Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Classic card of the week

Anfernee Hardaway, 1997 Upper Deck "Crunch Time" series

Is there anything crunchier than hitting two free throws with 7.4 seconds left on the clock during a regular season game against the Toronto Raptors? No, there is not. To wit:

“Penny” Hardaway has a panache for hitting game-winning baskets.

Is this true? I honestly don’t remember Penny Hardaway’s panache. I remember that he was really good at basketball, and then not so good at basketball. It’s possible that during the time he was really good at basketball he displayed a noticeable panache for game-winning baskets. If that is indeed true, I wonder why Upper Deck did not choose a more thrilling game-winning basket from his extensive catalog of game-winning baskets to highlight.

He can hit the open three, drive to the hole or, as he displayed at Toronto (1/12/97), nail clutch free throws under pressure.

The exact date is unnecessary. I trust we all remember where we were when Penny Hardaway hit two pressure-filled foul shots against the Raptors. Me? I was a freshman in college. The buzz vibrated through the dormitory with the intensity of the hottest hook-up gossip: Did you hear what Penny Hardaway did tonight? I rushed to the television. January 12th. I’ll never forget.

By hitting two from the charity stripe with 7.4 seconds left, “Penny” led the Magic to an 88-85 victory.

Duly noted is the fact that Hardaway shot 4-for-14 from the field in this game and provided two assists from the point guard position, so being able to shake that off and hit two shots with nobody guarding him is a testament to his leadership. Another testament to his leadership occurred not long after sinking these free throws when, as Wikipedia notes:

During the season Hardaway, being the team leader, led a coup to fire then coach Brian Hill with only 33 games left during the season.

Besides hitting clutch free throws, leaders also lead coups to get coaches fired. These are the things that leaders do. (I also enjoy how Wikipedia—seemingly on Brian Hill’s side in all of this—notes there was “only 33 games left,” implying the Magic should have forged through this brief remaining schedule in tact. Thirty-three games is kind of a lot of games, no?)

Anyway, with regards to this specific Penny Hardaway clutchness, it cannot be overemphasized how clutch these free throws really were. In fact, in the measly 7.4 seconds that remained after Hardaway put the Magic up 85-82, only a few things happened:

The Magic called a timeout, which lasted seven minutes in real time, so that soon-to-be-coup’ed-against-coach Brian Hill could remind his team to try and win the game. The Raptors went to inbound on their ensuing possession, but didn’t like what they saw, so they called a timeout. The Raptors cheerleaders came onto the court to urge the crowd of 1,241 not to give up hope. The Raptors inbounded the ball and the Magic immediately fouled Damon Stoudamire. He hit both free throws (unclutchly) to make it 85-84. The Magic called a timeout. Then the Magic inbounded the ball and the Raptors immediately fouled Horace Grant. He hit both free throws, making it 87-84. The Magic called a timeout. During this time, the Raptors’ mascot, a raptor, dunked from a trampoline amidst exploding fireworks. Then the Raptors inbounded the ball and the Magic immediately fouled Doug Christie, who very unclutchly made only one of two free throws. The Raptors called timeout. The Magic inbounded the ball and the Raptors immediately fouled Rony Siekaly, who made his first free throw. The Raptors called a timeout. Rony Siekaly missed his second free throw, but the ball went off the foot of Popeye Jones and the Magic retained possession. Now there were only 5.4 seconds left on the clock. The Magic inbounded the ball to Nick Anderson, who ran around the court dribbling so no one could foul him, thus running out the clock in the process. The Magic won, Penny Hardaway’s clutch free throws proving to be the difference, in the way that most points in a three-point game make a difference.

Did you know?
The use of personal fouls as a means of manipulating the most important part of a basketball game rather than being like, an accident, was a strategy introduced by a person who hates basketball.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Classic card of the week

Pete Ladd, 1987 Donruss

Pete Ladd employed fear tactics, and he made no apologies about it. Possessing somewhat average stuff for a major leaguer and a middle name of “Linwood,” Pete Ladd succeeded by utilizing his most apparent quality: a general aura that implied he would kill you if you crossed him or batted against him.

Quoting one source:

A hard-throwing sinker-slider pitcher with a herky-jerky motion, he was an intimidating presence with his long hair, beard, and 6’3” 240-lb physique.

Obviously, Ladd had since shaved the beard. Legend has it that while with the Brewers, Ladd walked into the opposing clubhouse to shave his beard … with a butter knife for a blade and Ben Gay as shaving cream. The other team watched in horror as blood splattered everywhere. It was yet another infamous Pete Ladd intimidation tactic. Did it work? The Brewers won 7-5 that day. You tell me.

As if Ladd’s imposing presence wasn’t enough, the herky-jerkiness of his delivery only added to the fear exhibited by opposing batters, as evidenced by Ladd’s 5.24 ERA in 1984. Said one Ladd opponent who wished to remain anonymous, “When you’re a little scared up there in the batter’s box, the last thing you want to see is something herky and jerky. We always say, ‘If the herky doesn’t get ya’, the jerky will.’ And Ladd has both. Plus he’s 240-lbs, which is like, crazy.”

Pete Ladd, however, wasn’t all doom and gloom. Like many enforcers he was despised by the opposition, but beloved by his own teammates. He even a had playful nickname that highlighted his grace and compassion:

…Nicknamed “Big Foot.”

Though never captured on camera, the Pacific Northwest Big Foot is believed to have an illustrious coat of Caucasian jheri curls. He also wears protective lenses and a condescending yet beaming smile. He stomps around herkily and jerkily.

Did you know?
I often experience very silly and surreal moments as a result of these cards. For example, our laptop is set up for a slideshow before it sleeps, and oftentimes a great family shot is followed by a close-up of Joe Johnson. A few weeks ago my wife had to scan important work documents, but not before I scanned this.

Speaking of my wife, two Christmases ago she bought me, half jokingly but also kind of seriously because he is awesome, the Michael MacDonald Christmas album. And I was rocking it in my car last week. When I arrived home, I decided to bring it inside along with the only other thing I had in my car, which was this Pete Ladd card. I had to stop and look in order to fully appreciate what was happening. Had these two respective genius' paths ever crossed before? I am unsure. But it was magnificent to see them together, where they belonged. It also kind of made me wonder what I am doing with my life.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas, with a peppermint twist

Note: This column appears in the 12/23 issue of The Glendale Star and the 12/24 issue of the Peoria Times

We have a really good friend who is like a modern day saint. She is so insanely kind that it naturally exposes my own selfishness, yet being in her presence somehow makes me feel like a better person. She has adopted eight children out of foster care, and was the driving force behind our own decision to get involved as well. In that respect we have her to thank for our own family.

Her younger girls are all enrolled in dance school, and they had a big Christmas recital last weekend that ended with an all-important daddy-daughter dance. For this, the men of their family were employed for service, including our friend’s own dad and the girls’ oldest brother. Another brother was supposed to take part until it was discovered that this year’s dance included a lift. He was out, not yet big enough to lift up his sister. So …

I agreed to be the dance partner for our friend’s five-year old daughter with whom I have a special rapport. By that I mean every time we go over their house she jumps right into my arms, hangs around my neck, and implores me to go to the backyard with her and pretend that I am the monster and she is the princess.

Apparently, she had asked her mom from the beginning if I could be her partner. However, after it was decided that I would be, and I continued to feign an exaggerated level of excitement, she said to me, “I know you’re happy to be my dance partner, but you need to relax, okay?”

Okay. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to practice with her before the actual recital. Her mom provided a sheet with the dance steps, and so I practiced diligently the night before with my wife instead. It was very romantic, the two of us in our pajamas, with toothbrushes hanging out of our mouths, holding a sheet of paper, and botching dance moves to no music.

The girls had a “peppermint twist” number early in the show, so my dance partner was in her red and white striped peppermint outfit, with white gloves and a hat tilted to the side when I met her backstage. She jumped into my arms. I asked her if she knew the dance moves and she shrugged her shoulders. I was a little worried.
I needed to relax. When we all came out onstage to thunderous applause, I realized that all the girls and most of the dads were simply mimicking the moves of the instructors on the side of the stage. So much for practice. No one was in synch, but it didn’t really matter. The lift was successful. No one was dropped.

When the routine finished, I showed her how to wave to the crowd like a princess on a parade float, with a cupped hand. In that crowd was my own daughter, clapping happily. In that moment I did wonder how different both girls’ lives may be were it not for our friend, the saint. Mine, too. I’ve come to realize that “dad” is a role I very much enjoy playing both onstage and in real life, even if there is a lot of mimicking involved.

