Wednesday, March 31, 2010

JR Goes LaRussa on Us!!

Not sure if you've been paying attention, but this week the Buccos skipper, the charismatic John Russell, indicated that he will follow the footsteps of well-known and self-proclaimed baseball genius Tony LaRussa and bat the pitcher in the #8 spot in the batting order. This sure ought to turn around the Pirates losing ways.

I'm sorry, but no matter how these guys spin this, there is NO WAY that this makes sense. Over the course of 162 games, the #8 batter will bat more than the #9 batter. This makes no sense at all. None. Sorry, but I'm not buying it.

Can't wait to hear JR's always scintillating post game press conferences when he dazzles us with his well-known personality and gift of gab as he justifies this brilliant piece of strategy. Wonder why John McGraw never thought of doing this?

Speaking of Pirates managers, did you notice that when the Pirates recently announced their 2000-09 All-Decade Team (seriously, they actually did that), they named Lloyd McClendon as the Manager. This is a move that I whole-heartedly endorse, if for no other reason that Lloyd reintroduced the word "flummoxed" back into everyday vocabulary! And he always batted the pitcher in the nine-hole. You gotta love that!!

Monday, March 29, 2010

For Loyal Reader BigPoppy

I'd just like to include a couple of pictures for one of the Grandstander's loyal readers, BigPoppy. These are from my trip to the Masters in 2008. I just know that he will appreciate them :-)

A Lunchtime Reunion

It was with great pleasure that I ventured into downtown Pittsburgh this afternoon for a lunch with my former colleagues from Small Group Marketing: Deb, Judy, James, Dave, Kamille, Patrick, Shirley, Chris, and Patty. This was my first visit with the Crew since my retirement. It was really terrific to see everyone once again, and it reinforced what I have been saying for the past three months: I miss my old friends, but I sure don't miss the work!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

How 'bout Them 'eers?

Big win for WVU tonight. Who's have thought they could have taken down the Kentucky Caliparis?

Last week I was boasting that I had seven of my Elite Eight and all four of my Final Four teams still alive. As of tonight, only the Dookies still have a chance of making the Final Four. I had Kentucky v. Syracuse in the Championship Game. No money for me in a bracket pool this year, which keeps my streak of never having won money in one of these pools in tact.

Friday, March 26, 2010

A Tradition Like No Other

A poster the other day asked if I was planning on watching The Masters next week. Silly question, and I'll answer by saying that not only will I watch, but that I will be there for the practice round on Tuesday, April 6. Yes, I was lucky enough to have my name pulled once again in Augusta National's lottery for practice round tickets. This year, Marilyn will be joining me as we take the ride up Magnolia Lane (figuratively speaking) to become a part in "A Tradition Like No Other."

We will, of course, be a part of the circus that will no doubt be a part of the Return of Tiger Woods, although be very sure that the Green Jackets will eliminate in large measure the circus-like elements that would have accompanied Tiger's return at any other venue.

So, we have a very busy two weeks ahead of us. My minor surgery this afternoon, the Easter Vigil service next Saturday night for Marilyn and the other RCIA candidates at St. John Neumann, Easter Sunday, and then leaving for Columbia, SC on Monday morning after Easter, Columbia to Augusta on Tuesday, then leave on Wednesday for a couple of days at Edisto Beach, SC. Have never been to this little beach town, but it was recommended by a friend, so we figured, what the heck? Returning home the following Saturday.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Blogging Threads

It has been noted that recent blog posts concerning a couple of masterpieces of American Cinema had been hijacked into discussions about, of all things, Professional Wrestling. One thing I know from reading blogs, and now posting blogs, is that you have no control of where the comments (or "threads" to use proper blogspeak) will lead. Who could have foreseen that the discussion of the Corleone Family saga would coincide with the death of grappler Baron Miguel Sicluna, and who would have thought that one of our west coast readers would have run with that little fact, but such is life in the blogosphere, and commentators are welcome to change the topic, as one did last night.

