Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Classic card of the week

Pat Perry, 1991 Score

Oftentimes the backs of baseball cards tend to glorify their subject, regardless of that subject’s talents. This technique is reminiscent of those NFL Films pieces that aim to put a positive spin on an 8-8 Cincinnati Bengals season in which half of the roster went to jail by highlighting that one quarter of decent play that will signify next season’s turnaround. In fact, it’s typically these arbitrary stats for mediocre players that I tend to highlight and make light of on this here blog. Because I am a jerkface with nothing better to do. Anyhoo…

Enter: Pat Perry.

Nobody here has ever heard of Pat Perry, correct? Correct. So he’s probably not great. But still a major leaguer. His baseball card should highlight his positive attributes. Let us begin:

Pat, a soft-throwing southpaw middle reliever,

So far? Not impressed.

has suffered a lot of baseball rejection in his 13-year professional career.

This is not a good start. However, I look forward to hearing about how Pat has bounced back from these times of rejection to attain success, however minimal. After all, he does have a 13-year professional career, so something good must have happened.

He has been released three times and traded twice. Nine times he has played with at least two teams in one year.

Sure, that is rejection, I guess. But also acceptance, as teams always seem willing to make room for Pat Perry. Also: such is the life of the lefty middle reliever. They’re a hot commodity around the trade deadline. Obviously, the guy is not Sandy Koufax. But this is his own freakin’ baseball card for crying out loud. Can I hear about the time he struck out a couple Cardinals one time in 1989? No? Okay. Continue:

The lowest ebb of Pat’s fortunes came in 83’

I’d like to please alert you now to Pat Perry’s face (he looks a little bit like David Cone morphed with Erik Bedard, no?) appearing next to this biographical tidbit. He’s got a look that says, “Please, please don’t tell them about the lowest ebb of my fortunes in 1983, when I was picking through the dumpster behind Chicken Holiday while downing a fifth of Jack Daniels. Seriously. Please don’t tell them that. Nobody’s perfect here, okay? Please?”

when he was cut by Double-A Columbus (Astros) in June, signed by Double-A Buffalo (Indians) in July, cut 12 days later and finally signed by Class A Springfield (Cardinals) in August.

Pat Perry: You told them. Thank you. Thanks for nothing.

At any rate

I’d like to translate “At any rate” as: “Even though I –- the writer of this card -– have exhaustively outlined the horribleness of Pat Perry’s horrible baseball-playing ability, which is none, and horrible”…

Pat was signed as a free agent by the Dodgers in December ’89 after he was cut by the Cubs.

The nerve of those Dodgers for signing Pat Perry. Didn’t they know about his low career ebbs that occurred six years earlier? Those ebbs were bound to resurface.


Thank you, card, for specifying that what comes next will take on an unhappy tone. For everything leading up to this point has been one big can of happy juice.

he was on the disabled list the first two months of the season with a shoulder injury and was used sparingly after that.

The end. Thanks for dropping by, Pat Perry! Here’s your card. And just remember -– when you think things are going bad in life, and you doubt even yourself…you’re probably right. Because you are horrible. Try not to get released today, okay? Jerk.

Did you know?
The most negative baseball card ever recorded was the 1913 Topps Sam “Piano Keys” Shumaker, which alleged that Shumaker was to baseball what “leprosy is to people.”

Kids & church: A match made in…somewhere

Note: This column appears in the 4/30 issue of The Glendale Star and the 5/1 issue of the Peoria Times

I’d like to take this time to extend my deepest apologies for every eye roll tossed in the direction of any parent whose kids were not behaving quite perfectly in church.

Now, granted, many of these eye rolls were completely and totally justified. I mean, hey -– at what point are you going to remove your crying child from the premises? After the homily is over? Before the next Mass begins? And your other kid has been staring at me for the past twenty minutes. I am out of funny faces and this entire situation has become awkward. Also, Poly-O string cheese in church? Really? Is that necessary?

