Friday, April 29, 2016

A Couple of Movies.....

I hit the Redbox a couple of times this week and caught up on with two flicks that I missed when they were in the theaters last year....

The first was "Trumbo", directed by Jay Roach and staring Bryan Cranston as screenwriter Dalton Trumbo.  Trumbo, if you don't know the story, was one of the more prominent Hollywood luminaries who was targeted by the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950's and was blacklisted by mainstream Hollywood studios in one of the more shameful periods of American history in the 20th century.  Cranston received a Best Actor Oscar nomination for this movie and he was terrific in it.  Also starring and performing well were Diane Lane, Helen Mirren, Michael Stuhlbarg, Elle Fanning, and John Goodman.

The story of Dalton Trumbo (and others victimized by the blacklisting) is one worth seeing and learning about, because, I fear, there is an element about in the country today that would like to bring back those days.  We need to learn from our history. 

Plus, it's a good movie to boot.

Three and a half stars from The Grandstander.

The other movie was "Irrational Man", written and directed by Woody Allen.  Regular readers know that I am a huge fan of Woody Allen, but I can't say that this was one of Woody's best efforts.  Part of this may be traced to the fact that I'm just not a big fan of Joaquin Phoenix, who plays the "Woody-surrogate" role in this one.  The first half of the movie is pretty talk-y and slow moving until it gets to the plot point that is the key to the movie.  At that point it picks up a bit, but I think that it would have been a better movie with someone other than Phoenix.  

The movie takes place on a fictional college campus in a coastal town in Rhode Island, and it is beautiful to look at, as have been many of Allen's recent movies.  Female star Emma Stone is just as cute and charming as can be, and Parker Posey does a great turn as an older amorous pursuer of college professor Phoenix.  So the movie has that going for it, but it suffers in comparison with the Woodman's greater body of work.

Two stars from The Grandstander.

"Miller's Valley" by Anna Quindlen

"Miller's Valley"  is not my usual fare when it comes to reading.  Marilyn read it and loved it, and a positive review in the Post-Gazette a few weeks back, plus the fact that I have always been a fan of Ann Quindlen's essays and non-fiction, prompted me to give it a shot, and I am glad that I did.  

The story is narrated by Mary Margaret  "Mimi" Miller, as she tells the story of her growing up in the central Pennsylvania town of Miller's Valley, a farming community in a low lying area that is prone to flooding when the rains become especially heavy.  It is the state's plan to buy all of the property in the valley, or seize it via eminent domain, flood the area and create a reservoir, that will control floods, create a new community that would be centered around the recreational opportunities that will be created by the reservoir.

The story begins in the mid-1960's and follows the story of how Mimi and her family deal with the travails that life randomly throws at people as they journey through life.  Her brother goes to Viet Nam and comes back changed, her father encounters health issues that causes Mimi to change her college plans, she has an aunt that live on their property, but never leaves her house, her mother is the connective tissue that somehow holds the family together, Mimi falls in love, deals with snobby friends, and falls in love again.  Mimi starts as an awkward, unsure adolescent, and becomes, well, you need to read the book to see how she grows and develops into the person who ends up telling the story of Miller's Valley and its inhabitants.

Sounds like a pure "chick-lit" book that my wife thought I wouldn't like, but I did, mainly because Quindlen is such a terrific writer.  About halfway through, I started highlighting passages throughout the book because they just struck such a chord with me.  For example:

I looked around and it was like I was seeing everything frozen into a still photograph, like I was seeing my whole life but in one of those shots you look at later and think, Yeah, that's what it was like, once upon a time. Once upon a long tome ago.

Or this one...

When I got older I realized that the majority of people in Miller's Valley were the most discontented kind of Americans, working people whose situations hadn't risen or fallen over generations, but who still carried a little bit of those streets-paved-with-gold illusions and so were always annoyed that the streets were paved with tar, if they were paved at all.

I could go on, but you get the idea.  There is just nothing like damned good writing, and this is what Anna Quindlen delivers in this really, really good story.

Four stars from The Grandstander for "Miller's Valley".

Anna Quindlen

Monday, April 25, 2016

"On The Waterfront"

Last night, courtesy for he folks at  Turner Classic Movies and Fathom Events, we attended a screening of the 1954 classic movie, "On The Waterfront" at the Cinemark North Hills in McCandless.  This movie is truly a "classic" and, trust me, there is nothing like seeing such movies in an honest-to-God movie theater on a big screen.

