Month: October 2007

Game Seven Live Blog (Kind Of)

I didn’t get this going until late in the game, but some baseball thoughts, wrapped around the last three innings of the Indians – Red Sox battle.

Games sevens rock. And this has been a fine one, full of momentum swings, close calls, blunders, and clutch plays. In the first third, it looked like the Red Sox would run away and hide. In the middle third, it seemed like the Sox couldn’t touch Jake Westbrook and it was only a matter of time before the Indians took the lead. Then, Dustin Pedroia of all people lights up Rafael Betancourt and we’ve got a 5-3 game in the 8th, with Jonathan Papelbon coming in to try to get a six out save and send the Sox to the World Series. So I’m going to be a bit distracted by this terrific drama. Also, I think I ate one too many brownies tonight, so my stomach is a little upset.

In the wake of the Joe Torre firing/not firing in New York, I’ve been thinking about how there really aren’t any great managers anymore. Torre was pretty mediocre until he had the biggest payroll in baseball. The Fox guys keep telling us that Terry Francona is a great manager. I think he’s decent, but great? Growing up in the 80s skews my thinking, though. In that era, we had Billy Martin, Sparky Anderson, Earl Weaver, Whitey Herzog. Some might even say Tommy Lasorda was a great manager, although they would be wrong. Outside of Tony Larussa, who in today’s game can match what those guys did? I wonder if it is because baseball teams are so similar these days, leaving little room for managers to distinguish themselves. Billy Ball, Whitey Ball, The Oriole Way, and Sparky’s style were all distinct ways of playing the game. Today, everyone bashes.

Papelbon gets out of the 8th with a very loud third out. Fenway is going nuts.

I have to admit, I hate Roger Clemens, but I love the AT&T commercial he’s in. He doesn’t seem the type who would be willing to make fun of himself.

I said back at the beginning of the season that I really wanted Daisuke Matsuzaka to work out so the Japanese methods of training pitchers might be adopted here. You can’t draw conclusions from just one season, but so far he’s not scoring any big points for dropping the Baby the Arms technique we’ve been using in the States for 20 years. It seems like the key difference is that in Japan, pitchers pitch only once a week, where here they go every fifth day. I wonder if, going deeper into his contract, they will find a happy medium of the rigorous off-day workouts they use in Japan and the lighter training that is used here.

Back to managers for a moment, I wonder what the average tenure of a manger was from 1970-1990 compared to the post-strike era. It seems like managers staying in one place for ages is rare anymore, with only Larussa and Torre doing it recently. Was it any more common back in the day, which made it easier to think a manager was “great”? Or, is it just that since that was the era of the Dynasty and this is the era of different champs each year, that it’s harder now to reach greatness?

Seriously, I can’t believe Kenny Lofton is still playing. He’s pretty much never played for a team that I like, so I’ve never liked him. But I’m starting to respect the fact a guy who was in the 1988 Final Four is still playing major league baseball.

6-2 Sox, Mike Lowell scores on a JD Drew single. Ever since Mike Lowell arrived in Boston two years ago, there’s been talk of getting rid of him. Dude had a monster year, is continuing that in the playoffs, and seems to be loved by the Red Sox faithful. I don’t know if the Sox will resign him, but he’s going to make a lot of money this winter. In fact, he’s probably going to pick up a lot of that money that Eric Gagne has lost for himself in the past two months.

It seems like, since Theo Epstein brought a World Series title to Boston in his second year as GM, that the media has bought into the idea that he’s a genius. But, he apparently tried to move Lowell a couple times last year, keeps making the wrong move at shortstop, and Coco Crisp’s ass is now on the bench. And JD Drew is always a question mark. He’s made some fine moves along the way, as well, but it’s not as if he hasn’t had more than his share of whiffs.

Hjonhnhy Peralta and Casey Blake just ran into each other and let an easy pop drop for a base hit. Didn’t these things used to happen TO the Red Sox instead of FOR them? I still remember how weird those last four games of the ’04 ALCS were, when every single break went the Sox way. Apparently they still have some karma they haven’t cashed in from those 86 years of deposits.

