Friday, June 27, 2008
What a great place this used to be to drink in. I probably won't be able to afford a whiskey sour in whatever takes its place. . . .
Monday, June 23, 2008
We've lost a great one. . .
Sad news for me this morning: comedian George Carlin has died at age 71.
George and I went way back. On the cusp of my teenage years, which coincided with the convergence of the final years of "Golden Age" vaudevillians (Marx Brothers, Jack Benny, Henny Youngman, etc.) and the emergence of a new hip set of comedians (David Steinberg, Freddie Prinze, Robert Klein, among them), Carlin's "AM&FM" LP was one of the first record albums I purchased. This was back in 1972, when Carlin was making the transition from a straight-laced performer to a hippy persona that really made his career.
One of the first LP's I ever bought. .
"AM&FM" was Carlin's farewell to a more traditional stand-up presentation. His next album, "Class Clown," was notorious for the "Seven Words you Can't Say on Television" . It was pretty ground-breaking for the era. The routine brought "blue" language--previously the domain of guys like Lenny Bruce and Redd Foxx--into the mainstream. Remember, this was 1972: a brief era when the old-guard was hanging it up and only a few years before "Saturday Night Live" took to the airwaves. Cable television's expanse of channels was still in the future, and the best gig a comedian could get on TV was to land a spot on the Carson show. Concidentally, Carlin was the guest host on the premiere of SNL, which at the time was merely called "Saturday Night."
Carlin in 1972 was a long-haired hippy freak, no doubt about it, cracking jokes about sex and dope and I was oblivious to most of it. His delivery, though, was still traditional in the sense that is featured bits reliant on impressions and voice characterizations. As Carlin matured, so did his approach to comedy, evolving into the social commentary and observation popular by the generation of comedians after him, like Jerry Seinfeld, Lewis Black, and in a freaky way, Steven Wright.
There were those--my wife among them--who felt that Carlin's prodigious use of profanity in his performance diminished the impact of the rest of his words. I didn't agree--if anything, his liberal use of fucks, motherfuckers, and cocksuckers actually helped take an edge off words that were, after all, just words. Strangely enough, he also was the narrator on "Thomas The Tank Engine" from 1991-1994. He was a helluva lot better than Ringo Starr as "Mr. Conductor."
George Carlin was way out in front of exposing the fear-mongering that goes on in this country by politicians and the media, and in ridiculing how life in the United States has essentially become an existance defined by consumerism, religious fraud, marketing, and lies. His specials for HBO were something to be looked forward to. While M. would work on her computer in the next room, I'd be in front of the television laughing my ass off.
Carlin's last HBO special was "It's Bad For Ya," taped in March of this year. His performance seemed flat, the spark gone, and just didn't have the angry edge of outrage his earlier specials did. Carlin just looked old.
He'd hate me for saying this, given his dislike of religion, but God bless you, George. Rest easy, you old motherfucker.
Speaking of Fear-Mongering. . . someone at work posted a call to all good Americans to boycott gasoline sold by oil companies that purchase crude from Saudi Arabia. Instead, we should spend our hard-earned bucks fattening only the pockets of companies that use non-Saudi oil. . .companies, the posting said, like Wal-Mart, which gets its oil from Arkansas (well, that's what it seemed like it was saying!). Oh, and we should boycott Venezuela, as well. Just because.
The super-patriot who posted this plea reasoned that since Saudi Arabia was "boycotting" products made in the US of A, we should boycott their oil. Yep, they're boycotting. . .what exactly do we make in this country anymore? Oh, weapons systems? Last time I looked, the Saudis were still keeping our good ol'American defense contractors in business.
I'm sure the good consumers of China and India, among the rest of the world, will be happy to purchase whatever we don't buy.
Just goes to prove that people are largely stupid in this country.
Sunday, June 22, 2008
Kinda like our beloved Texas Rangers. A month ago, the Rangers were on the tail end of a hot streak, salvaging a horrendous start to a baseball season that found them a .333 (9-18) before going 13-4 through May 17 to return to .500 baseball for the first time since April 11. Since then, they've been rolling the boulder up the mountain. . .and watching it roll back again. . .over and over and over again. How many times has the boulder gone up the mountain? The Rangers have been at .500 thirteen times since then, going only one game above the even mark two times--May 31 and June 11--before the boulder rolls right back down.
What's holding them back? Why can't they break through this barrier of .500 baseball and make a sustained effort into the win column?
I'll give you a hint: it ain't the hitting.