As for "Pretty Woman", well, I did enjoy that movie when I saw it, but it is not one that I watch again and again (unlike Mrs. Grandstander, who considers it one of her all time favorites). I figure, once you watch Richard Gere brood his way though one movie, why watch it again?

I will change topic to tell a story about a tour I did at the Heinz Museum yesterday. The group was about 20 middle school kids from the Arlington School in the City of Pittsburgh. As we were going through he George Washington exhibit, I noted the fact that the Father of our Country was also a slave owner. One young African-American boy said with a sad expression, "George Washington owned slaves? That's really disappointing." Not much I could add to that.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Godfather Part 2

As promised in last night's post, tonight we watched "The Godfather Part II." While some say that this was a better movie than the original, I can't agree. Part II is a great movie in and of itself, but not as good as "The Godfather." My opinion. What everyone can agree on is that this is easily the greatest sequel to a movie ever made.

Great acting in this with Al Pacino giving a tour de force performance, and an excellent job by a young Robert DeNiro as the young Vito Corleone in the flashbacks.

As was the case with the first movie, lots of classic lines in this movie:

"Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer."

"This is the business we've chosen."

"You broke my heart, Fredo. You broke my heart."

"My father's name was Antonio Andolini, and THIS is for you."

"I don't know nothin' about that. I was in the olive oil business with his father."

Now, it is inevitable that "The Godfather Part III" get popped into the DVD player. While this movie gets pretty much dismissed by the critics, I liked it, although it does suffer in comparison with the first two flicks (thanks in large part to the performance of Sofia Copola).

First Round of the Season

I am delighted to report that I played my first nine hole round of golf of the season at Clover Hill this afternoon. More importantly, this was my first post-surgical round of golf, and all feels well.

Now, to bore all of you: I parred the very first hole (111 yard par 3). What an opening! Even more exciting for me was making par on the 319 yard par 4 ninth hole (sinking about a 14 foot putt to do so), a hole that always plays very difficultly (for me anyway).

Full disclosure: I did allow myself a couple of first-round-of-the-season mulligans off the tee early on, so that 43 deserves an asterisk. However, I putted everything out on the greens. No gimmes!

Also, at 1:30 on this Monday afternoon, I walked right on to the course and finished up in an hour and ten minutes. Retirement is GREAT!!

Sunday Night at the Movies

As I indicated I would a few days ago, last night I went to the DVD collection and pulled out my copy of "The Godfather" and watched it yet again. Can you ever get tired of watching that movie? And Marlon Brando's performance is totally and completely compelling, particularly in these three scenes:

  • The scene on the Don's office when Tom Hagen tell him that Sonny has been killed.
  • The speech that Don Corleone gives at the meeting of the Heads of the Five Families. Watch Brando's eyes as he looks at the others during that meeting.
  • The final conversation in the garden between Vito and Michael

Now that is great acting!

I now find myself compelled to do the following over the next few days. (a) Watch "Godfather II" and "Godfather III" (b) Watch Brando in his other Oscar winning role in "On the Waterfront" (c) watch Brando in "Streetcar Named Desire", which I have never seen, but DVR'd off of TCM few weeks ago.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

National History Day

I did a volunteer stint at the Heinz Museum this morning. It is National History Day (did you all know that?) and kids from all over the area did exhibits and projects in conjunction with that. I was in the room where local 7th and 8th graders had their exhibits on display and were being judged. (My role, by the way, was to play Barney Fife and make sure that ONLY the kids and the judges were in the room. No parents. No teachers.)

You'd be amazed at the work that these kids did. Projects on all sorts of topics. The development of computers, the polio vaccine, nuclear submarines, the history of photography, drive-thru name it, they did it. One kid did a presentation on the guitarist Les Paul. Am 11 year old girl did one on Jackie Robinson.

Even more impressive was to overhear these kids describing their projects to the judges (a panel of three judges would visit each project one-on-one and have the kid describe his/her presentation and would ask questions of each kid.) To witness the poise of these kids as these adults were questioning them was amazing. Not something I could have done at age 11 or 12.

At the risk of sounding like a grumpy old man, it sure made you feel good about kids these days.