The movie is a tale of corruption in the longshoreman's union on the Hoboken, NJ docks.  It was filmed on location in Hoboken and it certainly capture the grittiness of the subject matter.  The movie was nominated for twelve Academy Awards and won eight Oscars:
  • Best Picture
  • Best Actor - Marlon Brando
  • Best Supporting Actress - Eva Marie Saint
  • Best Director - Elia Kazan
  • Best Screenplay - Budd Shulberg
  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Art Direction
  • Best Film Editing
One of the Oscars it did not received was for Best Music Score, which was composed by some guy you may have heard of - Leonard Bernstein!

In addition, three of the actors - Karl Malden, Rod Steiger, and Lee J. Cobb all received nominations for Best Supporting Actor, and each was excellent.

The undeniable Star with a capital S of this movie, though, was the then twenty-nine year old Brando.  He was absolutely mesmerizing as Terry Malloy.  When he was on screen, you absolutely could not take your eyes off of him.  If you only know Brando as Vito Corleone of "The Godfather", please make it a point to see him in "On The Waterfront".

As you can see from the picture at the top of this post, Fathom Events will also be showing "On the Waterfront" on Wednesday night this week at "Select Cinemas".  If you take the time to go and see it on Wednesday, I guarantee that you will not be disappointed.

I will close with a clip form this scene from the movie.  It is perhaps its most famous scene, the one that is always shown on TV specials about great movies.  It is even greater when seen within the context of the entire movie.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Sunday Morning Musings.....

The Pirates stand at 9-9 this morning, tied for third in the NL Central, four games behind the first place Cubs.  There has been a lot to like about the '16 Pirates (high OBP, scoring runs, John Jaso) and some things about which to be concerned (uneven, at best, starting pitching, below average bullpen, Cutch hitting below .250), but it is still VERY early and we probably shouldn't be overly concerned at this point.  So why am I saying that this afternoon's game with the Diamondbacks might be considered, if not critical, then at least a possible red flag game?

It is an old axiom in baseball that teams need to "win at home and break even on the road." That axiom came to mind last Sunday when the Bucs were about to embark on a ten game western road trip to San Diego, Phoenix, and Denver.  With seven of those games coming against two teams that figure to be NL bottom feeders, it was hoped that 5-5 would be the absolute lower limit of this trip, that 6-4 was well within reach, and even 7-3 might be obtainable.  Halfway throughout he trip they are 2-3. A win today would certainly put a 5-5 trip well within reach, but a loss would mean that the Bucs would need to take three of four from the Rockies at Coors Field. Certainly doable, but with the way the pitching has been going would you bet on it?

At this point, it looks like a 5-5 road trip is the best that the Pirates can hope for.  Within that old axiom to be sure, but will it be a ten game stretch that we will look back upon come September and say "if only....."?


Something to really love on this trip was the performance of Gerrit Cole against the Padres on Thursday.  After the team lost two straight to the crummy Padres, Cole did what an ace pitcher is supposed to do: He put the hammer down and shut down San Diego for six shutout innings and stopped the losing streak.  An eight run seventh inning for the Pirates turned the game into an 11-1 laffer, but make no mistake, that game was all about Gerrit Cole.


Congratulations to the Pittsburgh Penguins for taking the the first series of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in five games over the New York Rangers.  I had gone on record at the start of the Playoffs that the Pens would win the Stanley Cup by sweeping all four series.  Well, that obviously isn't going to happen now, so I suppose we will all just have to settle for a 16-1 record when they hoist the Cup a couple of weeks from now.

Yes, I know that I am a Bandwagon Jumper.


The Facebook news feed and he talking heads on ESPN have been all abuzz in the last week or so over someone named Conor McGregor.  Until this week, I had never heard of Conor McGregor, but I have come to learn that he is a big star in Ultimate Fighting, a "sport" that my friend Tim Baker calls human cockfighting.

I know that I'm old, but for the life of me, I cannot understand the appeal of UFC and MMA.  You can all get off my lawn now, assured of the knowledge that it is likely that the name of Conor McGregor will probably never appear in The Grandstander again.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Allow Me To Recommend....

Earlier this year, the book "The Girl in The Glass" by James Hayman was offered on one of those Amazon "Kindle Deal of the Day" emails, it looked interesting, so I bought it.  It was terrific.

