Tuesday, April 29, 2014

"Casablanca" and Me

Allow me to share with you what I think is a pretty cool story.

I recently became of a Chat Page on Facebook called My "Reel" Life that is devoted to old, classic movies.  Yesterday, I got involved in a discussion about the movie "Casablanca" and in my comment, I quoted a line spoken by actor Paul Henreid, playing resistance hero Victor

Laszlo, during the climactic scene at the Casablanca airport.  The line was "Welcome back to the fight, Mr. Blaine.  This time, I know our side will win."

Okay, just another comment on Facebook that will disappear shortly, right?  Well, maybe, but a few minutes later, someone else made a comment that said "Hi, Bob.  Thanks for quoting Victor."  The person making that comment was Mo Henreid, who just so happens to be the daughter of Paul Henreid!  How cool is that?

So, I am now connected to one of the greatest movies of all time by a mere two degrees of separation.

Thank you, Miss Henreid.  This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Movie Review: "Baby Face" (1933)

If you are a regular reader, you know that Turner Classic Movies is one of my favorite TV channels.  TCM showcases great movies from all eras, and it has given me a real appreciation of some terrific stars who, while I knew who they were, I wasn't all that familiar with much of their body of work.  Foremost among such stars has been Barbara Stanwyck.  Seeing her in such movies as "Sorry, Wrong Number", "The Lady Eve", "Ball of Fire", and, of course, the fabulous "Double Indemnity", well, this is a great actress at work.

Anyway, this past weekend, thanks to TCM and our DVR, I watched the 26 year old Stanwyck in the movie "Baby Face".  This movie was made in 1933, prior to Hollywood's self-imposed "production code" that limited what types of portrayals could be made in regard to sexual content and other issues regarding morality (who should be the judge of such "morality" is a whole other issue).   

"Baby Face" concerns a young girl, Lily Powers, played by Stanwyck, who leads a terrible life in an industrial town, working in her father's illegal speakeasy. Not only does she have to serve booze to a bunch of rowdy drunks, her father pimps her out to influential men to help pay the bills and keep the place open.

When her father is killed in an accident, Lily leaves town, heads for New York, and vows to make a better life for herself, and she uses her, shall we say, feminine charms to get what she wants.  This alternate poster for the movie gives you and idea of the story line:

How her rise to power and position within the bank for which she works is depicted makes for some great movie making, although it does settle for an ending that is close to being a cop-out.

What can I say, Stanwyck is gorgeous, devious, and very sexy in this movie.

"Baby Face" doesn't often show up on TCM, but it is well worth seeing if you ever get the chance.  

The Pirates One Month In

I had decided early on that I was not going to make any extensive commentary on the 2014 Pirates until a reasonable number of games had been played and a reasonable number of At Bats and Innings Pitched had been accumulated.  You know, don't want to be suckered in one way or another by the dreaded "small sample sizes".  Well, it has now been four weeks since Opening Day, twenty-six games have been played, the starting pitchers have 4-5 starts under their belts, and the everyday players are hovering around 100 AB's, so it's time to take stock.

Before I do, though, let's think back on that Opening Day game.  It was a beautiful day, excitement was in the air, and the Pirates won.  It was a ten inning 1-0 win with a walk-off home run by Neil Walker.  Euphoric!  What was not much commented upon was the fact that the Pirates that day were unable to scratch out any kind of offense, much less any runs, for the first nine innings.  We didn't know it then, but that was a portent of things to come.

As of this morning, the team is 10-16, in fourth place in the NL Central and 8.5 games out of first place.  Offensively, the Bucs rank 28th among MLB teams in batting, 26th in OPS, and 21st in runs scored.  Interestingly enough, they are 8th on home runs.  