Offensively, the Texas Rangers are the best team in the American League--and in many cases, all of professional baseball-- in several categories. Bring out the gimp with the stats, please:
- The Rangers lead the AL in team batting average at .280 and are second among all MLB teams, only to the Cubs. . .
- lead all major league baseball in number of at-bats. . .
- lead both league in number of runs scored, 424 (the Cubs, at 411, lead the NL) . . .
- lead both leagues in number of hits, 757 (ahead of the Cubs, best in the NL, at 745; and Red Sox, second in the AL with 734). . .
- lead all baseball in number of doubles, and are second in the AL number of home runs. . .
- lead both leagues in number of RBI's with 406 (second are the NL cubs, with 389; the Red Sox are second in the AL, ten percentage point behind with 366!). . .
- have hit into double plays the second-fewest times in the AL (behind only Baltimore). . .
- are second in AL On Base Percentage behind only the Red Sox (.350 vs. .355). . .
- lead the MLB in slugging percentage (.456; the NL-leading Marlins and AL Red Sox are tied for second at .450). . .
- and lead the majors in the all-important OPS percentage, at .807 (a shade above the Red Sox and Cubs, tied at .805 ).
Given the above, you'd think the Rangers would be leading their league, up there in the ol' Cat Bird Seat breathing the rarified air with the Red Sox and Cubbies. Hell, we should be talkin' pennant race!
Hold onto your pin-striped seat.
Lets look at the, um, pitching:
- The Rangers have the highest Earned Run Average in the AL, 4.97 (the Pirates stink up the NL at 5.02). . .
- they've given up the second-highest number of hits in the majors, 761 (behind only the Twins with 768). . .
- allowed the most runs in both leagues, 435 (far out-distancing the NL leaders, Pirates, with 406). . .
- allowed the most Earned Runs in the AL, with 378 (ahead of only one NL team, those putrid Pirates). . .
- walked more batters than any other team in MLB (315). . .
- are 27th of 30 MLB teams in number of strikeouts pitched. . .
- are tied for first in the MLB with those Pirates for most hits and walks allowed per inning, with 1.57 (worse even than the Mariners' 1.50 ratio). . .
- and are second in the AL behind the Twins for highest batting average allowed with .282.
I'm sure there are more telling statistics, but you get the picture. The pitching is holding these guys down. I'm sure hoping against hope that Sidney Ponson, off to a great start with the Rangers before being released for fighting among his teammates, is an utter failure with his new club, the New York Yankees. If Ponson shines and the Rangers continue to stay barely even due to the pitching, I'll guarantee you that all the good chemistry in the clubhouse won't make this a winning team. Not with Wright. Not with Benoit. And not with a shaky C. J. Wilson.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
An Airhog, out at second base (way to go, Cats!). . .
Our family baseball Jones continues unabated; for an early father's day "present" M. and the boys took me over to Grand Prairie, to watch our own Fort Worth Cats play the Grand Prairie Airhogs in spanking-new QuikTrip Park. We'd debated whether to go to Grand Prairie or drive another 30 miles more round-trip to see AA Frisco play; we opted for spending less on gasoline than more for better baseball! The Airhogs are as new as their ballpark, a first-year division rivals to the Cats in the American Association independent league baseball. The team name honors Grand Prairie's aviation industry heritage.
From the outside, QTPark resembles an aircraft factory. . .
QuikTrip park is plopped down among acres of asphalt parking north of I-30 off Belt Line Road, in the same complex as the Star-Plex and Lone Star park. Built for around $20 million, the ballpark includes such must-have minor league amenities as a huge kid's playground area (with climbing wall, minature golf, basketball hoops and a whiffle-ball field) and outfield swimming pool (available for group rental). Out in left field, there's an open-air cigar bar and a sports bar. Ticket prices range from $6-12; given its isolated location amid nothing but parking, parking, parking, I found it interesting that they charge $4 to park on the property (there's really no other way to get there than your private automobile).
An impressive, aviation-themed entrance. . .
Appearance-wise, the place is designed to resemble aircraft hangers. This is a rather interesting approach to ball park design--create a motif based on the team name. One would assume the architects didn't plan on a new team with different name to move in any time soon.
From the outside, about the only thing that gives away that this is a baseball field are the tall light standards; otherwise, it recalls nothing so much as an aircraft factory. There is a grand entrance with arched steel framework, anchored on either side by structures that bring to mind airport control towers. The aviation theme is reinforced by paving work, markings, and recessed lighting similar to that found on an airport runway. Outside the front gate, bronze sculptures of aviators enjoying a bull-session are a visitor focal point.
