Friday, August 31, 2012

A Football / Baseball / Golf Hodge-Podge

Some quick hit thoughts (apologies to Peter King) for a Friday morning....

With no Pirates game to occupy me, I did watch the final Steelers practice game of the year, and four things stand out:
  1. Charlie Batch threw about as pretty a touchdown pass to Emmanuel Sanders as you will see all season, and he will probably end up getting released today.  Crazy.
  2. Two jaw dropping punt returns for touchdowns by rookie Chris Rainey in the first quarter, both nullified by Steelers penalties.  Poor officiating by the scab refs, or poor special teams play by the Steelers?
  3. An absolutely brutal looking knee injury to rookie linebacker Sean Spence.  Why do NFL teams play four of these meaningless games, other than to get two full gates for the owners?
  4. It seemed that on every play, huge chunks of turf went flying through the air.  Good to see that the Heinz Field playing surface was in mid-season form.
On to other thoughts.....

  • During the Steelers game I switched briefly to ESPN for the South Carolina-Vanderbilt SEC tussle.  Steve Spurrier, the Ol' Ball Coach, always seemed to me to be a "young" guy.  Not anymore.  He looked ancient last night,and what's with the voice?  If it gets any higher, he'll shatter glass.
  • And speaking of voices, why is Lou Holtz still on the air?
  • I see that Fraud Graham's Arizona State Sun Devils high octaned themselves a sixty-something to six win over Northern Arizona last night.  Can't wait until ASU starts playing some of the big boys in the PAC 12.  I'll even be rooting for a snake like Lane Kiffen to put the Whoop-Ass on Coach Fraud. 
  • College Football begins in earnest tomorrow: Youngstown State @ Pitt, Ohio U. @ Penn State, Marshall @ WVU, Robert Morris @ North Dakota State.  All compelling games for various reasons.
  • The big TV game of the week pits Michigan against Alabama in Jerry's Palace in Dallas.  That should be a fun game, and kudos to each school for being willing to open against each other rather than the traditional opening game against Cupcake University.
  • It was fun switching to MLB Network last night and seeing the Nats hand it to the Cardinals, 8-1, allowing the Pirates to pick up a half game in the wild card race.  September baseball could be a whole lot of fun this year.
  • First, however, three games in Miller Park beginning tonight.  Got to take care of those annoying Brewers.  I'm not greedy.  I'll happily settle for two out of three.
  • Am anxiously awaiting to see how the Pirates will set the post-season roster by midnight tonight and whether or not that make a Waiver Deadline Deal, also by midnight.

The PGA Tour is in the midst of their FedEx Cup playoffs, and the Ryder Cup is just around the corner, but some old news, if you don't mind.

Rory McIlroy won the PGA Championship earlier this month by eight shots, a most dominating and convincing win, not unlike his US Open win in 2011.  Congratulations to the young Irishman, who is indeed one of the top half dozen or so players on tour today.  Stop, however, with the "next Tiger" nonsense.  I will probably be dead by the time this will finally be reckoned, but I am willing to bet that Rory, who now has two Majors on his resume, will not get within sniffing distance of Tiger Woods' total of fourteen (14) Majors wins.  As I said, it will probably be another 20 or so years, give or take, (and that's if everything goes right for him) before McIlroy is not longer a factor, so I may not be around to collect my bet, but I say he gets nowhere near 14 Majors, and I'd be shocked if he gets that total to double figures.

On the subject of Woods, right now, he is 36 years old and very good golfer, just like about 50 or so other guys on Tour.  He is no longer "Tiger Woods".  He will continue to win golf tournaments, and may even win another Major or two, but the Jack Nicklaus standard of 18 Majors is safe, at least in my lifetime.  I do think, however, that Woods has a very good chance of breaking Sam Snead's PGA Tour record of 82 career wins.  Woods has 74.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Meaningful Games

For the past several years, as the Pirates piled one lousy season after another on top of each other, my mantra has been "All I want is to see some meaningful games played in September at PNC Park".  Well, September is two days away, and it looks like I'm going to get my wish.

The week began with a grim outlook: four straight losses with the Cardinals coming into town. A sweep by the Cardinals would be almost disastrous, and when the series began with the Bucs going down meekly with their best pitcher losing Game One to the Cards, well, a lot of people weren't feeling too good.  I myself noted on Facebook that the season seemed to be "rapidly circling the drain".  And I had tickets to both the Tuesday and Wednesday games where the fading James McDonald and the so-far-not-so-good Wandy Rodriguez were scheduled to pitch.

You know what then transpired.  The Pirates put together two of the best ballgames you could ask a team to play, 9-0 and 5-0 wins over the Cardinals.  They are now right back in the thick of the wild card race, and it looks like we are indeed going to see some of those "meaningful games" after Labor Day, and how great is that?  Hey, even last night's game was meaningful, because ti gave the Pirates an 8-7 edge over the Cardinals for the season, which would given them a home game if those two teams finish tied in the Wild Card race. How about that?

