Joe Marty’s (Version 4.0)

signAlong with Selland’s Market-Cafe, Sampino’s Kitchen at Joe Marty’s is an excellent new addition to the Greater Broadway District in Sacramento. This bar & grill is not new. It’s a storied place working under different names. 

It was originally opened by its namesake, who played for the Chicago Cubs and later the Pacific Coast League club, Sacramento Solons. It started as a bar on J Street. In the 1950s Marty moved the bar to its current location at 1500 Broadway in partnership with El Chico Pizza. In the 1980s, when I worked at the Tower Theatre (which shares the same building), I remember thinking the name “Joe Marty’s El Chico” was kind of funny. Did the slugger name the place after his Latino child? Little did I know the place would have a different–equally long-winded–name thirty-seven years later.

When I worked at the Tower, I would often take my breaks at Joe Marty’s El Chico. I don’t ever remember the word pizza being in the name nor do I recall ever ordering pizza there, which is strange–me being a pizza hound back then. I would order broasted chicken and/or broasted potatoes. I vaguely remember liking the items, but the place was more of a bar for old salts back then.

I only remember eating at Joe Marty’s El Chico one time after I left Tower Theatre’s employment. I went there with my wife and one of her old high school buddies (Whose name happens to be–no, not Chico–Marty!). I recall he kept repeating, “This is a really nice place.” In my forties at the time, I looked around and thought, yeah, it is kind of a nice corner bar & grill. I don’t remember being bowled over by the food, and I still hadn’t picked up drinking, but I thought I would come back someday–it had a nice vibe to it, now that I was older. But, shortly after that visit, in 2005, a kitchen fire destroyed much of the interior, and the building sat fallow for years.

My wife and I would occasionally read in the newspaper or hear that someone or some people were going to fix it up, but nothing ever came of these stories. Over 10 years after the fire someone finally opened it up keeping the name (and thankfully dropping the odd El Chico). I was so excited it was re-opening. For someone who never truly appreciated it when it was open, I now was all dewy-eyed that it was back. Unfortunately, the food was mediocre. My wife and I visited once and decided it was nice it was back open, but we didn’t need to return.

Sometime early this year Michael Sampino took over the lease. More big TVs were installed and other items that appear to be new. Some of the best of the old Joe Marty historical wall hangings survived the fire: the giant aerial print of Edmonds Field–home of the Solons–where a Target now stands is the most prominent artifact from the old bar. Mike Sampino has also hung a couple of Sampino prints from the F Street restaurant/deli. Most importantly, the menu changed, and the food quality improved immensely. The place that I took for granted for so many years is now back and under the management of one of the best in the city. I couldn’t wait to check it out.

marty burger
The Marty Burger comes with a green salad and Italian dressing. I ordered a side of fries.

The first time I checked out this, the fourth iteration of the landmark, I bellied up to the bar so I could get a better look at the TV showing a game with my Oakland A’s. That initial visit Mike Sampino himself served me my Marty Burger. When I was leaving the joint, thoroughly stuffed and satisfied, I saw the owner outside talking to someone about a baseball jersey he just acquired. He stepped in front of me and asked what I thought of the burger. I told him it was great (overstating my opinion only a little). He smiled, shook my hand, and introduced himself to me. I was impressed by his warm smile and friendly tone. I liked his restaurant/deli on F Street, and now he has resurrected a Sacramento landmark from mediocrity. 

I would return another time, trying his Sampanini, a panini with various salamis and cheeses. It doesn’t contend with the best sandwiches at Roxie Deli, but it is an impressive sandwich in its own right. One thing about the second visit was how slow the service was acknowledging me. I remember standing there a few minutes until a waitress saw me from clear across the room at the far end of the bar and lead me to a table. 

When I visited this time, I noticed the owners had added partition separating the bar from the restaurant areas. Now the only staff member who could see me was the cook through the service window. After a few long minutes, the cook and I made eye contact, and he said something to someone hid by the partition and out popped a waitress who seated me.

I ordered the Marty Burger which is a half-pound beef patty, cheddar cheese, with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pickles, with garlic aioli on a brioche bun. I added bacon–of course! I ordered it medium-well, which is something I have been doing in recent years. Friends and family have finally convinced me that there is nothing wrong with seeing pink in a burger if it is ordered at restaurants with cloth napkins. (That is, a place where you feel confident the beef is of a higher caliber.)

The Marty Burger is a big burger and comes with a steak knife that is needed. It is an awkward burger to wield–even when it is cut in half. Besides the large patty, Sampino’s Kitchen at Joe Marty’s stacks the Marty Burger with plenty of onions, tomato, and pickles. The garlic aioli along with the juices from the perfectly-prepared patty makes the burger a slippery affair. This isn’t the thing to order on a first date.

I’m nearly done with the first half, and I’m wrist deep in juices. Some serious cleanup is needed before attacking the second half. Thanks to the excellent brioche bun the bread doesn’t disintegrate like buns often do when the burger is this juicy, and the bun is of an inferior quality. 

Virtually all the dishes at Sampino’s Kitchen at Joe Marty’s comes with a green salad and Italian dressing. The Marty Burger is no exception, which seems ironic looking down at it with my fingers covered in juices.  Sampino’s Kitchen at Joe Marty’s offers battered fries for an additional price. The fries are exceptional and should not be missed. You get a side of ketchup with it, but why ruin the taste of the battered, extra crispy fries?

