Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The OTHER football. . .

Geelong--with horizontal stripes--battled it out with St. Kilda--vertical stripes--in the 2009 AFL Premiership match.

Sorry, I didn't catch Monday night's big Cowboys game on the nation-wide broadcast. Football? Oh, yeah, I watched football after work that night, but it wasn't NFL. It was AFL. And I'm not talking about the old American Football League

Rather, thanks to Lance Lassen's DVR, I watched the Toyota Premiership match between the Geelong Cats and St. Kilda Saints of the AFL--er, Australian Football League. That's Australian rules football. Footy. And the Premiership, played Saturday afternoon in Melbourne, is the equivalent of Australia's Super Bowl, played before 99,000 at Melbourne's Cricket Grounds.

There's a superb gallery of photographs of the match on line.

And it was a spectacular game. Even for one such as myself who'd only had minimal exposure to footy before, it was clear this game had it all. The drama: Geelong was looking to win their second Premiership in three years. St. Kilda was looking to win their first since 1966. The game had lead changes. Controversial calls (how could that goal umpire not see the ball bounce off the central post?). A rainstorm that made the leather ball impossible to keep ahold of. And it had a nail-biting finish when Geelong finally stormed by St. Kilda in the closing minutes after the Saints missed on so many opportunities to score six-point goals, settling for several one-point behinds instead.

After watching this game, I'm not convinced that, given the proper marketing, footy couldn't be a big hit in the United States. The game has non-stop action played on a huge (150 meters by 135 meters) oval field accomodating 18 players a side. The action is rough--there are no shoulder pads or helmets. There are no wholesale substitutions. You get banged up, you pretty much keep playing. The main drawbacks, as I see it at least, are the large field (fans don't get as up close and personal as they do attending NFL games, but the importance of that has been diminished by television driving popularity) and lack of outlandish personalities. Though I'm sure the AFL has its characters, footy seems very much a team sport as opposed to the "look at me" performances characterizing the modern-day NFL and NBA. (Though, to be fair, Geelong has a captain with the magnetism of a David Beckham; a red-headed muscleman who looked like the current incarnation of Carrot Top, and a bearded cave-man of a guy who'd fit right in on a Geico commercial).

Americans are probably most familar with footy from the early days of ESPN, when the nascent network was compelled to put anything it could find on the air. . and Australian Rules Football (back then the AFL was called the Victorian Football League) was a regular ESPN staple back before shit like Poker and World's Strongest Man was on the air. This weekend, the premiership was relegated to a slot (live though it was) on ESPN Classic. I could've watched it at home, but my satellite provider decided to remove Classic from my channel package and replace it with more college sports channels. Buggars!).

Essentially, each side tries to kick the ball between two sets of goalposts. Put a ball between the inner goal posts, and it's six points (that's a goal). Merely put a ball between the outer adjacent goal posts, and it's one point (a behind). The ball can squib across the goal line or sail high in the air--still the points are awarded. The defenders can get a hand on the ball before it crosses the goal line, but you'd still get at least one point. The ball is moved down the field by kicking it or running with it and tapping it (not throwing it) to your teammate. If the ball is kicked to a teammate and he catches it in the air, he gets a free kick. If you run with the ball, you're fair game to be tackled--and if you're tackled to the ground, you lose the ball to your opponent. When running with the ball, it has to make contact with the ground (bouncing it off the turf) every 15 meters, or you lose possession. Simple enough. At least, much simpler to understand than League rugby.

St. Kilda entered the Premiership the underdog, even though they finished atop the standings for the year. The Saints and Cats traded the lead several times in the first two quarters, and St. Kilda tied the score in the final seconds and converted a free kick for a goal after a Geelong player argued that he touched the ball on the tying goal--and St. Kilda should've been awarded one point instead of six. The umpires didn't buy his argument, and penalized the player for being argumentative by awarding St. Kilda the free kick.

The Cats actually trailed by six points at the end of the third quarter, but St. Kilda blew several opportunities for goals with inaccurate kicks.

"Indeed, this is a grand final the Saints will forever rue, for it was their inaccuracy in that quarter that ultimately cruelled their chances," wrote the Australian newspaper. Indeed, they scored no goals at all in the fourth quarter, and Geelong broke a tie with minutes left wtih a clutch Paul Chapman goal, icing the victory with one last goal at the siren, to win 80-68.

St. Kilda was crushed. “To St Kilda, footy sucks sometimes ... we were very, very lucky and we're very proud of what we've done,” winning coach Mark Thompson told the cheering fans following the game.

