Archive for the ‘Roaring Sports Weekly Magazine Columns – Aspen Daily News (2007-08)’ Category

*Note- This “article” comes from the Sept. 1, 2008 issue of Roaring Sports Magazine, officially the last issue helmed by Jon Bastian as editor. The magazine died a few weeks later. This submission was my way of thanking him for the opportunity while jabbing the powers that were to keep it going in his absence….


“Make it as weird as possible!” Those were my marching orders, direct from the top office of the Roaring Sports corporate HQ, where their newly ordained first Editor Jonathan Bastian was taking this snorting bull by the tail and whipping it into finely sliced tri-tip.

I made it very clear, right from that first phone call, that I had no experience as a sports writer, or really as any kind of writer, unless you count long screeds to the editor and several past girlfriends. But that didn’t matter to Jon, not at all. He believed in me, he saw a storyteller where others saw only an endless chain of words. I am not sure why, but Jon trusted me to be one of his new magazine’s columnists. I became, along with Andrew Travers, one of Bastian’s Boys – a writer (yes!) in search of a good time, a bit of adventure, sprinkled with a dash of sportiness.

For a year now, I have scrambled over, maneuvered around, schemed under, sped past, and bribed decent people in order to file my story, knowing that Jon would find a spot for my ramblings. Through Hellish Waters (“Behold the Chicken Raper”) and High Wanderings (‘For Whom Three Belles Toiled”) I have been given free reign over subject matter and firm management when my column was running out of time to meet deadline. Inevitably, I have had to make that Sunday morning call to Jon from some storage closet that I had somehow squirreled myself away in while at work so as to complete the week’s offering on time.  Each time Jon has given me the deadline plus grace and stuck with me as I crank away at the thing in a frantic fashion. To fail to meet Jon’s deadline is a sin to me. As a newly published writer, the only thing keeping me apart from a million slack jawed, drooling bloggers is the real estate that Jon has entrusted to my mind every Monday morning, and I dare not give that up. Now that I have found my calling, to slip back into the realm of the unpublished sports man is a horrifying thought.

Something has happened here. It is notable, in my opinion, that Jon Bastian is moving on down the road, off to squirrel himself away while he completes his first novel. Jon has more than impressed in the efforts that he has made to see that Roaring Sports is a weekly necessity for any Roaring Fork sports fan.

The cover stories that Jonathan Bastian has written over this past year add up to a beautiful and bountiful palate of adventures, personalities, philosophy, pain and triumph that the Roaring Fork Valley’s athletes paint. His writing consistently finds a poetic and factual balance that few writers ever find, let alone master. I expect that sports writing will be but one of the things that Bastian is someday honored for, and I really look forward to the birth of this first novel sometime soon.

Zach Ornitz has published some of the most shockingly perceptive and artful photographs ever published in a small market sports weekly. (My own opinion of course, and unquantifiable for sure. But just you look and see!) Andrew Travers has matched me week for week in exposing the offbeat narratives and unjust bastardizations of pure sport.
Hooper has chimed in from the fringes with his instinctual prose, and so has Damien Williamson, himself a fine sports man with a keen eye for entertainment and fact.

Aspen is one of those places that attracts artistic talent like a funnel cloud sucks up free-range chickens. At any given time, your innocent looking bank teller could be leaving to climb some unknown ice spire in Lower-Puckerstan, the cop who helped you find your stolen downhill bike could spend his off time making avant-garde modern art, the seemingly homeless should be expected to be some sort of inexplicable expert on snow polo and caviar. I think that this may be what has occurred during the first (and hopefully not the last) year of the Aspen Daily News Roaring Sports magazine. The forces of Karma and Fate have come together to deliver small town greatness that may someday, if not already, have international relevance. Present company excluded, the talent well is deep, motivated and relatively unrestrained by threat of censorship.

Now the only question is how to keep improving, how to make every week count more than the last without Bastian’s Buddhist-like faith and patience and wise-beyond-his-years guidance.

I sat down this morning to write a sports column that would serve as some sort of calling card someday. It was to be a funky benediction, a wild romp involving baseball, vanishing politicians, cross-dressing golfers, a new puppy that somehow craps on the ROOF, a missing key and a good-natured firing. But I started to write up a short paragraph thanking Jon and wishing him my best until I had filled an entire column of just that. There is no time for that scandalous crew that haunts my memory now; it will have to wait beyond this week. Perhaps the next editor of this incredible rag will see it fit for print, as Jon would have.