For over thirty-five years Joe Marty’s has been a fixture in my life in one way or another, mostly as a place I would drive/ride towards on 15th Street just before the street ends, and I turn up Broadway. And if other Sacramentians feel something similar no wonder it wasn’t exactly a hot spot to visit. Still, I know it was missed during those ten years it was boarded up, even if most of us didn’t necessarily miss the food.

Joe Marty’s was a part of the community, and the history behind it was not insignificant. Now, with good food, it is more than just a Sacramento landmark–it’s a place you might visit if you’re doing the dinner and a movie thing, or dinner and viewing whichever sporting event on the multiple screens or if you’re like me you can just stuff your face. 

The bar’s (original) namesake is known for being the first Sacramentian to hit a dinger in a world series (1938). This version of his bar isn’t a bad homage either even with another local celebrity’s name attached to it.

jm1
Sacramento Bee pic of one of the wall hangings that I remember from the 1980s
jm
From his time in the majors. Check out the zipper!

 

The Triple – Redux

third base

It’s the Post Season, and while my A’s aren’t in it, I am still excited. Excited in hoping the Cubs or the Nats do well. Excited in hoping the Yankees go down in flames. Excited in hoping the Astros do well. Excited in hoping the Indians go all the way, I guess. I live with a Cubs fan, so if it comes down to Chicago vs. Cleveland I’ll have to cheer for them both.

In the spirit of great baseball teams and in great baseball players I’m reposting an old piece on just how horrible a ballplayer (and runner) I was.

score card

I didn’t remember hitting the three-bagger until Erik, an old college buddy and leader of the slow-pitch softball team the Dead Seagulls, reminded me in our first communiqué since those days. I hadn’t spoken with any of my old American River College or Sac State buddies for years, but lately, I have begun to search out old friends. For some reason, the details of that one summer I played on the Dead Seagulls have become a black hole in my mind. When Erik mentioned the triple, it was the key to many wonderful feelings, and one bad one.

The team got its name when Erik, his brother Paul, and other original members of the newly formed team found a dead seagull on the diamond when the players took the field for the first practice. Every subsequent practice, the dead bird was there, until finally it was removed. The team didn’t have a name before the seagull incidents, and on the day they registered the team, they couldn’t think of a more appropriate name. (See the image below for the only surviving team shirt in presentable condition. The design came from one of Erik’s high school friends, who drew it during a geometry class one day for $5.)

A year or two later, when I became a Dead Seagull, my father’s business sponsored the team. Usually, the sponsor’s names were on the back of the shirts, but as I recall, the shirts were already printed, and my father didn’t have a stencil. My dad didn’t care, anyway; he was just happy that his sedentary son was up moving around and, especially, playing a sport. As noted in earlier posts, I have never been good at sports, and my lack of dedication to any competitive game only made my clumsiness worse.

It seems strange that I remember so little of what was an enjoyable and virtually carefree time in my life. I was in junior college and had developed some very good friendships. Establishing and keeping good, close friends has always been hard for me. This time was also special because I was playing a “sport” for the first time since I wrapped a three iron around a tree at Ansel Hoffman Golf Course and walked off never to play the game again (unless you consider occasionally blowing off steam at the driving range a sport). I quoted the word sport about this softball league because it was more casual than most: For instance, the pitcher was an offensive position. Each batter would select his favorite delivery system, so to speak—whoever knew how to place the ball right where the batter wanted it.

When we were in the field, I was the catcher. Things hadn’t changed much since I had been in little league—what the right fielder was to little league, the catcher was to this particular brand of slow-pitch softball. I would lean against the backstop and pick up any of the balls the batter missed or preferred not to hit. Because of this, there were no strikes, no balls, no stealing bases, and no pitcher–catcher conferences on the mound. Play didn’t start until the batter hit the ball. The only times my position became important were plays at the plate, but that didn’t happen much. I only remember two times that the ball came to me faster than a croquet ball.

I once ran in front of the plate to hold the runner at third. The throw came hard, and I remember hearing Erik yelling my name—not in a “head’s up” kind of way but more like a mother yelling at her son to “get out of the way of that speeding car.” It was widely known that I was the worst player on the team and since this was not a very competitive league, my teammates would rather see me unhurt than depend on my ball handling to save a run or two. The ball came in low and fast, then took a high hop and I caught the ball right in front of my face—the mitt so close to my face that I could smell the shoe polish with which I recently broke it in. I remember Erik yelling my name through a deep breath of relief.

Then there was the time I blocked the plate—like a pro catcher would do. All I remember was concentrating on the ball coming in from the outfield and seeing through my lazy eye what looked like a horse coming toward the plate. Before the ball got to me, the entire diamond turned upside down, and I could see the backstop and the ball flying between my legs. Then I 

The last intact Dead Seagulls shirt courtesy of Erik

came down—on my back. While I was getting up, I recalled the infamous play at home plate during the 1970 All-Star Game when Pete Rose bowled over Ray Fosse, permanently injuring the catcher. I wasn’t bowled over, though; the runner slid between my legs, and as his feet pushed my feet off the ground, I kind of did a somersault and fell on my back. Both the runner I was attempting to block and the runner behind him scored. I thought it was somewhat cool, though, not like the Rose-Fosse collision, which made me hate “Charlie Hustle” years before everybody else did for his gambling. Most of my teammates acted as if I did a foolish thing; this was casual competition, nothing worth getting injured.

