Thursday, September 30, 2010

Classic card of the week

Craig Worthington, 1991 Score

Let’s pretend, for fun, that we are not aware that this is a Craig Worthington baseball card we are looking at, okay? Just trust me.

He has quick reflexes and goes well to his left and right, covering a vast amount of ground around third base and throwing with a powerful, accurate arm for the Orioles. Who does that remind you of? Brooks Robinson?

Yeah! I mean, if this wasn’t written in the present tense!

Doug DiCinces?

Not really, but…okay, yeah! It may have helped jog my memory though if you had spelled Doug DeCinces correctly, as nobody, really, reminds me of Doug DiCinces.

You’re wrong on both counts.


It’s Craig

So wait. You’re telling me that the biographical tidbit contained on the back of this Craig Worthington card is about Craig Worthington? I am dumbfounded. This has really caught me off guard.

I also appreciate that I am wrong about being reminded of different baseball players when the author’s intent is to speak of Craig Worthington. In theory, a quick-reflexed, range-having, accurate-arm-boasting third baseman for the Orioles could remind me of Cher, for reasons that are personal and do not have to be explained, and that would be okay. It would also be okay, me thinks, to be reminded of former players who possessed those exact same qualities. I’m just saying.

who wore the mantle of both great Oriole third basemen in 1990.

1) One of them was great. The other was Doug DeCinces. 2) I wish Craig Worthington was forced to play third base while literally wearing a mantle on his back that contained bronze busts of both Brooks Robinson and Doug DeCinces. Then we’d really see how well he could move to his left and right.

He has superb hands and makes everything look easy around the bag, just as Brooks and Doug did.

So…he reminds you of Brooks Robinson and Doug DeCinces? The circle is complete.

I also think that “Brooks & Doug” would be a good name for a country music duo that did not remind people of a different country music duo.

Did you know?
Once, while attempting to bestow on him the nickname “Craig ‘We’re Not Worthy’ington,” Chris Berman accidentally swallowed his tongue.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

On bulging veins, trains and automobiles

Note: This column appears in the 9/30 issue of The Glendale Star and the 10/1 issue of the Peoria Times

The other day I was driving to work and, as usual, some guy in a monster pick-up truck was riding my bumper. And he was mad at me.

There is a light at 91st and Grand, near the 101. I was making a left onto Grand, and I could tell this guy was too, not because of his turn signal, which he refused to use, but because his vehicle was in my back seat. I had missed the green arrow, and the traffic light was now just green, and so in order to turn I was forced to wait for the oncoming traffic to break.

Now, on these occasions, most people -– and everyone in this state –- moves out into the middle of the intersection to wait, so if the traffic never breaks, the turn can be made after the light turns red. I am honestly uncertain if this is legal or not, but I no longer do this. A couple of years ago, my wife was involved in an accident when she thought it was safe to turn left on a yellow light, but an oncoming car chose to speed up and, eventually, run a red, sideswiping her in the process.

So now I wait at green lights behind the crosswalk when turning left, and if I miss the light, so be it. The thing about this particular intersection is that there are railroad tracks right there, and there is only room for one car to wait safely at the light after the tracks. This guy, assuming that I would wait in the middle of the intersection, as he undoubtedly would have, was now behind me, sitting on the railroad tracks.

It’s difficult for me to explain how ecstatic I was when the light turned yellow and the traffic never broke, and I was forced to stay. I looked in my rearview mirror and this guy was slamming his steering wheel, mouthing words that I assume were very profane in my direction, as he was now caught on the tracks.

Man, I was hoping for that train signal to turn flashing red, and activate the wooden barriers that would have slammed down onto his obnoxious truck. Is that wrong of me? I don’t care. The train never came anyway, but it was enough to watch him squirm for a few minutes.

When I got the green arrow, this guy decided that he was now going to try and tailgate me even more than before, as if that were possible. The only thing that prevented him from passing me was the fact that this area of Grand Avenue is -– surprisingly! –- in the middle of a four-year long construction project, and all traffic is henceforth relegated to one lane.

