Courting the Good Life

This article by me 1st appeared in The Prices Do DC

Any good sales person will tell you you need to push a product while it’s hot. That’s why, with the Washington Wizards in the NBA playoffs for the 1st time in 6 years, it wasn’t surprising that the Verizon Center was offering private, personalized visits to encourage wealthy fans to buy complete playoff and full season ticket packages.

But what was surprising is that I got one of the invites. As a retired journalist and educator who now blogs about DC, I don’t fit the profile of a DC-area elite. But hey – what’s the old saying: you don’t look a gift to spend an hour touring the Verizon Center in the mouth.

So with my wife Judy (who makes all the financial decisions for our family and I was still hoping that maybe I could see the playoff games for the $21 I had in my wallet) we headed by Metro (what did you expect – a chauffeur-driven limousine?) to the Center, which serves as the home for the Wizards, the ice hockey Capitals, the WNBA Mystics, and the Georgetown Hoyas basketball team.

We were met by our young, enthusiastic sales rep. I was upfront with him. I told him unless he had a $21-dollar package for the playoffs I wouldn’t be buying. I was fairly certain of his response since I had spent much more for a sandwich dinner at the venue at a recent Sting/ Paul Simon concert. I prepared to head back out the door.

Instead, he offered a huge table of free refreshment (where was he at that Sting/Simon concert?) and proceeded to give us an engaging tour of the facility he knew extremely well. I told him I would be blogging about the visit and he had only one request – I couldn’t use his name since he couldn’t be quoted in an official capacity for the organization. So for the sake of this blog, I will call our guide RGS (for really good salesperson).

We started at the top of the facility with the private and corporate boxes with their big screen TVs and individual bathrooms.  We moved down the sections, where still-available playoff seats were marked in white. We explored the 3 private clubs for season ticket holders, each one bigger than the next. One is located in the bowels of the building so you can feel even more a part of the action. In that section, we saw the stored-section-by-section floor for basketball and the zambonis that fix up the ice at hockey games. We visited the locker room areas. We even saw the in-site parking space for owner Ted Leonis.

RGS then escorted us down to court side. We sat at the scorer’s table. We sat in several different court side seats. And, may I say, the court side experience is much different than the in-the-heavens view I usually get.  My wife gave me her now-don’t-get-used-to-this-kind-of-life-look. I knew she was right, but for a second or two, I closed my eyes and imagined what sports is like when springing for court side seats is no financial barrier.

RGS asked us if we had any final questions. We said we didn’t and shook hands. Our tour was over.

But then a strange thing happened. As underdogs, the Wizards won both their away playoff games in Chicago against the Bulls. That means they will be returning tonight to the Verizon Center with a 2-0 lead in the best of 7 series. It also means that since my visit to the Center the Wizards are undefeated.

Now the sports world is well-known for its emphasis on lucky signs. Maybe I am one for the Wizards. So Mr. Ted Leonis, I have a special offer for you. I would be willing to become a season-ticket holder. Your salesperson RGS already gave me a great taste of what that life is like. I am sure I would be able to handle it.

Now I realize you are a business man. I am not asking for a free handout. I would be willing to pay $17.76 cents for the package. I would have paid you $21, but I bought an Arizona diet green tea drink.

I think you should seriously consider my offer. Imagine how much money you would make with an undefeated team. For a $17.76 outlay, that would be quite a bargain. In fact, that would make you one of the world’s great financial wizards. I will wait your reply. By the way, I am also available for the Caps and the Mystics if you want to try for an undefeated trifecta.

Taking the Olympic Stand to Take an Activist Stand

By Dave Price

This post first appeared in The Price Do Dc

It is one of the most dramatic, revolutionary pictures of all-time. Two young black men, just moments removed from winning track medals in the 1968 Olympics, standing on the medal-platform, heads down, a single back-gloved fist raised in the air in silent protest.