These last two games saw two excellent pitching performances by McDonald and Rodriguez, as well as 6 innings of excellent bullpen work, but all of that was overshadowed by those three absolutely monstrous home runs hit by Pedro Alvarez.  If you care enough about this topic, you already know the details and have probably seen highlights (which you can find on the Pirates website if you have not).  I remember once seeing Willie Stargell hit a home run into the fifth level at Three Rivers Stadium, and thought I'd never see anything like it again.  Well, each of these three dingers by Pedro were reminiscent of that blast.  I think that Alvarez is absolutely incapable of hitting a "cheap" home run.  The power that he generates is just awesome.

And since we have invoked the name of Willie Stargell, here are some interesting observations and comparisons, courtesy of my friend, Dan Bonk:

Pedro Alvarez is closing in on 1000 career at-bats. He is currently for every 21 ABs and 1 strikeout for for every 3 ABs. Willie Stargell similarly after 1000 ABs averaged 1 HR per every 22 ABs and 1 strikeout for every 4 ABs. Stargell's stats are superior especially when you consider he played at cavernous Forbes Field versus PNC Park and he achieved 1000 ABs a full year younger than Pedro. Still Pedro's stats compare favorably to Willie's at this point. Just sayin'!

Thanks for that bit of research, Dan.

OK, a trip to Milwaukee against the Hated Brewers, then home against the DisAstros and the Cubs.  I will be there on Monday afternoon, and can't wait!


By the way, I love the picture (from this morning's Post-Gazette) at the top here of Pedro watching last night's home run.  Love the look in his eyes and the bat still in the air as he lets it go.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

To Absent Friends: Art Heyman

While watching PTI last night, I was saddened to hear Tony and Mike wish a melancholy Happy Trails to Art Heyman, who passed away this past Monday at the age of 71.  They went on and on about Heyman's almost legendary career at Duke University, but, of course, Pittsburgh sports fans remember Heyman as one of the key players for the Pittsburgh Pipers in their ABA championship season of 1967-68. That is Heyman second from the left with (L-R) Chico Vaugh, the great Connie Hawkins, and Charlie Williams.  As I recall, Heyman came to the Pipers in a mid-season with the reputation of being a bit flakey and a hothead, and he was certainly that, but he also was the final piece of the puzzle that enabled the Pipers to become the ABA's first Champion.

Here he is in his glory days at Duke.

RIP Art Heyman.

Monday, August 27, 2012

So Much for Momentum

I just reread the post I did a week ago today following the Pirates 19 inning win in St. Louis last Sunday.  I was bubbling with optimism and talking about what a turning point this game could be.  Emphasis on the word "could".

Since that game the vanquished Cardinals are 5-1.  The Pirates are 1-5. 

As the headline says, "so much for momentum".

OK, time for the first pitch at PNC Park as this huge series begins.

Let's Go Bucs!

A Critical Series Begins Tonight

Tonight marks the beginning of what could truly be called the first "critical" series of the 2012 season for the Pirates when the Cardinals arrive at PNC Park for a three game set.  Sweep the Cards, and the Bucs regain hold on a Wild Card spot and remain in the post-season mix. Get swept by the Cards, and the season pretty much becomes: Can they Pirates break the 19 year losing seasons streak?

The Pirates excellent play throughout June and July gave everyone what is starting to look like a misplaced sense of a pennant contender, and how fun was that?  In fact, if someone told you on Opening day that the team would finish 82-80, every one of us would have signed on for that and not asked any questions.  What is a shame is that if the team does finish at exactly 82-80, that means that they played their final forty games at 14-26, and such a poor finish will be viewed, not without justification, as a big disappointment.

However, in trying to put a positive spin on things, we all need to remember that in 2010, a mere two seasons ago, this team went 57-105 and they were a truly awful team.  And for those who want to pin everything bad on Clint Hurdle (and he is not above criticism, to be sure), I have two words for you: John Russell.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Book Review: "This Is Where I Leave You"

I normally confine my fiction reading to mysteries and thrillers, and don't usually read "serious novels", but after reading this 2009 book by Jonathan Tropper, perhaps I should widen my scope a bit.

The story is told by Judd Foxman, a guy in his mid-thirties whose marriage has recently fallen apart and he has also lost his job (he caught his wife sleeping with his boss!!).  Not only that, his father has just died, and he has learned that his father's last request was that his family sit shiva for him, so now Judd will be confined for the next seven days with his mother, sister, two brothers, and assorted in-laws, girlfriends, ex-girlfriends, neighbors and others from his past.  Lots of personal demons and skeletons in the family closet to confront in the course of one week.  The book deals with serious issues, yet can be very, very funny.  Anyone who has ever dealt with "family issues" would most certainly identify with parts of this book. 

