Friday, August 31, 2012

US Open Day 5: Parmentier

Curtain Call

Player: Pauline Parmentier
Age: 26
Nation: France
Current Ranking: 90
Notable Conquest: Yanina Wickmayer (Belgium, 25th seed)
Today's Result: loss to Petra Kvitova (Czech Republic, 5th) in straight sets

Photo via WTN Photos

This was Parmentier's first time in the third round of a Major after 12 second round finishes.  She reached her career high ranking in 2008 at #40.  She has two career titles, one on hard court (Tashkent, 2007) and one on clay (Bad Gastein, 2008).

Thursday, August 30, 2012

US Open Day 4: Begu

Curtain Call

Player: Irina-Camelia Begu
Age: 22
Nation: Romania
Current Ranking: 96
Notable Conquest: Caroline Wozniacki (Denmark, 8th seed)
Today's Result: loss to Silvia Soler-Espinosa (Spain) in straight sets

Photo via ball71

Begu was the WTA's Newcomer of the Year in 2011, during which she reached a career-high ranking of #38.  Clay is her preferred surface and, before now, Roland Garros had been the only Major where she'd made it out of the first round.  Apparently, it's Romanian Woman Appreciation Week here at The Squid.

Catching Up with Old Friends

Jurgen Zopp (Curtain Call, Roland Garros Day 3 and Wimbledon Day 2) - The best name in tennis soldiers on.  Zopp made the second round of a Major for the first time this week.   Today, he fell to Tomas Berdych (Czech Republic, 6th) in straight sets. 

Golden Squid Report

Greta Arn (Golden Squid since 5/24/2011) - At age 33, Arn reached the US Open second round for the first time in her career.  In the first round, she beat countrywoman Agnes Szavay in straight sets.  Today, she lost to Maria Kirilenko (Russia, 14th), also in straight sets.

Marina Erakovic (Golden Squid since 1/17/2012) - Erakovic and her doubles partner Heather Watson (UK) retired from their first round match today against Ekaterina Makarova/Elena Vesnina (Russia, 6th).  I can find no news as to the reason for the retirement.  It was a disappointing tournament for Erakovic in singles, too.  She lost in the first round to Kristina Mladenovic (France).  She and Watson had been on a hot streak, having won two tournaments together since Wimbledon, including last week in Dallas.

Juan Sebastian Cabal (Golden Squid since 1/21/2012) - It was a short US Open for Cabal, too.  He and countryman Robert Farah lost in the first round of the doubles draw to Ivan Dodig (Croatia)/Marcelo Melo (Brazil) (12th) in straight sets.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

US Open Day 3: Gallovits-Hall

Curtain Call

Player: Edina Gallovits-Hall
Age: 27
Nation: Romania
Current Ranking: 135
Today's Result: loss to Samantha Stosur (7th seed, Australia) in straight sets

Photo via ball71

Gallovits-Hall reached the main draw through qualifying, then faced another qualifier in the first round: Stefanie Voegele (Switzerland).  She has relative success in doubles with three career titles as opposed to none in singles.  She was no match for the defending champion today.

Golden Squid Report

Tobias Kamke (Golden Squid since 1/17/2011) - Kamke lost today in the first round to another former Open champ from Australia: Lleyton Hewitt (2001).  Kamke has yet to make it past the first round at the US Open.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

US Open Day 2: Gabashvili

Curtain Call

Player: Teymuraz Gabashvili
Age: 27
Nation: Russia
Current Ranking: 174
Today's Result: loss to Rogerio Dutra Silva (Brazil) in five sets

Photo via ball71

The Georgian-born Gabashvili is nicknamed "Tsunami."  He went through qualifying to reach the main draw.  He reached his career high ranking of 59 three years ago.

Catching Up with Old Friends

Camila Giorgi (Curtain Call, Wimbledon Day 7) - Giorgi is one of my new favorites.  It's a shame that the New York crowd won't get to see more of her.  She lost to Tsvetana Pironkova (Bulgaria) in straight sets.  Now comfortably inside the top 100, Giorgi should be able to enter the main draw directly in Melbourne.

Golden Squid Report

Christina McHale (Golden Squid since 6/29/2012) - Last year's US Open was McHale's breakthrough tournament. This year, the dream of building on her much improved ranking fizzled early as she lost to Kiki Bertens (Netherlands) in three sets.  Her ranking will take a hit as she made it to the third round last year.