And tonight, 43 years later, John Carlos, one of those historic figures, appeared at the Busboys and Poets bookstore along with sports writer Dave Zirin,to discuss the book The John Carlos Story they had co-written.

In a lengthy, highly entertaining, often hilarious monologue, Carlos detailed his life which led him from the streets of Harlem to his historic moment in Mexico. Initially, he said, there has been much discussion of a boycott of the 1968 games by black American athletes to protest conditions for blacks here and in white-dominated African countries.

That boycott was to receive full support from Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.  In fact, Carlos said he had a chance to meet with King, who was then embroiled in a trashmen’s dispute in Memphis, and asked him why, with death threats escalating, he continued his crusade.

Carlos said Dr. King very simply told him: “John, I have to go back to stand for those who won’t stand 
for themselves and I have to go back to stand for those who can’t stand for themselves.”

Within months, Dr. King was assassinated and the boycott idea was dead. However, Carlos and his running mate Tommie Smith vowed to take some kind of a stand. And so, when Smith finished 1st and Carlos 3rd in the 200, an eternal visual symbol of protest came to be.

Interestingly, while all the focus was on the gloved raised fists, there were other aspects of the protest. Both athletes wore necklaces for lynchings of blacks in the South and  stepped up to the podium without shoes to call attention to the plight of the poor. Carlos further left his track suit unzipped in a sign of solidarity with oppressed workers.

Zirin, who is one of the most socially conscious sports writers in America today, said he had 2 major questions when he and Carlos started the book.  The first was – why did you risk what you did? (and indeed the  fallout was nasty and long-lasting).  Zirin indicated that perhaps the answer to that could best be explained in a quote on the front cover of the book:”How can you ask someone to live in the world and not have something to say about injustice?”

The second, and perhaps even more important question, Zirin said is – why does what Carlos did still seem to matter so much and resonate so loudly? “We still have injustice today and it’s still important for people to take a stand. John did that. And he paid for his stand, but he says he really had no other choice – it was the right thing to do,” Zirin said.

A Father’s Day Tale of Fathers, and Sons, and Sports Fandom

This article 1st appeared in The Prices Do DC

Sports loyalties, like so many of our character traits, are often a combination like environment and heredity. You know, like nature and nurture. Or, to be more accurate, geography and family.

Where you were born has a lot to do with who you root for. For example, if you were born in Ohio, there is a good chance you will be a Cleveland Indians fan, no matter how you feel about the treatment of America’s Indians. That’s unless your Dad or another favorite relative has always been a die-hard Baltimore Orioles fan. Then there’s a good chance you might take the O’s over the Indians. Of course, in cities with 2 teams like New York (Yanks/Mets) or Chicago (Cubs/White Sox) the fandom choice is more murky.

I was born in Philadelphia. For 59-and-one-half-years I lived in South Jersey, except for 4 years when I went to college at Villanova University, located just a few train stops from downtown Philly. And, for all of those years – no surprise here – I was a Phillies fan. My father was from Texas and had been raised in Washington state, neither of which at the time had a baseball team. So, when he arrived in South Jersey after World War II, he became a Phillies fan, too.

I have a whole host of memories of watching games on our black-and-white TV with my Dad, or listening by to the radio, or, most importantly of all, sitting with him in the bleachers at the Old Connie Mack Stadium where the game really came alive. 

I’ll share just 2. My favorite non-Phil (and my Dad’s, too) was St. Louis Cardinal Hall of Famer Stan Musial. I remember my Dad fighting his way through a crowd to get me Musial’s autograph. He got his hat knocked off, received a cut on his bald head, but emerged with my prize. 

Then there was Father’s Day, Sunday, June 21, 1964. Every Sunday, my Dad would take my Mother and me out somewhere in South Jersey for a family late lunch. It was tradition. But on that particular Sunday, our dining tradition bumped up against an even stronger tradition, one that involved a bat and ball, not a knife and a fork. As always, we were listening to the ballgame on the way to the restaurant when it became apparent that this particular game could be a piece of baseball history. Jim Bunning, the Phils pitcher, was hurling that rarity of rarities, a perfect game. My Dad turned the car around and rushed us home so we could see the last few innings. It was a good move. For, on this day, Bunning, who later became a Congressman and U.S. Senator from Kentucky, was perfect. He pitched a game with no runs, no hits, no walks, no errors.