 I was not aware of Jonathan Tropper when I found this book as a Kindle Deal of the Day selection, but some Googling has told me that he has published five other novels in addition to this one, and I know that I will be checking them out as well.  It's always great when you discover a new author that you like.

Word is that a movie based on this book and starring Jason Bateman and Goldie Hawn will begin shooting this fall, and that is a movie that I would look forward to seeing.  I think that Hawn will be terrific in the role of the mother.

An Apolitical Political Comment

Regular readers know that I stay away from politics on both The Grandstander and Facebook, but this is pretty non-partisan, so here goes.

News Item:  Due to the approach of Hurricane Isaac, the Republicans have canceled the first day of their National Convention, scheduled to begin in Tampa on Monday.  This underscores the fact that for the last thirty or so years the National Conventions of both parties have become anachronisms and fairly pointless.  I believe the last time that a Party's nominee was actually decided at a convention was in 1976 when the GOP chose Jerry Ford over Ronald Reagan.   Ever since then, each party's nominee has already been determined via the state primaries and caucuses that took place over several months earlier in the year.  Whether this is good or bad, is another debate.

So, it seems to me that a lot of time and money could be saved if each party could convince the television networks to turn over two Thursdays, one for each party, in late August every four years and give them three hours of prime time for the Prez and Veep nominees to make their speeches to the waiting nation.  The only people who lose in such a situation are the hotels and restaurants of the host cities.

Make sense to you?

Steelers Win Another Practice Game

Circumstances prevented me from seeing much of last night's Steelers 38-7 win over the Buff Bills.  In fact, I only saw one sequence of plays in that game, but what an enlightening sequence it was.

I switched between innings of the Pirates game to the Steelers game, only to see that the score was 7-7, and that the Steelers had just taken possession on their own two yard line with a little over one minute remaining in the first half.  Two straight running plays by the New Steelers Offense netted -1 yard, and in fact, the Bills called time out after each play in hopes of getting another possession before halftime.  At that point, Ben Roethlisberger, probably to the consternation of Art II and Todd Hailey began to pass the football.  The Steelers offense -  as opposed to the New Steelers Offense - led by Roethlisberger, then passed their way downfield and capped it off with one of the prettiest Ben-to-Antonio Brown passes and catches you will see with :13 remaining in the half.  Johnny Unitas in his prime could not have conjured up a better two-minute drill.  In reading the paper this morning, I found it interesting that Ben's quote was "I just started calling my own plays out there".

I'm just a fan.  I'm no coach, and heavy X's-and-O's talk bores me to tears, and I watched that series of plays in a vacuum (saw nothing before that series, and nothing after it), but how smart do you have to be to realize that when the best player on your team is your quarterback, who is also one of the half-dozen or so best QB's in the League, and you have a bunch of pretty good receivers, you should THROW THE BALL.

Special Guest Blogger: Dan Bonk

In a rare move, I am turning over The Grandstander for one post only to a Guest Blogger, my friend, fellow SABR member, breakfast companion, occasional golf partner, author, fellow Central alumnus, and the Voice of the Montour High School Marching Band, Dan Bonk.  Dan put this post out on the "Pirate Chat" Facebook page yesterday, and I think it is one of the most cogent analysis of the 2012 Pirates season that I have read so far, by either a professional reporter or columnist, or by anyone with a keyboard and access to any of the various social media platforms.  With his permission, here is Dan's post (unedited):

I honestly believe that as long as the Pirates end this season above .500, which I think is a good bet at this point, it should be viewed as a great success. Here's some reason I think this way.

1) Finishing with a winning record takes the monkey off this team's back.

2) The most important question coming into the season for the team involved Alvarez and his future. Though we can't say for sure that Alvarez will be a star, we can say for sure that he isn't an absolute bust. That's important. On April 30 of this year, that question was still up in the air.

3) Catcher - We know Barajas isn't the answer and maybe neither is the Fort, but the latter is certainly an up an comer. Considering the entire organization was practically bereft of major league caliber catching, the Fort gives us some breathing room until we develop one of our own.

4) Neil Walker is a stud - offensively and defensively. He proved it this year with a career year. We have to sign him. Maybe most importantly he helped me forget about Freddie Sanchez, a nice hitter, average fielding 2nd baseman who definitely spent too much time in the ice tub. In my opinion a legitimate No. 5 batter.

5) Andrew McCutcheon may not be this year's MVP, but he is another guy who had a career year. A legitimate No. 3 or 5 batter.

6) Garrett Jones is strictly a platoon guy, but he is having a career year. He's the kind of platoon guy that winning teams have.

7) AJ is not a long term solution, but he is a true team leader and we should be happy to have him one more season.

8) McDonald - took a big step forward this year. I think he simply ran out of gas. Next year him and Alvarez will be the two biggest question marks again, but not to see if they will bust. No we will be watching to see if they can advance.

