can list all of the players who have done it on one page.

I sometimes think my Asperger’s may have something to do with my enjoyment of watching and reading about games to see the patterns that emerge– no two games exactly alike, but some beautiful in their uniqueness.  It’s like throwing a handful of sand into the air to see the patterns that emerge as it spreads in the wind.  But I think it’s probably a human thing to find enjoyment and comfort in watching for patterns.

Anyway, the Pittsburgh Pirates have their share of unique history.  Within the space of 5 years, three players on the Pirates each accomplished a different feat that has been done only once– it had never happened before and has not happened since, even with all of the hundreds of major league baseball games played each year.

Let’s begin with a question:  What is the most impressive outcome possible for a batter in a single time at bat?

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