I tell all of this as background for last night. Last year, after we retired, my wife and I left South Jersey and moved to Crystal City, Virginia, a community that is even closer to Washington, D. C. and its hometown baseball team the Washington Nationals than Villanova was to Philly. And, for the 1st time this season, we were going to see the Nats, who were playing the Phils. The fate of the 2 teams had completely reversed this year. The Nats, proverbial also-rans, were in 1st place. There was an excitement about their young team and its season. The Phils, an Eastern Division power for years, were in last place, 14 games behind the Nationals.
In fact, just hours before the game, the Phils had made it clear that they had abandoned their chances for this year by trading 2 of their starting outfielders, one to the Dodgers and one to the Giants, for younger prospects. I joked on Facebook that I hoped I would recognize the team by game time.

Now, I figured I had learned my sports lesson in loyalty from the musical West Side Story, “When You’re a Jet You’re a Jet All the Way …” But I wondered as we approached the field for the game’s 7 p.m. start – would my love of my new city D.C. have any impact on my long-standing feelings for my Phils?

Well, the Phils made quick work of my doubts. Even though the Nationals were using their best pitcher, the Phils jumped to a 2-0 lead in the 2nd inning by way of a home run from a young fill-in 3rd baseman. The Phils continued to expand that lead throughout the rest of the game. The final score was 8-0 and, in the parlance of old-time sports writers, it wasn’t really that close. The Phils’ pitcher Cliff Lee, who had won only 1 game prior to last night, looked like the all-star he had been. There was even a 2-run inside the park home run off the bat of long-time Phils shortstop Jimmy Rollins.

I left the game as I had entered it – still a Phils fan. Of course, that’s easy when your team is winning. The Phils have 2 more games with the Nats. Maybe, just to be sure on that fan thing, you should check back on Friday. 

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
I can’t wait to see how fandom turns out for my 2 grandchildren, Audrey, who is 4-and-a-half, and Owen, who is 3. Their mother, an avid sports fan, is a Massachusetts girl and that means all things Boston. For her, it is Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics, Bruins. Like me, their father is Philly with a capital PH. That’s Phillies, Eagles (or Iggles if you are a true aficionado of the team and its legendary Boo-Birds fans), 76ers, and Flyers. When it comes to college and basketball, the family rift is even worse. Shannon is die-hard Duke. If you could bleed blue, she would. Michael is a huge ABD (Anybody But Duke). So far, as a family, they have lived in Reno, Nevada and Knoxville, Tennessee, neither of which have pro teams. (Although both Audrey and Owen did wear a lot of orange during their Knoxville years) Just last month, the family moved to Atlanta for a few years. Can you say Braves, Falcons, and Hawks?

It’s Dead + Nats = No Hats for Us

Bob Weir, Jerry Garcia and Vince Welnick perform the National Anthem at opening day 2013 in
San Francisco

When considering the Grateful Dead, you probably don’t think about baseball. But the still popular improvisational San Francisco jam band and the game known as the national pastime have a strong connection.

Original Dead co-guitarist Bob Weir is a baseball fan. In fact, it was reported a few years ago that Weir was considering working on a music project involving famed Negro League pitcher Satchell Paige. 

The Dead first came to widespread prominence during the 1967 San Francisco-based Summer of Love and a love affair of sorts was born between Weir and the hometown Giants. In 1993, Weir, along with now-deceased Grateful Dead members, guitarist Jerry Garcia and keyboardist Vince Welnick, sang the National Anthem at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park for the Giants opening day game against the Florida Marlins Weir and former Dead bassist Phil Lesh also sang the anthem for a 2014 National League Championship game in the City by the Bay.

