Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Metrodome Magic

I'm not going to lie, this blog is most likely done after the advent of Facebook finding a way to snarkily update my life. So if I or you have to click on it in the near future, you can enjoy what was one of the greatest baseball games I have ever had the pleasure of viewing. Sadly it was from the comfort of home and not among the 55,000+ inside the Metrodome, but the feeling was nonetheless jubilant. Being a sports fan (especially a predominantly Cleveland sports fan) is filled with lots and lots (and lots) of downs that magnify those rare moments when your team succeeds. Last night was one of those triumphs and here are some of my personal favorite images from the team that won't let the Metrodome die.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Phenomenon of Facebook

This past weekend, I made the gigantic leap. I signed up for Facebook.

I never had an aversion to it the way some people fear technology in an attempt to sound cool; I just had never had the drive to sign up. Finally this past Sunday night, Becky made the jump and her peer pressure pushed me to do it (we then went out back and smoked before 7th period).

The initial process was a little overwhelming. There are links and pages out the whazoo and trying to figure out how the Facebook phenomenon worked was slightly intimidating. Not helping the situation was that on the second sign up page, the all-powerful, all-knowing computer listed pretty much everyone I've ever known complete with smiling picture.

Key to the whole process is having friends, which once both parties establish that they will in fact be friends, allows access to their personal pages. Seems simple enough, but at the same time seemed a little gym class-y. Who will pick whom? How exclusive are Facebook friends supposed to be? There are people who have thousands of friends (I think I might know 20 people in my whole life) and then there are people like my sister who have ratcheted up the security settings so high so that she can't be found that the director of the FBI wouldn't locate her.

I decided to throw out a few of those friend invitation thingies to people I was confident would accept, as I couldn't possibly handle rejection this early in the process. Blessed people accepted me into the community, and I was off and running. In fact, I was sprinting. Before I knew it, word of my signing up for Facebook had spread across a few people's pages and now I feared not sitting on-line by myself. The exclusivity issue had swung wildly in the other direction as acquaintances sought to be Facebook friends and that eventually continued into people I don't remember having a single meaningful conversation with asking for friendship to finally settling into someone I have never even heard of shooting me a friend invitation. I'm going to consult with Facebook experts to see if it's ok to reject them as friends being that it seems everyone accepts everyone in these parts.

In addition to offending these distant individuals come the inevitable clashing that is going to come with so many different friends from different walks of life coming together on the personal page. I've got two people I know don't like each other very much as friends. I've got hardcore Republicans and hardcore Democrats as friends. And this is to say nothing of the legions of you who don't pull for the Cleveland Indians.

The other oddball occurrence is the phrasing that, for example, JR and Drew are now friends! I've known JR for close to a decade but before that phrasing, our non-verbalized commitment to one another seemed incomplete. Now that he and I are Facebook friends, I feel as if we can take this to the next level - maybe hand holding. Ratcheting up the phrasing issue a notch, I was appreciative that the website reminded me that I was in fact married. Again, the sacred union Becky and I shared was lacking the firmness and long term committment of the updated Facebook profile. Not only was I married, I am now married to a Native American princess! Apparently married ladies on Facebook are known with the maiden name as their middle name on every post. Princess Bird Wolf is out seeking nuts and berries for dinner.

Probably the neatest aspect of this Facebook phenomenon is the ease with which pictures and other information are available and shared with individuals. I found out one former colleague is engaged to be married and saw photos of an individual I hadn't seen in years. As if e-mail weren't informal enough, Facebook provides an even easier medium to keep up with individuals that will make the trials and tribulations of the first day Facebook sign up worthwhile. Becky summarized well in saying that Facebook is the AOL Instant Messenger feature we all used so religiously in college souped up with pictures and other features. An evolution of AOL instant messenger, if you will, considering that Facebook has one of those direct chat things, too.

Overall, the general sentiment has been "welcome to the addiction." People tend to get caught up regularly checking their walls and their friends to see what everyone is up to. And honestly, I was checking the computer a little bit more frequently this first week of Facebook than I probably would have otherwise. That said, the content is going to be so vanilla that I can't believe that I would get permanently sucked up into a massive time warp. I don't know that I've seen a post more than two sentences, thereby limiting the depth of any post and certain topics are going to be off limits. I am not going to go on a "I hate work" rant because some employee or boss is likely to someday come across this page. Likewise, I will refrain from the "I went to a conservative radio talk show rally" last month for the reasons mentioned previously. Truly, the content will be light hearted, which will be fun and fine, though not altogether addictive.