9) Snider - a great pick-up as far as I'm concerned. He might bust next year, but he has upside, bats left and plays the outfield. For 20 years the Pirates haven't even had many guys with real upside, just a series of, dare I say their names, Cedeno, Milledge and Delwyn Young. Yuck! We have to hope he becomes a Garrett Jones who also can hit left handers. That would be great.

10) Starling Marte - Perfect for PNC Park in either CF or LF.

11) Jeff Karstens - has proved to me that he is a legitimate 4 or 5 starter on any team in MLB.

With all of that and the Bucs pitching prospects in the minors, the future for once is bright.

Now that all being said I'm getting real close to jumping off the Band Wagon for this season. You'll know that happened when I post simply "Go Steelers!" on this page. Not yet however. I am going to the game again tonight and i will sitting in Section 312 with the other 99 percenters.

To Absent Friends: Neil Armstrong

One of the best quotes I read yesterday when reading about the death of Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, was "As long as history books are written, Neil Armstrong will be in them."

If you were alive in the summer of 1969, you remember the excitement and sense of sheer wonder and amazement that Neil Armstrong and his Apollo 11 crew (Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins) and all of the people at NASA gave to the world.  Nothing I can write can fully describe it.  As his family requested, let's all go out an "wink at the moon" in his memory and to honor him.

RIP Neil Armstrong. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Lance Armstrong Falls

So now the debate and the hand-wringing will begin over the Fall of Lance Armstrong.  I know that the folks at Sports Illustrated, particularly their former columnist Rick Reilly, will be crushed over this, since their worship and devotion of Armstrong has been apparent for many years.  He is already being seen as a martyr by some.

In the USA, at least, cycling is a niche sport, so who really cares.  It is also a sport that is far dirtier, performance enhancing drug-wise, than Major League Baseball has ever been, so why are we surprised about today's Lance news?  On the other hand, Armstrong has never, as we are constantly reminded by his psychophants, failed a drug test (so why isn't he fighting this, or at least hiring Roger Clemens' lawyers?).  We also know that Armstrong beat cancer and has raised millions of dollars for cancer research through his foundation, so that makes him a good guy, right?

As for me, when I think about Lance Armstrong at all, I think about the guy who ditched his wife, the one who stood by him as he battled cancer, for the hot rock singer.

I'm not losing sleep over whether or not Barry Bonds makes it to the Baseball Hall of Fame, so I'm sure not going to lose any over vacated Tour de France titles.

The Umbrellas at Pitt

I have to admit that I have loved following the story of the planning and execution by the Pitt Freshman Orientation Committee and their successful attempt to stage the World's Largest Umbrella Dance as a part of Orientation week at Pitt yesterday.  In case you missed it, over 3,500 incoming freshman took part in this dance on campus yesterday afternoon, shattering the previous record.  This not only will be noted in the Guinness Book of World's Records, but it also paid tribute to Pitt alumnus Gene Kelly on the 100th anniversary of his birth.

Such an event is silly and goofy, to be sure, but not totally frivolous, because as a team building exercise, it sure beats a lot of stuff I went through at various corporate seminars over the years.  It is also the kind of "college experience" that I never had when I went to college, and I fully admit to being jealous as hell about it.

So, to all of those 3,500+ freshman and the Committee that conceived of this and pulled it off, I say....

"Hail to Pitt!!"

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Why Don't They Just Go Back to the Single Wing?

Another story in the Post-Gazette this morning about how the Steelers have recommitted to the running game under new OC Todd Hailey and at the urging (meddling insistence?) of team Prez Art Rooney II.  All kinds of stats cited about how there have been more running plays called in the two practice games so far and blah blah blah.  

Here's what I think...

In Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers employ one of the Top Five QB's in all of football.  That's my opinion, of course, and some will argue that he may not be a "Top 5" guy, but I don't think that anyone would place him outside of the Top Ten.  And he HAS led the team to three Super Bowls in his tenure over center.

In Wallace (when he shows up, and he will, eventually), Brown, Sanders, and Miller the team employs, maybe not an elite corps of receivers, but certainly a good to very good corps of receivers.

Their best running back, Rashard Mendenhall, is coming off major knee surgery, and who knows when, or even if, he'll be able to play.  The RB next in line, Isaac Redman, is also hurt (and I wasn't convinced that he would be able to do the job on a full time basis anyway).  The rest of the running backs are all pretty much untested and/or unknown.  Even at full strength, no one was going to confuse the current RB's with Jerome Bettis or Franco Harris.

When you put all that together, why the insistence on shifting the offensive emphasis on "running the football"?  The nearest that I have been able to tell, the answer to that question is some combination of "because that's Steelers football", "because that's what western PA football is all about", "because that's how the Steelers have always done it", "because that's what the fans want" (I thought the fans wanted Steelers wins), and "because that's what Art II wants".  I'm just a fan and not an expert, but I don't think that that is how the NFL game is being played these days.

