Thursday, March 12, 2009

January 26, Zack Hample

It's been a while since I've done anything related to my baseball project. (And even longer since I've written about it.)

On January 26, I interviewed a friend of mine (and published author) Zack Hample. He's been on NPR, been on Leno, featured in many news stories, written heavily featured stories for Yahoo! Sports, been featured in newspapers and by the AP, and is what one might call a baseball geek.

(With his third book just announced, he is most certainly the most exciting person I've interviewed thus far. Unfortunately, the piece I ordered to allow me to record cell phone interviews ended up being shipped to me...and it was not the piece I ordered, so I'm still a while away from being able to interview other in-business baseball names.)

I interviewed Zack for over an hour. (It's still waiting to be transcribed, incidentally.)

I talked with Zack about his personal relationship with the game, his relationship to other fans, and anything else we could think of. (Until my arm got tired from holding the microphone...)

Location wise, Zack spoke to me about the intensity of baseball being greater on the coasts, with some exceptions. (Specifically: San Diego, which is great for a collector because of less competition, but it's a sad place to watch a game.)

I took pride in my home-town when Zack said that Boston, hands down, has the most passionate fans. (Sorry, New York.)

He also mentioned baseball really as the game of the US. He told stories of watching baseball in Canada (both in Toronto and Montreal) where fans are nearly silent. He told me of a foul ball where it landed in the aisle between the seats and nobody even got off their chairs to pick up the ball.

The thing that Zack spoke about that stuck out to me most -- aside from his unique perspective on steroids -- was the accessibility of baseball. Not as a fan, perhaps, but as a kid and a player. When you're little, you can look at your family and your build and you can know that you're not going to be a football player or a basketball player, but being a baseball player feels accessible. You can look at David Wells, who is slightly overweight and a fantastic pitcher in his day. You can look at Dustin Pedroia, who is generously listed at 5'9", but has anecdotally been called 5'7" at best.

There was so much more, but this is what sticks out at me not yet a week removed from my latest listen to the interview.

Zack's answer to the "Baseball Is..." question was very long, but had some very interesting things in it. My favorite:

"Baseball will find a way to survive. Doesn't matter how many strikes there are, how many steroids are ingested, what kind of competitive imbalances there are, if the balls are juiced, baseball will survive. It's that beautiful and awesome and there are that many people who are interested it in that it will find a way. It will be there."

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Sy Johnson

“You know what your problem is?” he asked me. I had more answers to this question than he could have possibly imagined, so I decided to let the question stand as the rhetorical question it was meant to be. “You're scared. You let fear get the best of you.”

This was only my second lesson with Sy Johnson, at 6-foot-1 and 76 years old, one of the five greatest living jazz arrangers, Charles Mingus's right-hand man until the day he died, a big name in the jazz community, and for two to three hours every three weeks, my composition teacher.

“Y'see, right here, you held back.” He pointed to the fifth measure of the arrangement of “But Beautiful” I had brought in. “You wrote something that is perfectly nice, but you could do so much more. You're too simple. You've got a muted trumpet, a muted trombone, and a flute in three octaves. Beautiful combination; but you have 10 other instruments! Use them!”

I took notes using the pencil Sy had just given me – a “Mingus Pencil.” My success in the music industry, Sy explained, was based on my use of this pencil. It was once owned by Charles Mingus, though never used. Mingus bought them in bulk, and when he died, Sy was given the rest of them. Sy now gives one to select students.

“Fear gets the best of us all at times,” Sy continued. “Take me, for example. I was once conducting an orchestra doing a live performance of a film score in Cannes. Afterwards, I was at the bar and the most beautiful women I'd ever seen came up to me and asked to go to bed with me. Fear, my boy. Fear got in my way. I still wonder.”

I paused. Sy did not.

“Now in measure 7...”