Monday, October 30, 2017

That Crazy Game 5

If you missed that Game Five of this year's World Series last night, and chances are you did if you live east of the Mississippi and had to get up for work or school on Monday morning, here's how it played out:

  • It was 4-0 Dodgers in the top of the fourth inning with Clayton Kershaw pitching.
  • It was 4-4 in the bottom of the fourth.
  • It was 7-4 Dodgers in the top of the fifth.
  • It was 7-7 in the bottom of the fifth.
  • It was 8-7 Dodgers in the top of the seventh.
  • It was It was 11-8 Astros in the bottom of the seventh.
  • It was 11-9 in the top of the eighth.
  • It was 12-9 in the bottom of the eighth.
  • It was 12-12 in the top of the ninth.
  • Astros walk-off 13-12 in the bottom of the tenth.
  • The Astros hit five home runs, the Dodgers hit two.
  • Perhaps the best player on either team, George Springer, made a bonehead play in the outfield that caused the Dodgers to take the lead in the seventh inning.
  • Springer then led off the bottom of the seventh  by hitting the first pitch he saw about nine miles for a home run that tied the game, and sparked a four run rally for the Astros.
  • Each team used seven pitchers.  
  • Each team started it's best pitcher.  Kershaw was knocked out of the game in the fifth inning.  Dallas Keuchel was knocked out in the fourth.
  • Each team's bullpen was abominable.
  • The game lasted 5 hours and 17 minutes, and ended at close to 1:30 AM in the East.
It was a game that took too long to play, that featured marginal to awful pitching, that featured some glaring mistakes by the managers, and it just may well have been the most exciting and dramatic sporting event, not just the most exciting and dramatic baseball game, that I have seen in, I don't know, ten years, twenty years?  Name me something comparable.  I'm willing to listen and argue the point with you.  

And this Game Five comes four days after an eleven inning 7-6 Astros win in Game Two that was similarly exciting and almost epic, but Game Five topped it in spades.

Me, I was watching the Steelers game and switching the the baseball game during commercials.  I did see the Jose Altuve three-run homer that tied it at 7-7 in the fifth inning.  The Steelers game ended at around 11:30 or so, and I then switched to the Series game, which by then was only at the end of the sixth inning.  Little did I realize what was to come over the next two or so hours.  As I said, it may have been the most compelling and dramatic baseball game ever, considering what was at stake.

Just how this game will sit in the pantheon of All-Time Great Games will depend on who ends up winning the World Series. If Houston prevails, then this one becomes one of the Top Two to Five games ever.  If the Dodgers win, then Game Five becomes an interesting historical footnote with each passing year.

So, how does it end?  The Series now goes back to LA with Houston up 3-2 and Justin Verlander pitching for them.  You have to like their chances, and given how the Astros bullpen has been, I am guessing that AJ Hinch will make him pitch until his arm falls off.  I like Houston's chances in Game Six, but if it goes to a seventh game, well, I had called for the Dodgers in seven at the outset, so I guess that I will stand by that.

Regardless of how it ends up, these two teams have thus far, given us a World Series for the ages.

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Caring Place Turns 20

Marilyn and I had the honor and pleasure of attending an Event at Penn Avenue Place (the old Horne's Department Store building for all of you old-timers out there) this past Wednesday evening wherein Highmark celebrated the Highmark Caring Place's twentieth anniversary of serving the needs of grieving children and their families in Western Pennsylvania.

Regular readers know of my connection to and feelings about the Caring Place, so I will not restate them here, but it was so nice to be guest at this event and share time with the CP staff members and other volunteers.  The evening was in large part, and most deservedly so, a tribute to the man who started the Caring Foundation back in the late 1980's and also began the Caring Place, Charlie LaVallee.

When I worked at the Blues, it was not a part of my job to interact with Charlie on a regular basis, but when I did, I knew that I was dealing with a man who was truly one of "the good guys".  The Caring Place would not exist without the vision and the efforts of Charlie LaVallee, and the tribute that he received on Wednesday was well earned and deserved.

Charlie serves today as Chairman of Variety, The Children's Charity, and in that role he continues to serve the needs of the less fortunate, particularly children, among us.  I am proud to call him a friend.

