Tuesday, October 30, 2012

My Football Fantasy: Jerrell Freeman

College League: won, 66.61-66.56 (5-3 overall, 5th place out of 12 teams)
Vermont League: won, 66.06-50.26 (2-6, 11th of 12)
My Player of the Week: Jerrell Freeman (Linebacker, Colts) with 11 solo tackles and 3 assisted tackles

Image via Indianapolis Colts

Freeman's route to the NFL was highly unusual.  He went to Mary Hardin-Baylor for college, a Division III school in Texas.  He was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Tennessee Titans but was released before the regular season.  He has spent the last three seasons in Canada with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.  He was the CFL's leading tackler last year.

Monday, October 29, 2012

October Baseball: The Age of Giants


Photo via The Big Lead

Money isn't everything.  Six Major League teams had payrolls higher than the Giants on opening day.  Four of those teams (Phillies, Red Sox, Angels and Marlins) didn't even make the playoffs.

Power isn't everything.  Pablo Sandobal made well-deserved headlines after hitting three dingers in Game 1 but this is not a team built around the long ball.  The Giants are masters at keeping innings alive: few strikeouts, loads of two-out hits. 

I was pulling for the Tigers but if this is the future of baseball, I'm all for it.

Photo via Fun Cheap

Family Movie Night: A Great Day in Harlem

Title: A Great Day in Harlem
Director: Jean Bach
Original Release: 1994
Choice: My Wife's
My Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Bach's documentary tells the story of one of the 20th century's greatest photographs:

Photo via DAFLAND
(the photo is only being used for informational purposes)

On August 12, 1958, freelance photographer Art Kane managed to gather 57 titans of the New York jazz world for a photo shoot.  The men and women in the photograph represent multiple jazz generations.  Among those assembled were established veterans like Count Basie, Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young.  Slightly younger but very much in their prime were Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus and Thelonious Monk (best music name EVER).  Sonny Rollins was among the legends on the rise. 

The film is a lot of fun, telling the story of the day and how extraordinary it was just to get that many jazz musicians up by 10 a.m., let alone smiling for the camera.  Enough of the participants were still alive during the documentary's filming for the musicians to tell their own stories about one another, expanding upon the personalities revealed in the picture.  Now, 18 years later, all but four of the musicians in the photograph are gone.  There are loads of film clips of their performances as well, though one can't help wishing there were more.

Included with the DVD is Bach's documentary short, The Spitball Story.  There are long-standing legends about the pranks Gillespie used to play as a young musician in Cab Calloway's band, including the one about the spitball that got him fired.  In the film, Gillespie tells his side of the story.

Multi-generational considerations:
  • I don't know if Our Girl was too interested in the first film.  The stories the musicians tell are a lot of fun but the pacing is not the best for a kid.  On the other hand, she loved The Spitball Story.  She's a big Cab Calloway fan and he is among the notably absent in A Great Day in Harlem.

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.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

On the Coffee Table: Comic Books 101

Title: Comic Books 101
Authors: Chris Ryall and Scott Tipton

Image via RyallTime Blog

This book is much as the title advertises, an overview of the basics of the American comic book industry.  While it's not quite as clever and engaging as Scott McCloud's books, Comic Books 101 covers a lot of ground - even explaining the effects of various colors of kryptonite.  Ryall and Tipton offer profiles of publishers, major characters and influential creators as well as a history of the business.  Most helpful to me are the recommended reading lists, of which there are several.  Interspersed are the reflections of various industry insiders.  The introduction is written by Stan Lee himself.

The book's tone is very light and also highly reverent as the authors recount the triumphs of their various heroes.  My favorite section is the last, Part VII: Hooray for Hollywood, in which the many comic book screen adaptations are reviewed - both movies and televisions.  Here the authors get a lot more snarky.  I like snarky!

Comic Books 101 was definitely a fun read.  I feel much better equipped for my own explorations of the medium.  In particular, I find myself extremely curious about pre-code comics of the 1950s and earlier.  A good book makes you want to read other books - mission accomplished here.  As with McCloud's books, I expect I will be referring back to Comic Books 101 often.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

I'm with the Band: Western Carolina

Band: Catamount Marching Band
University: Western Carolina University
Founded: 1938
Current Director: David Starnes
Fight Song: "Fight on! You Catamounts"
Today's Home Game: Appalachian State, 3:30 p.m.