This week, I am camping on the outskirts of Yosemite, filing from the darkened breakfast nook at a Days Inn that I am not a guest of. I performed my first official act of hacking by guessing the access code, and now find myself with a steady link to the world. Thanks to the grace of penalty time from the departing head honcho, and newly found computer genius powers that I never thought myself capable of, once again, I will meet my deadline. Late only counts in periods and birthday cards.  Thanks Jon. Best wishes pal. Stay Weird.

Corby Anderson writes Hang Time for the Aspen Daily News from the cereal bar of the Oakhurst, California Days Inn. When not dodging random death in the form of silently falling giant pine cones, he is reachable at corbyanderson@hotmail.com.


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Hang Time with Corby Anderson

Hanging by a String in A Brutal Heat Wave

Well, darn it….This column is not going as was planned, and, unfortunately, is going to have very little to do with actual sports. I had envisioned a nice quiet Sunday afternoon, stowed away in a forgotten store room of the motel that I work at, slowly crafting a modern sports classic – an in depth examination of the art and peril that comes with flying as a paragliding camera operator.

Instead, I am here – sitting on a shoehorned scissor lift, stuck like a flooded cow on the third floor in a broken elevator. I have been here for at least an hour, enduring the worst of a heat wave that is the talk of the coast now. Normally, temperatures are consistently in the 60’s here in the “California’s Refrigerator”, but this week things have turned drastically hot, with today’s high expected in t high 70’s. It has been enough of a shock that folks here are discussing the danger of sleeping with open windows, and one of my co-workers had to go out and buy a fan for the first time in her 25 years here.

Normally, I would embrace this warmth. I moved away from those high mountains for a little beach time, some sun and heat to unwind in. Unfortunately, my research was limited to the lush prose of a gaggle of literary giants, all of whom lived and wrote here, but whom each failed to mention the tragic, constant chill.

Monterey is more like Alaska than Hawaii. Even San Franciscan’s come here to cool off.  But now, in this tiny steel box for the past hour, I am overheating. It must be close to a hundred degrees and rising, and I have been told, ever so gracefully, that (ahem) IF the cable holds long enough, the Otis elevator man will be here in about two hours, so, like any forward thinking desert rat, I take my clothes off and wait. I figure that if things deteriorate or linger on, I can drink the sweat that has soaked my sweater vest.

All about me there is chaos. Bells ding, buzzers hiss, lights flash, and outside people scramble to find a solution. I would like to think that my comrades merely want to find a way to save me, but I have a sneaking suspicion that they just want unfettered access to the service elevator again. It is the only one other than the guest lifts, and use of those is seriously taboo, off limits to all of the various carts and wagons that course through the bowels of a  modern hotel.

Why I am here is simple. I did not get the memo about the new scissor lift, and thus tried to drive it onto the creaky old elevator to go upstairs to the ballroom, where the action is –where lights and drape and giant American flags await their hanging. And now, thanks to this slip in communication, I am That Guy. The One Stuck In The Elevator. Everyone on the property knows. I can hear the bus drivers discussing it on the radios that chatter beyond the steel doors that separate me and relative freedom. Through the doors of my elongated, steel tomb, I can hear a worried crowd gathering as I go into my second lost hour.

While I want more than anything for the blasted doors to open, for fresh air and water and a new shirt to wear, I also hope that it doesn’t happen too quickly, so that I may dress for my rescue party, avoid the embarrassment of a naked save. To avoid this I have built up a curtain system on the front of the man-lift, using my trousers. The other option is the negative one, where I end up squashed and splattered far down below in a small hole, and if that is my fate I prefer to meet it sans dress slacks and the company sweater.

The exact status of the elevator is unclear. Initially, there was laughter. After a few minutes, when all of the obvious troubleshooting efforts had been implemented, serious panic set in, compounded by the reaction of the staff engineer. I relayed to him what I could see from my squat position atop the lift within the lift. The “floor” is not aligned with the “deck”, sagging by a good half foot, which, apparently means that I am “screwed”.

As I wait for the Otis man to arrive and deliver me from this high, hot hell, I am left with little to do but text message this belated, beleaguered column to our fearless editor, Jon Bastian, as my crisis unfolds. But, despite my assigned masthead as a “sports writer,” there is no time for sports when you are hanging like a lead battleship by a fraying bungee cord.

