Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Baseball reading and what I'm not reading

It may come as a bit of a surprise to people how comparatively little baseball I seem to read. I mean, here we are with Opening Day almost here and I have read a single baseball book this year. Part of that is due to the overwhelming number of books that are out there that I want to read. There's just not enough time for me to get to all the stuff I want to check out. Part of it is my involvement in baseball history nad research. I refer to an insane number of books on a regular basis for one reason or another. I just don't read them from cover to cover.

I did finish one baseball book last week and I'm in the middle of two others which I hope to complete soon. The one I finished was Hank Utley's The Independent Carolina Baseball League, 1936-1938. First, a disclaimer. I've known Hank since I was in college. We were both active members of SABR's North Carolina chapter and I always liked him. He is listed as a co-writer of this book with Scott Verner, a sportswriter in North Carolina who, I would speculate, did the majority of the writing. I like to think I can remove bias from my reviews, though.

Like a lot of, if not most of, the books that McFarland Publishing puts out, this is a book of niche interest. It's about an outlaw baseball league (outlaw is defined as not falling under the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (NAPBL) auspices) in the late 1930's in North Carolina and is a fascinating look at a time when baseball was still king in terms of sports and entertainment.

The teams in the Carolina Baseball League were predominantly backed by the large textile mills that operated in North Carolina during that era. Many industries had teams and leagues but the textile towns really took it to extremes, going out and recruiting professional ballplayers from other team and not just relying on townfolk to fill out the teams. Because they weren't under the NAPBL umbrella, the mills could offer salaries which were far in excess of other leagues. They were also able to offer the additional perk of offseason employment in the mills. As a result, the Carolina Baseball League was able to provide fans with a high caliber of baseball.

On the other hand, without the backing of the NAPBL, there was no higher power to appeal to in the matter of disputes. As players and teams started to take their "outlaw" label a little too seriously and disregarding their own rules and regulations, recruiting players from other teams, spending beyond even the limits that the league agreed upon at the start of the season, players who drank too much and argued with umpires, etc., the league quickly struggled and began to fall apart.

Utley does a good job of covering all this. He blends a variety of sources - correspondence, third-party interviews, local newspapers - to explore on and off field happenings. There's a lot of mini-biographies on star players, managers and team executives. There is also enough about the textile mills and the era to be able to give the reader a good background without making the book about the mills. Add in a wealth of photographs and this is a very nice history of an obscure league. As someone who is a fan of baseball books about local leagues/teams, I can safely put this as among the best of the genre.

Now for the other topic of this post, what I'm not reading. As I mentioned, there's a ton of stuff out there I want to read. Because of this, I won't stick with a book that I'm not enjoying unless there's a good reason. OK, my reasons aren't always good. I stuck through Stephen Carter's New England White a year or so ago just so that I could label it the worst book I ever read. If I really want to learn something or I have some reason to believe that the book is better than what I'm seeing it as being so far, I'll tough it out.

This year I've bailed on two books. Twlya Tharp's The Creative Habit and Lynee Truss's Eats, Shoots & Leaves. I picked up Tharp's book when I saw that people who bought a book I enjoyed, David Bayles's Art and Fear, also bought Tharp's book. Tharp is a dancer and while she tries to stress that her ideas are not only applicable to dance, I think a lot of them are goofy for those who have different creative outlets. For creative inspiration, Tharp's book pales to those of others. Julia Cameron especially comes to mind.

As for Truss's book, I figured as I make my shift from numbers to words, a book about punctuation would be worth reading. It might be. This one isn't. Her book is also supposed to be entertaining but I didn't really find it to be so. Truss complains and complains and complains and complains about how everyone messes up punctuation. It never seemed to stop. I couldn't take it anymore. I get it. A sign that says "Book's for sale" is wrong. I don't need three paragraphs talking about it and then three more about how the sign that says "Table's sold here" is also wrong. It was just too much.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Families of Deadballers

For the second year in a row, famed baseball analyst Bill James has put out his book, The Bill James Gold Mine. Lame title, great book. The book contains all sorts of statistical nuggets - some interesting, some ridiculously esoteric - as well as the great writing that I enjoy so much about Bill James.

One of his essays is about finding similarities of ballplayers. James undertakes a way of grouping ballplayers according to the distribution of extra base hits. For example, most ballplayers have an extra base hit ratio of 6-1-3. That is, they homer about half as often as they double and three times as much as they triple (6 2B, 1 3B, 3 HR). James breaks everyone down that way (with explanations of how he rounds) and groups players by ratio. Because some groups are bigger than others, he narrows them down by OPS. Very fun exercise to find players who are like one another.

I decided I wanted to do this but only examine those ballplayers who played during the Deadball Era (which I define as 1901-1920). Those distributions are very different because you didn't have guys homer as much. I wanted to see what those distributions were like. I took the career numbers of everyone who played at least one season during the Deadball Era and found their group for all players with 1000 or more plate appearances. I included stats from the 19th Century and post-Deadball mostly because I was interested in the latter. Babe Ruth was the first premier power hitter but I wanted to see who else from the Deadball Era was an "early adopter" of the power hitting change, if anyone.

By limiting my era, I ended up with far fewer groups than James, even without breaking down by OPS.

My groups were 910, 820, 811, 802, 730, 721, 712, 640, 631, 622, 613, 550, 541, 532, 523, 514 and 415. Sixteen groups in all. 721 was the largest group with 170 players followed closely by 631 with 169. That was 339 (52%) of the 649 players right there.

Three groups consisted of a single player. Not surprsingly, 415 was Babe Ruth. 550 was an outfielder by the name of Tom Long who spent three seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals. Long led the league in triples in 1915 with 25. He had 47 career doubles, 49 triples and six homers. 802 consisted of Brooklyn pitcher Dazzy Vance who knocked out seven homers during his career.

514 and 613 had four players each. I assumed these to be the aforementioned "early adopters". The 514s were Cy and Ken Williams, Pat Collins and Lefty O'Doul. O'Doul was a great minor league slugger who only had 28 at bats in the Deadball Era during which he hit zero homers. Pat Collins was a reserve catcher for the Browns and Yankees and had no homers in 49 Deadball at bats.

Cy Williams was already a top power hitter in the Deadball Era, leading the league in 1916 and 1920 and finishing second in 1915 and 1918. He led the league in homers in 1923 and 1927 as well. Ken (no relation) could not seem to hold a major league job during the Deadball Era (he reached the majors in 1915 at age 25 but didn't stick for a full season until he was 30). He then started swatting taters in 1921 and led the league in 1922 with 39.

The 613 group had Earl "Oil" Smith, Dutch Zwilling, Highpockets Kelly and Hack Miller. Smith was another backup catcher, Miller had two power-hitting seasons with the Cubs after 32 Deadball at bats and Zwilling was a slugger in the Federal League and then vanished from the majors. Kelly was a non-entity during the Deadball Era but became a player much in the mold of the 613 hitters of today. He is in the Hall of Fame.

So much for my early adoption theory.

Rounding out the small groups were 523 (Gavvy Cravath, Jack Fournier, George Harper, Rogers Hornsby and Tilly Walker - all but Harper were stars), 640 (Harry Bay, Bruno Betzel, Bob Ganley, Eddie Mulligan, Jim O'Neill, Fred Payne, Red Shannon and Jim Stephens), 712 (Lute Boone, Jimmy Dykes, Fred Luderus, Art Nehf, Jack Quinn, Bill Sherdel, Jimmy Walsh and Art Wilson) and 910 (Johnny Bassler, Eddie Cicotte, Howard Ehmke, Hunter Hill, Earl Moore, Muddy Ruel, Urban Shocker and Roxy Walters).

