Month: July 2017 (Page 1 of 2)

Friday Playlist

“Dog” – Widowspeak. I swear I already shared this but don’t see it in past posts. Just in case, it’s good enough to share twice. Moody, gorgeous dream pop.

“Covered Wagon” – Lo Tom. Heavy summertime music.

“Motion Sickness” – Phoebe Bridgers. Ryan Adams has called her the next Dylan. He’s not totally unbiased; Bridgers records on his label. But this song is certainly a stunner.

“Everybody Knows” – Partner. Good, clean, pot-referencing fun from this Canadian duo. Their sound harkens back to the 90s before everybody got so serious.

“Long Hot Summer” – The Style Council. Required listening as the Dog Days creep up on us.

Friday Links

Going back to the Friday Links method for one week, as I have three baseball-related links to share and bundling them seemed like a good idea.

First, Will Leitch has been one of the national writers who most appreciated the Royals’ recent run of success. Perhaps that’s because, although he is a lifelong Cardinals fan, he is also a child of the Midwest and understands what the last 32 years have been like for Royals fans.

Monday he wrote about where the Royals stand, where they seem to be headed, and how he approves.

Let’s Stay Together: KC Makes a Run

Funny how quickly things can change. My wishy washiness is long gone. That’s what eight-straight wins will do.

Second, when I was a kid I would spend part of each summer with my grandparents in central Kansas. Each night we watched the local, ten o’clock news together. And each night in late July we heard scores reported from the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita. I never knew what level of baseball NBC was, nor did my (maternal) grandparents who were only the most casual of sports followers. But I always thought it was cool that teams from Hutchinson and Liberal were competing against teams from Arizona, Alaska, Massachusetts, and other widely scattered locations.

I now know that NBC is summer ball for college-aged players, draws teams from the vaunted Cape Cod and Alaskan leagues, and that the Kansas teams play in the second-tier Jayhawk League. Barry Bonds played in Hutchinson, KS in 1984. Albert Pujols, Rafael Palmeiro, Roger Clemens, Trevor Hoffman, and Ron Guidry are among other legends who spent part of their summers in small Kansas towns playing ball.

A few weeks back a Royals blogger I follow in Twitter retweeted something from the Hays Larks, his hometown. I thought that was cool, as I lived in Hays the first five years of my life. I did some digging and found that there is a new Jayhawk League team in Great Bend, my dad’s hometown and a place I usually spent part of my Kansas vacation in with his parents. I started following the team and they not only made it to the World Series, but are now a win away from advancing to championship week. Pretty cool.

While looking for info about the Jayhawk League and NBC World Series, I came across this essay from a former player. It’s not all that well written, but kind of an interesting read anyway.

Fields of Dreams: My Summer of Baseball In The Jayhawk League

Finally, it’s been another extraordinary week in the history of our Republic. It’s a shame I can’t be unbiased or uncaring about things and take a step back and marvel at the amazing events of the past five days without getting worked up about the consequences.

Joe Posnanski writes about an old baseball cliche – how home runs kill rallies – to distill that argument to what it really is. And in his final paragraph, he adroitly connects it to the state of our nation.

Rally Killing With Homers

Catch Up

It’s been a busy few days.

Going back to last week, our friends the R’s visited from KC for a long lake weekend. They met us down there Friday afternoon and stayed through lunchtime Sunday. As a lot of you know, the R’s have two boys and they’ve not spent a ton of time with our girls. So we really weren’t sure how that would all go. Our concerns were without need, because after a few moments of awkwardness, they all got along famously. They entertained themselves which gave us parents lots of time to hang out together and catch up, which was excellent.

Crazy that we only have two more lake weekends left this summer.

Monday was kickball day. We closed registration on Friday and Monday was my day to divide up all the teams. Four of the grades have a single team, so they were easy. But the other two I had to take the results from our last round of evaluations and do my best to make even teams. This was much easier than last year, when we didn’t have any evaluations to work with, but still involved a lot of adjustments until I had them where I wanted them to be.

And then a lot of emailing. To coaches, to the parish office, to league officials, to parents. Then making adjustments in our management system. For a day it was like I had a real job again!

