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.