Monday, August 27, 2012

US Open Day 1: Authom

Curtain Call

Player: Maxime Authom
Age: 25
Nation: Belgium
Current Ranking: 192
Today's Result: loss to Bjorn Phau (Germany) in four sets

Photo via La Nouvelle Gazette

Authom went through qualifying to reach the first Major main draw of his career.  He reached his career high ranking in May at 174.

My first blog post ever was entitled "Why You Should Watch the US Open."  Many of the reasons still hold true.  A few highlights:

The Climax of the Tennis Season
I love all of tennis's Grand Slam tournaments (which also include The Australian Open, The French Open, and Wimbledon) but there are many reasons to enjoy the New York edition in particular. This is the finish line for the Grand Slam season. All of the story lines which have been building since January will come to resolution here. Seasons will be salvaged, pretenders will be exposed and new heroes will be born. All this in a tidy two-week package.

The Democratic Nature of Hard Court Tennis
Clay court tennis - that played at The French - favors a certain kind of player. The ball bounces higher. Therefore, a player's power is largely negated. The clay court specialist is fleet afoot and predicates his/her game on movement and tactics. The grass lawns of Wimbledon, on the other hand, are the playground of the powerful. One can make it to the second week on the strength of a big serve alone. Hard courts are, at least in theory, the middle ground. Thus the U.S. Tennis Center is an ideal place to settle who really are the best in the sport.

Night Tennis
The U.S. and Australian Opens hold this advantage over their European cousins: lights on all courts. Not only does tennis look really cool under the lights but it's also wonderful for the schedule for the simple fact that you can fit more tennis into a single day. 

Celebrity Spotting
The stars come out for the Open and the camera crews are constantly panning to spot them for our oggling pleasure. Undoubtedly, some come to be seen but others have a more pure devotion. Robert de Niro usually makes an appearance. Can't get much cooler than that.

Golden Squid Report

Juan Carlos Ferrero (Golden Squid since 6/25/2012) - The 32-year-old Spaniard has not played at all since early July. I can find no info as to why he's not playing. His ranking is currently at #66, plenty good enough for automatic entry into the main draw. Does anyone know anything?

My Baseball Fantasy: Stanton Again

Private League: won, 6-4 (97-99-4 overall, 6th place out of 10 teams)
Public League: tied, 5-5 (98-86-16, 5th out of 12)
My Player of the Week: Giancarlo Stanton (Right Fielder, Marlins) with 5 home runs, 8 RBI, 7 runs and a .286 batting average

Photo via TCPalm

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Family Movie Night: West Side Story

Film: West Side Story
Directors: Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins
Choice: My Wife's
My Overall Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Image via IMP Awards

West Side Story is the greatest Broadway musical of all time.

We'll come back to that discussion in a moment.  First, I should fill you in on Family Movie Night.  We're coming up on three years for this tradition at our house.  We take turns each week picking.  Friday is our preferred night but occasionally, it gets moved.  This week was My Wife's turn.  She chose the Broadway masterpiece.

So, why is West Side Story (WSS) the best?  I have to admit that I don't usually like musicals at all.  I am primarily a choral musician at heart - the older the music, the better.  Palestrina masses are in my wheelhouse.  Show tunes?  Not so much.  Show stoppers are very effective in serving their purpose.  They sell shows.  When you're actually in the play or, heaven forbid, serving as musical director for one, the tunes haunt your soul for weeks or even months on end.

I'm not a big Romeo and Juliet fan either.  Obviously, I admire the Bard tremendously but R&J is not my favorite.  My problem is the ending.  Suicide, to me, is the worst of narrative cop-outs.  (Surely four centuries is well past the statute of limitations for a spoiler alert.)

So again, why WSS?  In my experience, even most of the very best shows are either strong in music but average in story (My Fair Lady) or the other way around (Fiddler on the Roof).  WSS is one of very few that is strong in both. For the music, it's all about Bernstein - Leonard, that is.  It's hardly a revolutionary assertion that Leonard Bernstein was a cut above the average Broadway songwriter.  His songs are opera-worthy in terms of both musical quality and technical demand.  As for the story, while the basic plot is derived from R&J, WSS actually managed to improve on Shakespeare's ending. 

For a music geek, WSS is a treasure trove.  The 6/8:3/4 meter for "America" is pure genius.  It's a great show for ear training mnemonics: "Maria" for a tritone (The Simpsons theme works, too) and "Somewhere" for a minor seventh.