My bat handling was no more stellar than my ball handling. I don’t remember doing anything but grounding out, although I know I hit safely to first occasionally because I remember being embarrassed about how slowly I ran. I was then, and still am now, a plodding runner. I remember running the pads, actually listening to the footsteps of my teammate behind me getting closer. I am not sure, but I think I recall the base runner behind me yelling to “speed up.” It must have been a drag to follow me at bat. If I reached base, the next hitter would be limited to a single or double because I couldn’t run fast enough.

All of these memories came back when Erik reminded me about “the triple.” He used the definite article as if there were only one ever hit in the history of the game. In this league, extra-base hits were as familiar as pop-ups and ground balls in the majors. What makes this three-bagger so memorable was that I had never hit the ball so far—neither before nor after that day. When I cranked this one, all I remember was that when I made first base, I could see I should take second. When I reached second, everyone was off the bench and advancing me to third; all the while, I continued to hear screaming from the bench. When I landed safely on third base, I looked over at our bench and saw all my teammates up and madly rattling the chain link fence like crazy monkeys, yelling at me as if I had driven in the game-winner in the final game of the World Series.

It was the greatest moment in my life as far as sports go. I never felt so triumphant, never so—at the risk of sounding maudlin—appreciated. Funny how I completely forgot this moment until Erik brought it back when he mentioned it in an email. Unfortunately, I also remember, after scoring and returning to the bench, the smiles on my teammates’ faces. They looked as if they were more amused than supportive. I sat down on the bench, basking in the afterglow, and then Ethan, who joined the Dead Seagulls with me, made a comment that may have defined all the looks: “Man, you run just like Ron Cey!” The all-star third baseman was known as “The Penguin” because of how he ran. The comment crushed me and might be the reason I forgot the longest ball I ever hit. All I could think now was that all my teammates on the bench rattling the cage had been falling out laughing about how funny I had looked running with a 2×4 up my ass. I know in my heart they were excited for me—we never cheered fellow players liked they cheered me, but I couldn’t shake the embarrassment.

I never played a team sport again, unless you count being assistant manager to my kid’s tee-ball team one season back in the early 1990s. Around that same time, a friend at work invited me to join his “sloshball” team. Sloshball, as he explained it, is softball with a keg at second base. Base runners cannot advance past second until they have drunk a red plastic cup of beer. There were certain dispensations to accommodate the slow drinkers: more than one runner can be on second at one time, and they can advance together when the ball is in play and they have finished their drinks. They also can be thrown out or tagged out together, creating some spectacular double-play possibilities, assuming the fielders were sober enough to turn them. Even if you homered, the runner had to drink a mug when he rounded second base. I passed on the offer, but considering my batting history, I don’t think I would have gotten very drunk had I joined.

As for the Dead Seagulls, they live on now as a fantasy baseball league. Erik, Paul, and a couple other original players still play ball, albeit vicariously through MLB players.

These days, I don’t play any sports; I work out at a club. I use a treadmill, but I never run on it! If I were to, I could envision the scene: I would program the treadmill and turn on my iPod. As I started running, I would turn up the music. I would think I heard laughter, but figure it was probably the pounding of the treadmills directly behind me. I would keep turning up my iPod, but the sounds behind me would get louder. Finally, I would hit the off button on the treadmill, kill the iPod, and turn around only to see all of my fellow club members on the treadmills and elliptical machines smiling at me. You know, not the kind of supportive smiles like “good hit, man, good hustle,” but more crazy monkeys falling all over their elliptical machines.

Baseball, booze, and sacrifice zones

IFC’s  Brockmire

IFC‘s new comedy Brockmire is the perfect storm of raw comedy, baseball mythology, rust belt economic depression, chronic substance abuse, corporate malfeasance, desperate sex, and–ultimately–redemption. I can’t get enough of it. And considering there are only eight twenty-two minute shows in this first season, it is very frustrating. Hopefully, IFC will increase the number of episodes next season, if there is a Season 2. I can only hope.

Jim Brockmire, played by Hank Azaria, is a baseball announcer who is fired after a profanity-filled on-air meltdown after discovering his wife was having an affair. Brockmire returns to the broadcasting booth ten years later in a significantly smaller market and–at least initially–in a more minor role. Amanda Peet is Jules, the owner of the Morristown Frackers who hires Brockmire. She is battling the local shale oil company that want’s the team gone so it can expand its enterprise. Tyrel Jackson Williams plays Brockmire’s assistant, Charles–an introverted geek who, by comparison, seems the only ordinary person in the town.

Azaria’s has been developing the Jim Brockmire character for six years. It is based on baseball announcing style like baseball Hall of Famer-turned announcer Phil Rizzuto, but his folksy, down-home delivery reminds me of Monte Moore sans the booze talk. The Kansas City/Oakland Athletics radio announcer from 1962 to 1980 was a familiar voice in my house when I was growing up in the 60s and 70s. I learned such lines/terms as “donnybrook” (a dugouts-emptying fight) and “arson squad” (a chronically unsuccessful bullpen). I remember his home run call “There she goes!” and how he called the A’s “the good guys in the white shoes” (referring to the A’s iconic white cleats).

The socio-political commentary is simplistic and direct: the desperation of Morristown (meth labs and pervasive alcoholism) that have been sacrificed by free trade agreements and mining, the manipulative and evil shale oil company that can’t have a business meeting without sinking into debauchery, and the baseball players who are hardly the image of “the boys of summer,” all of this is delivered with dark humor.

I haven’t seen the whole series yet, but I’m about half way through the far too short Season 1 and wish there were more episodes in front of me.