The book centered around Portland, Maine police detectives Michael McCabe and Margaret "Maggie" Savage, and the crime involved the death of a young heiress in Portland who was murdered in an amazingly similar fashion to the death of her great-great-grandmother that took place 108 years earlier.  It was a fast paced story and a great mystery with, in the case of McCabe and Savage, terrific characters.

This led me to see if there were other books in the series, and indeed there were. In fact, "The Girl in The Glass" was the fourth novel in the series, and I immediately ordered the other three.

In chronological order, the books are "The Cutting", "The Chill of the Night", and "Darkness First".  You needn't read them in the order in which they were written, but if you are obsessive about things like that, Amazon is making it easy for you to do so.  All four of them can be purchased for you Kindle for $5.96, or, you can buy them individually for $.99 for the first three books, and $2.99 for "The Girl in the Glass".  I mean, they are practically giving them away.

You can also learn more about the series and about author James Hayman at

The bad news is that I have now finished all four books, and have to wait until Hayman comes out with a new one, which probably won't be for another year or so.

So, if you are in the market for a good mystery/police/crime novel, give any or all of these "McCabe and Savage Thrillers", as they are being marketed, a shot.  I do not think that you will be disappointed.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

A Local Favorite Retires

I learned this past weekend that long time Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Movie Editor and Critic Barbara Vancheri has retired.  

I consider this a loss to movie fans in the Pittsburgh area as I considered Barb a discerning critic, and I knew that I could almost always (with some exceptions, of course) see a pretty good movie and, just as importantly, avoid seeing a pretty bad movie, by following her reviews.  I especially liked how she would often end her reviews by using a whimsical simile.  Something like..."The movie is like a bucket of movie theater popcorn.  It tastes good while you're eating it, but you still feel empty as soon as it's finished."  I loved those!

I am happy that Barb made the decision herself to retire. It is always great to leave on your own terms.  I wish her nothing but the best as she enters this next phase of her life.

Full disclosure, the Vancheri and Moellenbrock (that would be my wife) families lived on the same street in McCandless.  Marilyn and Barbara and her sister and brother were childhood friends growing up.  Heck, Barb Vancheri was at our wedding!  So, Marilyn certainly knows Barb far better than I, but in later years, with the development of email and especially since I began writing about movies myself in this Blog, I would email back and forth with Barb about these topics.  She would always respond and, I might add, respond graciously to this hack amateur movie fan blogger.  I will certainly miss that.

I am not sure what the PG will do to replace her, but the early returns do not look promising. Today's Weekender Magazine featured a write-up on all of the "Summer Movies" that will come out in the months ahead - its as the kind of feature that Barb always did so well - and it was written by someone from a Milwaukee (?) newspaper.  Not a good sign, but that is a topic for another day.

While I can't claim to know Barb well, I think I can say that she is an essentially modest person, and that she probably is not happy that I am writing this and putting this small spotlight on her, but I am doing it anyway.  I want her to know that I will miss seeing her in the Post-Gazette, that I appreciate her friendship, and that I wish her nothing but happiness and success in whatever she chooses to do in the years ahead.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

"Jackie Robinson" by Ken Burns

I hope that everyone had the opportunity to watch the two part PBS documentary movie by Ken Burns, "Jackie Robinson", over the last two nights.  It was an excellently done show, as you would expect from Burns, about one of the most important figures of the twentieth century.

As is often the case with such shows, the most interesting part was those parts they dealt with Robinson's life after he left baseball.  In a show that was filled with terrific moments, a couple were especially impactful.  One, involved two of the people being interviewed and providing commentary for the documentary - President and Mrs. Barack Obama.  The unspoken connection between Robinson and the President and their roles in the social history of this country was unmistakable.  The second was what was shown over the closing credits of Part Two - scenes of major league ball players and teams in action with all players wearing the number 42 on their uniforms.

If you missed it and didn't record it for later viewing, I believe that you can stream it from the PBS website:

And DVD sets are also already available.  

It is well worth it.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Sunday at The Masters, Post-Game

As I said this morning, I wore a butt-groove in the couch this afternoon and into the evening watching the final round of The Masters, and it certainly did not disappoint.  My Jason Day prediction of this morning was sure wrong, but there was drama a-plenty, and the long held cliche of "The Masters never really begins until the second nine on Sunday" was truer than ever this year.