The very best aspect of the movie, for me, is the beautifully filmed dance sequences.  My favorite shot is at 0:58 of the following trailer, with Bernardo and his Shark lieutenants dancing toward the camera in an alleyway:

Just as with Shakespeare's original, the show is stolen by the supporting cast. George Chakiris (Bernardo) and the incomparable Rita Moreno (Anita) both move so beautifully that one imagines they could have won their Oscars without speaking a word. 

Multi-generational considerations:

- This was Our Girl's first time watching West Side Story.  There is no denying that the story is dark.  I think she enjoyed it, though she was troubled by the violence - an appropriate reaction, I'd say.  She was genuinely concerned for Maria and Tony.  The near-rape scene is the most uncomfortable for any viewer and it's good the scene doesn't go any further than it does.

- "Too much kissing."  Her words, not mine.


My Rating System:

5 = The best of the best.  These are the films by which I judge other films.
4 = High quality films which I feel could hold up well in repeated viewings.
3 = The vast majority of films.  They're fine.  Once was enough.
2 = I wasn't even sure I wanted to finish it.  It's not a 1 because I'm not prepared to say it's a terrible film - just not my cup of tea.
1 = A terrible film.  An insult to the art form.

Orioles 2012: Bottom of the 7th

Photo via Wikipedia

Manny Machado, the face of the Orioles' future, was promoted from Double-A Bowie to the Majors on August 9th.  There was much chatter as to whether or not the move had been made too soon but given the difficulty the Birds have had in maintaining a healthy infield, the immediate needs of the parent club took precedent.  To Machado's credit, he wasted little time in impressing.  In his second game, he hit two home runs to become the youngest Oriole ever to have a multiple home run game.  He has slowed down since.  His on-base percentage over his first 15 big league games is fairly pedestrian at .273 but his slugging percentage pops out: .556.

Machado, the #3 overall draft pick in 2010, has mostly been praised for his offensive skills on his way up the ladder but watching him, the part of his game that seems most Major League-ready is his fielding.  A shortstop by trade, he was switched to third for his big promotion and I'd say he's the most dynamic performer the franchise has had at the hot corner since Ripken hung 'em up. One can easily imagine Machado winning multiple Gold Gloves no matter where they put him on the field.

With the addition of Machado, the Baltimore line up finally seems to be settling after a tumultuous year.  Even the long-standing headache in left field has been resolved with the emergence of Nate McLouth.  A lot of the players who've emerged, at last, as dependable regulars have contracts which expire at the end of the season.  The team is currently tied for second in the wild card chase but whether they make the playoffs or not, the first winning season in ages looks like a safer bet all the time.  For the first time in many years, Baltimore might actually look like an appealing destination for free agents during the off-season.  I hope they'll hang on to Machado (obviously), McLouth and Omar Quintanilla at second.  But I'm betting they cut Mark Reynolds and Chris Davis loose.  The two have essentially created a first base/designated hitter platoon but given that those are two obvious spots for adding a top-shelf power hitter, I'm guessing neither man will be with the team in 2013.

Friday, August 24, 2012

State of the Blog 2012

The protagonist.  In literature, in film and in sports, identification with the protagonist keeps us coming back.  As Year 4 begins for The Armchair Squid, it is time to narrow focus and, perhaps, to explore this unifying theme.  While new directions are always possible, the following are my priorities for the coming year.

Blogging Projects

These are a lot of work but they are definitely the best way I've found to network with other bloggers.  A to Z is already on the calendar for April.  I even have my theme ready to go.  Quick-shot blog fests have also been great for me over the past year.  If anyone hears of anything planned for February or March, let me know.  Those tend to be my slow months.

Good Reading

Image via Comic Bastards

As I said in my Squiddies 2012 post, I started blogging about comic books last fall almost as an afterthought.  I did not expect them to be such a rewarding topic for the blog in general.  I plan to continue my explorations over the coming year.  I will certainly follow the Cannons' Double Barrel project and will encourage you to do the same. Beyond that, I'm not sure where the path will lead.  I am considering taking the next step in comic fandom and becoming a subscriber.  There is no better demonstration of the power of the protagonist than there is in the world of comics.

To do the topic justice, I do feel I need to educate myself in the visual arts in general.  I'm not sure what, if any, direct impact this will have on my blogging but I hope it will at least make for more meaningful posts.

I will also continue to explore children's literature - with my daughter and on my own.  There will be sports books, too.  Baseball and football books are on my to-read stack at the moment.