640 are largely short-time players which surprises me. I would think 640 guys would be useful and plentiful in the Deadball Era. 712 is an interesting blend of players with few similarities. 910 are a combination of long-time poor hitting pitchers and really, really, really bad hitters. Check out Hunter Hill's magnificent 1904 season. Actually, Johnny Bassler is a unique player in this group. He was a catcher for the Tigers and a career .300 hitter, virtually all of it in the 1920's. He's definitely an oddball player in any era.

At least for those playing in the Deadball Era, this type of grouping doesn't seem to work without further breaking things down. The majority of the Hall of Famers of this era are 721 or 631.

Something of note is the batting average breakdown by triples and homers. For those with 60% of their extra base hits coming from 3B and HR (Ruth), the batting average is .342. The batting average for those whose hits are half doubles, half triples and homers is .287. Oh heck, here's a chart:

60% .342
50% .287
40% .285
30% .269
20% .254
10% .243

It wouldn't surprise me if this is because the guys who hit for more power played in the 1920's when overall batting average was higher. I may run this all again and restrict the statistics to just the Deadball Era and see what happens.

I also thought I'd take a look at this from a team standpoint. I didn't expect much variation here and what variation there was, I expected to be due to ballpark effects, something that you saw a lot of in the Deadball Era due to parks being fit into tracts of land on city blocks and such.

Of the 336 teams during the Deadball Era, 143 were 631 and 126 were 721. Big surprise there.

There was one 523 team, the 1913 Cubs, which seem to have been largely influenced by Vic Saier's oddball season. In 1912, Saier's ratio was 25-14-2. In 1913 it was 15-21-14. In 1914, 24-8-18. All for the Cubs. Same stadium. Go figure.

Most of the other small groups were of similar nature. Looking at it from year to year, teams tended not to stray from the 631 and 721 patterns.

There are some interesting team traits. The White Sox from 1905-1910 were either 730 or 820. The Reds were 631 for 17 of their 20 Deadball seasons. The Phillies, playing in the hitters' haven of the Baker Bowl posted 5 of the 11 team seasons with 20% home runs.

Fun exercise to do even though I don't feel like I found too much of interest. It might be worth looking at only Deadball Era statistics on an individual basis and see who, if anybody, stands out. I do think that this methodology makes it difficult to distinguish players from within the era and requires other breakouts to differentiate between groups of like players.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Late music acquisition

I have wanted Yo-Yo Ma's album, Vivaldi's Cello, since before it came out in 2004 but I finally got around to acquiring a copy this week. I love it. Finding a lousy recording of Yo-Yo Ma is like finding an Oktoberfest in downtown Miami. It just ain't going to happen.

Amazingly, despite Sony's vigilance, I found a Youtube clip to demonstrate the album for y'all:

These are tracks 7-9 on the album.

One of the things I love most about this album is that, oh my word, Vivaldi wrote music other than The Four Seasons. No, really, he did! Only one track on this album contains music from Vivaldi's most recognized work. It's nice to get to hear recordings of some different Vivaldi pieces.

Speaking of which, I do have an incredible recording of The Four Seasons. Entitled The Compleat Four Seasons, the music is done by Musica Anima with Arnie Roth conducting and playing violin. What's really neat about it is that it also contains Patrick Stewart reading the sonnets that Antonio Vivaldi originally wrote to go with the music. And despite it making me giggle whenever Stewart reads the line in Summer which goes "the cuckoo raises its voice" (something about the way Stewart pronounces cuckoo strikes me as funny), I love every other aspect of the recording.

Wow. The Roth/Stewart album came out in 1995. I feel so old.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Food and eating in LA

Started my trip off to LA with a bowl of cinnamon Frosted Mini-Wheats at my parents' house at 5:30 AM. Not a time I like to be eating. On the plane I had a blueberry fruit bar.

Had a layover in Chicago and on the recommendation of the flight crew, got a sandwich at Potbellies. For airport food, the price was right. The sandwich, just short of a six inch toasted sub, was five dollars. Considering that an Egg McMuffin from McDonald's was four, this was a definite bargain. I got the Italian which was assorted Italian meats and provolone with some lettuce and tomato. This was real breakfast.

Had wheat and cheese crackers on the flight to LA. Got to the airport and Jason picked me up and we went to Natalee Thai. This was really good. We started with the Natalee Delight which was beef sate, egg rolls, shrimp rolls and fried wontons. It also had a little side cucumber salad of cucumbers, onion and chile peppers in a sugar and vinegar dressing. It was all fantastic. The temperatures were mixed (the wontons were cold, the egg rolls warm and the sate and shrimp rolls hot) but it was all tasty.

Our entrees came and I was a little disappointed as I had ordered the Monsoon Noodles which were supposed to be spicy but were not. About halfway through I'm eating and thinking, "This brown sauce has a really nice flavor. Wait....brown sauce? Jason, what did you order?". Oops. The waitress mixed our plates. His was chicken and noodles in brown sauce with Chinese broccoli. The broccoli was incredibly fresh and tasty. When we switched plates, I found myself missing the broccoli. The Monsoon Noodles were flat noodles with chicken, mint and basil with bell pepper and onion. It was tasty but lacked the high veggie quotient that the other dish (whose name I forget) had.

For dinner, I had a Dodger dog at the game. Long, thin hot dog which was tasty, I'm sure largely because it was consumed at the ballpark.

Sunday involved Jason sleeping late and then we walked up to a British pub called Cat and Fiddle for breakfast/lunch.

Saw the menu and discovered they had Scotch Eggs for appetizers. I had never heard of these things until recently. They are a hard-boiled egg wrapped in sausage, dipped in breadcrumbs and deep-fried. My folks had at a pub a couple months go and I tried to bake some at home using ground beef instead of sausage and it was a total flop. I ordered one to start my meal and it was tasty. Served on a bed of shredded lettuce, the sausage is unlike your typical German-style wurst and has a more solid consistency. It had a nice flavor, primarily rosemary, but I opted to put HP sauce, which I love, on it anyway.

I stuck with the sausage for my entree, getting bangers and mash. This was two sausages of the same kind used in the Scotch Egg, a pile of mashed taters and separate piles of boiled onions, peas and carrots. All the vegetables were fresh and boiled just right although the carrots were served cold. There was some gravy on the side for the taters which was just right in terms of flavor, texture, temperature and lack of greasiness. The onions stayed with me until I could get back to Jason's place and brush. All in all, a fairly decent meal with the sausage being the highlight. It was cooked to perfection and was tasty. And HP sauce....mmmmmm.....

At the ballgame I went with a carnitas burrito which was surprisingly tasty. It seemed to be a mix of 40% pork, 40% beans and 20% rice which made for a satisfying blend. It was spiced well, wrapped perfectly so that it didn't make a mess, and was hot. Really good ballpark meal.

Last day we did sushi for lunch at Sushi Hiroba. Fantastic. I wanted to go with something a little different and ordered a cold appetizer to start, the spicy tuna risotto. I love risotto and thought it was interesting that a sushi place had it and that it was listed as a cold appetizer. It came and it was sushi rice fried into little blocks. On top of each rice block was a generous helping of spicy tuna tartar with a little dollop of spicy mayo. Awesome.

I also ordered a couple of rolls. They somehow lost track of my order and it took a long time for them to get around to finally bringing the rolls. When they did, they forgot the wasabi and pickled ginger and so I had to ask for that. The rolls were both good but they overdid both with teriyaki sauce which was a little disappointing. The rolls were huge compared to everywhere I've had sushi except for Raw in Philadelphia. I had an eel and avocado roll which is my standard roll. I love eel. And avocado. This was good. Very fresh. Again, just too much teriyaki. I also ordered a special roll, the Oh Yes roll. That was tuna, yellowtail, salmon and avocado in a roll that is deep-fried. The deep-frying cooks the fish which sort of defeats the purpose of sushi. It was incredibly tasty, though. I had a piece of Jason's Raw Raw roll which was the anti-Oh Yes. Same contents, raw, wrapped in cucumber. I liked it much better.