To counteract his tailgating, I decided to drive no more than the posted construction-based speed limit of 25 mph. I was so happy. Like, inordinately happy.

Then, distracted by the mass of construction cones, and the blaring sun, and this guy’s stupid tailgating, I made an incorrect slight turn in the obstacle course of cones, and stopped right before a giant trench. Meanwhile, the traffic behind me, led by this jerk, zoomed passed, laughing at my idiocy. I even debated getting out of the car and pretending I was a construction foreman, like I meant to do that. Yep, looks like the guys dug the trench. Nice work. Better head out.

But instead I sat there, marveling at how I live in a state where the tailgaters and speedsters always win, and the speed cameras and common driving decency always lose, and the construction never ends. And just then, I heard the blaring horns of the oncoming train.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Classic card of the week

Rob Konrad, 1999 Topps

Rob Konrad is one happy fellow. Perhaps it is because he has reached the open field, with no defenders in sight. Perhaps it is because, as this card subtly mentions many, many times, he is a 1999 NFL Draft pick. Or, perhaps it is his new, boy-band-infused haircut:

Either way, Rob Konrad is living large. Let us discover more.

It is not often a team can find a player with the size of a small lineman, the speed of a tailback, and the pass catching ability of a tight end.

Indeed, Rob Konrad encompassed, in one person, what every NFL team was looking for at the time: small linemen, fast tailbacks, and the pass-catching ability of a blocker. Unfortunately for Rob Konrad, he played none of these positions in the NFL, but was, rather, a fullback. But Rob Konrad, it should be stated, did and continues to do what fullbacks do best: manage wealth via private equity funds. Sayeth Wikipedia:

Konrad is currently the CEO of Alterna Wealth Management (a registered investment advisor), he also one of the founding partners of KT Capital Partners., (private equity fund) that owns and actively manages portfolio companies throughout the United States.

There goes Rob Konrad, defying the stereotype that jack-of-all-trades NFL Draft picks cannot succeed financially post-retirement. No wonder he is so happy –- he knows something we don’t know. I wish there were a word bubble over his head on the back of this card that read: This stupid cameraman probably has no idea how to diversify his portfolio.

At only 31 years of age, he became the youngest member of the Investment Advisory Council in the history of the Florida State Board of Administration. Konrad was voted Chairman of the IAC in the Spring of 2009.

At 31 years of age I was zoning out at my kitchen table while our financial advisor tried to explain to me for the seventh time what a “mutual fund” is, so Rob Konrad and I are pretty much the same person.

Allow me to conclude, news-magazine-television-show style...

To quote a late-90’s popular boy band, “I want it that way,” which is what Rob Konrad could often be heard saying during board meetings while discussing various methods by which to manage pension plans. This is what has made him so successful, and so happy. Because for Rob Konrad, within the field of investing, there are no defenders in sight.

Up next on 60 Minutes, Andy Rooney talks about how shirts aren’t what they used to be.

Did you know?
Jim Brown and Rob Konrad are the only two players to ever have their numbers retired by Syracuse University AND star in the 1996 film Original Gangstas, except for Konrad, who did not star in the 1996 film Original Gangstas.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A farmer’s market without the farmers, or market

Note: This column appears in the 9/23 issue of The Glendale Star and the 9/24 issue of the Peoria Times

We are vegetarians, my wife and I, and so when we go hunting we typically hunt for farmer’s markets.

This was our intention two Saturdays ago, our hunt very defined in that Westgate was having a farmer’s market that day. Having found out about this event weeks earlier, our anticipation had increased our excitement, as did the fact that it was a beautiful Saturday morning, the chance to finally venture outside of the house -– to get fresh vegetables, no less! -– signifying the beginning of the end of another endless summer.

It didn’t even matter that Westgate is approximately 40 minutes from our house. Not that helping the environment and local farmers is our sole reason for attending farmer’s markets –- we actually enjoy eating the vegetables of our labor, too –- but the irony of burning lots of gas in order to purchase organic fruits and veggies was not lost on us. But hey, whatever.