Buck has mentioned at least twice tonight that there were four inches of snow in Denver today. It’s supposed to get very chilly and rainy here later in the week and if I remember right, weather moves west to east. Wouldn’t it be ironic if it snowed in Boston rather than Denver for the World Series?

Dustin Pedroia clears the bases. 9-2 Sox. I think Tommy and Timmy and Bobby and Davey and Sully can all start getting wicked drunk. The Sox are going to the Series again. And New England people are going to be even harder to take, between Tom Brady and the Pats and the Sox.

Who pitches the 9th, now? Why use Papelbon up seven? I say Wakefield, for sentimental reasons, but I assume it’s anyone but Gagne. Seriously, might they take away his playoff share?

Youkilis goes deep. So much for terrific drama, this is turning into game seven of the 85 World Series: it’s really only fun if you love the Sox or hate the Indians. It’s kind of embarrassing otherwise.

Sox outscore Indians 30-5 (so far) in the last three games. Talk about responding to the pressure of being down 3-1. “You don’t want to get Terry Francona down 3-1!”

So I guess you do use Papelbon up nine runs. I guess Francona figures it’s better to get those three outs quickly and avoid having to get Beckett up if Wakefield or Lester gave up a few runs.

Coco Crisp is a defensive replacement. And he combed out the braids, which I think we can all agree is a very fine choice.

Is Mark Shapiro’s companion (wife? girlfriend? friend?) incapable of facial movement?

OK, I kidded, but Coco just made a phenomenal catch to end the game. Easy to let that ball drop, and not risk injury, up nine. But that’s a hell of a catch.

That’s it. I’m off to bed. Oh, one more thing: KU is #9 in the BCS. Rock Chalk, bitches.

Stupid Kid Tricks

It’s been awhile since I gave you a full update on the girls.

C. is full of new tricks. She learned, last week, how to remove her own shirt. I was sitting here in the office one day when she came walking in, sans shirt, with a big smile on her face, smacking her bare belly with her hands. I got the process on video the next day, but can’t get the video across from the camera for some reason. It’s pretty funny. Another day last week, she had her shirt off when she woke up in the morning. I went into M.’s room, and she too had her shirt off. What the heck is going on around here? I guess this warm October is getting to them.

C. has another highly annoying new trick. She likes to stick whatever is on her tray at meal times behind her head. At the end of each meal, her hair and neck along with the seatback are covered in whatever we fed her. It’s especially bad when we give her a bowl of something. Within 30 seconds, she’s placed the entire bowl against the back of her head. She even sticks her sippy cup back there and lets it just sit while she eats. Weird. Her vocabulary is getting bigger every day, but almost exclusively with S words, for some reason. She knows shoe, show, sister (which she says without moving her mouth, so it comes out like “shisher”), stairs, and sandbox. It’s fun to watch her understanding most of what we say, even if she can’t say it herself. Say, “Wanna go upstairs?” and she runs to the stairs and starts climbing. “Wanna brush your teeth?” and she jets to the sink. On the whole, the girls are really playing well together most of the time. M. tries to include C. in her little imaginary tales, which C. just does not get. But most moments find the two giggling and chasing each other. M. can get a little aggressive with C., generally in the form of pushing or pulling C. to get her to do what big sister wants. C. has learned that when this happens, big sister gets yelled at. From time-to-time, I’ll hear C. shrieking and run into the room and start yelling at M., only to find them standing three feet apart, M. with a confused look on her face and C. with an evil grin. She already knows how to work the parents. M. had her first pre-school parent-teacher conference last week. I didn’t go, as C. and I had a date at Gymboree, but S. reported that all is well with our oldest girl. The teacher described M. as a happy child, which is sure better than some of the other things you can be told. Her only complaint was that M. can be a bit stubborn, which made S. laugh. Can’t imagine where she got that from! Apparently when it comes time to pray before meals, M. refuses to put her hands together. Taking after the old man with her healthy distrust of organized religion! She does lag in some motor skills areas, but she is the youngest in her class so that’s not a surprise. She still loves school. She gets excited on Tuesdays and Thursdays when she wakes up and hears that after breakfast and a bath, she’s headed to school to see her friends. We can really see it making a positive difference in her personality and behavior. And her already active imagination has really taken off. Her big thing now is to make “pies,” which pretty much entails putting objects into some kind of container. That might be toys in Tupperware, or leaves and sticks into a bucket. After she has assembled her pie, she likes to say, “Dad, look at this beautiful pie I made for you.” I’m not sure if she got that from the Food Network, which she loves to watch, or from school. Regardless, every pie is beautiful to her. Isn’t that how life should be? I had shared awhile back that she had a bad case of the Whys. The Whys have gotten worse and become a serious bout of the Questions. Why is still her favorite question, but she’ll hit us up with follow-ups. “Why is that dog walking, Dad?” “Because it’s nice outside.” “Well, where did he come from?” Whatever response she gets is greeted with another Why. Hours of fun, let me tell you. She loves to put things off on others, even if she’s the only one around. Quite often at nap or bed time, she’ll stay awake and play for awhile. I’ll go up to tell her to quiet down and go to sleep and find all of her stuffed animals, pillows, and sheets on the ground. She’ll look at me in surprise and say in an equally surprised voice, “Dad! My duckie jumped off the bed and my sheets are on the bed too!” as if she had nothing to do with it. I can’t help but laugh when she does that.