I wonder – when the cable snaps and the Big Drop occurs, will the noise even give the golfers any pause as they hack their way around the course outside, out where the coastal breeze flows and natural light rains down upon their unstuck skin. I would like to think that, heaven forbid, of course, but realistically – if there was no way out, that my sudden demise would lead to at least a few unsettled shankings into the kelpy sea. Or a hole in one, perhaps that would be a glass half full finale.

Just as I begin to seriously stress, a calm voice booms into my steel tomb.

“Have you tried to press the open and shut buttons at the same time?” a new voice says in a leisurely Hispanic accent. It is Oren from Otis.

“No, didn’t try that!” I reply, putting on my pants. Action seems imminent.

“Well, do it.”

I press both buttons at once. The inner door groans, and then slowly opens. I push it along until it is flush with the wall. Then the outer door creaks open in the same manner, and I can see freedom in the of my golf shirted A/V brethren.

“Well don’t just sit there, come on out!” Some one says, and I climb out fast as a kid on a new set of monkey bars.

Free at last, I stumble out side, into the basically mild/brutally hot day. Now, what to write for my sports column?

Corby Anderson is just glad to be alive. His next column will be about sports, he promises.

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Hang Time with Corby Anderson


Speed is Reality at Laguna Seca

“Datsun, and Nissan…Ain’t it the same?”

Ain’t it the Same

– Brad Manosevitz

In early summer, when most children begin to slump in their unibody deskchairs, overcome with the dull heat of lower education, tired of the constant tedious uploading and low downing, bored with the same silly faces, desperate for the fleeting freedom of a teenaged summer, there are some kids who have a hall pass of epic proportions, and the only slumping they do is in a lounge chair, trackside.

Like the select youthful skiing protégées of the Aspen Valley, these kids are home schooled half of the year, set free to roam the land at eye squinting speed, chasing one another around twisting road courses dressed in hardened leather, somehow adhering to tricked out super bikes. Sponsors have festooned them with their own custom leathers, helmets, gloves, and enough bull bile to keep their active minds spinning for months on end.

Here at Laguna Seca Raceway, in the pastoral oaken hills inland from the Monterey Coast, I am surrounded by gnat like speed fiends, thirteen year olds who walk like spacemen in their molded racing leathers. They carry with them thirty-two ounce squeeze bottles, big as their head, full of Red Bull, and heartily pull from the crooked straws like milk starved pups. But what the hell? I have my coffee, I had my Danish – who am I to besmirch this international band of tiny bikers their morning fix? After all, it is they, and not I who will be streaking by this garage wheel to wheel at over 150 miles an hour in just a few minutes. I would want all the energy that I can pour into my wee body, too.

The production team, a top notch gang from Denver mixed with a few locals (I am not sure of which tribe I ascribe) loaded in overnight, and now we are just getting our cameras, mics, lighting and backend gear together for a day of filming. If all goes well, our team will produce a winning pilot – the AMA Red Bull Rookie Challenge, which will be picked up by a network and become a reality series. If we falter, then we produce a winning pilot that doesn’t get picked up, and nobody gets paid, other than in Red Bull and danish. Muscled producers in t-shirts covered in garbled script and dragons are running in all directions. Every minute someone new introduces themselves to me (“HEY YOU!”) and requests that I perform my duties as production assistant/cameraman with great haste (“GET OVER HERE AND &^%E THE %& DARNED TRIPOD, NOW!”). It is intoxicating work, which is true even when you aren’t stowed away in an unventilated back room with thousands of gallons of jet fuel, transferring P2 video cards and checking in on day two of your fantasy baseball draft.

These kids are fast as all get out, and filming them feels like seeing history come to fruit. This is the future, somehow, of racin’, at least on two wheels, from what I can tell. The future comes on the bull wings of young riders named Jo Jo, and Squirrel, and Emo. They ride 125 cc bikes, wear unsightly braces, and look like they are about to grow two feet taller during the course of our interviews. They are becoming men at a speed normally considered unsafe for any driver, unlicensed or not. One gets the feeling that back home, where they go to school, when they go to school, that they are probably pretty cool, perhaps even kingly. But here together in the dawn of summer, they are a bunch of goof-off teenagers, making fun of each others sisters and parents, dodging homework, drowning themselves in liquid sugar, competing.