On another note, it was kind off strange to go into the building, and actually be on the same floor where I spent the last eleven years of my working career.  Can't quite describe the feeling.  I was also happy to chat that evening with Deb Rice-Johnson.  Today, Deb serves as President of Highmark Health, and, as such, is one of the more prominent women in business in Pennsylvania.  Once upon a time however, she was one of my Directors.  I had not seen Deb in five or six years, and I was delighted to find her to be as gracious as ever to this old co-worker of hers.

Congratulations to the Highmark Caring Place for twenty years of service to this community.  I am so honored to be a small part of its mission.

Movie Review: "Suburbicon"

In terms of pedigree, "Suburbicon" has everything going for it.  Produced and written by the Coen Brothers, directed by George Clooney (who co-produced and co-wrote it as well), and a couple of attractive stars in Matt Damon, Julianne More, and Oscar Isaac, this is a flick that had "I can't wait to see it" written all over it.

Let me get right to the point.  This is one of the most unpleasant movies that I have seen in a long, long time.  And I knew ten minutes into it that it was going to be that way.  If I was watching this on television at home, rather than having spent my own greenbacks at the theater, I'd have quickly grabbed the remote and switched to HGTV.

The movie starts as a satire on suburban conformity in the 1950's, takes a turn as a commentary on racial prejudices of that same era (which sadly, still exist out there today), then takes an even sharper turn into home invasion, infidelity, murder for hire, and insurance fraud.  Any single one of these trails could have produced a good and entertaining flick, but the way this one was put together produced something that was all together completely unpleasant.  Yes, that is the second time that I have used that word to describe this one, but it is the most effective one that I can come up with to summarize this movie.

This movie has produced some advance buzz among the film festival crowd and critics, probably due to that aforementioned pedigree, and while I have seen no reviews as yet, critics will no doubt rave about the acting, writing, cinematography, editing and its other technical aspects, and they may well be correct, but when it all adds up to a totally, and here's that word again, folks, unpleasant viewing experience, that makes it a bad movie in my book.

I'll give this movie one star, solely for the performance of Julianne Moore, and solely for one specific scene when she is being interviewed by insurance investigator Isaac.

Save your money and skip this one, folks.  Don't even spend a buck and a half when this one comes to the Redbox.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Speaking of Sports....

It's been awhile since I've commented on the sporting scene, so let's play a little catch-up, shall we.....

Two weeks ago, the Steelers lost, badly so, to the Jax Jaguars, and were headed on the road to play the undefeated KayCee Chiefs.  It was looking grim, and a poor performance against the Chiefs could have sent the Steelers season in the wrong direction.  

What followed was convincing win against the Chiefs, and that was then followed with an even more convincing win over the Cincinnati Bengals.  Not coincidentally, both wins featured strong performances by this guy...

Le'Veon Bell

....who may very well be the best running back in the NFL.  Bell has shown knucklehead tendencies in the past, but it cannot be disputed just how good he is.

Both of these past two Steelers wins have also been highlighted by strong defensive performances, and now, just two weeks after that woeful game against the Jags, the team appears to be one of the strongest in the NFL.  Of concern, however, is the Steelers mystifying inability to turn First and Goal opportunities into touchdowns and settling for field goals instead.  It hasn't hurt them too much so far, but there will come a time, against a strong opponent, when I fear that that deficiency will bite them in the posterior.  Until then, though, let's enjoy the ride.

Is there anything that can cure Steelers Sluggishness more that playing against the Cincy Bengals?  Once again, the Bengals turned into the Bungles when playing the Steelers yesterday.  At no time was this more apparent than at the end of the first half.  The Steelers have the ball inside their own twenty-five yard line, under two minutes to play, and only one time out.  What happens? A Bengals penalty for having twelve men on the field gives the Steelers a crucial first down, and that was then followed up by a forty yard pass interference penalty that gave the Steelers the ball on the Bengals five yard line.  And all of that was followed by a Bengal second half where Andy Dalton and his mates redefined the term "hapless".

As I have often said, Death, Taxes, and Unbelievable Screw-ups by the Cincy Bengals.  Three absolutes in life.