World Has Been Rocked

The Colorado Rockies are in the World Series? Seriously? I must admit, I never thought I’d see that happen. To be honest, I didn’t actually <em>see</em> much of it, thanks to those 10 PM eastern starts. I caught a few innings here-and-there either at the beginning of games, or on the nights when my cough kept me awake and I went downstairs for awhile.

It’s a shame most of the country has missed their run, because it is one of the most remarkable runs in sports, ever. Pro sports teams just don’t run off 22 game stretches where they win 95% of the time. Especially when pretty much every game in that stretch has been do-or-die. At least we’ll get to appreciate them in the World Series, which means they’ll fall apart completely and America will wonder what the big deal was all about.

In the AL, the series is on the verge of becoming very good if you’re a true baseball fan. Although the Indians have won the past two games, the battles between Cleveland pitchers and Boston batters have been incredible. I love watching pitchers and batters match wits, with at bats lasting 10, 12, 15 pitches. If the Red Sox had to trail in the series, it makes sense that it comes down to the ultimate team guy, Tim Wakefield, to save their bacon tonight.

I’m having trouble finding a reason to root against Cleveland. Well, there is one big reason not to. The mascot. We can argue all day about the use of Native American mascots in sports (I think they’re wrong. “Honoring” them? Give me a break. So we stole their land, used horrible, crude methods of biological warfare to kill them off, broke nearly every treaty we ever signed with them, then relegated them to reservations that might as well have been in Third World countries guaranteeing most would never have an equal opportunity for success in life, then we “honor” them by naming sports teams after their noble, warrior spirits? Please.) but there is no defending using a big, red-faced Indian with a crazy grin on his face as a mascot. Aside from Chief Wahoo, the Indians might have the best uniforms in the league. I love the color scheme and options they use. But the big Chief needs to go. A few baseball blogs have been referring to the Cleveland ballclub as the Spiders, since that name was once used by the franchise. I dig that. A lot of cool options for logos and merchandising. They should make the change now.

I must admit, though, my favorite thing about the playoffs is Manny Ramirez. I think he’s the most misunderstood player in baseball. People tend to think he’s a clueless space cadet who only cares about himself. There’s certainly an element of truth to that, but I don’t think it gets to what he’s really all about.

First, he’s one of the greatest hitters I’ve ever seen. Even when he makes an out, you can see that he’s working hard to get the bat on the ball and put it in the right place on the field. There are all kinds of stories about how other players marvel at his approach to each at bat, how he has a plan for what he’s going to do on every single pitch. There are even stories, and I’m not sure if they’re apocryphal or not, about how he intentionally misses pitches in order to set the pitcher up to throw them again later in the game, or even later in the season. I love when Manny strolls around the batter’s box between pitches, looking up into the sky. I get the impression he’s either thinking, “Now this guy threw me a splitter away on this same count two months ago and got me looking. But, his splitter hasn’t been working tonight, so he’ll probably come with something fast inside since he’s gone with that pitch on 2-2 counts 75% of the time over the last six weeks in night games playing in relative humidities below 65%.” -or- “I like birds. Their chirping makes me happy. I think I’ll buy a bird tonight. When I get back to the dugout, I’ll ask Papi if he knows a good place to buy birds.”