It's really a pisser ESPN doesn't regularly carry AFL during the regular season. That sucks too.

And Rugby, Too. . .
As the Premiership began late Friday evening, Texas time, the second-tier cable network Spike was carrying a semi-final match in the National Rugby League of Australia. The Paramatta Eels took on the Canterbury Bulldogs at ANZ stadium in Sydney. Rugby is a bit more arcane to follow than footy, so, once again, I really wasn't sure what was going on in a match Paramatta won 22-12 (I really needed Rick Schoenfelder with me to fill me in on the action!). Still, it was a blast to watch--and violent! As I mentioned after watching the Wests-Melbourne match back in April, our NFL players are a bunch of pussies compared to these guys.

Paramatta moves on to meet Melbourne (and Rick is no doubt delighted!) for the Grand Finals to be played October 4. I've already got the DVR set--10am Sunday morning.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Digging for Victory!

Jerry Picks a Winner!

I didn't watch all of Sunday night's gala opening of the $1.2 BILLION Cowboys Stadium game against the New York Giants, as M. and I were switching channels between the Emmys, the Cowboy game, the Cubs-Cardinals game, and Mad Men. That's where a DVR that would record four shows at once would come in handy.

But we did get to see the highlights: the last three minutes of the game, where Eli Manning drove the Giants the length of the field to set up the last-second game-winning field goal, and a lingering view of Cowboy Owner Jerry Jones picking his nose in his ultra-expensive owner's box. I guess I was surprised that he didn't have some boy-servant do that for him.

Anyway, all is right with the world. Cowboys lose. Record-sized crowd goes home disappointed. The only thing missing from making it a perfect night would've been the giant Godzilla-Tron HD TV screens dropping onto the assembled Cowboy team below, or maybe an Al-Qaeda attack. But the season is early, yet.

Mad Men Season 3

Hey, how about that Sterling-Cooper? The AMC series Mad Men picked up another Best Dramatic Series Emmy last night. About the same time, the season's fifth episode of the year aired, and I think this might be the episode that those so inclined to decide these things would say the show "Jumped the Shark." A visiting young executive from the Home Office in London happened to get on the wrong side of a John Deere riding lawnmower careening through the office during a going-away celebration for the buxomy Joan, losing his foot in a rather Peckinpah-esque scene with spraying blood and shattering glass. A bit far-fetched, if you ask me.

September: Football season in Texas.

Rangers: That's All, Folks!

Kiss the Rangers' chances for post-season play goodbye, barring simultaneous meteorite strikes on Fenway Park and Angels Ballpark. At a time when home wins were most important, the Rangeritos dropped seven of nine in the just-concluded home-stand. We were at the Saturday night game, a 3-2 thriller over the Angels, but it was too-little, too-late, and the feel-good didn't extend to Sunday's series finale, where Rangers pitching was bombarded and the team fell, 5-10. The rest of the season is off little consequence now, however, one question remains. . . .

Thanks, Millie--hope we see you next year.

Is Millie Done as Well?

Tonights game in Oakland will answer whether the Rangers are willing to pay pitcher Kevin Millwood $12 million next year, or just let him go into free-agency. Millwood's contract stipulates that if he pitches 180 innings this year, he'll automatically be awarded a one-year extension worth $12 million. He's currently sitting at 175 2/3 inning. . .meaning that with 4 1/2 innings tonight, he's be into Tom Hicks' pockets next year DEEP. His record this season certainly hasn't been that of a 12 Million Dollar Man. . .he started off strong, but has faded badly. True, his veteran leadership has been a great example for the young pitchers, but he's been eclipsed as a top starter by Jim Hunter and Scooter Feldman.

Rumors have had team ownership "shut down" Millie for the rest of the year, denying him the innings that would fulfill his contract clause. Sneaky? Low-rent? Sure. But the Rangers are essentially broke, and certainly can't afford a $12 million pitcher with Milwood's statistics. On the other hand, shutting down a healthy pitcher just to save the franchise money is uncharted territory in major league baseball; doing so will likely result in some sort of protest through the Players' Union. Not to mention taint any future negotiations to bring free agents to Arlington, as incentives in contracts are the norm rather than the exception, and failing to live up to them in good faith certainly makes the franchise look less than honorable.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Neighbor

I noticed the next-door neighbor's house went up for sale last week. Not too unusual--there's plenty of foreclosures in our subdivision. I just guessed that he decided to either give up his home to the bank or downsize to a smaller place. He didn't seem to be living there anymore. Maybe he just up and moved?