So week one draws to a close on Facebook and it's a fun phenomenon. I kinda wish I knew who Brian Schwartz is and why he wants to be my friend, but it is nice to know that JR's first name is James.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The free money health care reform.

I preface this post by saying that I neither believe the claims that America must act right now to save the health care system nor do I believe that cost is so prohibitive that we shouldn't look at some legislation. In short, I strongly dislike soundbites that are so one sided and simple that the issue can be summarized by your political party leader of choice. My irritation with the current goings ons in Washington is the ignorance of those that this reform would most impact. Those that would be taxed to pay for it won't hear of benefiting their fellow man. Those that would benefit from it won't take a few minutes to educate themselves on what the programs would mean.

With all of this squabbling, I interact on a regular basis with those that this program would benefit at my place of employment. These individuals provide a small glimpse at what America sees and understands of the process.

In working retail with modest (at best) wage earners, many of my employees barely can afford to live paycheck to paycheck. The promise of free health insurance is incredibly appealing. Of course, it isn't free, but it's free to them, which I believe is one of the most telling communication issues of health care reform.

A couple of my employees were discussing the health care issue at work the other day with some having varying degrees of comprehension and apathy toward the scenario. One employee, a single mother, spoke very excitedly of a new government plan saying, "We'll be just like Canada where all health care is free! You don't pay anything!"

If you tell someone making 9 dollars an hour that the government is going to come in and take care of their health insurance, understandably they are excited that this burden is lifted from them. What they don't consider is the trickle down effect of those that are paying for their insurance. Those that are making money and employing them and paying these extra taxes now have one more expense that ultimately will influence the bottom line - the benefits they currently offer employees and the ability to employ the numbers they do. The political debate can come in and be wrestled with in Washington on whether it's more beneficial to have fewer employed but with insurance or to have more employed without insurance. That I'm not going to touch, but the perception that it's free is a terrible misnomer that should be and needs to be understood by all involved. I grow frustrated with the "it's good for me, be damned if I'm going to look at the bigger picture" mentality that government programs generate. I'm not anti-government, I just want people to slow down and take a look at the consequences of decisions rather than race to what's immediately best for them.

At the barber shop today, I was in a lull in between reexplaining for the nth time in five years my profession and a bad joke when a long time customer entered the shop. The man was a farmer and after some discussion said that he voted for our current president for the fact that he would receive a greater subsidy from one candidate than the other. He disagreed with this candidate on every other issue but because the government would give him something, he voted the way he did. To each his own, but the man readily admitted he was doing fine without the subsidy but that he was enjoying the "free" money. I take less offense at the vote than I do with the now repeated concept of "free money."

I wish I had some magic potion that Americans could take to see that nothing is free. Health care reform is not off limits because it costs money, but if everyone could just educate themselves on where the money will come from and what that means, then we could have a meaningful conversation on the pros and cons of such a plan. But we can't even get to that point because the top earners instantly clam up on any discussion of penalizing them for their success and the low earners won't look past the immediate gratification of what benefits them at the expense of others.

Another example, I have one employee who works to provide for her child, regularly looking for more hours. Over time, the store needed some extra help and I was able to accommodate her request for additional work. Her average hours per work increased to the point where she qualified as a full-time employee, which in turn qualified her for employee sponsored health care (full time employees are the only ones who qualify at work for health insurance). She wrestled with continuing work and signing up for health care insurance or reducing her hours to the point where she would once again become a part-time employee. Why do the latter? Because as a part-time employee who doesn't qualify for health insurance, the government would provide her with "free coverage."

Again, I am going to avoid the politics of we should go this way or that, but shouldn't we live in a society where people a.) understand that nothing the government does is free and b.) people should be willing to take a personal responsibility in what they do? I cringe at work at the barber shop, at work, and anywhere else when I hear talk of "free government" help. The government is there to help and should help, but can we all agree that all action requires money from somewhere? The discussion of whether the costs are worth it are a whole other world away - one that politicians are debating - while the rest of America wallows in self ignorance.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

This is one bullpen that absolutely blows (saves).

Just how many 7 run leads can one team blow in one season?

Greg Aquino boasts a WHIP of 1.75.

Kerry Wood (sulking above) blew his third save of the season and has a dominant 4.81 ERA.
(Editor note: I should update this to reflect Wood's fourth blown save - two in two days - and a new ERA of 5.47 after an outstanding line of 1/3 of an inning, 3 hits, 2 ER, and 1 wild pitch after Saturday's latest bullpen blowfest.)

