Thursday, January 27, 2011

Classic card of the week

Juan Castillo, 1995 Upper Deck

Juan Castillo
: Hello?

Upper Deck
: Juan, hey. Brad, Upper Deck. Listen, come down to the studio tomorrow afternoon. We’re doing a hot, new shoot. “Rookie Class.” You’re the star, along with a bunch of other guys. Cool stuff, new fonts, lots of colors and crap. You like pink?

Juan Castillo: Ummm …

Upper Deck: Cool. We’re doing a pink background, like you’re playing on Mars as the sun sets. It’s hot, trust me. Call Michelle and set up an exact time. Oh, and wear your best Mets turtleneck. It’s cold on Mars.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Castillo signed with the Mets as a free agent at the tender age of 17, and the Mets’ investment began to pay off in 1994.

Free agent? 17? I guess, technically, we’re all free agents out of the womb. I think that is how God intended on us being defined. Also, it seems that the Mets investment strategy in this case was: Sign 17-year old Venezuelan “free agent,” wait seven years for him to become 24, and then finally call him up just before a strike cancels the season, at which point he will compile “a career 0-0 record with 1 strikeout and a 6.94 ERA in 11 innings,” and then never call him up again. This strategy was a success.

Castillo owned an astounding 11-2 record for Class-AA Binghampton

Like any red-blooded, baseball-loving American, I am astounded by the mere thought of an 11-2 minor league pitching record. Few things, if any, cause such amazement and wonder in my brain. 11-2 is the absolute apex of what can be truly achieved before we start to delve into the utterly impossible. 12-2? That’s just ridiculous. Don't even talk to me. I am rolling my eyes at 12-2. That is why “astounding” is the perfect word here.

when he received the summons to New York on July 25.

Other teams have “call-ups.” The Mets issue a summons. That’s about right.

Chances are Castillo will start the 1995 campaign at Class-AAA Norfolk, with a call-up quick to come if he can duplicate his 1994 showing.

His 1994 showing was 0-0 with 1 strikeout and a 6.94 ERA in 11 innings. That is a very small sample size, and the card is referring to his minor-league ’94 showing, but … still. Anyway, the call-up never came. Do the Mets know how to groom their 17-year old investments or what? Astounding.

Did you know?
Venezuelan kindergartens teach a mandatory class on the free agency signing period. Traditionally, it's after snack time.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Because registering a complaint is cheaper

Note: This column appears in the 1/27 issue of The Glendale Star and the 1/28 issue of the Peoria Times

I am not a cheap person. I don’t mind spending money. When I was younger I had almost every pair of Air Jordan sneakers. Granted, that was usually my mom’s money I was spending. But still.

What does bother me, however, is when I am forced to spend an exorbitant amount of money on a mandatory service, which is not so much a service as it is a small sticker.

Indeed, I reluctantly renewed my vehicle registration last week. It’s bad enough to have to pay fees associated with motor vehicles. I know many people enjoy cars and what not, but for me, my vehicle is simply a means of getting to a job that enables me to pay for that vehicle. Anything that exceeds the standard fees—monthly payments with interest, gas, insurance, and having the dried stucco removed that splashed onto the vehicle after driving through one of this area’s five zillion construction zones—causes me much angst.

Actually, we had considered Arizona’s lack of vehicular fees—namely toll roads—a major plus upon moving here. My father-in-law just informed me that it now costs him $14 a day to cross the Verrazano Bridge to get to work. $14! To cross a bridge. This is not a luxury item—he needs to cross the bridge to get to work because his car, unfortunately, does not float. They—and by “they” I mean the two government trolls that operate either side of the bridge—raise the fee, it seems, every year. Because they can.

You cannot drive away from your house back east without at least $200 on hand to pay for the service of using roads that were last paved in 1972. Luckily, this inconvenience helped introduce the EZ Pass, which made it EZier to pay pointless fees, a service for a service. Now you don’t even have to slow down much to pay money, although the automated EZ Pass zones have resulted in additional fees.