Our neighbor was a single guy about my age; divorced, father of three. We didn't know much about him, only this: One of his sons lived with him off and on until he joined his sibings enlisting in the military. Our neighbor's father occasionally called the place home as well, and he'd often be seen doing yard work or piddling around in the garage. I guess our neighbor took in his neice as a boarder for a while; she'd had some drug and alcohol problems back home in another state, and he offered her a place in Texas to start her life over. It didn't work--she'd gone back to the booze and he kicked her out.

Our neighbor had been under-employed for quite awhile. When he first moved in a few years ago (replacing a family from Lousiana going through a divorce), he made a low-ball offer on the house and ended up with it--a place far too big for a man and his son. He'd worked in the freight-forwarding business for several years and had been "downsized;" he started up his own business doing the same thing working out of his home, but that went nowhere. He'd finally gotten a job at Wal-Mart--at least they were hiring.

He didn't have any insurance. He'd had a few small heart attacks--he was a smoker, but not obese--and we were amazed to see that he'd be back to work or mowing the lawn a few days later. He said he couldn't afford to be sick--and he had to pay the doctor's bills.

It was strange that our neighbor just left. It's not that we knew him that well, but still, most folks at least stop by to say so-long. We didn't even see a moving truck.

Why his home up for sale was a mystery to us until this afternoon, when another couple from a few doors down stopped by to catch up on things. That's when we'd heard what happened to our neighbor.

He'd died. Apparently from a heart attack. Nearly three weeks ago.

That was a pretty sobering bit of news on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. Sobering in that it well could have been me. And a bit sobering, as well, that we know so little about our neighbors that it took nearly three weeks to hear that a man who lived fifteen feet from us had died.

I can't help but think that the economy helped doom him. Without a good job. Without health-care or even sick leave. The stress must've added to his already damaged heart.

I used to always find him standing in his open garage on days with thunderstorms, watching the show. Nice enough guy. We'd exchange pleasantries, polite banalities. Not anymore I guess. Thunderstorms won't seem the same.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

My Back Pages

LONG GONE: The Kingdome, the F-units, even the mainline isn't here anymore; Everett Turn, southbound at Lander Street, July, 1981.

"Ah, but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now."

Back thirty-three years ago, my family had just moved to Seattle from Salt Lake City. Being awkward and not well socially adjusted, I spent much of whatever weekend time I didn't devote to work or school driving around area rail yards, listening to Bob Dylan or Little Feat or the Byrds on the Eight Track, railroad radio plugged into the cigarette lighter plug on my dad's silver 1975 Monte Carlo.

As a teenager, anything new and exciting was worth paying attention to, doubly so for a railfan who'd gotten a small taste of Seattle railroading a few years earlier when I joined classmates for a bus trip to the DECCA (distributive education club--an attempt to turn us all into Young Capitalists) national convention. Along with throwing apples out the hotel window onto the passing monorail down below and having a makeout session with a girl from who knows where in the Seattle Arena one night, I will remember the trip for two things:

  • glimpsing the Milwaukee Road's amazing cliff-hugging descent of the Cascade Mountains out the bus window on a rainy, foggy afternoon;
  • a tattered old BN F7A, still in faded Big Sky Blue paint, emerging from the King Street tunnel.

So, when we moved to Seattle, there was no doubt what I'd be doing with my camera: photographing the Milwaukee Road, of course, and tracking down those F-units. I ended up doing pretty good, and looking at the prints and slides from those high school years makes me feel at least I accomplished some good photography, even if it did prolonge my finally getting laid.

I've been reacquainting myself--from afar, anyway--with Seattle and its railroad scene as I learn to dispatch the terminal rail operations of the city for my employer. It'd been nearly 13 years, anyway, since I worked the Seattle Terminal desk, and to say things have changed a bit is a crazy understatment. Today, the railroad has been completely rebuilt, and handles 42 passenger and commuter trains a day! Quite a change from when I snooped around in the Grey Monte. . .if anyone had said then that the railroad would someday be a busy commuter railroad, they'd have though you were mad.

So, here's a few of my "moldy oldies," Kodachromes from Seattle, circa 1977-1981.

Northbound Crew 3, North Portal, September 1980: warehouses replaced by a wall of condos.

Amtrak Empire Builder departs southbound, December 1976. At the time, those Amtrak locomotives were less than 2 years old; they wouldn't survive another two years.

July 1980: Brand new BN 8100's approach North Portal. These locomotives are now in storage, awaiting eventual retirement.