“Monster” is pretty fun, too. Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Classic card of the week

1992 Upper Deck, "Rookie Threats"

It’s a Brian Jordan sandwich, between two slices of plain white bread. (Sayeth Brian Jordan: “Haaaaay!”) Now, for the mustard:

After Ray Lankford and Omar Olivares made the jump to the Majors in 1991, you would think the Cardinals would have to wait a few years before their next crop of rookies.

Cardinals Manager Joe Torre: In a way, it’s a shame Lanky and Oli played well last year, cause I got a few young guys who I’d love to give a shot.

General Manager Dal Maxvill: Then, why don’t you?

Torre: Well, you know. What would people think? We just harvested a crop of two rookies, and then we’re gonna bring up more rookies? We have to wait until at least 1994 to bring up more rookies. It’s too many rookies, too soon. The fans will get restless. Because of the rookies.

Maxvill: Well are they better than the players we got?

Torre: I mean, our No. 2 starter is Rheal Cormier, and we got Ozzie Canseco in the outfield. So … yeah.

Maxvill: I say who cares what people think? Bring ‘em up.

Torre: Really? We’re gonna shock the world, Dal.

Maxvill: (under his breath) That’s what you said last year …

Torre: What?

However, with the arrivals of Brian Jordan, Donovan Osborne and Mark Clark in 1992, the future is now in St. Louis.

The future in St. Louis is like the past elsewhere, so 1992 brought with it Atari and third place in the NL East. Today in St. Louis, where the future was then, local citizens listen to their iPods while sporting jorts and mullets in a non-ironic fashion, and wait patiently for 2006.

With rookies making up two-fifths of the Cardinals rotation and one-third of the outfield,

One-third of the outfield = one rookie. Just wanted to point that out.

there is a good chance the 1992 N.L. Rookie-of-the-Year will be a Redbird.

I hate to ruin it for Cardinals’ fans, who still await word from the future as to the 1992 NL Rookie of the Year, but the “good chance” of having three rookies as opposed to other teams’ two or three rookies were for naught, as current Dodgers’ player and future inventor of the male weave took home the award. Osborne, however, did finish fourth, just ahead of teammate Mike Perez, who is not even mentioned here. So, overall, good job. Upper Deck, like before—you called it.

Did you know?
Crops of rookies are planted with the seeds of unrealistic expectations, along with water and sunshine.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

To my dismay, family is gift that keeps on giving

Note: This column appears in the 12/16 issue of The Glendale Star and the 12/17 issue of the Peoria Times

Our entire family recently became involved in a long, drawn-out email discussion regarding Christmas gifts.

I started it. For the seventh consecutive year I attempted to, with the help of my courageous wife, steer the rest of the family away from an all-encompassing gift exchange and relegate things to a one-gift grab bag. For the seventh consecutive year, it did not work. Last year, before our own valiant attempts, my sister had taken the reins and suggested that donations be made in lieu of gifts, and she was excommunicated from the family for three days.

I realize that my attempts to shun gifts are sometimes viewed as self-righteous, but they are really not. If anything they’re a result of selfish laziness. You see, gifts are things, and things bother me. Especially now that we live far away from everyone else, and each gift is a package—a package that arrives at the front door while the dog barks like a maniac, and that I must first check for scorpions before opening. Then I open it and Styrofoam thingees go everywhere, and I discover that the gift is neither a thing I can eat or use as currency, so I must find a place to store it. That place will be the kitchen table for six months until I figure things out. Then I must remove our address label from the box and shred it—those labels are difficult to remove—and then break the box down for recycling, so as to make for a green and identity theft-free Christmas. The joy.

That’s just the burden of receiving gifts. Nevermind the hassle of purchasing gifts for others. This became an interesting aspect of family discussions for Christmas gifts in the year of 2010.

Compromise was in order, and we did just that, agreeing to a grab bag but also to traditional gift exchanges for those who wanted to take part. With regards to the grab bag, we struggled to decide whether the gift-getter should let it be known what he or she wants, or if it should be left to the gift-giver to determine.

I argued for the latter. I never really grasped the whole, “Get me this, and I’ll get you that,” aspect of a holiday gift-exchange. What’s the point? Why should Christmas be the middleman? I believe that if we really know and love that person, we should be able to figure out what to get. As part of the compromise, it was decided we do things my way.

For the grab bag, I drew a person who is obviously very near and dear to me, and who I know extremely well. And…I had no idea what to get. Foiled by my own mentality, I realized that knowing a person well does not necessarily mean that you know what that person wants or needs at a particular moment in time. In arguing my point, I ironically paved the way for the pointless gifts that I annually rally against. I now look forward to watching this person open their gift over video-chat on Christmas, as Styrofoam thingees go everywhere and they pretend to be excited. I will do the same.

This will all change next year. I’ve got some new ideas, and I think everyone should hear me out.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Classic card of the week

Dmitri Young, 1991 Upper Deck

Dmitri Young is a Top Prospect. Don’t believe me? Ask Dmitri, seen here menacingly brandishing a baseball bat in the direction of all those who do not believe he is a Top Prospect. I’m sold. More:

Young hit .564 in high school baseball in Alabama – and that was as a seventh grader.

I feel like that needs a little more explanation. At least more than "no explanation," which is what this card provides. I thought you had to be in high school to play high school sports? Are there no rules in Alabama? Man, I would hate to be the last kid cut on that team:

Manager: Jimmy, step over here for a sec.

Jimmy: Sure. What’s up, skip?

Manager: Jimmy, I realize you’re a senior now, and that you’ve been patiently riding the bench for the past three years in the hopes of one day getting into an actual game. But the thing is, you’re cut.

Jimmy: What? Why?

Manager: You see that kid over there, blasting home runs? He’s gonna be with us this season.

Jimmy: Who, Dmitri? But he’s in seventh grade! I used to babysit for him, like, two weeks ago!

Manager: I know, but he’s awesome.

Jimmy: That’s not fair! I want to be on the team!

Manager: Well, you should have thought before you decided to be not so good at baseball.

I guess it shouldn’t be too surprising. Dmitri Young is only six-years old on the front of this card, and he just finished a 3-for-4 afternoon during an over-30 Alabama Legion ball game.

In his back pocket, he carries a hitting guide he wrote titled,

“Playing High School Baseball When You’re Two Years Removed From Eligibility For Dummies.” No?

“Dmitri’s Approach to Hitting .300” and believe Rule No. 2: “I can hit anyone.”

That’s less of a rule than it is a motivational pick-me-up. I was thinking more along the lines of “Keep your elbow up.” Whatever. Rule No. 1 is “Hit .300” and Rule No. 8 is “Macaroni & cheese,” which is actually the password to his friend’s tree house. Remember—he is six-years old.

Dmitri Young later attempted to have his approach to hitting guidelines published in order to help young kids learn how to hit .300. In his rewrite, Rule No. 2 was, “Dmitri Young can hit anyone,” which didn’t seem like it would help the local youth, but his manuscript was accepted anyway and became a national best-seller. It was eventually purchased as a screenplay, the title was shortened to “300,” and it became a hit movie in which Hollywood took many liberties. Dmitri Young didn’t mind. His abs looked great.

Did you know?
Because his high school team always ate out after wins, Dmitri Young became famous for his pre-game motivational speeches, in which he stepped on the dugout bench and screamed, “Tonight, we dine in GRAND BUFFET!”

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Weather warnings in Valley a mere blanket statement

Note: This column appears in the 12/9 issue of The Glendale Star and the 12/10 issue of the Peoria Times

My wife subscribes to the weather alert application on her phone. Because we live here in the Valley, and her Blackberry does not, apparently, recognize center-of-the-earth-type heat as a situation that bears warning—it would get redundant, I suppose—this feature is barely utilized.

That changed last week when temperatures became unseasonably cool around these parts. As a result, my wife received two weather alerts on her phone, and each time we reacted as if our lives were about to change dramatically.

You see, when we lived back east, the first winter weather warning was darn near the most exciting thing that happened during the year. After all, it could mean that you wouldn’t be leaving the house for the next six days, and that you’d be utilizing the canned goods your dad stored up in the basement during the fall, and that you’d probably be going to school now until July. Being warned not to go outside if you were a certain age or you might die was kind of a thrill.

