Thursday, April 28, 2011

Classic card of the week

Mike Scioscia, 1989 Topps

Does anybody remember the movie Field of Dreams? It was a movie about baseball starring the guy from Thirtysomething and also the guy from Waterworld and also Darth Vadar. It is about ghosts, too. No? You should Netflix it.

Anyway, there’s a rather poignant scene where the main character, what’s-his-face, finally gets to meet his dad, who is a ghost. They never really had a great relationship when both were humans because when the son was playing Major League Baseball, and he hit his first triple, his dad wasn’t there to see it. This caused a lot of resentment, as you can imagine, because every son who grows up to become a major leaguer dreams of the day he will hit his first triple and his dad will be there, cheering him on from the stands.

In one of the last scenes in the movie, before the dramatic explosion, the son reenacts his first triple, but this time ghost dad is there, and when the son reaches third base, his dad is there to hug him. It is very emotional. I cried. Oh, ummm, I forgot—SPOILER ALERT!

Luckily for Mike Scioscia, he did not have to build a baseball field in a cornfield and alienate his neighbors and skeptical brother-in-law in order to recapture the love of his father.

Mike’s first major league Triple

The first Triple is so crucial to the father-son bond that it is always capitalized. I did not capitalize it earlier because I forgot.

occurred at Philadelphia, 5-3-80 while his father was in attendance.

What an amazing story! I am tearing up again. Let’s move on before I break down completely.

Here’s what I really want to know—how did Mike Scioscia become the Dodgers everyday catcher? Was it hard work? Scrappiness? Grittiness? Hustle? Throwbackedness? Something else? Let’s ask Wikipedia.

When I made Mike the No. 1 catcher, the writers came to me and said, "[Competing catcher] Steve Yeager said you made Scioscia the No. 1 catcher because he's Italian." I said, "That's a lie. I made him the No. 1 catcher because I'm Italian."
—Tommy Lasorda

Tommy Lasorda, everybody! Playing on the old stereotype that all Italians … ummm, are able to uh, name their catcher whoever they darn please? And if that catcher happens to also be Italian, pure coincidence! Ha, ha … what? I don’t know. Pretty safe to say that no favoritism was involved here though. Move along everybody. You too, Steve Yeager, with your lack of animated hand gestures and distaste for olives. You disgust me.

Did you know?

When Tommy Lasorda drafted Mike Piazza in the 62nd round of the 1988 MLB Draft, he was mistakenly under the impression that Piazza was German and not the son of a longtime family friend.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

City fighting waste with waste, #winning

Note: This column appears in the 4/28 issue of The Glendale Star and the 4/29 issue of the Peoria Times

Recently, the City of Glendale expanded its recycling program. Unfortunately, this expansion did not include plastic grocery bags, which cannot be recycled because, according to Debbie Coy, Glendale Recycling Coordinator, they “gum up the machinery.” Not cool, bags.

My wife and I try to do our part in the ongoing fight against plastic bags. For one thing, we have several reusable shopping bags. Granted, we almost always forget to bring them to the store, but the point is—we have them. We also reuse the plastic bags we acquire as garbage bags in our tiny garbage can. Because these bags often have holes in them, I typically go through a roll of paper towels cleaning up the coffee grinds and miscellaneous liquids the bags leak when I go to dispose of them. Such is the nature of saving nature.

Unfortunately, cities like Glendale and Peoria cannot rely solely upon the commitment of environmentally conscious, vegetarian, hippie citizens such as my wife and I. And every time I see a plastic Safeway bag stuck to a cactus, my heart aches. Luckily, West Valley cities like Glendale are actively joining the fight, and not just with an awareness walk.

According to the Arizona Republic, Glendale is reusing plastic bags at city parks. For dog poop.

Now, I know what you’re saying: What about those fancy poop bags? Local citizen Heather Gabaldon, for one, was quoted as saying, “You don’t need the fancy poop bags.” I think many of us would agree with Heather, especially the City of Glendale, which “typically spent $2,000 annually for dog waste bags.”

Taxpayers can rest assured that in the future, a much smaller fraction of our tax dollars will be spent on fancy dog waste bags. And while $2,000 may seem like a lot of money, bags ain’t free, except at the grocery store, which is why this idea is so genius. Who better than our local grocer to foot the bill for our dog waste cleanup efforts?