What I really love about Manny, though, is his child-like enthusiasm. When things are going good, he seems genuinely happy, as child who is joyful when playing. I love the way he chats up other players while on the bases, clearly joking around with them. When he makes a catch in the outfield that is a little more difficult than it should have been, I love the sheepish grin he gives his teammates, and the pointing back at them when they acknowledge his effort as if to say, “You didn’t think I’d get that?” Even his celebratory admirations of his home runs make me laugh. When Barry Bonds is clearly preening and making sure he’s the center of attention, Manny, again, comes across like a kid. “Did you see what I just did? Isn’t that cool? Isn’t this fun?!” Instead of macho posturing, he brings the basic love of the game too many players lose while they’re making the transition from kid to adult. Cleveland might rock, but Manny definitely rocks.

Fives: One Hit Wonders

As if you needed proof I’m a bit off, one of my favorite things is to check out </span><span style=”font-family:Helvetica Neue;”><em>The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits</em></span><span style=”font-family:Helvetica Neue;”> from the library and then just flip through the pages, soaking up the trivia. I recently checked it out again and figured I would put it to some kind of use. Thus, I scribbled some notes about one hit wonders as well as bands/artists you might think were one hit wonders but in fact were not. I’ll be sharing the results of this intense research over the coming weeks. Here is my first list based upon it: my five favorite one hit wonders of all time.
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I did struggle with methodology a bit. Strictly speaking, a one-hit wonder is an artist that only had one charting single. But there are some bands that had songs that got decent airplay, yet never charted. Or perhaps charted on specialty lists, like the Modern Rock or R&#038;B charts, but never hit the top 40 (The Church is a fine example. “Under the Milky Way” was their only top 40 hit, but they had several other charting songs on the Modern Rock list.). So there is some randomness and inconsistency here.

5 – “Welcome to the Boomtown” David &#038; David, #37, 11/15/86. A very cool song that was probably a bit ahead of its time. It didn’t really fit into the mainstream rock world if 1986.
4 – “Don’t Disturb This Groove” The System, #4, 5/16/87. A classic pop/R&#038;B jam that reminds me of living in California and the spring.
3 – “Cars” Gary Numan. #9, 3/29/80. One of the greatest, if not the greatest, synthesizer songs ever.
2 – “Tainted Love” Soft Cell, #8, 5/22/82. I’ll admit, it’s still a great song even if it sounds a bit dated. But in the spring of 1982, it sounded like it was from a completely different time and place.
1 – “Do They Know It’s Christmas” Band Aid, #13, 1/5/85. The greatest modern Christmas song from a group made to be a one-hit wonder.

There’s plenty more one-hit wonder madness to come.

Turning The Corner -or- An Ode To The Big Man

Of course, I must gush about my 5-0 Jayhawks. I hold no grudge against those who withheld judgement until KU “played somebody.” That was certainly fair. In fact, I was doing it myself, although I remained cautiously optimistic going into Saturday’s game at K-State. I just had no idea how we would match-up with a team that just waxed Texas in Austin after four weeks of cream-filled pastries.

So the game was on here, which was fun. I about scared the crap out of poor C. when Dexton Fields raced 30 yards for the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. Then, I nearly dropped her from my lap, appropriately enough, after Derek Fine let a sure touchdown bounce off of his hands a few moments later. But overall, it was fun, and that’s not something we KU fans get to say much during football season.