What I am apologizing for is any annoyance I may have felt for any child not sitting completely still, with his or her hands held together in prayer, pensively contemplating the true meaning behind the Sacraments. I say this because –- I think you can see where this is going –- I am now on the other side. The wild side.

I can speak to this now because I am a foster parent with two full Masses under my belt, one of them being Easter Mass, which, if you survive attending with a two-year old and four-month old, you attain automatic induction into Heaven, as deemed by the Vatican in 1968.

I am not joking in the least when I say that, as a foster parent, my biggest concern was bringing the kid(s) to church. My wife and I decided long ago that as foster parents we would bring any child or children in our care to church each week, because we feel like that is important, to say the least. Since foster kids tend to exhibit a bit more extreme behavior than other kids, we knew this was a risk, albeit one we were willing to take.

Thankfully, we’ve been blessed with two great kiddos. Nevertheless, that doesn’t relieve the stress of approaching those church doors, because, as they say in parenting land (Salt Lake City, Utah), kids will be kids. It’s quite a paradox, too. Because while young children cannot possibly be expected to sit still and understand what is happening, it must also be stressed that church is not a playground where you eat Cheerios and play Transformers for an hour. That is called “going to the bank.”

For us so far, the process has been this: The four-month-old sleeps soundly until the exact moment that Mass begins. Whichever one of us is in charge of the four-month old immediately moves the child out of church, and typically ends up missing the entire Mass thanks to feeding and diaper changes. The other person then watches the two-year old like a hawk for the duration of the Mass. This past Saturday evening I found myself coloring in a Dora & Diego coloring book during the sacramental blessing. Not my proudest moment, though I hope that God understands.

I know I understand. So here’s an honest “I feel for you” to all the parents who bring their kids to church each week because it’s the right thing to do. Sometimes it’s enough to make you ask if it’s even worth it. I was thinking that the other night when I noticed that our two-year old foster child had placed a Dora doll on the bed, and was down on both knees praying for the doll.

So yeah. It’s worth it.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Classic card of the week

Fred McGriff, 1990 SI for Kids

Hello everyone. I present to you another installment in our Cards From Sports Illustrated For Kids series. Featured today is Toronto Blue Jays’ first baseman Fred McGriff, seen here holding not one, not two, but three baseball bats. He can barely get his hands around all those bats! The crowd in the background stands in delight and amazement at how many bats Fred McGriff can hold at one time. I wonder if there are enough bats for the other members of the Toronto Blue Jays. Ha, ha. Lol. Omg. I would like to see Fred McGriff swing all three bats at once and hit a beach ball into outer space! What?

Let us discover additional information:

In 1981, major league baseball teams drafted 232 players ahead of Fred.

Frowny face: :(

In 1989, he led the American league in home runs, with 36!

Somehow I knew that this long and drawn-out story would have a happy ending! Exclamation points all around! More!!! 36! Pizza party!

Equally important to all of the enjoyment we are having here is the lesson. And the lesson here is this: Kids, sometimes Major League Baseball can be inaccurate with its approximations of amateur baseball players. If you ever find yourself at a baseball draft where 232 dudes are being picked ahead of you, one thing you can do is internalize this as a slight to your ability to play baseball, and then use that as motivation to hit 36 home runs eight years later, which will make all of the baseball teams that refused to select you earlier –- including the team that actually did select you –- feel so bad that they shut down all baseball-related operations forever. You win.

Feel free -- if you are one of those kids that sucks at baseball -– to use baseball here as a metaphor for other things. Like reading or something.

Onto the trivia question:

Millions of children wear costumes on Fred’s birthday. Why?

I give up. Anyway, we haven’t consulted Wikipedia in a while. Let’s do so, while also keeping in mind, as we’ve mentioned before, that Fred McGriff’s nickname was/is “The Crime Dog:”

In 2000, the production company Rocco's Jobbers

Sounds legit.

produced a pilot for a television series based loosely on McGriff and the "Crime Dog" nickname. The concept of the series revolved around a professional baseball player who moonlighted as a crime-fighting vigilante named "The Crime Dog".