So we were disappointed when the breaking news emergency phone blast alerted us that temperatures in the Valley could drop to as low as 35-degrees overnight, and recommended that we wrap blankets—not around our bodies, but around any outdoor plants and trees that might suffer from the chill.

I have heard about this technique of wrapping up vegetation during the mild winter months, and I simply cannot bring myself to do it. For one thing, we own like two blankets, and I refuse to use them to tuck in our lime tree at night. Shall I offer it some hot cocoa as well? Sheesh. This also may explain why many of our plants are dead.

Another reason I did not prefer on this occasion to wrap up our outdoor plants was because it was too cold. While I rolled my eyes at this silly weather alert, I simultaneously realized that I have lost all of my east coast sensibilities, and 35-degrees is indeed too cold for me to venture outdoors.

This was troubling as well because part of being an east coaster is wearing the badge of honor in withstanding the extreme winter. The pride in being able to endure cold is the only thing that helps combat the horribleness of actually doing it. I am, apparently, no longer a member of that club. The naked east coast vegetation is tougher than me. What can I say? These Arizona summers have turned my blood so thin that I get the flu when it drops to 80-degrees.

Granted, I do miss the snow and biting cold of the east coast during this time of year, around the holidays, as well as my ability to withstand it. But those conditions are exactly what we moved here to avoid. After all, the first winter weather warning of the year was exciting. The 11th? Not so much.

Better yet, now that I think about, the meekness of the Valley winter is balanced out by my ever-decreasing ability to withstand even the mildest cold. So, it is like the winter all over again! Or, it was, at least. Daytime temperatures have since returned to the mid-70s. And hey—that’s fine by me. We were running out of canned goods anyway.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Classic card of the week

I was flipping through a stack of sports cards as usual in my attempt to find one to post here. I came across this.

I really don’t know how this got in there. I did NOT collect Batman cards. Promise. However, it should be mentioned that I was very much into the original Batman movie. I remember that not long after it came out, I dragged my mom to the Brunswick Square Mall and convinced her to buy me a white t-shirt that had just the Joker’s face on it.

I wisely decided to wear my new shirt for the first time on a Saturday, so that I could wear it all day and not just for the allotted five hours after Catholic school and before bed. To boot, I got my haircut that morning. Could I have looked better, riding my red bike around the neighborhood with a fresh cut, rocking a new Joker t-shirt that draped beautifully over my lanky, 70-lb frame, while listening to the latest Jodeci song on my walkman? I don’t think so.

Anyway, as if I don’t already know, let’s see what’s going here:

Crazy Jack trains a gun on Grissom’s belly, gestures him over to an empty chair.

"Trains" a gun? I can only infer this means that the Joker taught a gun how to be a gun while on top of Grissom's belly. I find that disturbing.

“YOU SET ME UP” the freakish crook shouts. “Over a girl. You must be insane.”

Girls. Pfft. Am I right? Anytime a deranged acid-faced clown and a seedy underworld crook are engaged in an tiff, you can bet a girl is involved. Grissom's got 99 problems...make that 100.

Grissom cautiously reaches for a desk drawer. Jack catches sight. “Don’t bother.”

He probably should bother, no? What's the worst that can happen?

“Your life won’t be worth spit!” Grissom nervously harks back.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that a career criminal who has been horribly disfigured after landing in a canister of hot acid, and has thus taken on the form of a demented clown, probably doesn’t care much what his life is worth anyway. Just saying.

Jack is quite philosophical about this. “I been dead once already. It’s very liberating—You have to think of it as therapy.”


Grissom begins to panic. He tries to make a deal with Napier…but the reborn criminal mastermind has other plans.

We have to wait for the next card to see what those other plans are. I don't want to ruin it for anyone who has yet to see this 1989 movie, or has no background on Batman, but let's just say that Grissom does not -- how shall I put this? -- live. Because he dies. Because The Joker kills him. I think that's what the card meant when it screamed, "NO DEALS, GRISSOM!" This stuff is pretty violent. I think that's why I stayed away from comic books. And girls.

Did you know?

I have never felt less cool.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A home filled with castles is my castle

Note: This column appears in the 12/2 issue of The Glendale Star and the 12/3 issue of the Peoria Times

We live in a modest home. It’s a considerable upgrade, however, from where we lived in New Jersey, which was a two-bedroom condo.

There was more storage than we had stuff when we moved in. This was great, as everything could be packed neatly away. As the years progressed, and we acquired more and more stuff, and my wife maintained her refusal to dispose of the stuff we already had, that extra space dwindled. Now, we have a child.

There is no more space. In fact, the walls are closing in. There is a trampoline in our dining room. Next to my side of the bed rests a multi-colored jumper thingee that our daughter no longer uses, which has a plastic sun on it that sarcastically smiles at me each morning as if to say, “Still here!” At the foot of our bed rests a plastic dinosaur castle. It has compartments for the dinosaur egg balls it came with—obviously—but now our daughter uses those compartments for other things, like my cell phone.

It has become an ongoing battle between my wife and I, which I am losing, as to why we keep acquiring so many things. Of course I want our daughter to have toys, it just seems that most of these toys interest her only upon their arrival, and then she moves on to other things. Were it up to me, we’d have a house full of only battery-less remote controls, which I could easily store away each night.

Last weekend we went to pick up a kitchen play set that was offered to us by a friend who was moving. I thought it was going to be one of those cheap, plastic Fisher Price toys, but it most certainly was not. Were it not downsized, I would prefer to it to our actual kitchen. I needed a screwdriver to dismantle it. It barely fit into the back of my car, and on our way home I openly wondered where we’d put it. “Don’t worry,” my wife said. “We’ll find a spot.”

That spot is now in our living room, next to the TV. It used to be the spot where our dog rested on his bed, but he has since, to his chagrin, been displaced.
As I was lamenting what new plastic wonders Christmas would bring, it suddenly dawned on me—why am I hung up about this?

For some reason, I have always fashioned our living quarters as, ideally, being ready for company. But 97-percent of the time it’s just us. When family is visiting, or when friends are over, it doesn’t even matter. Who cares? It’s not like we’re hosting wine and cheese parties. Although if we were, it would be fun to rest the caviar on the dinosaur castle.

For the time being, our daughter loves her new kitchen. Sometimes, we will drag the trampoline into the living room, because the best thing to do after cooking a fake pizza is to jump around on a trampoline.

I also realized that the best way to get her to play with the toys is to play with them myself. Now I’m the one scattering toys around. Apparently, she’s getting a wiffleball swing set for Christmas. I can’t wait.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Classic card of the week

Wilson Alvarez, 1996 Topps

Here is a Wilson Alvarez baseball card. Like you, I wonder: Did this professional baseball player play baseball as an adolescent?

Wilson pitched for a Venezuelan entry in the 1982 Little League World Series, an event that also included a Tampa, FL, team whose star was Gary Sheffield.

This is the most interesting thing I have ever heard about in my entire life. Are you trying to tell me, card, that Wilson Alvarez played baseball in an event that also featured another, different baseball player? I mean, what are the odds? Furthermore, what are the chances that the other player would be none other than Gary Sheffield? Is there no end to the link between Wilson Alvarez and Gary Sheffield? Some things are just…destiny.

Earlier that year, he’d fanned 21 in a game!

Who? Gary Sheffield or Wilson Alvarez? Either way, I enjoy the emphatic exclamation point as it pertains to what somebody did when they were 12-years old. I don’t like to brag, but I once accumulated 36 total bases during one inning of a tee-ball game when I was 6, mostly because several of my peers had not yet learned how to catch or throw a baseball. You would think this rousing success as a youth would have translated to a professional career, but alas—I am the exception rather than the rule.

Ironically, in 1994, a squad from his hometown of Maracaibo won the series.

Much has been made of America’s inability to grasp what the term “ironic” means, but this Wilson Alvarez baseball card really doesn’t grasp what “ironic” means: Venezuela did not win the Little League World Series in 1982. Ironically, they did win the Little World Series in 1994. What is ironic about that? According to this card, when a thing doesn’t happen but then it does, that = ironic. Now, what IS ironic is the fact that when the 1994 Maracaibo, Venezuela Little League attempted to celebrate their World Series victory with ice cream cake, they were unable to cut it since they had plenty of spoons but no knife.

Ironically, Wilson Alvarez was no stranger to cake himself. Sayeth Wkipedia:

The inconsistency and poor conditioning continually kept the talented lefty from realizing his full potential.

Poor conditioning?