Family Adventures

This time last year, I set a goal to get my family out of the house for something fun at least once a weekend.  This past Sunday, I asked My Wife how she felt about it and she seemed more or less satisfied.

"I don't want you blowing up at me sometime about my 'stupid plans,'" says I.

"Well, I can't promise that..." she retorts.

Photo via The Idea Buro

Generally speaking, I've found that the best bet for getting everyone out is the promise of food.  The most gratifying topic as a blogger, however, has been movies.  We watch loads of them - mostly in the comfort of our own living room but we make it to the theater from time to time as well.  Truth be told, it's more or less the family hobby.  As such, I will focus on film for my family adventure posts in the coming year.


As my goal is to keep my blogging life separate from my professional life, this is a tricky topic.  I am a music teacher, you see.  But there are always intersections between music and the other subjects I write about.  I will resume my celebrations of college marching bands (not my job) this coming fall.  In the spring, I will turn my attention to music's role in another favorite sport.  More on that in a bit.


No changes planned here.  I still feel the Majors are the best point of contact for the casual fan.  My Curtain Calls are at the very heart of what The Armchair Squid is all about, no matter the topic.  After all, each player from the biggest star to the humblest journeyman is the protagonist of his/her own story.


The Baltimore Orioles have been a joy in 2012.  I highly recommend following a team as I have this year: watch the pitchers for a few games, then the hitters, then the pitchers again, etc.  Keep an eye out for new faces.  Of course, it doesn't hurt when your team is winning.  As fun as it's been, I'm planning a new baseball direction next year.  After college football, baseball has the strongest connection to music of any American sport.  I will explore that relationship more in the 2013 season.

I haven't forgotten about my bold proposal, either.  At the moment, the Nationals appear to have the best chance to upset the apple cart.  The Orioles and Pirates are currently in playoff position, too.  I'll check in on this one at regular season's end.


No changes here, either.  Women's World Championships will take place in Riga, Latvia, March 16-24.  The men will play in Victoria, BC, March 30th through April 7th.

Fantasy Sports

I'm paring down a little bit here - just baseball and football, no tennis or college football.  I will continue to celebrate the individual players who do well by me.

In conclusion, I am eternally grateful to all of you have shared in my explorations.  To borrow from Jon Wertheim, if any of you enjoys reading The Armchair Squid half as much as I enjoy writing it, we're all doing pretty well.  I hope you'll join me for Year 4.

If you're interested in previous State of the Blog posts, try the links below:


Squiddies 2012

The Armchair Squid turns three years old today. As such, it's awards show time. And the Squiddy goes to...

Biggest Surprise: Roberto Alomar

Photo via Padres Nation

Mr. Alomar was the subject of my A post for the this April's A to Z Challenge.  As is my usual practice, I posted a link to my post on Twitter (@ArmchairSquid).  Later that day, I got the following tweet from Roberto Alomar (@Robbiealomar): HEY THX! ;-).  Now, it is not technically a verified account but in backtracking from his official site, it seems to be legit.  I had been tweeted by a Hall of Famer!

Honorable Mention: Anne of Green Gables, Green Lantern, Transformers comics

Biggest Disappointment: Fantasy Tennis Tour

The idea for Fantasy Tennis Tour is a really good one: pick players each week who you think will perform well in a given tournament.  Limits are placed on how many times you can pick each player over the course of the year.  My problems with the site were two:

1) Over the course of the initial season, they kept changing the rules.  They would alter, for instance, how many players you could choose each week or how many times you could choose each player.  I realize it was all in an effort to accommodate new entrants but for those of us who had planned for the entire season in January, it seemed unfair.

2) The site didn't work very well with Firefox, my browser of choice - unbelievably slow loading.  That was what finally killed my interest.

In the long run, dropping fantasy tennis meant exploring other interests - not exactly a bad thing.  Nonetheless, the negatives of the experience made me feel I wasn't sacrificing much.

Honorable Mention: This Year's Short Maple Sugaring Season, The International Spy Museum, The Rangers Losing the World Series

Best Match: Australian Open Men's Final

Photo via Tennis Tournaments

Yet another fantastic men's tennis season kicked off with a match for the ages in Melbourne.  After 5 hours and 53 minutes, Djokovic toppled Nadal for the third consecutive Major final.  In truth, it shouldn't have been so close.  But Rafa the Warrior won the fourth set on sheer will power to force a fifth.  The stage was set for another dominating Djokovic campaign.  Little did anyone know that an old master had other ideas.