How's This for a Sign of Spring?

On this, the first day of Spring, my Pirates tickets for 2010 arrived in the mail!!!!

Now THAT is what I call a great sign of Spring!!!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Friday Fish Fry - Howard's Tavern

We took a different tack tonight for our Friday fish fry, and did not go to a local Church. Instead, we went to Howard's Tavern in West View, and this choice does have a link to church.

Howard's is a classic neighborhood tavern that has been run by the Nicotra family since 1962. It is the place "where everybody knows your name." Rachel Nicotra, of the third generation of the family to run this establishment, and her fiance, Derek, are a part of the RCIA class at St. John Neumann Church, and that is how we discovered Howard's Tavern. They also happen to have been voted by readers of the Pennysaver as having the "best fish sandwich in the North Hills." So, why not go there as we head into the home stretch of Lent?

Tonight's fish sandwich more than lived up to its billing!!!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Villanova 73 - RMU 70 in OT

What a great game and great effort put forth by the Colonials today! I feared that they would be completely spent and get blown out in the OT but it didn't happen. They should be very proud of the game they played today. Bill Rafftery said it best at the end: "They only lost on the scoreboard."

A proud day for RMU alums everywhere!!!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

"The Godfather" - The Book, not the Movie

If you are like me, you have seen the classic movie "The Godfather" - in whole or in parts - countless times. If you are also like me, you read Mario Puzo's novel, published in 1969, on which the movie was based once way back before the movie came out in 1972. Now being a retiree of leisure, I decided to reread this book, and I just finished it today.

I remember back in 1971 or so when everyone was reading this book, and how gripping and you-can't-put-it-down good it was. Surely, I was in for a jolting good read almost forty years later when I reread this classic. Well, I have to tell you, folks: The movie is better than the book. A LOT better than the book. Don't get me wrong, the story is a great one. The rise of young Vito Corleone to the top of the New York underworld, the treachery among the other Families, the Mafia wars, the rise and fall of the Don's three sons, culminating with Michael succeeding his father as The Godfather....a great story. But Mario Puzo's writing? Critics more erudite than me might use the word "florid" to describe it. Amazing to think that the screenwriter Mario Puzo could create dialog that became classic lines in American cinema, while the novelist Puzo can write the same dialog that comes across as not so great on a written page in a book (and some of the movie dialog was taken word-for-word from the book) . It was kind of disappointing.

If you want to read some bad writing, read only the part describing Michael being hit with "the thunderbolt" while in exile in Sicily when he met Appolonia.

On the bright side, though, reading the book is spurring me on to pulling out the DVD's and settling in over the next few days to rewatch "The Godfather" and "The Godfather II."

Some interesting contrasts between book and movie:

The Johnny Fontaine character, a throw-away in the movie, had a major part in the novel. It is almost as if they included him in the movie only to be able to include the horse's head in the bed scene.

Johnny also has a protege in the book, another singer named Nino Valenti, who never even makes it to the movie.

Remember Lucy Mancini? She's the bridesmaid from Connie's wedding that Sonny banged during the reception, and was never to be seen again in the movie. Well, she is another semi-major character in the book, along with some whitebread doctor that becomes her lover in Las Vegas.

The movie proved that you didn't need any of them. (Although I believe Sonny's illegitimate son, Vincent, in "Godfather III" was supposed to have been Lucy's son. Lucy and Sonny did NOT have a child in the novel.)

"Make him an offer he can't refuse" was in the book.

"Leave the gun. Take the canoli" was not.

Sometimes things don't hold up over time as you remember them.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Two Western PA Athletes - A Contrast

Much as I hate to credit John Stiegerwald with anything, his blog sent me to the following post, and it's too good not to share.

Heinz Museum Update

I did my first "shadowing" of a tour at the Heinz Museum today. It was a group of freshmen from North Catholic. I have to do about a half-dozen of these shadowings before I can do a tour of my own and be formally certified as a docent at the Museum. Will be shadowing again this Thursday.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

A Guy Named Bob

Please check out the attached column from Jim Dodson of the Southern Pines Pilot concerning the virtues and possibilities of men named "Bob."