I was glad to put all of these fees in my rear view mirror. Toll roads are like many cultural trends, in that Arizona will discover them 30 years after the fact. A couple of years ago, however, I opened my car registration renewal form and realized that Arizona has its own means of absorbing fees in the interest of motor vehicle … recognition?

Knowing the expense, I was not looking forward to this recent renewal. Lo and behold, the registration fee went up like, a lot, as it seems my new vehicle has become more of a burden on the state to recognize. For a two-year renewal I paid $564. Now, what bothers me, besides paying $564, is the fact that the one-year renewal was $363. You get a discount for renewing for two years. The discount implies a strategic forfeiture of profit on the state’s part, which irks me to no end. This isn’t “buy one pair get the second half-off” at Payless. This is a car registration. It should just be a flat fee. And it should be much, much lower, because as the state has acknowledged via a discount—it could be.

Nevertheless, as is my motto for many things, what am I gonna do? It’s paid. I now happily await the arrival of a tiny new sticker to place on my license plate that will let the world, and police, know that I paid $564 to drive my car around. What color will the 2013 sticker be? Blue? Green? I hope it’s green. It should be.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Classic card of the week

Tom Browning, 1989 Fleer, Superstar Specials

Here is a little-known fact about perfect games—they are perfect. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look:


Instead of “picture perfect.” Because Tom Browning pitched a perfect game. Tom Browning is a pitcher.


That would be my lede if I were in second grade and writing a current event about Tom Browning’s perfect game. It would have read in full:

Tom Browning pitched a perfect baseball game on Sept. 16, 1988! It was nice. I saw the highlights on TV with Daddy. I want to play baseball when I am older and pitch like Tom Browning and pitch a perfect game every day! Or a scientist. The end.

Ed. note: each “s” should be backwards, but there is no key for that. Also, the title would have been "Perfect!" Anyway, back to the perfectness:

That was Tom Browning in 1988 when he defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers 1-0, before his Cincinnati Reds fans, with a perfect game … no hits, no walks, no Dodgers base runners … nothing.

So that’s what a perfect game is. Just to be sure, I looked up “perfect game” in the official Major League Baseball glossary of terms, and it defines perfect game as, “n. No hits, no walks, no Dodgers base runners … nothing.” So it is true that Tom Browning pitched a perfect game.

Ironically, the last perfect game in the National League was thrown by a Dodgers pitcher, Sandy Koufax, in 1965

What irony that one Dodger threw a perfect game once, and then 23 years later that same Dodger team—except completely different—fell victim to a perfect game. I tell ya’ … baseball.

“I knew I had a no-hitter going into the eighth inning,” Browning said after the game.

It’s that kind of awareness that made Tom Browning such a special pitcher. Most pitchers who pitch no-hitters don’t realize it until the next day when they are perusing the box score over a bowl of Fruity Pebbles. Also, another thing that Tom Browning had going into the eighth inning was a perfect game. Somebody should tell him.

“I just kept talking to myself, saying what I need to do … to maintain my composure, to move the ball in and out.”
He did that all game long, and he did it perfectly.

Tom Browning pitched a perfect game, perfectly, and with perfection. I feel like the perfectness of this feat is not being driven home.

However, the excitement of this tremendous feat hit its highest peak when he faced the 27th—and last—batter

Everything I have been reading thus far has implied that the excitement of Tom Browning’s perfect game reached its nirvana when he faced his 12th batter. I am glad that this card has specified that is not the case. No—the most exciting part of Tom Browning’s perfect game occurred when he actually pitched a perfect game. Amazing. And … perfect.

Not so perfect? Not paying child support. But hey, “Pitcher perfect” is a better title than “Father perfect” anyway.

