Thursday, May 31, 2012

Classic card of the week

During some unspecified year of my childhood, I was given or purchased a set/pack of cards called “Baseball’s All-Time Greats.” As if part of some baseball-themed cliché of Americana, I distinctly remember flipping through these cards in the back seat of my dad’s Chevy on the way home from a Little League game. The cards were actually very informative, educating me about players of yore during a time sans the Internet, and bringing to life the names I had heard my dad, grandfather, and various baseball announcers utter in reverential tones. As a collector of baseball cards, however, they were somewhat infuriating. They were made to resemble old-timey cards that, if original, would be worth some serious moolah. In actuality, they were modern reprints produced by some unknown entity and sold at Quick Check. Still, I hoped that if I held onto these cards, the confused future would just split the difference, and I’d at least have something to show for it. I do not.

I’m not sure why no one had a picture of Walter Johnson for this particular card. This set features cards of players from the same exact era (Tris Speaker, for example) that have pictures, so I’m uncertain why we had to settle for an artist’s rendition here. I also do not know if this is some sort of famous portrait of Johnson, or if this unspecified company just threw something together. If the former, this is exquisite art, maybe?; if the latter, I like how his shoulders are represented with two squiggly pencil lines. Take away those lines and Walter Johnson’s head is floating in space. It also appears as though he’s wearing eye shadow. Boom, roasted, anonymous head artist. You, sir (or ma’am), are no detailer of Diamond Kings.

(Side bar: Why are all portraits of old-timey people so depressingly sad? Walter Johnson prolly just tossed 17 innings of one-hit ball and he looks like his dog just died; Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves and won a war and built his own log cabin and was like, “This sucks;” Napoleon is taking over the world and he’s all depressed while trying to feel himself up. Relatively speaking, Mona Lisa is downright giddy. Maybe it's because they had to sit still for three weeks in order to get a much worse and less realistic result than we can get on our iPhone in one second? I guess that would make me sad, too. Nevermind, forget I said anything.)

So Walter Johnson was one of the greatest pitchers ever, which is indisputable. Looking at his stats, however, has called to mind for me the sheer absurdity of old-time statistics. Try this one on for size:

He had seven consecutive seasons (1910-16) with 25 wins or more. In 1913 his pitching record was 36-7, with a 1.09 ERA.

That’s not even a real thing, what you just read. Granted, in 1913 there were only three baseball teams, none of which included minorities, and every player had twelve nicknames, which boosted confidence, and everyone's limbs were, apparently, indestructible. However, pitchers had to pitch until both games of the double-header were over or until they died (from pitching or typhoid). And everyone was drunk the whole time, which kinda worked both ways, I guess. During the offseason, most of the players worked in oil fields or something. And that is not a joke, particularly in Walter Johnson’s case. These are the things I have learned from following baseball for many years, and hearing old people talk about stuff on TV.

"But Mike," you say, "those are just stupid surface statistics! Surely Walter Johnson was no more adept than current Major League Baseball person, Justin Verlander!" Well then, let us check advanced statistics, shall we? During that year of 1913, Johnson posted a 13.8 WAR. Last year, during his Cy Young/MVP season, one of the greatest pitching performances of the modern era, Verlander’s WAR was … 8.5. The difference between those two WAR (5.3) almost accounts for that of 2010 NL MVP, Joey Votto (5.9). And, Johnson’s 13.8 is still higher than Barry Bonds’ ridonk 12.5 WAR of 2001, which was, to be fair, done without even one nickname.

Walter Johnson, 1913, ERA + 259
Justin Verlander, 2011, ERA+ 172

There are factors, then and now, which simply cannot be accounted for, but I am unsure they transcend the simple fact that all baseball players throughout history have played the same game, baseball, against other humans.

(For what it's worth, Pedro's 2000 ERA+ was 291 (!!!). His WAR was *only* 10.1. God, I love baseball.)