Yours-truly, posing at Auburn in May, 1980 for his Tiger-Beat magazine cover. Hey, if it worked for David Cassidy. . .dig the frameless glasses and attempt to grow muttonchops. And when did I ever have a (relatively) flat stomach?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Warning: Another story that makes Texans look like close-minded, potentially-racist, idiots

I'm not surprised by anything anymore, but this one, well, my Incred-O-Meter just about pegged out. So, the school district in Arlington wouldn't allow students to watch President Obama's speech to students because it was. . . .well, politically motivated?

Now, it turns out, the district already was planning on busing--at district expense, at a time when schools are in the financial crapper--500 fifth-graders to the new Cowboys Stadium (built at a cost of $1.2 BILLION, a good chunk of which is carried on the backs of Arlington tax-payers) to hear a speech by former President George "What? Me Worry?" Bush about the importance of volunteerism for the 2011 Super Bowl, which the city will host.

Said the district superintendent: "In retrospect, I can see how the district's decisions concerning these two events could be seen as favoring one event over another."

Uh, ya think?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Beisbol Pt. X: Saarinen's masterpiece

To me, the most beautiful of structures: Gateway Arch.
Thursday, August 13: Though the theme of this vacation was baseball, we began and ended it, interestingly enough, celebrating two of America's greatest journeys of discovery. We started a week before at a museum dedicated to the exploration of space and now closed it out in St. Louis, where the Parks Service honored explorer Lewis & Clarks's two-year "Corps of Discovery" documenting the territory America acquired from France in 1803's Louisiana Purchase.

Since its completion in 1965, the centerpiece of the "Jefferson National Expansion Monument" has been the Gateway Arch, a graceful monument of stainless steel towering 630 feet above the Mississippi River and downtown St. Louis. The arch immediately became the symbol of St. Louis; the development of the monument along the waterfront led to revitalization of the near downtown as well.

I'd been intrigued about the arch since I was but a wee kid, when my dad returned from a business convention with a small plastic model of the arch for me. It was mind-boggling to me that it was taller than a 60-story building, let alone that it could stand without falling over. And just how did people ride elevators up its curving legs?

To me, the Arch is one of man's most beautiful structures. Exceedingly simple in concept, it was a bitch to construct. Finnish Architect Eero Saarinen, known for his flowing mid-century commissions such as the terminal at D.C.'s Dulles International Airport and TWA's flight center at Kennedy Airport in New York, won the competition for the centerpiece monument for the new park in 1957; it wasn't completed until 1963. Saarinen never lived to see the finished product, having died in 1961.

Several aircraft have flown through the arch; one person, supposedly, has climbed it using suction cups. One unfortunate bastard parachuted onto the top of it in 1980; his plan was to remove his first parachute and then BASE jump using a second chute, but a gust of wind knocked him over after landing up top, and he slid down the side of the arch, splatting on the ground below.

The Arch, from the entry way to the Millenium hotel.
The Arch was a short 10 minute walk from our hotel. It gleamed in the morning sunlight, casting a long shadow across the parkway. We'd been cautioned to make early reservations for the elevator ride to the top; we arrived well before our 9:30 time to a nearly-empty entry visitor's center, located underground between the arch's two legs. The center hosts two gift shops (still selling the same plastic model of the arch my father brought me 40 years earlier); a movie theater, and a museum offering interpretative and animatronic displays about the settling of the west. A separate exhibition on the history of baseball in St. Louis was also underway--imagine that! St. Louis was the western frontier of Major League baseball until the mid-1950s, and over the years had hosted a half-dozen professional teams. The baseball exhibit was quite informative; I couldn't say the same with the display of artifacts with little written elaboration about western expansion.

Bug's eye view of the welded-edge of the arch. . .

The Boys outside the arch. . .
We needn't have worried about the "big lines." There wasn't one, not at 9:30. We headed into the queue for the elevator, and soon climbed into the cramped, tiny egg-shaped "pods." They had five seats, but would be hard-pressed to hold five adults. The white paint and indirect lighting gave a distinctly space-age-yet-retro feeling: it felt like something out of the transport pods from the movie 2001. The doors closed and we clanked and jerked our way to the top in the four-minute trip, the elevators using the same principle of a Ferris wheel with a gimbled car to keep us properly oriented.

Inside the elevator pod. . .

Amazingly similar: the transport pod from 2001. . .

thankfully, the Hal 9000 didn't control our elevator. . .
The observation are is narrow, as you'd expect, maybe 8 feet wide. You can look out through narrow "gunslot" windows on a spectacular view of St. Louis, down below and to the west, and the river and whatever remains of bombed-out East St. Louis to the east. After about 15 minutes, you've seen what you need to see and you're ready to leave. When we exited the elevator, around 10:15, the lines had grown all the way out the front door of the visitor's center.

