THE COUCH SLOUCH

Examining the need for more sports in our lives

Photo by Getty Images.

A while ago – the exact year escapes me – I determined that someway somewhere in some manner or some fashion most of us in America had somehow lost our minds.

Of late, the nation is on tilt because we must stay home for a long, long time due to the coronavirus pandemic, also known to Alabamians and Georgians as the Don't Even Think Of Messing With The SEC Football Schedule pandemic.

Anyway, apparently everyone – and when I say "everyone," I mean anyone within shouting distance of Skip Bayless or Stephen. A Smith – wants sports back ASAP.*

*Incidentally, speaking of shouting distance, does Shannon Sharpe ever whisper?

Last week the ESPN Coronavirus Lockdown Fan Study – that is its actual title, I swear on Chris Berman's bible of nicknames – surveyed 1,004 adult sports fans, and 76 percent were in favor of sports returning even if spectators cannot be in the stands.

My buddy, Houston sports media bon vivant Fred Faour, wrote that the 24 percent against sports without fans "are what we respectfully call 'dumbs.'" Faour wants any action back, like, yesterday and said, "I truly miss being in the stands for Roughneck games." **

**He is referring to the Houston Roughnecks, an almost professional football team that played a total of five games in the late, unlamented second iteration of the XFL.

Meanwhile, former president Barack Obama, during a recent chat with former aides, said that the lack of sports is "driving me nuts."

Now, Faour and Obama are two sharp guys – well, at least Obama is – but I am disappointed by their simplistic and shortsighted apocalyptic vision of a sports-free Sports Nation.

Believe it or not – and saying this might get me fired by the end of this sentence – we don't need more sports in our lives, we need less.

Granted, I speak as someone less affected by the safer-at-home order than most; I went from self-isolation to self-isolation, so it's no big deal.

(Column Intermission: The late comedian George Carlin was born on May 12, 1937; how is his birthday not a national holiday? Who spoke truth to power longer and funnier? His sports riffs were delightful. "Swimming is not a sport. Swimming is a way to keep from drowning…Sailing is not a sport. Sailing is a way to get somewhere. Riding the bus isn't a sport, why the [expletive] should sailing be a sport?" George Carlin Day, my friends. Otherwise, I'll settle for Don Rickles Day.)

Actually, eating at home with family or friends is an uncomplicated, forgotten pleasure. In most of Europe for hundreds of years, entire evenings centered on the meal; food and conversation were entertainment enough. This worked quite well, spoiled only by World War I, World War II and Piers Morgan.

Here in America, we have drifted. I saw a photo the other day of a fella in Raleigh, N.C., walking into Subway strapped with a M136 AT4 launcher. ***

*** What were the chances he ordered a veggie wrap?

What have we become?

Naturally, we have become ESPN. But, honestly, though I try to blame ESPN for everything excessive and execrable, the boys in Bristol don't shape our culture as much as they reflect it.

Alas, during this sports-dry pandemic, ESPN ranked the top 74 basketball sneakers ever worn by NBA players. I repeat – they ranked the top 74 sneakers ever. FYI: The Nike Foamposite Max, worn by Tim Duncan, was No. 47.

Coming in June: The top 50 NFL pylons in history.

Elsewhere in ESPNdom, "The Last Dance" Michael Jordan documentary has been a smash. Great TV, but it's been treated as a cross between "Hoop Dreams" and "The Last Waltz," with various clips parsed endlessly like the Zapruder film.

Which brings us to binge-watching. I constantly get texts touting Netflix or Hulu shows. So I took in "Ozark." "You like it?" a friend asked. "Looks pretty good," I responded. "How many seasons did you watch?" he inquired. When I told him I had only watched the first episode, I half-expected him to schedule an intervention because I had not binge-watched an entire season in just a night or two.

Here's an interesting thought: How 'bout binge-READING?

Ask The Slouch

Q. Ink-stained wretches don't usually make the best-seller list but I like the title of your book, "Hold On Honey, I'll Take You to the Hospital at Halftime." I'll wear a mask when I start checking yard sales for your tome. (Ray Starman; Albany, N.Y.)