I will admit to not paying the strictest attention to the two practice games so far, but in each game, I did see the Steelers come up with first and goal situations, whereupon the "new Steelers offense" ran three straight plays in both such possessions and produced negative yardage in both possessions, and settled for field goals.  I know, I know...they are exhibition games, you try things out in those games, who cares if you win or lose.  I get that, but I also know that there will be plenty of times this season, when the games DO count, that there will be first and goal situations when the Steelers will need to score touchdowns, and right now, I don't have a lot of faith that three straight hand offs to Isaac Redman up the middle will get the job done.  

We'll see where it goes from here, and I have a lot of faith in Mike Tomlin to coach this team as he sees best.  As for Art II, I have a lot of faith in his ability to squeeze every last buck from every available revenue stream, and very little faith in his calling plays from the owner's box.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Welcome to the 20th Century, Augusta National

The news has arrived today that the seeming final bastion of male supremacy, The Augusta National Golf Club, has announced that two women, former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and South Carolina businesswoman Darla Moore, have been admitted to full membership in the Club.  Depending on your viewpoint, this is either a great day, perhaps made a little less so since it took so long for it to happen, or this is the end of the world as you know it. As for me, well, I say it's about time (my headline is NOT a misprint), and I'd love to be a fly on the wall to see if Hootie Johnson will hold the doors open for Ms. Rice and Ms. Moore on their way into the Grill Room.  I also am getting a real chuckle picturing Clifford Roberts spinning like a high speed lathe in his grave.

Kudos to National Chairman Billy Payne for finally making this happen, and allow me to refer you to esteemed golf writer Steve Eubanks for more informed commentary on how Payne pulled it off.

Speaking of Sports

Everyone knows of the struggles the Pirates have been having of late.  You know the numbers, 19-17 since the All-Star break, 4-7 on the last home stand, and on and on, BUT as of this morning, they are still 13 games over .500, in second place in the NL Central, and hold the second wild card spot in the National League, albeit by a slim one game margin.  I think that we can almost safely say that the disastrous total collapse that took place last season, will not happen again this season.  I think that we can comfortably assume that the 19 year losing season streak will end, and that the team will be in the hunt for a post-season spot until well after Labor Day.

Now, all that said, how about that 19 inning win in St. Louis yesterday?  Our Parish Picnic took place yesterday afternoon, so I figured that I would not see any of the game, and thus  would not agonize over it at all.  I would come home from the picnic and learn that they either won or lost.  You know what happened.  People with their smart phones at the picnic kept giving the updates: tied after eight...tied after's now in the 11th...the 12th...the 15th...and so it went.  (By the way, how long has it been since updates of Pirates games were of any interest at events such as church picnics in August?)  While driving home, I heard them go ahead in the top of the 17th, only to get home and see the Cardinals tie it in the bottom of the 17th.  Then came the 19th.  A loss could have been devastating, but a win felt positively euphoric.

The Jerry Meals demons have been exorcised!  Raise the Jolly Roger!!

Time to take care of business in San Diego.  The Pirates owe a little payback to the padres from events of last week, it seems to me.


In other sports news, the Steelers had their second practice game of the summer last night, a come from behind win over the Colts.   

Here are my impressions so far:

  • I do not feel real good about the running back situation.
  • In last night's game and in last week's game with the Eagles, the Steelers had first and goal opportunities, whereupon they resorted to good old fashioned "Steelers football" and ran the ball, as Steelers Nation and Art III have been wanting, and in both instances, ended up losing yardage and settling for field goals.  I know, they're exhibition games, so who cares, but there are going to be times, many times, in the course of the season when the Steelers will need to score touchdowns in those situations.  So far, it hasn't worked out too well.
  • Maybe Art III can find a clone of Fran Rogel and sign him to "run the ball".  
  • I've already had my fill of the incessant navel gazing by the talking heads over the "new Todd Hailey-led Steelers offense".
  • Oh, and Andrew Luck looked pretty good for the Colts last night.  He much have a pretty sharp offensive coordinator coaching him.
Maybe the best part of the game was the commercial with Eli and Peyton Manning where Eli shoves Peyton into a closet and Peyton yells "I'm telling Dad!". 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

To Absent Friends - Ron Palillo

We need to note the passing of actor Ron Palillo, age 63, earlier this week.  Palillo came to the public's attention by playing Sweathog Arnold Horshack on 1970's sitcom "Welcome Back, Kotter".  Palillo became pretty much typecast by this role and spent the rest of his days, near as I can tell, as a one hit wonder, D-list celebrity confined to crummy reality shows and reunion shows on fringe cable networks.  What is notable is that his death follows fast upon the heels of the death of fellow Sweathog Robert Heyges in January of this year.

Note to Gabe Kaplan, John Travolta, and Lawrence Hilton Jacobs:  Be careful out there!