Also, the baseball player’s name was “Fred McGriffith” and he played for the “Toronto Blue Rays.” Remember: it was only based loosely.

The project was a major creative and financial disaster

I find this hard to believe. Keep in mind that the first time I read this I was under the impression that this was a cartoon series, and I thought that that was a terrible idea. To think about this is as an actual television show with real people made my head explode.

failing to get picked up by any networks. It is believed that McGriff himself has the only surviving copy of the pilot episode, which was given to him by his friend and former teammate, David Wells.

David Wells: Griffy, Griff…sup dude. Check it out. Got the copy of “Crime Dog” you let me borrow. Dude…holy crap. That is the worst thing I have ever seen in my entire life, and I have seen some pretty sick stuff. I invited like, 30 of my bros over last night and we downed Schlitz and watched this thing like, a billion times. Other than that though, I didn’t tell anyone about it. Oh, and there’s a little bit of barf on it, so watch out.

Fred McGriff: I hate you.

On casting sheets used to promote the project, the comedy-action series was described as "Major League meets Blade", referencing two successful movie franchises.

As of now, I am officially convinced that this entire entry was made up, a la the Janis Joplin Wikipedia entry on 30 Rock. Whoever put this together is brilliant. Major League meets Blade? I am doing a slow clap for that one right now. Kudos.

Did you know?
The team that drafted Fred McGriff 233rd overall was the New York Yankees. Unfortunately their shrewd drafting strategy was thwarted when owner George Steinbrenner dealt McGriff to Toronto, based on the notion that there was too much crime in New York City for McGriff to focus on baseball.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Look here: Billboards to give city boost, street cred

Note: This column appears in the 4/23 issue of The Glendale Star and the 4/24 issue of the Peoria Times

The city of Glendale is -- like many other cities in the Valley and in the country for that matter -- working to resolve a budget crisis. Thankfully, help is on the way. In the form of two giant digital billboards.

The city has agreed to construct two billboards along the Loop 101 with the hopes of using the advertising profits to help offset the current budget deficit. The first billboard will read, in giant letters: What deficit? The second billboard will read: Buy stuff now. Experts predict that, as a result, Glendale will have a surplus of three million dollars by August, which will be used to purchase a third billboard. And so on and so forth.

Of course, these are jokes to lighten the overall mood here, which is grim. But not anymore. Because the truth is that the city stands to make a very decent amount of money from these giant thingies. In fact, apparently Glendale will make $500,000 just to have the billboards, and will also receive a $10,000 monthly rental fee plus one-third of the profits generated. The city can also earn a 15 percent referral bonus if they call up another city like Peoria, and say, “Hey, check out our billboards. Want one? Cool. Here’s the number. Tell ‘em Glendale sent ya’.”

So who stands to benefit from this? Absolutely everyone. Definitely American Outdoor Advertising, who will make the billboards. Definitely the city, and definitely local advertisers. But most importantly, I think the true beneficiaries of the new billboards will be drivers who enjoy looking at stuff while driving. Even better, these digital behemoths will change graphics every eight seconds, keeping drivers occupied and diverting their attention away from dangerous text messaging.

I have to admit, I’ve always been fascinated by billboards. It’s amazing to me that, with all of the technological progress and ingenuity and advancements with regards to advertising in print, audio, televised and online mediums, the thing that still gets ‘em in the end is a giant sign on the side of the road that lights up. God bless America.

Another subplot of these billboards that I find compelling is whether or not, sometime down the line, the city will accept advertising revenue from the potential new casino on Northern Ave, a project that many in the city council are currently vehemently opposed to. Should the casino ever become a realty, I strongly recommend to the city council -– just for my own amusement –- a big arrow on the billboard pointing in the opposite direction. That’ll show ‘em!

Anyway, count me among those excited for the new billboards. It will help the city financially, and that’s all good in my book. Oh, it should also be mentioned that the new billboards will feature additional traffic cameras. So there’s that.