He’s like an Adonis! Besides, Alvarez’s strategy of walking a ton of guys and not working out reaped its fair share of rewards.

On August 11, 1991, Alvarez pitched a no-hitter against the Baltimore Orioles, a team that had, earlier that year, faced off against none other than Gary Sheffield.

Did you know?
In 1992, Alvarez's conditioning coach, no one, told him to take a break until 1993.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Holiday TV specials inspire nostalgia, teach about love, war

Note: This column appears in the 11/24 issue of The Glendale Star and the 11/26 issue of the Peoria Times

Television is a big part of my annual holiday experience.

For me, much of the nostalgia that surrounds this season revolves around movies and specials that I continue to watch on TV, even if those movies/specials have nothing to do with the holiday itself. For example, this Thanksgiving I will be greatly upset if I do not see two movies that have come to define this holiday: the original Willy Wonka and Home Alone. The former aired for whatever reason during a few Thanksgivings of yore, and I steadfastly continue to search for it on TV each year, even though I don’t really like the movie and find it bizarre and disturbing. The latter traditionally airs every Thanksgiving night, and I will not be able to sleep unless I see Joe Pesci fall and hurt himself 80 times. Again.

This week will also unleash the flood of Christmas specials, few being as special as A Charlie Brown Christmas. This is by far the best Peanuts special ever. (A close second being the one where they all went to France. Remember that one? No? Whatever.) It has, however, been tarnished in recent years by CBS’ decision to air a more contemporary Peanuts special afterwards, with slightly different voices and more nonsensical yet not-as-endearing plotlines. (They did this with Frosty, too.) But it’s still worth it.

(Speaking of nonsensical—I could never quite figure out the drawn-out sequence of Snoopy being a WWII fighter pilot. What is that all about? Where does it fit in? I do not understand.)

I am not one of those people, however, who cling to the oldies while ignoring the new stuff. In fact, a more recent holiday obsession of mine involves Lifetime holiday movies, which are all spectacularly bad in a great kind of way. They all have the same exact plot and simply feature different sitcom castoffs. Two years ago we watched a Lifetime special that featured Uncle Joey from Full House, except in the movie he despised kids, until those very kids showed him the true meaning of Christmas. It was terrible, and I have been desperately searching for it ever since.

The truly great ones hold a special place in my heart though. As a family, we used to sit together on Christmas Eve and watch my parents’ favorite version of A Christmas Carol on TV—the one starring Alastair Sim from 1951. I too believe that no version is better. Until, of course, Lifetime premieres its own version starring Tony Danza and Delta Burke.

The night before Thanksgiving this year—tomorrow night!—we have plans to watch a few new holiday specials with our daughter. Maybe one day A Madagascar Christmas will be her Charlie Brown. Though I hope she likes Charlie Brown too, if only because it’s her parents favorite.

When she develops her sense of irony, we will introduce her to Lifetime. In the meantime, the crime, violence, and terrible parenting portrayed in Home Alone should do.

Happy Thanksgiving.

This is going to be the chocolatiest Thanksgiving ever!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Classic card of the week

Jeff Gryaer, 1993 Topps Stadium Club


This is what Jeff Grayer said, in his head, as he dribbled a basketball while wearing white tube socks. One can sense the excitement of this dribble-off as the culturally diverse crowd looks on in amazement and anticipation of what will happen next. Will he shoot it? Will Ron Harper get called for reaching? Will Jeff Grayer dribble in a different direction? Is a five-second call in order? Who knows. Anything can happen in basketball. All I can say is, that is some fiiiiiiiiine dribbling.

What else about Jeff Grayer?

Here Grayer is rocking the Warriors throwback jersey, although that trend in clothing hadn't yet peaked among NBA fans. Coincidentally, Grayer's Warriors jersey on the front of the card is now a throwback. Jeff Grayer is so old that his regular jerseys are throwbacks and his throwback jerseys are future jerseys. In fact, according to this card, Grayer was popularly referred to as “Ol’ No. 44.” I think we’re all familiar with that, no? Jeff Grayer? Ol’ No. 44? Anybody? Allow me to illustrate:

Person A: Then the Clippers cut the lead to one, but the Warriors scored on the next possession to ice the game. Bailed out by Ol’ No. 44.

Person B: I don’t even need to inquire as to whom you’re talking about, because everybody knows that Ol’ No. 44 is Jeff Grayer.

Person A: I honestly cannot tell sometimes if you’re being sarcastic, or if you’re just a really weird person.

Ha, ha! Warriors fans are hilarious. Anyway, what was the ol’ “buzz” on Ol’ No. 44 those days of 1993?

Per minute, Grayer ranked in TOP 34% of the NBA in OFFENSIVE REB…

Indeed, when they weren’t discussing with anticipation the release of Nas’ debut album, those in the streets were aflutter with talk of Jeff Grayer’s per minute offensive rebounding statistics. Top 34 percent? That’s almost top 30 percent! Crazy, yo.

I would now like to draw your attention to the Topps Skills Rating System listed on the back of this card. In an astounding maneuver, it appears as though the team of experts responsible for formulating the Skills Rating System decided to rate players on a scale of “out of ten.” Remember, please, that the Sporting News Skills Rating System that Topps had traditionally used was a complex formula that rated players “out of five.” So throw out everything you thought you knew about the Skills Rating System. They done blowed it up. Out of five? Pffft. Try out of ten.

That said, Ol’ No. 44’s modest 8.1 ball handling rating seems rather low considering the breathtaking, Globetrotter-esque maneuvers he is displaying on the front of this card.

Did you know?
When Latrell Sprewell first became a Warrior, he declined to wear his favorite number, 44, out of respect for Ol' No. 44. Then he choked P.J. Carlesimo.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The old man and the sea of change

Note: This column appears in the 11/18 issue of The Glendale Star and the 11/19 issue of the Peoria Times

Like many men of his generation, my grandfather held strong—often stubbornly strong—to his worldview.

God only knows what he experienced and witnessed during World War II. He wasn’t the type to talk much about it. Post-war America was a much different place than it is today, and all of this helped shape his ideals and opinions.

When we were kids, my grandfather was a larger than life presence, sitting on his throne, which doubled as a recliner, watching golf on TV and generally not wanting to be bothered. The underlying threat of my grandmother telling Pop of our misdeeds was enough to redirect us to better behavior, though I’m now certain that the last thing he ever wanted to do was get out of his chair to discipline us.

All would have been well should things have proceeded as expected in his world, but life had other plans. It began when his eldest daughter married a Jewish man and later converted herself. It continued when his home inadvertently became part of a growing, urban, somewhat depleted neighborhood. It culminated almost a decade ago when we lost my grandmother.

Pop was forced out of his cultural, spiritual, and idealistic cocoon. Without my grandmother as the conduit, he was going to have to become a more hands-on patriarch—one that was going to need some help of his own. This could have gone one of two ways.

Pop chose the higher, less-traveled, emotionally introspective road. The knots of angst were loosened. He began to, slowly but surely, open up to all of us. I would mow his lawn on summer days after work, and find myself sitting at his kitchen table, sharing a cold one with him, and we would talk. When I had to go he would insist on “one more.” The man who once didn’t want to be bothered didn’t want me to leave.

Thank God for this softening, because in that time my sister, his granddaughter, married an African-American man. Pop came to the wedding. It was there that he met for the first time my future in-laws. Having always had a distaste for Frank Sinatra, my grandfather remained skeptical about Italians in general. As the party was winding down, he told my father-in-law that he “wasn’t so bad…for an Italian.” Progress.

Time brought my grandfather a Jewish daughter and son-in-law, an African-American grandson-in-law, and two-mixed race great grandchildren. Italians had infiltrated the family on his watch. He also now had an adopted great granddaughter. We brought our daughter to see him on a trip home this summer. Pop was impressed with the way she smiled and jumped on the bed in his nursing home. He commented, “She’s a special baby.”

Before we left that day, as he had each and every time we went to see him over the past few years (something he did rarely if at all when I was a kid), he hugged me and said, “Love ya’, pal.”

My grandfather passed away last week, the day before Veterans Day.

A Navy man set in his ways for most of his life, he rode the sea of change instead of going against the current. As a result, the grandparent who I most feared as a child ended up being the grandparent with whom I had grown the closest to as an adult. It didn’t have to be that way, but he made it so, because Pop was a special man.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Classic card of the week

Michael Adams, 1992 Stadium Club

Several things immediately stand out about this basketball card. First, Michael Adams is a small man. He is roughly the same size as the referee in the distance -- we all know how small referees are, am I right? Hello? -- and I imagine that the referee will get taller as he gets closer. (I’m no scientist, though.)