If Michigan is the Beatles and Florida A&M is James Brown, then Western Carolina is Frank Zappa.  No marching band in America is as far-out wacky as WCU's Pride of the Mountains, challenging every convention of the idiom one Saturday at a time.  Here's a promotional video for an overview:

Leave all expectations at the door.  Sit back and enjoy:

I love it when a band sings:

Drumline awesomeness:

Finally, a bit of fun:

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

My Football Fantasy: Griffin Again

College League: won, 78.14-34.05 (4-3 overall, 5th place out of 12 teams)
Vermont League: lost, 102.04-60.78 (1-6, 12th out of 12)
My Player of the Week: Robert Griffin III (Quarterback, Redskins) with 20 completions for 258 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception, 3 sacks, 1 lost fumble, 1 solo tackle and 9 rushing attempts for 89 yards
Photo via MSN

I can't claim to have much in common with RG3 but there is this: we were both born in Japan.  He was born in Okinawa, I in Tokyo.  For similar reasons, too: he was an army brat, I a diplobrat.

October Baseball: A Meeting of the Ancients

Photo via Bay Area Sports Guy

My rooting interests were 0-4 in the division series but I did much better this past round.  I'm all for anybody beating the Yankees so the Tigers' four-game sweep was quite cathartic.  I'm no fan of defending champions either so the Giants' comeback over the Cardinals was inspiring as well.  Watching last night's ninth inning was amazing.  It took a downpour to make a 9-0 blowout seem poetic.

Both the Tigers and the Giants have been in existence for well over a century - the Tigers since 1894, the Giants since 1883.  The Giants have won 22 pennants in their history, the Tigers 11.  And yet, this is the teams' first time meeting one another in the World Series.  I've gotta go with Detroit this time.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Family Movie Night: Snoopy, Come Home

Title: Snoopy, Come Home
Director: Bill Melendez
Original Release: 1972
Choice: Mine
My Overall Rating: 3 stars out of 5
Image via Wikipedia

It was our second Peanuts movie in a row.  I remember watching this one for the first time on a black-and-white TV in the kitchen of my childhood home, probably in the '70s.  Someone else must have had higher priority to watch the color set in the family room.  I hadn't seen it since but a few details have stuck with me over the years: Charlie Brown, Linus, Sally and Peppermint Patti pacing in a circle, wondering what has happened to Snoopy and the musical refrain "No Dogs Allowed" as Snoopy is kicked out of the library, the hospital and just about everywhere else he tries to go.  I also remember not being allowed to finish the movie because it ran past bedtime.

As the title suggests, the story is as much about the dog as it is about his owner.  Snoopy receives a letter from a girl named Lila who is sick in the hospital.  With barely a second thought, Snoopy packs a bag and takes off, Woodstock (first on-screen appearance) in tow.  In time, Charlie Brown and Linus piece together that Lila was Snoopy's original owner.  Snoopy finds Lila.  Lila gets better.  Snoopy's divided loyalties leave him with a difficult choice.

This one's a far more sentimental movie than A Boy Named Charlie Brown.  Somehow, it doesn't work quite as well for me.  The earlier film is a celebration of all of the comic stirp's old reliable themes.  Snoopy, Come Home risks a more original story - an admirable risk, to be sure.  I guess I just want Peanuts for the simple comforts.

There are other significant changes in this second Peanuts theatrical release.   All animated Peanuts tales were scored by jazz composer Vince Guaraldi until he died in 1976 - all but one, that is.  Snoopy, Come Home was scored by the Sherman Brothers who made their name working for Disney.  Their most famous film is Mary Poppins.  My favorite, though, is The Jungle Book.  The music combined with a jauntier animation style definitely recalls a Laugh-In era feel.

Multi-generational considerations:
  • Our Girl got a bit weepy over the separation scenes.  Questions came up: "Will you miss me when I move away? I want to live on the same street as you when I grow up!"  Oh, boy...  I'm sure it's age-appropriate. She simply doesn't believe it when we tell her she may feel differently when she gets older.

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.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

I'm with the Band: Texas A&M

Band: Fightin' Texas Aggie Band
University: Texas A&M University
Founded: 1894
Current Director: Dr. Timothy B. Rhea
Today's Home Game: LSU, 11 a.m.

