Coach's Corner

Coach, to his own great surprise, has become a huge Harry Potter fan. Quiddich being in the off-season, however, let's take a brief look at baseball…

If you plied the fields of our fair land -- over hill and over dale, north, south, east, and west -- searching out to the farthest reaches of the forbidding Himalayas and calling all the ships at sea, you'd not find a less likely devotee to the Cult of Harry Potter than the old Coach. What would you imagine the demographic for the young wizard's readers to be? Judging from the inordinate number of fifth-grade girls I've seen laying against ratty backpacks in airports from Los Angeles to Boston, totally immersed in The Sorcerer's Stone, I'd say female, and with the age skewed closer to 5 than 50. At any rate, it's safe to presume that tooth-fairy-bashing, Santa-humbugging, cynical, cigar-smoking, bourbon-guzzling guys past 50 are not who Potter advertising is directed at.

To be truthful, I was being obnoxiously patronizing toward my wife when (one ghastly, superheated afternoon on the Yucatan Peninsula) I allowed her to read out loud to me from The Sorcerer's Stone. By that time I was well aware of Kelly's disquieting addiction to the Potter novels. Kelly, who prefers JAG to reading, became so lost in these books that in the most literal sense of the expression, she couldn't put them down. She'd pretty much read for 24 straight hours or however long it took to go cover-to-cover. Not my reading style at all, but whatever. My attitude toward Kelly and Harry was somewhere east of bemused condescension.

But then I let her read to me. When she stopped reading out on the balcony that first day -- though I didn't know it -- I was hooked. I wanted more. I was happy when she'd go to the beach so I could steal the book. It was over when I begged her to read me just one more chapter. Boy, didn't I feel grown-up.

Within a few weeks I'd devoured the three Potter books. Kelly and I would prattle on witlessly on such subjects as: the many virtues of Albus Dumbledore, how exactly wizards used wizard money, and was the evil potions teacher, Professor Sevius Snape, really a secret friend to Harry? We dissected Harry minutia in much the way Beatles lyrics were picked over 30 years ago. It's a sick thing ... but good for the marriage.

By the time The Goblet of Fire came home with Kelly, my attitude had changed dramatically. I was quite pleased to find her reading for days at a time. I didn't care if she never came to bed. The sooner she finished, the sooner it would be my turn. My pretentious reading habits collapsed in the magic world of Harry, Hogwarts, tricky spells, and (here comes some sports) quiddich. I was without power to put it down.

It wasn't exactly a shock when Kelly bought book one on tape. I thought this a little too much. After all, Harry's not Catch 22. It didn't merit another 10 hours of my time. Ha! One night a few weeks ago I thought I'd listen to just one tape to help me fall asleep. Now with all my friends (note they're no longer characters) really talking -- all very English -- I'm lost again. We sit around casting a future movie. I can't wait. I wonder how far along J.K. Rowling is on the fifth book. I want her to write faster.

This is what 31 straight Texas summers will do to a grown man.

Now that it's mid-August, the time is finally here to check in on baseball. Both the Rangers and the Astros -- in a new, futuristic, Harry Potterish ballpark -- were favored to win their respective divisions, a hope seemingly grounded in reality. (Unlike the Tinkerbellish sanguinity of the Cowboy fan.) So what a surprise it is to find both teams securely settled in last place. I'm thinking this is a flashback. I must be back in Chicago. But no, it's true. Even the Cubs are far ahead of the Astros. More shocks are coming. The White Sox -- another chronically rotten team from my hometown -- are in first place by a comfy six and a half games! Wait a minute. Somebody's been messing with my paper. The Mariners let baseball's premiere superstar go to Cincinnati, get nothing in return, yet lead the West by six? The Yankees are in first, but their winning percentage of only .558 suggests they may be vulnerable in the playoffs. Another ominous sign for the Yanks: They don't get to beat Texas in the first round. In the NL, a guy named Helton's hitting almost .400, Griffey's Reds are only four games out of first (a surprise to me since every time I turn on my radio, Junior's being crucified because he can't win 96 games all by himself). Atlanta, playing with a day-to-day lineup made up of guys I've never heard of, has the best record in the majors but are barely ahead of the hot Mets. The Diamondbacks are griping that their manager's mean, even though they're just a game out of first. Oakland's spiraling down the wild card drain fast.

Meanwhile my new favorite sport, quiddich (the Sport of Wizards), played on speeding broomsticks with three balls in play at all times, is in its long off-season, leaving a sports fan to ponder the validity of games played by normal people (muggles) standing on the ground.

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