Did you know?
In 1997, a sitcom pilot aired on CBS called "Father Perfect." It starred Tom Berenger as a down-on-his-luck single guy who was also a father (!!!). The joke was that he was not actually perfect. It featured the catch phrase, "Who farted? Daaaaaad!" It did not get picked up.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

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on Twitter, where I will tweet things that are too abrupt and tweety for this blog.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Letting go of what might-have-been, pondering what is

Note: This column appears in the 1/20 issue of The Glendale Star and the 1/21 issue of the Peoria Times

Note II: SAPPY ALERT! Proceed with caution

Exactly two years ago they came to pick up our first foster placement.
We don’t know where he is now, or how he’s doing. His caseworkers never responded—our inquiries as to his well-being were ignored, then forgotten amidst system turnover, budget cuts, and issues more pressing than keeping his foster parents of 10 days in the loop.

I’ll never forget that day when my wife called to say, through her tears, that CPS had called her, and that he was going back to some distant relative, his only kin, apparently, with a clean record. A song that played from a CD on my drive home that day is now etched in my brain as a reminder of that day and those feelings. It was only later I realized the name of the song is “Innocent Son.”

I wish I could say that I think about him everyday, but the circumstances life has brought on since then have kept me, thankfully, preoccupied. When I do think about him, which is quite often, and remember to pray for him, it tugs at my soul in the same way it did to watch him leave, sleeping, carried off into the unknown by an employee of the state just doing his job.

Those were tough days, and we questioned whether or not foster care was the right way to go. It wasn’t fair, to him we would say; to us we would secretly feel. Maybe it was because he was our first foster kiddo—a cute three-day old child in a house with none. Maybe it was because he was truly special. Either way, the connection was sudden and strong, as was the impact of his departure.

My wife emailed me at work last week to remind me that, somewhere, he turned two-years old. I couldn’t believe it.

Not long after we had adopted our daughter through foster care, it struck me what a blessing it was, for us, that he left when he did. Ten days with him only to watch him go had just about drained us—any longer may have destroyed us. Two years ago it seemed like an epic setback to forging a family, but it was his departure that opened up that very lane, not to mention many others.

A few nights ago during dinner with my in-laws, we sat around the table discussing the way things manage to work out. Had this person not done this, this never would have happened. Each of us had tales that seemed unfortunate at the time, but which led us to that very moment of sitting together. Some stories involving elder generations I had never heard, and I was left nodding my head in humbled disbelief.

Two years ago the big picture seemed far, far away, and out of focus. Sometimes only retrospect confirms that God knows what He’s doing. In the short-term we’re left with doubt, fear, and pain. Even proper perspective is fleeting. Sure, maybe He knows what He’s doing, but I still don’t know how he’s doing. Though, I guess, it’s entirely possible that the same person looking out for us is looking out for him.

One day I’ll know how he’s doing, of that I am certain. In the meantime, happy birthday, J.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Classic card of the week

Ernest Riles, 1991 Score

Here is Ernest Riles, displaying the cat-like quickness he was famous for. And by “famous for” I mean “not that famous for.” Still, I wonder if these feline reflexes translated to any other aspect of his game:

Ernest, who was a pussycat at bat as a starter in ’90,

Cool! Playing baseball like a pussycat is awesome! Wait—is it? I’m not exactly sure. Are kitty-cats good at hitting?

turned into a tiger when he went to the plate as a pinch-hitter.

I guess not. I learned in school how to infer things using context, and because everybody knows that tigers are good at sex and baseball, it must mean that pussycats are not very good at either. Oh well.

Weird how Ernest Riles could not sustain his tiger-esque abilities as an everyday player, but only in small sample-sized situations. One would think that all bench players would be great everyday players, but it appears that is not the case, which is probably why they are bench players. Again, weird. What say you, San Francisco Giants manager Roger Craig?

“He has confidence he can hit,”

That is good. For a hitter. A higher compliment I cannot imagine.

“He’s a very calm hitter.”

I stand corrected. Calmness is the indeed the most treasured virtue, to be found in only the rarest of hitters. I’d rather have a guy strike out calmly than hit a home run intensely, which can be rather unnerving. One may also notice the discrepancy here between the calmness of pussycats (bad hitting) and the roaring of tigers (good hitting), but let us ignore that for the time being. This complicated paradox is too heavy for a brief discussion of Ernest Riles. Let’s stick with the easy stuff for now.

Ernest, whose nickname is “Easy,”

There. Better.