Some have argued, why not eliminate plastic bags altogether or at least purchase machinery that doesn’t “gum up” so easily? Well, San Francisco is the only city that has successfully banned plastic bags in grocery stores, but other cities that have attempted to do so have met resistance. The issue of plastic bags does not, unfortunately, transcend politics, and Republicans and Democrats alike fear we may regress as a society to the point where we are carrying individual items of stores by hand and cleaning up dog poop with shovels like they did in the 1940s.

According to Coy, plastic bags take about 1,000 years to break down. With the help of this program, the bags will still take 1,000 years to break down in landfills, but they will have poop in them. So … yeah. Plus, dog waste itself is biodegradable and a natural fertilizer, and we don’t want that messing up the planet.

Of course, I kid. This is a great idea. In fact, I reuse plastic grocery bags for my own dog’s waste. Well-versed in this process, I should reiterate my earlier point—watch out for holes. (Those fancy poop bags are so expensive because they’re built much sturdier.) If you get any on your hands, I recommend an hour-long, hot shower, which always feels good after a long day of saving the planet.

Ooh, la, la ... so fancy! But, are you sure that won't gum up my toilet?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Classic card of the week

Tommy Gregg, 1991 Score

They say you should never trust a guy with two first names. And I should know, because I am one of those guys. I don’t even trust myself sometimes, and I am often forced to hire an independent arbitrator to review my own internal decisions. My untrustworthy parents chose to perpetuate this reality by not bestowing on me a last name as a first name—my choice: Clutterbuck Kenny—in order to balance things out, and so I am forced to wallow in a virtual force field of untrustworthiness. Just do yourself a favor and don’t believe anything I say. Except the following rambling account of nonsense, which is all true.

Luckily, Tommy Gregg is exempt from this popular mantra because it is canceled out by a separate mantra that states, “Never trust a guy named ‘Gregg.’” Also, Mr. Gregg’s full name is William Thomas Gregg, which is not only presidential (all presidents and people who sound like presidents should be trusted unconditionally), but also translates to the name, Bill Tom Gregg, which is the whitest name for a white person in the history of names. And as the old Native American saying goes, “If you can’t trust a white guy, then who can you trust?”

But besides all that, Tommy Gregg could, in fact, be trusted, especially during that most crucial of times when trust is personified—the clutch.

When Tommy wasn’t playing the outfield or platooning at first base with Francisco Cabrera in ’90,

He was at home in his wife beater eating hot pockets and watching Muppet Babies. I cannot imagine another way for this long-winded lede to conclude.

he was coming off the bench as one of the National League’s premier pinch-hitters.

Far be it from me to poke holes in the writeups on the back of early 90’s Score baseball cards for the amusement of a very, very select few, but: wouldn’t he be coming off the bench to do exactly those things he could be found doing when he was not coming off the bench? This would sort of be like saying, “When the alternative metal band Mudvayne isn’t in the studio recording albums, they are coming out with albums.”

In one game,

Small sample size is a myth. Show me a game where Tommy Gregg did something good, and I’ll show you a Hall of Famer named Tommy Gregg.

his two-run pinch double in the ninth defeated the Reds 4-3,

The Reds miraculously recovered from these Tommy Gregg clutch shenanigans to win the World Series. Other than that though, Tommy Gregg won the battle and the war.

and in another

Another game? How many games does Tommy Gregg have to be awesome in to get a full-time gig? Three? Four? I mean really.

he smashed a bases-loaded triple.

Of course he smashed it. All of Tommy Gregg’s triples bounce violently off the top of the outfield wall and would have been home runs in any other park.

Tommy even had clutch hits when he was in the regular lineup.

If you don’t believe in clutch, this sentence reads, “Tommy even had hits when he was in the lineup,” to which I would reply, “WHAT ARE YOU FREAKIN SERIOUS AWESOME!!!!!!!!”

His three-run homer in the eighth inning beat the Expos 3-2 and he went 4-for-4 in another game.

The lesson: If you’re playing another game, just try and stop Tommy Gregg. Seriously, just try.