It also appears -- and I realize this is a small sample size, in the form of one still shot -- that Michael Adams does not know how to dribble a basketball. The ball is hitting the side of his hand. Plus, I do not understand why he is bouncing the ball so high in the first place. Remove the crowd, keep the knee pads, switch the uniform to a pair of jorts and an oversized t-shirt, and you have a small man playing basketball for the very first time.

But on the contrary:

The always-reliable Sporting News Skills Rating System has Michael Adams’ ball handling skills at a 4.6, which matches his “floor leadership” rating. In those categories, Adams is only 0.4 rating points away from perfection -- Pistol Pete and Norman Schwarzkopf, respectively.

Astoundingly, Adams also attains a 4.8 in “shooting range,” which means he only misses a shot four percent of the time, and there is only four percent of the entire basketball court from which he cannot properly execute a shot. (I am a mathematician.) Now, you may be saying to yourself, “Michael Adams should shoot the ‘j’ all the time!” Ha, ha! Agreed. Thing is, it’s tiring on the little fella. Sayeth Wikipedia:

Renowned for his “push shot,”…

I could not locate a video of this renowned push shot, but I imagine it is a thing of beauty. So here we have Michael Adams, a small man who dribbles high and awkwardly, and shoots a basketball like David Eckstein throws a baseball. Recipe for success?


Adams had his best season in 1990-1991, when he averaged 26.5 points (including a 54 point game) and 10.5 assists per game while playing for the Denver Nuggets.

Granted, I realize the Nuggets of the late 80s, early 90s put up, and gave up, All-Star Game-type pointage. Still though. 26.5 points per game? Michael Adams, you can floor me with you leadership any day.

For a more genuine and accurate account of Michael Adams’ vast abilities, see here. For more information on Michael Adams, the English chess Grandmaster, see here. For an unrelated video of a dog doing the Merengue, which, after one-minute, will make you feel as if you just smoked a pound of weed, see here.

Did you know?
Michael Adam's 54-point game was inspired by the movie, "Teen Wolf."

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Road to dental wisdom is paved with speed bumps, tarter

Note: This column appears in the 11/11 issue of The Glendale Star, and the 11/12 issue of the Peoria Times

One advantage of living in the middle of the hurricane that is fatherhood is the ability to more easily put off certain burdens, like going to the dentist. When I considered the stark reality, however, that putting it off further will only make it worse when I actually do go, I decided to make an appointment.

I have been repaying the carelessness of my youthful lack of dental hygiene—I rebelled against my own braces—throughout my adult life. For example, I have been forced to wear a mouth guard at night, every night, for the rest of my life. Apparently, I rather forcefully grind my teeth at night, a habit that is no doubt a form of relief at the subconscious stress I feel towards dentistry in general.

I repented long ago, and have since committed to brushing twice per day, flossing and using mouthwash. I also, sans for this latest procrastination, go to the dentist every six months. This penance has somewhat backfired, as I discovered during this most recent appointment that I am brushing my teeth too hard, and my gum line is thus receding dramatically. Fantastic. According to my dentist, I have the gum line of a 95-year old hockey player.

I have yet to endure a standard dental check-up that proceeds smoothly, despite my best efforts. Last year I was informed that I have five wisdom teeth! I am a modern miracle of science. Also, my wisdom teeth need to come out. During my last visit the office provided me an estimate of the cost of having my wisdom teeth removed with insurance, and let’s just say that I’ll be enjoying my surplus of wisdom for the foreseeable future, or at least until these teeth produce a kind of pain that hurts more than the thought of paying to have them removed.

Luckily for me, Arizona has more dentists per capita than cacti, so it was not difficult to find a dentist upon moving here. Settling on one has proved more difficult, as I continue to search for a dentist who will tell me that everything looks great. I do enjoy, however, being assessed by various dentists and their assistants as they use their own dental Morse code. Several times I have found myself reclined in the chair, mouth wide open as the dentist inspects. I then attempt to translate things like, “Alright, we got a ‘6’ on ’21,’ an ‘89’ on ’17,’ and let’s see here…wow, looks like, yep—a ‘code red’ on ‘4.’ I repeat: ‘Code red’ on ‘4.’”

Nothing fazes me anymore. I just sit in the dentist’s chair reading People Magazine and wait to hear the bad news. Last week, after the dental assistant deemed it would be too difficult to remove the tarter from teeth with only a hand tool, I became one of the first patients at their office to experience the TarterTron 6000. It felt…unusual! It removed all of my tarter and my most of my senses.

I go back on Friday. I have two cavities to be filled, and one of them is an old filling that leaked. It’s going to be the best day ever! Until the gum surgery, of course.

My daughter will not make the same mistakes I made. That is why we brush all seven of her teeth every night. She better not need braces, or these wisdom teeth are never coming out.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Classic card of the week

Greg Lloyd, NFL A1 Masters of the Grill series

Mmmmmmm, it smells delicious! What is Greg Lloyd cooking up today?

Onion wine sauce? Nice! In my opinion, there is nothing better to do on a beautiful day -- one in which the sky is so blue that it seems to go on forever -- than go over to Greg Lloyd’s house for a barbeque. Greg Lloyd is the type of guy who will toss on his football jersey, an apron, an oven mitt, and a chef’s hat, and invite the entire neighborhood to his house as he cooks a marinade for some delicious steak. (You have to bring the steak though.) There, you can sit in his backyard, admire the vines growing up his gorgeous white lattice, and listen to Greg Lloyd recount graphic stories of grabbing other dudes’ testicles during football games. This is a rite of springtime for all of Greg Lloyd’s neighbors.

Because Greg Lloyd is much more than just a recipe for onion wine sauce, let us consult Wikipedia to discover other details of his personality:

In 2001, Lloyd was accused of sticking a gun in his son's mouth due to the 12-year old's bad grades in school, but two trials in 2004 ended in hung juries and a third was not pursued. In 2002, Lloyd pointed a gun at ex-wife Rhonda Lloyd's head, and he pleaded no contest to simple battery in 2004.

Well, nothing can ruin a Greg Lloyd barbeque quite like getting a C- in social studies. Also, if pointing a gun at a woman’s head is “simple battery,” then I don’t want to know what complicated battery is.

In Greg Lloyd’s defense, here he is, slaving over a hot grill all day, trying to provide onion wine sauce for his family and friends, and you have the nerve to not even study, and to bother him about relationship issues? I mean, c’mon. Even in this very picture, a neighbor of Lloyd’s had approached him in an attempt to get some extra sauce. Said Lloyd:

‘Sup, Bill. More sauce, huh? Margie told me you failed to file those expense reports at work last week. Now I’m gonna smile, because there’s people here. But tell me, what do you want in your mouth—this bottle of A1 steak sauce, or these tongs? Pick a hand.

Let us now return to Wikipedia for what may be my favorite athlete quote ever:

In 1991, Joe Namath then an analyst of NBC accused Lloyd of playing dirty, Lloyd responded by saying "Who is Joe Namath? This is a guy who, if he played in the league today, I'd probably just go hit him late and see what he did, just for the hell of it. Joe Namath can go to hell; he can kiss my ass."

I enjoy how Lloyd asks, “Who is Joe Namath?” rhetorically in an attempt to belittle him, as if Joe Namath isn’t one of the most famous football players ever and also in the Hall of Fame. That he goes on to defend Namath’s criticism of his alleged dirty play by claiming that he would play dirty against Namath is the stuff legends are made of. My favorite part though may be the implication that having Joe Namath kiss his butt supersedes eternal damnation. Joe Namath can go to hell. No, wait. Joe Namath can kiss my ass. Yeah, I said it.

In an attempt to reconcile, Joe Namath once showed up at a Greg Lloyd barbeque with a bowl of homemade potato salad. All was well until Lloyd discovered that Namath had used Miracle Whip instead of Hellman’s Original, and he responded by throwing Namath down a flight of stairs. It was the least-violent Greg Lloyd barbeque ever!

Did you know?
In many eastern cultures, onion wine sauce is believed to cure a hernia.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

The security of marriage

Note: This column appears in the 11/4 issue of The Glendale Star and the 11/5 issue of the Peoria Times

I am as guilty as anyone as falling into a false sense of security occasionally. In this day and age, that can be bad news. Thankfully, in between checking fantasy scores and other people’s mundane status updates, I always make it a point to check my accounts online daily. A few weeks ago I noticed a fraudulent charge on my credit card account.