Dinner was at the ballpark and for some idiotic reason I ate two burritos. Didn't need to. They were even better than the night before as they were piping hot (probably because I bought it in inning 1 instead of 6).

My last meal in Los Angeles was at Camacho's Cafe at LAX. Had a chorizo and egg burrito. Was piping hot but lacked flavor, especially disappointing compared to the burritos at the ballpark.

All in all I really enjoyed my meals in Los Angeles. Like most everything about that city, the available options overwhelm me and it was nice to have Jason steer me to some good places.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Props and doubts

First off, I wanted to give a shout out to some great baseball card blogs. I'd like to thank, again, Cardboard Junkie for his wonderful baseball card blog and for linking to mine.

I'd also like to thank Stats on the Back and Tribe Cards for sending me some Expos cards for a project I'm working on. At the time they sent them, I didn't have any card-related blog to express my appreciation of their generosity for other collectors so I'm doing it now. A public thanks to you both.

That being said, I mentioned in the Blog Bat Around post of last week that I am having an existential and financial crisis related to cards. The existential side is determining what, if any, set I want to be collecting. Last year, when I started reading some of these awesome card blogs and seeing how much fun some of these other guys were having and the number of really nice folks who collect baseball cards there are, I wanted to be involved. I collected the one Press Pass NASCAR set and Upper Deck Baseball Series 1 & 2. Neither set got completed.

This year, finding a set a like, outside of the NASCAR, has been difficult. the card companies do so much to make a set uncollectable. Inserts, short-prints, "error" cards, variations. If you want completeness, it's about impossible to do. You have to pretty much shoot for the base set and just enjoy all the little extras. Or, you have to spend a fortune to get all the extra stuff. I'm just not enjoying that and I can't afford it.

Also, like other card bloggers, I'm taking the opportunity cost into account more so than before. The most I would spend on cards at a time pretty much was $20. That's a new baseball book. Which baseball-related paper product holds more appeal for me? Definitely the book. So why am I bothering? And that's disregarding my potentially moving up to higher-end product. Chris Harris of Stale Gum recently opened a box of Topps Heritage, a set I had toyed with collecting, and predicted it would take three boxes to complete the set. That's $240. That's a pristine copy of Effa Manley's Baseball Before Integration which I DEFINITELY would rather have more so than a set of Topps Heritage.

At this point, I think I am going to put card-related posts on hold. I'm pondering writing about collections in general on Fridays going forward but we'll see.

Hopefully you'll continue to find the posts about baseball, books, music and cooking to be of interest. I don't see myself giving up those things any time soon.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Return to "normalcy"

Got my first day back in Pennsylvania under my belt. Being out late with Jason every night made the time zone adjustment easy to handle from a sleeping standpoint. My eating is a bit out of whack but nothing too bad. Maybe even a little better.

More so than being back from California, "normalcy" is defined as being healthy enough to work out again. I'd taken way too much time off because of the whole sinus/cold thing I had. I hopped on the rower yesterday to do 250m sprints and it sucked in a big way. Speed was off and endurance was way off. But I did it so that was good. More rowing is on the agenda for today, a rainy day which will be good for my rowing as it will keep me inside. I need to get outside and work on all the stuff out there.

Returned to work and made that adjustment fine.

One of the biggest things I did last night was begin research on a book. As I've mentioned before, shiny research projects always seem to distract me from whatever I'm working on. I thought I finally had the one I wanted to write, a dual biography of a couple of players from the Deadball Era. Neither have been covered in a book-length biography (and I wasn't entirely sure that either needed to be which is partly why I'm thinking of covering both).

I tracked down a relative of the one ballplayer and wrote him. Lo and behold, he had worked with a local sportswriter and a biography is being published this summer. Goes to show what happens when you stand around and do nothing.

That's not to say that I can't still write mine. Mine will take a different approach and I also have an awesome web-based marketing concept for it. It's still discouraging, though, that while I waited, someone else was doing something about it. Hopefully I learn the lesson.

P.M. Update - Did some good rowing today. Incrementally better than yesterday. 1000 meter intervals. Forgot to mention that I knocked out my first homework assignment last night even though classes do not start until next week. I figure the more I can stay ahead, the better.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Wildcard in LA

I'm back from LA and for my Wednesday post I thought I'd write a quick word about what I did before the game Monday. Jason and I went to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA (Young man, there's no need to be down. It's fun to go to the L...ACMA).

Last time I was in LA I went to the Getty Museum and enjoyed that. The LAMCA blows the Getty out of the water. Huge numbers of works from all sorts of time periods. Their ancient stuff is mindblowingly intact. Incredible contemporary works. They had an exhibition of German works demonstrating the changes in German art from the 1940's to now. And most important to me, three paintings by Camille Pissarro.

Just a great, great time and we maybe saw half of it while we were there. The place was huge. I highly recommend going when you're in LA.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

More reading

I had stockpiled a few books knowing I had long flights across the country but ended up finishing Yoko Ogawa's The Housekeeper and the Professor before I left. You would think that a book involving mathematics, baseball and baseball cards would be my cup of tea. It was a nice book but nothing special.

Surprisingly, my attention was brought to it by the cover. A nice dark blue sky with cherry blossoms blowing in the wind. The story involves a single woman who works as a housekeeper in Japan. She is hired to take care of a former mathematics professor who was in an automobile accident back in 1975 and suffered a brain injury that has left him able to remember everything that happened before the car crash but limits his short-term memory to just eighty minutes. Every day he wakes up and everything that happened to him from before is forgotten.

Thus, every day the housekeeper is a new person to him and he has to go through introductions and such. The professor keeps a wealth of reminder notes pinned to his suit so that he can remember important things (such as the fact his memory lasts just eighty minutes). Despite this, they develop a friendship, largely due to the housekeeper's 11-year old son.

It's a nice enough story, sort of a you-can-find-family-anywhere type of tale. The mathematical stuff is neat and the baseball info is accurate and entertaining. It still didn't captivate me, though.

Ballad of the Whiskey Robber was thoroughly captivating, however, which was nice since I spent most of my flight out to LA reading it. The book is about a Romanian fellow, Attila Ambrus, who, after a difficult childhood, heads to Hungary to make a home and a name for himself. Hungary in the early 1990's is going through a lot of changes and as the country shifts to capitalism, supposed wealth is to come to all people.

It turns out that this is not the case and it is a matter of the rich getting richer and poor getting poorer. Ambrus is a clever and tenacious fellow who arrives in Hungary with no connections and proceeds to talk his way onto one of the country's top hockey teams as a reserve goalie and janitor. Still treading below poverty, he begins a business smuggling animal pelts from Transylvania. The money he makes and the lifestyle it enables him to lead intoxicates him. Unfortunately, Ambrus has weaknesses for alcohol and gambling and he finds himself losing money as fast as he makes it.

In desperation, he robs a Hungarian post office. He has such an easy time of it that he begins to study other venues for robbery. This leads him to a career as a bank robber. Over a six year span he makes off with almost a million dollars and becomes a national folk hero. He becomes known as the Whiskey Robber because of his predilection for drinking whiskey at nearby bars before he undergoes a heist. A large portion of the Hungary public, tired of being downtrodden as corrupt political officials embezzle and steal and grow rich while they toil fruitlessly, embrace Ambrus and his antics, the media even labeling him a Robin Hood despite the only poor benefitting from his thefts being himself.

Ambrus is eventually caught but escapes while awaiting sentencing. He returns to crime for money and is eventually caught again.

The book is an interesting glimpse at an era that, as the author Rubinstein comments, is about the only possible way such a story could happen. The transitioning economy, the Dark Ages police force, the corrupt government and a handsome, intelligent, hardworking ne'er-do-well all work together to make a fascinating story.

