Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Dead Wrong

Sometimes, I act a little too much like this guy:

Yes, Leonard "Lenny" Kosnowski, the Lone Wolf himself. Don't get me wrong: I like being alone to read and write, do crossword puzzles, listen to music and watch TV. I crave quietude. But too often I reject popular opinions or fads because I think I'm above such things. I'm not, but for some reason I like to give the impression that I can't be bothered with mania.

In high school, my good friend Andy was really into Elvis Costello. For a long period, whenever I was in his two-door Toyota station wagon (which looked sorta like this, and which on at least one occasion crossed north of the 100-m.p.h. mark on a late night in our sleepy hometown, but you couldn't prove it by me) he'd be cranking My Aim Is True, This Year's Model or Armed Forces. These albums were chock fulla great songs -- "(The Angels Wanna Wear) My Red Shoes," "Less Than Zero," "Pump It Up," "Lip Service," "Accidents Will Happen" and "Oliver's Army," to name just a few. Andy got our friend Bene (R.I.P.) into Costello and his band, the Attractions. So Bene would often blast the Artist Formerly Known as Declan Mcmanus as well.

And they'd sing along and rewind songs (yes, rewind, kids; this was the olden days) to hear favorite parts, and replay the same songs ad nauseam. They'd pound the steering wheel and dashboard, pretending they were Pete Thomas on the drums. I liked Elvis, sure, but I didn't want to hear his music so much. So, rather than join in the fun and just go with it, I'd give them shit about it.

"Why are you playing Elvis again? He's not even that good!"

Eventually we went to see him live, and he was terrific. And at some point, after their mania died down, I admitted to myself, and perhaps to my friends, that this Costello guy was pretty damn talented. I don't own a lot of his albums, but I have a few and really enjoy them.

I've had this contrarian reaction to plenty of other things in my life. My wife and her family decide to drink Dark 'n' Stormys during our annual Cape Cod vacation, and I opt for something, anything, different.

I bought a liter of Orange Crush and mixed it with vodka, dubbed it Orange Crash and pretended that it was just as good as their beverage.

At a family gathering, my family -- sister, brother, cousins, wife, kids -- were having a fantastic time playing Heads Up! on somebody's iPhone, howling with laughter as they acted out clues. Along with a few other folks, I was chilling in my sister's living room when the whole Heads Up! gang rushed into the room, insisting that I had to play.

I didn't react well. Not at all. I pulled the Grumpy Old Man and told them I didn't want to play, and that if I'd wanted to, I wouldn't have been hanging out in the quiet living room, would I?

They shrugged me off and went back to their fun. I felt like an idiot.

I'm an introvert, plain and simple. This doesn't mean that I don't like to have fun, but it does mean that I have a hard time joining large gatherings and being spontaneous. But my oppositional attitude is more than that. I want to be cool, to be the one who discovers an awesome thing, whether it's a band (I take at least a little credit, but none of the blame, for the popularity and longevity of the Flaming Lips) or a TV show ("American Gypsies," which turned out pretty stupid).

On those times when I follow the trends, I often get burned -- "Heroes," "Nashville" and the first season of "Glee," I'm talkin' 'bout you.

In the grand scheme of things, this quality of mine isn't a big deal. I joke about it. I'm comfortable with it for the most part.

This topic has been on mind a bit in the last few months, as I watch my fortunes fall in a fantasy home run derby contest run by my wife's brother-in-law.

The contest goes like this: before the MLB season starts, each person picks a team of 15 guys who he thinks will hit a ton of home runs during the season. You can't pick anyone who had 30 or more round-trippers the previous year. I've played three or four years now, and have never done all that well. I've had times during the season when I'm hanging in the Top 10 (there are usually between 25 and 40 competitors) but eventually I fade. I finished very close to the bottom a few years ago.

This year, like every year, I swore I was going to climb up the rankings by conducting exhaustive research into players, teams, power rankings, Fantasy Baseball listings, etc. I don't play regular Fantasy so I don't follow the game too much outside the Red Sox and the American League East.

But I put in the pre-season number crunching and scouting to see which older players might have some power left, which up-and-comers are gonna break out, and which superstars who were injured the prior year might be eligible this time around.

This year the big story of spring training across the league was Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs. A rookie, Bryant hit more home runs than anyone during pre-season. I had him on my radar, of course, but was also looking at one of his teammates, Jorge Soler. A rookie like Bryant, he was projected to do well and hit a fair number of home runs. But the odds-on favorite for biggest breakout star, and probably Rookie of the Year, was Bryant.

I went with Soler.

As of this writing, Soler has 7 long balls, and is injured. Bryant has 24 and is the awesome player everyone expected and most people, perhaps everyone, went with on their derby teams.

I thought I knew better. Just like I figured Mike Napoli's great spring training would translate over to the regular season, despite his being on the old side and never having hit more than 30 home runs, and that was four years ago.

With two and a half weeks in the season, I'm in last place. By a lot.

I was, as it turns out, dead wrong.