Adding to our enjoyment was the opportunity to get our one-year old out of the house and out and about. At the moment of departure, she didn’t seem to be sharing in this enjoyment, but we knew that when we finally got there, she would be enamored by all of the beautiful colors of various peppers and, ummm, melons (?) and the general hustle and bustle of an open market.

When we arrived at Westgate we noticed no signs directing us to the farmer’s market, but this was of no concern, as we had attended one there last year, which also occurred with little fanfare. Besides, we knew we had the date and times correct because I had personally uploaded the details of this event to our own publication’s website, at Westgate’s request, and my wife had even checked their website for confirmation.

Well, there was no farmer’s market. Nor were there any signs or people with any kind of information as to why. For about 20 minutes we walked around with our little one in her stroller, trying to find vegetables, as the pleasant weather turned hotter and less pleasant. We ran into a couple that was similarly confused as to the market’s whereabouts. Having failed to find fresh veggies, they decided to do the next best thing – go to the movies. Had this been Westgate’s plan all along -– to lure people there with the promise of vegetables, only to have them settle into retail purchases and viewings of Piranha 3D? I looked at our daughter and was reminded of a time when going to the movies would have been a feasible alternative for us. Sigh.

Reenactment of our expectations

We didn’t give up though. We had heard that Park West has farmer’s markets too, so we drove there, only to discover that we were one week early. My wife thought she knew of another one somewhere else, but that also turned up empty. In the back seat, our increasingly hungry daughter was giving us an earful. Defeated, we made our way home, vegetable-less, with a ¼ tank of gas burned in the process.

So a big, sarcastic “thank you” to Westgate, for wasting our Saturday with no explanation. I never thought the farmers would leave before the Coyotes.

And yeah –- that’s the kind of zinger you get. I’m not a nice person when I haven’t had my squash.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Classic card of the week

Eric Hillman, 1994 Topps Gold

I would like to switch things up a bit today, and start here with Wikipedia, which I find, in this particular instance, to have surpassed even its own reputation for awesomeness. We shall begin with the famous biographical category –- and, in this case, the only category -– “Nippon Professional Baseball career.” Off we go:

He also played four seasons in Japan.

Now that is a lede.

He firstly played with the Chiba Lotte Marines where Bobby Valentine was a manager at that time.

Let me say, firstly: a manager, or the manager? Was Chiba Lotte Marines a place wherein Bobby Valentine did some managing? Or was Bobby Valentine one of the many managers that the Chiba Lotte Marines employed at this time?

In 1995, his first season in Japan, Hillman had 12 wins and 9 losses. In 1996 he logged 14 wins and 9 losses, and was voted to the best nine Hillman was also voted the MVP of the 1996 All-Star-game..

A few lessons to be learned here. Firstly, what is “the best nine?” Doesn’t matter. Secondly, if you forget to put a period somewhere –- don’t fret! You can just put an extra one at the end, somewhere else. The reader can sort through the wreckage.

In 1997, the Yomiuri Giants has purchased his contract with signing him to a $ 7.5 million, two-year contract. The Giants expected him to be a key-person for the championship.

Let us try and ignore the fact that it hilariously appears as though an old friend from his days in Japan decided to pen Eric Hillman’s Wikipedia entry. Instead, let us do this:

Yomiuri Giants
: Mr. Hillman. We has purchased your contract.

Eric Hillman: Uh, okay. What?

Giants: Just sign here if you like dollar-sign, space, 7.5 million, two-year.

Hillman: I thought you purchased my contract. What am I signing again?

Giants: We has purchased your contract with signing you to a dollar-sign, space, 7.5 million, two-year contract. We do not understand your confusion.

Hillman: Okay, whatever. I’ll sign.

Giants: We expected you to be a key-person for the championship.

Hillman: What championship? Is it over? Did I fail?

Giants: Somebody kill him.