Two weeks ago, I sat in Heinz Field and watched Pitt get thoroughly beaten by North Carolina State and fall to 2-4.  Really, there was nothing positive to take from that game.  Poor line play, which led to no running game and inept quarterback play.  It was discussed among my ticket group that it was possible that the Panthers might not win another game all season.

What happens?  Pitt travels to Duke and lays a beat down on the Blue Devils, a win that featured a 200+ yard rushing performance from Darrin Hall.  Go figure.

Pitt now has to go 3-2 the rest of the way to become bowl eligible.  Can they do it?  I suppose it is possible, but I give it a less than 50/50 chance unless some spark is lit at the quarterback position.  Makes you realize how good a college QB Nate Peterman was.

Anyway, bowl eligibility now becomes the Panther goal, but how good are you really going to feel about a 6-6 season?


The World Series begins tomorrow night!  Once the premier sporting event in all of America, the World Series is still a pretty big deal to me, and this year's battle between the Dodgers....

Dodgers defeat Cubs
and Astros....

Astros defeat Yankees

certainly has the possibility to be an exciting one.  

Both teams won over 100 games, and the Dodgers, save for an inexplicable 20 for so game stretch game in late August, steamrolled through the regular season and the NL Playoffs.  Likewise, the Astros blew through the AL West in the regular season, and won a thrilling LCS in seven games over the Yankees.

(Before I go on, a word about the Yankees.  They are young and they are good, and unlike Yankees teams from the George Steinbrenner/Billy Martin Era, they are hard not to like. [With the exception of Aroldis Chapman; I can't see myself ever liking him.] With guys like Judge, Bird, Sanchez, and Severino, they have the makings of a team that we shall be seeing in the post-season for years to come.  They also have a really good manager in Joe Girardi. They'll be back.)

The Astros and Dodgers.  Both teams have terrific starting pitching and terrific hitting.  Both have deep benches.  The Dodgers have an absolutely unbelievable bullpen, and that is where I give them a significant edge over the Astros.  The Astros, given the depths that the team was in earlier in the decade, and given what the City of Houston has experienced this past summer, will be the easier team for which to root, but I think that the bullpen will be the edge that will give the Dodgers the ultimate victory.

In my Pirates preview post of April 2, 2017 (you can look it up), I ended with the following sentence:

The Los Angles Dodgers will defeat the Boston Red Sox in the World Series.

Okay, I had the AL team wrong, but I will stay with that original sentiment and call it a Dodgers win in seven games.  As always, watch but don't bet.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Opening Day of the Hot Stove League

We don't yet know who will be playing in this year's World Series, but that is not going to stop The Grandstander with making his first post of the 2017-18 Hot Stove League.

You are probably wondering what or who will be the subject of this initial missive, and if I gave you ten guesses, I'll bet that you will not guess who that subject is going to be.

Are you ready?

Max Moroff.  

Yep, you're reading that correctly.  I am going to write about Max Moroff.

Max gets his first game winning walk off hit in
a game against the Brewers in July.
I was there!!

You can go back through Grandstander posts from this past summer and find me railing against the presence of Moroff and his sub-.100 batting average as a sign of the pathetic nature of the 2017 Pirates.  In fact, Moroff finished the season with a batting average of .200, an OPS of .627, 3 home runs and 21 RBI in 120 at bats.  Pathetic, right?  However, if you slice and dice Moroff's rookie season, a positive pattern emerges, as illustrated below.



Pre All Star Break
Post All Star Break

As the season wore on, and as Moroff got more playing time and at bats, there was as steady improvement in his production, and this is even more apparent when you break it down to the periods Before and After the All-Star Break.  Three HR and 17 RBI over 72 AB is pretty significant.  By comparison, a player to whom Moroff might be compared, Adam Frazier, had 6 HR and 53 RBI in 406 AB during the entire season.  If you would project Moroff's post All-Star break numbers over 406 AB, they come out to 17 HR and 96 RBI.  (Even those HR/RBI over 120 AB, projects out to 13 HR and 88 RBI over 500 AB.)  And Moroff's post All-Star break OPS was .846 compared to Frazier's season long .743.

I know, I know - BELIEVE ME, I know - that a 120 AB season simply screams "small sample size", but in a season where the Pirates gave us lots and lots to, justifiably, bitch and moan about, maybe, just maybe there is more to Max Moroff that we first realized.  