As I sat there with a quizzical look, muttering to myself, “What is this charge?” my wife, who is known in our family as “the investigator” for her innate ability to question everyone and everything to uncover the truth, reacted like a CIA operative. “What, what, what…TELL ME!” she said. I barely got the words out before she was locking the doors and windows, and questioning whether we should shred our files and flee the state for a few days.

My wife is always on guard. Whenever we are at the store and the cashier asks for our phone number, she jumps in to say that it’s unlisted, which it is, at her request. This hasn’t won us any cashier friends, but really -- why do they want a phone number? Sketchy. My wife always defaults to withholding information, to the point where I have to convince her that it’s okay to list our address when filing our taxes. At her behest, I recently blacked out with a permanent marker every relevant piece of information on an official document I sent to the state of Arizona. I don’t know why we even filled it out in the first place.

This particular charge was for almost $300, which was for an online purchase of snowboarding equipment. Our credit card company was very understanding, but they did want me to be absolutely sure that I did not make this purchase before marking it as fraud. I assured them that I am in my early 30s, have a one-year-old child, and live in Arizona. I’m not going snowboarding anytime soon.

They asked me if I wanted to be sent a new card. Had I been by myself, I probably would have opted to keep the card and monitor it closely, so I could save myself the hassle of having to cancel and then reinitiate all of our pre-set, automatic credit card charges. My wife, however, was adamant that I get a new card, so I did.

I tend to lean more towards giving people and situations the benefit of the doubt. She is skeptical about everyone and everything. We fall almost on opposite ends of the spectrum, but together we form a happy/skeptical medium. In this instance, with regards to our personal security, I am glad I deferred to her judgment.

A few days ago I received an email and a phone call from our credit card company. Someone had yet again tried to use our old card to make an almost $3,000 purchase.

It’s a sad, sad testament to society that our personal security is constantly at risk, but for that and many other reasons I’m glad I married the investigator. Now we wait, and hope that they catch that snowboarding cashier.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Classic card of the week

Jerome Kersey, 1993-94 Topps Stadium Club

Here is Jerome Kersey executing a slam-dunk. Feel the excitement. Undoubtedly, point guard Rod Strickland has driven the lane, thus drawing multiple defenders, and subsequently dished off to a wide open Jerome Kersey, who was standing on the block, and who then proceeded to jump as high as six inches in the air in order to dunk uncontested while letting out a half-hearted scream of dominance. Clear this area which has already been cleared! Jerome Kersey’s ‘bout to get his dunk on!

There are a few interesting things going on with this card. And by “interesting,” I mean stupid. For starters, the font of the “K” on the front makes it look like an “H,” so the uninformed onlooker may feel as though he or she was just dunked on by a man named Hersey. Hersey Johnson. Hersey Johnson is a person I made up, but who I Googled for fun and who I discovered is, among other things, one half of a charcoal grey sweatshirt-making team. Luckily for me, I grew up idolizing Portland Trailblazers power forwards, and so I knew it was Jerome Kersey the whole time.

Please also notice on the bottom left a weird, compass-type thingee that contains the letters “HC” and also other alphabetical letters, like “G” and “O” and “U.” It’s uncertain if even more letters are there but have simply run off into the black background, which could be a graphic error, or a clue, and if you use a magnifying glass with 3-D plastic glasses, you will uncover the code that reveals that Jerome Kersey urges you to drink your Ovaltine.

It is also uncertain what the freakin’ heck these letters mean, but if anyone has any ideas, please let me know because it’s honestly starting to bother me. The “HC Compass” is also contained on the back of the card, minus the other letters. It’s unfortunate that no one was using their creative compass when creating this compass, and stopped to say, “Wait—this compass makes no sense!” I mean, I don’t want to make too much out of this, but this compass has ruined my day. A nonsensical compass on a Jerome Kersey basketball card has ruined my day.

In fact, I was thinking about it, and the only possible thing I can think of that would cheer me up would an upside-down night-vision image of Jerome Kersey. Why? I don’t know. I guess I just think it would be kinda cool, and would definitely take my mind off the compass for a while. Alas, where in the world would I-

What? Is that what I think…


Did you know?
The Predator version of Jerome Kersey is much more aggressive when urging children to drink their Ovaltine. He sort of demands it.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

How a mortgage broke, almost -- a not-so-funny tale

Note: This column appears in the 10/28 issue of The Glendale Star and the 10/29 issue of the Peoria Times

Talking about mortgages is not fun, or funny. Whenever a friend or acquaintance attempts to become involved in a conversation about mortgages, interest rates, or anything involving finances, my strategy is to draw upon enough acquired knowledge to prove that I am not an idiot, and then make a forced and ill-timed joke in an attempt to steer the conversation back to an inane topic, like sports or celebrity gossip. You know who should refinance? David Arquette! What a jerk, huh?

If there is anything worse than talking about mortgages -- besides, of course, having one -- it’s reading about them. Please consider a forthcoming column that even I wouldn’t read evidence of my immense frustration.

Like many Americans, we have watched our home and greatest asset depreciate in value exponentially. This has been wonderful, especially since we purchased our home at the peak of good economic times, and committed to a high interest rate. In this respect, moving to Arizona was like a crazy night in Vegas, in that we were down $50,000 before we unpacked our bags. (I hear that moving to Vegas three years ago was also like a crazy night in Vegas, as their housing market is no better than ours.)

The good news is that we love it here, and have been content to wait in the hope that things will turn around economically. While we wait, we thought it would be a nice idea to try and refinance, as we had watched interest rates plummet. In the meantime, friends and acquaintances foreclosed, or strategically foreclosed, and the squatting epidemic became national news.

We wanted to go about things the best way we knew how. We were fortunate enough to still be able to pay our mortgage, but thought we could earn a new rate. My humble attempts to go about this were met with roadblocks and misinformation, but I didn’t give up, because I am the hero of this story. A hero who wants to save $300 per month.

Throughout this entire mortgage crisis, I always felt a little bad for the banks. The way I figured, it’s easy to blame an institution, a “bank,” but it’s more difficult to blame people -- people with families. It’s easier to blame a business philosophy and those who took part in it than to trace that philosophy back to its roots, where it becomes more complicated to pinpoint fault.

I do not feel bad for the banks anymore.

Eventually, I made progress with our bank. We had our home appraised, which was humbling, yet it placed us in the bank’s arbitrary window to refinance. We worked out a good rate, and we were on our way.

Or so I thought. First they sent paperwork with incorrect names. Then they lied about sending the corrected paperwork, and only “resent” it after I insisted. It took weeks for them to respond to any issue. As the projected closing date approached and then passed, they stopped answering their phones and returning emails. Here we were, trying to go about things the right way. A major, national bank chose the teenage-jilted-lover route, and just didn’t answer their phone. Nice.

After locking in a 90-day rate, pretty much the next time we heard from them was 92 days later, when they informed us that they had input the wrong property address in their system. Ya’ know, small detail. After three months of waiting for them to get their act together, the bank needed us to close in two days.

Your hero closed, thanks in no part to the bank itself. Even after ultimately succeeding, I can see why our country is in its present financial state. If you ask me, it's not very funny.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Classic card of the week

Christian Laettner, 1993 Classic Games, Inc.

Here is another installment of Classic Games, Inc’s immensely popular and relevant “Four-Sport Collection.” Featured here is famous four-sport athlete Christian Laettner, who besides excelling at basketball, was also an offensive lineman for the Chicago Bears, a jockey (who once, it should be mentioned, almost rode Butter Purplefingers -- a thoroughbred owned by trainer D. Wayne Lucas -- to glory at the Belmont Stakes), and a competitive dancer who was featured in the independent film, “You Got Served.”

Today however, we focus on basketball. Laettner, seen here dribbling intensely with slicked-back hair, was dubbed “The Professor” while at Duke, for his entertaining brand of streetball and also because, when he received enough college credits, he actually taught an introductory course on French Literature. But let us see what else this card has to say:

Christian Laettner helped Minnesota tremendously during the 1992-93 season

The 1991-92 Minnesota Timberwolves finished 15-67. The 1992-93 Minnesota Timberwolves finished 19-63. So, in this particular case, “tremendously” = four wins, assuming that no carryover players improved, and no new players sans Laettner contributed anything positive. I think this is a fair assumption. I am good at assumptions.