Honorable Mention: Olympic Men's Tennis Singles Semifinal: Federer v. Del Potro; Our Playoff Game, Broomball Fall Season; Our Last Playoff Game, Kickball

Best Story: The Wimbledon Summer

Photo via Wikipedia

When the 2012 Olympics were first awarded to London back in 2005, it was seen as a huge opportunity for tennis.  For the first time, Olympic tennis would be played on the sport's grandest stage: Wimbledon.  Seven years later, the game delivered.  In Act One, two 30-year-olds - Roger Federer and Serena Williams - won the Wimbledon singles titles in July.  For Federer, his victory also meant a return to the World #1 ranking, a goal few imagined he could attain.  Just a few weeks later, Wimbledon runner-up and home crowd favorite Andy Murray exacted his revenge on Fed on the very same court, taking Olympic gold in what could well prove to be his own breakthrough moment.  Williams, meanwhile, won two golds - singles and doubles.  She now has a Career Golden Slam in both singles and doubles.  With that distinction, she stands alone in tennis history.

Honorable Mention: The Orioles' Winning Season (So Far), Nadal's Seventh Roland Garros Title, My First Broomball Goal

Best Read, First-Time Read Category: Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

Image via Storybook Love Affair

While Scott McCloud's books gave me a new perspective on comics, Montgomery's classic brought new perspective on my entire world.  This book has been treasured by many of the important women in my life and I now know why.  Anne Shirley's my kind of people.  As it turns out, she's been a part of my journey all along.

The book also become a motif for our year overall, as you shall see.

Honorable Mention: Understanding Comics, Reinventing Comics and Making Comics, all by Scott McCloud

Best Read, Re-Read Category: The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien

Image via David Louis Edelman

What's left to be said about Tolkien?  He is the undisputed king of world-building.  My daughter and I did this one as a read-aloud over seven months.  While it didn't work quite as well as The Hobbit as a bedtime story, there's no denying that it's the better book overall.  We're working on Two Towers now.  Stay tuned for the write up in, I suppose, February or so.

Honorable Mention: The Hobbit by Tolkien, Foundation and Foundation and Empire, both by Isaac Asimov

Best Comics Find: Joann Sfar

Photo via France in London

All credit goes to My Wife for finding writer/artist Sfar.  It has become clear, in my comic explorations this year, that most of the industry's best work is coming out of Japan and France, two cultures where comic books are mainstream literature - not just for children and hobbyists.   Sfar gets the nod here for his cross-generational appeal.  My Wife was first drawn to his outstanding Rabbi's Cat series which is definitely for adults only.  Since, she has also found The Little Vampire and Sardine, both child-friendly.

Honorable Mention: Drawn and Quarterly (Montreal bookstore), The Drops of God, Berlin

Athlete of the Year: Roberto Alomar

Photo via Gear Up for Sports

Sure, men's tennis is offering up the best stories in sports these days but Mr. Alomar probably didn't even have to get up from the couch to make my day.  See "Biggest Surprise" at the top of the post.

Honorable Mention: Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal

Post with Most Unexpected Consequences: My '80s Crush: Leslie Hunter

Mock gets credit for leading me to this one, even though he never did his own post for it!  In February, M Pax, Nicki Elson and Suze combined forces to run the extremely fun Tumble 4 Ya Blogfest.  It was a particularly fruitful experience for me.  My followers tripled in one week and my initial post is by far my most visited and commented upon blog post of all.  Of course, I think some of the success of that post may be due to the inclusion of this photograph of Kathy Ireland:

Photo via My Fashion

Through that fest, I met, among many other fine people, my blogger pal Suze, who has been a particularly enthusiastic and encouraging reader of The Squid ever since.

Honorable Mention: Dog Days of Summer, Part II: Photo Highlights, Summer 2012, Second Basemen A to Z: Roberto Alomar, Chewbacca: A Lost Opportunity

Best Family Adventure: Prince Edward Island

As noted above, Anne of Green Gables became a motif for our entire year.   My Sister, the original Anne fan in my life, had always wanted to visit the book's setting in Prince Edward Island.  She and her family live in California so we don't get to see them very often.  This past fall, in discussing various scenarios for getting together, she threw out the PEI idea as a long shot and we all jumped on it.

