Thursday, February 25, 2010

Classic card of the week

Chicago White Sox, 1990 Upper Deck

Who doesn’t love baseball nostalgia? Ya’ know, besides everybody in this picture. I know I do! Baseball card, take us back to the good ol’ days:

The year was 1917.

A year I remember well.

The White Sox won a hundred games for the only time in their history as they routed the New York Giants, 4-2,


in the World Series.

Who can ever forget when the White Sox won the 1917 World Series?! It was a glorious time for baseball, a time when only white players could play, and two of the four teams in the league made it to the World Series, and drunkenness and general debauchery throughout the sport were not only accepted, but encouraged. But it was an even better time for the White Sox in particular, who were only two years away from a betting scandal that would cost them the 1919 World Series and earn their most famous player, Shoeless Joe Jackson, a lifetime ban from the sport. Good times! Coincidentally, one of the major players from that game-throwing scandal -– Chick Gandil –- was also a member of this 1917 team. Though I doubt he was involved in anything shiesty then because, whatever. Nostalgia!

July 11th 1990 was “Turn Back the Clock Day” –- at least in a baseball sense – at Comiskey Park.

Just as an fyi to the reader, July 11th 1990 was not a worldwide “Turn Back the Clock Day,” whereas every person on planet earth literally turned their clock back to the year 1917 and planned the rest of their day accordingly, by wearing a suit and top hat to go get a newspaper from the annoying kid on the corner or, if you happened to be a woman, by doing nothing at all and liking it. It was strictly in a baseball sense.

On that afternoon, the Sox met the Brewers in a rescheduled game and replicated the sights and sounds, feel and flavor of World War I era baseball.

Hmmm, rescheduled game? So really what we’re dealing with here is: the same organization responsible for Disco Demolition Night now had to deal with a rescheduled game –- which typically saw lukewarm draws at the gate -– and came up with the gimmick of "Turn Back the Clock Day," which just so happened to be on the heels of the popular 1988 film “Eight Men Out” that detailed the aforementioned betting scandal. Nothing wrong with that, I just want to call it like it is.

Besides, who doesn’t want to capture the feel and flavor of World War I era baseball?! I mean, when I watch baseball, I want to feel like I’m distracting myself from the brutal and unforgiving war that is happening abroad, and I want the flavor to be: popcorny.

A PA announcer shouted the starting lineups via megaphone.

Fun! For the 23 fans who could hear it. For further evidence of how fun this day was I refer you once again to the front of the card. Check out Ozzie Guillen right in the middle. He looks like he just found out he has to play a game against the Brewers on a day he had previously set aside to take his kids to the water park.

Kids enjoyed eating 5-cent popcorn

Yes! Also, popcorn for your other kid: $12.

and the players wore 1917-era uniforms.

Yes, I can see that. And 1917 was not an era. It was a year. But let’s not forget about the excitement of the actual game:

The White Sox squandered a 9-3 lead, eventually losing 12-9 in thirteen innings. The heartbreaking loss may be a more recent memory, but the greatest team to ever take the field at Comiskey Park, the 1917 Sox, will live on forever.

Son: Dad, that was brutal. The White Sox suck. Plus the popcorn tasted like cardboard. I’m sorry you took off from work today to take me to the game and then got fired.

Dad: That’s okay, son. Remember –- we’ll always have the 1917 White Sox.

Son: I love you Dad!

Did you know?

The water park Ozzie Guillen had planned on going to that day was called, "Bunt, Steal & Splash!" It was later shut down due to health code violations.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The technological revolution hits home

Note: This column appears in the 2/25 issue of The Glendale Star and the 2/26 issue of the Peoria Times

The evolution of our family –- namely of our parents –- as it relates to technology has been an adventure.

She’s going to kill me when she reads this, but the first time my mother-in-law used email, she sat at the keyboard, typed her message, and then walked away. Having never hit “send,” she had just assumed that the email had reached its destination, like a prayer. Now, after a lot of hard work and admirable dedication, she has a Gmail account and texts us using modern shorthand that even we don’t understand.