MEATUP. Finally, a good reason to visit a CrossFit gym

When he is not busy kicking my ass in chess, Angus creates websites. Recently, he shared with me a website he created for someone who creates and sells food for Paleolithic (Paleo) diet customers. MEATUP is a Northern California business that creates Paleo dishes and delivers them to CrossFit gyms (Surprise!) in the area. 

Normally, I would scoff at any food service, cookbook, cooking show, or person involved with trendy diets, but there are people who suffer from allergies and who struggle with digesting processed food. Not me, and I have the gut to show for it. So the Paleo diet could be here to stay and that’s where MEATUP becomes a tasty advocate for these people.

Glazed Chicken w/balsamic reduction
I have just started using the service and have found the food I have ordered so far to be very good if not very economical. My first sample were a healthier option to Slim Jim meat sticks: EPIC bars. I tried the spicy Beef bar and the mild Turkey. I don’t normally eat these kind of protein snacks so the fact that I don’t care for them much did not detract from the service
The first meal I tried was the Glazed Chicken with Balsamic Reduction which comes with a side of roasted rosemary butternut squash and brussels sprouts. Not a big brussels sprouts fan, but I liked the seasoning so I ate the veggies like a good boy. The chicken was very good! (Sorry, I’m not a food critic as you can see. This failure is abundantly clear on my now fallow hamburger/scooter culture sister blog The Burger Scoot.

The “MEATUP Meatballs” were next up and the most anticipated in this order. This alternative to the traditional meatball is made with ground pork, sweet potato, shitake mushrooms, cilantro, free-range eggs, fish sauce, and spices. (Some critics of the “free range” definition say that these chickens don’t wander out of the barn–making the “range” a matter of feet. I want to know how far do free-range eggs roll.) 

I had my meatballs with pasta, and enjoyed it, damn it! (Thumbing my nose at all those CrossFit, Paleo meatheads!) I like the subtle sweet potato taste. I was supposed to bring a chunk of Artisan bread to work to have with my Chicken and Pumpkin Spice Stew (the last item on my maiden order). I missed the bread, but the stew was very good, with just the right amount of spice. 

I liked all of these, but really wanted to taste the meatloaf that was on the product list when Angus first showed me the site. He pointed at the product, beaing at me saying, “she uses sweet potato!” as if he thought it was a stroke of genius. Perhaps it is. I don’t know how to cook so I took his uncharacteristic smile as something really special. Alas, the item disappeared by the time I ordered. I emailed MEATUP and was told the meatloaf would return. So will I. “She,” by the way, is MEATUP owner, Genevieve Ross, featured in a Cathy Anderson’s column in The Sacramento Bee.

MEATUP Meatballs. (I added the other stuff)

There is an emphasis on the protein values on each product both on the website as well as the product packaging–a piece of information that takes a backseat to calories for me. I’m not sure why the emphasis on protein. Is that another selling point to the CrossFit folk? Don’t know. Don’t care.

And speaking of the CrossFit folk: I am not what one would call a people person–my history as a sales rep proves this. One of the nice things about MEATUP is it is an online service. Alas, you ultimately have to deal with someone when you pick up your order, and this first time didn’t go well. My son picked up the first order and the person handing the order over did not check the whole freezer. When my son took out the printout I gave him to compare my order against what was in the bags the guy told him, “It’s all there,” as if he couldn’t be bothered. When I got home I found that it was not “all there.”

It’s easy to blame my son for this–ask him to get a carton of 2% milk and it’s a 50% chance I’ll find 1% in his grocery bag. Still, he was righteously miffed at how the guy shined him on. Thankfully, my friend Angus works out at that CrossFit gym and found the missing package under his order in the freezer. 

Chicken & Pumpkin Spice Stew


As you can tell, I wear my prejudice of CrossFit proudly despite liking four people who work out at these places. This could be an ongoing problem with picking up food orders at a CrossFit gym. MEATUP does offer home deliveries, but that’s a different problem.

MEATUP’s product line is very small, and dynamic with items being rotated as well as new items being introduced. I have been told some of this is based on the seasons. The produces are a bit pricey, but for me it is convenient food when there’s nothing in the frig and I want something healthier than a greasy burger.

The Triple (or, Why Running is Not My Exercise of Choice)

I didn’t remember hitting the three-bagger until Erik, an old college buddy and leader of the slow-pitch softball team the Dead Seagulls, reminded me in our first communiqué since those days. I hadn’t spoken with any of my old American River College or Sac State buddies for years, but lately I have begun to search out old friends. For some reason, the details of that one summer I played on the Dead Seagulls have become a black hole in my mind. When Erik mentioned the triple, it was the key to many wonderful feelings, and one bad one.

The team got its name when Erik, his brother Paul, and other original members of the newly formed team found a dead seagull on the diamond when the players took the field for the first practice. Every subsequent practice, the dead bird was there, until finally it was removed. The team didn’t have a name before the seagull incidents, and on the day they registered the team, they couldn’t think of a more appropriate name. (See the above image for the only surviving team shirt in good condition. The design came from one of Erik’s high school friends, who drew it during a geometry class one day for $5.)

A year or two later, when I became a Dead Seagull, my father’s business sponsored the team. Usually, the sponsor’s names were on the back of the shirts, but as I recall, the shirts were already printed, and my father didn’t have a stencil. My dad didn’t care, anyway; he was just happy that his sedentary son was up moving around and, especially, playing a sport. As noted in earlier posts, I have never been good at sports, and my lack of dedication to any competitive game only made my clumsiness worse.

