In an Alternate Universe with Matt Kemp

Editor’s note: Jim’s column on gambling, The Nervous Light, which comes from the chapter title “The Nervous Light of Sunday” in Frederick Exley’s masterpiece of obsessive fandom, A Fan’s Notes, runs once a month.

Uplifting Gormandizers

The UGs, as you might recall, is the name of the fantasy baseball team that I co-own with my brother Emmett and a friend in the Great White North. There’s a reason I’ve waited for the third installment of “The Nervous Light” to talk about our team: we aren’t very good.

There are a lot of reasons for this: a preponderance of Padres, an inability to produce a steal, an ERA north of 3.00 and a batting average well below it. If these numbers were flipped we’d be in better shape, but “if” is the domain of the aggrieved fantasy fuckwad and I won’t go there.

Our team started off in the middle of the pack, got hot for a minute, and then slid all the way down to the bottom of the rankings. When we were dead last, my brother and I had a pow-wow. I was starting to panic, but Emmett was resolute.

“We have a good team. If we can get a few guys going, we’ll be in good shape.”

There was that word again. But maybe Emmett had a point. If I had to pick a player’s performance that was indicative of why we were in last place, Max Scherzer was a good place to start. He’d racked up four losses by mid-May and had a 4.35 ERA in April.

But shortly after our chat Scherzer pitched a complete game and hung 20Ks on the Tigers.

My brother texted me after the game: “Worst to first, baby!”

We’ll see.

The UGs are currently near the middle of the pack. With Yoenis Cespedis, Derek Fowler, Cole Hamels, and Max Scherzer in the rotation we certainly aren’t out of it, but I’m not ordering any gold medallions yet.

I am, however, holding out hope that the Padres will trade Matt Kemp before the All-Star break so he can give the UGs a boost.

YOU SING LIKE A GIRL

Speaking of the Padres, some strange things were afoot at Petco Park recently. No I’m not talking about the three games against my beloved Dodgers that were decided by a walk-off home run by Melvin fucking Upton in the bottom of the ninth, a walk-off walk in the bottom of the eleventh, or the seventeen-inning marathon that Yasiel Puig busted open with a two-run single.

No, I’m talking about the debacle that occurred when the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus was invited to take the field to sing the National Anthem as part of Pride Night. Unfortunately, their performance was drowned out by a recording of a woman singing “The Star Spangled Banner.” The incident prompted one jabroni in the audience to squawk, “You sing like a girl,” as the chorus left the field feeling understandably humiliated.

And it probably would have ended there if not for a scathing statement released by the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus the following morning. They complained that the Padres made no effort to apologize to the members of the chorus or to their families who came to support them. They talked about the heckling they endured. And they brought up the organization’s attempt to get all 100 members of the chorus to purchase a ticket, even if they had no intention of staying to watch the game.

If you follow the Padres, which I don’t (nor do I recommend it, but I live in San Diego so what are you going to do?) you know this is business as usual for the Padres. I tell people that the most professionally run sports organization in San Diego is Chula Vista Little League. People think I’m joking and then bush league shit like this goes down.

The Padres released a statement, which is also typical. When I forget to pick up the dry cleaning that my wife asked me to pick up, I don’t “release a statement.” I say I’m sorry and then I make it right. The way the Padres made it right was to fire the “third-party contractor” responsible for the error. More blame shifting. More ass covering. More gutlessness.

As it turns out, that third-party contractor was DJ ArtForm aka Art Romero, a well-liked local entertainer who felt terrible about what happened during the national anthem. He reached out to the chorus and since the incident had metastasized into a national story issued a heartfelt public apology on his Facebook page. The San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus subsequently asked the Padres to bring back DJ ArtForm.

Confused? Don’t be. The San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus and DJ ArtForm acted like human beings. The Padres acted like tools. Moral of the story: don’t be like the Padres, which is good advice no matter what you do, but especially if you are a baseball player.

GIANT STEPS

I love the NFL Draft. Not the draft itself, which is a self-aggrandizing parade of pomposity—and that’s just Roger Goodell. I’m talking about the stories of kids who take unconventional paths to the NFL, like Malcolm Mitchell who after a chance meeting at Barnes & Noble joined a book club with a group of middle-aged women to improve his reading skills. Or this heartwarming story about New York Giants second-round pick Sterling Shepard, who lost his father when he was six years old and was adopted by the football program at Oklahoma, his late father’s alma mater. Fifteen years later he ranked second in the Sooners record books for receiving yards and third in touchdowns.

I’m a Giants homer and chances are you aren’t, so I’ll spare you the stories I unearthed about unrestricted free agents and tryout players, but I’ll leave you with this fascinating nugget about what moves the needle for Las Vegas bookmakers.

When the Denver Broncos finished smacking around the Carolina Panthers and Las Vegas released the odds for winning next year’s Super Bowl the Giants were listed at 33-1. When the free agency period opened, the Giants had a remarkable amount of money to spend, which was good because their defense last year was remarkably bad.

They locked up Jason Pierre-Paul, whom I predict will have a monster year and be the story of the NFL next year. Then they went out and signed Olivier Vernon the best defensive end available, acquired the best run-stuffing tackle in the league in Damon “Snacks” Harrison, and snatched up Janoris Jenkins, the top DB on the market.

That overhaul cost the Giants close to $200 million. Did they overpay? Absolutely. Did they need to? You bet your ass they did.

The Giants had boxed themselves into a corner with poor drafts in 2011 and 2012, which probably explains why Vegas was not impressed. Despite all of these improvements, the odds remained the same. Perhaps Vegas interpreted these moves as desperate measures by a desperate team.

Then a funny thing happened after the 2016 Draft. The Giants picked up a plethora of skill position players like WR Sterling Shepard, RB Paul Perkins, and TB Jerrel Adams.

While fans were losing their minds over the fact that for the first time in team history the Giants didn’t acquire any offensive or defensive linemen in the draft, Las Vegas quietly improved the Giants odds of winning the Super Bowl to 25-1.

That’s still a long shot, but there’s some value in it when you consider the weakness of the NFC East. I’m not ready to predict that the Giants will be contenders, but what do the gurus of gambling, the overlords of the over/under, the dark geniuses who sit in air conditioned rooms and live on takeout calzones know that I don’t?

I intend to find out…

***

 

HIGH-ROLLER HAIKUS 9-11

In an alternate

universe, David Norris

is batting above

 

the Mendoza line

and Matt Kemp lays off pitches

so far outside the

 

strike zone that catchers

are routinely stopped at the

border in TJ.

 

 

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Jim Ruland is a fan of the New York Giants, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and his daughter’s soccer team. He is the author of the novel Forest of Fortune, inspired by his experience working at an Indian casino in Southern California.