RIP Ron Palillo.

The Pittsburgh Franklins - Vintage Base Ballists

For the second year in a row, Marilyn and I, along with fellow SABR members Alan Steinberg and Joe Elinich (much to his consternation, Fred and Susan Shugars had a prior commitment and were unable to make it) traveled to Murrysville, PA to watch an exhibition vintage base ball (yes, it is two words) between the Pittsburgh Franklins and the Somerset Frosty Sons of Thunder.  The games were held as a part of the Murrysville Community Day celebration that took place today at Murrysville Community Park.

Vintage base ball, as played by the Franklins, is base ball played as it was played under the rules that existed in the 1860's.  Pitches from the hurlers to the batsmen are thrown underhanded, and the batsman is out if a struck ball is caught both on the fly or after one bounce.  This latter rule is perhaps the primary difference between vintage base ball and the game we watch today, and it adds an amazing amount of strategy, skill, and judgement to the game.

Watching these fellows play by these rules, strictly for the pleasure of playing, is very entertaining and a lot of fun.  And if you are thinking "beer league softball" as you read this, I can tell you that that is most definitely not the case.  These are very competitive games played by skilled "ballists".  The teams split their double header today, the Frosty Sons of Thunder winning game one, 3-2, and the Franklins bouncing back in the nightcap, 5-2.  We modern day "cranks" enjoyed it immensely, and look forward to being there next year.

Be advised that you will have another opportunity to take in some vintage base ball next month when the Franklins host what they are calling a "Scrambler" event.  Players and fans from five different cities throughout Pennsylvania and Ohio will gather at White Valley Park in Export, PA on Saturday, September 29, for an all day event featuring vintage base ball, food, beverages, live music and other events.  I will write more on this as the day approaches, and you can also check out the the Franklins' website at

I also want to pass on a "huzzah" to the folks in Murrysville for staging their Community Day events.  Murrysville is a long way from the North Hills, but it was worth the ride, not only to see the Franklins play, but to take part in such a fun, wholesome event, that really seems to be a product of a bygone age.

I'll leave you now with some more scenes from the day.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Ill Winds Blowing....

By now, if you care about this sort of thing, you are well aware of the skid that the Pirates have hit....16-15 since the All-Star Break, 3-6 on the current home stand, fallen to six games behind the first place Reds, and hold the last wild card spot by the narrowest of margins. There has been no God-awful ten game losing streak as there was last year, but things are, as GM Neal might put it, "trending downward".

As the holder of a partial ticket plan, I availed myself last night of one of the perks, and cashed in on two free tickets to last night's game with the Dodgers.  It was a prime example of the old expression "you get what you pay for" - I paid nothing for the tickets, and the Pirates, in losing 11-0, gave us absolutely nothing in the way of performance.  I kept having horrible flashbacks to the 2010 John Russell-led 105 loss Buccos.

Still plenty of time left, and nothing that a nice five or six game winning streak wouldn't cure, but the clouds are dark on the Bucco horizon right now.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Game Room Olympics III

While the Summer Olympics were drawing to a conclusion, an equally momentous event took place in Wexford this past Friday: the Third Annual Game Room Olympics (GRO).  The GRO are a product of the product of the genius mind of friend John Frissora, and with this third edition, the Games are proving to be a highlight of the sporting year for those lucky enough to receive invitations.   The GRO consist of seven events: golf chipping, poker, darts, table hockey, pool, slot car racing, and, new for GRO III, table shuffleboard.

The day officially got under way when the torchbearer, Kentucky Derby winner I'll Have Another and his jockey, Mario Gutierrez, arrived with the Olympic torch.

After the reciting of the Game Room Olympics oath, the torch was lit.

Fourteen Olympians took part in the Games this year, and while we all remember that the honor is in competing, not winning, I have to say that while I still have yet to earn a trophy as a Top Three finisher overall, I was very happy with my performance this year.  I just missed qualifying for the knockout round in slot cars, I blew my chance in golf chipping when my final shot clanged off of young Clayton Frissora's swing set (fortunately, Clay was not playing on it at the time), and I was eliminated early in pool and table hockey. I went 0-3 in hockey, although I did manage to score one goal in one of the games.  Three years in, and I have yet to come even close to winning a table hockey game.

On the plus side, I managed to earn GRO "hardware" (trophies) with third place finishes in poker and shuffleboard, and a fourth place finish in darts.  Here I am with the esteemed GRO Commissioner receiving the hardware.

It was great day, and lots of fun.  Many thanks go out to John for hosting this great event.

GRO IV is set for August 9, 2013, and admit it, you know that you want to be there!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Olympics Conclude....Some Thoughts

For all I know, the closing Ceremonies of the London Olympics are no doubt already taking place, but why wait until the torch goes out to clean out the Mental In-Box, Olympics Edition....