A gung-ho line-drive hitter

Indeed, Tommy Gregg hit line drives not only consistently, but also with great enthusiasm and with little regard for the outcome. Oftentimes, as the pitcher was in his windup, Tommy Gregg would grunt and scream loudly, “And here comes a line drive right back ATCHA! …” If he were forced to take the pitch for a ball, or swung and missed, or did anything short of hitting a screaming line drive, awkwardness ensued.

Did you know?
According to Wikipedia, Tommy Gregg holds private hitting lessons in a room in his house in Peachtree City, Georgia, which is the world's greatest recorded pick-up line, and eventually led to the popular line of t-shirts that read, "I hit a home run in Tommy Gregg's dining room."

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Get the Cliff Notes version at Easter Sunday Mass

Note: This column appears in the 4/21 issue of The Glendale Star and the 4/22 issue of the Peoria Times

Easter, as we all know, is about springtime, bonnets, bunny rabbits, and the eggs they produce. Somewhere down on that list is Jesus being raised from the dead. Oooh, also, I almost forgot: chocolate!

This Easter is going to be a special one for us, because it will be the first major holiday shared with family here in AZ. Considering our respective Irish and Italian heritages, our family’s major holidays are, in order, Christmas, Easter, St. Patrick’s Day, the Day of St. Joseph, Saturdays, St. Blaze and the Blessing of the Throats Day, and every day named after a saint. If we forget about one, it’s okay, because my mother-in-law will call to remind us and say, “Don’t forget—today is the Feast of St. Lucy. So … don’t use the oven.”

Not only will my in-laws be here, but virtually the entire side of my mother-in-law’s family will be, too. That means Paul, Denise, Tony, Anna, Heather (pronounced “Heatha”), Liz, Carmine, and, of course, Salvatore. Ya’ know, the Irish side. Food and loudness and a general state of confusion will be prominently involved in our Easter celebration, as will, of course, Mass.

Last year we attended Easter Sunday Mass, just the three of us, which revealed, as it does annually, one of the more frustrating things about being a practicing Catholic/Christian: other Catholic/Christians. We left a little earlier than usual, got stuck in Easter Sunday traffic, and were forced to park in a neighborhood eight miles from church and walk. When we finally arrived, the church itself was, of course, full to capacity and we were relegated to one of the side buildings reserved for the “excess” crowd. This is pretty typical, as churches must account for the people who never go to church but consider Easter Mass a “tradition” and must show off that dress they bought at Target. As a result, I think we ended up in the cafeteria, listening to the Gospel through the same loudspeakers they use for Bingo.

So I’m a little concerned how this Sunday is going to work out. Church is about 30 minutes away, and our convoy will have a total of 12 vehicles, and according to family legend, Carmine once didn’t speak to Tony for two months after a failed attempt to follow him on a family trip to Sesame Place. When we get there and find out we’re standing in the boiler room, my father-in-law is not going to accept that, and there’s no telling what will happen as a result. Also, our daughter doesn’t sit still, ever. A scene will be made.

So yes, frustration will be felt. In Easters (and Christmases) passed, I have spent Mass tossing stern glances at all those people I do not recognize (it’s the same look I toss at regular Sunday Mass when I see someone wearing a football jersey), blaming them for the inconvenience of the holiday crowd. Where were you last week? You want to celebrate Jesus’ rising but not His entry into Jerusalem? GET OUT OF MY SEAT! Eventually I realized—that is not very Christian of me at all. So what if I’m here each week? You’re here now, and that’s all that matters. Even if you are wearing a huge, obnoxious hat and you are texting during the homily.

Let’s see if I can retain this peace of mind come Easter Sunday, when our daughter is dripping chocolate milk on her dress and I am trying to convince my father-in-law that he cannot parallel park on the church sidewalk. Yes, this will be a special Easter, hopefully for you and yours as well.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Classic card of the week

Bobby Witt, 1990 Fleer

Part of the reason why I find the “Did you know” on the back of baseball cards so darn enjoyable is because it often strains to highlight the good, even if the player featured is/was not very good. For example, let’s say a hypothetical player—we’ll call him “Luis Castillo … son;” yes, “Luis Castilloson,” is not very good, but still plays baseball professionally. His “Did you know” can easily avoid this fact. Hypothetical example:

DID YOU KNOW? Luis was MVP of his seventh-grade Little League team … batted .301 during a seven-game stretch for the Cornsville Cornballers in ’96 … has three daughters with wife Jill … only 5th player in MLB history to hit a double with both shoelaces untied, 6/23/07 … counts eating steak among his various hobbies.

