Baseball, the sitcom and season
Southern comedian Danny McBride isn’t exactly a household name, but his scene-stealing turns in the films “Pineapple Express” and “Tropic Thunder” inspired me to rent his six-episode HBO comedy-series “Eastbound & Down.”
I’d heard very little about “Eastbound & Down,” in which McBride plays a washed-up major league ballplayer named Kenny Powers who returns to his hometown and becomes a gym teacher, and so I had no idea whether it was any good.
But after watching the first three episodes, I am now a card-carrying member of the “Eastbound & Down” bandwagon, and am firmly convinced that it hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves, despite the involvement of A-list talent such as Will Ferrell and directors Jody Hill and David Gordon Green. One reason, perhaps, is the main character. As embodied by McBride, Powers is boorish, unlikable, self-centered, deluded, insulting and destructive — in other words, somebody who is not at all worth rooting for. But he occupies a fairly recognizable landscape, peopled by relatives, old friends, old enemies, ex-girlfriends, small-town bartenders and small-time drug dealers, and almost every scene contains an element of truth.
Personally, I didn’t find it at all difficult to believe that Powers’ fame and fortune had warped his outlook on life, causing him to view nearly everyone he encounters as a potential lackey, sexual encounter, fan or competitor. (He actually reminded me a little bit of former major league pitcher John Rocker, who famously made racist, sexist and homophobic remarks when asked whether he’d be willing to pitch for the Mets or the Yankees.) In a world where athletes are generally revered as godlike heroes who are pure in mind, body and spirit, I found “Eastbound & Down’s” warts-and-all depiction of a down-on-his-luck star athlete very funny ... and also refreshing. It was also a perfect appetizer for the 2010 baseball season, which opens Sunday night with the much-ballyhooed Yankees-Red Sox showdown.
I found it difficult to rouse much more than passing interest in spring training, but now that the regular season is almost here, I’m excited, even as I wonder whether the Boston Red Sox really have what it takes to compete for a World Series. I do like their pitching staff — at least, I like Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and John Lackey. And if Clay Buchholz can get his act together, I’ll like him, too. My main complaint is Dice-K, who has officially worn out his welcome, at least with me. Because Dice-K is still rehabbing, knuckleballer Tim Wakefield (who I happen to adore) will begin the season as the Sox’s fourth starter. In any case, the pitching looks good. What I’d really like to see, though, is some offense. Will the Sox be able to hit this year? Or are we in for another year of listening to the “defense wins championships” mantra, as the Yankees hit and pitch everyone in the league into oblivion? Only time will tell, of course. But I’m looking forward to seeing how it will all play out.
I’m also looking forward to the articles that will be written when a popular player tests positive for a banned substance, and the nation’s sportswriter’s cry about how the game has been ruined and we’ve lost our innocence and there are no role models anymore. (Kenny Powers, by the way, is a juicer.) Which makes me think there might be a fun little game to be had in trying to guess who that player will be. And when that first article will appear.
ON THE NBA
As another regular season wraps up, I have some observations.
There are only a few must-see teams in the league (Lakers, Cavaliers, Nuggets, Magic, etc.), and I’ve been just as surprised as everyone else to discover that the Oklahoma City Thunder has become one of those teams that commands attention. This is due entirely to the presence of Kevin Durant, who is awesome, and who I can’t wait to watch in the playoffs. Meanwhile, I keep waiting for the general manager of the Portland City Trailblazers to apologize to fans for picking Greg Oden first in the draft, when it’s become very obvious that Durant is the truly transcendent player, and Oden is going to be injured for at least half of every season.
The Milwaukee Bucks don’t quite merit must-see status ... at least, not yet. But they’re close, and it’s because they managed to draft a gifted, gutsy point guard (Brandon Jennings), hire a smart coach (Scott Skiles) and somehow turn onetime number one draft pick Andrew Bogut into one of the league’s best centers. This is another fun, young team that I’m eager to watch in the playoffs.
As disappointments go, I’d say the Chicago Bulls take the prize. After their epic first-round playoff series against the Celtics, I was expecting great things from this team. But they’ve been hit hard by injuries and lackluster play, and lost the one guy (Ben Gordon) who was actually good at scoring. I’ve also been disappointed in the Minnesota Timberwolves. There was no reason to expect this team to be anything other than abysmal, I guess, but I was hoping they would surprise everyone and actually play well, mainly because I’m a fan of former Celtic Al Jefferson, the key piece in the deal for Kevin Garnett. I think he deserves a little bit better.
As for my team, the Celtics, they’ve been exasperating. I think they’ve turned a corner, though. During the past month, they’ve been quite good. But I’m not sure they can beat the Magic, Cavaliers or surprisingly dangerous Hawks. If the stars align, and nobody gets injured, maybe. I’ll just say that I wasn’t too impressed after watching them lose to the Oklahoma City Thunder the other night. The Thunder are the sort of team the Celtics should beat at home, if only to demonstrate that they know how to put up-and-coming young whippersnappers in their place. The fact that they keep losing games like this is cause for concern.
I thought the Nuggets were going to contend in the west, and maybe they’ll surprise me and pull it all together, but they appear to be falling apart at the worst possible time. I predict that the Lakers will face the Mavericks in the western conference finals, with the Lakers advancing to the finals. It’s clear that the Mavericks are playing very, very good basketball.
In the east, I predict that the Cavaliers will face the Magic in the east, with the Cavaliers advancing to the finals. And I predict that the Cavaliers will win the whole thing. Please, LeBron — spare us a Lakers repeat.
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