One by one they duck into the darkened garage to interview for the pilot. Out on the track their competitors zing by like jetted bees, drag racing hornets. Every now and then a radio chatters news of a rider down, and each time all recording stops until the safe and clear is sounded. These kids fall off of motorcycles going in excess of 100 mph fairly regularly, a shocking fact. But they tend to bounce on up, and there exists a racers code to laugh off all fear of permanent wreckage.

The goal of the Rookie Challenge is to be the best underage rider in the world, and thus secure a hold on an AMA super bike factory ride, which is similar to getting a guaranteed contract in team sports. Factory riders have to be sixteen years or older, and so many of these kids will race this series as “rookies” with several years experience. Our TV show is introducing the element of social Darwinism (or is it Burnettian?) to this shy cult of rocketeers. By voting one another off, a champion is left to ride alone as the series champion after visits to various famous race tracks. They seem a calm and agreeable lot for now, but I can feel the cliques magnetizing around me. Very soon, this whole show is going to get catty. Jealousy and self-preservation will take hold, and those who were once simple competitors will become necessary villains.

You can see the seriousness of the undertaking in the faces of their parents. Full sponsorships don’t come along all that often, and the price to keep a growing boy in racing gear and out here on the track equipped for international competition is enough to call the whole damn thing off after a bad finish or two.

The day moves by in a series of heats, until a red sun begins to sneak in low beneath the marine fog. I ingest P2 cards into a series of Macs all day and keep tabs on the track, shooting an occasional shot with the Sony Handycam that was assigned to me. Mostly I just take it all in and enjoy the day, remembering what it was like to be thirteen, to be able to fly ever faster, to catch someone faster than you using wind resistance and cornering, to wipe out and fall hard and shake off the violent slap of the hard, black road. OK, so my memories are of a certain oblong boy mangling himself on his Mongoose BMX bike, but ain’t it the same?

Corby Anderson writes Hang Time for the Aspen Daily News from a former artillery shelling range near Fort Ord, California, where he has taken up metal detecting and Zen levitation in earnest.

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Hang Time With Corby Anderson

Going Once! Going Twice!! (Uh Oh…) Sold to the Riff Raff in the Rose Hill Drive Sweatshirt!

Darla wants the ‘Vette. It is low-slung, sleek and black with matching numbers. A grey bearded country crooner once owned it, she has heard rumors that he used to drive it naked down Sunset, it’s cockpit spilling over with the immense talent that LA has to offer. But more importantly to Darla, it matches her Otter purse and Dammit Jim (her husband – full name, apparently) she wants this ‘Vette!

But want means nothing in this cave of desire, and Darla is but one of many lustful suitors. To win the chance to park this bad mama in her hanger Darla is going to have to dip into the Trust. The call goes out. The auction barker prattles on with a machine gun staccato framed elegantly with the requisite English wit and sensibility while Darla scrambles her accountants to intercept the 1967 L-88 Stingray. This one is going to cost a cool mil, if this is her lucky day.

The speculators keep driving up the prices to new levels, and Darla keeps getting outbid by translucent white (clear?) men who wear egg colored sweaters tied around their necks and gold rimmed bifocals on their sculpted noses. I watch, fascinated by the roar of a hotly contested auction, but slightly terrified by the very distinct possibility that with one unguarded moment, my own arm might jam upwards while leading an unplanned revolt, an unreasonable coup against sanity and fiscal solvency. The children of my children’s children quiver in their future cribs.

To mitigate this possibility, I have anchored my arms down with two drinks, a formerly American beer (rhymes with Belguimese carpet bagging National Identity Thieves) and a whiskey back. In recognition of the scope of this potential problem early on, I made my waitress swear that she would not let me finish a cocktail without reloading another stone into my catapults. So far so good. With a total of $7.07 in the bank and an empty tank to get home on, I am in no shape to buy a luxury sports car, or even a commemorative t-shirt.

The Russo and Steele automobile auction thunders away deep in the bowels of the Monterey Marriot ballroom. The ceiling is low and the ventilation is non-existent, and all around the upper-upper class crowd (even the auto journalists, it would seem) the sweet breath of carbon monoxide whispers muted hints of a quiet death. As a professional AV man, I am on a scouting mission. The hotel that I work for is a rival, and my mission is to scope out the swaging, the lighting, the tangles of steel truss that hoist wide screen monitors. But as I enter the heavily guarded ballroom and hear a perfectly preserved 1969 Hemi Cuda fire up it’s loping big block, that mission gets shelved. Call it a CDD. Corby Deficit Disorder. Few things burn up my task list like a room full of classic muscle cars.