As for individual players, MVP Andrew McCutchen is doing his part after a slow start with 4 HR, 14 RBI and a .908 OPS.  He has also drawn 21 walks.  Neil Walker has 6 HR and 12 RBI, but is only batting .235.  After that, there isn't much good news.
  • Pedro Alvarez does have 6 HR and 14 RBI, but is currently mired in one of his monumental fallow periods and is batting .172 with an OPS of .667, and has struck out 25 times.  I like the guy, and I love his power, but it is getting harder and harder to defend him when he can't hit over .200, much less .250 or so.
  • And speaking of strike outs, Starling Marte leads the team with 37 of them and has only 9 walks to go with them.  He is batting only .229 with an OBP barely over .300.  Not acceptable for a lead-off hitter.
  • And the short stop position is a huge black hole.  After batting over .280 last year, Jordy Mercer was, justifiably, given the starting job at short where he is now batting only .167 (2 HR, 3 RBI) with a pathetic .404 OPS.  The alternative is Clint Barmes, and his numbers are even worse (albeit with only 26 at bats).
As for the pitching staff, three of the starters, Francisco Liriano, Charlie Morton, and Wandy Rodriguez sport a combined record of 0-8.  Gerrit Cole is 2-2 with a 3.18 ERA and has delivered pretty much as expected.  And perhaps it tells you all you need to know that a case can be made that in the first month, anyway, the team's best starter was the Whipping Boy of Spring Training, Edinson Volquez.  He is now 1-2 with a 3.21 ERA, and that ERA was below 2.00 until his outing against St. Louis yesterday, his only poor outing of the season.  The bullpen, with the exception of Jason Grilli and his three blown saves, has been more than adequate.  The staff ERA of 3.65 is twelfth in MLB, so you can't complain too much about the pitching, but you can't expect them to win when the offense is producing two runs or fewer in most games.

So what can we look forward to?  The Front Office showed that they will move to shore up holes when they traded for first baseman Ike Davis from the Mets, although, after hitting a grand slam in his second game as a Pirate, he has cooled off, and is now hitting only .206.  Will they continue to make such moves?  The biggest elephant in the room is, of course, outfielder Gregory Polanco, currently playing in Indianapolis and batting .400 with 4 HR, 24 RBI, and an other-worldly OPS of 1.104.  On a team that is producing nothing in the way of offense, do you think it might be worth a shot to bring him up NOW?

This gets into the whole Years-of-Control and Pirates-Pinching-Pennies issues that we have talked about endlessly over the years, and that I just don't want to rehash here.  I will however point out that two weeks ago, the awful Houston Astros, who, unlike the Pirates, have no hope for post-season play this year, brought up their hot-shot number one prospect, George Springer, to the big club.  It doesn't seem like that Astros are all that concerned about years-of-control issues with Springer if they feel he can help the team now.  I should note, though, that Springer, in only 47 AB's, is hitting .170 with no home runs and only 2 RBI, so maybe this would only serve to bolster the Pirates' case if they choose not to promote Polanco.

Interestingly enough, on Neal Huntington's weekly radio show yesterday, the subject of Gregory Polanco was not raised.  In fact, his name was not mentioned even once.  My guess is that the content of that show is controlled by Neal like Joe Stalin controlled what Pravda used to print back in the day.

Well, we can only hope that the bats start to come alive, and soon.  One month's worth of games are not a fluke, and Pirates fans can only hope that it is a trend that can be reversed.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The "Fargo" TV Series

We are now two weeks into the new limited series on the FX Network, "Fargo".   I think that I will be in for the duration on this one.

This series has its roots in the 1996 Academy Award winning Coen Brothers' movie of the same name.  While Joel and Ethan Coen are not the writers and directors of this series, they do serve as Executive Producers, so you know that the series will not stray far from the quirky roots of the movie.

The story takes place in 2006 in Bemidji, Minnesota (not Brainard), so you still get the snow, the cold weather, and the funny accents.  Instead of Steve Buscemi, you have Billy Bob Thornton as Lorne Malvo, a mysterious drifter who is up to no good at the behest of, well, some mysterious person or syndicate in Fargo.    Instead of William H. Macy as the beleaguered, put-upon businessman, we have Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard, a henpecked, beleaguered, put-upon businessman.

More importantly, Frances McDormand is not back in her Oscar winning role of Deputy Sheriff Marge Gunderson.  Instead we have an actress, heretofore unknown to me, named Allison Tolman....