My father-in-law, on the other hand, has always embraced technology. It is rumored that he owned the first car phone in Brooklyn, which was actually just a phone booth in the passenger seat of his car. Because of his business and hectic lifestyle, he currently owns approximately eight cell phones – two of which are Blackberries (!) -- several of which he will frequently misplace, and which he’ll have to call with one of the other phones to find. Last month while here in AZ he walked into a restaurant wearing a headset while talking on a different phone and texting on another. When asked where he’d like to sit, the waitress was told, “the closing is set for Tuesday.”

My parents are a different story altogether. They always try, often in vain. Last year they purchased a Mac so they could more easily video chat with us from back east. Macs, as you may know, are famously user friendly and low maintenance. My parent’s Mac however, has managed to befuddle everyone at Apple for the better part of a year. Subsequently, our video chats with my parents typically involve us looking at their foreheads and the words “you’re breaking up.”

Whenever they travel my parents feel comforted by their GPS device even though a) they never update the software for it and b) the only feature they use is the estimated time of arrival, which my dad will constantly observe throughout the trip as proof that the GPS is working. (As a side note, contrary to my father-in-law’s affinity for technology, the GPS is his worst enemy. His directional instinct always wins out. He only owns one because it’s technology.)

Currently my mom is enjoying taking videos with her iPod. Nevermind that she doesn’t know how to upload them or send them out. And pictures? My mom isn’t really sure how to upload those either or how to categorize them. So about once a year we’ll get sent an album that will feature pictures from Christmas 2003 mixed in with shots of the cats licking themselves.

But whether they’ve always embraced it, recently mastered it, or are still a work in progress, the fact that our family is using technology is what allows us to stay in touch from thousands of miles away. Last weekend we video chatted with my in-laws, which was pretty much just them happily watching their hopefully-soon-to-be-granddaughter eating jar food. Even when our family can’t be here, they’re here.

When my parents’ Mac gets out of the shop, we’ll video chat with them again, too. In the meantime they’ve recently joined the texting community. My dad’s first text ever was sent to my mom while she was here in AZ. But my mom had left her phone upstairs, so when I happened to call my dad he explained that he had texted my mom and never heard back and thus didn’t know if it “went through.” I assured him that it did, like a prayer, and then I said one.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Classic card of the week

Todd Worrell, 1990 Score

Front of the card? Eh.

Back of the card? Chock full of goodies. And elongated ‘staches!

Todd was a tremendous loss to the Cardinals in ’90,

Positive start here. First thing we learn about Todd Worrell: he’s either dead, or was not around for some reason, for the Cardinals, in the year of 1990. I am excited! You? No? Let us continue:

even though Lee Smith was a solid replacement as the team’s stopper.

The all-time Major League leader in saves (until Trevor Hoffman passed him in 2006) = solid replacement. Lee Smith led the NL in 1991 with 47 saves and finished second in the Cy Young vote. By the time Worrell had returned, he had lost his job to Smith. I wonder what a “very good replacement” would have been like.

Anyway, Todd Worrell got injured. But before that, he was really good, as the following tidbit describes in naughty detail:

A menacing figure on the mound, Todd threw a sizzling 95-mph fastball as hard as could, as long as he could. By blowing away batters, he racked up over 30 saves for three straight seasons

That whole statement deserves one, big “That’s what she said.” (And yes, I also include the “rack” part of “racked.” Nothing gets past me.) I particularly enjoy the mentioning of how Todd Worrell threw the ball as hard as he could, as if that is some defining characteristic of a power pitcher. But geez, “as long as he could?” What does that even mean? It’s only 60 feet, six inches from the mound to home plate. If Todd Worrell were simply rearing back and launching it into the stands every time, that like, wouldn’t be good. Or if they’re trying to say “as long as he could” in that, Todd Worrell would stay on the mound for as long as he needed to so that he could continue throwing the ball as hard as he could, then well…that is also not a positive attribute for a closer.

This may also serve to explain why Todd Worrell had like 17 surgeries on his elbow in a two-year span. Luckily, he was able to eventually recover and pitch well for the Dodgers. Opposing batters always maintained that it was really hard to get good wood on Todd Worrell’s sizzling balls.

Did you know?
I am 13-years old.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

How to ride over a school budget without getting caught

Note: This column appears in the 2/18 issue of The Glendale Star and the 2/19 issue of the Peoria Times

There’s been a lot of talk about overrides lately. Not by myself in particular –- I usually just talk about fantasy baseball –- but in this paper and in the community.