And that's what these cards, gimmicky as they were, embedded in me: a love of baseball. It was over 20 years ago I sat in my dad's car, at some point coming across this floating head. Man, if this card were just worth something ... At some point I flipped it over. He did WHAT? ... And now here I am, on the Internet, reaffirming that man's awesomeness with modern stats. I hope Walter Johnson was happier in real life than he appears here. He should have been--he played baseball, and he was awesome at it.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Fasting as fast as I can

Note: This column appears in the 5/31 issue of The Glendale Star and the 6/1 issue of the Peoria Times.

My wife works as a therapist in other people’s homes. She oftentimes becomes close with the families she works with, and it is not uncommon for her to discover new and exciting non-therapy-related things during her conversations with these families. She then relays this information to me over dinner, like, “So and so saw a rattlesnake in their backyard, so I don’t think we should go outside for a few weeks,” and “One of my kids is singing ‘Yankee-Doodle Dandy’ at the library Saturday morning and we’re going.” Months ago, one of her families told her about a religious fast they were undertaking where they only consume fruit, nuts, vegetables and water for three weeks. My wife told me about this with a spark of curiosity and intrigue, so like an excellent husband I responded, “Good luck.”

She did the fast on her own and did an amazing job. She said it was the best she had felt in years, and I was really proud of her and, quite honestly, inspired by her. So much so that by the next time she was ready to get her fast on, I decided I would join her.

It’s called the Daniel Fast, and it’s modeled after a verse from the Book of Daniel: In those days, I, Daniel, was mourning three full weeks. I ate no pleasant food, no meat or wine came into my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, till three full weeks were fulfilled. I have never read the Book of Daniel -- my many attempts to read the Bible from beginning to end always stop at the list of descendants of Abraham -- but he sounds like a dedicated person. Also, I am assuming the anointing part refers to bathing, and I want to make it explicitly clear that we ignore this aspect of the fast. I have anointed myself daily, so if I smell bad, it’s for other reasons.

We began the fast at an opportune time, after six straight weeks of family visits that included, among other things, food in excess. A detox was in order. Now, among the things forbidden by the fast, I would list my top three by degree of difficulty as 1) coffee, 2) beer, and 3) cheese.

The first day was okay, and I thought, “I can do this!” The second day I thought I was going to die, and I wanted someone to inject me with coffee intravenously. I could barely stay awake the entire day, and it embarrassed me how much my body relied on caffeine. Each day after that I began feeling better and better.

An interesting aspect of the fast is that, if done right, you won’t battle hunger, although you will battle your body’s natural desire to experience taste. The good news is that you can eat whole wheat pasta; the bad news is that whole wheat pasta is nasty. Also, if anyone needs to know where they keep the whole wheat Matzo at Safeway, it’s aisle one, left-hand side. You’re welcome.

Once your body adjusts, the fast is much less physical than mental. We’ve attempted to seclude ourselves from society so as not to be tempted, but last weekend we went to our friend’s pool party that featured pizza and beer. We drank water and brought our own vegetables, and everybody thought we were both pregnant or imposters.

Besides having health benefits, the fast is truly intended to draw us closer to God through depriving ourselves of everyday things we take for granted. I’ve never really given anything up on this level, and this fast has given me an entire new appreciation of simple things, like a sandwich. I should thank the families my wife works with, both sarcastically and literally, for making my new appreciation of sandwiches possible.

 By the time you read this, we will almost be done. The next biggest challenge will be not binging on everything I’ve missed, although it’s not my fault that coffee goes great with mac and cheese.

Personally, I would go with zero forks. 