....playing Deputy Sheriff Molly Solverson....

I think that Molly, who is obviously the smartest person in the Bemidji Police Department, will become my favorite character on the show.  

Also receiving star billing in the show is actor Colin Hanks, the son of Tom Hanks, as Gus Grimley, a police officer in a neighboring town.  Hanks has appeared only briefly in each episode thus far, so we will await to see how his role will develop.

As I said, the show, like the movie, is very quirky, which makes it entertaining.  It is also quite violent.  Episode One alone featured four shockingly violent murders, one of which was quite surprising and upsetting.  However, these crimes set the stage for all that is to follow.  

As I said, I am planning on sticking with it through the show's ten episode run.  If you liked the movie, you might want to give it a shot.  You can no doubt catch up with it On Demand.

Oh, and there has been no wood chipper.  Yet.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

First Golf of the Year, and Other Random Thoughts

It is April 15, and at 9:30 this morning, it started snowing to beat hell on our street.  No, none of it is sticking, and, yes, we know it is a freak thing, but as Ralphie said when he realized that his Little Orphan Annie Decoder Ring was nothing but a commercial vehicle for Ovaltine, "Son of a BITCH!"


Yesterday afternoon, I took a creaky back and six months worth of rust on both my body and my golf clubs to Clover Hill for my first round of the season. It was about what you would have expected.  Duffed fairway shots, a lot of eight foot putts that came up three feet short, and crappy chip shots.  On the other hand, I was driving fairly well.  Still, the four to six strokes those new grips on the clubs I had put on this winter were supposed to take off of my score were not in evidence yesterday.  Also on the other hand, it was cold and windy and the greens were in poor condition, so THAT must have been the problem.

It started to drizzle as I played the eighth hole, started to rain fairly hard on the ninth tee, and was pretty much pouring as I stood over my approach shot to the ninth green with a nine iron in my hand.  When my shot airmailed the green and disappeared over the bank behind the green, I had the perfect excuse to put an "X" on my card for number nine, and head straight for the parking lot.  

Through eight holes, I had shot 40.  Not a good effort, but it was the first time out, the weather was bad, the greens were crummy and yada yada yada.

It will be better next time.


The FX Network will premiere "Fargo" tonight.  It is a so-called limited series. There will be only ten episodes covering a single theme.  No cliffhanger ending and no plans for a second season (unless, of course, the ratings are great, then we'll see).  It is based on the Coen Brothers' excellent movie "Fargo" of some years back.  Loved the movie, and am very interested to see if the folks at FX either enhance that movie experience, or just plain muck it up completely.

Reason to be positive: FX has produced some good shows, notably "The Americans".

Reason to be negative: Frances McDormand and Steve Buscemi will not be in the TV version of "Fargo".

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Book Review: "Pedestrianism" by Matthew Algeo

Have you ever heard of Edward Payson Weston or Dan O'Leary?  How about the Astley Belt? Does the term "six-day" mean anything to you?

Well, I never had either, nor did I know what a "six-day" was until I read the newest book by Matthew Algeo:

Note the sub-title: "When Watching People Walk Was America Favorite Spectator Sport". Yes, this a book about a sport known as pedestrianism and for a brief period of time, from the early 1870's to the mid-1880's, pedestrianism was the number one, and a case can be made it was the first, major spectator sport in America.  Watching people walk in arenas over a six day period (hence, the term six-days) was a craze in the United States and in Great Britain as well. Weston and O'Leary were the biggest stars and the fiercest rivals in the sport.  They were the Palmer-Nicklaus or Ali-Frazier of the late nineteenth century.  The Astley Belt was a prize for which pedestrians competed for and prized every bit as much as athletes of today seek a Lombardi Trophy, a Stanley Cup, or a Green Jacket. 