The boys check out the view from above. . .

View of the old Courthouse from the Arch. . .

Old wool uniforms on display at the Jefferson Expansion visitor's center. Probably uncomfortable as hell in the summer!

Boys checking out actual seats from old Sportsman's Park, home of the Cardinals until 1965. . .
We hit the road for the six-hour trip to Tulsa, stopping only for fuel and Steak & Shake. The kids were kept occupied by DVD's and their Nintendo DS consoles--the perfect narcotic for a long car trip. I detoured off the freeway near Joplin, taking the back roads through the ghost town of Picher, Oklahoma. A few miles away was Commerce, hometown of Mickey Mantle. The high school's ballpark is named for the Mick, and a sign on the outskirts of town promises a future Mickey Mantle Museum. Mantle died in 1995; the sign looks at least that old, and with each passing year, I'd guess the chances of the building ever becoming a reality fades a bit more.

I. in the backseat, absorbed in "The Magnificent Starfy". . .

and E. playing baseball on the DS. . .

Commerce, Oklahoma: hometown of Mickey Mantle. .
We overnighted in Tulsa, and the next monring, as we approached the Red River, we started pulling in Dallas radio stations; the number of clueless drivers started increasing expotentially as well, so we knew it wouldn't be long until we were back in Texas. I know we call it "home," but it sure doesn't feel that way, even after 15 years.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Beisbol Pt. IX: THE Baseball City--St. Louis

Magical: St. Louis sunset from the upper deck at Busch. . .

Wednesday, August 12: By Texas standards, St. Louis is just a short skip down the interstate from Chicago, so we clicked off the 300-some miles after a morning departure with more than enough time to check into our hotel room at the Millennuim in downtown St. Louis. We stayed in the older wing of the place, and paid but $79 a night to stay just a block away from new (2005) Busch stadium. We had an hour or so before heading out to a game against the Cincinatti Reds.

Here's where we stayed; there's Busch stadium. Gateway arch is a 10 minute walk away.

I'd been a Cards fan since i was a little kid, some of my earliest baseball memories being the 1967 and '68 World Series where the Cards took on the Red Sox (and beat em) and Detroit Tigers (and lost). The Cards won 101 games in 1967, and had an all-star team with Orlando Cepeda, Lou Brock, Tim McCarver, and bad-ass pitcher Bob Gibson (who had an filthy ERA of 1.12 in 1968).
That's all nostalgia, of course--something the new Busch delivers to you, beats you over the head with, and never lets you forget. Did you know that the Cards have won 10 world series titles--second only to the Yankees (who are a bit out in front with 26)? You will after visiting Busch, right after you walk amid the statuary at the main entrance of Cardinal great, done up in 3/4 scale (or, referencing the dimunitive St. Louis broadcaster, "Bob Costas size"). The greatest Cardinal, Stan "The Man" Musial gets his own larger-than-life statue. The sidewalk around the stadium is inlaid with paver stones etched with great moments in Cardinal history; broadcaster Jack Buck is honored with his own statue and a hidden speaker playing some of his trademark radio calls. Old Busch (1966-2004) is remembered with the old foul line and outfield wall locations marked on the sidewalk along the new park's north side. The majority of Old Busch's location is today a parking lot and sandlot baseball field.

Approaching Busch from the east. That's the Tums factory on the right. . .

One of the greatest fans among the greatest fans in Baseball. Albert Puljos' mother autographed his hat. . .

E. amid the statues of Cardinal greats. . .
It'd be tough to top new Busch as an ideal place to watch a ballgame. It's distinctly nostalgic in its exterior design, but completely up-to-date inside. It's got plenty of places to wander before the game and hang out (a band was playing in the outfield plaza--I was amazed to hear them cover a Toadies song), and one of the largest Pro Shops you could imagine (yep, I plopped down the case for a $40 retro 1966 All-Star game t-shirt).

The place is a ticket marketer's dream: there are literally dozens of amenities and sections and price points for tickets, so much so that checking out their seating and ticketing diagram on the team website can induce a headache. I waited until two days before the game to get tickets. By then, the Cardinals had sold out--sold out a mid-week game against one of the worst teams in the National League!-- and I had to resort to the ticket-scalping bastards at Stub Hub for our seats, but I ended up paying around 60% of face value for our upper-deck seats right behind home plate.