UPDATE: I am off the fast. So basically, I was having some, uh ... internal issues. I paid a doctor at an urgent care $60 to tell me to stop fasting immediately and stop eating so much dang peanut butter, which apparently has too much bacteria ... who knew? I'm still off coffee and beer to the end, but I'm back on dairy, baby! Doctor's orders. My attempt to complete this fast has proven equal to my attempts to read the Bible. My wife thinks I'm a total wuss, which isn't far from the truth. Anyway, sorry, Daniel. Please don't let this dissuade any of you from trying the fast, which is great, if you're the type of person who doesn't mind discomfort after urination. I've said too much.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Classic card of the week

Greg Minton, 1989 Donruss

Greg Minton’s career path to the big leagues was like many in that he liked to surf, but then was like, “Guess I’ll play baseball.” It’s that kind of inspirational story that reminds us lesser athletes to pay attention in school. According to BR Bullpen:

Greg Minton grew up in San Diego, CA, where his main hobby was surfing. When his father told him that he wasn't going to pay for Greg's college, Greg decided to take up baseball to try to get an athletic scholarship ("I knew brains weren't going to get me there," he said).

Greg Minton: Arrives home soaking wet after morning of surfing.

Mr. Minton: Darn it, Greg! Dry yourself off first! And why aren’t you at school? How long are you going to indulge in this useless hobby, huh? I told you I ain’t paying for college unless you grow up and start learnin’ about stuff! But if you can find a “surfboard scholarship,” more power to ya’!

Greg: There’s no such thing as a “surfboard scholarship,” dork. And whatevs, dad, just chill. I’m gonna start playing baseball later today and see if I can get into college that way. It can’t be that hard …

Mr. Minton: Now that’s more like it! You and I both know your brains weren’t going to get you into school anyway …

Greg: Drying himself off with a cat … What?

So anyway, Greg Minton starts playing baseball and it turns out he throws in the mid-to-low 90s, and before you know it, he’s in the minor leagues. With my only other frame of reference being Jack Johnson, I can safely form the conclusion that surfers can do anything. But the things that defined Greg Minton—namely, a love of water and being not so smart—would eventually rear their bumpy heads:

In Phoenix, Greg picked up his "moonman" nickname after he got horribly sunburned after going tubing naked. When manager Rocky Bridges saw him that night, he said that Minton's body had more craters than the moon.

I live in Phoenix now, and there are zero bodies of water, so I would be interested to know where, exactly, Greg Minton went tubing in Phoenix in the mid-70s, and why he didn’t just wear a bathing suit.

“Burn that tube.”—owner of the tube rental store.

Also, “horribly sunburned” is a term that does not do justice in describing a person who spent any extended amount of time outside, naked, sans sunscreen, during the Arizona summer, so much so that his entire body developed bubbling blisters that same day. The fact that his skin regenerated to form the person we see above is a testament to the healing powers of the human body.

Greg became a regular reliever in the majors when Randy Moffitt became unable to pitch. He would later comment "The Giants are paying me millions of dollars to pitch a few innings every couple days. And they think I'm crazy!" His flaky reputation came from stunts like stealing the team bus or the keys to the bullpen car.

You know, it may just be that Greg “Moonman” Minton has more perspective than the whole lot of us. Baseball, and life, needs more characters like him. Granted, it’s easier to chillax when you’re making millions for throwing baseballs, but there’s definitely a lesson in here.

Also, could you imagine being a reliever on the mid-80s Giants, and you get called into the game, so you hop into the bullpen car only to discover the keys are missing?! You’d have to jog to the mound! How embarrassing.

Did you know?
The moon has craters, according to science.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The unofficial start of something great

Note: This column appears in the 5/24 issue of The Glendale Star and the 5/25 issue of the Peoria Times.

One of my favorite things that ever happened at my old job at a weekly newspaper in New Jersey was when we printed the blaring front-page headline, “Summer is here!” I realize it’s not necessarily the job of a weekly, community newspaper to break news, but it still amused me to imagine a local resident preparing to read the paper from his living room recliner and screaming, “Honey, get in here! You’re not going to believe this!” More important for my amusement was the date of that paper—July 6. Summer had unofficially begun almost two months prior, and had officially begun weeks earlier. Accompanying the headline was a picture of a boy swimming, who was, as it turned out, our reporter’s younger brother. We all worked really hard on that issue.