How did such a sport came into existence?  Well, increased industrialization in United States and Britain led to a new concept among people, leisure time, and the people began to fill that time by paying to watch people walk.  Top line pedestrians earned, what in today's dollars, would equate to hundreds of thousands of dollars. They earned additional money from product endorsements, and were pictured on trading cards long before baseball players were.  And if you think the first great African American athlete in America was Jack Johnson or Jesse Owens or Joe Louis, you would be wrong.  That honor goes to pedestrian from Boston named Frank Hart.  And just to prove that everything old is new again, pedestrians were accused of taking performance enhancing substances (coca leaves, in this case) and the sport was also beset with problems related to gambling and accusations of tanking in races - and, in fact, gambling was among the chief issues that led to the undoing of the sport (along with the introduction of bicycle racing and, of all things, baseball).  So Barry Bonds and Pete Rose had their precursors way back in the late 19th century.

A lesson to be learned from this book, I think, is that nothing lasts forever.  Pedestrianism, America's first great spectator sport, took hold in the early 1870's and then pretty much disappeared by the early 1890's.  Similarly, boxing and horse racing, were once the preeminent sports in America, and are pretty much niche sports today.  So, the Sport of Football, now being beset with safety concerns, should not think that the same fate could not befall it as well.

As much as it sheds a light on this now obscure sport and its practitioners, the book also gives a look at life and social mores in a now long gone time in America.  Through the wonders of Facebook, I feel that I have come to "know" Matthew Algeo, and I am hoping that his promotional tour for "Pedestrianism" will bring him to Pittsburgh sometime this year so I can meet him in person.  This is his fourth book, I have read them all, and I highly recommend them all....

"Last Team Standing" - about the wartime combine of the Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers, or "Steagles".


"Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure" - about a cross country drive that the former President and his wife took, alone, shortly after he left the White House.


"The President Is A Sick Man" - about a secret operation to remove a cancerous tumor from the mouth of President Grover Cleveland.


We also like Matthew Algeo because, even though a native of the Philadelphia area, in 2013 he became, again through the magic of Facebook, a Pirates fan, and while living in Ulan Bator, Mongolia (his wife Allyson serves in the United States Foreign Service), he proudly Raised the Jolly Roger in the Square in front of the Mongolian capital.

So, I ask, how can we not support this newest book from Mr. Algeo?

Friday, April 11, 2014

A "New" Babe Ruth Picture

The folks at SABR tweeted out a picture of an older Babe Ruth yesterday, and it was a picture that I had never before seen.  I re-posted the picture myself on my Facebook and Pirate Chat pages, and it got a lot of comments.  Like me, most found it to be a very striking photo.

I re-post it here for those Loyal Readers who may not follow me on Facebook or Pirate Chat.

Movie Review: "The Grand Budapest Hotel"

When this movie was released a few weeks back, Barbara Vancheri of the Post-Gazette said that it was the first movie of 2014 that was released as a movie for an adult audience, and it received a good review from her.

We finally got around to seeing it today, and we enjoyed it.  It is a comedy that is a bit off beat - Marilyn aptly described it as "quirky" - but pretty fun to watch, or at least we found it so.

Hard to describe what exactly the movie is "about", but I would recommend it. Directed by Wes Anderson and starring Ralph Fiennes, it includes a lot of name actors (Tilda Swinton, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, and Edward Norton among others) in relatively minor roles.  Very quick and snappy dialog, and some of the laughs come quickly so you might miss them if you aren't paying attention.

We enjoyed it, but, be warned, it is quirky and may not be for everyone.

The St. Malachy Fish Fry

Today, Marilyn and I closed out the Lenten Fish Fry Tour for 2014 by visiting St. Malachy Parish in Kennedy Township.  It was another great set up - HUGE fish sandwich, fried jumbo shrimp, all the sides.  Terrific.  The big attraction at St. Malachy's, we came to understand, is their home made pierogies.  Now, neither Marilyn or I are pierogi eaters, so that didn't appeal to us, but the the kitchen workers at St. Malachy's couldn't make them fast enough to satisfy the demand.

And speaking of those volunteer kitchen workers, we were greeted by none other than this guy slaving away in the St. Malachy kitchen.....