Let’s get back to reality here. I’m sick and tried of going through third parties with regards to Eric Hillman’s accomplishments, hopes, and dreams. Let’s go right to the source. Eric Hillman? Tell me a little bit about yourself:

Eric says he’d like to be a biologist “leading the world into mandatory recycling and ozone layer limitations.”

Huh. Join the club.

Did you know?
Somewhere, the Director of Biology who heads the World-Leading Mandatory Recycling Program and sits on the Board of Trustees of the Ozone Layer Limitations Organization at Oklahoma University, dreams of becoming a professional baseball player.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Fatherhood: Where grudges go to die

Note: This column appears in the 9/16 issue of The Glendale Star and the 9/17 issue of the Peoria Times

We embarked on a family drive to California over Labor Day weekend. We departed for this six-hour trip at around the same time our daughter usually goes to bed, as was our purpose, hoping that she would sleep. She did not sleep. Not for the first two hours, at least.

Instead, she cried, screamed, and whined incessantly. When her whining would settle down into what we thought would be a deep sleep, she would scream herself awake again and start from scratch. For two straight hours, while driving my car, not even one-third into a long trip, my ears rang and my head ached.

I go through stages of emotion during moments like this. Typically the more patient one in our marriage, I initially pride myself on that virtue, and try to laugh off the craziness with jokes and a lighthearted, one-sided conversation with our screaming child. When that inevitably does nothing, I sort of zone out, and stare ahead blankly for about a half hour and try and block everything out. This eventually turns into a burning rage, and I will then explode with a short, abrupt, verbal outburst that makes the situation ten times worse than it was. At this point I give up, and continue to do what I was doing, which was, in this case, driving while fighting the urge to turn the car into the desert and do donuts around saguaros.

In an effort to distract her and, more importantly, ourselves (and because my in-laws are not truly convinced that our daughter ever cries just because, but rather as a result of some uncomfortable situation we have placed her in), we called my mother-in-law to let her experience the noise for herself. This plan backfired when, in an attempt to soothe her through the speakerphone, my mother-in-law became so upset at hearing her granddaughter cry that we ended up listening to two emotionally distraught females on our way to California.

But this was nothing compared to the following night. We shared a room at our friends’ house with our little one, adjacent to the bedroom of their two-year old boy. On this night, our daughter decided to reenact the events of the drive there. Now, at home we can, and do, counteract this with earplugs, but as houseguests wary of waking everyone else, we were forced to take action and attempt to soothe her, which did not work. Never so frustrated in my entire life, at one point I was literally trying to pull my hair out.

We relented at about 5:30 that morning –- because she did not -- after maybe two hours each of interrupted sleep. Might as well get up, we figured. My wife, exhausted, handed me our daughter, who was now happy as a clam because we had picked her up. I was so mad at her, that I attempted not to look at her, but she kept hitting me in the chest to get my attention.

Finally, I looked at her, and she smiled at me, flashing all six teeth in a wide grin. And despite all of my best efforts, I smiled back, and we went upstairs to play. All was forgiven in an instant.

As I attempted to overload myself with coffee and wait for the sun to rise, I watched this little girl wobble around our friends’ living room, unaware of just how tightly wound around her finger she had managed to wrap a fully grown man. Was I that much of a sucker, I wondered, or just a father?

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Classic card of the week

Bobby Higginson, 1999 Topps

I don’t know a lot about Bobby Higginson. But I have heard things. Crazy things. The reputation of Bobby Higginson – one that we are all too familiar with, I am sure -– speaks to his ferocious competitiveness, and also to his competitive ferociousness. He plays baseball, I have heard, like a fighter who fights things. He fights baseballs, ferociously, and wins. This is his reputation. And not that I would ever doubt Bobby Higginson in a million, trillion years, but still, I must ask, in a strange grammatical fashion: Does Bobby Higginson come by his reputation as a ferocious competitor honestly?

Bobby Higginson comes by his reputation as a ferocious competitor honestly.

Whew! For a second there I was very worried that I had Bobby Higginson all wrong. But now I am okay. I knew a guy in college who did not come by his reputation honestly, or, rather, did come by his reputation dishonestly. It was not cool.