I am reminded of that little anecdote whenever something tells me that summer really is here, “here” now meaning the Valley. Back east, the signs of summer were much more subtle, so my previous place of employment—although it is surprisingly no longer around—can be excused for their tardiness. When summer arrives here, it at least has the courtesy to hit you in the face with a brick. 

I think all of us here in the Valley have our own arbitrary means of recognizing that the harsh season of summer has in fact arrived. Here is mine: when I have to use the A/C in my car in the morning. I leave for work shortly after 6 a.m., and when the natural breeze induced by my Kia traveling at upwards of 45 miles per hour no longer suffices to keep me cool and comfortable, I know the unrelenting season of pain hath arrived.

So, at the risk of breaking news on behalf of this newspaper without the consent of our editor, allow me to say: summer is here.

So what now? People react in various ways to this news. One popular reaction is to get the heck out of here as fast as possible, a strategy currently being echoed by the subscribers who are reading this sentence and nodding their heads from the porch of a Montana ranch. The rest of us aren’t so lucky. My own reaction has typically been to brace myself mentally and physically, bear through it bravely, and then, sometime around mid-September, raise my fists to the sky and scream, “MY GOD WHEN IS THIS GOING TO END?” (This I yell from a pool of sweat that conveniently hides my tears.)

Not this year, however. This year I am taking a new approach—I am going to embrace summer. Yeah, that’s right. Embrace it.

When the sun blasts into our bedroom on a Saturday morning and I think I have slept until noon but it’s only like 4 a.m., I will take advantage of the long day. There will be an extra hop in my step as I spend evenings checking for scorpions in our home with a blacklight, because I may end up a hero. I am going to live at the community pool on the weekends, and will not get upset that other people are there who are pretty much ruining everything. I will constantly spew out east-coast-transplant clichés like a demented robot with a dumb smile on my face: You don’t have to shovel sunshine! You don’t have to shovel sunshine! I will take of advantage of the decreased traffic flow as I drive along with the A/C on level four, enjoying every moment before the sun kills my car battery.

Yes, summer is here. But this year is going to be different. This is going to be the best seven months ever! Who’s with me?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Classic card of the week

Ricky Jordan, 1989 Score “Young Superstar”

Two quick comments regarding this card: 1) I don’t understand why the Phillies don’t continue to wear these uniforms. And for every game, home or away. They might be the greatest unis MLB ever produced. 2) This card is ridiculously glossy. I assure you that Score did not spare any gloss during the production of this card. So please, rest easy regarding your previous concerns about: is there enough gloss on this card?

You’ll never convince me that expectations for Ricky Jordan were not at least partially raised because of his last name. And when I say that I am referring to my own expectations for him, specifically as it relates to the acquisition of his baseball cards, which has proven to be a lukewarm investment, gloss surplus aside. If the Phillies organization spent a first round pick on him because they subconsciously thought he was going to mirror Michael Jordan’s accomplishments, but in baseball, or because they thought he was literally related to Michael Jordan as if “Jordan” is not a common last name—I totally did not think/hope that for a little while—then the Phillies are stupid. Ricky Jordan was not Michael Jordan. He was, in actuality, a hybrid of Michael Jordan and Ricky Henderson who was super fast and hit slam dunk home runs and who was awesome but said weird things.

So that’s my scouting report. How about yours, Score?

Ricky is a big, strong right-handed hitter who swings the bat well.

That is interesting, and includes tons of information I could totally not draw on my own simply by seeing Ricky Jordan literally one time!

Score: Okay, what do we got on Ricky Jordan?

Score scout: Let’s see here … flipping through notes … Well, he’s definitely as big as his height and weight listed here would suggest, I can tell ya’ that! Also, got affirmation that he IS, in fact, right-handed. No doubt about that. Also, he looks pretty strong to me. And he swings the bat well.

Score: So you’re saying, as opposed to many of the up-and-coming young baseball hitters we analyze, he does not swing the bat weirdly and awkwardly, as if he has never played baseball before?