Luis Vizcaino has walked more batters than has pitched innings.

Jensen Lewis is giving up a home run every 12.75 batters.

Joe Smith's ERA just crossed 6.

And perhaps the greatest gem of all is Rafael Perez as in 18 and 2/3 of an inning he has allowed 32 hits! The WHIP is over 2.4 and the ERA zoomed by 11!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Where are they now? Sandlot style.

Inspired by a recent ABC Family showing of The Sandlot, I thought it would be fun to take a look at what became of the child actors that made up one of my favorite baseball movies growing up. And from what I saw of the airing, it's still a fun show. And it will be, for-ev-er!

1.) Scotty Smalls

The lead character who totally rocked a huge fishing hat, had zero baseball skills, and developed into the coolest kid in the neighborhood was played by Tom Guiry. Guiry continues acting having earned roles in The Black Donnellys, Kings, CSI Miami, and the vastly underrated U-571. I personally don't remember him in any of these. As such I remember him still as the little kid and have a hard time with the fact that he fathered a child at the age of eighteen.

2.) Benny "The Jet" Rodriguez

The skilled back yarder was pretty much the equivalent of a lifetime AAA player who made one good play in one game. I mean who wouldn't order a steal of home with the game on the line? Nonetheless, the actor was Mike Vitar who ceased acting four years after the Sandlot. He went on to appear in The Mighty Ducks 2 and 3 as well as a couple of cameos on NYPD Blue and Chicago Hope. The older, grown up Benny Rodriguez was played by Mike Vitar's older brother Pablo P. Vitar who did this movie and literally nothing else before passing in 2008. At least he got to steal home!

3.) Hamilton "Ham" Porter

The slick hitting catcher catapulted his childhood fame into a list of impressive Hollywood credentials. Patrick Renna bounced around TV for awhile getting in an episode of Home Improvement, ER and one of my personal all time favorite series Boy Meets World. Other highlights include X-Files, National Lampoon Presents Dorm Daze, and Boston Legal.

4.) Michael "Squints" Palledorous

Chauncey Leopardi was one of the few child actors who had a few appearances under his belt before The Sandlot came around. Back before he was faking death for some sweet tongue action with the cute lifeguard, Leopardi made an appearance in Father of the Bride as well as L.A. Law. His two most notable resume builders since The Sandlot are nine episodes of Freaks and Geeks and five episodes of Gilmore Girls.

5.) Alan "Yeah Yeah" McClennan

Yeah Yeah is also known as Marty York. Marty did what all child actors did at the time and appeared on Boy Meets World but also added a Saved By the Bell appearance, too. He hasn't acted since 1997 but did recently make some low wave TMZ headlines by getting arrested for domestic battery in an incident with his on again off again girlfriend.

6.) Kenny DeNunez

Kenny was the pitcher for the sandlot duo, and was another Sandlot-er who had some success before the movie. Brandon Quintin Adams did some work with Michael Jackson for Moonwalker. He teamed up with Benny and became two sport superstars leading the Mighty Ducks to great local and international fame in the Mighty Duck movies. And yes you can check off a Boy Meets World appearance too. IMDB still calls him active in the movie business but doesn't have a credit since 2005.

7.) Bertram Grover Weeks

Grant Gelt
played Bertram, the glasses wearing background player who had a relatively quiet role in this character heavy hit. Grant went on to do the popular thing, Saved by the Bell and Boy Meets World. His character in The Sandlot was teased to have gotten a little too involved in the 60s and no one ever heard from him again. He's done but one credited piece since 1995, and it appears that Grant disappeared much like Bertram (he's even barely visible on the movie poster cover).

8.) Wendy the Lifeguard

This dreamboat's other name is Marley Shelton. Shelton starred in such films as Pleasantville, Never Been Kissed, The Bachelor, and W. Shelton was scheduled to play Annabeth Schott in the West Wing but the role was moved on to Kristin Chenoweth for who knows why. Also, Shelton was #98 on Stuff's Magazine's Sexiest Women in the World. Squints thought the rating was low.