The foggy night has spit me out of it’s slow dim calm, into a bathhouse scene of chrome and steel, flashing leather and gold. The room throbs. The crowd surges ahead to each vehicle as it thunders out onto the viewing area, their silver hair glinting like sea foam caressing pearl laden oysters.

Unusually mindful of the flippancy of my upper appendages, I saddle up next to a middle aged white man who has become engaged, firmly locked in with an auction runner. The runner waves his arms towards the podiums where the barkers spew a stream of conscious patter. The runner jukes and jives, his rear arm raised and his fore arm extended towards the gentlemen next tome like a football referee who is targeting an offending sinner.

“75, 75, I’ve got 75, now 80. THIS CAR WILL SELL! The reserve is off! 81 81 81 81 81 82, 82 82 83….” And on and on – a production that is accentuated by roving commentators who man wireless mics and chime in call and response style at selected moments like excitable boy band members. The bidding goes up, the numbers climbing higher on the high definition monitors which are fed by a laptop that a bored looking showgirl, complete with sequined prom dress, taps away at with impossibly long nails. My back itches at the sight, but my attention snaps back to the fevered pitch before me.

At the precipice of $100,000, the bidder next to me takes on a worried hesitancy. The runner cajoles him, rubs his shoulders, sooths his worried mind with sweeping gestures towards the prize and sweet talk of quiet time at the wheel, but the bidder has reached his limit, and ignores the beauty before him as it clips the super premium mark.

“Why did you stop there? How did you know the limit?” I ask. He tells me that it is just a feeling that he had, then mutters something about the lighting being too dim to see the detail on the quarter panel trim.

“Was it the number? A hundred grand? Did it spook you?”
“No. No” he laughs. “No. That Cuda is worth $150,000, easy. I could have bought it right up to that price and more if I believed in it. But I don’t. I don’t know…It just feels wrong. Like something isn’t right.”

The Cuda is fired up and maneuvers slowly off of the stage, driven by a very lucky teenager. The Batmobile follows. It is one of the Michael Keaton era movie cars. The crowd tilts and buzzes.

My neighbor mouths an unlit cigar and croons his neck to see over the grey tide. Ever curious about the one that got away, I press the question. “Will you buy a car this weekend?”

“Oh, yes. (chuckle, chuckle) Several.”

“What do you really want? What do you need?”

He thinks. “Well, there is this item that I would like to find. It’s rare, but there is one here. A ’70 Chevelle LS-6. SS. Hell of a car. I had one when I was just out of the Army. Fast bastard, the LS-6.”

He trails off, lost in the memory of a vivid time. Now, years later, he can afford to recreate that feeling. I associate this look with a man who has unexpectedly seen his long lost love, his original partner in sin. What would such a man pay to spend another night with her, tracing rich smoke tendrils deep into the darkened country roads? What would any man? Or woman.

I glance over at Darla. Her ‘Vette went to a developer from Wyoming. Now she wants the Batmobile. You can see it in her exhausted eyes.

Corby Anderson writes Hang Time for the Aspen Daily News from a well-organized garage in Marina, California, where his first car, a bitchin’ 1972 Chevelle Malibu awaits an engine transplant.

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Hang time with Corby Anderson

(Bucket) Heads Up at Second Base

Wading through squirming throngs of hippified tweakers, twisted hipsters and beskirted manly men is not an easy thing to do in a golf cart, no matter how many strobing lasers, uuugah horns, gongs, or bells that you have on board to run interference like some kaleidoscopic ice barge. The crowd at this years High Sierra Music Festival here in smoked out Quincy, California is an odd bunch – a post-future retro grade of bugged individualists, uncommonly averse to moving out of the way of a slow rolling vehicle. They move in funky syncope, free radicals vibrating off of one another and me, pouring down the fire lane towards the main stage, where their oracle holds sway.

The Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir is here, the headliner of a festival with seemingly dozens of stages and hundreds of acts of all shapes and styles, and the Shocked Troops weave ahead towards me under a vibrant Freak Flag, one that (judging by what I see here now) may fly higher now than it has in thirty years.

I would join the festivites in this migration, but I am on a vital mission of utmost importance. I am working, you see, and I need to move Forward, quickly, through the human fog. I am, this week, an Artist Liaison, working as the designated nanny for a mysterious character who goes by the name of Buckethead.