Scout: That is exactly what I’m saying.

Score: Pretends to write down notes while staring blankly back at scout.

He looks like a natural at bat, and had some big hits in his half season as a regular in ’88.

Scout: He’s like Robert Redford out there! Except that he’s African American and, as previously mentioned … checks notes just to be sure … right-handed. Plus he’s already had some big hits for the Phillies!

Score: You do realize that “scouting reports” are traditionally filed before the player reaches the majors, and are supposed to contain useful information …

Ricky has a slick glove and good range.

Scout: Speaking of useful information, did I mention he has a slick glove and good range? Because he does.

Score: Now you’re just saying things.

Scout: Can I be honest?

Score: Yes.

Scout: I’ve only seen a picture of him. He’s Michael Jordan’s cousin though, right?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Searching for a spot under the sun

Note: This column appears in the 5/17 issue of The Glendale Star and the 5/18 issue of the Peoria Times.

One of the few things on which my wife and I have failed to find common ground is parking.

I’m pretty sure this is a normal disagreement, not necessarily indicative of the male/female relationship. It is, rather, a fence that separates us all, regardless of gender. 

She needs to find the best spot; I don’t care.

I will take any open spot in the general area, and I will never loop around to another aisle of parking. I repeat: I will not loop. There is no hope on the other side. I have been fooled by too many motorcycles and Smart Cars to believe otherwise.

My take is: what’s the big deal? So we have to walk a little farther. Walking is good exercise, and I’d much rather be walking towards the entrance than driving around like a doofus looking for a spot 20 feet closer. I loathe looking for parking. It’s a necessary evil in life in which I will invest as little time as possible. I also think I have an unconscious and defeatist attitude that whatever good spots do exist will be gone before I get there. Or worse, my Kia will become engaged in a competition with a monster pick-up truck sporting a gun rack for a spot in front of Safeway. If that’s how I die, I’m going to be pissed. 

Some of my life’s worst moments involve failed attempts at finding parking. Many years ago my wife and I drove into Brooklyn for a night out, and spent the first hour and a half looking for a parking spot on the street. If I didn’t cry, I came darn close. We only found a spot after my wife uttered her special prayer to Mother Cabrini, the Patron Saint of Parking (and, presumably, other things): “Mother Cabrini, Mother Cabrini, find me a spot for my little machiny.” This is a real prayer, by the way. And it works, although it can only be used in dire circumstances. For example, when the male driver of a vehicle is near tears.

Maybe it was her harsh Brooklyn upbringing of no available parking that imbedded within my wife a more aggressive, committed attitude to finding only the best spot. And for her, finding the best spot doesn’t just mean the closest. 

She uses terms like “50 percenter,” used to signify a spot against a curb or median, meaning there’s a 50 percent less chance an adjacent car door will hit or scratch her car. If she finds a 50 percenter, she will be sure to, if given the opportunity, “pull through,” so that her car is more readily available to exit without having to back out. (She will, if the car in front of her is about to exit, wait so that she can pull through to that spot, and she suggests demands I do the same.) Also—this is real—here’s a question: where are we in relation to the sun? She will not park with the sun hitting her windshield, and I cannot tell you how many minor arguments we have become engaged in when I, oblivious to life, failed to notice I was about to park facing directly west at sixteen hundred hours. (Location: Kohl’s.)

Regarding parking, we have agreed to disagree. She will complain about having to walk any additional distance “in these shoes;” I will complain about waiting for a family of six to get situated in their vehicle so that we can pull through. I suppose it’s the common ground we’ve reached on this common ground.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Classic card of the week

Tracy Jones, 1988 Topps

It’s not always silliness on the front and/or back of a baseball card that will inspire a post. Oftentimes a normal-looking card such as this will lead me to Google, which will lead me to discovering extremely unimportant things that I never knew before. It’s all very exciting! In the case of Tracy Jones, I first examined his Wikipedia page, which does not appear to have been penned by someone especially fond of Tracy Jones:

Tracy Donald Jones … is a former professional baseball player who played in the Major Leagues primarily as a bench-warmer from 1986 to 1991.