To be quite honest, I had no idea what an override even was until, spurned on by its newfound popularity, I decided to look further into it. It was like the time my wife said, “That Lady Gaga song is awesome!” and I was like, “Who is Lady Gaga?” and so I decided to do more research and discovered that Lady Gaga is a man.

It is that kind of research that you, the faithful reader, can trust. And it is in that vein that I come before you to explain the current override situation.
An override is, by definition, a verb that means “to ride over.” Clever, right? In this particular instance, what we want to do is ride over –- not literally, with our monster pickup trucks, so let's not go crazy...but with our votes -– the state’s potential to take more money away from our schools.

Both the Deer Valley School District and the Glendale Elementary School District are currently seeking 15 percent overrides. Each district is hosting elections on March 9th and hoping the overrides pass. If they do not, the state will begin making budget cuts next school year.

Override supporters –- as the paparazzi have dubbed them –- are attempting to rally everyone together in the name of maintaining the status quo, which is just about the funnest and most rewarding job I can imagine. And that is the kind of sarcasm that could be lost on kids without the proper education. Because the fact of the matter is that if these respective overrides do not pass, the results will be devastating to our schools. Millions of dollars of funding lost in the coming years.

To vote yes on the override means to vote for a slight increase in the tax rate. It’s miniscule in nature but adds up to about $120 annually for the average homeowner. And while voting to pay more –- especially voting to pay more as a means of simply keeping things they way they are –- isn’t necessarily the greatest motivator, it is, cliché or not, an investment in our future. A higher tax rate is inconvenient, yes, but so is math class in the boiler room.

I mean, it’s really a no-brainer, right? Says Brenda Bartels, chairperson of Citizens in Support of Glendale Elementary Override, “Please don’t assume it’s a no-brainer.” Alrighty then. In fact, the last GESD override election failed. An override election in the Peoria Unified School District this past November had similar results, which is why talks of another override election there have already begun.

Whether people have been unaware of what’s happening or unwilling to accept a higher rate, a failure of these overrides to pass will have long-lasting and far-reaching effects. That’s why I say, let’s override these budgets all the way to Yuma.
It may not be a no-brainer, but that’s exactly the type of kid we’re voting for by not voting at all.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Classic card of the week

Luc Longley, 1999 Upper Deck

Let us begin:

With three championship rings on his fingers

He probably doesn’t wear them all the time. You could just say "With three championship rings..." because, ya' know, we're aware of where rings are supposed to go. I am very irritable today.

After only seven years in the league,

Weird thing to say considering the three titles had just happened, all in a row. Why even mention the four non-championship years? That would be like me winning back-to-back-to-back fantasy baseball championships and then bragging, “Hey, I’ve won three titles this decade,” instead of just calling myself three-time defending champion. (Which I’m not, in case you’re wondering. It’s just a hypothetical example, starring me. Although I have won three titles this decade -- well, last decade, I guess -- which is something I’ve been dying to casually mention somewhere without coming across as self-serving. So there, I think that worked.)

one might expect the Bulls’ Luc Longley to lose his inner drive to reach new heights.

Indeed, after the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls had won their third consecutive title, and sixth in the previous eight years, the major storyline around Chicago and also nationally was: Will Luc Longley lose his inner drive, which will prevent him from reaching new heights? You could not open a newspaper or turn on the television without seeing some feature that aimed to speculate whether or not Luc Longley would lose his inner drive, rendering him unable to reach new heights. Those new heights being: something better than a championship? It’s difficult to say. The point is: He did not lose his inner drive. Or did he?

The 1997-98 season proved once again, however, that this couldn’t be further from the truth.

First of all, the 1997-98 season was one of those championship years, so it really only seems warranted to question Luc Longley’s inner drive after that season. For what it’s worth, Luc Longley’s points-per-game average dropped almost three points during the 1998-99 season. Was he drunk off success? Probably. He also could have been wearing his rings, which makes playing basketball more difficult.

With the big Aussie in the middle, Chicago can expect to once again challenge for the NBA crown this season.

No they can’t. And I say that regardless of the potential of Luc Longley being able to reach new heights, but it should be mentioned that Longley himself was not even a member of the 1998-99 Bulls. Where did this card get its info from, Wikipedia? Speaking of:

Longley spent two lackluster seasons with Phoenix, where he gained less attention for his play than for being stung twice by a scorpion while sitting on the floor of his home sorting through his CD collection.