We don't know what the Pirates are going to do this off-season, but would anyone be surprised of the Pirates front office decides that both Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer have become too expensive for the penny-pinching Pirates?  In 2017, it seemed that Adam Frazier has earned the right to take the place of Harrison at second base, and a closer look at how Moroff progressed as the season went along shows that he has certainly earned the right to be first in line among whoever Mercer's replacement might be.  No, I am not proclaiming him the to be the next Arky Vaughn, or even the next Gene Alley, Jackie Hernandez, Tim Foli, or Dale Berra, but he has earned the right to not be dismissed out of hand, as many, including Yours Truly, was doing last June and July.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A Visit to Chicago

This will be, I promise, my final post about our trip last week to Chicago.  I recognize the fact that there is only so much that people want to hear about somebody else's vacation.

The main point of the trip was, of course, to see "Hamilton", but we were going to have two days to spend in this city, and we wanted to make the most of it.  Marilyn had visited Chicago many times as a business traveler years ago, but for me, this would be my first trip to the Windy City.  What to do?  We consulted with my pal and University of Chicago alum Fred Egler, and we googled "things to do in Chicago" and the results were almost exactly the same:
  • Stay at a nice hotel in The Loop.  The Kimpton Allego fit the bill nicely.  Thanks, Fred.
  • Visit The Art Institute.  Check.

  • See Millennium Park. Check.

  • Take an Architectural Boat Tour along the Chicago River. Check.

  • Visit the Navy Pier.  Check.

  • Eat at a schlocky, touristy restaurant.  Check.

  • Have a drink with a famous Chicagoan.  We tried but Oprah, Barack and Michelle, Wilbon, and Bill Murray never returned our calls, and John Belushi and Ernie Banks are dead, so I guess we will have to just plan a trip back sometime.
Okay, I kid a bit, but I have to say that we really enjoyed our time in Chicago.  It's big.  I mean, really big.  It made you realize just how small a town, physically, Pittsburgh is.  We found it to be a pretty clean town as well, which was nice.  People were very friendly, although they had a tendency to tell you that "oh, you walk to there from here", and several times that turned out to be, well, not exactly true. We were struck by how the City has planted flowers along many of the streets, which added a real touch of beauty to the town.

Two things we did not do was (1) have a Chicago style hot dog, and (2) have a Chicago style deep dish pizza.  As it turns out, dining was not a priority on this trip, and we actually didn't see any places to avail ourselves of these local delicacies.  Oh, well, another reason to go back some day.

Some comments on activities we did do.

The Architectural Boat Tour.  When we told people we did this, it got some raised eyebrows, and I admit that it does sound like it could be a snoozer, but it was a really fun and interesting thing to do.  When your time in the city is limited, this 90 minute boat ride along the Chicago River gives you an opportunity to really see a lot of the town and its unique buildings.  We also had an excellent tour guide on our boat, so that made it even more interesting.  We highly recommend it.

The Art Institute.  This pops up at the top of all "Things To Do in Chicago" lists on the Google Machine, and Fred told us it was an "absolute must", so off we went.  This is an art museum that claims perhaps the largest collection of original paintings from the French Impressionists outside of France, of course.   It also features original works of many great American artists as well.  It also consists of at least four separate buildings.  It's huge.  We spent close to two hours there and barely scratched the surface.  I don't think that it would be possible to see everything that The Art Institute has to offer unless you sent a solid week there.  Here are just a few of the recognizable paintings that we saw, and remember, these are the originals, not reproductions.

Amazing stuff.  (And as a former museum docent myself, I did ascertain that you were allowed to photograph these paintings, so long as no flash was used.)

Yes, our little two-plus day trip to Chicago - the train ride, "Hamilton", and the Toddlin' Town itself - turned out to be every bit the adventure that thought it would be.  A great addition to our Memory Book.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Travelin' To Chicago

Back in June when we made the decision to go to Chicago to see "Hamilton", our friend Tim Baker, who, ironically, is an airline pilot, said, "Hey, you ought to go to Chicago by train!"  Now this was a thought that had never occurred to us, but the more we thought about it, the more we liked the idea - taking a long passenger train trip had long been on our bucket list - so we called Amtrak, and purchased our tickets   on the Capital Limited.....