Did you know?
According to his wife, Ernest Riles is a tiger in the bedroom only on Monday and Thursday evenings.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

No cause for alarm—son-in-law is on the scene

Note: This column appears in the 1/13 issue of The Glendale Star and the 1/14 issue of the Peoria Times

Last week the alarm went off at my in-law’s house here in AZ. The alarm company called my father-in-law, who was back east, to inform him. Being that their house is in our development, he then called us, first to make sure we hadn’t set it off, then to ask if I wouldn’t mind going to check it out. The alarm had been deactivated and the police were on the way.

Assuming it was nothing, I drove over there. It was a sunny Saturday in the middle of the afternoon, and that is when criminals sleep, I figured (I didn’t study Criminology in college, but I know someone who did).

When I arrived at the house the police were not there yet, and I suddenly realized I had forgotten the keys. This was somewhat of a relief because during the three-minute drive my mind began to race with possibilities. What if someone really is robbing the house? What will I do? The only weapons I had available were my cell phone and some coins from my car that I could have placed in my fist … to toss at the crook to blind him as I ran away.

The street was eerily quiet, too. Usually all of their neighbors are out and about, but no one was around. Inside job? Maybe. I called my father-in-law to tell him I was there but forgot the keys. He was so proud. I instead checked the perimeter. I had just finished jogging when he called, so I was wearing a hoodie, and with the way I was hoisting myself up on block walls and peeking through windows made me fear that if the cops had shown up then, I might get tasered myself.

I didn’t see any activity, but the thought of seeing a figure swoop by as I looked into the side window of the front door made me squirm. Realizing that I would be no help to the police without the keys—unless they kicked the door down, which would have been awesome—I rushed back home to get them. As I pulled out of our driveway my wife reminded me to be careful. “These are the risks you take when you marry a guy like me,” I thought. When I arrived back at my in-law’s, the police were thankfully right behind me.

Even with an armed officer of the law at my back, it was a bit unnerving to open the front door. I debated asking him to “cover me” before rolling on the ground as I entered the house, but he didn’t seem in the mood for shenanigans. And neither was I, really.

As we moved through the house, the freaky feeling I had confirmed that if I had remembered the keys in the first place, I would have opened the front door, yelled, “Hello in there?” and left. We made our way to the master bedroom, where the alarm had been triggered. The officer checked behind doors and looked for signs of entry. In an effort to be an active part of the search, I crouched down and looked under the bed. This later struck me as stupid, and I imagined that the officer thought to himself, “Rookie. Kid’s seen too many movies.”

The coast was clear, and nothing was missing. The officer figured the alarm had a glitch. I called my father-in-law to give him the good news: “That’s a negative on forced entry, Eagle One. False alarm. Over.” Man, I should have been a cop.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Lede of the ... month? We'll see

I am mildly obsessed with ledes, mostly curious ones. A lede is the intro to a written piece—something that’s supposed to grab the reader’s attention and urge them to read on.

In working at a community newspaper, I have come across my fair share of great ledes, even more so considering my responsibility in uploading material to our websites. So, I figured, when I come across one of particular interest, I should share it. Here is one from a few weeks ago that sparked my fancy. Please enjoy.

Shelley Petersen knows a thing or two about naming chickens.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Classic card of the week

Michael Finley, 1998 Skybox

Back . By. Popular. Demand.

Michael…don’t you ever take a break?

Allow me to first share my great affection for the fact that these cards often choose to personally address the player featured on them, rather than provide the card-holder with any useful information. We, the card-buying public, are simply innocent bystanders of these one-sided conversations. In this instance, the card itself wonders why professional basketball player Michael Finley plays basketball so much.

You led your team in scoring and the league in minutes played.

Take a vacation, Michael Finley! It’s difficult to score lots of points for a horrible basketball team and to play a game—virtually the whole game—82 times a year for millions of dollars. The offseason is not a sufficient break, sayeth this card. So please tell the Mavericks you are taking some “me time,” Michael Finely. They will understand. May I suggest an Alaskan cruise?