I think things turned out pretty well. The hard part is I can create two 5th grade teams that are 100% equal in terms of talent, but then one team will get put in a very difficult division and the other will get put in an easier division, and suddenly it won’t look like the teams are all that even. I shared with the parents how I got to the final rosters, so hopefully there won’t be any complaining.

All three of our girls are playing. M’s team again seeking that elusive city championship. C’s grade is an interesting mix: there are some really good players at the top,[1] and then a lot of really weak players. The in-between players are kids with talent who need to learn how to focus a little better. Both of those teams could either be really good or kind of suck, it all depends which direction those middle girls go. And L’s team is going to be a trip. It’s their first year of playing, so they have a lot to learn. Third grade games are brutal because no one can play defense, and you end up having 90 minutes of 20-run innings back-and-forth. We’ve done some summer pickup games and there are a few girls on her team that are going to be good from the first day.[2] We have a couple girls who don’t seem to be afraid of the ball, which is a huge bonus in the field. We’ll see how it all shakes out.

And then we watched my 14-month-old nephew from Tuesday evening through yesterday afternoon while my sister-in-law helped run an event downtown. The last time we watched him for an extended period was in April, when he was just getting mobile. Now he’s walking which made it a little more challenging to keep him corralled. Fortunately he’s a really sweet kid and was no trouble at all. He slept great overnight, took a good morning nap, but wouldn’t nap in the afternoon. That was about the only negative in the 24 hours we had him.

L and I tried to teach him how to play Nerf basketball in her room. When he would get the ball, I would stretch out my arms and say, “M! Pass me the ball!” He would walk over, grab my hand, then turn his body and try to sit on my lap and hug me. I told his mom we need to work on his will to win a little bit. Although the hugs were nice.

Some schools in the area started fall classes today. Our girls are two weeks away from their first day. Once we get M home this weekend we’ve got some work to do on our Summer To Do lists before the school year kicks off.

  1. C is in this group. If she wasn’t so goofy and giggly, she could be the best player in her grade. I kind of like her being a top 4 player and spazzy, though. At least I know she’s having fun that way.  ↩
  2. Again, including her.  ↩

A Whole New Ballgame: 13

Well, here we are: the teenage years.

Holy shit!

Thirteen years ago this morning M came into the world, full of drama from the start. It’s a cliche to say something like “and that day, my life changed forever.” But, really, what else can you say? Marriage is a big change in your life. But S and I had also been together three years when we got married. There were some adjustments that came with not having our own apartments anymore. Yet life wasn’t really that different and we knew what we were getting into.

Nothing prepares you for kid number one, though. Every single aspect of your life gets turned completely upside-down. That was even more dramatic for me as M’s birth was the moment I took a big left turn with my career as well. When you add that in, you can argue M’s birth was the biggest moment of my adult life.

She would love having that level of importance.

So who is M at 13? We haven’t noticed any major changes in her personality, attitude, or behavior yet. Sure, she’s moody and emotional and will spend entire days in her room if we don’t force her to come out. If frustrating, that’s still all normal and expected. When motivated, she still gets all wound up about the things that have always wound her up. When we went down to pick C up from camp two weeks ago, M spent two-straight hours talking to me about every single detail of the camp that she remembered from last summer. That kid has always loved to talk. Even though she has grumpy stretches of silence these days, she’ll still talk the life out of you if given the right stimulus.

She is smart – really smart when she wants to be – but often lacks motivation to really use her smarts. That drives me crazy, mostly because it reminds me of myself at her age. She is – as I was – capable of getting straight A’s. But neither of us has the full commitment to do it, slacking off in subjects that don’t interest us completely. Like me she has the uncanny ability to call up detailed memories from long ago. If only she/I could have harnessed that skill for academics!

She’s still loud and obnoxious at times. But she’s also full of life when she’s in a good mood. You want her to tone it down about 10%, but you’re also thrilled that she finds so much excitement in things and wants to share that excitement with others.

She doesn’t have a lot of super close friends, which has always concerned us a little. But, also, she seems to be casual friends with all the girls in her class, from the most to least popular. Every few months it’ll seem like she’s gravitated toward a new friend she talks about most. But there’s never the one friend she wants to hang out with every weekend. Which, at this stage in life, could be a blessing.