It seems strange that I remember so little of what was a very fun and virtually carefree time in my life. I was in junior college and had developed some very good friendships. Establishing and keeping good, close friends has always been hard for me. This time was also special because I was playing a “sport” for the first time since I wrapped a three iron around a tree at Ansel Hoffman Golf Course and walked off never to play the game again (unless you consider occasionally blowing off steam at the driving range a sport). I quoted the word sport in reference to this softball league because it was more casual than most: For instance, the pitcher was an offensive position. Each batter would select his favorite delivery system, so to speak—whoever knew how to place the ball right where the batter wanted it.

When we were in the field, I was the catcher. Things hadn’t changed much since I had been in little league—what the right fielder was to little league, the catcher was to this particular brand of slow-pitch softball. I would lean against the backstop and pick up any of the balls the batter missed or preferred not to hit. Because of this, there were no strikes, no balls, no stealing bases, and no pitcher–catcher conferences on the mound. Play didn’t start until the batter hit the ball. The only times my position became important were plays at the plate, but that didn’t happen much. I only remember two times that the ball came to me faster than a croquet ball.

I once ran in front of the plate to hold the runner at third. The throw came hard, and I remember hearing Erik yelling my name—not in a “head’s up” kind of way but more like a mother yelling at her son to “get out of the way of that speeding car.” It was widely known that I was the worst player on the team and since this was not a very competitive league, my teammates would rather see me unhurt than depend on my ball handling to save a run or two. The ball came in low and fast, then took a high hop and I caught the ball right in front of my face—the mitt so close to my face that I could smell the shoe polish with which I recently broke it in. I remember Erik yelling my name through a deep breath of relief.

Then there was the time I blocked the plate—like a pro catcher would do. All I remember was concentrating on the ball coming in from the outfield and seeing through my lazy eye what looked like a horse coming toward the plate. Before the ball got to me, the entire diamond turned upside down, and I could see the backstop and the ball flying between my legs. Then I came down—on my back. While I was getting up, I recalled the infamous play at home plate during the 1970 All-Star Game when Pete Rose bowled over Ray Fosse, permanently injuring the catcher. I wasn’t bowled over, though; the runner slid between my legs, and as his feet pushed my feet off the ground, I kind of did a somersault and fell on my back. Both the runner I was attempting to block and the runner behind him scored. I thought it was somewhat cool, though, not like the Rose–Fosse collision, which made me hate “Charlie Hustle” years before everybody else did for his gambling. Most of my teammates acted as if I did a foolish thing; this was casual competition, nothing worth getting injured.

My bat handling was no more stellar than my ball handling. I don’t remember doing anything but grounding out, although I know I hit safely to first occasionally because I remember being embarrassed about how slowly I ran. I was then, and still am now, a very slow runner. I remember running the pads, actually listening to the footsteps of my teammate behind me getting closer. I am not certain, but I think I recall the base runner behind me yelling to “speed up.” It must have been a drag to follow me at bat. If I reached base, the next hitter would be limited to a single or double because I couldn’t run fast enough.

All of these memories came back when Erik reminded me about “the triple.” He used the definite article as if there were only one ever hit in the history of the game. In this league, extra-base hits were as common as pop ups and ground balls in the majors. What makes this three-bagger so memorable was that I had never hit the ball so far—neither before nor after that day. When I cranked this one, all I remember was that when I made first base, I could see I should make second. When I reached second, everyone was off the bench and advancing me to third; all the while, I continued to hear screaming from the bench. When I landed safely on third base, I looked over at our bench and saw all my teammates up and madly rattling the chain link fence like freaked-out monkeys, yelling at me as if I had driven in the game winner in the final game of the World Series.

It was the greatest moment in my life as far as sports go. I never felt so triumphant, never so—at the risk of sounding maudlin—appreciated. Funny how I completely forgot this moment until Erik brought it back when he mentioned it in an email. Unfortunately, I also remember, after scoring and returning to the bench, the smiles on my teammates’ faces. They looked as if they were more amused than supportive. I sat down on the bench, basking in the afterglow, and then Ethan, who joined the Dead Seagulls with me, made a comment that may have defined all the looks: “Man, you run just like Ron Cey!” The all-star third baseman was known as “The Penguin” because of how he ran. The comment crushed me and may be the reason I forgot the longest ball I ever hit. All I could think now was that all my teammates on the bench rattling the cage had been falling out laughing about how funny I had looked running with a 2×4 up my butt. I know in my heart they were exited for me—we never cheered fellow players liked they cheered me, but I couldn’t shake the embarrassment.

I never played a team sport again, unless you count being assistant manager to my kid’s tee-ball team one season back in the early 1990s. Around that same time, a friend at work invited me to join his “sloshball” team. Sloshball, as he explained it, is softball with a keg at second base. Base runners cannot advance past second until they have drunk a mug of beer. There were certain dispensations to accommodate the slow drinkers: more than one runner can be on second at one time, and they can advance together when the ball is in play and they have finished their drinks. They also can be thrown out or tagged out together, creating some spectacular double-play possibilities, assuming the fielders were sober enough to turn them. Even if you homered, the runner had to drink a mug when he rounded second base. I passed on the offer, but considering my batting history, I don’t think I would have gotten very drunk had I joined.

As for the Dead Seagulls, they live on now as a fantasy baseball league. Erik, Paul, and a couple other original players still play ball, albeit vicariously through MLB players.