When Jordan Spieth birdied the 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th holes to take a five shot lead, his second consecutive Masters victory seemed a forgone conclusion, right?  Bogies on ten and eleven seemed to be a slight hiccup, but then the famous 12th hole at Augusta reared its head.

You know what happened.  Not one, but two shots into Rae's Creek, and quadruple bogey 7, combined with Englishman Danny Willett's bogey-free five under 67, and Willett is the new Masters Champ, so congratulations Danny Willett!  Watching Spieth implode like that was excruciating to watch, but it certainly was dramatic sporting theater.

It will be interesting to see how Spieth responds to this.  He's extremely talented, and he's only 22 years old, so most likely he will shake this off and excel, but even Nick Faldo said that this has to scar him to some degree or another.

In the meantime, the coronation of the "Next Tiger" has been postponed indefinitely.

Sunday at the Masters, Pre-Game

(Okay, before I begin, I need to address what I wrote yesterday, which was that in the final pairing of the third round, Rory McIlroy would post a better score than Jordan Spieth.  Didn't happen.  Spieth went +1 and McIlroy went +5 yesterday.  Don't ever say that I brush my bad calls under the rug.)

Here's your leader board as we await the beginning of the Final Round of The Masters:

-3 Jordan Spieth
-2 Smylie Kaufman
-1 Bernhard Langer, Hideki Matsuyama
E Jason Day, Dustin Johnson
+1 Lee Westwood, Soren Kjeldsen, Brandt Snedeker
+2 Daniel Berger, Rory McIlroy

I only went that deep on the leader board in order to show Rory McIlroy.  His +5 yesterday puts him five strokes off the lead, not an impossible lead to overcome, but he would also have to jump over ten golfers to win.  McIlroy's quest for the career Grand Slam will have to wait until 2017.

The high scores are a function of the winds that laced Augusta National over the last three days, and for me, at least, that has reduced the enjoyment of the tournament this year.  I like seeing guys making birdies at The Masters, having eagle chances on thirteen and fifteen, and going low.  I don't enjoy seeing best players in the world struggling to make par.  However, forecasts call for calmer conditions today, so that could make today a lot of fun to watch.  I plan on wearing a groove in the couch today from 2:00 until the ceremony in Butler Cabin, as I am sure many of you will.  

I believe that the winner will come from among the six players currently at even par or better:

 Jordan Spieth - I got home from Mass last night with Spieth at -5 and enjoying a four shot lead after sixteen holes.  Had he parred out, I would say that today was a forgone conclusion, but he went bogey, double bogey on 17 and 18, and now it's all up for grabs.  Of course, if the winds die down as predicted, he could shoot a 64 or 65 and slam the door on everyone else.  Still, how Spieth bounces back from that terrible finish yesterday will tell us an awful lot about how he plays the game between his ears.

Smylie Kaufman - Okay, raise your hand if you had heard of Smylie Kaufman before this week?  Oh, you folks with your hands raised?  I don't believe you.  I found this brief story on the 24 year old Kaufman this morning...

...and honestly, how can you not root for this kid?

Bernhard Langer - The presence of the 58 year old Langer in this group is an even bigger surprise than that of young Mr. Kaufman, and a third green jacket for Langer would be one heck of a story, but I don't see it happening.  Plus, and nothing against Langer, who by all accounts is a great guy, I don't want to see anyone supplanting Jack Nicklaus as the oldest Masters Champion.

Hideki Matsuyama - All three of his Masters rounds have been par or better.  No one else can make that claim.

Jason Day - The world's Number One ranked player was one of only five players under par yesterday.  I see him making a run at the lead today.

Dustin Johnson - As long as I have been writing this Blog, I have been predicting Majors wins for Johnson, and he always seems to fold on Sundays.  Maybe this will be his time.

PREDICTION:  I see Jason Day, in the third to last pairing putting on a big surge and pressuring Spieth.   If the conditions are mild, wind-wise, I see low scores from Spieth, Day, and Johnson.  In the end, regardless of weather conditions, I call for a win for.....


As always, watch, but don't bet.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Masters: The Battle is Joined

Well, you want drama at The Masters every year, and you couldn't have ordered it up any better than what Round Three will serve up this afternoon.  Defending Champ and World #2 Jordan Spieth at -4 and World #3 Looking for the Career Grand Slam Rory McIlroy at -3 in the final pairing.  Oh, and don't count out World #1 Jason Day just yet.  He is currently T-15 at +1. He is capable of shooting a 68 or 69 in these conditions, and if he does, that will put him right in the thick of it.