See? Easy. So it’s a bit surprising and confusing when a card, rather than draw from the well of arbitrary statistics and random personal accomplishments and interests, opts instead to focus on like, reality. Enter Bobby Witt:

DID YOU KNOW? Had highest ERA among starters …

And we’re off! By one statistical measure, I am viewing the card of the worst pitcher in baseball. Got it. Sweet! How much is this card worth? One hundred dollars? Probably.

Walked 100 or more batters for fourth straight year …

If I am person who, oddly yet feasibly, is learning about baseball only by collecting and studying baseball cards, and I am reading the back of this Bobby Witt card, I am thinking to myself, “Why do the Texas Rangers employ Bobby Witt to play baseball for them?” Then again, I suppose I could draw a similar conclusion by watching him actually pitch, but maybe this would reveal that he is a good chemistry guy with grit and heart and scrap and all those things can’t be captured with “statistics” like “Did you know?” words.

In 1987 tied ML record for most strikeouts in an inning with four …

And there’s my answer to why the Rangers love him—for quirky major league records! Not mentioned is that during this inning, Witt walked 12 batters and gave up six earned runs. Still, it was worth it.

Led AL in wild pitches in 1986 and tied for the lead in 1988 …

Wikipedia notes that many in Arlington began to call him “Witt ‘n Wild” as a play on the waterpark Wet ‘n Wild, which was located next to Arlington Stadium. I think I would have understood that reference even if the park wasn’t next to the stadium, but that the park was next to the stadium is pretty awesome, and actually improves that nickname by at least 60-percent.

All American at Oklahoma in 1985 … Member of 1984 U.S. Olympic baseball team …

Now c’mon—why you gotta go and mention things like that for? Geez, give the guy a break.

Struck out in only ML at bat.

That’s better. Hey, did you know this American League pitcher, who was a pitcher and not a hitter, struck out during his only at-bat? Ha, ha! What a loser! Honestly though—why is this even mentioned? It’s like someone is being malicious at this point.

Granted, this is not the most negative back-of-the-card tidbit ever produced. Not by a long shot. But still. I mean, sure—Bobby Witt had come control issues, obviously. But isn’t there something endearing about a guy who throws hard as heck but just can’t seem to harness it? I mean, not if he plays for your favorite team, but ya’ know … otherwise?

Anyway, I’m going to finish with a positive “Did you know?” This one’s for you, Bobby.

Did you know?
Struck out 160 in 143 IP in ‘87, which = bonkers … Nickname “Witt n’ Wild” rumored to highlight a nightlife that was envy of teammates … recovered from previous lone strikeout to hit a home run in 1997 … saved the rainforest, literally, by himself.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Something a little extra for the readers of this column

Note: This column appears in the 4/14 issue of The Glendale Star and the 4/15 issue of the Peoria Times

My wife and I, shamelessly, as a means of relieving stress and ignoring the more meaningful events and concerns of the day, watch “Extra.”

Honestly? It might be the worst show on television. Hosted by Mario Lopez, most of the “stories” involve Mario Lopez doing things that require him to take his shirt off, like working out, or eating, or talking to other people. The show will also tease a “story” before a commercial like, “What was Kate Hudson doing at Baby Gap? (Cut to terrible, blurry still shot of her holding up a pair of tiny overalls.) Is there a BABY on the way? ‘Extra’ has the story, next … Extra, extra!” Then, after the commercial and more buildup in which they blame “the paparazzi” for the photo even though they took it because they are the paparazzi, we find out she was shopping for her niece. “Extra” reveals this information as if we were stupid for thinking otherwise.

Other than that, the show is one big infomercial. Products are disguised as prizes and random and oftentimes obscure celebrities are featured either because they have a new movie to promote or a new book coming out (or, because they are dead, dying, or rumored to be dying—you stay classy, “Extra”).