Friday, March 12, 2010

Fish Fry Report

Tonight we hit the fish Fry at St. Alphonsis (the grade school of Brian and Samantha Sproule!). Easily the best organized fish fry we have attended. You give our order; somebody seats you; somebody brings you your food. Beautiful. Clam chowder gets a B+ and the fish sandwich gets a B from me. Marilyn gives both her fried shrimp and her cole slaw A's.

One big demerit gets assigned because there were no games of chance being sold as fundraisers. No instant bingo. No 50/50 raffle. What kind of a Catholic Church is this????

A New Blog to Read

I just learned from Bob Smizik's blog that former KDKA talking head John Stiegerwald has begun a blog:

Over the years, John Stiegerwald has turned into a thoroughly miserable person, and is famous for telling people who buy tickets and go to Pirates games how stupid they are. Still, I did check out his blog and bookmark it. His very first entry talks about Ben Roethlisberger and some of the comments that readers have posted paint a picture of a very unsavory human being.

Anyway, check it out if you so desire.

I will close with the story of my one encounter with Ben Roethlisberger. Nothing sensational here. I was at a Penguins game in the Highmark Suite when Ben dropped in (I believe that he was sitting in Mario Lemieuex's suite) to see Highmark CEO Dr. Ken Melani. Well, of course many people in the box whipped out their cell phones to take his picture, and he was stand-offish but polite for the ten minutes or so that he was in the suite. What did register was what a slob he was: blue jeans, crummy t-shirt, and a baseball cap. Our thought was that a high profile person who makes a lot of money should at least dress decently when out in public. I mean, no need to wear an Armani suit, but save the scuzzy t-shirts for when you're cutting the grass or washing the car, Ben.

(By the way, it was rumored at the time that Dr. Melani was talking to Roethlisberger about becoming a spokesman for Highmark's Caring Place - similar to a role that Merrill Hoge had filled previously. True or not, it obviously never came about. Bet Dr. Melani's happy about THAT these days!)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Way to Go, Colonials!!

The game was hardly a masterpiece - horrible shooting by both squads - but a 52-50 win by Robert Morris over Quinnipiac on the road is a big, and it sends the Colonials to the NCAA Tourney for the second year in a row. Nice to see the Alma Mater get the victory.

Will this be the stepping stone for Mike Rice to move on to a bigger school after the season?

The Caring Place

Marilyn and I had our first session last night with the family groups at The Caring Place last night. Marilyn is in the pre-school room and she has asked to be a one-on-one person with a three year old little boy. This is right up her alley and she is eating it up! I am in the middle room with six 5th and 6th graders, four girls and two boys. It went OK the first night and I think I'll do okay. One little girl is cracking me up. Very talkative. At the end of the hour, I look at the kids and said "Hey we're done for the night. Did the time seem like it went fast?" She looked at me and said. "not really." It was hard not to bust out laughing at that.

As we went through the volunteer training a few weeks ago, we were kind of overwhelmed at the idea of dealing with these kids, but after the first night, I think we'll be OK. What these kids are looking for is someone to talk with and to be with other kids who are dealing with the same issues.

We have been very lucky in our extended families to not have to deal with the issues of loss that these kids are. It will be a good feeling to think that we can help out these kids in some small way.

Medical Update

Just to tie up a loose end from the other day, the kidney stone that brought me down a few days back left my body late Monday afternoon, and I have been pretty much pain free since Monday night.

I am thinking that I am out of the woods on this go-round. Will set my clock for another attack in 2015 or so.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Willlie Mays Book

A few weeks back, I mentioned that a new biography of Willie Mays was to be published. The book is"Willie Mays, the Life, the Legend" by James Hirsch, and I have just finished reading it. It is the first serious bio of Mays and it was written with Willie's cooperation, but it is not a puff piece, by any means. If you are a baseball fan, I highly recommend this book to you. It is really a well written book, and it reinforced, for me at least, that Mays was the greatest ballplayer of his generation, certainly the greatest player that I've seen in my lifetime.