Speaking of camp, like last year this will be a quiet birthday in the house because she is at camp. She’s looking forward to the traditional CYO camp birthday celebration: getting thrown into the creek. Although she would be quick to say you don’t actually get thrown in the creek. “You just lay down and they splash you.”

So here we go, with the most fun part of parenting a daughter. The fun has already started, of course. It’s not like some fairy appears on their 13th birthday, waves a magic wand and unleashes the hormones and moods and super dramas that are going to dominate her life for the next decade. But the number does feel like a big change to me. She’s not a kid anymore. She’s not a pre-teen anymore. She’s begun the transition into being a young lady.

Which doesn’t seem possible, 13 years under her belt or not.

Friday Playlist

“Little Guitars (Intro)”
“Little Guitars”
“Best of Both Worlds”
– Van Halen
Every summer, around this time, I spend an afternoon listening to Van Halen’s Diver Down and 5150 albums. Those two albums, representing the DLR and Hagar sides of classic VH, have always screamed summer to me. I didn’t get Diver Down until the summer of ’84, months after buying 1984 and nearly two years after its initial release. So it was a big part of the greatest music summer of my life. I bought 5150 while in St. Louis in July, 1986. Soon after I bought every Van Halen album I didn’t already own and spent the month of August listening to all the band’s albums over-and-over, with 5150 getting a little extra attention since it was the new album. Thursday was my Van Halen day for this summer. It was a good day.

Here are a couple fine songs from each album. For all the Sammy haters out there, “Best of Both Worlds” has a strong claim to best VH song ever. It’s not better than “Panama,” but it’s not too far down the list.

“Strangest Thing” – The War on Drugs
Back in mid-June, music writer Steven Hyden teased his Twitter followers, saying his favorite song of 2017 was on an album that wasn’t coming out for a few months, and that he hoped it was released as a single so he could Tweet about it 27 times. Tuesday at 2:00 I got an email from Warner Brothers Music saying that since I had pre-ordered the next War on Drugs album, I could download their new single, “Strangest Thing.” Moments later Hyden tweeted that this was the song he was talking about. He didn’t quite hit the 27-Tweet threshold, but he did carry on for a bit.

Preceded by two epic singles and arriving with the label of best song of the year by my favorite music writer, there was no pressure on this track when I listened to it for the first time. None at all.

Honestly I think Hyden undersold it. Holy-freaking-good-lord is this a great song! The War on Drugs has made some incredible songs over the years. This very well might be the greatest thing they’ve ever done. It’s a solid four-star song up until the 4:25 mark. When the drums beat a little louder, you know something huge is about to happen. And then Adam Granduciel drops the biggest goddam guitar solo of the last 20 years and it turns into something legendary. I’ve only listened to this about 500 times over the past three days. I could write 3000 words about it, but I think I’ll save the rest for December.

Yeah, go ahead and slot this in as my favorite song of the year. Unless they have something even more incredible tucked away on the album.

“Ring of Fire” – Johnny Cash.
My man E$ and his family are coming to visit this weekend, so this is in honor of him. Perhaps if I get him to drink enough beers he’ll stand on a chair and dance to this song at some point.

“Safety Dance” – Men Without Hats.
Speaking of E$ favorites…

Reader’s Notebook, 7/19/17

Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic – Jason Turbow
I teased this one awhile back when I mentioned I was roaring through an awesome book. I started it on a Monday afternoon and wrapped it up before lunch on Wednesday. It was that good!

Turbow looks at one of the iconic dynasties in baseball: the Swingin’ Oakland A’s of the early 1970s. The team, which featured Reggie Jackson, Joe Rudi, Sal Bando, Bert Campaneris, Vida Blue, Blue Moon Odom, Ken Holtzman, Rollie Fingers, and primary manager Dick Williams, was one of the great collections of both talent and personalities in big league history. They also were the first team to win three-straight World Series since the Yankees of the 1940s and 1950s.

Turbow dives into how the team came together, how they learned to become winners, and how they battled each other as often as their opponents. Most notably, after clinching their first pennant in 1972, Vida Blue and Blue Moon Odom had a full-on fistfight in the locker room as their teammates celebrated and the media looked on. That was par for the course for the A’s. He also highlights how all the teams they beat over the years – the Orioles, the Reds, the Mets, the Dodgers – refused to give the A’s credit, adding to the attitude the team played with.