Buckethead is a guitarist. His band, also known as Buckethead, consists of Mr. Head, a 6’6” agorophobe who wears a white KFC chicken bucket on his head, a hockey mask on his face, a wig, and a few Ipods which play timed loops of various and weird instrumentations for BH to jam along to.  Nobody really knows who Buckethead really is. His face has never been seen in public. Many theories exist about his identity. Some say he is actually bass maestro Les Claypool turning loose his limitless chops on a different instrument. Others have offered that he is not a man at all, but some sort of manbot, a hybrid. Perhaps there are many Bucketheads, a sort of twisted musical residency. But one thing is for sure: there is only one bucket, at least here, now, and it has somehow disappeared. It is my job, upon panicked orders directly from the top, to FIND THAT BUCKET!

Earlier I had received a broken up radio message to immediately head for Buckethead’s location to assist with a crucial mission. Upon arrival at the official Buckethead tour bus, a rented minivan, I was confronted with a sealed up vehicle, windows darkened and curtains drawn up. A faint voice called me close to the pop pout rear window, and I leaned in. The window popped out a few inches, and a giant pale hand slipped me a Polaroid photo of the missing prop. The last words I heard as I wheeled and started to run in all directions at once were a fateful plea to “find Charlie Bucket….please!”

The crowd parts, and suddenly I surge forth, and like a gas-powered salmon I shoot up the Hippy River, finally free to move fast. At once I see a likely spot for a bucket to hide. A giant swimming pool has been erected by a camp of young partiers, and a well-endowed woman in 1970’s basketball shorts and a day glow bra is bailing something out of the pool. Upon official inspection though, it is a man, and he is using his own giant beer cup to fish out a floating bong. I move on.

Further down the road, I nearly run down a naked hula hooper who wanders into my path, spinning out of control. The cart zags, as if driving itself, and sends me off course towards a stony meadow. There amongst the silhouetted trees, in the hazy orange glow of a fiery dusk, I see my target. A hasty field has been set up in the meadow, and it appears that a group of security agents have taken up a game of kick ball against a team of stilt walkers. There, beyond the pitcher, is second base, conveniently marked by an upturned white bucket. I peer closer, and see that it is indeed, my hero bucket, and run in a beeline for it.

There is no time to explain, no room to negotiate with a team of thieving, Cro-Magnum rent a cops who posses the unpossessable. I run onto the field in a flash, and seize upon the Bucket, turning swiftly to reverse, just as a stilted troll gallops past after blasting a clean double with her left stilt. I run wildly back to the Meadow Stage, security in hot pursuit. Clamoring with the radio handset, calling in my situation, I slalom through a labyrinth of pop up stage shade structures, at times leaping over zenned out festivalgoers just out of the reach of the surprisingly athletic security forces.

As I round the food court to Mr. Head’s van I see his own personal security coming to intercept our chase. Gasping for air in the thick smoke and pungent aroma of this annual gathering of soap dodgers, I fall into the ranks of the Buckethead brigade just as the festival security falls upon me. A wild tussle ensues, my shorts are torn from my legs by a foul mouthed off duty cop, and I jab at his eyes with my Sharpie.

The Bucket is actually a metal pail, not a paper tub as I had thought it to be, and as I grapple for it, I loosen a naked leg enough from the grasp of authority to give it a long punt towards the minivan. It sails in a perfect arc and lands impossibly onto the top of the van, where a jump suited, snaky arm wriggles out to snatch it.

Time stops in the heated scrum as we watch the incredibly tall Bucketheaded man unfold himself from the back seat and glides unto the stage. I pull my pants up and attempt to get myself together as the security teams duke it out behind me. I stare at Buckethead’s back from my post backstage, and am shocked when during his first chaotic, beautiful one handed solo, he turns form the crowd and faces me, tilting back the bucket to reveal a well tanned, smiling face. With an acknowledged wink, a silent agreement is struck, and I know that I will never tell to whom I kicked the Bucket.

Mr. Head

Mr. Head - photo courtesy somebody on the internet

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Originally published in the Roaring Sports Magazine

By Corby Anderson

Hat pulled down over his brow, low and menacing, the pitcher stares down his foe with the icy coolness of a big desert cat. Shaking off the imaginary catcher, the pitcher changes his grip on the well-scuffed pill in his hand and unleashes a devastating sidearm breaking ball – a pitch known as “The Emphii” that defies all logic and known laws of physics. Breaking on multiple plains, and changing speeds all at once, the pitch can only be likened to a barn-eating tornado. The batter’s knees knock visibly, his shoulders bobbing wildly as he attempts to track the erratic course of the ball as it tumbles and zags its way to the plate. The batter unleashes a massive cut, sending the ball blasting off into the branches of the nearby Cottonwood trees for a championship-winning homer.