As much as I have always enjoyed reading about criminals, both fictional and not, I had a hard time sympathizing with Ambrus, who does himself in with his drinking and gambling. There are times where he is able to lead an honest life and he somehow finds ways to ruin it. So despite his derring-do and his intelligence, I did not find myself as forgiving as his countrymen which is why I end up putting this book further down my top-ten list despite it being a fantastic tale.

Monday, March 23, 2009

World Baseball Classic, live

I wanted to get a post in for Monday because I don't know when I'll have the chance. Saturday night I attended the World Baseball Classic semifinal between Korea and Venezuela at Dodger Stadium. Sort of nutty as I started my day at my parent's house near Philadelphia and ended it in my friend Jason's apartment in Los Angeles. Cross-country trips are a newfangled part of my life.

The game was an incredible experience and I don't know that it could have been such an experience anywhere other than LA. We made the traffic-packed drive to ballpark and as we waited in line to park (reminiscent of a disorderly Disneyworld) I looked around at the cars surrounding us and commented on how we might be the only Caucasians at the game. It wasn't too far from the truth. Both Korea and Venezuela had large contingents attend the game.

Dodger Stadium in itself is quite an experience. I haven't been to many major league games in the last many years and I didn't realize until Jason pointed out that Dodger Stadium is now the third oldest major league ballpark behind Fenway and Wrigley. It looks like it. The causeways are dungeonlike in their appearance with hardly any lighting and the restrooms use the trough-style urinal. The ballfield itself is nice. We were seated in the fifth row of loge boxes just behind third base which was a great place to view the game. We were surrounded by enthusiastic Koreans who cheered, chanted, screamed and thundersticked the entire game.

Rightfully so as the Koreans took an early lead from the sloppy Venezuelans. The leadoff batter walked and then the #2 hitter lofted a an easy fly out to rightfield which Bobby Abreu dropped for an error. A bloop single followed then a ball up the middle which Carlos Silva had trouble handling. He made an out at first but a run scored. A three-run homer ensued. The Koreans batted around and took a 5-0 lead in the first. They added a pair in the second and the game was, for all intent and purposes, over.

Jason had planned on rooting for Venezuela since a victory would mean we would get to see Felix Hernandez pitch in the final. I didn't care much either way but was bummed because I didn't think to wear my Korean Martial Arts Institute t-shirt (which I had packed) in support. Because we didn't have a solid rooting interest, we got caught up in our neighbors glee and were soon cheering for the Korean team.

Of course, an international game wouldn't be complete without an Ugly American incident. In the third inning, with the Koreans up 7-0, a pair of guys in their early 20's show up with their girlfriends. Some Koreans are sitting in their seats which leads to the one kid saying "These are our seats so you have to GO HOME". The same asshat then starts cheering for the Venezuelan team when he isn't getting up for beer or kissing his girlfriend, standing and high-fiving his buddies like he's Venezuelan. Thankfully they left in the fifth inning which to me begged the question of "Why bother"? Especially given the hassle of traffic and the cost of parking and the beers he was swilling. What was the purpose? Oh well.

We stayed to the end and watched the Koreans move on to the finals by a score of 10-2. Tonight we go to see Team USA play Japan and then the final is Monday night.

UPDATE: Saw Japan beat the US last night 9-4. Watching the U.S. team led to so many questions, the first being "Why is Derek Jeter even in the lineup?" He literally threw away the last chance the US had to comeback, turning a two run deficit into a five, he looked awful in the field and at the plate and worst of all, Jimmy Rollins, a far superior defensive shortstop, is the designated hitter meaning that if they were to sub him in defensively, they would lose the DH spot and the pitcher would have to bat. That's like tying your hands together before you start the game.

My guy, Adam Dunn, looks pretty horrific as well, and probably should be DHing. His strikeout to end the game didn't earn him any fansbut that's what you get with Dunn. His fielding is as bad as Jeter's and it was exposed with him in rightfield against a lefty-loaded Japanese team.

Japan baffled me a bit as well, throwing young superstar Yu Darvish in the 9th inning with a five run lead. I had expected him to get the start for today's game. My main WBC objective of watching him pitch was fulfilled, though, and he is spectacular. Barring injury, he should probably join the game's greats even if American fans will never hear of him.

The crowd was much quieter leading me to predict a Korean win tonight as they take over the stadium once again and turn it into their own home field. Having an American team compete led to scoreboard-induced chants which I certainly did not miss in the opener.

The most fun player to watch, for me, was Curtis Granderson. Being bookended by Dunn and Ryan Braun out there in the outfield, they really need him to cover as much ground as possible which he most certainly does. He actually made one play standing in front of Braun in leftfield. Not left-center, left. Just amazing. Plus he wears his socks high. Only guy of the U.S. starting nine to do that. It's a good look.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Couple tunes for you

Don't want you missing me so here's some music to listen to. Just discovered the one song and the one artist.

The song is a really cool one from the Body of Lies soundtrack. Mike Patton and Serj Tankian (from System of a Down) doing Bird's Eye.

The group is Sgt. Dunbar and the Hobo Banned

Sgt Dunbar and the Hobo Banned - Goin' Nowhere HD from All Over Albany on Vimeo.

Definitely check out their myspace page

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Eating on the road

No, I'm not talking roadkill. By the time this is posted, I will be on my way to the City of Angels to catch the semi-finals and finals of the World Baseball Classic.

I was out in L.A. back in September (first time in my life I was there) and I enjoyed some really good food. My first experiences with In-N-Out and Carl's burgers. Some nice cold udon noodles at a Japanese place. Awesome gelato. Fish tacos. And to top it all off, I ate at Mario Bartoli's restaurant, Osteria Mozza. My next "cooking" post will be about the things I eat while I'm in L.A.

That being said, I'm going to spend every evening I'm there at Dodger Stadium so it might not be as varied and fancy as last time. But I'm sure I'll be able to report on the ballpark food there.

Ballpark food generally isn't too exciting for me. Almost all the time, I like to eat a hot dog at the game. A hot dog just tastes better at a ballpark. The one exception, and it may have changed since I was there seventeen years ago, was Kinston, North Carolina. They had the scariest hot dogs ever. They were a very unnatural, glowing pink and tasted horrible. I shudder to this day.

Otherwise I cannot think of anywhere that really stood out. Well, maybe a hot dog I had at Old Comiskey Park. That was pretty tasty. And I can't think of any non-hot dog food that was good. Nachos at old Arlington Park in Texas were awful, especially since I was in Texas. Everything else is nondescript.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Fifth Blog Bat Around

Cardboard Junkie posted the Fifth Blog Bat Around and as I'm experiencing an existential (and financial) crisis in my own pursuit of baseball collectibles, I thought this would be a good post for today.

What is the best experience you have had acquiring cards or memorabilia?

I'll focus on the cards since that is what immediately comes to mind: My all-time favorite player, Dave Righetti. In 1983, I purchased my first ever baseball card at a show, which was held at Tri-State Mall in Delaware. My Mom had taken me down there for, I'm sure, clothes shopping, and lo and behold, there was a small card show taking place (small because Tri-State Mall was small). I had been collecting cards since 1978 but mostly just bought packs, traded a little with my friends. I lived in rural Pennsylvania and had never seen anything like this. I was leafing through a folder and saw this 1982 Topps rookie card of Dave Righetti. Righetti had recently thrown a no-hitter, was tall and left-handed (like myself), and also bore a bit of a resemblance to my uncle. Mostly he was this really good young pitcher who I enjoyed following. The card was available for $1.50 and I bought it. I then ran into the bookstore in the mall, found a price guide and saw that it listed for $2. A steal!!!

I don't know when, but I got it in my head that I wanted to collect one of every Dave Righetti card produced. For you whipper-snappers out there, this was a freaking challenge back in the day. No internet, no eBay. You hit shows and prayed that someone would have some obscure regional issuance that you could pick up. On the other hand, you didn't have Topps producing seventeen different sets with four different colored inserts and an "error" card so while availability was limited, the number of different cards to collect was reasonable.