Now calling themselves Dead and Company, the remaining original members of the band – Weir and drummers Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart with newcomers John Mayer, Oteil Burbridge, and  Jeff Chimenti continue to perform sold-out concerts across the country. Over their 54 years of performing in various configurations, members of the Dead have built one the most devoted fan bases in all of rock. The tie-died fans, called Deadheads, consider the band a lifestyle, not just their favorite musical act.

Realizing the relation between the Dead and baseball and the band and its fans, executives for several baseball teams have been scheduling special Grateful Dead Night for a home game. The first such promotion was created by the Giants in 2010 to recognize the 15-year anniversary of band leader and counterculture guru Garcia’s death.

“The Grateful Dead are an iconic band that appeals to a wide demographic, so it was not a difficult decision to make,” the chief operating officer of the Milwaukee Brewers Rick Schlesinger told Business Sports Journal

Now, while I appreciate the eclecticism of the Dead, the laid-back lifestyle of the Deadheads and have attended a few band shows over the years, I am not a fanatical follower. But our 46-year-old son Michael has been attending shows regularly since he entered college in 1991. And he has hopes that our 10-year-old grandson Owen will also someday come to understand the joy expressed at a Dead concert.

So when my wife Judy and I discovered that the Washington Nationals were holding an August Grateful Dead night promotion which included giving away Grateful Dead baseball caps, we saw it as a way to pick up hats for Michael and Owen.

Now Judy and I, being South Jersey natives, are Phillies fans, but since we now live in Crystal City, Virginia, which is only four Metro stops from the Nationals Ballpark in Washington, D.C., we have been attending a few games a year there, especially when the Phillies are in town.

We bought out tickets online. On game night, we headed to the Nats’ ballpark. But as all Deadheads know, when the Grateful Dead are involved you can expect the unexpected. 

Arriving at the stadium, we were surprised that the Dead caps weren’t being distributed at the gates as they do for bobble heads, t-shirts, and other promotions. “No big deal, they’ll probably just give them out when we exit,” I told Judy.

We were greeted inside by swirling, dancing bears (one of the group’s many symbols) and a local DC tribute band playing Dead covers on the giant screen. As we began making our way to our seats, we saw a fan sporting a Dead baseball cap. Then a few others. Then a whole lot more. Judy checked in at a promotions kiosk to see what was going on. She was told that only those fans who had purchased special tickets at a special price would be receiving the special hats. They were being distributed at a large blue tent outside the First Base gates. 

This wasn’t what we had expected, but since we had only really come to get the two Dead baseball caps, we decided to exit the ballpark and see if we could sweet-talk someone into giving hats to us even though we didn’t have the right tickets.

But despite the fact that we did see about 25 hats still on the table, we had no luck. We learned that actually the promotion had been “capped” at 3,000 fans and the special-ticket holders who didn’t pick up their hats would have them mailed to them.

Of course, as another rock legend, Rolling Stones vocalist Mick Jack has been singing for 51 years, “you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you just might get what you need”.

And, at this point, Judy and I decided we needed to get back to our apartment and pack, since we were leaving the next day for the 50thanniversary celebration of Woodstock, at the original Bethel, New York, site of the festival.

On the walk to the Metro, we briefly discussed buying Grateful Dead caps online for Michael and Owen. But, although we love both of them greatly, we decided against it for economic (our son is a professor of economics and Owen has expressed interest in becoming one himself so I’m sure they will understand) reasons. We had spent $20 each on our tickets and $24 each for dinner. In addition, I had treated myself to one of those $6 ballpark Cokes. With tax and Metro fares, that meant our hatless baseball sojourn had cost us more than $100. 

Besides, I’m fairly certain the Nationals will have another Grateful Dead promotion next season. And I know that if I decide to go that game, I won’t be leaving without whatever Grateful Dead swag they’re offering. Or maybe, on second thought, I ‘ll just buy Michael and Owen tickets to a Dead show next year. That would probably be cheaper.