Photo via Texas A&M

Texas A&M has been a Senior Military College since its founding in 1871, meaning it provides certified military officer training.  While serving in the Corps of Cadets has been optional since 1960, the organization is still a major force in the culture of the university, not least for the marching band which performs in military dress.  As such, it is the world's largest military marching band.  They're as straight-laced as one would expect a military band to be.  No "Thriller" dance from this outfit.

This halftime show clip takes a little while to get going but what amuses me about it - and every other I found for A&M - is the fact that the crowd says the intro along with the PA announcer.  Apparently regimentation runs very deep indeed.  They do actually start playing at 1:43.  There's no denying it: those formations are tight!

The following clip isn't really about the band but is an absolute gem for demonstrating A&M's proud traditions (not to mention the pejorative view of Asians in America in the 1940s):

Friday, October 19, 2012

On the Coffee Table: David Block

Title: Baseball before We Knew It
Author: David Block
Image via BARNES & NOBLE

Block's book is the culminating work of a very ambitious research project to determine the cultural origins of the game of baseball.  Necessarily, the book begins with debunking the most commonly espoused theories.  Block argues convincingly that neither the spontaneous invention of the sport by Abner Doubleday nor the descent from the English game of rounders is likely.  More to the point, neither is supported by historical evidence.  In truth, sports involving balls, bats and/or bases have been around for centuries and developed in different regions of Europe before coming to the Americas.  Block offers his own theories as to the game's origins but admits upfront that primary sources are scant.

Block's book does not address a matter of great curiosity to me: the sheer oddity of the game itself.  Oh, you don't think baseball's a strange sport?  Try watching with an inquisitive child sometime.  I guarantee you will feel like an idiot and a lunatic inside of five minutes.

Child: So, that was a ball, right?

Parent: No, it was a strike.

C: But he didn't swing.

P: Well, you see, the umpire thinks it was a hittable ball.

C: How can he tell?

P: The pitch was inside the strike zone - over the plate, between the top of the belt and the knees.

C: Oh...  (clearly more confused than when we started)

Abbott and Costello barely scratched the surface.  As basic game concepts, basketball, hockey, soccer and even football are far easier to understand.  With baseball, anything beyond "hit the ball, then run as far as possible" gets into murky waters in a big hurry.  Force out vs. tag out?  Balks?  The varying dimensions of Major League outfields?  Dear friend, be highly skeptical of anyone who tells you he actually understands the Infield Fly Rule. 

Perhaps the very weirdness of the game helps to support Block's argument.  Baseball is like a language, with rules that could only have developed as part of an oral tradition over several generations.  Compare this with basketball, whose rules were codified upon the game's inception.  With only moderate tinkering, a basketball game played today resembles Naismith's original concept very closely.  Every rule change has been discussed and documented by governing organizations.  The game is still, at its heart, very simple and easy to understand.  Baseball's development has been far more nebulous.  Its quirks are part of its charm, no doubt, but quirks nonetheless.  Perhaps they could only have emerged through cultural evolution rather than institutional consideration.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

On the Coffee Table: New World

Title: The Drops of God: New World
Writer: Tadashi Agi
Artist: Shu Okimoto

Image via Amazon

As advertised, the latest English language edition of the wine scavenger hunt manga skips ahead quite a bit from the last book.  Book 4 finished with the revealing of the second Apostle wine whereas the new book tells the story of the seventh.  As the title implies, this installment focuses on wines outside of Europe - especially Australia and California.

No idea what I'm talking about with this scavenger hunt/apostle stuff?  My friend, you have catching up to do and, believe me, this series is well worth your time.  Here are my previous posts:

The Drops of God
The First Apostle
The Second Apostle

Apart from the revealing of four wines, we've missed a few other details in the interval.  At least one regular character was introduced while we were away.  The Taiyo Beer wine division has a new member: Kido.  I can't say much has been revealed about him except it would appear the others find him annoying. 

In one panel, just at the beginning of a tasting, Kido has blood shooting out of one nostril.  According to Scott McLoud, this signifies sexual arousal in Japanese manga.  I'm not sure what it has to do with a wine tasting, though I guess he's pretty excited about it.

