Sunday, November 12, 2006

I'm A Swinger -- A West Coaster, That Is

They are beamed into my home from California places like Inglewood; San Jose; Anaheim; Oakland; and Sacramento. Or sometimes they come from those Pacific Northwest metropolises like Portland or Seattle. And with funny game times like 10:30 or 11:00 p.m. The news hour here.

Their results sometimes make the next morning’s late edition papers, sometimes they don’t. If you’re unlucky and crack open the Free Press or the News, and you didn’t see the game the night before, you’ll find the dreaded (N) or (inc) next to the contest, where the game score should be. Oh, what did we do before the Internet?

To be a follower of the sports teams around town, especially baseball, basketball, and hockey, one must gird himself for the inevitable Swings. The West Coast Swings.

They are the redheaded stepchildren of any Detroit sports schedule, for the common fan. One of the first things I do when the new schedule comes out for the Tigers, Pistons, and Red Wings is to look for those pesky West Coast Swings, when for a week the viewing and listening habits are going to be tossed upside down. Or maybe, to be more accurate, veered left. About 3,000 miles left.

But it’s not without some degree of romanticism.

So my mother may know, I spent some nights in bed in April or May, before school was out, with a radio surreptitiously tucked near my ear, listening to Ernie Harwell and Paul Carey paint me a baseball picture from The Big A in Anaheim, or the beautifully long-named Oakland Alameda County Coliseum. I’d listen to the Tigers give the Angels or the A’s, and later the Mariners from Seattle, a tussle for several innings before I nodded off, waking up to J.P. McCarthy doing his thing in the morning.

The west coast games were rarely on TV back then (circa the late-1970’s), so radio was the only outlet. Bruce Martyn’s excited, nasally voice filled my bedroom like oxygen as I imagined the puck being sent up and down the ice while the Red Wings did battle with the Kings in Inglewood at the Fabulous Forum. Dale McCourt or Vaclav Nedomansky would put one in, and Martyn’s famous “He scooooores!” would come at 11:45 p.m. or 12:25 a.m., according to my nifty digital clock radio. I’d even do my own backtiming, subtracting the three-hour time difference to imagine what the clocks at those California arenas were displaying for the local denizens there.




The Tigers were the first team to start showing the West Coast games on television with any consistency, and even then they were mainly the day games, which would begin at 4:00 or 5:00 p.m. here, of course. Child’s play. Anyone can stay up to watch the ends of those matches, even the seniors. It was the 10:30 or 11:00 p.m. starts that the “real” fans endured in their entirety.

Now, as a married man and father, I have new memories. They are of watching the Red Wings in the playoffs, in a land far, far away, with the wife and child deep, deep in slumber. Being wrongly located in the NHL’s Western Conference means our hockey club has to traverse multiple time zones throughout the season. And in the playoffs, it always seemed like the Red Wings’ road to the Stanley Cup would have to make stops in Anaheim or Los Angeles (Inglewood) or San Jose.

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But if I can watch the Red Wings in the playoffs till nearly 3:00 a.m., the West Coasters can suck it up and set up a TV tray in front of their tube to watch their Lakers
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And guess what happens in playoff hockey games? Overtime!

I remember a battle in Anaheim against the Mighty Ducks. It was during the Cup run of 1997, I believe. The game was headed for its third overtime, it looked like. The Detroit clock read nearly three in the A.M. As so often happens in playoff overtime hockey, the game had settled into one of those affairs where neither team comes close to popping in the winning goal.

I said to myself that I couldn’t possibly abide a third overtime. It was a work night, after all. To go to bed before a playoff game had ended was sacrilege, but when the eyelids fail you, what choice have you, really? So it was that I made up my mind: no more hockey if the game is still tied after 40 minutes of overtime.

But then, suddenly, as is the wont in playoff overtime hockey, there’s a scramble in front of the Ducks’ net. Brendan Shanahan shoves a Duck player out of the crease so he can find and swat at the puck. After a swipe with his stick, the rubber disc is gloriously hitting the twine of the net. Game over. Silent yelling, so as not to wake the family. And to bed, forthwith.

The Pistons haven’t provided as much late night excitement, but that’s because they are properly placed in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. So no playoff games out west for them. Even the NBA Finals, when they happen in Los Angeles (Inglewood), begin at the reasonable hour of 9:00 p.m. Well, maybe not reasonable for the Lakers folks, because who heard of a game commencing at dinner time? But if I can watch the Red Wings in the playoffs till nearly 3:00 a.m., the West Coasters can suck it up and set up a TV tray in front of their tube to watch their Lakers, as far as I’m concerned.

Still, I have a Pistons/West Coast memory. It occurred in 1977, when the NBA subscribed to their own skewed geography and had the Pistons placed in their Western Conference. That meant a playoff matchup with the Golden State Warriors, who played in Oakland. It was a best-of-three mini-series that the NBA was famous for back in the day. Game 1 was out west, and it was at night. Late at night.

The Pistons upset the Warriors, and I pumped my fist and yelled in delight. My mother admonished me; dad was trying to sleep and had to be at work the next day. It was one of the times when I didn’t have to sneak a transistor radio in bed with me. Sadly, my exuberance was short-lived. The Pistons dropped the next two games and were bumped out of the playoffs. But they had provided me with some joy after the witching hour.

The Pistons, as I write this, are in the throes of one of those West Coast Swings. They lost the first two, but then whipped the Lakers Friday night. I know the result. So the newspapers can take their (N) or (inc) and
shove it up their printing press.

As George W. Bush would say, I love the Internets.

5 comments:

Alan M... said...

"But if I can watch the Red Wings in the playoffs till nearly 3:00 a.m., the West Coasters can suck it up and set up a TV tray in front of their tube to watch their Lakers, as far as I’m concerned."

TV Tray??? - Nah... we just set the TV right on the kitchen table...

The hard part, though, is getting up early enough on the weekend to get the chores done so as to catch the 9:30am College or NFL early games...

Greg Eno said...

I'll bet, Alan! I just don't think I would ever get used to those zany times. Have you?

Alan M... said...

I remember the first time I went to watch the baseball all-star game about a week after I moved out here. I was thinking... Ok... I get off of work about 5... I can eat some dinner grab a beer or 2 and sit down to watch the game...

So I did that and when I finally sat down and turned the TV on, I'd missed two thirds of the game.

After a while you get used to the East Coast priorities of the network schedulers and rush home from work to catch MNF starting at 5:30pm out here. The nice thing is, I wake up refreshed on Tuesday morning because I still made it to bed by 10:00pm

And what are you doing up at 1:17am? Did the wings go into OT again??? ~grin~

Greg Eno said...

HA! 1:17 ain't nothing, baby! I've always been a night owl.....and a West Coast Swinger!

Alan M... said...

Better watch what you call yourself if you ever make it out to the "Left" coast for one of those swings... You might misunderstood...