9.) Scotty's dad Bill

Dennis Leary has done lots since playing the tepid step-father with an affinity for the New York Yankees. He's played Tommy Gavin in 62 epsidoes of Rescue Me and is the voice of Diego in the upcoming Ice Age 3 mega-super-uber-huge blockbuster. Among others, credits include Loaded Weapon 1, Wag the Dog, A Bug's Life, The Thomas Crown Affair, and Recount. Interestingly enough, Leary is the cousin of new Tonight Show host Conan O'Brien and turned down the part Mark Wahlberg had in Oscar winning The Departed.

10.) Scotty's Mom

Karen Allen has a great many credits to her name my favorite of which is Marion Ravenwood of Indiana Jones fame. She also did Animal House, Scrooged, and The Perfect Storm among others. And yet her character had no name other than "Scotty's Mom" for The Sandlot.

11.) Mr. Mertle

James Earl Jones was the blind baseball talent that took care of the monster beast Hercules. Jones never amounted to anything after this movie and no one has ever heard of him. (171 credits).

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

How do unearned runs work?

Last evening, I had the honor and privilege of watching the 2009 Cleveland Indians in person for the first and probably last time this season. They visited the Metrodome with their irritatingly underachieving roster, and promptly added another player to the DL two batters into the game. A couple runners left on base in clutch situations and poor defense made for a one run loss that should have been a victory.

It was this poor defense that raises the inquiry in this post's subject line. For David Huff, the Cleveland starter, had a monstrous ERA (above 10) that I was hoping would improve for the young man as he had one of those one bad outings that distorts stats for a good month or so without revealing the progress he had made. In the Twins' half of the third, the Tribe's defense was particularly poor, leading to an error, and leading me to believe that Huff's ERA would go unblemished. Upon reading the box score once I got home, I see that he was charged for all the runs during his appearance. Is this a whoops by the official scorer or do I not understand how unearned runs work? I suppose I always thought that once an error occurred, all runs there following were unearned. Is this not the case? Someone smarter than me care to balance the intelligence?

Order of events:

With two outs, Alexi Casilla doubles.
Denard Span follows with an RBI single (1 ER)
Huff then uses a beautiful pick off move to confuse Span who breaks for second.
First baseman Martinez airs it out, missing the shortstop entirely and allowing Span to move all the way to third.
Joe Mauer, who hits everything, singled home Span (2 ER)

Now I first contest that Span should be credited with a stolen base when the pick off attempt clearly had him out. But my bigger contention is that with 2 outs, a throwing error extends the inning and the following run is earned. How does this work?

On the plus side, in my all Cleveland attire, I was only dropped with one f bomb at the Dome, a far cry from the countless instances of harassment when I wore Browns attire to a Metrodome contest. Baseball fans are in fact classier than football fans.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Harry Potter Series

Since "geek" is not a derogatory term from which I've fled in my life, I write here this day to announce my recent completion of the 7 book Harry Potter series. I took about 10 months to complete this task, and overall I enjoyed the series. I would stop short of saying they were the best books I have ever read or that I'm going to race out to movie premiers dressed as a wizard. But nonetheless, I enjoyed the series, the cast of characters, and the plot that befell the one and only Harry Potter.

The general gist of the series is that Harry Potter is an orphaned boy who through some curious magical friends discovers that as an infant survived an attack from the evil wizard Voldemort, an attack that took the lives of his parents. The framework of the series is that Potter learns more and more about his parents and the bad dude at Hogwarts, a school for wizards. The school has seven grades and the series has seven books, each book another year in the boy wizard's life. The overall series was at its best when the action took place at the school, rather than off its grounds, but the later books dictated that increasing amounts of action occur away from Hogwarts. In the end, the story comes full circle as Potter and Voldemort square off on school grounds.

1.) Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

The first book was Becky's least favorite, and while I disagree, I can see why she thinks so. The series is what it is because of the great character development JK Rowling employs. However, at the very start, getting to know the hoards of people is burdensome. Additionally the reader, like Harry, is learning the rules of the wizarding world (brooms flying, sporting activities, etc.) which takes time to develop. In later books, the reader knows all of this in advance and it's like riding a bike, but the first go around can be a bit much. The plot is clever with a suspenseful ending, and the book is a serviceable framework for later chapters in the saga while still completing a story.

2.) Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

As I began reading the second book, I was eager to jump back into Harry's life at Hogwarts and the new friends he met at said school. But in what would prove to be a reoccurring theme throughout the series, I had to persevere through nearly 100 pages of Harry in the non-wizarding world, agonizing as I was, when he would return. I found this to be Rowling's primary weakness in writing where it appeared to she wanted to stretch out books for no real reason. Nonetheless, the action picks up quickly once back at Hogwarts where Harry and his two best pals Hermione and Ron discover secrets at the school untouched for years. When Ron's youngest sister, Ginny, falls into trouble, Harry and pals race to save the day. An entertaining second effort.