The book thing used to drive me crazy, being a writer of words and all. I always wanted to write a book, and my wife constantly urged me to do so, but I always seemed to find a reason why I couldn’t. Then I would sit there watching “Extra” only to discover that the neighbor from the popular early 90’s sitcom “Empty Nest” had written a book about his experiences on the “Empty Nest” set and also how he defeated kidney stones. “WHO WOULD READ THAT?!” I would scream as I stormed out of the room, only to excitedly return for the next segment.

Well, thankfully for my sanity, I have finally written a book. It is about losing the extra baby weight, life on the red carpet, and living with an abusive aunt. But mostly it’s about none of those things.

The book is called, So, Do You Like … Stuff?, which is the same name as my blog and which, before you ask, is a reference to a line from “The Simpsons” that I believe encompasses the overall nature of the topics involved.

If you like my column, which I hope you do and which I think you might since you are reading this one, I think you will really like the book. Some of the columns featured on these very pages are in there, except reworked to include 80-percent more awesomeness! Plus there’s a ton of other new, ya’ know … stuff. It’s not one of those comprehensive books with a beginning, middle, and end—so annoying, am I right?—but a collection of brief, concise, and, I hope, very funny anecdotes that are often Valley-centric and that will leave you feeling all happy and warm inside.

Next month I’ll be hosting a book signing/release event at Firebirds in Peoria, and there will be more on that in the coming weeks. I am not sure if “Extra” will be there, because they haven’t called me back, but if they are, dress provocatively. If you can’t wait until then—and who could blame you?—you can buy the book now at here.

On a somewhat serious note, mostly because I am feeling very sappy about realizing a lifelong dream, thank you to every single person who reads and enjoys this column. I’m consistently humbled and amazed that people actually do. Now get out there and buy my book before you make a grown man cry.

Up next on "Extra" ... Is it hot in here or is it me? We're talking "stuff" with former child actor Mike Kenny ...

Reader feedback Tuesday

On our renewal notices here at the paper, we allow sections for reader feedback: Why I like the paper; What I would change. Here is today's installment, verbatim.

Why I Like:

I do not go ON LINE to read. Some of us still like to read a newspaper. Thank you for taking care of us. Don't "ON LINE" yourself out of business.

What I Would Change:

Try to put events, dates, times earlier so that when I get my paper by "snail mail" the event has not already happened.

First: Everybody, reverse course -- the future is behind us! Second: I don't know about you, and call me old-fashioned, and I don't follow the news, and what day is today?, but I can't wait for this "online" fad to finally end. Third: I mean, we post those dates and events on- ... forget it.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Classic card of the week

Larry Andersen, 1989 Topps

I just blogged in from Houston and boy, are my arms tired! What? Is this thing on? Ha, ha! No seriously folks, we’ve got a great lineup for you tonight. Some of you may remember our next act from his days pitching in relief for various Major League Baseball clubs … hilariously! Put your hands together for Larry AnderSEN!!!

Larry is widely renown for his comedic talent.

Thank you, thank you. We got any baseball fans in the house? Yeah, a few? Sounds like we got a few. The thing about baseball fans is, they’re stupid. Seriously. When I was playing, a baseball fan would come up to me and be like, “You suck!” And I’d be like, you know what? No—YOU suck! You know what I mean? Crazy. The other thing about baseball fans is, they can’t drive. Honestly. Just today I was driving behind a guy with a Cincinnati Reds bumper sticker, and the guy makes a right turn on red, and there’s a “No turn on red” sign right there! I mean, right there. How can you turn on your team like that? Buh, dum, ching! Sheesh. Also, the Reds? Really? What is this, 1975? Big Red Machine? That's a communist robot. Wake up, people!