Benchwarmer is kind of a derogatory term, in that major league teams do not employ players for the specific task of keeping the bench warm with their butts. Science has even failed to prove that a warm bench in and of itself poses any competitive advantage. A more objective term in this case would have been, “bench player,” “dugout caretaker,” or “pleasantly warm butt-haver.”

Jones also hosts a couple of radio shows. He is known for his brash personality and overstating his importance as a professional baseball player.

This tidbit intrigued me, as it seemed to be in direct conflict with the tidbit on the back of the actual card, which is: “Tracy had .304 Batting Average in the minor leagues.” Good luck overstating the importance of that.

Also, in what universe does a sports-talk radio personality disperse anything other than calm, reasoned, educated information to listeners who are seeking to become better-informed fanatics of a given sport? I wanted to dig deeper. MUCH deeper. So I clicked on the second Google search result, which led me to

I have found many amazing websites in my day as a result of exhaustively “researching” baseball players from my card-collecting days. I am unsure any of those sites have approached the sheer diversity of tracyjonesonline. In fact, it took me a while to confirm it was indeed the site of Tracy Jones the former ballplayer, and not just a regular schmo named Tracy Jones who has outstanding and subtle web-design skills. The very first thing that catches the eye is a big picture of Joe Paterno with the caption, “R.I.P. Joe Paterno!” which, sure, but also, ? Below that is a video link to the famous fight, MINOTAURO vs SAPP, which is something I do not know and did not watch. Below that, after a ton of empty space, is a video of a dog sniffing a woman sunbathing in a park. Below that video is the caption, “If Tracy Jones is reincarnated as a dog in his next life, this is exactly how he will act.” This has probably been said before, but I think Tracy Jones' brief, heartfelt eulogy to Joe Paterno intersperses well with his wish to be reincarnated as a dog so that he can sniff women's butts.

After navigating the site for at least four minutes, it’s difficult to determine whether or not Tracy Jones is really this (among other things) arrogant, or if it’s intentional. The reason it’s difficult to tell is because everything is super weird and not really funny and very weird. For example:

Watching Tracy Jones' career in Cincinnati was like watching a John Wayne movie. He brought the Reds out of the depths in 1982 where they only sold 1.3 million tickets and increased the gate by over a million more fans when he played.

I am assuming they are referring to the John Wayne movie in which John Wayne helped a baseball team sell a lot of tickets. I mean, I know this is a joke, but other than that, I do not know what is happening. It does not help that many words are misspelled.

If the homepage is not enough, there are many links, including “The Cult,” “Hate Mail,” “Banishment”—you can, apparently, get banished from the Tracy Jones fan club, which is something I do not wish on anyone, but which is also something I fear, as a result of this, may happen to me; should it, tell my wife I love her—“Pool Party,” “Bikini Battle – N.,” and “Bikini – W.” I might as well mention there are bikini battle links for all compass directions, in case you live in the south and are like, “Is there a Bikini Battle South on the Tracy Jones website?” There is.

There is also a link for “Questions.” I contemplated submitting the question, “What?” But I didn’t, only because it took the link too long to load.

Welp, we sure did learn a lot about baseball today! Thanks for coming by. Have a great day, as John Wayne used to say regarding baseball.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

The Mother’s Day column

Note: This column appears in the 5/10 issue of The Glendale Star and the 5/11 issue of the Peoria Times.

Although she is the most strong-willed person I have ever met, there are a few things that scare my wife. Birds, for example. Also, scary movies. Alfred Hitchcock’s Birds—although it strangely played no role in developing her fear of either medium—is, for her, the world’s single worst manmade creation. Another thing that scared her for a while, and sort of still does: motherhood.