The weather conditions, i.e, the wind, at Augusta National has really affected scoring through the first two rounds, and I believe that those conditions will continue to prevail today.  I watched a lot of the second round yesterday, and based upon the demeanor of the two players yesterday, I will offer the following prediction: At the end of round three this evening, McIlroy will be ahead of Spieth on the leader board.  That doesn't necessarily mean that Rory will lead the tournament, just that he will shoot a better round than Spieth today.

Should be fun to watch!

Friday, April 8, 2016


If you were watching any of the Opening Round of The Masters on television yesterday, you no doubt saw the scene of the traditional ceremonial "Opening Tee Shots" taken by Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus.  Also participating, but not taking a shot, was 86 year old Arnold Palmer. It has been known for several weeks now that Palmer, due to some "health issues", would not be taking that tee shot this year, but even knowing that it was still a shock to see Palmer yesterday.  If any athlete ever seemed invincible while practicing his sport, it was Arnold Palmer, which made yesterday's ceremony all the more jarring.  

Check out the column in today's Post-Gazette by Gerry Dulac...

....and it seems obvious, to me, anyway, from the comments of his lifelong rivals and pals, Player and Nicklaus, that they feel much the same as all of the legions of Arnie's Army must feel.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016


Saw the British movie "Eye in the Sky" yesterday.  Best way to describe it is as "the anatomy of a drone strike".  Starred Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, and Alan Rickman.  Extremely suspenseful and a view of some of the very scary stuff that makes up modern warfare.  

This movie gets a full four stars from The Grandstander.  See it.


The Pirates are off to a nice start, and last night's  eleven inning win over the Cardinals is an example of why we follow sports, and baseball in particular.  Sloppy defense and mediocre pitching from both teams for five innings, then six innings of amazing bullpen work from both teams.  

Kyle Lobstein pitches the tenth and eleventh innings and gets his first win as a Pirate, but it was almost ulcer-inducing.  He seemed to fall behind 2-0 or 3-0 on every batter, gave up a check swing opposite field double to some guy named Hazelbaker, then gets Yadi Molina to hit into a double play, and falling behind in the count again, he strikes out the side (around a walk) in the eleventh.  Then he gets the W after Jordy Mercer's walk off single.

As I say, this is why we watch sports.


Like most of you I participated in an NCAA bracket pool that had fifty-some entries, and I finished in dead last place.  Not a tie for last place, but all alone in last place.  Four years ago, I won this same pool, and I maintain that finishing last takes just as much skill, knowledge, and luck (bad luck in this case) as finishing in first place.


Speaking of the NCAA Tournament, I won't try to write about that absolutely fantastic 77-74 win by Villanova over North Carolina.  I mean, really, what can you say? Not just one, but two unbelievable shots in the final six seconds of that game.  It was one for the ages.

Not nearly as exciting, but perhaps much more impressive, was watching the Connecticut women's team run through and dominate the Women's tourney.  Their smallest margin of victory was 21 points.  The fact that no other team has been able to challenge them in the last four seasons (74 wins in a row, all by double digits) raises many questions and some problems for the women's game, but that takes nothing away from how well and sweetly they play the game.

Breanna Stewart is a marvel.


Watching the Cardinals and Pirates on the MLB Network last night was interesting in that it was the St. Louis telecast that MLB carried.  I would want a steady diet of it, but it's interesting to hear the other team's announcers.  I don't know the name of the play-by-play guy, but Al Hrabovsky was the color guy, and they were quite good.  Very respectful of the Pirates.  I liked it.

A Visit to the Twilight Zone

The Grandstander recently noted the death of writer Earl Hamner, Jr., the creator of, among other things, the television series, "The Waltons".

I had read in Hammer's obituary that as a young man he befriended another young writer, Rod Serling, and that that friendship led to Hamner writing scripts for eight episodes of Serling's landmark television series, "The Twilight Zone".  The internet made it very easy to find out which episodes Hamner wrote, and a walk to my DVD box set of "The Complete Twilight Zone" gave me the opportunity to once again enjoy these show and these episodes in particular.