Comfortable seating, and skyboxes above. . .
View from right field, where all the foul balls land. The kids playground is behind me. . .
Inside the park, the seating is comfortable and close to the action. All seating is on a single-level; a large upper section holds a press box and luxury suites and is clad in aluminum sheathing that during the game we went to was getting pounded by foul balls. Also pelted by foul balls: the kids playground area! I. and E. spent much of the second half of the game out there running around, and while I watched the game from a nearby vantage point, at least half-dozen baseballs came wizzing my way.
The swimming field in center field: close enough for an occasional homerun to make a wet landing. . .
The requisite mascot. . .
Fan with a silly hat. Pull on the strings and the pigs' wings flap. . .
Though not a ballpark that will please the "traditionalist" baseball fan by its appearance, you can't argue that the place is extremely fan-friendly. There's plenty of diversions here beside the baseball game, which is a good thing, given the mediocre level of play in this league. The game was quite lack-luster; the Airhogs won it, I don't even remember the score, but it really doesn't matter. The Airhogs are selling a whole entertainment package for a low ticket price. Given the amount of major-league sports in the Metroplex, it'd be a hard sell to fill this place just for the baseball. Hopefully in a couple of weeks we'll get up to Frisco for a game there; next week, it looks like our first trip of the year out to LaGrave to watch our Cats at home.
The boys stuck a Cats hat atop one of the bronze statues out front of the ballpark. . .
Monday, June 9, 2008
E. and his first-grade teacher, Miss Seawalt. . .
Though the lunar calendar declares the beginning of summer as June 21, we all know otherwise: it's when the kids get out of school. For us in the Saginaw ISD, that was noon, Thursday, June 5. We really roared right into it.
M and I. and myself attended E.'s end of year party, helping out with snowcones, relay races and coconut-and-pineapple bowling out in front of the school before the kids were released for the summer. Verdict: E. gets to become a second-grader next year. E. posed for a photo with Miss Seawalt, his teacher, then we rushed off to the Old Time Barbershop on Denton Highway for the dudes in the family to get summer haircuts--get the trimmers out, this is going to be short!
Boys not too sure about this summer haircut thing. . .
. . .but they sure thought it felt funny-cool to run their hands over each other's shorn-noggins!
The three dudes, all nicely trimmed for summer. . .
I. had a bit of trepidation going in, but he soon warmed to the idea of being sheared. Even E. liked his buzz cut, but the itchies from the errant clippings down his back made the trip home afterwards a bit uncomfortable.
A quick shower and a change and we headed off to the Temple to see the Texas Rangers play the Cleveland Indians. We got there early to watch some batting practice and hopefully get Ian Kinsler's autograph for his namesake family member, but the high winds (nearly 50 mph at one point) that kept the flags atop the stadium snapping shortened the practice. We wandered the ballpark, the kids hitting a little whiffle ball in the family section, where we dined on perhaps the worst-looking hotdogs known to man.
Major-leaguers watching batting practice. . .
The boys were impressed by how hard ace pitcher Kevin Millwood threw in the bullpen to warm up. He got off to a rocky start, giving up four runs in the first inning before finding his groove and lasting six innings, giving up no more runs and a total of nine hits. The bullpen, uncharacteristically, provided three innings of hitless relief, and Ranger bats drove in nine runs. Our Ranger favs Josh Hamilton and Ian Kinsler went hitless, but Michael Young went 3-for-5 including a homerun, the Rangers winning 9-4.
Rangers starter Kevin Millwood warming up. . .
Kinsler out at first plate. . .
It was a great game, which we enjoyed from high above home plate in the 330 section. . .from the upper home run porch. . .and from the bleachers in the outfield near the grassy hill (the kids get pretty fidgety sitting in one place all night). We had a great time, and I've now agreed to bury the hatchet I'd held against Rangers owner Tom Hicks. True the $12 parking is a bit excessive, but there are enough ticket deals out there that taking the family to the game doesn't have to break the bank, and we like the lineup GM Daniels and team president Nolan "Shucks, I'm just a country boy" Ryan have put together. If I had a few extra thousand bucks lying around, I'm certainly pop for season tickets. . . .
The boys with their whiffle ball bats. . .
This time, the Red dot won. . .
Enjoying the late innings in the bleachers. . .
Crashed out in the car headed home. . .