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Soup of This Day #140: There’s A Joke Here Somewhere And It’s On Me

February 20, 2012

Baseball Park, Thornlie, Western Australia
Baseball Park, Thornlie, Western Australia. The ABL’s Claxton Shield lives here – Photo: Sean Mack, 2007. Sean Mack has no affiliation with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

Back in my early student days I had long hair and a scraggly goatee. Then, 1 fine day in February of 1996, I walked into a barber shop and asked them to cut off my ponytail and shave my scalp to a clean No.2 – About 5mm in length all over.

It was a dramatic change and I distinctly remember my Nanna laughing at the results and remarking that it was a fad that I’d soon grow out of.

She clearly misread me because it’s been 15 years and my head has remained close-cropped for almost all of that time.

To be fair to her, I do tell everyone that the reason I made the initial change was that a. I was drunk and b. There was a girl. Both are reasons that would tend to support the fad theory, particularly since the girl is long gone and alcohol has never been a great catalyst for sustained change.

As it happens these reasons are only partly true: There was a girl and she was a motivation, so this bit is accurate. I wasn’t really drunk though and this might surprise those that know me – I did drink a bit through the mid to late 90’s and my memories of the time are a little hazy – I, for instance, have absolutely no idea what happened between January and November of 1997.

For the part where I had my hair shaved off I was sober though – I had thought about it for a while and in the end decided to do it for a whole bunch of reasons, some of which are still valid today. For 1 a close-cropped scalp has the advantage of looking the same in the morning as it does the previous night – There is no bed-hair or complicated styling procedure before going to work. In a sense a shaved head is like a fashion micro-climate – insulated from trends, it looks the same no matter what the season. Which is great because I’m naturally insulated from fashion trends anyway – Any confluence between me and fashion is always fleeting and accidental.

Going shaved up top can also be useful from a sporting point of view – Swimmers, for instance have long been known to shave down before meets. Mostly they leave the hair on their heads alone and just wear a streamlined swim cap but generations of male sprinters have gone with a shaved look, I think in part because it looks mean and intimidating.

It’s gotta be difficult though for a guy to look intimidating when everyone knows that he used a Lady Remington on his legs.

Fortunately by the time I had the waved goodbye to the ponytail my competitive swimming days were long past. About the only sporting consequence for me then was on the football field when heading the ball. Previously I had a thick head of bouncy padding that gave me some tolerance for making contact with a football – Heading a ball is not as easy as it looks – to minimise pain and maximise the force of contact you need to hit the ball just so – An inch either side of that and you could be seeing stars while the ball dribbles laughingly off target.

And this kind of experience was even worse on a cold, wet Perth day. A wet football is heavier and imbued with a momentum that makes it seem like it is travelling slower than it actually is. And the cold adds a piquant, stinging, slap that is kind of like the equivalent for your skull of eating too much wasabi at 1 time. Experienced players have been known to see a long cross coming at a rate of knots and to adroitly mistime their run so that the ball sails inches wide of their brain-space like a ponderous cannonball. Sure you might concede a goal but at least you’ll be able to remember it later.

Without hair, making contact with a cold, wet football when you’re not really that good at it is bloody suicidal.

Fortunately Perth is not generally known for it’s cold. We Western Australians think that cold is anything below 10°C (50°F). Here, it mostly just gets hot – The February record for Perth is 46.2°C (115°F) – This climate is reflected in our sporting teams – In the recent T20 Big Bash competition the Perth entry was called the Scorchers, fitting for a bunch of guys playing at the hot baking WACA.

Their form suited their name too – The Scorchers made the final, played on an afternoon in January where the temperature had reached 42.1°C (108°F). Sadly the lads lost but since Longworth72 doesn’t recognize T20 as actual cricket this is ok by him.

More notable in the naming-by-weather stakes is the efforts of Western Australia’s baseball team, the Perth Heat. The Heat play in the Australian Baseball League (ABL) which has just wrapped up it’s 2nd season in a new, re-booted, format. The Heat took the inaugural championship last year and were amongst the favourites in the 6-team summer comp this time out as well.

The regular season firmed the Heat as outright favourites – The ladder had a lopsided look to it heading into the playoffs, with 4 teams level at the bottom on 20 and 25 (.444), then 1 team on 21 and 24 (.467). Perth meanwhile sat atop the table with a 34 and 11 record (.756). Hats off if you can spot the discrepancy there.

That outstanding record aside, 4 teams made the playoffs and then the top 2, Perth and the Melbourne Aces made it to the 3 game final series. Almost anything can happen across a 3 game series and there’s a real risk that you can blow away a regular season of some note in a heartbeat in the post-season – Just ask the Packers and the Phillies.

Thanks to Perth’s outstanding record all 3 games were scheduled for Baseball Park in the southern Perth suburb of Thornlie – It’s a dubious honour. The ground is nice, Thornlie is not. I once lived there for 8 months. Never. Again. Some Perth suburbs have shopping trolleys littering the streets while others have a fair proportion of cars up on blocks in front yards. In my time in Thornlie there were shopping trolleys up on blocks.

The 1st game was a 4-1 win to the locals, via a couple of home runs and a stellar complete game from Virgil Vasquez. Vasquez was briefly on the Red Sox books, selected off waivers in October of 2008 before San Diego selected him off waivers 3 months later.

Game 2 was tight – 2-2 at the end of 9, it went to 13 extra innings before the Aces managed to eke the win 3-2. Game 3 started off looser – Melbourne led 3-0 and then 6-3 before Perth levelled it at 6-6, sending the teams again to extra innings. Heat reliever Jack Frawley was awesome through 10, 11, 12 and 13, while the offence got something happening in the 13th, ending the season in Perth’s favour when James McOwen came home on a wild pitch, bottom of the 13th. So the Perth Heat are now responsible for back-to-back Claxton Shields as the 2011/2012 ABL Champions.

The Perth heat meanwhile was also partially responsible for my shaved dome – Walking around in soaring temperatures with a thick head of long hair under a Red Sox cap was a little draining on my brain. So all-in-all I’ve not regretted the cut from that February, 15 years past, not even when it’s led to a lack of cranial protection on the football pitch.

Well… maybe 1 time…

Not long after I had my hair clipped I was playing in a football game that saw the ball get hoofed what seemed like 50 vertical metres. Almost everybody in the vicinity surreptitiously found a reason to not be near where it was likely to land but I distinctly remember a voice calling out confidently:

‘Fred’s ball!’

Disappointingly this turned out to be my voice as, without consulting with my head, my vocal cords were committing me to head the rapidly plummeting and apparently snow-dusted ball.

Seriously, it went up a mile.

Yeah, I could have let it bounce but we were in our defencive 1/3 and you never let the ball bounce back there – You hear me kids? Do not let the ball bounce – Bad @#$% happens when you let it bounce.

So, while everyone else looked on at the magnificently stupid Longworth72, I propped myself under the ball and took 1 for the team.

It was, to my memory, like those Roadrunner cartoons where the Coyote gets hammered into the ground by the rock that falls from the cliff above. To be honest, my memory is suspect because I lost a few brain-cells that day and all I can say for sure is that at some point some team-mates and opponents were gathered around me lying on the ground and I heard 1 of them say:

‘What’d he do that for?’

A fair question in hindsight.

There’s A Joke Here Somewhere And It’s On Me

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