“That was a ridiculous pitch, I couldn’t tell where the damn thing was going, but I had two strikes on me, so I just swung hard and prayed. I still can’t believe I hit it!” said the excited batter, Jeff Gazebo. Gazebo and dozens of other plastic chucking locals have descended upon Carbondale for the 7th annual Roaring Fork Whiffle Ball Championships known locally as the Whirled Series.

The sport of whiffle ball is the miniaturization, and perhaps the democratization, of baseball, which requires hordes of players, piles of equipment, and large plots of flat, dry land — not to mention callous umpires, gaudy uniforms, distrusting unions, exorbitant TV contracts, incompetent commissioners, timely fireworks (when the going is good), and bobble-headed action figures.

Whiffle Ball’s origins are rooted in the rich soil of American ingenuity. The story goes: A father, David N. Mullany, jobless and desperate, borrows a mold from a nearby Colt Firearms factory and, like so many basement inventors, comes up with a novel take on an old standard (the baseball in this case). Along the way manages to make himself rich, but more important, earns himself ‘all-time cool dad’ status in the eyes of his teenaged boys, who have scored a new game to play, and a successful and fun business to run after their dad retires.

Whiffle Ball soon found fans and players all over the country, although window replacement companies still curse the day Mullany unleashed his harmless plastic ball on neighborhoods across the land.

Seven years ago, Ricardo Tomaso posted a sign-up sheet for a Whiffle Ball tournament he intended to hold. When a few curious locals showed up, Tomaso chose sides and set up the field in Miners Park in Carbondale, which was selected because it had the necessary backdrop (the cinder block walls of the public restroom) to throw against. Since then, the tournament has been held once a year, often with great controversy and tumult.

“Every year it’s something. I would bet that we are the only league that can say that our championships have been cancelled or delayed due to a toilet overflowing, a dog mauling, or an immigration raid,” Gazebo tells me. “A few years back, the final had to be called due to lack of balls,” he adds, referring to the now-infamous 2004 tournament, when the last usable ball split in half on a hard swing by one player. That was the same year that the league’s founder was dragged off the field by immigration officials, who tracked him down at Miners Park and deported him back to his native Colombia, where he later died in an industrial accident.

The following year, Matty Marshall, pitching for the Silt Drillers, was attacked by two pit bulls while in his windup late in an elimination game. The dogs belonged to Gazebo, and bad blood still flows between them. “The game was tied in the top of the third (and final) inning. I was on the rubber, checking the ghost runners (there is no actual running while batting in Whiffle ball; instead markers called ghost runners are used), when I was leveled from behind. I had no idea what was going on. The big one started ripping at my pitching hand, going for the ball. The damned thing nearly tore off two fingers, but I didn’t give up the ball. It was ugly.”

Despite those unfortunate incidents, the games have gone on. This year’s champs, the Drillers, with Gazebo and Mitchell, were crowned in a stunning fashion. Facing a fifteen-run deficit in the last inning, the Drillers pounded out dozens of hits, including the winning homer, for a most improbable victory.

“We came to crush plastic,” said Mitchell, “and that’s what we did!”

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*Note* This essay was published in the Roaring Sports Weekly Magazine as well as Bleacher Report.com back in November of 2008.

With the money I’m making, I should be playing two positions.  ~Pete Rose, 1977

News hounding has taken on a surreal quality the past few months. As the world economies convulse and reel like a flock of headless chickens, watching the news has become more akin to watching pregnant bubbles drift and swell to their bursting point, than scanning standard fare news fish wrap.

One by one, the bubbles went up, floating free and easy, inflated by the hot gasses of greed and over speculation, until the harsh reality of living in air too pressurized for their thin shells to withstand forced them down into the sunlight, where the super agitated bubbles collide and stick to one another, the unwieldy weight of each pulling the other closer toward an explosive end.

And then, in the light of day, they all popped at once. First went the real estate bubble, which wrecked headlong into the stock market bubble, which took down the credit bubble, and so on.

Every day, vital industries come screaming down out of the sky, wings on fire, engines shot through, their pilots searching desperately in their shattered cockpits for a bailout handle to pull, crashing back down to earth, where reason dictates that to rise again, the captains of industry will have to launch their jets with new energy, or stay stagnant and flaccidly mothballed.