There's more to Canada's smallest province than Anne kitsch, though.  Living in a landlocked state, we believe in annual pilgrimages to the sea.  PEI offered spectacular beaches and plentiful ocean bounty for the dinner table.  Adding in ample time and space for the cousins to romp and play, it all made for an excellent family holiday.

Honorable Mention: Underhill State Park, Montreal, Letterboxing

Best Unexpected Benefit of Blogging: Getting Reacquainted with the Cannons

It was almost on a whim that I decided to blog about comic books a year ago, wanting to chronicle my explorations of DC's New 52 campaign.  Once the journey began, however, I was determined to seek out the work of the one person I know in the industry: Zander Cannon, a friend from college.  Zander has worked as artist with such esteemed comic writers as Alan Moore on Top Ten and Bill Willingham on Fables and as writer for Star Trek and Transformers comics.  In June, he and his business partner, Kevin Cannon (unrelated but also a fellow alum), launched a monthly web comic entitled Double Barrel.

Image via ComicsAlliance

While I'll admit to some bias in promoting the work of people I know, all of the Cannons' work which I have seen so far is top quality.  Both are very generous in sharing thoughts about the comics craft.  Zander, in particular, goes into great detail in his How To: series, one of the many extras contained within Double Barrel's pages.

Honorable Mention: Embracing the Inner Geek, Exploring Wookiee Linguistics, Discovering the Photographic Goldmine That Is a Hot Air Balloon Launch

Squiddy posts from previous years:


Monday, August 20, 2012

My Baseball Fantasy: Goldschmidt, Part III

Private League: won, 6-3-1 (86-91-3 overall, 7th place out of 10 teams)
Public League: won, 7-2-1 (87-77-16, 6th out of 12)
My Player of the Week: Paul Goldschmidt (First Baseman, Diamondbacks) with 2 home runs, 4 RBI, 5 runs, 2 stolen bases and a .273 batting average

Photo via SportsOverdose

So, there was a bit of a dust up in the public league this week.  One of our league members tried to trade away Melky Cabrera (Outfielder, Giants) who, you may already know, was recently suspended for a positive PED test - out for the rest of the season.  Trying to shop an out-of-commission player is sleazy enough.  The fact that he got another league member to agree to a trade was highly suspicious indeed.  Fraud?  Does the same guy own two teams?  Are the two friends and one, knowing he's out of the race, is trying to bolster his buddy's chances?  Either way, this is not the way to ingratiate one's self to others! 

Thankfully, the league voted down the trade but bitterness lingers.  The culprit has accused two of us of being in cahoots because we both have team names that start with B.  Seriously?  He claims such a move shouldn't be such a big deal in a free, "fun" league.  Even a free league is only fun if everyone plays fair.

Family Adventures: Last Hike of the Summer

Hiking was a tough sell for our daughter this weekend.  In fact, getting her out of the house at all was quite a challenge.  We'll get to why at the end of the post.

We went to Underhill State Park yesterday, site of several gratifying family hikes over the past few months.  We hiked the Eagle's Cut Trail, then CCC Road to its junction with the Sunset Ridge Trail.  It was our intention (by which I mean My Wife's and my intention) to make it all the way to Cantilever Rock but Our Girl was pretty fussy.  At one point, My Wife said to her, "Come on, it's our last hike of the summer.  Daddy goes back to work this week."  I hadn't really thought of it in those terms.  What a fine summer it's been, too.  Sigh...  In the end, it was a pretty close match to our very first hike of the season.

It's definitely getting cooler and there are other, more visible signs of autumn's approach, too.

We did see a beautiful luna moth caterpillar on the way down the hill:


Our Girl didn't even want to stop for ice cream, so eager was she to spend time with her early birthday present.  Everybody, say hi to the new kid.  Hi, new kid!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Orioles 2012: Top of the 7th

The knock against the Orioles has become that they are a statistically terrible team.  They are 11th out of 14 American League teams in OPS (On-base Plus Slugging) and 7th in team ERA.  By all logic, they should be losing more games than they win.  And yet, they keep winning.  They are 7-2 over the past 9 games and are back in the wild card lead.  They make the most of the opportunities they get and they find a way to win ballgames, one at a time.

The one part of the team that has been beyond reproach statistically from the beginning of the season has been the bullpen.  Baltimore's ERA in relief is third-best in the Majors.  Not long ago, the Birds were the team that blew late-inning leads as a matter of habit - not in 2012.  When they have a lead, they protect it.  When they're behind, the relievers at least give them a shot.  Nearly to a man, this group has performed beyond all reasonable expectations.