Flying Cardinals inside the warehouse-sized Pro Shop. . .
Though high up, we had a great view of the field, and a spectacular view of downtown St. Louis, the old courthouse, and the Gateway arch glowing in the early evening light. It was magical. I just sat back while Mary took I. and E. to grab food and drink and just took it all in. It really is the nicest place I've ever seen a ballgame at, even with the belligerant asshole who sat in front of me. This guy was the spitting image of the John Goodman character Walter Schobak from The Big Lebowski. He didn't seem to be having much of a good time. He didn't cheer or clap. Just sat there with his date. Apparently E.'s inadvertant tapping of his seat proved to be too much, for at one point he turned to me and said "Look, Buddy, I'd really appreciate it if you'd stock kicking my seat with your foot. You've done it fifteen times!" That put a damper on the festivities for a bit, as I began to spend more time policing E.'s foot movement than I did watching the game. Eventually, Asshole Fan decided to leave around the 6th inning, much to my relief.
St. Louis prides itself on having "the greatest fans in baseball," but I knocked them down a couple notches when "The Wave" reared its unwelcome head in the middle of the game. I've long been annoyed by The Wave popping up at Rangers games, but then again, Rangers fans are not always known for their deep appreciation of the game. The Wave should be confined to football games, in my way of thinking (my credentials: I'm from Seattle, where it originated. 'Nuff said).

Panoramic montage: click photo for larger view. . .
The Cardinals won the game before it really began. The first three batters--Schumaker, Ryan and the Amazing Puljos--reached base off Reds' starter Homer Bailey. Puljos' hit caromed off Bailey's foot, knocking him out of the game, but not before he made a wild throw to first, allowing two to score and Puljos to reach third. Puljos hit a solo homer in the third, and the Cardinals won, 5-2.


Albert The Great sends another home run flying. . .
We agreed that while this wasn't the best game of the four we saw (that would've been the 12-inning Cubs loss), it was the most impressive of the four ballparks we visited (ranked: St. Louis, Wrigley--strictly on nostalgia--Kansas City and The Cell). It was a short walk back to the hotel, past the giant Stan The Man statue, past saxophone-playing street huskers, and past the empty lot where old Busch Stadium once stood.

Crowd streams out past Stan The Man, frozen in 12-foot repose. . .

Saxman plays blusey "Take Me Out to the Ballgame". . .

Friday, September 4, 2009

Television Break

Quick, what color are her eyes? Christina Hendricks and some vintage undergarments play head secretary Joan Holloway on AMC's "Mad Men" every Sunday evening.

What's on TV?

I must say, I've not been watching as much tube as in years past. We're not paying for HBO or Showtime or Cinemax, so series like Hung and Weeds and Entourage aren't on the DVR. What have I been watching?
  • MadMen, AMC: Back for the third season. The show's moved ahead to 1963, and the firm has been sold to the Brits, who don't know what to do with it. Dick is still scum. Peggy is asserting herself not only in the office, but in her personal life as well. And Joan. . .well, she's as Joan-o-licous as ever. Hoo-ya!
  • Trailer Park Boys: From the Canadian Maritimes comes a "docudrama" about the dysfunctional members of a trailer park, with all the tatooed tramps, drunks, drug addicts and miscreants you'd expect. Exclusively on Channel 101 with DirecTV. I just stumbled onto the show with an episode where the boys attend a model railroad show, where Guns N'Roses guitarist Sebastian Bach was the featured guest. The boys ran off with the highly-prized "Patrick Swayze Express" model train which they later used to smuggle pot into the U.S. Okay--doesn't make much sense. But trust me, it was HI-larious.
  • MLB network: All baseball, all the time. Classic games, documentaries, games of the week, clinics as well as prime-time updates and analysis of games in progress. It's turned me into a basebal junkie.

The Trailer Park Boys. That's Bubbles in the middle, the model railroader of the group. Gee, could ya guess?