Comparisons to another Michael?

Michael Rappaport? Famous lover of basketball and renown blue-collar clock puncher? Okay. I can see that. I mean, certainly this card is not implying that we should compare Michael Finley to the most famous Michael in the NBA at that time and the unquestioned greatest player ever. Certainly they are not equating Michael Finley’s ability to lead the Dallas Mavericks in scoring and play lots of basketball with the type of elegant grace, brute force, utter dominance, and brilliant greatness that has never been witnessed before or since in the history of the sport. Possibly this card is referring to the famous instance by which a young Finley, after winning a contest, earned to the right to play this other Michael one-on-one, at which point this other Michael verbally expressed how impressed he was with Finley, and that one day they may meet in the professional arena. Great story, but: that is really the only connection between the two, besides the commonality of their first name and their chosen profession. One is good; the other is the greatest of all time. Unfortunately, I do indeed believe that this is who they are referring to. After all, Michael Rappaport is not typically identified by first name alone, even in his own home. This upsets me greatly.

Say word.

Don’t say word. WHATEVER YOU DO, don’t say word.

Did you know?
All great literary compositions are enhanced at least 30 percent when they are concluded with the phrase, "Say word."

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

East coast ‘snowpocalypse’ delays flights, column

Note: This column appears in the 1/6 issue of The Glendale Star and the 1/7 issue of the Peoria Times

Just hours before our plane was supposed to take off, while I was sleeping, my phone buzzed. It was a text stating that our flight was canceled. That was it. “Flight 1535 is canceled.” No word of a rescheduling, or what to do next, or how we’d get home. Just … canceled. As far as Continental Airlines was concerned, I would be living in New Jersey again.

We had a wonderful time with family and friends during Christmas and were glad we decided to travel back east. My niece and my in-law’s dog had thrown up on the carpet on separate occasions, but those were the only barf-related moments of the week, and that’s all you can really ask for. Really, it was great, but we were ready to go home. Despite the blizzard that wreaked most of its havoc directly on our little slice of New Jersey, our flight from Newark was still scheduled to take off on time. It ended up being the very last one canceled. The main reason we left NJ in the first place—extreme winter weather—was preventing us from leaving now.

Besides the snow itself, part of the frustration of living back east was that every snowstorm—each winter brings several—is met with the calm, reasoned reaction of a community dealing with its very first snowfall. The minute flurries are in the air, cars drive off the road and burst into the flames, schools close, and supermarkets are packed with panicked citizens preparing for Armageddon. The fact that this particular blizzard came somewhat suddenly, with more wind and snow than expected, threw everyone and everything into a tizzy. The few plows that could be found were plowing out tow trucks that were towing other plows. As I write this, some local neighborhoods still haven’t been plowed, its residents waiting for spring to leave home.

Continental followed suit and responded to this crisis as most Fortune 500 companies would—by shutting down all means of communication. Due to “increased call volume,” they cut off their phone lines, decreasing it to “zero call volume.” Their website gave no instructions, and seemed unaware a storm had even taken place. We were stuck.

We were desperately missing our dog, who was probably not missing us as he was staying at Pet Smart’s Hotel Resort and Spa (when I called to extend his stay, my emotions got the best of me and I said, “Throw an extra ‘Doggie Day Camp’ on our tab.” I am pathetic). We were missing work. We had a million things to do. We spent the next 24 hours trying to reschedule our flight to Arizona, and eventually had to settle on leaving New Year’s Day morning.

After a lot of sulking, we eventually realized that there was nothing we could do, and enjoyed the extra time with family. More time for our parents to spend with their granddaughter and more of my in-law’s cooking wasn’t such a bad thing anyway.

When we finally did make it back, it was colder here than in New Jersey. It was 50-degrees in our house, several devices were beeping as they had lost battery life, and half of our plants were dead or damaged from frost. Didn’t matter. We exhaled.

We went home for the holidays, but man—it feels good to be home. Anyway, long story short, that’s why I didn’t have a column last week. So … sorry. Or, you’re welcome. Whichever.