|A weekend in paradise|
By Brian Murphy
Special to Page 2
In tough times, dwellers, we lean on our boys.
The world is a grim place right now, and regardless of your politics, ye must come to The Cooler looking for a respite from the darkness.
The prescription from your Cooler Meister: A trip to the Cactus League with your boys.
For the ninth year in the past 11, the crew executed a shake move on our domestic responsibilities, pulled a Statue-of-Liberty play on our appointments, our bills and our work assignments to bust loose down to the Arizona desert for ball, beer and sunburns.
Yeah, I know. Sounds like a terrible time. We went anyway.
Next thing you know, you're under an achingly beautiful blue spring sky. You're laying in the grass of the outfield berm at a Giants-Cubs game. Hee Seop Choi is coming to bat, and all you can hear is your boy T.C. heckling out, in the late afternoon laziness: "Hey, Hee Seop! Why don't you give us one of your fables! 'The Fox and the Grapes' would be good!"
Like I said, you can't beat a weekend at spring training with your boys.
In fact, I am here to advise you: When this old world is getting you down, and people are just too much for you to face ... get thee to a spring training weekend.
Things can happen there, dwellers, that renew your faith in humanity.
Things like Moe, the Iranian guy who shuttled you to-and-fro the ballgame.
Moe is in his late 50s. Came to America from Iran in 1974. Made a run of it with an American wife down in Long Beach. Didn't work out. Now he drives a cab in Arizona. Moe speaks with a Persian accent, and Moe calls you, "Chief!" in such an endearing and hilarious way that you just want to give him a big ol' hug. I'd lay heavy money that Moe's birth certificate in Teheran does not reveal his first name to be, in fact, "Moe." Odds are, his name was Ramiz until he dialed up a "Three Stooges" rerun one afternoon while wiling away the day in Long Beach 28 years ago, waiting for his night shift. This is why life is so precious.
Anyway. Moe took such a shine to our crew, he arranged to drive us to the airport on Sunday morning. Moe was so excited, he bragged that he brought "a special tape of music!" just for us. Moe was thrilled that we had him play the radio loudly on the way to the ballgame the day before, and he took us for lovers of music. Thing is, we were trying to find Van Halen's "Jamie's Cryin'" for a pregame rush.
Moe didn't get that subtle touch. He instead cued up the tape, and at 10 a.m. on a Sunday morning, with the volume in his SUV tape-deck at a solid 9, gave us a blast of a mixed tape he said "are songs I found by myself!"
The tune roared out of the tape deck, splitting eardrums.
It was Neil Diamond, singing "Hello."
I'm not kidding you, dweller.
Hello, again ... Hello.
We were so embarrassed for Moe, our necks were burning. You ever get that neck-burn embarrassment thing? We had it for Moe. Five dudes in a Ford Excursion, listening to Neil Diamond singing "Hello."
God bless Moe. What a beautiful piece of work he was.
The tape continued. I'm not kidding you when I tell you it included: "Self Control" by Laura Branigan; "She's Out of My Life" by Michael Jackson; and "The One That You Love" by Air Supply.
Straight-up -- worst mixed tape of all time.
But it was Moe's tape. It was spring training. It was an oasis of hilarity and friendship.
Couldn't have come at a better time.
As Wacko Jacko peeled out the heart-rending lyrics of "She's Out of My Life," Moe turned to me at a stoplight. I was riding shotgun in the Excursion.
"This guy," Moe the Iranian said, "he's going crazy, you know?"
Perfect. Moe -- we'll see you next spring.
1. My bologna has a first name: It's O-S-C-A-R ...
2. The Tourney
That is because of, yes, the sheer horror of The Bracket.
What do these teams have in common: San Diego, Xavier, Florida, Louisville, Wake Forest, Western Kentucky and Creighton? Fans of each school can take heart that The Cooler believed in their teams so much, I had each of them in my Sweet 16.
Yeah. Like that numbs the searing pain for the alums.
The tourney remains a beautiful mystery, and remains the Ultimate Background Noise for a Cactus League weekend. You can send one of your boys into the hotel bar to scoop up a round of Lava Flows, only to have him return poolside with a tray and the following sentence: "Utah 60, Oregon 58," and all that that entails.
I'm nostalgic already.
3. While on the topic ...
As for the rest of the tourney: The Gonzaga-Arizona game is every reason you ever became a sports fan in the first place, and if anybody has ever run a half-court offense and hit the offensive glass better than the 'Zags, I'm taking bets. That includes Pete Carril's Princeton teams. The 'Zags would boat race the Tigers, is all I'm saying. SAT scores be damned.
And Michigan State! My boy Malcolm was saying down in Arizona that M-State was looking like a team primed for a big run. I wrote it off, since he suffers from what doctors have diagnosed as "Wetbrain," and is prone to outrageous statements.
Instead, it looks like Malcolm was just an early entry into the "Izzone." Big stuff happening.
4. Tiger. Again.
The cat is not of this galaxy, and we established that six years ago. Now, he's just dressing up his wins, not unlike how Flip Wilson used to dress up as Geraldine. Tune in next week at The Players Championship, when he wins despite caddie Stevie Williams contracting West Nile Virus.
5. Coming home
My boys T.C. and Malcolm piled into the car at Oakland Airport for the forlorn drive back into the Land of the Responsible. We flipped on the Giants broadcast from Scottsdale, only to hear the top of the ninth loud and clear.
(I must issue a disclaimer: Because Jon Miller works for ESPN, this may come off as a sheer Shill Job. It is not. It is merely an appreciation.)
Miller took the mike in the ninth, and with Eric Karros at the plate, immediately lapsed into Scully.
Ever heard Jon Miller's Vin Scully? No? Ever seen Brando in "The Godfather"? Then you've experienced a similar level of artistic perfection.
Miller was straight-up, Doing Scully. He was doing Scully, ripping Karros. Perfect. It's Cactus League. It's the ninth. It's a sunny Sunday. Do you do straight play-by-play? No! You do your Scully.
It got better. Through a freakish turn of events, Miller began doing Mike Myers' Scotsman from "So I Married An Axe Murderer." During the ballgame!
"We have a piper down!"
It is hard to explain how fate produced such entertainment, but all I know is this: We're fresh off a plane from Arizona, a work week begins in mere hours, our country is at war, and we get Miller doing Scully and "So I Married an Axe Murderer."
The toast of the Dixie Cup goes out to Jon Miller, lads.
Laughter is a prized commodity these days.
Brian Murphy of the San Francisco Chronicle writes the "Weekend Water Cooler" every Monday for Page 2.