Yep, Southwest Airlines captain, Mr. Season Ticket Holder (Pirates and Penguins), star of the "Blackout Was Only the Beginning" Pirates commercial, and the Mayor of Section 20 himself, Tim Baker, doing his thing to help out his parish.  Well done, Tim, and we're glad we caught you there this evening.

In all we hit six Fish Fries this Lent, and four of them were ones that we had not attended in prior years: Good Samaritan, St. Killian, St. Bonaventure, and St. Malachy.  The two that we returned to were St. Suva (Serbian Club) and St. Alexis.  We also got to visit with friends Carole Kon, Patti Nelson, and the aforementioned Tim Baker at these events as well. 

Fish fries abound throughout the Diocese of Pittsburgh every Lent.  If you have never attended one then you are missing out on a chance to eat well at a reasonable price and support great causes.  Think about it come Lent in 2015.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

A Tradition Like No Other

Cue the schmaltzy music, cue the hushed reverential tones of Jim Nantz, cue the absence of Gary McCord, cue the Green Jackets, who still think it's 1934 in America.  (Clifford Roberts is no doubt still spinning like a lathe over the fact that Condalisa Rice is a Member at Augusta National.)

It's time for The Masters!

I kid the reverence that surrounds this Tournament every year, and the self-important Green Jackets that rule over every element surrounding it, but I will be watching this weekend, as I do every year, and I count my three visits to Augusta National in 2002, 2008, and 2010, as among the highlights of my sports watching/attending life, so if that makes me a hypocrite, so be it.

Actually, this year's Masters will be dominated, not so much by who is there, than by the absence of a certain figure.  And this figure has been a dominant force in Masters for years and years, and while that figure's absence probably will not diminish this year's event, it surely will alter the event in ways not quite imaginable.

I am speaking, of course, of the Eisenhower Tree.

This huge land mark of a pine tree that sat on the left side of the fairway some 210 yards from the 17th tee for time immemorial, was lost this past winter to severe ice storms that hit Augusta.  It has played havoc with many a shot from many a golfing legend over the years, and it will be interesting to see how the overall scoring on #17 (sorry, but I can't tell you which flower this hole is named for) will be compared to Masters past.  And, surely, CBS and toon-a-mint officials will provide us with such stats.

There is probably no more difficult prediction in all of sports that to predict the winner of any given golf tournament.  I will go out on a limb and say that Tiger Woods will not win this year's Masters .  I will say this.  The 2014 green jacket will go to an American, and it will go to either Dustin Johnson or Jason Duffner.  So, there's my prediction.

Enjoy the Masters, A Tradition Like No Other.  Remember, no running and no unseemly cheering while watching.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Big Game Tonight - A Prediction

Tonight the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship will be decided when the Kentucky Wildcats take on the Connecticut Huskies. 

The UConn story is kind of amazing to me.  When last we looked, legendary coach Jim Calhoun was "retiring" under a cloud of academic improprieties that led to the team being put on NCAA probation.  Further, when various conference realignments forced the Big East to return to it's basketball only, Catholic school roots, Connecticut seemed to be still standing when all the music stopped playing, and sort of disappeared from the Big Times College Hoops scene, at least from my vantage point. And now here they are, a number seven seed playing for the National Championship.

The team they will play, John Calipari's Kentucky Wildcats seem to have an equally improbable story.  National Champs in 2012, they failed to even qualify for the big tournament last year, returned with another bunch of potential one-and-done blue chippers this year and started the season with mixed results.  They made the tournament this year as a number eight seed.  

I have no horse in this race, no chance to win any money in any pool that I entered, so what I am really rooting for tonight is a good game.  If forced to root for someone, I would choose Kentucky because I kind of like Coach Cal, despite his reputation for sailing near the wind on several occasions.  Still, if you want a prediction, I am going to choose Connecticut as the winner tonight.  Kentucky probably has more talented players, but in watching both semi-final games on Saturday, Connecticut seemed to me to be a better team.

As always, watch but don't bet.

It could also be a very special year in Storrs, CT, as the UConn women will play for the national title tomorrow night against Notre Dame.  Both teams are undefeated, and that one should be a treat to watch.