Here were the shows that Hamner wrote and when they first aired:

Season Three

The Hunt (1962)
A Piano in the House (1962)

Season Four

Jesse-Belle (1963)

Season Five

Ring-A-Ding Girl (1963)
You Drive (1964)
Black Leather Jackets (1964)
Stopover in a Small Town (1964)
The Bewitchin' Pool (1964)

It was most interesting and entertaining viewing.  Three of the stories, The Hunt, Jess-Belle, and The Betwitchin' Pool contained settings among country folk, similar to the kind of people Hammer wrote about in "The Waltons".  Some were in contemporary settings, some had real science fiction overtones, and some were spooky, and almost all of them had some real message to deliver.

The star of Jesse-Belle was one of my favorites, Anne Francis, who also starred in a more famous TZ episode called The After Hours.  Other notable actors in these shows included Edward Andrews, Barry Sullivan, and Mary Badham.  Badham is famous for her role of Scout in "To Kill A Mockingbird" and her role in The Bewitchin' Pool was one of only five other roles that she did after Mockingbird, and The Bewitchin' Pool was, in fact, the final episode of "The Twilight Zone" series.

More remarkable was observing how good these episodes - and most episodes of "The  Twilight Zone" -  were and how well these shows hold up over fifty years after they were initially produced and aired.  The production values, and by that I mean the sets and scenery, may appear cheap and chintzy by the television standards of 2016, but the stories, the acting, and, above all, the excellent writing all make these shows still good and still worth watching all these years later.  This makes that TZ boxed set one of the highlights of my own personal  DVD library.

Submitted for your approval.....

Saturday, April 2, 2016


Yes, the first pitch of the Pirates 2016 season opener is a mere twenty-six hours (and counting) away, so it is time for the much anticipated and highly regarded Grandstander Season Prediction.  I always try to do this a little differently each year, so this year it will be done in the form of Q & A.

QUESTION:  Will the Pirates be good this year?

ANSWER:  If by "good" you mean competitive and having a winning record record, the answer is YES.  In Marte, McCutchen, and Polanco, they could very well have the best outfield in all of baseball.  Third baseman Jung Ho Kang was, in my opinion, the second best player on the team last year at the time of his injury.  If he comes back (by late April according to most sources) in that same form, they have a terrific third baseman.  Solid performers at short, second and catcher.  That's a pretty good every day lineup.

QUESTION: What about first base?  

ANSWER:  Yep, that is a pretty big question mark.  It's going to be a platoon of John Jaso and Michael Morse/David Freese.  Can that platoon replace the 27 home runs that Pedro Alvarez hit last year?  Probably not, but if it can produce 20 or so dingers and play better defense (not hard considering who was there last year), I'll take it, and so will Clint Hurdle.

QUESTION: What is the biggest concern with this team?

ANSWER:  In my mind it's simple...starting pitching.  Gerrit Cole is a bona fide major league ace.  No problem there.  Francisco Liriano is solid, and I have high hopes for Jonathon Neise.  After that it gets shaky.  Jeff Locke?  We know what we are getting in him  -  a 26-30 lifetime pitcher with a career ERA over 4.00 through five seasons.  He's not going to turn into Sandy Koufax any time soon.  Thirty-eight year old Ryan Vogelsong was beaten out of a starter's job by Juan Nicasio.  Nicasio certainly earned that on merit in Spring Training, but will he be able to sustain that when the opponents start playing for real?  All indications are that the troika of Locke-Nicasio-Vogelsong are merely placeholders until top pitching prospects Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow arrive after a month or two of minor league seasoning in Indianapolis.  That's a lot of "ifs" in the rotation.  Maybe it will work out.  Pirates fans sure hope so.

QUESTION:  What about the bullpen?

ANSWER:  The Pirates under Neal Huntington have always been able to put together a strong bullpen.  Mark Melancon of the 51 saves in 2015 is back, as is Tony Watson and Jerrod Hughes, who will begin the season on the DL.  Neftali Feliz has been added and he look very good in the Spring.  The rest of the guys are the usual suspects of long relievers and situational guys.  This should be a strength of the team.

QUESTION:  How about the bench?

ANSWER:  Another strong point.  Do everything guy Sean Rodriguez is back as is catcher Chris Stewart.  Add in guys like Morse, Freese, and Jaso when they are not starting at first, and outfielder Matt Joyce, well, that's a pretty good bench, I believe.  And there is still competition for that all-important "25th guy on the team" between Jason Rodgers and, unbelievably, Pedro Florimon.