He is the grandson of boxer Gus Dorazio, who faced Joe Lewis for the Heavyweight Championship of the World in 1941.

Bobby Higginson is a ferocious competitor by way of genetics. (Ferociousness, traditionally, skips a generation.) He has literally been grandfathered into his reputation, but that does not mean we should consider Bobby Higginson’s reputation to be lesser than a person who has attained a reputation as a ferocious competitor on the merits of their own ferocious competing. Anyway, how did grandpa fare?

Gramps was KO’d in round two but,

He competed ferociously?

a half century later, Bobby gets in his licks.

Oh. Take that Joe Lewis! Sayeth Robert Higginson before each game: I will avenge my grandfather’s defeat in the boxing arena by virtue of my ability to hit baseballs. Behold!

Last September 14, he delivered a pair of haymakers:

These boxing metaphors are knocking me out with their grammatical punch!

a game-tying single

Single = haymaker.

in the ninth inning followed by a game-tying, two-run homer in the 10th against the White Sox.

And with that, Bobby Higginson avenged his grandfather’s defeat. Except for the fact that the White Sox, a.k.a. Joe Lewis, won this game.

But all is not lost, because this only means that Bobby Higginson’s grandson must avenge both defeats by competing ferociously in his chosen field of expertise, which will be “computer programmer at a mid-sized law firm.” Go Hank! (This will be his name.)

Did you know?
A haymaker is a type of farm machine that treats hay to cause more rapid and even drying.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The highs and lows of my affinity for a particular coffee

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

Almost everything in my wallet relates, in some way, to Dunkin' Donuts.

For starters, I have a Dunkin' Donuts card. It's like a debit card that I registered online, and which tracks my spending and earns me Dunkin' Donuts rewards. A few weeks ago I received one of my awards in the mail -- a coupon for a free medium coffee! -- and it was one of the happiest moments of my life. I also "recharge" this card online by adding money to it. According to my American Express online pie chart, more than 60-percent of my spending is applied to "coffee and coffee-related products."

I also have a Dunkin' Donuts punch card with me, always. Whenever I purchase a coffee there, Dunkin' Donuts will punch it, and when it's finished, I get...a free medium coffee! Whenever I cash in this free coffee I make sure to get a new punch card immediately, and sometimes I deftly attempt to have them punch this new card once because -- even though I didn't have to pay for it -- I did just get a coffee. It rarely works, but I try. Also, these two D&D cards supersede almost every other card in my wallet by virtue of the frequency with which I use them. If I were ever, God forbid, in an accident and the police were forced to use my wallet to identify me, they would say, as they sorted through its contents, "He loves Dunkin Donuts...a lot...he's a member at BevMo...his name is Mike."

I also have, if you can believe this, a Dunkin Donuts calendar at my desk here at work. It features provocative and sexy pictures of iced coffee, donuts, and that "time to make the donuts" guy. But the best feature is that every month page contains two coupons that are good only for that month. Many of these -- for example, 75-cents off your next purchase of a sausage & egg sandwich -- I cannot even use, as I really only purchase their coffee and I don't eat meat. But I keep them in my wallet anyway, in case I change my mind.

Throw in my Dunkin' Donuts rewards coupons and any other coupons I may comes across, and you can see that my wallet is a testament to my unwavering commitment to staying caffeinated.

Anyway, last week I was at the D&D on 67th and the 101, going through my usual routine of ordering coffees for my wife and I and handing the cashier twenty different cards and coupons to sort through. I was due for a free coffee, thanks to my punch card, so I was already happy. Then, I find out that Dunkin' Donuts is celebrating its anniversary -- how I did not know this is a mystery; I would have bought them flowers -- and as a result, medium coffees were only 50-cents! They might as well have rained down confetti on me. But then, like an idiot, and not thinking as a result of my overwhelming joy, I used my free coffee punch card for a 50-cent coffee. Oh no! I just forfeited $1.64! I didn't realize it until afterwards, and I was very upset, at both myself and the cashier for not realizing it either.

