Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Wild Thing: Daniel Cabrera

A few weeks ago, I was reading Campbell McGrath's new book of poems--Seven Notebooks--while the Orioles were beating the Yankees behind Daniel Cabrera's newly discovered control of his steamrolling fastball. He is wearing a purposeful look these days and the hunger to succeed in the Major Leagues is prominent on his face. After defeating the Yankees, he did the same thing to the Mariners four days later. Showing confidence in his change-up, he looked unhittable at times. This was the same guy who was goaded into a balk by Coco Crisp last summer and threw behind Dustin Pedroia, causing a near-melee to ensue.

Besides being one of the nation's greatest living poets, Campbell McGrath is an Orioles fan. In Capitalism, his inaugural collection of poems published in 1990, Mcgrath writes about attending an Orioles game at Memorial Stadium in 1979, capturing the intensity of the "crab-crazed" crowd with Eddie Murray at the plate. In American Noise, his follow-up collection, Campbell has a poem called "Wild Thing" loosely based on former Cubs closer Mitch Williams--"the main man, the big guy, the stopper, the ace." His new book, Seven Notebooks features a variation of styles and the wildness of McGrath's eye. To me, this is when he is at his best with his full arsenal of pitches, and anything is possible. I especially enjoy what transpires in "Ode to Can of Shaefer Beer," a knuckleball of a poem.

I have been pleasantly surprised by the Orioles and the young 2008 season. "The inexorable closer is coming, believe me," as McGrath writes, and let's hope it is Daniel Cabrera.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Resiliency and Rebirth in the Big Easy: Coco Robicheaux

We stumbled upon the regular Saturday night haunt of legendary blues guitarist Coco Robicheaux somehwat by accident two weeks ago in New Orleans. It was simply the best music being played on Frenchman Street at the time. I'd recognized his name from many JazzFest lineups and had been to Frenchman street when it was just taking off--it's the hottest place for music in the city. Coco sat with his guitar on a makeshift stage at a bar named Apple Barrel surrounded by a small group of musicians who come and sit in when he is there. A tip bowl on a stool rested in front of him. "I'll play until morning as long as the tips are coming in," he smiled. My friend Rafael immediately bought him a drink when we arrived. Apple Barrel is a hole in the wall with barely enough space for twenty people. We slipped into the back near the bathroom and found spots at the bar. The sidewalk is a fine place to listen to the music with a breeze coming off the Mississippi. During the break I asked him about a song he played that sounded good but I didn't recognize it. "The one with Jesus in the lyrics," I said. "That's 'Suzanne' by Leonard Cohen," he said. He then whispered the lyric I referenced into my ear:

And Jesus was a sailor
When he walked upon the water
And he spent a long time watching
From his lonely wooden tower
And when he knew for certain
Only drowning men could see him
He said "All men will be sailors then
Until the sea shall free them"
But he himself was broken
Long before the sky would open
Forsaken, almost human
He sank beneath your wisdom like a stone
And you want to travel with him
And you want to travel blind
And you think maybe you'll trust him
For he's touched your perfect body with his mind.

I knew the song, but it had never sounded so raw as in Robicheaux's capable hands. He growled the lyrics and his haunting guitar made it sound like a sermon. He told me more about why he plays "Suzanne."

"During the storm, a songbook fell off the bookshelf in my house and lay open to that song. I read the lyrics and they spoke to me about the city of New Orleans and Katrina." His voice was a low raspy growl. I listened to the song when I returned home.

Now Suzanne takes your hand
And she leads you to the river
She is wearing rags and feathers
From Salvation Army counters
And the sun pours down like honey
On our lady of the harbour
And she shows you where to look
Among the garbage and the flowers
There are heroes in the seaweed
There are children in the morning
They are leaning out for love
And they will lean that way forever
While Suzanne holds the mirror
And you want to travel with her
And you want to travel blind
And you know that you can trust her
For she's touched your perfect body with her mind.

He has a point. The son of Choctaw and Cajun parents who has played with Muddy Waters, Coco Robicheax is a fixture on Frenchman street and the locals love him. "He'll give you the shirt off his back," Ally the bartender at the Spotted Cat told me. "We all have his number. If you need something, he'll be there."

Me of Little Faith

Last night I went to bed with the Orioles trailing 5-3 in the eighth and facing Sox closer Bobby Jenks. That's right I gave up on them. I didn't think they had a chance. They came back and won it, proving me wrong. These birds are showing early signs of resilience in 2008. Nick Markakis tied the game with a two-run homer and the Sox immediately took the lead back like they were toying with the Orioles. I was trying to minimize the disappointment by turning in. I didn't want to see the White Sox win--they have trounced the Orioles with regularity since we beat them in 1983. I went to bed. That's what 10 years of losing seasons will do to a fan--once.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

A Hard Dose of Reality

One week does not a season make and the slugging trio of Markakis, Millar and Huff can't be expected to match up night after night against the rest of the American League. Even the Devil Rays have Crawford, Upton, and Pena who absolutely crush the ball. The Orioles will have their moments, like Millar did on Monday night against the Jays, and other players like Scott and Jones may step forward, but I have resigned myself to the fact that we need more new players for Brian Roberts. I like Roberts, always have, but the losing has taken its toll on him and he needs a change of scenery. This Oriole season has all the early makings of another long summer. Improvements will be made and that's a good thing, and my allegiance ramains in tact, no matter how abysmal the play.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Cautious Optimism

The Orioles are off to an amazing start and I, like everyone else, had written them off for 2008. I nearly jumped ship to the Nationals with their new park in disgust. The presence of Andy MacPhail as GM has been felt with the acquisition of several quality players in the Bedard and Tejada trades--Sarfate, Sherrill, Jones, and Scott. Middle relief wins pennants these days and the Orioles look like they have acquired some quality arms to perform this function. Aubrey Huff is playing with a chip on his shoulder and manager Dave Trembley is the long-term answer for both the veterans and the youngsters. It's only been a week but they have swept the Mariners for the first time since 1998 and have won six straight, something they didn't do all year. This team believes in itself and sometimes, that is all you need.
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