Enjoy the game!

To Absent Friends - Mickey Rooney

Okay, if you had come up to me two days ago and asked me, "Mickey Rooney - dead or alive?", I probably would have answered correctly and said "alive", but I would have had to think about it.  

Mickey Rooney died yesterday at the age of 93, and I would strongly recommend that you read his obituary from today's New York Times (linked below) to get the full flavor of the man and the career that he had.

The child of vaudevillians, he first appeared on the stage before the age of two, and he continued to act pretty much until he died.  It was a career that spanned over ninety years and included four Academy Awards nominations, an honorary Oscar, five Emmy Award nominations with one win, and he was a Broadway smash in 1983 in "Sugar Babies" at the age of 60.  He was Hollywood's Number One box office attraction for several years in a row in the late 1930's.

He was also married eight times, made and lost several fortunes, survived bankruptcy, and had battles with gambling, alcohol and pill addictions.  This paragraph from the Times obit sums it up perfectly:

Mr. Rooney’s personal life was as dynamic as his screen presence. He married eight times. He earned $12 million before he was 40 and spent more. Impulsive, recklessly extravagant, mercurial and addicted to playing the ponies and shooting craps, he attacked life as though it were a six-course dinner.

The obit also closes with a quote from Rooney that spells out a pretty good philosophy of life:

For all the ups and downs of Mr. Rooney’s life and career, there was one constant: his love of performing. “Growing up in vaudeville,” he once said, “made me cognizant of the need to have fun at what you’re doing. You can’t get it done well without it being fun. And I’ve never felt that what I do is ‘work.’ ”

Would that we all could say the same.

RIP Mickey Rooney.


Sunday, April 6, 2014

Book Review: "A Murder Is Announced" by Agatha Christie

Regular readers may know that I am big fan of mystery novels, and cut my teeth on the genre by reading Agatha Christie novels and short stories.  When the book "A Murder Is Announced" showed up on my Kindle Daily Deals email recently for $1.99, I figured what the heck, I know I have read this at some point in my life, but let's download it on the Kindle and take a trip down memory lane.

"A Murder Is Announced" was published in 1950, and was Agatha Christie's fiftieth published novel.  This was about the time when Dame Agatha was starting to lose a bit off of her fastball, but Christie critics and enthusiasts still consider this to be, if not on the top tier of the Christie Cannon, still a pretty good example of her brilliance.

This is a Miss Jane Marple novel, and I have to confess that the Miss Marple stories are not my first choice of stories when I want to read a Christie novel.  I much prefer the Hercule Poirot stories or some of her stand-alone novels.  For example, 1939's "And Then There Were None" may very well be the most perfect mystery story ever written.

All that said, "A Murder Is Announced" deals with a life in a small English village called Chipping Cleghorn (don't you love it?) in the post World War II era.  A classified ad in the local village newspaper announces that a murder is to take place in a certain home at a certain time, the villagers read the ad, show up at the cottage in question, and lo and behold, a murder does indeed occur.  It is a classic Christie set up.   And even more perfectly, it just so happens that Jane Marple is visiting the home of an old friend who currently resides in Chipping Cleghorn and was at the cottage in question at the time the murder occurred, although Miss Marple was not.

Miss Marple, of course, solves the mystery and uncovers the killer and the motive, although many of her suppositions were, in my opinion, a bit of a reach, but what the heck, it was a fun read.

More that the mystery itself, though, was the picture that Christie painted about life in a small English village in the years immediately after WW II.  A Christie reference book that I have makes reference to how Christe's novels can be read by social historians to get an accurate reading of what life was like in England during the time periods in which they take place.  In 1950, the British were dealing with such societal upheavals as food shortages, housing scarcities, the difficulties in hiring and retaining servants (so difficult to cut back to only a kitchen maid, and even then only for a few days a week, you know), the influx of "strangers" to villages, and the general mistrust of "foreigners".  This made "A Murder Is Announced" almost, if not more, interesting than the actual mystery itself.