Now Playing on DirecTV

Meanwhile, i've taken up the pursuit of reading the Porno Movie listings on the DirecTV program guide each day. It's. . .well, er, I'll just call it interesting. It takes real talent to distill the essence of a movie to just a dozen words or so, but I'm guessing these descriptions are pretty accurate. I'm not making these up. Today on DirecTV, for instance:

  • Strap on Adventures :The tight bond between girlfriends is explored.
  • 34DD: Big & Natural : Sexy tarts reveal giant, juicy and silicone-free boobs.
  • Bouncing Wet Boobies 3: These mammoth mammaries give men a solid case of a boob-o-vision.
  • Latinas Like It Hard! : Succulent Latinas want you to stuff their spicy tacos with meat.
  • Black Booty Pounding 2: Women with great rears shake them for a guys enjoyment.
  • 6 Tight Latinas Banged Hard : Chicks with plump, round butts and pole-smoking lips want hard-core sex.
  • Dirty First Timers 3: These first-timers are nervous and a big stud can be intimidating.
  • Make Her Scream 4: Woman who are louder than the headboard hitting the wall.
  • All Massive Asses 4: Six horny sluts bounce their huge butts on some lucky meat.
  • Big Breasted Teens 12: Teen queens have huge racks that men dream of.
  • 40 n Over MILFs: Loose and wild cougars reach their sexual peak.
  • Big Game Profiles--Utah Elk :The results from a great bow tag in a hot unit known for big bulls.
  • Western Kentucky Whitetails: Senior editor Karen Mehall is in a ground blind, hunting whitetail.
  • The Wild Outdoors--Gun Season: Tammi Gregory has several encounters with some really great bucks.
  • Wild and Raw: Marcus Luttrell brings his buddies to New Orleans for some Mardi Gras and Nutria hunting, Cajun style.
Okay, so I lied. Those last four are descriptions from outdoors sports show. . .but somehow, they blend in pretty well with the more salacious films. There must be some truth to those that call such shows "hunter porn."

We're fatter at night. . .

No wonder I've gained weight working graveyard shift over the past 8 years--food eaten in the middle of the night will make you fatter, compared to if you'd eaten the same food during daylight hours. According to a new study, anyway. No wonder we're all packing on the pounds at work. This adds to findings in other studies that finds that night shift workers are more prone to diabetes and heart disease.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Beisbol Pt. VIII: Cubs Lose!

The Friendly Confines: Right at home with a straw hat and a cigar.
August 11: Sorry to spoil how this evening would end, but a familar ending by now to the Cubby fan: on this evening at Waveland and Addison, the Cubs lost in predictable, nail-biting fashion to the World Champions, getting an early lead, giving the faithful so much hope before giving it up through poor pitching, only to come back to tie it late, and then losing in the twelveth inning when their beleagured closer gave up a solo home run.

We'd last been to Wrigley in 2003, before I. was born. It was a great afternoon. The Cubs beat the hated rival Cardinals late in the game, Sammy Sosa flexed his massive arms, sang "take Me Out" with Mike Ditka and saw a rip-roaring fight involving about a dozen men, women, and large Samoans right below us. The Cubbies hadn't won a World Series in 95 years, and our upper-level tickets were only $15.

Tickets aren't so cheap any more, and the Cubs have extended their World Series drought to 100 years now, but that same "Wait til Next Year" refrain is still heard each spring. Hey, you never know? But Wrigley is always a good experience, so I endured six hours of refreshing the computer screen every few minutes back in March to snag tickets to this Tuesday night game against the World Champion Phillies.

The 2009 season had started with so much promise, but by early August it was clear the prognosticators who'd sipped a bit of the Cub Kool-aide and prediced that this would be "the year" for the Cubs had once more bought into the hype. By early August, the Cubs were firmly in second place in the NL Central, dropping like a rock as the red-hot St. Louis Cardinals left them in the dust. Another year, just like the last 100.

Best way to the game: The CTA Red Line breezes into Roosevelt Road. . .

E. anxiously awaits a glimpse of Wrigley as we approach Addison Ave. . .

Cubs-themed artwork inside the Addison station. . .
We caught the CTA into the city, parking our car at Midway airport to catch the Orange Line--rather than taking Metra in from Naperville, I thought should the game go long the park-and-ride option would ensure us the best chance of getting back home before dawn. At Roosevelt Road, where we hopped onto an increasingly crowded Red Line train up to Addison Avenue. Our car was packed with blue jersery-wearing Cubs fans. When our train stopped, we spewed onto the platform, a sea of faithful jamming the stairways and the sidewalks heading to the ballpark like salmon returning to spawn. Cubs fandom is a genetic thing, I am convinced. The streets were packed with fans, with ticket scalpers selling seats infront of indifferent Chicago cops, with homeless men hoping to beg a little change from the pockets of the well-heeled crowd.

No shortage of guys scalping tickets--they way it used to be before StubHub took over the racket. . .