3.) Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Having not been part of the Harry Potter craze from the get go, I wonder if the series took off on its spectacular popularity after book 2 as book 3 and those thereafter triple in length. While 1 and 2 might have been written in succession, book 3 elevates in complexity of story telling that required an extra skill level. The story here revolves around a mysterious new teacher, an escaped convict, and Potter's growing rivalry with the Potions Professor, Severus Snape. All three become critical characters in later installments, and for the first time, the series flashes back to establish the history (and eventual future) of these three crazy cats. Another quirky ending left me with a favorable rating with this being my second favorite book of the entire series.

4.) Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

My overall favorite book would be this fourth one where Harry grows out of the child label and into the young man that the rest of the wizarding world would later rely on. It's kind of the Anakin Skywalker becoming Darth Vader, but fighting for good for those nerds out there that are getting these sci-fi references. The neighboring wizarding schools get together for the Tri-Wizard tournament that determines the best young wizard in the world. The plot revolves around three tasks for this tournament that increase in order of difficulty and danger until for the first time in three books - an achievement in delayed gratification - Potter deals with the Voldemort character for the first time. The setting and intensity of this meeting was my favorite part of the series, and the ending an incredible leap that left me eager for the rest of the series.

5.) Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Having really enjoyed book 3 and loving book 4, I can easily say that book 5 was a tremendous disappointment and my least favorite of all 7 books. This fifth installment was meant to be a call to arms in the war of good and evil. Rather than an action packed race to ready, the primary characters are confined to a single hideout, doing more hiding than anything. Chapter after chapter dealt with dark rooms, whispers, and a battle of media perception (think Spiderman - again, I am a dork and I am comfortable with this). The decrease in action from fighting overgrown snakes, body snatching bad guys, dragon slaying, and three headed dogs from books one through four are replaced by Harry trying to go on dates, which while a nice attempt into what a normal 15 year old might be doing are not Rowling's strong suit. Her strong suit are her finales, but this is her weakest one of the bunch. The good guys run around a blur of a setting that has weird surroundings for the sake of being weird and offer nothing to the overall conclusion other than to say the lack of attention to physics make the story hard to follow rather than uniquely magical. Compared to an alternate setting elsewhere in the series of a graveyard that clearly sets the tone and stakes at hand, the Ministry of Magic basement conclusion was sub-par. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was a big time thumbs down for yours truly.

6.) Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

I know of several people that have read the series that did not care for this installment of the book, but I maintain that it was necessary to build to the finale. In this chapter of the series, Potter spends a tremendous amount of time with his mysterious mentor, Albus Dumbledore. Now Dumbledore had made it habit in the first five books of showing up at the end to explain everything. He was a mysterious character who in the end, was always at the right place at the right time. A likable chap, Dumbledore takes center stage in this installment, shedding the shadows and leading Harry along. Rowling very cleverly manages to spend a significant portion of the book in flashback mode to offer some additional build up for the inevitable extreme good (Potter) versus extreme evil (Voldermort). The book gets very intense toward the end as the necessary passing of the torch sets up the finale in the series. But it is in the frantic endings where Rowling writes best, and she does well to finish up Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.

7.) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Ah, the grand finale! I have been asked by several what I thought of the last book, and I answer truthfully in that I abhorred the first half and loved the last half. In the first four hundred pages, roughly one exciting thing happens (the flight from the Dursley residence). When the earlier plots occurred at Hogwarts, Rowling was able to throw in little nuances that made the build up for conclusion fun and whimsical. Taken out of Hogwarts, Harry Potter flees bad guys in the boringest of fashions. I had faith that the book would get better, and it did, but in answering whether a book is good or not, I feel the need to resist answering with the last taste in my mouth and instead consider the whole body of work.

What I did like about the finale, I really liked. Rowling does not hesitate to kill off characters, which while sounding demonic of me, was most enjoyable. For the ultimate climax of the series has to be built up in such a way where the reader feels the seriousness of the situation, and eliminating beloved but expendable characters does just that. Those characters who survive the book have well defined roles and excellent closure. The dramatic of reveal of the dark Severus Snape is among the best writing in the whole series as the sometimes good guy sometimes bad guy shows his true colors. The final chapter of years later wraps up the entire series and gives the reader a sense of finality.