But there in the dawn of a new era of fiscal reorganization and responsibility, a single bubble wobbles upward into the stratosphere. The sports bubble holds the news hound’s attention raptly. He watches it nervously, knowing the inevitable decline is near.

What keeps it aloft even now in these turbulent winds? The modern American sports industry is built on corporate sponsorships, bloated television contracts supported by outrageously expensive advertising rates, and large doses of discretionary income from diehard sports junkies.

Owners rake in exorbitant profits by casting wide nets into these revenue streams, extracting billions of dollars like fat, mindless trout. In turn, and perhaps, rightfully so, the players and athletes, the men and women who at times risk life and limb to entertain the beleaguered masses fleece the owners for their own, considerable take.

For example, on some cold night during this not-so great, depressed winter, some “lucky” baseball team will win the services of one Manny Ramirez, a 37-year-old professional hitter with the hand-eye coordination of a savant quilter.

Widely sought after for his preternatural ability to weave his silver bat expertly through the filthiest of darting laces, Ramirez is expected to sign with his next squad for upwards of $25 million a year, for perhaps the amount of years that a sloth has toes.

To spank a baseball solidly, this man ram makes over 500 times the median income of the average American household. Every time that he takes the field, assuming (ahem) that he plays all 162 games for whichever team is ballsy enough to gamble on a historically dodgy, half-assed player like Ramirez, he stands to take home $151,151, and 15 cents, or, in lame terms—Ramirez will make somewhere north of $18,900 an hour this next baseball season.

To experience the sheer ecstasy of bathing in the sunless shadow of Ramirez and (s)crew, a family of four will shell out around $200 per game.

Of course, players of Ramirez’s (b)ilk drastically skew the numbers for the average Joe just trying to make a living swatting flies in the Bigs. Last year, the average player earned only $3.1 million dollars, and plenty of them were way down at the minimum of $390,000, not even eight times the take home for an average dual income family.

The space allowed for this column does not lend itself to a larger study of other sports a field, or out on the tracks, but suffice to say, when the top Bass Master is making over a $1 million bones in one event, as 24-year-old Michael Bennett did this summer in the Forrest Wood Cup in Lake Murray, South Carolina, it is a good (strike?!) indicator that finances in sports are seriously and totally out of whack with reality.

But look anywhere in the wide, weird world of sports and you will see it: The books are cooked, and the fools manning the buckets keep trying to douse the fire with gasoline. Soon enough, they too will all catch fire, and flee for the pool.

The real question is, what happens when the car company and financial sector sponsors disappear, when discretionary income becomes a novel concept reserved only for those with long memories and Mexican drug czars?

Who is going to go to the games, swill the beer, buy the shirts, the sushi-dogs, or even stay home and watch the games, when joblessness sweeps the nation like a vague plague and broadcast and internet advertisers can no longer justify the expense of footing the network bills?

Not to mention the drastic and unholy evisceration of the cable bill from the necessities lists of potentially hundreds of thousands of Americans. Forced to chose between a new sack of rice and clean water to drink, or a scaled back, intern produced, two camera shoot of an out of market game (don’t forget the blackouts! When the stadiums fill up with emptiness, the owners jam the local feed), most folks are going to yank the plug on their TV’s, done in by the cable companies definitions of a reasonable cable bill.

When things get truly desperate, and the fish flopping at the end of the pond begin to whither and die, how is a four year contract for $100 million dollars going to a seemingly ungrateful 40 year old freak case going to play, and just whom is going to pay?

If you ask me, the sports bubble has grown unwieldy and irrationally obese, and is an obvious indicator of another overwrought industry that has gorged itself into a diabetic stupor, over-saturated with the sweet plasma of fan money, which once flowed like the Niagara.

Now, cellularly unstable after decades of excessive, unreasonable growth at the expense (literally) of the fans that it is supposed to cater to, and so interdependent on all of the other failing markets, the Sports Bubble seems destined to self-cannibalize and burst, showering all of us down below with a terrible coating of soapy, oily scum.

*Corby Anderson writes Hang Time for the Aspen Daily News from a crowded bail out shelter buried underneath a new Hummer dealership near Carmel Valley, California, where he spends his days pondering what the antonym of “nonchalant” is, or why being “laid on” is never used when discussing hiring practices.

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