These days, I don’t play any sports; I only work out at a club. I use a treadmill, but I never run on it! If I were to, I can envision the scene: I would program the treadmill and turn on my iPod. As I started running, I would turn up the music. I would think I heard laughter, but figure it was probably the pounding of the treadmills directly behind me. I would keep turning up my iPod, but the sounds behind me would get louder. Finally, I would hit the off button on the treadmill, kill the iPod, and turn around only to see all of my fellow club members on the treadmills and elliptical machines smiling at me. You know, not the kind of supportive smiles like “good hit, man, good hustle,” but more as if they had found something a lot funnier than Jon Stewart on the gym television.

In Appreciation of Tall Women

This post should be titled “In Appreciation of Volleyball,” but because I have, until recently, thought of the pastime as a woman’s sport, and perhaps deep inside I was a sexist when it came to women in sports, the title will stay with apologies to follow. I never liked volleyball; I always thought it was a sissy sport. When we played volleyball in high school P.E. I would conveniently interpret my own awkwardness as a result of having a Y chromosome. The open-handed “slapping” of the ball and the lob serves didn’t help my image of it either. As for the rules, I just hated them.There were guys who could punch the ball, which improved my opinion of volleyball, but still I didn’t think the game was for men. Many years later, one of my co-workers started watching beach volleyball. He would copy hi-def images to place on his PC’s desktop. While these photos showed very muscular men performing feats of athleticism, I still didn’t buy into volleyball as a man’s sport. Maybe I didn’t like those goofy hats with the bills flipped up.

I felt better about women playing the sport, which I’m sure was a sexist hang-up of mine. In some ways I think I reflected the time: Title IX had just passed, yet sports scholarships were still not encouraged for young women. Part of my problem is I never sat down and watched girls’ volleyball while I was in high school. If I had, I might have changed my mind right then and there.

I played beach volleyball as an adult only once, and it only had a negative affect on my opinion of the game. It was a Boy Scouts camping trip at Point Reyes and a dozen or so of us set up a net on the beach. I would have rather flown kites, or played with the potato cannons, but the scoutmaster wanted to play volleyball. I ended up on a team with a hyper-aggressive assistant scoutmaster who was hell-bent on telling all the scouts on our team how the game should be played.

As (bad) luck would have it, the ball never seemed to come toward him so he crashed into me every time it came my way, showing the scouts how to perform various setups, saves, and spikes. After eating half the sand on the beach, I bowed out, as did a kid on the opposing side. We ran off and stole one of the potato cannons and a sack of ordnance. I wanted to lead a spud attack on the assistant scoutmaster and the whole stupid game, but I had to be responsible and lead by example. I limited the number of projectiles we fired, and made sure we shot them in the opposite direction of the game. At that time I didn’t know what was a lamer game: volleyball or badminton.

My opinion of volleyball warmed a few years ago when I spent a few minutes watching hordes of young women play the game at the Sacramento Convention Center. The only reason I ended up there was because I was in a deli across the street two blocks from work when three guys walked into the store shaking their heads in amazement, one exclaiming, “Those girls are off the hook!” After finishing my lunch, I walked across the street to where the games took place. I remember how fast the games were and noted the intense competitiveness. This was not the sport I remember from high school. I found out just recently that the event I saw only a few minutes of is the

Volleyball Festival. I also learned that this national event was huge—with hundreds of athletes competing in games not only at the Convention Center but also at Cal Expo and in Davis. I was hoping to attend more the following years but my wife told me that Reno now hosts the event.About two weeks ago my wife asked if I would like to go with her to the NCAA final between Stanford and Penn State. I said yes, not because I was interested in the match, but because my wife and I don’t go out much and I knew she was going with or without me. The next night we were in ARCO Arena, up in the nosebleeds watching the match. My only complaint is that I wasn’t close enough to catch all the nuances of the game.

I had no trouble seeing the incredible speed and power with which these tall women played Then I saw the diving saves and blistering spikes and the amazing speed, aggressiveness, and skill; I was impressed with their athleticism. I also couldn’t help but be a little intimidated—what would it be like to be on the receiving end of one of those spikes! The setups made sense to me. There was a beauty to the movement; the best setups were as stunningly beautiful as a perfectly executed double play in baseball; I was finally getting it.

Some stuff was a mystery to me, but my wife helped explain the changes since our high school days. All the changes are definitely for the better, making the game far more interesting and dramatic; for instance, no more specific amount of passes before the spike and more open rules on service. It is all wide-open and that made the action far more dynamic, unpredictable, and explosive. About a game into the match and I began caring about the teams. I became a Stanford fan. Although, just as in NBA games, I thought the cheerleading stuff was dumb and unnecessary. The only thing entertaining about them was how unsynchronized the Stanford cheerleaders were—perhaps they had Finals on their minds. I don’t think you will ever see an apologetic post on this blog about cheerleading. In an evening of pleasant surprises, the only disappointment was the scoring.

I was still into the match when, on the fifth game, it was suddenly over with the scoreboard reading Penn State: 15, Stanford: 8. What is this half-of-a-fifth game all about? The fact that Stanford lost was enough to make virtually everyone (shy of the Penn State players) quiet, but I was still wondering why everyone began shuffling down the stairs. “I guess that’s how they score Game Five,” my wife said. When the match started she told me that the rules from the 70s when she played high school volleyball, had changed, but she didn’t know all the changes, so even she was a little befuddled. While Stanford forced Penn State to a tie-breaking fifth game (30-25, 30-26, 23-30, 19-30, 15-8), I felt I could watch more that night—why not the best of seven like in other post-season sports? I left that evening with an appreciation for a sport I used to discredit and an admiration of the athletes that I rarely gave a second thought. Perhaps I should reconsider badminton, too. Easy there, Jocko!