When I did get a new card, I'd put it in one of those single card plastic holders and thumbtack the holder to my bedroom wall. As the collection grew, I'd rearrange them or sometimes move them to a different wall for a different look. When I left for college it drove my parents insane with the amount of spackling they had to do before they painted the walls in the bedroom.

Once I left for college, I took my Righetti collection with me and kept it in a binder. Over the years, others helped me out with acquisitions. Here are some of the most memorable.

1. My first love, Rebecca, was traveling with her parents. They stopped at an antique mart and the guy there had baseball cards. She found a blank back Righetti and bought it for me.

2. I've never dealt drugs or smuggled weapons. I've led a pretty shady-activity-free existence. Probably the shadiest guy I ever knew ran a baseball card store in Kennett Square. To this day I still think Ron used the store as a front. I know he ran a bookmaking operation out of there and who knows what else. He'd try all sort of shenanigans to pull fast ones on people, especially the kids (like me) who frequented his shop. We knew he did this but his was the only place around to go for cards. Plus, you always thought that you might get your legs broken if you crossed him. As an example of the shenanigans, he opened a 1986 Donruss rack pack and inserted Jose Canseco rookie cards on the fronts of two of the three sections and then resealed it. People went nuts offering him all sorts of money for it (this was in 1988 or 1989).

Anyway, I walk in to his store one day and he goes "Hey, I was at this show out west and I saw this card and picked it up for you". He proceeds to give me a 1984 Nestle card of the 1983 no-hitters (Rags, Forsch and someone else). Just gave it to me. It was such an out of nowhere gesture, I never forgot it.

3. Went to the University of Pittsburgh for college. My parents dropped me off and left. I read in the paper that there's a card show at some hotel in Pittsburgh. I've been in Pittsburgh less than an hour and know nothing about where things are. I have no money because I spent the summer with Rebecca instead of working. So I grab my Tony Gwynn and Wade Boggs rookie cards to see if I can sell them if I want to buy stuff and set out on foot. I walk for forever. I finally see a guy washing his car and ask him where the hotel is. It's still a long way away. We chit-chat and I tell him I'm new to Pittsburgh and heading to this show. He says to come by when I'm done and he'll drive me back to Pitt since he's going out that way later.

I get to the show and some guy has the 1979 West Haven Yankees team set which contains Righetti's first-ever card. I trade the Gwynn rookie for the set and head off. The guy I met drives me back to Pitt and all is well. One hour, all alone in a strange town where I know no one and no one knows I'm even there and I'm hitching rides with total strangers. Good times.

4. Transfer to Guilford College and make friends with Mike, an aspiring broadcaster and the second most-despised person on campus (his roommate Art is the most-despised. I also befriend him). Mike single-handedly brought sports broadcasting to Guilford's campus. One Saturday Mike is doing a football broadcast where our quarterback, Calvin Hunter, led the team to a remarkable comeback leading Mike to exclaim loudly on air "Calvin Hunter is GOD!". In the ensuing edition of the school newspaper, Butch, a devout religious fanatic and the editor of the sports section, took Mike to task over his comment. I, angered, wrote a heated letter to the editor and from that day on Butch and I didn't really get along.

Near the end of the school year, I get a surprise visit from Butch. He's organizing a Rotisserie baseball league and had heard I knew a thing or two about baseball and invited me to be a part of it. I said sure and through the healing power of Rotisserie, we became buddies. The following year we come back from winter break and Butch shows up at my room. "Got you this". It's Righetti's second card, a Columbus Clipper minor league card issued by the Columbus Police Department.

5. My second eBay purchase was for some Righetti cards I didn't have (this was back in 1998. My first eBay purchase was Red Flag's CD, Naive Dance, which I bought from a guy in Singapore).

I'm getting up there in the years by this point. Rags is retired and working as pitching coach for the San Francisco Giants. I think about it and decide that not many people would appreciate this collection. Selling it makes no sense. My sons won't be interested in it as they don't know who Righetti is. I decide that the best thing to do with this collection is to give it to Righetti himself. He has three children and I figure they might appreciate, in essence, a pictorial timeline of their Dad's career as a major league pitcher from when he was just out of high school with New Haven to his retirement as a Giants pitcher. So I packed it up, by this time over 120 different cards, and shipped it to him.

A while later I get a picture in the mail from Righetti. On it he has inscribed "To Jonathan, Thank you very much for your support over the years, and for kindness in sending something you obviously cared about! Good Luck Rags"

I keep that picture hung in the baseball room to this day and still enjoy the 25+ year experience of being a fan of Dave Righetti.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

I plead insanity

Love this song.

My friend Danielle recently called me insane. We hadn't talked in a little while and I had failed to tell her that I had applied and was accepted into my third master's degree program and that I had edited a book. Sometimes I forget minor details about my life that way. Whether the insanity comes from me just sort of doing this stuff or from the fact I don't think much of it is a question.

Spring is on Friday and I am embracing it and viewing it with trepidation. There's a lot of stuff I want to get done before Labor Day so I've got less than six months. What do I want to do between now and then?

1. Finish converting the barn to a gym. I'm making slow progress but it is getting there.
2. Finish the upstairs hallway. Ditto. The paint is almost off the walls. Then I have to prime, paint and put in new carpet.
3. Row a marathon. April 16-30 is Concept2's Global Marathon Challenge. A half-marathon is the most I have rowed. I'm going to do a full one and I hope to do it in under three hours.
4. Deadlift 500 pounds. For the most part, I'm content with getting stronger and I don't think too much about times and weights (OK, with rowing I do a bit). The 500 pound deadlift is a round number that appeals to me, though, and one I really want to achieve in the next six months.
5. Drop fat. I don't know what I weigh right now. I do know I've lost weight. I want to be buff. I'm tired of being overweight and having all this good muscle hidden.
6. Get started on writing a book. Fear of not being "good enough" has kept me from writing a book. Enough is enough.
7. Miscellaneous paperwork. I've got a committee newsletter, a grant application, a application to have my house registered as a historic place, taxes, and I'm sure a handful of other things I need to complete.
8. Garden. Veggies, herbs and plants that attract butterflies and bees.
9. Find full-time employment. This is a topic unto itself.
10. Two things I don't want to talk about right now.

See how I can overlook stuff? I've got a lot on my mind. That doesn't include my current job, boowah activities, eking out an existence on what little income I have, etc., etc., etc.

I think really that's the argument I'm trying to make. I don't think my life and the variety of activities I pursue is anything special. My choices are pretty different from most folk but I certainly don't bear a greater burden than your average person. So maybe I'm not insane. My interests probably are. I don't know. I just like the feeling that I can do all sorts of fun things.

How about you? Any things you want to accomplish this spring/summer?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Blood for work and play

Wild-card Wednesday has me writing about that plasma-filled topic of blood. Despite not having a television, us boowahs are on a Buffy the Vampire Slayer kick. Hulu has posted the first three seasons of Buffy so we've been watching (or re-watching in my case) on laptops. Gaga was just a little kid when the series started and Doodle was born when Angel was spunoff. I still remember living in an apartment, watching Buffy, then, when Angel kicked in with it's wonderful cello-based score, taking Doodle's arms and conducting the song before putting him to bed.

While I've been enjoying re-watching it (and groaning at some of the inconsistencies (such as Angel not being to resuscitate Buffy because as a vampire he has no breath but in the very next episode, Spike is puffing away on a cigarette)) the boowahs are getting a kick out of it, too. So good times.

I also finished reading a book that was about one of the things I used to enjoy watching on television, Ultimate Fighting. L. Jon Wertheim's book Blood in the Cage is a nice bit of sportswriting on the history of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). Good sportswriting can be a fun thing to read. You may find it strange, though, that I don't really care for it. I don't read Sports Illustrated (for whom Wertheim writes for a living), I don't read much of ESPN's guys who aren't analytical-based (such as Neyer and Law). It just doesn't captivate me.

