Sunday, May 6, 2012

In a Heartbeat

  On Thursday afternoon, Yankee closer and all-time saves leader Mariano Rivera was shagging fly balls in the outfield with the rest of the pitchers as he’s done for the last 15 years and he ran towards the warning track to run down a fly ball. In the time it took Rivera to land after taking his first step on the warning track, his foot got caught between where the outfield grass met the warning track dirt and his season was over with ligament and cartilage damage in his now shredded right knee. In the spring, Rivera had hinted that this was going to be his last season, but now he has publicly declared that he will be back with the Yankees in 2013.

  The Yankees have an all-star to put in the closer spot in David Robertson but the ripple effect of replacing set up man Robertson with 7th inning man Soriano and having to replace the 7th inning man, etc.. may be the final blow for what is looking to be an injury plagued year for the pitching staff. After missing half of 2011 with injuries, Phil Hughes is pitching even worse this year. He claimed to have had his ‘best stuff’ of the season in a 7-1 loss to Baltimore where he couldn’t even get out of the 6th inning after giving up 4 run in 5+ innings of work. The big trade acquisition from Seattle, Michael Pineda is already gone for the year with a torn shoulder muscle, free agent Kuroda has pitched just well enough to lose, and Freddie Garcia has already been banished to the bullpen. Help is on the way in the return of Andy Pettite from retirement, but at the age of 39 and after a year off he probably won’t be able to offer much except as a mentor to the younger pitchers. This edition of the Yankees looks a lot like last years: enough offense to get to the playoffs and not enough pitching to win them.

  Last Saturday in the opening game of the NBA playoffs, Chicago Bulls superstar Derrick Rose was close to a triple-double while leading his team to a double digit win over the Philadelphia 76ers when he drove the lane with less than 2 minutes left in the game, passed to a teammate, and crumpled to the ground with a torn ligament in his knee. Rose had missed over a third of the 66 game schedule with toe, groin, and back ailments and the Bulls responded by going 18-9 (including wins over playoff teams like the Heat and Celtics) when playing without the league’s reigning MVP to gain the league’s best record and home court advantage throughout the playoffs.

  Even though the Bulls had proven during the season that they can win without their leader, they’ve lost the last 2 games to the 76ers to fall into a 2-1 hole. I think the Bulls were playing well without Rose because they knew he would be back for the playoffs and wanted to get the best playoff seeding possible, but now that he is gone for the season the team does not believe they can win the championship and so cannot summon the same effort as before.

  Rivera and Rose’s (and their teams) fortunes took a sudden turn in less than a heartbeat. Because of the inordinate attention given to sports, my attention is drawn to these sudden changes but they happen in the real world all the time with huge consequences. One New Year’s Eve, a very close friend was driving home from work when a drunk driver made a sudden left hand turn on a 5 lane stretch of I-80 in New Jersey and crashed into the divider and with no time to react, my friend broadsided him a second later. The drunk driver walked away unscathed, but while the seat belt held my friends body in place, his arm exploded out of his shoulder socket and he never regained full use of his arm. He went through months of rehab, was let go from his job and had to start large parts of his life all over. His life changed the moment that drunk swerved into the divider in front of him.

  The most meaningful heartbeat moment I’ve ever had came in early 1999. I was under unbelievable pressure at work over a project that the company I was working for had staked its future on but was having one show stopping problem in a number of test sites. I went 2 months not being able to sleep more than 2 hours at a time. I was a smoker back then and when I’d wake up, I’d take my dogs Queenie and Tuffy out to the backyard and have a smoke. This one day in February, when I went to light up, I felt the hand of Jesus on my shoulder telling me I didn’t need that cigarette and everything was going to work out OK. I wasn’t praying for an answer to my problems or anything; I was just getting a smoke. But that’s the day I stopped smoking and I can’t say I’ve looked at anything the same way since. I’m not saying I’m a better person now because I’m still the same mess I’ve always been and I’m still a work in progress as are we all. All I’m saying is in that moment my life turned in a new direction and I’ve had a new way of looking at life. I’ve heard similar stories from a lot of other people and I know I’m not the only one who’s undergone this particular experience and while I used to be skeptical of these stories, now when I hear them, I just nod my head because I get it.

 
Matt Kriegel (left)
2012 Iowa Class C Champion!
  I did have another heartbeat moment last Thursday Night at our blitz tournament. I had previously written how after having 11 wins and 1 draw in my first 12 encounters with Matt Kriegel from Tama, I had struggled to a draw and a loss in our 2 encounters in April. Matt had also beaten Jaleb (who is at least equal to me in chess strength) in their only April match. Last Saturday, Matt won the Iowa Class C Championship with 3 wins and one draw in 4 games, beating Bethany Carson in the first round (Click here to read Bethany's account of the tournament on her excellent blog.). In honor of Matt taking over the Marshalltown chess club in April, I’ve taken to referring him as ‘The Krieginator’ since he has been as unstoppable as Arnold was in the ‘Terminator’ movies. Matt came by again last Thursday and showed us his championship trophy and games from the Class Championships. His game against Bethany was pretty impressive, winning a piece with a nice tactic and smoothly grinding out the win from there with some cool tactics enabling him to trade pieces whenever it looked as if Bethany was going to get back into the game. His second and third round games were equally impressive and he will return this week to show us his final round game.

  When it got to be 6, we started the tournament. Since there were 7 players, I’d normally have not played but Jaleb decided to take the week off and allow me the chance to play. I beat Scott in the first game and got an undeserved win against my fellow Marshalltown coach Jon McCord when he hung a piece in a position where he was a pawn up and had completely outplayed me. Meanwhile Matt had given up an unexpected draw to Chandler, the high school student who helps me with my youth tournaments and beat Seth, the new 9 year old player at the club. I was leading Matt and Chandler by half a point heading to the final round and had the Black pieces against Matt.

pgn4web chessboard courtesy of pgn4web.casaschi.net
  It was a fun and topsy-turvy game with each of us having our chances, but after 26.Re1 it was over in a heartbeat.