  • I actually didn't watch as much of the Games as I anticipated that I would going into it.   I blame that on a couple of things, including interest in the Pirates taking precedence, knowing the results of many of the events before NBC chose to show them, and the fact that it seemed that every time I tuned to NBC in prime time, either gymnastics or diving was on.
  • This morning, I did see the one event live, as it was happening, that I most wanted to see - the Men's Gold Medal Basketball game this morning.  USA 107 - Spain 100.  A terrific game that would have been much, much better had the refs not called so many fouls.  Of course, if they weren't slowing the game down with so many fouls, the margin of victory would have been a lot more than seven points.
  • Kevin Durant was tremendous with 30 points in the game, but when it was really down to crunch time in the fourth quarter, it was LeBron James who took over and sealed the deal for the USA.
  • I also saw a lot of Women's basketball games during the Games, and that really was a walkover for the USA.  I enjoyed seeing their Gold Medal victory win over France yesterday, but what was with head coach Gino Auriemma?  During the final quarter of that game yesterday, he looked about as happy as a guy going through the prep work for a colonoscopy.  Geez, Coach, can't you at least pretend that you're having a good time?
  • I really found myself getting completely caught up in the Women's semi-final soccer game on Wednesday between the USA and Canada.  The fact that there were actually seven, count 'em seven, goals scored in this game probably revolted the soccer purists, but, hey, call me an Ugly American, seeing teams actually take shots and score goals, coupled with what was at stake, made this one of the more exciting events of the Games for me.  And good for the USA ladies that they avenged last year's World Cup final by defeating Japan for the Gold Medal.
  • Another memorable Olympic moment for me was watching the Men's 10,000 Meter Final, won by the home country gent from Great Britain, live last Saturday afternoon in the Grill Room at the Pittsburgh National Golf Club with friend, Dan Bonk.
  • Unfortunately, I missed Usain Bolt's victory in the 100 Meter race, but I did see him win the 200 on Friday night.  It wasn't live, but I didn't know the result ahead of time.  The guy is amazing.
  • I also saw very little swimming and that disappointed me, because I do enjoy those events once every four years.
  • Speaking of swimming, we here in Stonebrook Village were quite excited over the performances of Allison Schmitt (2 Golds, 1 Silver, 1 Bronze) as her great-aunt Barb Meyer is one of our residents.  Yeah, Allison!!!
  • It seemed that I watched more events live four years ago in Beijing with a 12 hour time difference - and while I was working -  that I did this year with a five hour time difference.  Not sure how that could be.
  • I am a big fan of the Trib's Dejan Kovacevic, but early on I got so tired of his complaining about the "news embargo" that the Olympics and/or NBC was putting on him and his fellow journalists, that I pretty much stopped reading him about halfway through the first week.   Hey, DK, it's not like were on the front line in Afghanistan.
  • Not sure how your cable TV system set it up, but Verizon FiOS had two separate channels that NBC dedicated to basketball and soccer, and that was great.  Today, the Gold Medal game was on both the Basketball channel and the main NBC network over the air channel.  If you watched on the dedicated channel, there were no commercials!
  • Even with all the fouls, the USA - Spain game was played in two hours of real time.  Why does a 40 minute college basketball game seem to last about seven hours?  I think I heard that there is a rule in International ball that prevents coaches from calling times out whenever they please.  I didn't get all the nuances of that rule, but it is surely one that the NCAA should consider adopting.  Today.
That's about it for now.  Two more years until the winter Games in Sochi, Russia, and you know what that means.  CURLING, BABY, CURLING!!!!!

The New Addition....

The newest resident at Village Drive arrived yesterday, August 11, a 2012 Chevrolet Equinox.....

I can't show these pictures without mentioning how well we were treated at Baierl Chevrolet in Wexford.   We hate the process of buying a new car, but Sales Rep Ed Haskins and the folks at Baierl made it a very good experience.  If you are thinking of getting a new car, I can't recommend them highly enough. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Happy Birthday, Dustin Hoffman

Happy 75th Birthday greetings today to one of my all-time favorites, actor Dustin Hoffman.  Never the matinee idol type, I'd say Dustin is still looking good at age 75.  

Hoffman burst on the scene in 1967 in the great "The Graduate".  It is a tribute to him as an actor that he never became typecast as a result of that role, as the list of great movie roles to  follow are too many to list, but, what the hell, here are just a few of them:

Midnight Cowboy
Little Big Man
Kramer Vs. Kramer
Marathon Man
All the President's Men

Have I left any out?  I'm sure that I have, which says all you need to know about the greatness of Dustin Hoffman.

We leave with perhaps the most iconic image of Hoffman's screen career.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Catching Up on My Reading

In recent weeks, I have read some old books.  