I think some of this is that good sportswriting is about instilling life and meaning into sports which, I feel, most of the time isn't there. It's just not a great story to me when someone "overcomes adversity" by scoring a goal a day, a week, a month, a year after their father passed away. This holds true at any level of sport. Sport is about competition. Without it, life does go on. I think it is this attitude that has kept me from embracing sports teams throughout my life.

Now wait a minute, you might be saying, how can you have that attitude when you're a big fan of the history of baseball and have websites devoted to these same people and are interested in them and all that jazz? It's because these people do have stories and they have developed a level of skill and achievement at something I do admire. I just don't want to read forced writing about it. You didn't homer because your Dad was looking down on you, you homered because you're a talented athlete who has been doing this, through thick and thin, for most of your life.

Maybe it's this abundance of sportswriting, the forced sportswriting, that steers me clear of all sportswriting and so I miss the good stuff.

Wertheim's book is good. Sometimes the writing gets a little too flowery for the topic but mostly it's good. As a veteran fan of the UFC myself, there wasn't a whole lot in there that was new to me. Some stuff on Pat Miletich and the promoter Monte Cox but that was about it. If you're new to the sport or want to understand the charm of mixed martial arts, it's definitely worth picking up but since I didn't get a lot out of it, I can't put it in my top ten despite it being a well-done book.

What I write about when I write about writing

A nice perk of working for a library is the opportunity to select books for purchase. I like to think I bring a bit of diversity to the titles that we would normally buy without getting something of such little interest no one but me will read it. Haruki Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is one of those books. Murakami is one of my favorite authors and the subject of a goofy collecting idea of mine. Every now and then I get it in my head that I want to try and collect every translation of every one of his books. Given that his books have been translated into 39 different languages, that makes for a lot of different books. It would be even cooler if I could read all those different translations. Alas, some things defy possibility.

This book is a memoir of sorts. It's about Murakami's life long habit of running and the impact running has had on his life. It also blends in with his philosophies of life and his writing.

As a fan of Murakami's and as a former runner, I really enjoyed this book. I'm not sure I can envision someone who does not fall into one of those categories picking up this book. On the surface it might seem like I may not have done such a good job at picking a title that the "general public" will enjoy but we'll see. It's not like Murakami is an obscure author (although he might be in Amishland. I did recommend Kafka on the Shore to a patron but have yet to hear back on how he liked it) or running is an obscure sport. I think there'll be interest. It was a mighty good book.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Every year there is this wonderful conference called the TED Conference. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design. They bring in all these high powered people and they limit the attendees so it could be just for those who are high-falutin' enough to have money and/or connections. But the people at TED are good folk and they put the talks online for everyone to view and there have been so many that I have watched that have informed, entertained and motivated me.

I was checking out the talks from the most recent conference and saw one by a woman, Elizabeth Gilbert, that was about genius. The text stated that it was more about "having" genius than "being" a genius. I watched it and Ms. Gilbert just made me swoon. I think she's pretty and witty and incredibly self-aware. I liked a lot of what she had to say and as I was watching the talk I could think of two things: 1. I HAVE to read her book. 2. Why do I know that name?

Well, before I go on, here's the video:

As I went to find out more about the book I discovered why I knew her. It turns out she had impacted the life of my son years ago. She wrote a book called The Last American Man about a fellow by the name of Eustace Conway. Conway lives off the land out in North Carolina at a place called Turtle Island where, among other things, he holds camps. After reading Gilbert's book, I got information about it and my oldest son went to Conway's camp for two summers, once for a week and once for two weeks. You can check out Turtle Island here. I would suspect that Turtle Island has had the greatest impact on my son's development outside of his immediate family.

So now I'm really starting to adore Ms. Gilbert and I request Eat, Pray, Love. My timing was great as one of the area libraries is using it as a book club book next month. Having read the book, I still adore her but we're not going to be dating or anything anytime soon. Maybe in a previous or future life. I like to think we have a lot in common.

The book is a ridiculously open account of Gilbert's search for herself, spirituality and balance as she went through a "mid-life crisis". Gilbert and her husband went through an ugly divorce that left Gilbert a wreck in many ways. She decides to go to Italy, India and Indonesia in order to find herself and just sort of get away from it all.

Eat, Pray, Love is divided into 108 chapters, 36 for each country and aspect of the book title. 108 has a number of spiritual connotations which is why she does so. The first 36 cover Gilbert's travels to Italy where she indulges herself with good food (Eat). She then goes to India to learn about spirituality through meditation while studying under a guru (Pray). Lastly, she travels to Bali where she strives to find balance, falls in love with a Brazilian man there whom she then marries, and does seem to find happiness within herself (Love).

Gilbert's writing style is fantastic. Her usage of words strikes me as bearing an uncanny resemblance to Anne Lamott, another author whose works I enjoy. Gilbert, though, is just so incredibly open. At times it's almost like reading someone's diary, it's so personal. I even found myself blushing a couple of times. This openness is part of the book's success. By being so open, one can really relate to her and know how she's feeling. I think if she were less open, people would be saying things like "Oh, it must be nice to be able to travel to Italy and gorge yourself in an effort to find happiness". It's because you get to witness her sadness and her guilt and all the negatives as well as all the positives that you can't help but like her and her book, even if you weren't swooning like I was coming into it.

I would find it hard to believe that any woman would not enjoy this book. Men, maybe not so much, in general. There's a definite feminine quality to it that might turn some guys off. For women, especially those who have gone through an identity crisis of their own, I can't think of a more inspirational book.

And yes, for as much as I enjoyed this, I still have Zander's book ahead of it. I had thought I had embedded Zander's TED talk before but I did not so here it is now.

Monday, March 16, 2009

World Baseball Classic

The World Baseball Classic has been much maligned here in the United States, perhaps rightfully so. The U.S. sent a contingent of players which wouldn't exactly be considered the top representatives available. This holds true for other countries as well but naturally the media doesn't point that out.

The big trouble, it seems, is that each country has its own idea of how important the World Baseball Classic is and of the countries involved in the tournament, it would appear that the United States has the least amount of interest/pride in the outcome. Some would argue it is because Major League Baseball is the pinnacle of baseball competition in the world. There's also the timing of the event, occurring right before the baseball season for many countries, when players are easing into playing shape.

I love it. Not because of the misguided patriotism that tends to arise from competitions such as this and the Olympics. I like the opportunity to see players I wouldn't normally see compete. I like seeing how other countries approach the game of baseball. I like my own misguided non-patriotism of rooting for the Netherlands. I've enjoyed following the Classic.

I'll enjoy it even more this weekend as I will be going out to Los Angeles for the semi-finals and final. I'd love to see an Asia/Latin American final. Well, I'd really love to see a Korea/Netherlands final but that ain't going to happen. I'm writing this Sunday night before the Netherlands will likely be knocked out by the United States. Then again, the Dutch have played some tough games and won ones that they really had no business winning. So we will see.

If you haven't yet, tune in to a game and watch some of the top players from around the world play.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Samantha Fox videology

I've always enjoyed the music of Samantha Fox. Well, most of it, as you will see. All throughout my high school years, I got grief from people for liking her music. "You don't like her music, you like her bodacious tatas". Not true. Granted, she was all right on the eyes, especially when you're a teenage boy and breasts of her size were unusual because we didn't have the ridiculous abundance of the absurd silicon kind like we do nowadays but seriously, I liked, and still like, her music.

How much did I like her music? My car at the time had a cassette player that messed up tapes. So I had two sets of all three of her tapes, one for the car and one for home. Only artist to have the home/road cassettes.

How much did I like her videos? I don't know. I seem to recall seeing Touch Me once and none of the others. With the advent of Youtube, I've been able to catch up on them and I sort of wish I hadn't. These are some pretty awful videos. I'm not talking awful in that they are dated now (even though they are). I'm talking who in the hell came up with the concepts.