One of the many things I’ve always admired about my wife is that she has high standards. (Here I could insert a self-deprecating joke about how she relented on those standards regarding her husband, but that would be boring and predictable. Besides, I think I’m a decent guy. There, I said it.) She expects the best from everyone, and I would venture to say that 99 percent of her disappointments occur when the thoughtfulness she has for others is not reciprocated.

She holds herself to those same standards. She wanted to become a foster and adoptive parent because she knew it was the right thing to do, and she inspired me to feel the same. Throughout the process of becoming such, and during the process of being such, I always sensed in her that self-doubt of, “Am I doing this right?” 

There is the perpetual guilt of being a working mom, and sharing that guilt with many other moms seems to offer little solace. There is the reality of having a job whereby other parents often seek her advice, and trying not to be a hypocrite. There is the harsh irony of raising a girl as strong-willed as her, and stressing about the many battles the future will undoubtedly bring. 

I try to tell her not to worry, and I try to confirm for her what an amazing job she’s doing. She appreciates it, but I know she doesn’t always believe it. So I’ll just tell you guys, if you even care. The fact of the matter is that she’s pretty much the best. She runs things, but with the warmest of hearts. I am convinced she was commissioned by God Himself to raise our daughter and to hoist me up, because no one else could possibly do it. To answer her nagging question, she is doing it right, better than I ever could have imagined.

Last weekend, I discovered two bird’s nests—one in our lemon tree and one in the wreath that hangs on our front door. In past springs, when I’ve had to tell my wife I found a bird’s nest, she would just demand I destroy it, no questions asked. But these nests already have eggs. Plus our daughter discovered them and is very intrigued. It’s funny to watch our daughter carefully approach the bird’s nest in the tree while my wife looks on bravely, wincing, watching her fears face off.

Of course, we literally cannot use our front door until the baby birds leave the nest, because if a bird ever flew into our house, we’d have to sell the house as is and move immediately. I can’t argue. I’m a decent guy.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Classic card of the week

This is how a baseball card gets made:

Step 1: Go to a baseball game or something and take a picture of a baseball player playing baseball OR not playing baseball

Step 2: If you don’t have a camera, just draw a picture. You don’t need to go to an actual baseball game to do this; you can rely on your memory of a previous game OR just make up what you think the player should look like. NOTE: We will not be addressing portraits today.

Step 3: Take the picture back to your studio or lab. NOTE: This requires a studio or lab, or studiolab, which is the awesomest one. Examine them carefully with an absurdly giant magnifying glass or just use your eyes.

Step 4: Ask yourself questions like, “Is this picture awesome?” “Does this do justice to the player featured?” “Will he be happy and satisfied and proud to show his grandchildren this baseball card?” (NOTE: Although it is not your job to cater to the whims and egos of the featured players, they ARE your proverbial bread and butter, so buttering their proverbial buns is par for the course ((golf analogy))) More questions: “Are his eyes open or closed, and if closed, is he also in an awkward position because he was kind of maybe a little scared the ball was going to nail him in the testicles?” “Did he actually catch the ball by accident regardless of everything mentioned in the previous question?”*

*If you answered “yes” to the last two questions, stop everything you’re doing and sit down. You are about to create the greatest baseball card ever, provided you follow the remaining plan accordingly.

Denny Martinez, 1994 Topps Stadium Club 

Step 5: Okay, you’ve got the perfect picture. Now it’s time to mix actual information and your imagination to make this baby sing. That’s why you got into this field in this first place, isn’t it? YOU ARE A CHAMPION DON’T FORGET THAT. Here’s an idea, for example: Present the player’s first name like it was ripped out of a magazine. Make the last name like it’s an old school computer label. It’ll be like if a serial killer made a card of a baseball player looking weird and silly! You can have that idea, for free. Actually … just send me like, five bucks. Three dollars. Three bucks would be fine.