QUESTION:  Will improved defense offset the loss of the offense that Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez provided last year?

ANSWER:   Only the advanced metrics boys would be able to provide a definitive answer to that one.  Surely, the Pirates think that it will, and fans can only hope that they will be right in that regard.

QUESTION: Will there Pirates be able to play better against the teams in the NL Central?

ANSWER:  The Pirates have had the curious statistic of playing lousy against NL Central teams in each of the last two years, playing under .500 within the division, even against the lousy teams like the Brewers, Reds, and Cubs (in 2014).  If the Pirates are to make any noise at all in 2016, they HAVE to improve on that performance.

(A word about the Cubs.  As they were last year, they are and will continue to be he darlings of the national media simply because a traditionally lousy team has gotten good and they are the lovable, cursed, downtrodden, Wrigley Field playing and blah blah blah Cubbies.  My opinion is that they are to baseball what the Cincinnati Bengals are to the NFL.  They may be good in the regular season, but until they do something spectacular in the post-season, I'm not picking them to win the whole thing.  Of course, they do have one big weapon going for them - Theo Epstein.  For that reason, I am wary of them.)

QUESTION: So, how many games are they going to win, and are they going to make the post-season?

ANSWER:  The team won 98 games last year, second best in all of baseball.  They are not going to do that this year.  The Cubs are good, and the Cardinals are always going to be the Cardinals.  Those three teams are going to beat up on each other all season so it will be difficult to win upwards of 95 games in the Central.  Because of my concerns with the starting pitching, I see the team taking a step backwards.  They will be good, they will provide all of us with a fun and entertaining season of baseball, they will win more games than they lose, but I see them winning 89 games and not making the payoffs.

I will be happy to be wrong on this one.

Now, let's get ready to Raise It!!!

Friday, April 1, 2016

You Need To Read The Current Sports Illustrated

While I think that the overall quality of Sports Illustrated has slipped over the last several years, every so often it summons up its past greatness and delivers a first rate article.  In the current edition, dated April 4, 2016, they knock it out of the park with two such articles.

The first is the cover story by Alan Shipnuck about Tiger Woods entitled simply, "What Happened?".  It has been eight years since Woods has won a Major Championship, three years since he has won a tournament, and now, at age 40, and after undergoing three back surgeries in 19 months, he is rarely seen with a golf club in his hands.  At best, he will only be a ceremonial figure at next week's Masters, where his fellow golfers are hoping that he will at least show up at the Champions Dinner on Tuesday. What has happened, indeed.

It is lengthy story, and my take away on it is this: like most highly scrutinized people in the celebrity culture of the twenty-first century, Woods is a complex and somewhat confounding person.  For every story about the guy who is curt and rude with fans or media, you find a story about the guy who was on the phone every day with his swing coach Sean Foley, when Foley and his wife were about to have a baby who might have been born with a fatal birth defect.  That child, by the way, overcame the defect, and is today a healthy active kid who Woods continues to check on, even though he and Foley have long since parted ways as Coach and Client.  And for every story of Woods' marital infidelities, there are stories of the hundreds of kids whose lives have literally been changed for the better via the services of the Tiger Woods Learning Center.

Lots of complexities, and lots of great quotes in the story.  You need to read it.

The second must read story is called "Under The Gun" is an excerpt from  a book called "The Arm" by Jeff Passan.  It is about the culture of youth baseball, travel teams, baseball academies, and Showcase Tournaments  in the United States, and the companies who run these events.  I found it to be rather disturbing.

Finally, I would recommend the column on the back page called "The Beauty of the Bracket" by Frank Kaminsky, now a member of the Charlotte Hornets of the NBA, but more famous as member of the University of Wisconsin basketball team that went to two consecutive Final Fours in 2014 and 2015.  It is a great story about the thrill of playing in College Basketball's showcase event, but I was really struck by this passage in Kaminsky's closing paragraph:  

"The hardest moment was getting back to campus and realizing that I was done in Wisconsin. Two days after the Final Four last year, I left school to start training for the draft.  It just happened so fast.  I was there, I was a basketball player and having the time of my life, and suddenly I was gone..."

So much for the myth of being a "student-athlete".  To his credit, Kaminsky never proclaimed to be a student.