(Relax. Just trying to lighten the mood.)

Ha, Ha...see? Hilarious! Or something!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Classic card of the week

Tony Gwynn, 1989 K-Mart / Topps Dream Team

If I had to make a list of baseball cards that I am most proud to own, this one would not be on the list. It looks like it came with two scoops of ice cream and a balloon.

And let me tell you something else about this card that probably does not transfer well over this here Internet. It is glossy. And I mean glossy. There is like, two inches of gloss on this card. It repels all other forms of matter, which immediately slide off of its surface. If this card were carelessly left on a suburban street, and someone rode their bike over it, that person would incur serious bodily injury as a result. Because of the gloss.

Anyway, in 1989, Kmart -- famed orchestrator of the 1992 U.S. Olympic basketball team –- organized a predecessor to that dominating Dream Team. This particular Dream Team included Tony Gwynn, seen here about to demonstrate his dreaminess by batting one handed. The other members of this Dream Team and their schedule of games and the result of those games are irrelevant. All we need to know in this particular instance is that Tony Gwynn was on the Kmart Dream Team. But why?

Well, because apparently, Tony Gwynn was the “N.L. Rookie of the 80’s.” This can only mean one of two things. Either a) Tony Gwynn somehow maintained his rookie status throughout an entire decade, or b) of every rookie that played in the National League throughout the 1980’s, Tony Gwynn was determined -– by the Kmart chain of department stores –- to be the best, and thus earned the prestigious “N.L. Rookie of the 80’s” award which he was able to pick up in front of any local Kmart snack bar, and which bore with it automatic inclusion on the Kmart Dream Team.

Because, as everyone knows, there can only be one N.L. Rookie of the 80’s, the criteria for other members of the Dream Team remains unknown. Until, that is, I am able to uncover more of these special cards, which, unfortunately, seems unlikely, as my family preferred Bradlees.

Did you know?
The rights for organizing the U.S. Olympic Basketball Team were stripped from Kmart and handed over to Target in 2005 when, as a result of an extreme error in judgment, Kmart failed to include Kenyon Martin –- a.k.a. K-Mart –- on its 2004 Dream Team.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Getting a second chance to make a difference

Note: This column appears in the 4/16 issue of The Glendale Star, and the 4/17 issue of the Peoria Times

It was a Friday morning not too long ago and my wife and I were looking forward to celebrating our five-year anniversary. We were going to a restaurant called True Food in the Biltmore section of Phoenix that evening, and we were going to have a romantic dinner.

A few hours into the day, I received a phone call from our agency. They had a foster placement for us. Now, we had said “yes” to several foster placements since our first and only one back in January, but had never received follow-up from the state, and they have the last say on which family will get which placement. That, combined with the slowing stream of foster kids in general thanks to statewide budget cuts had us wondering if we’d ever get a second chance to be foster parents.

So we said “yes,” and then went about our day, not expecting to hear anything else.

This time however, the state called. They wanted to confirm we were available for this placement. Even though I had just said “yes,” another yes would really mean yes. I gathered my thoughts -– which were many, and racing, and ranged from “we don’t have any toys!” to “how am I going to watch baseball now?” -– and just dove in headfirst. Yes, we were available.

Oh, and this placement was not for one kid, but two. Sister and brother. They were going to be at the house in a few hours.

We were not going out to dinner.

It really is funny how things work out sometimes. At the exact moment we were souring on the entire foster process, and deciding to go on with life and making plans that had no plans of being interrupted, everything turned upside down. Before I left work that day I emailed my mom to tell her the news, and she was thrilled to see us get an anniversary gift that no one else could have ever given us –- instant family.

So thank you, state of Arizona.

I think.

As I write this, my wife and I have about three weeks worth of overall foster parenting experience. That is not a long time. It has however, given us a whole new level of respect for parents in general. How many times –- in just three weeks -- have both of us wanted to scream out the window to every parent within earshot: “How do you do it???”

I think the echo would always ring back the same: You just do.