"The Johnstown Flood" by David McCullough (1968).  This was McCullough's first book and it won him justifiable acclaim.  Now, being a native of Western Pennsylvania, I always knew that there was a famous "Johnstown flood", but I couldn't have told you for sure when it happened (1889) or why and how it happened, but this book sure filled in those gaps.  Living in an age where news is instantaneous (remember how we all actually watched the second plane crash into the World Trade Center?), I was fascinated by the fact that news was NOT instantaneous in 1889, not that I didn't already know that, of course.  For example, from the time the damn gave way, it actually took about 45 minutes for the wall of water to actually reach Johnstown itself.  Plus, with the water taking out many telegraph lines, it was difficult to communicate the complete nature of the disaster.  In Pittsburgh, people were aware that something bad had happened, but they didn't know exactly what it was.  That said, once the news people did arrive, the word did get out relatively quickly, and what happened afterward, in terms of rescue and relief efforts, as well as trying to pin the blame on someone for the disaster, makes for terrific reading.  McCullough's research and writing equals a great book.

"Close-Up on Sunset Boulevard" by Sam Staggs (2002).  The subtitle on this book also tells a lot of what it was about: "Billy Wilder, Norma Desmond, and the Dark Hollywood Dream".  As you can no doubt guess, the book is all about everything surrounding the making of and the history of the classic 1950 Billy Wilder movie, "Sunset Boulevard".  If you love that movie, you really should read this book.  Lots of great inside Hollywood stuff about Gloria  Swanson, Bill Holden, Billy Wilder, and others associated with the movie.  It also gives a lot of details about the development and production of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.  In the end, though, the book went on a little too long, and author Staggs slipped into a lot of "film buff" pretentiousness.  He also seems to have an axe to grind with Billy Wilder, and that gets a little tiring as well.  Still, a worthwhile read.

"The Devil and the White City" by Erik Larson (2003).  This is the story of the staging of the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, and it follows the parallel story of a serial killer that was operating in Chicago at the same time.  It also tells the story of the City of Pittsburgh's big contribution to that World's Fair - the first Ferris Wheel. 

All of these books make for good reading.

To Absent Friends: Maeve and Marvin

A belated and melancholy Happy Trails today to Irish novelist Maeve Binchy, who passed away in Ireland last week at the age of 72.  I confess to having never read one of Ms. Binchy's books, but she was a great favorite of Marilyn's, so I feel the need to note her passing.

And a real shocker came today with the news of the death of composer Marvin Hamlisch this day in Los Angeles at the age of 68.  A multiple Oscar/Grammy/Emmy/Tony/Golden Globe winner, Hamlisch was a true giant in Hollywood and Broadway, and even here in Pittsburgh where he served as Musical Director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Pops Orchestra. Cause of death not disclosed.

RIP Maeve and Marvin.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

One Out of Three Ain't Great, but It Beats the Alternative

On Wednesday night at the SABR Summer Hot Stove, Fred Shugars said that anything except being swept in Cincinnati would be OK, but that a sweep that would drop the Pirates six games back would be almost disastrous.  Well, it almost came to that, but the Pirates behind stellar pitching by A.J. Burnett and clutch hitting by Neil Walker and Starling Marte averted total disaster in the Rhineland this afternoon.

I am amazed at how so many people were all but giving up on the Pirates after those first two losses to the Reds (and, earlier, after the back-to-back losses to the Astros and the Cubs that began the week).   The Pirates have just come off a road trip where they had two series with two crummy teams and a series against what just might be the best team in the National League, and where the results of those series were 3-1, 2-1, 1-2.  Now, you can argue that perhaps some of those wins in Houston weren't works of art, but so what?  They went 6-4 on that trip, a pace that wins you 97 games over the course of a season.  Not every win can be a   masterpiece, but they all count the same.

I also am not buying that the Pirates now are only "playing for the wild card."  Four and one-half games back with 57 games to play is far from insurmountable.  I will concede that the Reds are a good, and possibly a very good team, so it will be a battle down to the wire, but as good as the Reds are, I will be absolutely amazed if they can continue the torrid pace that they have been on (23-4 over their last 27 games; that's 136 wins over a 162 game season; nobody does that!).  Just as the Pirates hot hitting has "regressed to the mean" since the All-Star Break, I am guessing that a similar regression is due to occur at the Great American Ball Park over the next few weeks.

So, will all the gloom-spreaders that have been populating The Fan and Facebook's Pirate Chat these past few days just step back and take a deep breath, and as Bette Davis once said, "fasten your seat belts, boys, it's going to be a bumpy ride"! 

Marilyn Monroe

If you have opened the newspaper or looked at the Internet today, you know that August 5 is the 50th Anniversary of the death of Marilyn Monroe.  If you are a regular reader, you know that I am a fan Miss Monroe, so I won't belabor the topic.  However, allow me to share two things.

First, the op-ed piece by Sally Kalson in today's Post-Gazette:

And a picture posted on Facebook today by friend Michael Austin.  I can't recall having seen this picture before, but it really is a pretty one.