Damn scorpions! That's what you get for alphabetizing your CDs, ya' big Aussie.

In December 2009 Longley, who had participated in marine conservation efforts before, named a newly discovered shrimp species Lebbeus clarehanna after his 15-year-old daughter, Clara Hanna Longley.

New heights? Reached.

Did you know?
Longley, always modest, once kindly and partially credited his teammates with playing a small role in the success of the mid-to-late 90s Chicago Bulls.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Valley sports reach new demographic

Note: This column appears in the 2/11 issue of The Glendale Star and the 2/12 issue of the Peoria Times

I’ve mentioned before, ad nauseam, how great it is to be a sports fan here in the Valley. Yes, my favorite teams still reside back east, but that’s no matter, because I’m a sports fan first, and everything is so much more accessible here. The games are easier to get to, cheaper to go to, and never get canceled due to inclement weather. And if you want season tickets, you don’t have wait for 30,000 people to die.

So we frequently find ourselves going to sporting events, because sports are fun, and awesome. But I wondered –- how would having a hopefully-soon-to-be-daughter affect our sports fandom?

I always imagined that if we ever had a family, we’d get him/her started on sports early. I never wanted to be one of those parents who use their kids as an excuse to not do anything. But it’s different when you actually have that family, and everything revolves around a routine, and you fret about doing even the simplest thing because you’re wondering how she’ll react. Should I heat up this burrito now? What if the toaster oven “bing” wakes her up?

The first true test arose when our family came out to visit last month and my father-in-law surprised us with tickets to the Cardinals-Packers playoff game. I immediately envisioned us bringing her, but then I wondered if it would be too much. A four-month old? At a playoff football game? Surrounded by obnoxious drunks? I actually didn’t think my wife would go for it, but she surprised me –- she didn’t even think twice about it.

Our little one even tailgated with us. She observed the madness intently as we walked into the stadium. “Hey honey, check out that lady wearing a bra made out of cheese!” No reaction -- she doesn’t judge. By the time we got to our seats, there was so much for her to take in, she didn’t know where to look first. When the game was about to start, and the stadium was as loud as a stadium could be, I looked over and she was sound asleep on my mother-in-law’s lap. But she didn’t miss overtime. No way. One day I’ll explain to her how she was at one of the greatest football games ever, and I think she’ll be happy we brought her along.

That experience made us much less hesitant to bring her to the Coyotes-Rangers game two weeks ago. Except for a second period catnap, she couldn’t take her eyes off the ice. Even the obnoxiously loud blaring horn didn’t bother her. Plus, she managed to make instant friends with everyone around us. She has a way of doing that.

I think I was nine when I went to my first baseball game, mostly because my dad was understandably hesitant to bring his young son to the South Bronx in the mid-80s. If our already purchased spring-training tickets are any indication, our hopefully-soon-to-be daughter will be six- months old when she goes to her first ballgame. Talk about accessible.

Maybe she just likes looking at stuff move around, I don’t know. But I have a feeling that our hopefully-soon-to-be daughter likes sports. A lot. And while it may not be quite official yet by State of Arizona standards, I know one thing –- that’s my girl.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Classic card of the week

Charlie Hough, 1986 Topps Mini

I’m not sure how well it translates in the above picture, but I do want to inform you that what you see here is a mini, dream-sequence Charlie Hough baseball card. So breathe it in. Especially those of you who dream small, and old.

I cannot be certain of the purpose of the mini-baseball card. I mean, having a Charlie Hough baseball card in itself is inconvenient because: what are you going to do with a Charlie Hough baseball card? Having a mini-Charlie Hough baseball card is doubly inconvenient because there are no mini-ways by which I can store this card (i.e.: mini-hard plastic covers or mini-baseball card sleeves) and it remains an awkward fit amongst my other, normal-sized cards of ancient knuckleballers.

For posting purposes, I was more distraught to discover that Charlie Hough’s Wikipedia page is – like his career -- rather blah. But luckily, it led me to a link entitled The Shrine to Charlie Hough.