Laettner quieted all critics who doubted he could perform at the power forward position in pro basketball.

Indeed, Laettner’s 18-plus points per game and spot on the NBA’s All-Rookie Team were impressive, especially for a honky. And therein lie, I believe, the foundation of the skepticism with regards to Laettner’s NBA potential: Could this Caucasian from Duke, where he had succeeded immensely at playing basketball, play basketball? Many thought he should focus on football, where there was less of a chance of him getting pushed around by bigger, more culturally diverse men. Even his own family was skeptical of his choices. On NBA Draft day in ‘92, in an emotionally charged interview with Ahmad Rashad, who had posed the simple non-question, “You must feel great,” Laettner’s mother said, while wiping away tears, “We raised him to dance and/or ride horses. But Christian’s going to do what he wants to do, and I have to support that.”

Under the leadership of Timberwolves coach Sidney Lowe, Laettner and his teammates could combine to make a serious run in the Western Conference.

That depends what you mean by “run.” If you mean, literally, that they could, if everything broke just right, run up and down the basketball court with serious faces on -- which is something Laettner himself excelled at, obviously -- then yes, this would be a feasible statement. I mean sure, their 19-63 record was a clear indication that the Timberwolves were poised for great things, and they did improve on that, albeit not tremendously, by going 20-62 the following season.

But then Lowe, unable to harness the raw potential of Laettner, and other greats like Thurl Bailey, and “Funk in the Trunk” creator J.R./Isaiah Rider, was, out of nowhere, fired, thus bringing to an end the great, serious, Western Conference run of the 1992-94 Minnesota Timberwolves.

Christian Laettner would eventually retire from all sports, even ones that he never played. He would, however, go on to improve his street cred by -- with the help of other Duke alum -- financing the development of an upscale community in North Carolina’s Brightleaf District. The original name of the development, inspired by former teammate J.R./Isaiah Rider’s brief musical career, was called, “Funk in the Trunk Meadows.” But they eventually, to the chagrin of me only, settled on “West Village.”

Did you know?
When Laettner was named to the 1992 USA Dream Team instead of favorite Shaquille O'Neal, it became the most important thing that never mattered in the first place, ever.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Washing my hands of washing my hands a lot

Note: This column appears in the 10/21 issue of The Glendale Star and the 10/22 issue of the Peoria Times

All of a sudden, my wife is on a mission to ensure that I wash my hands more often.

I’m sure this is at least partially based on the fact that we have a child. Indeed I’ve found myself -- when ill-prepared with resources I should have thought to have at my disposal -- wiping clean the runny nose of our daughter with my bare hands. I remain unconvinced, however, that my wife’s concern with my hand-cleanliness stems from a more general concern for my well being, rather than for her own well-being and that of the aforementioned child.

It has been suggested on several recent occasions that I wash my hands. If I maintain that I have washed my hands recently, the follow-up question is, “Did you use soap?” Most 32-year old men with a lifetime of hand-washing under their hypothetical belts would find this question insulting, although I have been known to simply run my hands under water as a means of rinsing them clean. So I usually relent and head shamefully to the nearest sink.

Even when I do use soap, however, that is often not enough. My wife recently read in one of her parenting/womanly/style magazines that many people do not wash their hands for a long enough period of time. Crisis! A good trick, this magazine insisted, is to say the alphabet as you wash your hands to ensure proper cleanliness. I do not know if this advice was aimed at the children or the disgusting, bumbling husbands of this publication’s readers, but I find it to be preposterous and inconvenient. I therefore protest by singing one verse of a song of my choice while washing up. So there.

One particular point of contention involves the dishes. Before I wash the dishes, of late, my wife has inquired as to whether or not I have washed my hands. Because I consider washing the dishes an indirect form of hand-washing, I do not think it is necessary to do so, as I believe that washing your hands before washing your hands is going a bit overboard. My wife’s counterpoint is that, “We eat with those dishes!” I tell her that I did not drag my hands through mud as I traveled from the table to the sink. We go back and forth like that until I ultimately, because I never win, wash my hands.

Because she works with kids all day, my wife is dedicated to remaining disinfected. I suppose I could become more of a germaphobe myself if I really tried. Whenever I see those commercials where normally invisible germs become a green fog, and travel from child-to-child-to-keyboard-to-adult-to-deathbed, I tell myself that I should probably wash my hands more often. But then I figure, “Whatever. I’ve made it this far.”

Though some may argue with my hygienic habits, one thing I am most certainly not is wasteful. When the straw in one of our soap dispensers can no longer reach the soap, but there is still some soap left in there, I have been known to add some water to mix it. Sure, this dilutes it, but it saves us some soap.

Last week I added water to a small bottle of hand sanitizer that we have in the kitchen. My wife went to use this, while asking me if I was going to wash my hands as we had both just teamed up to clean the extremely runny nose of our little girl. She pushed down the pump and a mix of water and hand sanitizer went all over her clothes.

The way I figured it, at least now she wouldn’t need to wash her shirt.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Classic card of the week

Junior Ortiz, 1985 Topps

No doubt this gorgeous, professional swing produced a grand slam home run for Junior Ortiz! That, or an opposing player has grabbed the other end of Ortiz’s bat with plans to drag him around the infield as retribution for an earlier insult.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. And here it is, the thing that you are thinking: Sure, Junior Ortiz likes to play baseball during the summertime. Who doesn’t?! But I wonder what he does during winter months?

Excellent, excellent question. I was wondering the same exact thing.

Junior is a graduate of Ana Rogue (Puerto Rico) High School.

This is valuable information. Especially the part about Puerto Rico. For a second there I thought they were talking about the Australian Ana Rogue, who was infamous for her stance on less education and who also hoarded and abused ferrets. That, or “Ana Rogue” is Spanish for “Puerto Rico,” which is already Spanish and which, if accurate, you would think I would have been aware of by now. Nevertheless, this information brings us no closer to discovering what Junior Ortiz does in January.

He plays baseball in winter months.

This is just…I mean…so you’re saying that he…what?! Junior Ortiz plays baseball during summer months and also during winter months? Man, that guy must love baseball! I bet winter months in Ana Rogue are like summer months in Neuva York! Ha, ha! Seasons are crazy sometimes. Anyway, speaking of Junior Ortiz and Puerto Rico and the Mets, let’s take a peak at the baseball trivia quiz…

Which player has played the most times on a losing All-Star squad?

The answer to this question is Brooks Robinson. Other acceptable answers are “Who freakin’ cares?” and “Junior Ortiz.”

Because the only information contained about Junior Ortiz on his baseball card is that he has a high school education and likes baseball, and also that thing about Brooks Robinson, let us travel elsewhere for information:

Ortiz himself suffered one of the more interesting injuries when he had to sit out a game after stepping on a papaya.

Standing next to him at the time was a man wearing a bumblebee costume and three scantily clad females wearing giant fruit hats -- which is how the papaya got loose, obviously -- and everybody was dancing to Menudo. I mean hey, these things happen.

In August 1991, in the midst of a long slump, Ortiz changed his name to Joe, but changed his mind when his funk continued.

Makes sense. I mean, we’ve all been there -- stuck in a rut and thinking a swift name change could do the trick. If I were 2-for-my-last-45 and just stepped on a freakin’ papaya, I would change my name to Joe, too. And if it didn’t work? Change it back! It’s just a name. Nothing is written in stone.

He also named his son Junior, making him Junior, Jr.

So is this a Puerto Rican thing or what? I need to know. I guess it doesn’t really matter anyway, as after Junior, Jr. failed a vocabulary test at Winston Churchill (Puerto Rico) Elementary School, the entire family’s name was changed to “Bill.”

Did you know?

My great-grandfather once missed a very important Whiskey-drinking contest after he slipped on a potato near a Catholic church.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

On Wonderpets and wondering how I got here

Note: This column appears in the 10/14 issue of The Glendale Star and the 10/15 issue of the Peoria Times

Things happen fast when you’re a parent. There’s not much time to reflect on what, exactly, is happening. Therefore, there are moments when you look around, and say to yourself, “Where am I, and how did I get here?” Once such moment occurred for me a couple of weekends ago, as I sat there on a Saturday afternoon, watching live Nickelodeon characters dance around and sing onstage.