Photo montage of Wrigley at Dusk. Click on photo to enlarge. . .
We arrived too late to snag our free Ryne Sandberg bobblehead dolls, but early enough to use the famed Wrigley restrooms before they became a stinking, soaking, fetid swamp. Our seats weren't great--lower level, but we were way up under the upper balcony, which cut off our view of flyballs and nearly obscured the landmark manual scoreboard in center field. My view of homeplate was partially blocked by a support column. It was like watching side-by-side 60-inch flat screen TVs. The game had been a sellout, and there wasn't much room to maneuver.

Sellouts are a ritual at Wrigley, the second-oldest ballpark in the majors, built in 1913 for the Chicago Whales of the Federal League and originally named Wheegman Park. It became home for the Cubs in 1916; chewing-gum magnate and team owner Bill Wrigley renamed the stadium in 1926, adding a second deck to the seating the next year. Baseball promoter Bill Veek (yes, the same one who later owned the Browns and White Sox) planted ivy along the outfield walls in 1937. Baseball traditionalists love the place: It retains its huge hand-operated centerfield scoreboard, was the last field in the major leagues to recieve lights for evening play in 1988, and until recently resisted the onslaught of sponsorship and advertising on every concievable flat surface. There is no mascot, no exploding scoreboard, no jumbotron. There's no kids play area, no squadron of young cuties in hotpants launching t-shirts into the crowd, and no prerecorded "walk-up music" to herald the arrival of the next hitter when the home team is at bat--only organ music. It's cramped, it's crowded, it's inconvienent to get to and but a single concourse is provided for restrooms and food. But it's Wrigley, and this is how they like it--how baseball used to be.

Sitting at Wrigley, you almost feel like you should be wearing a straw hat and smoking a cigar. Here's a wonderful piece from 1980 by Sports Illustrated writer E. M. Swift.

Walking down the concourse, E. said to me, "I know there's no playground here for kids, but this is what a ballpark is supposed to be." I couldn't argue his point. Wrigley wouldn't be so bad, I decided, if it wasn't for all those insufferable Cubs fans! Are they this bad at Fenway? Probably so. Finally winning a World Series only made things worse.

The crowded concourse. . .

Heritage bricks outside the main entrance. Full of hope--This is the Year!--and hesitant optimism--Hopefully in your lifetime!

Drunken womanizer Harry Carey is immortalized out front. No beer in his hand, however.

Our view--one that hasn't changed since the late 1920s.

The Cubs jumped off to a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the third on a double, a couple of walks, a single and a sacrifice fly. Cubs starter Rich Hardin was perfect into the top of the sixth inning. E. and I went to get drinks, and while standing in line for concessions, the fan in front of us exclaimed, "Hey, Hardin has been PERFECT so far!" That was the jinx. Next batter walked. Goodbye perfect game. Then Jimmy Rollins jacked one to tie the game. Goodbye shutout, and as it turned out, goodbye decision for Hardin, who lasted through the seventh.

Eight inning: always-shaky set-up man Carlos Marmol comes in. Word is, if he can get an out under his belt, he'll be fine. He starts walking batters, and he'll fall apart. Guess which one we saw? Walk. Fly out. Fly out. Hit batter. Walk. Walk, and the go-ahead run comes in. After eight, 3-2, Phillies.

Fourth inning: Ryan Therioit reaches first base safely on a high throw to Phillies infielder Chase Utley. . .

The Philly equivalent for shakiness in relief is one-time lights-out closer Brad Lidge. Brad's been a bit unreliable lately, so when he came in to finish off the Cubbies, a bit of hope existed for the 41,000 at the Friendly Confines. Here we go: Fukidome, walked. Theroit sacrificed Fukidome to second. Bradley singles Fukidome home to tie the game. E. was beside himself with excitement: the Cubbies rally back to tie it.

E. goes wild as Bradley hits in the tying run in the 9th inning. . .

Closer Randy Gregg took the mound in the 11th, retiring three on line shots. Cubs unable to get anything going offensively. Top of the 12th: Little used Ben Francisco comes off the bench and homers on a 1-1 count. And that's where it ended. Cubs lost 4-3, despite their 10 hits to the Phillies' 3. The Cubs had dropped five of the last six and that big white "W" flag wasn't flying over the field much lately. The fans jammed their way back onto the El without singing that annoying "Go Cubs, Go!" song.

Things didn't get better the next two nights, the Phillies sweeping the series and putting the Cubs in the five-game losing streak.

I. was oblivious to much of the game, content reading comic books. . .

I'd never seen a smile on E.'s face as big as the one he had all night at Wrigley. . .

Before we got chased out of the park by security guards, we posed for a family photo (taken by, strangely enough, a family from Texas. . . )

Lots of love, sometimes dysfunctionally so. . .