Bummed out, but drowning my sorrows in my medium iced coffee, I made my way home. As I turned from Lake Pleasant onto Happy Valley Road, I noticed that a brand new Dunkin' Donuts was "coming soon" to that very corner, less than ten minutes from our house. I was so excited. They are probably going to have so many grand opening coupons and specials!

I shall mark this date on my calendar. It will supersede any other listed events, such as birthdays and holidays. I may also need a new wallet. I think I have a coffee problem.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Classic card of the week

Jeromy Burnitz, 1991 Upper Deck Prospects

When the Mets selected Burnitz in the first round of the ’90 draft out of Oklahoma State University, many critics thought New York drafted him too high.

Mets? Criticized for personnel decisions? Really? Weird.

After all, he never matched his .403 freshman season and struggled against left-handed pitching as a junior.

In the Mets’ defense, I’m not entirely sure that “hitting over .400 only once” and “being a young left-handed hitter that struggled against left-handed pitching one year” necessarily qualify as valid reasons to avoid selecting a player high in the draft. Nevertheless, what did the Mets see in Burnitz?

The Mets, however, were sold on Burnitz, who attained the highest score ever on a psychological test the New York Mets administrators give to all prospective draftees.

Question 21: What is your favorite color?
A. Lilac
B. Blue is my favorite color, but my least favorite feeling, Go figure
C. Auburn
D. My favorite color is subjective data and does not define me as a person
E. Green
F. My favorite color is not listed here

(Jeromy Burnitz’s correct answer: B)

Question 36: A person yells at you from the stands, “You suck at playing baseball!” You respond by:
A. Engaging this person further by yelling back something witty to the effect of, “You suck at life, jerkface!”
B. Waiting until after the game to confront and then spit at this person
C. Ignoring this person
D. Throwing firecrackers in the direction of small children
E. Asking management to renegotiate your contract
F. Going 0-for-4

(Jeromy Burnitz’s correct answer: C.)

Question 88: Former Met Lenny Dykstra offers you financial advice. You:
A. Accept it and immediately implement it into your financial profile because: who doesn’t listen to Lenny Dykstra?
B. Equate his hustle with sound investment strategy, accept his advice, but don’t do anything drastic before more research is done by a non-steroid-using financial professional
C. Keep all your money underneath a mattress at your mother-in-law’s house and thus do not concern yourself with a fluctuating stock market
D. Ignore Lenny Dykstra and accept the accompanying risks in doing so, as outlined by Lenny Dykstra
E. Give Lenny Dykstra your money and tell him to invest it in his future line of gold airplanes
F. Subscribe to his magazine but advance the relationship no further

(Jeromy Burnitz’s correct answer: B.)

Question 103: Dwight Gooden Keith Hernandez Darryl Strawberry Lenny Dykstra Somebody not affiliated with the Mets organization offers you drugs. Your reaction is:
A. Just saying ‘No’
B. Taking off your shirt and challenging the entire team to a fight
C. Depends on the drug
D. To close your eyes and have them inject you wherever
E. Just saying ‘No.’ (wink, wink, nudge, nudge)
F. Offer them your drugs as a token of appreciation

(Jeromy Burnitz’s correct answer: C.)

Through these sample questions that I illegally obtained from the Jeromy Burnitz file of the Mets’ front office – nobody was at the front desk -- you can see why the organization was so smitten with him, despite his inability to hit .403 multiple times in college. However, in vintage Mets fashion, the ensuing criticism with regards to where they drafted him led to their impatience, and they dealt him to Cleveland in ’94. Burnitz would eventually attain All-Star status with the Brewers – justifying the Mets faith albeit while with a different ballclub – and the Mets thusly compounded their error by reacquiring Burnitz in 2002 when he was much, much more expensive and not as good at playing baseball.

Throughout it all however, Jeromy Burnitz’s favorite color remained blue.

Did you know?
The Mets' Director of Psychological Evaluations -- Samuel G. Rowenwarts -- became famous around the team's front offices for wearing Mets-themed Zubaz on casual Fridays.