On Certain Saturdays

Occasionally, when the weather isn’t prohibitive, I walk to a café about two miles from my house. It’s good exercise—and usually boring as hell. The route I take brings me by a small camper, maybe only 15 feet long and not very tall. I’d imagined it was for sleeping only—no stove or toilet, like some have. On one Saturday, while I was walking by the trailer I saw a man in his forties, and what I assume was his teenaged son, unlatch the back wall of the trailer and set it down, revealing two dirt bikes. As they wheeled the two four-stroke motorcycles out of the trailer and onto the front lawn, a melancholy feeling swept over me. I wanted to abort my health walk and start a conversation with the father figure. I had a thousand questions for him and many tales from my youth I wanted to impart. Even if I’d had the nerve to strike up a conversation with a complete stranger, and he was friendly enough to reciprocate, he would get tired of all my questions and my “When I was into dirt bikes…” stories. Still, the feeling hung with me like a dull ache for many days following the encounter.

First thing the following Monday morning, I emailed someone at work who I knew was a dirt bike enthusiast about some of the changes in the dirt bike world over the last few years. “Ben,” I’ll call him, was happy to fill me in on the details, though, being younger than me, he could not fill me in on all 30 years that I have been away from the sport; in fact, his emails took on a kind of anxious tone when I kept the email correspondence going far beyond his own interest. (Perhaps it was a good idea I kept walking the other day.)

Ben helped me understand why these two dirt bikes I saw, which clearly were racing bikes, replete with number plates, had four-stroke engines—when I followed the sport the four-stroke engine was relegated almost exclusively to the street due to the engine’s weight and poor, low-end performance. California’s green legislation, Ben told me, has hurt the two-stroke motorcycle owners. One can ride a four-stroke dirt bike (also known as a “thumper” because of the low-pitch sound that it makes) year round compared to two-stroke bikes, which can only be ridden when air quality permits; this is determined by the Air Quality Index (AQI). This translates into two-stroke bikers can’t ride on public land during the warm weather months. Also, if for some reason air quality is poor during the cool months, they may not be able to operate their bikes on those days either.

I was a true wannabe dirt biker when I was a kid. For the year or two that he competed, my father was an accomplished novice racer, winning trophies in Enduro, Hare and Hounds (Scrambles), and Hillclimbing competitions. He didn’t like Motocross—what I believe to be the coolest and most exiting motor sport in the world—because “you just go around in circles.” Typically self-effacing, he would come home from a race with a huge trophy, walk directly into the garage, and throw it up in the attic, never to be seen (at least by him) again. I used to go up in that crawl space, set up his trophies—which included awards in auto and boat racing—like a shrine. I couldn’t understand how someone could actually win something like a trophy (and some of them where big, from big events), then just chuck it like an ugly dish won from a coin toss at the State Fair.

In my near 50 years, I have never won a trophy; the closest things I have are the numerous certificates a State employee receives for training. I feel so special when I receive the decoration on multipurpose printer paper and see the blank line where I am supposed to enter my own name, for sleeping through a class on “Professionalism in the Workplace.” Some of my father’s trophies have his name etched on gold plaques.

Though my father was not an expert rider, he occasionally raced with accomplished professional riders like Hall of Fame inductee Dick Mann, who is featured on the 1974 Bruce Brown film On Any Sunday; though my dad admits he couldn’t keep up with the legend. I saw the Brown film with my dad when it first came out and then again just a few weeks ago after all these feelings of longing hit me on that street where I saw those two dirt bikes. I think my dad had hopes that his two sons would ride with him, but when he brought a little 50cc Honda mini bike home that fateful day, we were petrified of the little thing.

Later, when I grew out of my fear of falling and, to some extent, my fear of my father, I asked him for a 125cc Honda Elsinore. By that time, he was no longer interested in dirt bikes; he now ran around in the dirt with a dune buggy. I guess he didn’t want to spend the money on a new bike for me since he sold his last bike, or maybe he thought I was just all talk. He later bought me a 70cc Honda. I don’t recall what happened to that bike. However, I do remember riding that bike and my mom’s old 90cc Hodaka, but he only took me out to an OHV park a couple of times to ride it. I usually went out to the gravel pit (now William B. Pond Park at the East end of Arden Way in Carmichael) and played around there.

Similar to how I watched the Oakland Athletics when I was playing little league, I kept up with the professional racing side of the sport, subscribing to Dirt Bike magazine. I had my favorite riders, just as fans of baseball have their favorite players and teams. Only a Motocross maven like me would call it an honor to be clocked by Brad Lackey’s handlebars when we went to Livermore to see an International Motocross. It didn’t feel like an “honor” at first—more as as if I had just walked into Barry Bonds’ wheelhouse as he was swinging for the Bay. I saw all the leaders go by—Swedes, Fins, Belgians, and Germans, then I leaned over to get a better look and Lackey came in close with his lime-green Kawasaki. The next thing I knew I was grabbing my arm and trying not to faint.

I would have loved to get the future World Champion’s autograph next to the big bruise; alas, it would have faded away much as the bruise did. What paled in comparison to the Lackey bruise was the bruise I received by a line-drive foul ball in a 1972 ALCS game at the Oakland Coliseum. I don’t even remember the batter’s name. Who cares who that Baltimore Oriole player was; I got a black, blue, purple, and sickly yellow bruise by Brad Lackey! I would later get 500cc World Champion Roger DeCoster’s signature on a cool 8×10 glossy of him on his Suzuki when I saw him at Carmichael Honda a few months after the race, but I misplaced it. If I ever find it, I will probably also rediscover the banquet program with the autographs of the future 1972-74 World Series Champions; yes, I had a dynasty on a 1968 fund-raiser program and I misplaced it.