Step 6: Throw some stats on there. Like, what was his allowed batting average with runners in scoring position in 1993, and where did that rank among major league pitchers? That’s the crap kids these days want to know about. Kids these days are freakin’ nerds, with their baseball cards and weird stats and what not. GET OUT THERE AND PLAY, AMIRIGHT? Neither here nor there. Anyway, get some more stats. And some words. Throw ‘em all over the place. Make a chart or some shizz. Oh, use your computer for everything I am saying, or ask one of your computer nerd friends or an aforementioned nerd child.

Step 7: Include industry standard “Topps Skills Rating System” data. How well did he hold runners on base on a scale of 1-to-0, 10 being “held every runner on base ever” and 1 being “held no runners or base never.” Take a guess, if you don’t know. Maybe just say “5.” That sounds right. What about his stamina, out of 10? Lot of stamina, or is he one of those pitchers who’s always losing his breath on the mound from pitching? Use your judgment. Utilize decimals, as people will assume you know what you’re talking about. “Oh Denny Martinez has 8.1 stamina but Bob Welch only has 7.8 stamina? That is interesting and relevant and useful! The person who created this card must really know a lot about baseball and also physical stamina!” That is what people will say.

Step 8 (final step): Pop the champagne, your card is complete! Hand it to whomever at your company is responsible for putting it in the pack—PACK NERD—and celebrate another job well done!

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Things spice up with family in town

Note: This column appears in the 5/3 issue of The Glendale Star and the 5/4 issue of the Peoria Times.

We’ve had many family members come out and visit over the past month, but none spent more time here than my in-laws and my wife’s aunt and uncle. And as valuable as the time was spent talking over home-cooked meals, the most entertaining part was venturing with them out in public.

It’s possible you saw us, a large crew of people with New York accents aggressively and loudly entering an establishment and causing much confusion. This typically occurred at restaurants, where we’d request a table for “how many people do we have here?” At one particular restaurant, we moved our entire party from inside to the outdoor patio because that is where my father-in-law decided he wanted to sit instead. Then everyone took turns walking our daughter around the restaurant and introducing her to people who were trying to eat. Then my wife’s cousin, who had been mistakenly told by my father-in-law to go to a different restaurant, finally arrived, at which point her car alarm went off in the parking lot because she had allowed our daughter to play with her car keys. So, if you were there, yes—that was us. Sorry.

But it wasn’t just restaurants where we spiced things up. Though not traditionally noted for soliciting spice, another place we spiced up was church. We were the large group squeezing into one pew who were the only people not holding hands during the Our Father, and who assumed we could use our regular voice to speak to one another while music was playing. The Catholic Church changed its Mass responses last year to coincide with a more literal translation, but my wife’s uncle continued to respond the old way “out of principle.” At the end of one Mass, the priest called up the parishioners who were about to get married so we could bless them. My wife’s uncle, instead, yelled out, “Don’t do it!” Twice. He yelled this out twice.

But the most entertaining part was when many of us went down to Tempe two weekends ago to partake in the Pat Tillman Run. My father-in-law, who had said the night before he “wasn’t bringing anything,” wore his typical race-day gadget ensemble, which included an iPod armband with headphones, headband, race sunglasses, an old cell phone in case of an emergency, a gigantic watch, and other things which had functions I wasn’t familiar with. When we got out of the car, he literally became entangled in everything when his headphones formed a knot with the strand from his sunglasses, and he couldn’t get anything over his head. My wife had to assist him.

They held a vendor expo before the race, and it was like walking through with tourists. My father-in-law drank everything offered to him—I think he mixed a McDonald’s smoothie with a 5-Hour Energy, which is probably not good. My wife’s aunt and uncle filled out a credit application so they could each obtain a Buick GMC cutting board, and also posed for a picture with a Chick-fil-A cow.

After we finished, my father-in-law and I happened to see Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt, who was extremely personable. After shaking hands, the coach looked my father-in-law up and down, noticing his endless array of race gadgets and outerwear, smiled and said, “Wow, looks like you were ready for the race!” 

It was a standard family visit, one in which we met an NFL head coach, and one that honored the old saying, “Your family hasn’t really come to visit unless you’re kind of embarrassed to go back to church.”