Let's start with Touch Me:

Plot: Not much of one. Typical of the era, this video is pretty much a fake concert shot. Sam and her keyboard player spin around in circles a lot which might have some meaning that I don't know.
Subplot: Ferret Boy (that's what I call him because he is built like a ferret and appears to have the brains of one) early on is shocked that Sam comes out on stage (0:38-0:42). Then, at the 1:33 mark, he climbs on stage but then looks totally confused that he got up there ("Wait, this doesn't look like the ferret bathroom"). Sam commands him to touch her but he apparently thinks that it is her jean jacket talking as he grabs it and pulls it. Sam gives up and moves on to her guitar player.
Foxy Wackiness: Someone involved with her videos must have said, "Sam, when people think of Brits, they think of physical humor. Let's inject some fun into your videos". They put her swinging on a rope which, in itself, isn't funny. BUT, they then have Sam drink some water, throw the rest of the glass over her shoulder (because isn't that what everyone does when they can't possibly drink any more water in one gulp) which...this is hilarious....hits the drummer who is still playing the song even though Sam stopped to drink. They could have stopped there but then they have Sam do a spit take to cap it off. A laugh riot!!!!

Naughty Girls (Need Love Too)

Plot: It starts off looking like it could be a West Side Story homage as we have the Gay Latino dance group facing off against the blacks in shiny denim jackets but there's no conflict. Instead, the Latinos do most of the dancing, while the black fellows provide backup vocals and all remain peaceful with no danceoffs or anything. Lots of spinning in circles again.
Subplot: The gayest looking and dressing of them all scores with Sam, or so it's inferred. Mostly she gropes him and he stoically sits around.
Foxy Wackiness: None really except for the pseudo-rapping which is part of the song.

I Only Wanna Be With You

This is arguably the video masterpiece. One of my favorite songs of hers and it was viewing this video for the first time that inspired this post.
Plot: Sam only wants to be with you with you being a whole bunch of guys.
Subplot: Sam really digs a guy who would much rather sit topless in bed with his glasses on doing the New York Times crossword puzzle.
Foxy Wackiness: Good lord, that's what this video is. From the silly faces she makes to the whack-a-mole garbage can game which ends with her upside down in a trashcan with her legs sticking out to the hay to the pillow feathers to the papier mache guy. The fun never stops.

I Surrender

Plot: Sam lives in a bad part of town
Subplot: It's not so bad, really. People push one another around and the sanitation department is on strike but it's safe to walk around at all hours.
Foxy Wackiness: The one minute intro that establishes the horrible conditions of the street she lives on is pretty bad. But from the four minute point on is simply inexplicable.

Hold On Tight

One of my least favorite songs of hers as she tries to make the country music crossover.
Plot: Sam opens up the first 50's-diner style strip club.
Subplot: Someday Goldie Wilson is going to be mayor and clean up this town. He's going to start by cleaning up this diner.
Foxy Wackiness: Swinging in the tire, dancing on the table, the dancing doughnuts. Lot of wacky stuff here.

Do Ya Do Ya (Wanna Please Me)

Plot: Sam takes her limo to a storage unit facility to perform in a concert.
Subplot: Her gay Latino driver who lusts after Sam turns out to be a Latino woman who just longs to be able to dance like Sam.
Foxy Wackiness: At the one minute mark she steps on the guy carrying a speaker. Then at the end they break out the whole water on a band member concept again.

Love House

Plot: Zombie Werner Klemperer runs a house of ill repute.
Subplot: My brain stopped working when I realized how much "French" Samantha Fox looks like Heidi Klum.
Foxy Wackiness: The whole avant garde nature of this video.

For all the entertainment value to be found in the videos, Sam captured it in all it's entirety when she released her fourth album, the painful Just One Night.

I'll end with no comments on the single Hurt Me Hurt Me (But the Pants Stay On)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Home brews

I've been unwell for a ridiculous amount of time. I'm not exactly sure what has been the cause of it but I have had a head full of congestion and a sore throat, the latter likely caused by the congestion.

As I may have mentioned before, I'm opposed to pharmaceutical products. Usually I can wait out an illness but this one has dragged on and on. Wanting to feel better I started looking for a remedy and found one for my sore throat in the form of cayenne pepper. Half a teaspoon of cayenne in half a cup of hot water. Gargle. Kills the pain in the throat, reduces the swelling. Amazing.

I figured, too, that I would share my typical breakfast, a nutritious, tasty and well-balanced concoction. My breakfast is a cup of lowfat or nonfat cottage cheese, a half scoop of protein powder, a tablespoon of peanut butter, a cup of fruit (berries when in season and/or affordable or canned peaches otherwise), a third cup of oats. Great blend of protein, fat and carbs. Yummy.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Last Box. Or is it?

7 of 36 NSCS Drivers
3 of 12 NNS Drivers
0 of 6 NCTS Drivers
4 of 12 Built for Speed
2 of 12 Nascar Scene
2 of 8 Looking Forward
1 of 11 Tony Stewart - 10 Year Retrospective
2 of 9 Joey Logano - Through the Years
3 of 12 Top 12

6 blue parallels - 3 NSCS, 1 Tony Stewart, 1 Joey Logano, 1 Top 12
3 Freeze Frames
1 Trading Paint
1 Unleashed
and two Target cards

Total cards:
21 of 36 NSCS Drivers
8 of 12 NNS Drivers
3 of 6 NCTS Drivers
10 of 12 Built for Speed
9 of 12 Nascar Scene
4 of 8 Looking Forward
8 of 11 Tony Stewart - 10 Year Retrospective
4 of 9 Joey Logano - Through the Years
8 of 12 Top 12

12 of 36 Freeze Frames
4 of 12 Unleashed
5 of 9 Trading Paints
30 Blue parallels of 120

77 of 120 base cards. 21 of 57 inserts. 1/4 of the blue parallels.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

My house in the middle of the street

I've been doing a lot of work on my house lately. At the start of this blog I mentioned the work I was doing on the inside of the barn in an effort to turn it into a gym. I've also started working on the outside, stripping the paint to prepare it for a nice fresh coat.

I also yanked up all the plants that surrounded my "fish pond" in the backyard. It's a man-made pond but, like pretty much everything involved with this house, it wasn't taken care of by the previous owners. It was very overgrown with plant life that just didn't look good. Sawgrasses and crap like that. So I pulled it up. My intent is to plant native plants that will attract bees and butterflies. I need to figure out what exactly went on with the pond. My one neighbor swears that he had heard a pump running at some point but there's no electric outlets to be found. I did find a part of something that looked like a filter under the plants (along with four golf balls) but I'm still baffled as to how it might have worked or been powered.

Work continues to go on with the upstairs hallway, too.

All that being said, I like my house. One, it's mine. I picked it out and bought it. I knew there was work to be done but I think that was part of the appeal.

It took me some time to really admit I liked it. Living in it without the boowahs was a tough adjustment and then my Dad made some hurtful comments concerning the house which took me some time to get over. Add in the work and I probably was more despondent early on than anything.

It grew on me. I see a lot of myself in the house. It doesn't look like much but has immense potential and it really has a lot that is good about it. It just isn't apparent to everyone. It's not as old as it looks. It has quirky charm. I'd say it probably doesn't fit in with the other houses.

The house and the property are different. I have more land than most of the houses on the street.

I also like the area. People up here are so much more friendly than in Delaware. This is the closest feeling to home I've ever had in a place of residence.

My mind isn't really into this so I'll stop. I just wanted to get started writing again.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Beep, Beep, Beep, Beep, Yeah!

Got finished reading a "mono-history" of sorts, Tom Vanderbilt's Traffic. Subtitled Why We Drive the Way We Do, it is an interesting look at just that. Sociological, physical, psychological, historical. You name it, Vanderbilt covers it.