I would like to list highlights of some of the great stories recounted in the book, but they are just too numerous to mention.

Just read the book. You won't be sorry.

Monday, March 8, 2010

A Trip to the ER

Upon coming home from the RMU hoops game last night and settling down to watch the Oscars, I felt a slight pain in my side which soon became a not-so-slight pain. Through sad experience, I knew EXACTLY what was happening: KIDNEY STONES!!!!

Within ten minutes, we were on our way to the Passavant ER where I begged and pleaded for heavy doses of drugs.

The diagnosis was confirmed, the painful passage of the stone from kidney to bladder appears to have been completed (I hope!!), and my strainer and I await the final passage of the the little bugger.

What a night!

A Football Thought

Remember the old baseball cliche about the ballplayer with "a million dollar arm and ten cent head?"

Change "million" to "one hundred million" and I'd say you have a nice description of our two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Wouldn't you love to know what Art Rooney, Kevin Colbert, and Mike Tomlin are REALLY thinking about Ben these days?

Robert Morris Advances to NEC Final

The Robert Morris Colonials earned the right to defend their Northeast Conference Tournament Championship (and earn the NCAA March Madness bid that goes with it) by easily defeating Mount St. Mary's 80-62 last night. The Championship Game will be this coming Wednesday against the Qunnipiac University Bobcats at Quinnipiac. The game will be on one of the ESPN networks. Check listings to see which one.


Saturday, March 6, 2010

I've Got That "Wheelin' Feelin' "

The trip to Wheeling Island proved to be a successful one for The Grandstander. I was dealt a blackjack on the first hand of the day and that was a good omen. The cards just went my way today and I more than doubled my stake in just a little under an hour. I also had the good sense - for once! - to cash out when I did.

Fittingly, when we got in the car to come home, the first song we heard on the radio was Elvis singing "Viva Las Vegas." Honest to God!

Unfortunately, Marilyn did not fare quite as well at the slots machines. However, when we got home, we learned that we are getting a refund from the IRS when one was not expected, so that more than made up for the bad luck with the one armed bandits.

Saturday Plans

Looks like a little trip to Wheeling Island is in the works for today. Will probably regret it when all is said and done, but what the heck.....

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Colonials Advance!

Robert Morris University held off a determined Central Connecticut State in the opening round of the Northeast Conference Tournament for a 71-63 win. Although the Colonials never trailed in the game, the Blue Devils would not go away and cut the lead to 1 point on two occasions late in the second half.

Next up: The Mount St. Mary's Mountaineers on Sunday night at the Sewall Center. The battles with The Mount over the last several seasons have been hard fought and furious, so this should be another classic.

Recognized at halftime was Colonials all-time leading scorer Myron Walker. In seeing Walker once again on the Sewall Center court, we realized that he must be close to 40 years old now. Yikes!!!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

March Madness Begins in Moon Township

The Grandstander now begins its third month of operation by letting you know that March Madness begins tomorrow night at the Sewall Center in Moon Township when Robert Morris University takes on Central Connecticut State in the opening round of the Northeast Conference basketball tournament. If you're looking for something to fill the post-Olympics void in your evenings, you could do a lot worse than driving out the the RMU campus to take in this contest.

This would be especially interesting in that it will give you the opportunity to see Central CT coach Howie Dickenman in action. The antics and behavior of Howie on the sidelines during a game redefines the term "horse's ass." This guy whips off (he doesn't merely remove it) his suit jacket before the opening tip-off, and it goes downhill from there. This guy makes Bob Knight seem like John Wooden by comparison. He is a sight to behold, a human train wreck in terms of manners and sportsmanship.

Also, Pirates radio broadcasts begin today when the Bucs take on the Champion Yankees in the Grapefruit opener. How great is it gonna be to hear John Wehner again? Will Greg Brown remind us that John is a local guy? That he was a real "blue collar/lunchbucket" kind of ballplayer? And that he, by the way, hit the last home run at Three Rivers Stadium? Will John do his Jim Leyland impersonation?

Beat 'em Bucs!