But the book isn’t just about the players or the games. A huge focus is on the team’s owner, Charles O. Finley, the man who took the team from Kansas City to Oakland and turned them into winners. Finley loved the spotlight, loved drinking, and loved battling baseball’s orthodoxy. He was also loathe to accept responsibility for his failings, looked for scapegoats at every opportunity, and loved to litigate. He was a brilliant yet exceptionally flawed man. Moving to Kansas City in 1980 I followed the local media’s gleeful coverage as a desperate Finley sought to sell his A’s when he could no longer afford to own the team. I still think he was a jackass – more because of how he treated people and his Trump-like qualities of never accepting blame – but can also appreciate the positive changes he brought to the game.

This is a top-notch baseball book. Expertly researched and well written.

The Harder They Come – T.C. Boyle.
Here is a tougher book to nail down.

It begins with a retired American couple – the Stensons from California – vacationing in Costa Rica. While taking an excursion into the country’s interior, their tour group is accosted by armed thieves. Sten Stenson, a former Marine, kills one of the attackers and saves the group. He returns to the states a hero, but quickly grows weary of all the attention.

Back in Northern California, Stenson’s son, Adam, is a self-styled, modern mountain man and meets a Sara, a woman who doesn’t believe in the legitimacy of the US government. Both Sara and Adam are soon pulled into conflicts with local government officials, which soon spin into much larger conflicts due to Adam’s mental illness.

The story is loosely based on that of Aaron Bassler, who led law enforcement on month-long manhunt through Northern California in 2011.

At it’s core, the book is about how we perceive and desire freedom, and how there is an inevitable clash between the freedoms of individuals and those of society as a whole. It is taught, veers off in unexpected angles, and has wonderfully flawed characters. All that said, it’s not a book I loved. I don’t know why, but I kept waiting for there to be a slice of humor or irreverence injected into the story. When it never came, I grew a little frustrated with the book. But that’s on me, not the book itself. And I think this is a book I may look back upon more fondly after I think about it for a bit longer.

R’s: Uh Oh

I was worried this would happen.

The Royals were the second-hottest team in baseball in the six weeks leading up to the All-Star Break. They were playing really good baseball and were in the heart of both the Wild Card race and the AL Central. Suddenly not only were the Royals keeping all their free agents to-be until the end of the season, but they might just be kicking the tires on a pitcher or hitter to add for the stretch.

Then they got swept in their final three games before the break. Sure, that series was in LA, against the Dodgers, the hottest team in baseball. But getting swept was a bad way to end the first half. Given how this season began, I got worried it was a sign the hot streak was over. Would the four days off erase all the Royals momentum and with it the hopes that the championship core had one more run in them?

They stretched the losing streak to five before getting a lucky win Sunday. Then they got pummeled but Detroit on Monday, with ace Jason Vargas getting hammered for his second-straight start. The offense suddenly looks more like its April iteration than the June one. The DH spot is a disaster. Alex Gordon seems unsalvageable. Lorenzo Cain has looked terrible for two weeks. Injuries keep popping up.

Still, they’re only three back in the Central and two back in the Wild Card race.

With the trading deadline less than two weeks away the Royals are in a tough spot. Do they move someone from their depleted minor league system for a DH that can actually put the ball in play, or someone who can throw 5–6 decent innings every fifth day? Does Raul Mondesi have any value and do you risk moving him to get someone who can help this year?

I think if you have an opportunity to make the post-season you go for it. The problem is the trend lines aren’t great. Who says that moving Mondesi and a couple other prospects will be enough? It’s not like 2015, when the Royals were firmly in control of the division and had their eyes on plugging holes for October when they acquired Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist. Those were very good and reasonable gambles. When you’re about to begin a large rebuilding process, do you move bodies you’re going to need next year and the year after for ones that will help you for just two-plus months?

My biggest fear is the Royals get stuck in the middle. I’d almost rather them fall apart completely than muddle along and stay 4–6 games back, treading water. I don’t know if Dayton Moore will start moving guys if the Royals go 1–9 over their next 10, but at least that gives him cover if he decides to. Sitting right around .500 on July 29 makes it tough either way.