....for a room in a sleeper car, that also included a private bathroom with a shower.  It would be an adventure!

Our train was to leave Pittsburgh at 11:59 PM on Tuesday, and it left right on time.  

 Boarding in Pittsburgh

Our sleeper car was roomy until the Porter folded out the bench seat into a bed.  Then things got a little tight:

Marilyn channelling her inner Eva Marie Saint.
(That makes me Cary Grant!)

When that seat you see above was converted to a bed, the space between the bed and the sink shrunk to about six inches.  The bed sleeps two (there is an upper bunk that can fold down, which we opted not to do because that would eliminate any headroom that you had).  The bed is slightly wider than a twin bed.  In all honesty, it was not the most comfortable of sleeping arrangements, and we had to figure our some tricky configurations to get into positions that made sleeping a viable option.  It was okay, but let me put it this way, you don't want to spend your honeymoon riding in one of these cars, if you get my drift.

Then there was the combination shower and lav.

Yep, the john is in the shower, but it wasn't like showering in a phone booth.  A phone booth would have been much bigger!  Still, we both managed to take a shower, although not at the same time (remember what I said above about this not being good for a honeymoon), which we considered quite an accomplishment.  (NOTE TO SELVES: We are NEVER going to move into a Tiny House.)

We have had a lot of laughs over the entire thing, but the trip truly was the adventure we thought it would be.  The ride itself, the motion of the train cars as they traveled over the tracks was quite relaxing and even soothing.  The food - we had breakfast on the way to Chicago and dinner on the return trip to Pittsburgh - was quite good.  At both meals we dined with other couples, both seasoned train travelers, and had very interesting conversations.  The treatment and the service we received from Amtrak was excellent in every step of the process.  And because the train travelled at night, we were able to have two full days in Chicago while spending only one night in the city.

I will tell you that the Amtrak station in Pittsburgh is pretty dinky and not at all special, but in Chicago, well, that was something else.  We arrived into and departed from Chicago at the landmark Union Station, and it was beautiful.

It was elegant and you just sense that you are in a space that was built for another age in American history, space that has been preserved for the 21st century.  It was like something you would see in a movie, and speaking of movies, we actually entered the Station using these steps:

You may recognize them from the Kevin Costner/Sean Connery movie, "The Untouchables".  I was disappointed that we didn't see a woman with a baby carriage attempting to get down these steps, although my maneuvering a forty pound wheeled piece luggage down them probably came close to what the lady in the movie had to do.

One observation. We all know how onerous air travel has become these days with all of the security concerns, baggage examination, metal detectors and such, so the fact that there was none of that boarding the trains - NONE! - sure was convenient.  I mean you got to the station, checked your ticket, and walked onto the train.  It was nice, but at the same time somewhat disconcerting.  Shouldn't there have been some checking of what was being brought on board?  That suitcase I was lugging on board could have been filled with fifty pounds of plastic explosives and no one would have been the wiser.  Like I said, a little disconcerting when you thought about it.  In Chicago, we did notice that Union Station was patrolled by lots and lots of Chicago police, each with a dog (you can see one in one of the photos above).  Presumably, these were bomb sniffing dogs.

As I said, the train trip was every bit the adventure we thought that it was going to be.  Would we do it again?  We have asked ourselves this several times in the last few days.  I don't think that we would do it for a long cross country, multi-day trip, but we have discussed the possibility of doing it for a short term trip, possibly to New York City or Washington DC at some point in the future.  We shall see.

The Big Engine that could, and 
did, pull us to Chicago!

And I can't write about our transportation on this trip without mentioning UBER.  In all, we made five UBER rides (to and from our house and the Amtrak station in Pittsburgh, and three rides while in Chicago) on this trip and spent about $65 in doing so.  We didn't have to pay to park anywhere, didn't have to rent a car, or put several hundred miles on our own car to get there.  It was great!  It was, as friend Dan puts it, the Cat's Ass!

I have one more Post in me on this trip, and that will concern what we did while in Chicago before and after seeing "Hamilton".  That one will come in another day or two.