So, long before Julian Fellows was producing "Downton Abbey" to let us know what life in England was like for the fading British landed aristocracy in the 1920's, Agatha Christie was doing the same thing for the eras in which Miss Christie set her stories.

It was also amusing to learn that apparently, in mid-twentieth century England, it was common usage to refer to spinsterish old women by a five letter word that is synonymous with a house cat that begins with the letter "P".   I'll not spell it out here since the word has also developed into a somewhat vulgar term in today's society.  Kind of funny to read the staid Scotland Yard Inspector in the story referring to the elderly lady characters, including Miss Marple herself, as "a bunch of old p------" (and that is a direct quote, and it is stated more than once in this book).  I suppose it touched the 14 year old school boy that still resides in me, and, be honest, in YOU, too!

Dame Agatha obviously did not have the foresight to see how that term would evolve over the course of the years.

Anyway, the bottom line is that you can always go back to the book shelf and pull out a vintage Agatha Christie book, and be assured of a good read, or as the Christie characters might put it, "a smashing good read".

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Opening Day 2014

Two weeks ago, I had no intention of attending the Pirates Home Opener for this year, and then I received an email from friend David Cicotello in Tennessee who said he found three tickets to the games on Stub Hub, and he asked Fred Shugars and I if we wanted to repeat our experiences from game three of last season's NLDS, so, why not, I was now headed to the Home Opener, and what a terrific day it was.

The fact that the Bucs won in the tenth inning on a Neil Walker walk-off home run, which broke a scoreless tie, only added to the fun of the day.

It was a good omen when Fred and I arrived at the North Shore, walked into what has become our favorite pre-game eatery, Dominic's, and found an empty table for five.  Within five minutes David showed up (good thing since he had the tickets!), and shortly after that, we were joined by Dan Bonk and Len Martin.

L-R: Bob, David, Dan, Len, Fred

At the risk of sounding really corny, you really can't put a price on friendship, and I consider myself very fortunate to have friends like these guys.  And I say that even though Dan and Len blew us off shortly after lunch to sit with the rich guys in a corporate box.

OK, I'm not going to dwell on the balls-strikes-runs-hits-errors of the game, but I do want to comment on two aspects of what occurred yesterday.

The first was the new replay/challenge system.  Each manager challenged an umpire's call yesterday, one was upheld and one was reversed (both to the benefit of the Pirates as it so happened).  The system is brand new, there are no doubt bugs in it, and I am sure that MLB will figure it out as the season goes along, but after seeing it first hand yesterday, I have to say that I like it.  Neither replay review took as long to adjudicate as any typical challenge in any typical NFL game, and in both cases, the right call was made.  What's not to like?

Finally, the much talked about appearance of Barry Bonds in the pre-game ceremonies came off not with a bang, but a whimper.  Scattered booing of Bonds from the crowd was more than drowned out by loud cheers for MVP Andrew McCutchen.  We can debate the merits of inviting Bonds back until the cows come home, but for now, let's consider it a dead horse that we can now stop flogging.  However, I do have one question.  As I said, we have all asked over the last several days why on earth the Pirates did this, but my question concerns the other side of the coin.  What motivated Bonds to accept the invitation?  It's not like there was an outpouring of love between he and the City while he was here, and God knows, no one has had a great deal of nostalgia for him in the years since he left.  I am sure the Pirates paid for him to come here, but surely THAT couldn't be the reason, could it?  We'll probably never know the answer, but it would be interesting, to me anyway, to find out.

Here was the scene of Barry's re-introduction:

The Living Stations

This past Sunday evening, Marilyn and I ventured out to St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Cresent, PA to watch the St. Ferdinand Parish Youth Group present the Living Stations of the Cross.  This is the fourth year in a row that we have made this Lenten journey, primarily because our great-nephews, Zach and Nate Stoner are a part of the cast of this presentation.

This is the fourth year that Zach, now a high school senior, has been in this, and this year he got the main role - Jesus.  Three year vet Nathan played one of the Roman soldiers, and, as such, got to "nail" his big brother's hands to the cross!

Needless to say, we are quite proud of the Stoner boys participation in this very moving event.