In the glow after the game, several things occurred to me. First, the change at offensive coordinator in the off-season was a great move. Actually doing things to confuse the defense instead of running the same ten plays out of the same five sets? How radical! Is that Urban Meyer on the sideline, calling all those wacky plays? Second, whether it’s the OC change, or some change with Mark Mangino, the in-game decision making seems much better this year. KU lost six games last year. In four of those, they had the lead in the fourth quarter. In each of those four games, the loss was augmented by some coaching decisions that were curious at best and downright dreadful at worst. I totally disagreed with the decision to go for it on 4th and one in the fourth quarter rather than taking the cheap three points, but I understood it. My thoughts may have been clouded by Glen Mason refusing to kick field goals in Manhattan in 1991 and 1993 and losing each game by less than three points. Not that I remember and remain bitter about stuff like that or anything.

What I appreciated most is that Mark Mangino may have finally built what I’ve always wanted out of KU’s football program: the ability to compete in every game. Hey, I grew up going to games in the 80s when, with a few exceptions, KU was generally a huge underdog every Saturday. My goals are fairly modest. By the time I got to college, Mason was changing things, and we even had a few good years in there. But it seemed like we always had a valley coming right after the peak. The Terry Allen years nearly destroyed the program. I’ve admired what Mangino did in getting three bowl eligible teams in four years, but I wondered, after last year, if he was the man to take the program to the next level: where six wins are expected rather than hoped for, and a few breaks can get you playing in a bowl game people have actually heard of.

On Saturday, perhaps for the first time in my life as a KU football fan, I saw a team that was solid at every single position. Maybe not spectacular across the board, but there didn’t seem to be any guys you absolutely did not want near the ball. Too often we’ve either had a great defense and a shitty offense, vice versa, or a few really good players mixed in with some guys who should have been playing at a D2 school. Mangino has been criticized some for not getting huge wins in recruiting. While his methodology may be different, he strikes me as a college football version of Billy Beane. No, he’s not paying his players less than his competitors! Rather, he understands what he needs at each position on his team, and finds guys who can fill those roles. Whether they are four-star recruits or two doesn’t matter, as long as they’re willing to work hard and commit to the team’s goals. Where Glen Mason gambled on blue chippers that were academic question marks (Dana Stubblefield, Gilbert Brown, June Henley, and LT Levine to name three) and elite programs backed away from was a high-risk, high-reward strategy, Mangino’s seems far more stable in the long-run. I was struck Saturday by how young this year’s team is. Although next year’s schedule is brutal (A trip to South Florida plus games with OU, Texas, and Texas Tech), this isn’t a team that is going to be gone because of graduation after this season.

I know there’s a lot of football to be played. It would be very-KU to crap the bed against Baylor at home next week. But for now, we can revel in the fact we’re undefeated, ranked, a win away from bowl eligibility in early October, and have a favorable schedule going forward. Suddenly, it feels a lot like 1995, that heady year when amazing things happened and for a couple months, we messed around in and near the top ten.

Mangino’s taken a lot of shit for his physical appearance, blow-ups, and propensity to blow games in the fourth quarter. I think he deserves some credit for creating a plan that creates a winning program, not just an occasional winning season.

And now KU and MU fans get to ponder whether we root for each other for the next six weeks so that the season-ending battle at Arrowhead is about a whole lot more than just bragging rights.

Top Five Albums: OK Computer

I must admit, this is a terrifically difficult album for me to write about. First, a ton has already been written about it, and I always fear that I’m simply regurgitating things I’ve read elsewhere. Second, I find myself attempting to “solve” the album each time I listen to it. It’s a bit like The Wall, in that sense. As I’ve had it on heavy rotation over the past two weeks, I have to catch myself from over-analyzing what a drum roll here, a sigh there, or an oddly placed noise is symbolic of. So, rather than a pure essay, I’ll break OK Computer down to its finest components for the bulk of my review.
Why is OK Computer my second favorite album ever?