They have nine games against Detroit and the White Sox before they go to Boston next weekend. I really think they need to break off a 6–3 stretch if they want to be honest about having hopes for October. If they reverse that, and go 3–6, Moore has to be honest about what this team is capable of. And if there’s a decent offer out there for Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, or one of the other guys who will leave this off-season, he needs to jump on it. He hasn’t had great luck with high draft picks, so I’d almost rather him acquire players with minor league track records than get a bunch of extra picks in next year’s draft.

I realize that’s all kind of wishy washy. What I really want is 10 more weeks of these guys playing decent ball. I’m fine if they come up short. But I want to see Lorenzo, Eric, and Moose go out strong.

Pinching the Weekend

What was supposed to be a relaxing weekend got a little weird. All thanks to sleeping strangely, or something simple and dumb like that.

A few times a year I get a pinched nerve in my neck. It’s usually the result of sleeping on my stomach too much. Which is a problem because I prefer to sleep on my stomach. Anyway, sometimes these episodes are particularly powerful, and this weekend was one of those occasions. Strong pain through my neck, upper back, and left arm got in the way of my having very much fun on our weekend at home.

We did have brunch on Saturday morning at a cool little spot, then hit a couple hipster stores around the corner. By the time we got home, I could barely move my neck so I went for the muscle relaxers. I don’t do well with muscle relaxers, so that’s a sign of how uncomfortable I was. Sure enough, I dropped off to sleep about 20 minutes after taking one, and when I woke was groggy for the rest of the day and evening. I took another at bedtime thinking that would knock me out, I’d wake up in the morning refreshed and ready to go.

I got half my wish: it knocked me out alright. I slept straight through from 9:45 to 7:10, rolled over and looked at the clock, then went back to sleep for another hour. When I got up I felt like garbage. Drowsy, a little dizzy, and just plain out of it. Damn muscle relaxers! My sensitive system clearly can’t take them.

We went to a birthday brunch for one of my sisters in law, and I kind of muddled through that. When the rest of the family headed north to our nephew’s county fair parade, I returned home and sat on the couch watching TV and reading and trying to stay awake for four hours. I knocked out a couple episodes of Better Call Saul and about 50 pages of the book I’m reading, so it wasn’t a total loss. And my neck was feeling better. But I missed the fair, which I both always enjoy and is a great picture taking location.

Fortunately I woke this morning feeling close to normal again. All the after effects of the meds seem to be gone. My neck isn’t 100% pain-free, but neither is it keeping me from doing normal things.

Pinched nerves. Another chapter I should have included in my “getting older sucks” post from my birthday.

Friday Photo

Fujifilm X-T2, XF35mmF2 R WR, 1/500 second at f/3.2, ISO 200
My niece’s toes peeking down the slide before she mustered the courage to push off. Once she hit the section of the slide that was in sunlight, she kept saying, “HOT! HOT! HOT!”

Friday Playlist

“Never Been Wrong” – Waxahatchee. After several months of teasing single, Katie Crutchfield’s third solo album is finally out, and is receiving rave reviews. Based on the early songs, I’ve really been looking forward to it. And, after one listen, it really delivers. One of the best albums of the year so far.

“Dean’s Room” – Allison Crutchfield. I ignored Katie’s twin sister’s album – released back in January – because I didn’t love the first single. I the album a listen earlier this week and it’s pretty great, too. There’s a lot of talent in that family!

“The Gold” – Manchester Orchestra. I’ve ebbed and flowed with this band, loving some of their stuff and then not enjoying their music. They seem to have dialed the drama back a bit, and this is a really good song. The early buzz for their next album is quite positive.

“Westside” – Ratboys. Another album I’ve been spinning a lot over the past week, the Ratboys combine classic, mid-90s alt-rock with a hint of alt-country and come up with a very pleasing sound.

“Rain” – The Cult. 

Getting pretty sick of rain around here. Three inches in less than an hour last night flooded the entire north side of Indy. Right outside our neighborhood the water was measured at eight inches deep. Fortunately we’re on a bit of a rise and everything drains away from our house. And unlike the 2003 Labor Day flood our street didn’t flood. So no pushing S’s car around the corner to our driveway after she tried to drive through the backed up water a block away. Maybe Ian Astbury’s 1980s brilliance can help dry it out here for awhile.

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