In my correspondence with Ben, he also told me about Monkey Butt!, the book written by Dirt Bike magazine’s first editor, Rick Sieman. (The title comes from a condition, the author states, where a person has been riding dirt bikes for so long that his rear end starts to look like a monkey’s ass.) The next day, Ben came down with his worn copy of Sieman’s book. I didn’t ask to borrow the book and felt somewhat awkward taking it, but after I started reading it, I was transfixed. Monkey Butt! is poorly written, poorly edited (if edited at all) and—for someone like me who experienced this subculture (albeit from the cheap seats) some thirty years ago—a blast of a read, typos and all.

The book is a collection of very short essays that range from the whimsical to the outrageous to the occasionally poignant. Sieman is not an accomplished writer; his style is provincial at best, but what better voice for this subject? A friend once told me I was a fool to read Dirt Bike, he told me Cycle World was a better-written and more serious motorcycle magazine. In retrospect, he was correct, but that wasn’t the point—Cycle World was more like the Establishment: proper, sober, and shiny—like a chrome stock fender. Dirt Bike was the Counterculture: irreverent, funny, and as gritty as a Carlsbad berm.

Sieman captures the excitement of experiencing a brand new pastime much like the Bruce Brown film so beautifully celebrates. However, Sieman’s book goes back to the dusty alleys where street bike enthusiasts would tinker with top-heavy, ill-handling road bikes that were stripped down for racing in the desert. The book chronicles the rise of a different kind of motorcycle club dedicated to dirt and desert racing, documenting the synergy of this movement with the evolution of the two-cycle dirt bike to meet these hungry new enthusiasts’ demand of lighter, faster machines. Just like in surfing—which was gathering momentum at the same time—southern California became the Mecca for the dirt and desert racing subculture. In typical American style, dirt bike racing became an “American sport,” despite Europe’s legitimate claim to the pastime. Monkey Butt! is a remembrance of this discovery.

While the first half of the book focuses on the early, developing years, the second half is mainly about the battle between off-road bikers and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the other “eco-nazis,” as Sieman calls them. This part is where my love for the dirt bike runs smack into my liberal politics. Still, Sieman puts up a strong argument for desert racing, claiming that the ecosystem of the Mojave Desert, just to name one, is always in a state of change:

“One sandstorm in the Mojave can move millions of tons of sand and dirt over hundreds of miles. One flash flood can tear away the base of a mountain. How can this compare with a set of tire tracks over shifting sands? If all the dirt bikes in America got together and rode around in a circle for a month at a spot in the Mojave, one sandstorm could wipe out every evidence of them having been there. Overnight.”

Still, I know there are other arguments that support the abolishment of desert racing, such as the endangerment of the Mojave Desert Tortoise and other wildlife, but that does not stop developers from creating fire roads, mines, and other types of development that do just as much damage. If Sieman is very critical of the BLM, he equally doles out harsh words about the American Motorcycle Association. He believes they have been impotent against these powers and act like a puppet for Japanese motorcycle corporations who do not support the very people who buy, ride, and race motorcycles because they want to avoid making waves in the U.S.

Reading the book only exasperated my longing for a time I never truly experienced first-hand. I was more like a third-string high school football player, permanently pined for the season, watching my teammates win the State Championship. With each story in the book, I recall names and events that I knew of, but because of either my age or my situation, I was always on the outside looking in.

My last bike was a 125cc Yamaha Enduro DT-1, but I never rode it in the dirt—it was my ride to and from high school for a couple of years. When I got my first car, I was already deep into listening to and writing about rock music and movies, and lost interest in the dirt-racing scene. I never returned to the dirt bike world. Bruce Springsteen, The Clash, and Bob Dylan had replaced Joel Roberts, Roger DeCoster, and Dick Mann in my personal pantheon.

The years went by and I only heard bits of news of the dirt biking world: There’s this thing called Supercross, kind of a combination of motocross and, I don’t know, football? Anyway, it takes place in a stadium where you have an assigned seat as though you’re at a football or baseball game. Hell, that’s no fun; you can’t freely walk around the track to the best berm or the starting line or finish line, where you are inches away from your hero and his handlebars. Ironically, Dirt Bike was instrumental in organizing the first Supercross: the Superbowl of Motocross held in the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1974. Then there’s the latest thing that I’ve seen on TV, Freestyle Motocross (or FMX) where riders take dirt bikes and try to do daring, artistic moves way up in the air. It looks more dangerous than Motocross, but it still is kind of lame; the whole thing flies in the face of real Motocross, where you want to get as little air as possible. Also, FMX is not a race, but rather something contestants are judged on—like figure skating. Anyway, I guess this old fart is out of it.

On another Saturday walk, I find myself spying on the dirt bike family getting ready for the races. I have my mobile phone to my ear, as though I’m talking to someone, and I stare through my dark shades at the father and son checking out their bikes. The trailer door is down and is now a ramp. (Oh, the trailer is more spacious than I thought, and the amenities!) The father starts one of the bikes. It has an electric starter. Hmm, that seems kind of sissy compared to the old kick-starting method in my day. They look over at me standing in the middle of the street, “talking” to someone on my mobile phone, and then father says something to his son that I can’t hear over the thumper’s pulse. Perhaps they are wondering if I am some kind of wannabe. They don’t know half the story.