We took our daughter to Arena to see Nickelodeon Live Storytime. (For those of you who follow the column, yes -- I returned to Westgate. They called me personally to apologize for the farmer’s market fiasco, explaining how they were forced to cancel last minute due to the heat and valiantly attempted to get the word out in time. Tip of the cap to them.) Considering it was the beginning of October, and still one thousand degrees outside thanks to “the summer that wouldn’t die,” I was happy to get her, and us, out of the house.

Sure, dozens of college football games were being broadcast at the time, but these are the sacrifices we make as parents. And truth be told, I was kind of excited, considering I watch these shows more intently than our daughter does, as she has the attention span of a squirrel. I was also intrigued to see how these cartoons would translate to a live performance.

Sure enough, there was a not-so-audible gasp when Kai-Lan came onstage as an actual person and not the cartoon version. It was palpable, the thoughts of hundreds of kids simultaneously saying, That’s not Kai-Lan! This enthralled me to no end, and I turned to my wife and said, “These kids are like, ‘Whaaaat?!’” She quietly but forcefully shushed me. Of course, it took about three seconds for real-life Kai-Lan to win the crowd over. Myself included. (By the way, if you have no idea what I’m talking about, it is probably because you are not a parent of a young child, and your brain hasn’t turned to mush, overrun with the theme songs of various, inane cartoons. Feel free to move along.)

The Backyardigans and Wonderpets were equally entertaining, but every kid in the building was there to see the headliner, Dora. It’s insane, really. Dora the Explorer is like the Beatles, if the Beatles were the most annoying band ever. I’m not a big Dora fan.

Luckily for me, our daughter is still too young to process these kinds of things. There were only a handful of moments that grabbed her attention for more than two seconds, and those were when a new character came out and when the lights went off. Otherwise, she spent her time climbing on and off the seats and trying to play with the girls of our good friend, who joined us for this grand event. So by the time Dora came out, our daughter was finished. Meltdown. So I went out with her to the concourse while Dora went through the forest and saved Boots and became a princess or whatever.

It’s funny, genuinely being able to say you had fun somewhere if only because your daughter had fun. Wait, did she have fun? I think so. Who knows. At least we got her out of the house.

Ni hao! That's Chinese for, "Texas is coming back against Oklahoma, how are you not watching this???!!!???!!!

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Classic card of the week

Chris Zorich, 1991 NFL Pro Set

I don’t think that, as a society, we’ve given the half-shirt football jersey its just due.

We certainly can’t just pretend that this trend never happened. As evidenced here, the half-shirt football jersey was championed by such champions as Chris Zorich, who –- a quick Google image search will confirm –- didn’t rock the half-shirt during only practices and scrimmages. After all, 1990 LOMBARDI AWARD WINNERS aren’t typically shy about showing off their belly buttons.

Not that Zorich was the only one. The late 80s and early 90s witnessed a bevy of football players -– frustrated with layers upon layers of protective apparel that failed to adequately expose their natural physique -– paying homage to their most manly of man parts. That part being their stomach, so appealing to the opposite sex by virtue of the grizzled strip of hair leading from the belly button and down into an abyss of additional manhood.

In Zorich’s particular case, the half-shirt football jersey screamed, “I may be a nose tackle, but that doesn’t mean a have a gut. Check out my tummy!” And everyone did check out his tummy, unwittingly, each and every Saturday. This was a boost to not only female sensibilities, but also to male fans of teams like Notre Dame, which did not traditionally print names on the backs of jerseys. Who’s number 50? I have no idea, but I’d recognize that male landing strip anywhere!

Because the underage factory workers who produce and manufacturer Notre Dame football jerseys in a small village community off the Brazilian coast do not typically cut the jerseys in half for no apparent reason, Chris Zorich was forced to break out the scissors himself. This he did as a means of not only looking fabulous, but also to pay homage to past Notre Dame greats like Paul Hornung, and Rudy, who never thought they’d live to see a day where they wouldn’t be persecuted for playing football half-naked.

Let’s find out more.

I am immensely disappointed that Chris Zorich did not also rock the half-shirt tuxedo top, as I believe the half-shirt tuxedo top would be the only appropriate apparel to wear in order to accept an award as beautiful as the Lombardi Trophy. Here is your giant piece of cork on a stick. Now go put some clothes on.

Did you know?
The term "male landing strip" received an unprecedented NC17 rating from the editors of this blog.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

A parental breakdown

Note: An edited version of this column appears in the 10/7 issue of The Glendale Star and the 10/8 issue of the Peoria Times

My parents are falling apart. Physically.

This is mainly a result of them both being super active. My dad is an avid runner, and my mom -- though she became involved relatively recently -- has possibly passed even my dad in her commitment to running.

Unfortunately, their bodies are having difficulty keeping up. A few weeks ago, my dad’s knee went out while playing softball. For whatever reason, most of my fathers’ injuries involve something “going out.” Nothing is ever “tweaked,” or “pulled.” It just dramatically goes out, collapsing, I imagine, onto itself. I’m not certain what the exact medical terminology is for something “going out,” but my dad’s back has gone out so often, it’s a wonder that it’s not, at this point, being held together with duct tape and string. (Which is, by the way, how he would fix his back if it ever fell off, in lieu of going to the doctor.)

And that’s not to make light of his recent knee injury, which is pretty serious. In describing in graphic detail how it happened, he used the phrase, “ligaments re-attached themselves,” which I am also not sure is medically accurate, but do not care to find out. His frustration is not so much with the injury itself, but how it affects his status for the upcoming road race they are entered in.

This has pretty much been the routine with my parents of late. They participate in so many races -- my mom even does the Phoenix ½ marathon with me each year -- and they choose to prepare themselves for these races by running in additional races. In doing this, they inevitably injure themselves, and thus hope that they can be ready for the race that they were preparing to be ready for in the first place, until they got hurt.

My mom, though she battled through persistent foot injuries last year, is often forced to deal with less common ailments. She had, most recently, decided to prepare for their upcoming 10K by participating in the Philadelphia ½ marathon. Granted, this is like preparing for lunch by eating dinner, but no matter. She called me the following day to let me know how she did, which was, “not great,” but mostly because she hurt her shoulder as a result of wearing “the wrong bra.”

As a man, there is nothing quite like listening to your mother, over the phone, explain how she struggled in a recent road race because she wore an ill-fitting bra. Of course, any conversation with my mom includes the requisite update on my dad’s recent injury as well as an exciting recap of which random people, none of whom I can recall from my childhood, died. And so the conversation went like this:

Mom: So yeah, the bra was way too tight, and it really started hurting my shoulder. By mile 11, I was really struggling. I don’t know why I wore that bra. I had a different bra set out to wear in the hotel room, and I should have worn that one. I really should have.

Me: Uh huh.

Mom: Anyway, daddy’s doing okay. The chiropractor said he can start putting pressure on his knee next week, and if the swelling goes down, he can start going for short walks.

Me: Okay. That’s good.

Mom: Of course, you know daddy -- he tried to run a quick mile today and hurt it again pretty bad. And his back went out cleaning the bathroom.

Me: Wow.

Mom: Geez, I know. Oh, and that’s what I forgot to tell you. Do you remember Mr. Langerhans? Gil Langerhans?

Me: Uhhh, no.

Mom: He was daddy’s friend from work? But he’s a parishioner at church, too? I think he was at the party at the McAndrew’s house back in 1983? Remember?

Me: No, I don’t remember.

Mom: Anyway, he died.

(Ed. note: My mom, when speaking to me, still refers to herself and my dad, respectively, as "Mommy" and "Daddy." Just so you know. Because I'm 32.)

I feel kind of bad sometimes, being here in Arizona while my parents are back east, dealing with various injuries and the after-effects of wearing improper undergarments. Not that I’d be able to really help anyway, especially with regards to the latter, but still. At least my sisters are there, who are thrilled to get more frequent injury updates than I do, and who also get to feed the cats when my parents are limping through a race far from home.

I can still do my part though, I think, in an attempt to have my parents take it easy a bit. The next time my dad is here, instead of going for runs, maybe we’ll just have a catch. Father and son, tossing the ol’ ball around, hoping nothing goes out. Nice and easy. Maybe even while sitting down.

My mom? She’s already registered for the ½ marathon here in a few months. Maybe I can just convince her to prepare for it a little less intensively, as I certainly wouldn’t want her to miss it. In fact, it’s kind of become our thing to do together. And as any son whose mom is cool and active enough to come out to Arizona to run 13.1 miles with him would say: I hope she brings a different bra.