Photo via Wikipedia

Submariner Darren O'Day, for instance, has not allowed an earned run since July 16th.  In the time since, he has pitched 10 2/3 innings, striking out 12.  Just last season, O'Day had a 5.40 ERA with the Rangers.  With the Birds, he has performed mostly 7th inning duty, compiling a season ERA of 2.45.  The team claimed him off of waivers in November.  He was Academic All-America in college at Florida.

Photo via Wikipedia

Mexican righty Luis Ayala has been only slightly less dominant.  Ayala has not allowed a run, earned or otherwise, in his last five appearances, totaling 4 innings.  Ayala pitched for the enemy Yankees last year.  Baltimore signed him as a free agent in February.  His season ERA stands at 2.54.

The team keeps adding weapons, too.  The Orioles acquired Puerto Rican lefty J.C. Romero in a trade with the Indians on Monday.  He pitched against the Red Sox each of the past two nights, racking up 1 2/3 innings without allowing an earned run.  He's had quite the windy path this season: signed with the Cardinals in December only to be released in May.  The O's signed him to a minor league contract but he elected for free agency in July.  Cleveland signed him, then traded him back to the Orioles.

Venezuelan righty Miguel Socolovich was called up from the minors on July 14th.  He has recorded a 6.97 ERA over 10 1/3 innings of work.  He was designated for assignment on Tuesday.

The Orioles did have one spot starter last week: Steve Johnson who had his first Major League start on August 8th against the Mariners.  He had a quality start with two earned runs over six innings and was awarded the victory.  Johnson's father Dave also pitched for the Orioles, with the team from 1989-91.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

On the Coffee Table: Making Comics

Title: Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels
Author: Scott McCloud

Image via

I am not the intended audience for this book, McCloud's third non-fiction work about the comics industry.  I have no comic book writing aspirations, at least to this point.  However, I am very glad to have read it and expect I will refer back to it in years to come.  It was McCloud himself who first piqued my interests in the technical and artistic aspects of the medium in his earlier work, Understanding Comics.  While that book provided a beginning, Making Comics gets much deeper into the how-to nitty-gritty of comics creation.  As I have written before, while I feel pretty comfortable discussing the text of comic books, I'm not so good with the visual elements.  McCloud's book has helped me to build my vocabulary on the subject considerably.

Making Comics covers a lot of ground.  The first chapter is, in fact, a bit overwhelming as McCloud tries to cram as many over-arching theories in as possible.  The book improves, I think, when he slows down a little in subsequent chapters.  In great depth, McCloud discusses character development, text synthesis and world building. His fifth chapter, entitled "Tools, Techniques and Technology: Making It Real," covers everything from pen and paper on up.  The section is more technical than I would ever need but I'm grateful for the insight into the craft.  The chapter I enjoyed most was the sixth, "Your Place in Comics," in which McCloud explores the many stylistic directions being pursued all over the world.

McCloud mentions the importance in drawing distinctive eyes for each character - a detail particularly significant to him in his own work.  I am reminded of perhaps my very favorite artist in any medium: Jim Henson.  Whenever a new Muppet was being assembled, Henson always wanted to be present for the placement of the eyes - essential to the personality of the character in his mind.

Photo via Muppet Wiki

Having just finished the book, I still feel a bit overloaded with information.  I expect, however, that this volume will have a permanent home on the reference shelf as I continue to explore comics.  As I have written before, McCloud's writing and the comics medium in general have a lot to offer for storyteller in other media as well.  I will continue to keep an eye out for his work.

Monday, August 13, 2012

On the Coffee Table: Game Time

Title: Game Time: A Baseball Companion
Author: Roger Angell

Image via Open Library

Game Time, published in 2003, is one of several collections of Roger Angell's New Yorker baseball essays.  Angell is a master of repackaging.  While there is some new material in this book, quite a lot of it has been published in previous collections - Late Innings in particular.  Fortunately for me, I haven't read Late Innings yet so most of it is, at least, new to me.  Whereas most of Angell's books draw from a specific time period - the mid-70s, mid-80s, etc. - this one provides more of a cross-section.  We get changing perspectives on spring training, for instance, from 1962, 1975, 1984 and so on.