Not only that, but Vanderbilt is a pretty entertaining writer. The book is extremely well researched and the endnotes comprise almost a quarter of the 400 pages of the book. My only quibble with all that is that there are times it feels like Vanderbilt wants to get in every source he has and finds some way to transition what he's writing about to fit that particular source.

Really, it's probably fairer to say that it's well-edited as opposed to well-written. Linking all those sources into an entertaining, informative narrative ain't an easy thing to do. Some times the book plods a little. There's a time or two where Vanderbilt delves into numbers a little too much. But mostly, once again, I'm nitpicking.

I wondered as I read this whether the driving in this country would change if everybody read the book. I thought my own driving would be modified a bit from what I learned, despite the fact that out here in the countryside, I don't often have traffic issues. Lo and behold, though, I still am pretty irrational behind the wheel.

There were a lot of interesting things that I learned in this book which added to the enjoyment. The various types of employment in the world of traffic studies is mindboggling. There was also a lot of non-intuitive things which I liked a lot. Some, like the fact more roads don't help, I knew. Others, like the fact that more fuel-efficient cars will increase traffic and thereby cause different environmental concerns, I hadn't really thought about too much.

Another book that I would strongly recommend reading.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

I know I'm off schedule

But here's one of the best food reviews I've ever read. And about potato chips, no less.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Crummily awesome

8 of 36 NSCS Drivers
3 of 12 NNS Drivers
0 of 6 NCTS Drivers
2 of 12 Built for Speed
1 of 12 Nascar Scene
2 of 8 Looking Forward
4 of 11 Tony Stewart - 10 Year Retrospective
1 of 9 Joey Logano - Through the Years
2 of 12 Top 12

6 blue parallels - 2 NSCS, 1 Scene, 1 Joey Logano, 2 Top 12
3 Freeze Frames
1 Trading Paint
1 Unleashed
1 Ron Hornaday autograph
and two Target cards

The inserts were cool but otherwise, that really sucked. I only got ONE base card which I did not already have.

That brings me to:
18 of 36 NSCS Drivers
8 of 12 NNS Drivers
3 of 6 NCTS Drivers
7 of 12 Built for Speed
9 of 12 Nascar Scene
2 of 8 Looking Forward
8 of 11 Tony Stewart - 10 Year Retrospective
4 of 9 Joey Logano - Through the Years
7 of 12 Top 12

10 of 36 Freeze Frames
4 of 12 Unleashed
3 of 9 Trading Paints
25 Blue parallels of 120

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Sad book

A friend recommended I read Robert Peck's A Day No Pigs Would Die. As it is a young adult book, I approached it with some trepidation, thinking myself too "mature". Never mind that I spent part of last night watching video clips of how they made the Watchmen movie.

My attitude didn't really change much as I flew through the book. The book is an autobiographical novel about a young Shaker boy growing up on a farm in Vermont. Since the book is narrated by the boy, the language is very simple to which I give kudos to Peck for being able to pull off. I think it is a difficult thing to write for children, let alone write as a child while being an adult.

As I continued to read, though, I began to wonder why this was a book for children (actually, I think the young adult label is appropriate). The book talks about a lot of the harsh aspects of farm life and has some depiction of killings and matings. There's also some sexual innuendo involving neighbors and a bizarre chapter where a neighbor digs up the body of a child that died in birth along with its mother. Turns out that the neighbor fathered the child even though he was married to another woman. The chapter really had no rhyme or reason in the book and was completely out of place.

The book was often banned by school and libraries in the past for these reasons. If you get past these "issues", you find a good story about growing up as a young Shaker boy. As someone who lives among the Amish, I know a lot of what was written still goes on. Despite the harshness, or maybe because of it, there are strong bonds of love. The boy, Robert, loves the pig he receives as a pet and he loves his family and neighbors. The book concludes with two of these relationships ending because of the death of the loved ones.

I think why I liked this book is because I didn't expect a simply written book about a group of people who live a simple life of hard work, to have much depth. Somehow Peck manages to exhibit the complexity of emotions, despite the simplicity. And that is why I ended a book that took me no time to read with tears in my eyes.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Misplaced indignation

My first baseball post in a long time is about something that I really have no interest in discussing - steroid use in baseball. The reason for this is that I have a larger issue with the reaction to players using the steroids than I do with the actual players themselves.

The outcries for having the records of the players that used steroids obliterated because they are "cheaters" makes me shake my head in wonderment. These same people can watch the freaks of "nature" that compete in the NBA and NFL and turn a blind eye to the fact that a man 6'8" and 270 pounds can run like the wind and soar through the air with the greatest of ease.

Mostly, though, it is the hypocritical nature of these bemoaners that bothers me the most. Our society today encourages and condones looking for that edge that steroids supposedly give, all in the name of more. More, more, more.

From our supersized meals to the oversized car-on-steroids sport utility vehicle to the megamillion lottery drawings, Americans crave more and "better" with little regard as to the consequences. Yet professional baseball players, who, for all but a few, work in a field with a very short shelf life, are expected to be above that? Much more so than your typical accountant, real estate agent, salesperson, etc., the career of a baseball player is about the survival of the fittest. If you're not one of the best in high school, you don't get drafted or get to play college ball. Same in college. Be the best, get drafted, or you're done.

Once you are a professional player, then you have to prove yourself superior to the alternatives out there every season as you progress through the minor leagues. Once in the major leagues, you still have to prove you belong there and fend off the attacks of younger players.

It is this constant competition that makes me believe that steroid usage is probably more rampant at lower levels, perhaps even within schools, because of that need to stand out from the rest of the players.

The progression of a baseball player relies largely on scouting. A team sends scouts to watch amateur players to determine who they should draft. They scout players in their own system to see who should progress and they scout players in other systems to see who might help their system. Appearance to scouts is critical. While scouts like to think they have some ability to project a player's future performance, they do get caught up with what they see now.

So say you have two hitters, one who takes steroids and one who doesn't. There seems to be little proof at the moment that steroids has any affect on hitting performance. But let us assume that they do give you a more muscular appearance. If steroids make you look more like an athlete (more muscular physique) than the guy who doesn't take them, you probably have an edge among the scouts assuming equal performance and projectability.

Something that tends to be overlooked, though, is the fact that many of the players that have been "caught" using steroids are pitchers. Maybe more so than hitters, the appearance of a pitcher (or at least one aspect of the appearance), is very important. How fast is your fastball? You'll hear arguments all the time that scouts look at other things but how hard you throw is crucial to your moving up the baseball ranks. If you throw 85 mph but with steroids you can now throw 88 mph..... Hello, career. And if you can get into that magic 90+ territory, all the better.

But, the naysayers, may be neighing, justification doesn't make it legal. To which I reply, until you're driving 55 mph on the highway and not talking on your cellphone, stop casting stones. We're all human. Driving infractions, embezzlement, killings (especially those "justified" by war), coveting your neighbor's wife, lying on your resume, getting the wrong change at the supermarket and not saying anything and on and on. We all engage in behavior that at the least is immoral, if not illegal. Why do we do these things? Mostly because we think we can get away with it. There are limited resources for policing all the wrongdoings in the world. We rely on our own moral compasses to guide our behavior. And just like the person driving 70, the guys taking steroids made the decision to take a chance.

So if you're berating what Alex Rodriguez and other players did, please stop. They're no different than you.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Intriguing "boy" band

Tinted Windows - Promo

Take Taylor Hanson, one of the Hanson brothers, add James Iha of the Smashing Pumpkins and Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne. Not a bad start, right? Then top it off by saying "We need a grandfatherly presence. Let's get Bun E. Carlos of Cheap Trick to play drums". Really?!?!

That's Tinted Windows for you. Not much available at the moment but I liked the little snippets in the above promo. I'll be keeping my eyes and ears open over the next two months until their album is released.