It has been an amazing experience so far, and it looks as though it’s just getting started. From the downs of messy diapers and spit-up caught in my arm hair, to the awkwardness of not being 100% sure which kid was mine when I went to pick him up at daycare (hey, some babies look strikingly similar, ya’ know?), to the extreme highs of seeing a kid’s eyes light up just because you’re there. Not to mention going to bed at night feeling pretty darn positive about doing something good for somebody else.

That Friday night, after we put our new kiddos to bed, my wife and I sat in front of the TV exhausted, eating the pizza we had ordered – true food, indeed -- and wondering aloud to each other if we can handle this.

We decided that we can. I mean, we have to.

“Do you mind if we put on some baseball?” I asked her.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Classic card of the week

Joe Carter, 1992 Score

Textbook weight shift.

When Joe Carter wasn’t breaking both kneecaps by being awkwardly out in front of a changeup, he could often be found at the ballpark, NOT being a World Series hero, or just generally whacking some balls around:

Joe returned to the American League in ’91 and whacked the ball around as if he had never been away.

Joe Carter: whackerer of American League balls. Nothing wrong with that. I also enjoy the “as if he had never been away” statement, as if Joe Carter had interrupted his major league career by spending several summers interning at a law firm, thus forcing many to believe he had lost his innate ability to whack around some balls. He was in San Diego! He whacked 24 dingers!

But when we speak of Joe Carter, let us never forget to ultimately judge him by how his teammates felt about him. Because that is what’s important here. Not what I think about him. Or what you think about him. (Unless you were his teammate, in which case, email me.) No. We need to know what somebody like…oh, I don’t know… Roberto Alomar thinks about him:

“Joe is the kind of guy you want on the team,” said teammate Roberto Alomar.

Whoa, slow down with the hyperbole, Roberto! Let’s update our Joe Carter definition.

Joe Carter: 1) whackerer of American League balls; 2) guy who is on a team, and whose teammates don’t mind that he’s there, on the team. When asked what would happen to the Toronto Blue Jays if Joe Carter was no longer on the team, Alomar said: “I don’t know. Probably someone else would play instead of him.” This made Roberto Alomar sad, but not that sad. He added:

“If you’re going bad, he’ll really push you.”

Ah, so that’s what happened here!

Did you know?
In 2005 Joe Carter's "Happy Fun Time Ball-Whacking Camp 4 Kidz" was shut down due to health code violations.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

A homeowner confronts ‘the association’

Note: This column appears in the 4/9 issue of The Glendale Star and the 4/10 issue of the Peoria Times

Forgive me as I’ve had bad experiences with Home Owner’s Associations in the past.

Back east we lived in a development where our HOA fees were well over $230…a month. For this we got a) three tennis courts, including one without a net, b) an asphalt basketball court with potholes and c) a pool with questionable water quality which was supervised by a revolving door of aloof teenagers that I wouldn’t trust with my towel, much less my life. When the HOA attempted to raise our fees to over $300 monthly, a near riot ensued at the quarterly meeting, which ultimately resulted in the ousting of the entire board and the uncovering of suspect spending practices. (Side note: those in attendance eagerly nominated my father-in-law -– who didn’t even live in the development and only came on our behalf, but who gave an impromptu Mussolini-type decree to the board while angrily waving a piece of paper in the air as evidence but which was most likely nothing more than a printout of local golf courses -- to be the new board president. He respectfully declined.)

When we decided to live in yet another development -– the Valley didn’t leave us much choice -- we were comforted by the fact that the quarterly dues were less than our monthly dues back east, plus the development had infinitely much more to offer. Still, we were skeptical. Our skepticism was rewarded when one of the first letters we got in our new mailbox was from the HOA, urging us to pull several weeds from our front yard. We got a few letters after that, questioning the whereabouts of our garbage pail and the status of our backyard landscaping. As somebody who watches “24,” I started to fear that our HOA was something more. Something covert. Something evil. I began showering with my clothes on, just in case.