1 It has one of the all-time great Track Ones. “Airbag” sets the tone for the entire album: it’s a complex, layered, confusing song that has beautiful moments set against others that are terrifying. The album is about being unsettled, and that mood is set in the very first measure of its opening track.
2 It contains the best song of the 1990s, “Karma Police.” From Thom Yorke sneering “This is what you get, when you mess with us,” to his admission that “For a minute there, I lost myself,” it sounds straight out of something Orwell would have written. When the song dissolves into a screeching tone from Ed O’Brien’s guitar, it sounds both like someone losing their mind perhaps, or like a modem (Remember those? It was 1997, after all) gone haywire.
3 The middle triplet of “Exit Music (For a Film),” “Let Down,” and “Karma Police,” stands up to any three consecutive songs on any album ever. The mood of the album changes from anger “We hope that you choke,” in “Exit Music” to submission “Let down and hanging around, crushed like a bug on the ground,” on “Let Down,” to a fascistic defiance on “Karma Police.” It’s not rock and roll; it’s opera.
4 The throw-away song fits the overall concept perfectly. “Fitter Happier,” a list of slogan and phrases uttered by Thom Yorke’s Mac at first seems like something Pearl Jam was doing in the mid-90s: putting a horrible song or two in the middle of the good stuff just because they could (Think of “Pry To,” “Bugs,” and “Hey Foxymophandlemama, That’s Me,” on Vitalogy). However, as OK Computer reveals itself, “Fitter Happier” suddenly makes perfect sense.
5 Finally, mirroring “Airbag” at the open, “The Tourist” is one of the all-time classic closing tracks. It is a beautiful, heartbreaking plea for people to take the time to appreciate life and reclaim their individuality in the process. “Hey, man, slow down. Idiot, slow down. Slow down.”

As I wrote earlier, I view OK Computer as a bookend to the 1990s with Achtung Baby on the other side. Where U2 was writing about the possibilities and promise an era of peace offered, only five years later Radiohead were saying that all those promises had been left behind as the world became more corporate, more homogenized, and more overwhelming. The individual was being buried under an avalanche of information, corporate messaging, and cultural imperialism. Technology, rather than improving our lives, was speeding the world up to the point where our minds could no longer process everything thrown our way. Several of the songs devolve into layers of sounds that are barely distinguishable as component parts. I’ve always taken those moments to be Radiohead’s representation of that information flood: the sounds of our minds overloading and shutting down. In its darkest moments, OK Computer speaks of a world where we’ve all shut down, given in, and become slaves to the things that were supposed to set us free.

Another admission: as I’ve listened to it over-and-over during the past couple weeks, I came to the realization that the gap between #1 and #2 on my list is quite small. In fact, I could say OK Computer is, in fact, 1B. If you bought me enough drinks and got me talking about it for awhile, I might even admit that it’s a better album than London Calling. I keep it at #2, though, for two reasons. First, The Clash is my all-time favorite group. Politics are involved, here! Second, London Calling’s influence is unquestioned. I’m not sure what place OK Computer has in determining how the music that came, and will come, after it sounds. Great album, yes. Influencial? I do not know.

OK Computer is a masterful album. It has a strong thematic core supported by excellent lyrics, amazing music, and wonderful production. Thom Yorke’s voice takes you to highly emotional places and then the rest of the band forces you into an even more charged state. Many bands attempt to make an album like OK Computer. Most fail. Thank goodness Radiohead came through for us.

Where Did The Week Go?

I’m not sure what happened to this week. Seriously, it seems like it was just Sunday night and I had grand plans for a bunch of blog posts, a bunch of projects around the house, and so on, and here I am on Friday having accomplished little if any of that. That’s what a cold going through the house will do, I guess.

So, hopefully lots to come next week. Favorite album #2 will be posted for sure.

I will leave you with an admission of a 70s song that, somehow, got stuck in my head and I had to break down and purchase it this afternoon. Thing is, I have no idea why. I didn’t hear it anywhere. It just appeared. So, a raise of hands, how many people remember the Bellamy Brothers #1 hit from 1976, “Let Your Love Flow”? <em>”Just let your love flow, like a mountain stream. And let your love flow, with the smallest of dreams…” </em> Come on, you remember!

Go ‘Hawks!

Now Playing: <strong>Let Your Love Flow</strong> from the album “The Bellamy Brothers: Greatest Hits, Vol. 1″ by <a href=”http://www.google.com/search?q=%22The%20Bellamy%20Brothers%22”>The Bellamy Brothers</a>

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