Along with Star Wars and Dungeons & Dragons, sports helped to define my personal mythology during my childhood.  Among Angell's many gifts is his ability to convey the larger-than-life roles that star athletes play in our collective imaginations.  As I have written before, there are dangers in deifying celebrities, in investing superhuman expectations in extraordinary people.  Angell occasionally teeters on the edges of hero-worship but he is at his best when he touches lightly upon the humanity of his subjects.

Photo via Upon Further Review

My two favorite articles in this book are both reprints from Late Innings.  "Distance" is a fantastic essay on Bob Gibson, the dominant right-handed pitcher of the 1960s.  Gibson (pictured above) is one of the most talented and fascinating athletes of the 20th century, yet he rarely gets his due because of a prickly relationship with the press.  At the time of the article's writing, Angell even had doubts as to whether or not Gibson would get into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility - complete madness if you look at the career stats, never mind how thoroughly he owned his era, especially during the post-season.  Fortunately, justice was served and Gibson was voted in on the first try.

Photo via Wikipedia

"The Web of the Game" is a beautiful instance of journalistic serendipity.  Angell wanted to do a piece on Smokey Joe Wood, a 34-game winner for the Red Sox in 1912.  For the interview, Angell took his subject to a Yale baseball game.  Wood had coached at Yale for 20 years and still lived in New Haven at the time of the interview in 1981.  As luck would have it, the game they attended is considered by many to be the greatest college baseball game ever played (that assessment couldn't possibly be hurt by the fact that one of the nation's most well-respected sportswriters was on hand for the affair).  Future World Series pitchers Ron Darling of Yale and Frank Viola of St. John's started for their respective teams that day.  Darling pitched 11 no-hit innings, striking out 15, yet still lost the game.

Photo via Cotuit Kettleers

The best of the new material is "Wings of Fire," a 1998 article on the development and preservation of top-quality pitchers.  Anyone who follows the game knows that keeping players healthy, especially pitchers, is the ongoing struggle of every Major League franchise.  Sports Illustrated's recent feature on Dylan Bundy, an Orioles prospect, details much of the current thinking on the subject.

My Baseball Fantasy: Cueto Again

Private League: tied, 5-5 (86-91-3 overall, 7th place out of 10 teams)
Public League: won, 5-4-1 (87-77-16, 6th out of 12)
My Player of the Week: Johnny Cueto (Starting Pitcher, Reds) with 1 win, 12 strikeouts, a 1.80 ERA and an 0.73 WHIP

Photo via

Cueto had two starts this past week: a 7-inning 3-1 loss to the Brewers and an 8-inning 3-0 victory over the Cubs.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Family Adventures: Mills Riverside Park

The English Prof and The Playwright came to visit us this weekend.  On Saturday afternoon, we went for a walk at Mills Riverside Park.  That's Mount Mansfield peeking through the clouds.


 On the way home, we stopped at our local pie shack to stock up.

Checking in with the Olympics: Team Handball

And so, another Olympiad is in the books.  Highlights for me of the past week were watching Japan beat China for the first time ever in Olympic women's volleyball and marveling at the Norwegian women's fast break in handball.  I was hoping to get caught up in the narrative of one of the team sports but it didn't quite happen.  I didn't watch the Olympics at all over the weekend and didn't really miss them either.  They're a lot of fun for two weeks but every four years is about right for me.

Photo via

If I were to pick a favorite sport from the affair (excepting my dear tennis, of course), I'd have to go with handball.  It just looks like so much fun!  Also, I have to admit, I kind of enjoyed the fact that Team USA wasn't involved.  The nationalism of the Olympics does occasionally make me very uncomfortable.  I believe in having a rooting interest but I also believe any true fan loves the game first and foremost.  I deliberately avoid the political stump here as much as possible but I do feel that such a gathering should be as much about celebrating other cultures as it is about pride in our own.  The world doesn't do this sort of thing very often.  We should make the most of it.

Photo via Sporting Life

I don't expect to become a year-round handball fan but I do like having a single sport to follow through the Games, with occasional glimpses of others.  That's what I did with curling for the last Winter Games and it was great.  Perhaps handball can be that sport for me in Rio.  In the meantime, congrats to all of the medalists, particularly both repeat champs: the Norwegian women and the French men.  Next time, in Brazil!

Dog Days of Summer, Part III: My Plans for the Rest of the Summer

A big thank you to Jeremy Bates for hosting the Dog Days of Summer Blog Fest.  Be sure to visit his blog and take a stroll through the work of the other participants.  Enjoy the Dog Days!