A. Trust me, it will be easy to social distance in this situation; no one will be hovering anywhere near that book.

Q. You know those ubiquitous magazine questions about selecting any person, living or dead, with whom to have a meal? I would pick you over Tom Brady every time, and I'm not kidding. (Diane Cohen; Albany, N.Y.)

A. Give me a moment…Uh, Toni, can I talk to you for a second?

Q. Have you tried comparing your wife's income to that of Tom Brady's wife? Maybe you'll have an edge there! (Paul Whittemore; Spotsylvania, Va.)

A. I don't think so.

Q. Just checked out "Hold On, Honey…" on Amazon. Someone thinks it's worth $87.78 – maybe it was signed by Tom Brady. (Bob Doyle, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Mass.)

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. Just email asktheslouch@aol.com and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash!

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The Astros suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Yankees Thursday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

After an impressive two-game sweep of the NL-best Mets at home earlier in the week, the Astros took to the road to begin a four-game series with the league-best Yankees on Thursday night. To little surprise, the series started with a bang (no, not a trash can bang) in more ways than one, confirming that this series should be a must-watch this weekend.

New York's comeback proves no lead will be safe

Right from the get-go, the loud Yankee Stadium faithful had their chance to rain boos down on Jose Altuve before showing some pleasure as he led off the series by being hit by a pitch. They were quickly, though only temporarily, quieted as Altuve would come in to score two batters later on a three-run blast by Alex Bregman.

Three-run homers seemed to be a theme, as New York would get one of their own to tie the game off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton to tie the game, then Yordan Alvarez continued his dominant June by pushing the Astros back in front by three with another three-run bomb in the third, making it 6-3. That lead held through to the bottom of the ninth, where instead of holding it, Ryan Pressly issued two walks to set up the fourth homer of the game to tie things again before Aaron Judge would get a walk-off single to complete the impressive comeback.

Not only will we get to sit back and watch the slug-fest between Yordan and Judge this weekend, but it looks like with Alex Bregman swinging well again to round out the top of Houston's order, the Astros may be getting closer to their full power. So far in June, these two teams sit third and fourth in on-base percentage, with the Astros at .351 and the Yankees right behind at .350. That means we should continue to see scoring opportunities on both sides that can tilt momentum one way or the other as these lineups try to battle against the opposing pitcher.

How will the aces fare

Verlander vs. Judge, and Cole vs. Alvarez, need I say more? Although we won't see Justin Verlander go up against Gerrit Cole in the same game in this series (they should go head to head next Thursday, however), they will pitch on back-to-back days, with Houston's ace going Friday night and New York's on Saturday afternoon. Verlander is coming off his worst start of the year, a three and two-thirds inning outing where the White Sox put up seven runs, four earned, against him and knocked him out early to give him his third loss and increased his ERA from 1.94 to 2.30.

The last time he faced the Yankees was in the Bronx in the 2019 playoffs, in ALCS Game 5, where he went seven frames while allowing four runs, all on two homers in the first inning, which is all New York needed to grab the 4-1 victory to make it a 3-2 Houston lead in the series, which the Astros would go on to clinch in Game 6. So, with the double dose of bad taste in his mouth, it will be interesting to see if he can use that as the fuel to get back to the phenomenal form he's had this year or if the Yankees try to jump on him early like they did nearly three years ago.

Cole, meanwhile, is fresh off of two quality starts in a row against the Rays, where he allowed just one run on six hits with nineteen strikeouts over 13.1 innings of work. He's had his share of strife this season, though, including a seven-run shelling by the Twins earlier this month, along with a start in April where he couldn't make it through two innings against the Tigers. He's had success against his former club, most notably a complete-game shutout in Houston last July with twelve K's and holding the Astros to just three hits.

If the series opener was any indication, we are in for the treat of a playoff-caliber matchup, if not a potential ALCS preview that we may see in October. The Yankees showed why they have the best record and are the hottest team in baseball on Thursday night, but the Astros were only a good outing from their closer away from having a relatively lopsided win. The rivalry is real; the competition is close, and we get to enjoy the show.

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