I was at first skeptical that an online shrine (Charlie Hough is still alive, btw) could do justice to the long and legendary career of one of baseball’s best knuckleballers. But once I was met with the beautiful aesthetics of the site, I was sold. The friendly greeting didn’t hurt, either:

Welcome to The Shrine of Charlie Hough.

Thank you! Happy to be here.

This page was launched on 10/12/96

You don’t say.

and is still being updated.

We then come to discover that the site has been updated twice since then -– once in 2004, and again in 2005 -- both times to include breaking Charlie Hough news and other content. It appears as though this shrine could have been the brainchild of Hough himself, when he found out about the Internet, and then he had his grandson help him with it, because “that kid knows how to operate that mouse thingee,” and his grandson was like, “Here ya’ go Grandpa, you’re online now,” and then he promised his grandpa that he would update the site everyday, from college, which he didn’t, because he was getting drunk every night, but it didn’t matter, because Charlie Hough couldn’t figure out how to turn on his computer for eight years, but was too embarrassed to say anything, but then when the grandson had graduated, gotten married, and turned his life around, he came home and updated the site -– rather than, ya’ know, just creating a new one, since the current site was ridonkulously outdated and silly, because, the grandson figured, “Does it really matter?” -– and everyone was happy.

Interested in the type of Charlie Hough-content the site had to offer, I ventured over to the “Charlie Hough Media Gallery” page, where I was immediately invited to view a video (!). The link? “Charlie Hough endorses Sports Bagz juggling balls.” I can’t tell you how tempted I was to view this link, mainly because: what?! But considering that link was posted sometime around the last century, and may not be compatible with any of my company’s current software, I was too scared that my computer would catch fire, and then I would have to explain to my boss why I crashed the company server trying to view a video of Charlie Hough endorsing Sports Bagz juggling balls.

Did you know?

Charlie Hough prepared to protect his new website from the potential Y2K bug by building an impenetrable wooden box around his computer.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

A move that strengthened, not severed, family ties

Note: This column appears in the 2/4 issue of The Glendale Star and the 2/5 issue of the Peoria Times

My wife and I made the decision to move here to Arizona on our own volition. The hardest part of the decision –- in fact, the only “con” on our list -– was saying goodbye to our family.

I never found it necessary to describe how close we are to our family until I realized that our bond seems, at times, abnormal when compared to others. As an example, my younger sister is married to my wife’s younger brother (legal in only 48 states, of which New Jersey is one). And when I say family I include not only parents, siblings, and in-laws, but also aunts, uncles, cousins, cousins-in-law, and lifelong family friends. And when I say close I mean that we all legitimately enjoy and prefer each other’s company. I’ll like, hang out with my uncle. My mother-in-law will have lunch with my aunt. Our wedding party alone consisted of twenty people. Considering that many simply tolerate family, we are, I suppose, abnormal indeed.

So it was difficult to leave that behind. Of course, we secretly hoped that at least a few would follow us out here. Nary a phone call home went without a casual mention of the weather here, or how we just returned home from a spring training game, or -– less subtle in the context of a normal conversation -– what we pay in property taxes.

But the decision to move here was ours and ours alone, and who were we to expect others to even make an annual visit here, much less start a new life. No one was happy to see us go, and I have to believe that some, if not most families would rather hold firm to spite, and simply await our humbled return. That is why I’m so thankful that we don’t belong to most families.

A few months back my in-laws purchased a home near us. They won’t be so much “snowbirds” as just “here when they can be.” And they were here, for virtually the entire month of January, and their new home allowed others to be here too.

Over the span of the past month Arizona has hosted my mother-in-law, father-in-law, brother-in-law, other brother-in-law and his girlfriend, my own mom, and several very good family friends. Some of them experienced a cross-country road trip in the midst of horrendous weather. Most of them took considerable time off of work. All of them got to meet our hopefully-soon-to-be-daughter, who may have just provided a little more motivation for them to come back soon.

So what did we do for a month? A bunch of us went to the Cardinals-Packers game, which was the greatest game any of us had ever witnessed in person. Some of us ran in the Rock & Roll Half-Marathon because, why not? We wined and dined, golfed, shopped and enjoyed every second of it. All because I happen to belong to a family that would rather be with us than be content missing us.

I think about our “pipe dream” of having family follow us out here whenever I drive past my in-laws’ new house. I’m feeling pretty blessed these days. I can only hope that your family is as abnormal as ours.