When my wife and I decided to have a patio cover professionally installed in our backyard, we knew the necessary steps to take with the HOA, and we knew not to risk not taking them. Unfortunately, one of those steps was “having your request for a patio cover denied by the HOA.” Apparently, it didn’t meet their specifications. Well, we had enough. This same faceless organization that gladly takes our money and demands we pull our weeds was not going to blindly deny us the opportunity to improve the value of our home. So I appealed.

Not only did I request attendance at the appeal hearing, but I brought along our representative Clark from Sun City Awning, the company we wanted to install our patio cover. My plan was for me to be Michael Corleone and for Clark to be Tom Hagan, and throughout the meeting he would whisper what to say in my ear and then I would deny all the charges against me. I think I watch too much television.

It wasn’t anything like I imagined. It was a friendly roundtable discussion between us and several members of the HOA. I realized that this faceless organization wasn’t faceless after all, and that they generally have the best interests of every homeowner at heart. Plus, they realized that all homeowners aren’t arrogant jerks who will go behind their backs in a second to install whatever the heck they want without any approval. A compromise was reached, and we got approval.

Hoo. Ray.

This column however? Not approved. So I continue to watch my back. Just in case.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Classic card of the week

Randy Kutcher, 1991 Score

Without further ado:

Randy was a handy guy for the Red Sox to have around in ’90.

Blane Lowenbrau, senior writer: Boss, check it out –- got a great lede for the back of the Randy Kutcher card.

Fritz Maxwell, managing editor, Score: Lay it on me broskie.

Blane: Ahem…”Randy was a handy guy for the Red Sox to have around in ’90.”

Fritz: ...

Blane: ...

Fritz: ...

Blane: ...

Fritz: I'm sorry Blane. Can you repeat that? I wasn't paying attention.

Blane: "Randy was a handy guy for the Red Sox to have around in '90."







Fritz: Remember earlier today, when I said I wasn't paying attention? Well, newsflash dude -- I was paying attention. Just couldn't believe what I was hearing. Love it. But hey, listen, you got the ol' wheels turning, and I want to slide on my creative boots. Try this one on for size: “Randy was a dandy guy for the Red Sox to have around in ’90.”

Blane: I tried dandy, boss. Wasn’t really feelin’ it. It's too easy, ya' know? Like, "handy" works on so many levels. First, it rhymes with Randy. Also, he's a utility guy, so he's handy. Like a utility belt. That a handyman would wear. With tools in it and stuff. Cause he's a 5-tool play-

Fritz: Alright shut the heck up already. I wasn’t married to it. But one more option, thinking outside the box here: “Kutcher was a butcher when it came to opposing pitchers.”

Blane: I see where you’re going there, boss. I really do. And I like it. Thing is, he wasn’t really a butcher. He hit one major league home run last year.

Fritz: I like that. Research. You’re getting a raise. Alright everyone, listen up! We’re going with “handy” and we’re running with it NOW! Johnson -- start the press!

A hustling ballplayer

Randy Kutcher once hustled so hard to first base that his mustache fell off. True story. Also, he was out.

whose love of playing baseball is infectious,

Symptoms include diarrehea, headaches and nausea. If your baseball erection lasts more than four hours, please consult your manager.

he can play every position except pitcher –- and who knows, he might toe the mound if given the chance.

I would venture to say that most professional baseball players can play every position. Whether they can play every position well is quite another story. Speculation that Randy Kutcher would, if given the opportunity, also pitch poorly, is neither relevant or handy.

There he batted .316 in 35 games before being brought back to Boston to function as a super utilityman.

Randy Kutcher: Randy Kutcher reporting for duty, sir! What is my function?

Red Sox manager Joe Morgan: Your function, Mr. Kutcher, is to be a super utilityman.

Randy Kutcher: I’ll get my cape.

Did you know?
Joe Morgan once said of Randy Kutcher, after managing him for 63 games: “I haven’t seem him play, so I can’t really say. But he reminds me of Ken Griffey, Jr.”