(takes a sip of water)

So a lot of people remember me as the guy traded for Jeff Bagwell. Yep, THE Jeff Bagwell. Guy hit 449 home runs in his career. Me? I gave up 449 home runs, so it evens out! Seriously though—if hilarious anecdotes were home runs, I’d be in the Hall of Fame, first ballot. Bagwell? Pfft. Guy was as dry as a desert. True story—I told Bagwell a joke once, he didn’t laugh … just walked away. Two years later he comes up to me before a game and he says, “Hello Larry. Remember that joke you told me? I just got it yesterday. Good stuff.” No smile, nothing! I’m like, who IS this guy? Crazy. Ya’ know, they still give me grief in Boston to this day about that trade. Like it’s my fault. Like I traded myself for Jeff Bagwell. I didn’t want to go to Boston! Fans there are insane. Every time I went out there, they expected me to get every guy out. I’m like, “Uh, guys, hello? I can’t blow it past everybody. Who am I—Monica Lewinsky?”

(takes a sip of water)

Ahhhh. So I do some work for the Phillies now. Anyone out there ever been to Philadelphia? Yeah? What’s the biggest attraction in Philadelphia? A cracked bell. Think about that … a cracked bell. I feel like saying, why don’t all you idiot tourists come to my hometown of Redmond, Washington—I got a cracked toilet I can show ya’! How did the toilet get cracked? I’ll show ya’ … (places his hand underneath his armpit and squeezes down into the mic) … ffffffrrrrppppp! Now THAT’S some “liberty” (does air quotes) right there!

Speaking of toilets, I saw a lot of stuff go down in the bathroom during my big league days. And I just want to say, apropos of nothing, Bagwell was a juicer. G’night everybody!

Did you know?

Jay Leno sued Larry Andersen in 2003, accusing him of stealing a bit about how George W. Bush sometimes says words incorrectly.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

How I influenced the women’s liberation, and vice versa

Note: This column appears in the 4/7 issue of The Glendale Star and the 4/8 issue of the Peoria Times

My wife—as noted in her Matron of Honor’s speech during our wedding seven years ago—was never going to get married. She was her own woman, and no man was going to define her. Male companionship was not her goal, and was mostly viewed as an obstacle on the road to her professional and personal aspirations.

This ideology ran somewhat contrary to her Brooklyn-Italian upbringing, where young girls married neighborhood Italian boys via a system of cleverly arranged courtships: Oh, hey, Vincenzo randomly stopped by for no reason! Come in, come in, have some coffee. MARIA! Get over here and get Vincenzo the biscotti.

Not that my in-laws themselves abided by this blatant stereotype, but they assuredly were concerned that their daughter’s independence may serve as a barrier to potential relationships. When I first met them and managed not to say or do anything stupid, they could barely contain their restrained optimism.

It still seems improbable that it was I, of all people, that managed to earn her affections. That’s not to say, however, that she conceded her independence. After all, she opted to maintain her last name through marriage, which offended my in-laws more than it did myself (somewhere, my mother-in-law is still gasping). Some in our family, whether by accident or intent, refuse to acknowledge this reality even, ironically, on anniversary cards. One of our close family friends has, no joke, taken to addressing our mail: “Mike Kenny & the Women’s Liberation.”

The sheer force of her personality can be a challenge. There are no shortcuts with her, and I had, until meeting her, forged a life on shortcuts. When it was easier to lie, she caught me. When it was easier to make an excuse, she called me out. When it was easier to use duct tape to fix it, she made me call her father.

At times this was exhausting, and my ego, along with whatever else I had just broken, was often left shattered. But over time, I have realized again and again that I have become quite a different and, I think, much better person. Whereas marriage can often devolve into a constant battle of wills, she has somehow allowed the finer points of each of our personalities to influence each other rather than threaten.

My wife is also the most wonderful paradox. She is proudly liberal, with the heart and faith of a saint. She will watch a documentary on the public school system, and then “The Bachelor Reunion Show.” Our bedroom is painted light purple, but our “Yankee room” is next door. She is an interior decorator and avid player of “Angry Birds.” She has great taste, yet loves Neil Diamond and Barry Manilow because they are from Brooklyn. She is super funny and remains endearingly defensive—she will say something funny and ask me why I am laughing.

She is a working mother. The best around.

Some hypothetical woman may have found it easier for us to stay in New Jersey, and had not talked me into becoming a foster and adoptive parent. I married a not-so-hypothetical woman seven years ago this week. That’s not too long in the scheme of things, but it’s a good number—a lucky one.

Like me.