My Wife and I recently went to a wine tasting hosted by Healthy Living, a large independent supermarket in South Burlington.  In all, we got to try about 30.  My favorite, at least among the ones for which we could reasonably afford a bottle, was a Spanish rioja: 2010 Cortijo.

For the moment, I can find no news about future English-language releases, though one certainly hopes the stories we missed will be published before long.  My Wife picked up some of the French-language editions during our last Montreal trip.  They offer a lot more details about the wine in the back of the books - not that I can read it, mind you.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

My Football Fantasy: Vick Again

College League: won, 92.93-81.15 (3-3 overall, 6th place out of 12 teams)
Vermont League: lost, 108.48-85.28 (1-5, 10th out of 12)
My Player of the Week: Michael Vick (Quarterback, Eagles) with 28 completions for 311 yards, 2 touchdowns, 2 interceptions and 3 sacks plus 9 rushing attempts for 59 yards

Image via The Inquisitr

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Family Movie Night: A Boy Named Charlie Brown

Title: A Boy Named Charlie Brown
Director: Bill Melendez
Original Release: 1969
Choice: Our Girl's
My Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Image via Wikipedia

A Boy Named Charlie Brown was the first feature-length film based on Charles M. Schulz's Peanuts comic strip.  The story touches on all of the classic Charlie Brown motifs: the kite-eating tree, the hapless baseball team, the psychiatrist stand, Lucy (worst...friend...EVER...) pulling away the football as he's about to kick it, etc.  Charlie Brown is the ultimate lovable loser.  He endures because he is us.  Who among us has not felt from time to time that the deck is eternally stacked against us?

While I am still a relative newbie with comic books, comic strips have been a big part of my life for decades.  There are many advantages to growing up in the Washington, DC area.  Under-appreciated among them is the fact that The Washington Post has the biggest comics section of any newspaper in the English language.  As such, I began every day reading Peanuts, Garfield, The Far Side, Bloom County, Calvin and Hobbes and all the rest over a bowl of Raisin Bran.

Peanuts has always been particularly dear to me for several reasons.  I'm a firm believer in the beauty of simplicity and there are few better demonstrations in all of American literature.  Our fifth-grade play in elementary school was Peanuts-based.  I was Linus.  Also, ties to Minnesota are very strong.  Schulz's world evokes very warm thoughts about the year I spent in St. Paul after college.

On May 27, 2000, just a few months after Schulz's death, cartoonists throughout the industry published their own Peanuts-themed strips in homage to the grandmaster.  Several had Charlie Brown finally kicking the football through the uprights:

Image via Charles Schulz Tribute

Fittingly somehow, Garfield got it exactly right:

Image via Charles Schulz Tribute

Getting back to the film, the late '60s were an exciting time in film animation.  Yellow Submarine was released in '68.  Once you can get past the words trippy and psychedelic, there are a lot of very interesting sequences in that movie.  Monty Python's Flying Circus first aired in '69 and with it the innovative work of Terry Gilliam, another Minnesotan.  The artwork for A Boy Named Charlie Brown is all credited to Schulz, though there was undoubtedly a hefty staff on-hand to prepare it all for film.  There are several nice song montages.  The standout sequence is set to Beethoven's Pathetique Sonata, as performed by Schroeder (Ingolf Dahl, actually):

Multi-generational considerations:
  • I don't think I'm betraying any family secrets to say that My Wife is not as enamored of the Peanuts gang as my daughter and I are.  If you're already a fan and looking to convert your loved ones, you might start them on the holiday specials before going long-form.

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.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Orioles 2012: Top of the 10th

Photo via Baltimore Sports Then and Now

What an amazing run it was!  Sure, it's sad that the 2012 season is over for the Orioles.  But this team gave so much more than could reasonably have been expected way back in March.  They played a marvelous division series, too.  They were ultimately undone by three players: C.C. Sabathia, Raul Ibanez and the postseason king himself, Derek Jeter, who, even hobbling on a wounded ankle, managed to make the key hits when it mattered most.  For our side, the two players who performed most admirably against the Yankees were aimless minor league wanderers just months ago: left fielder Nate McLouth and pitcher Miguel Gonzalez.  Game 3, the one Ibanez ruined, is a strong early candidate for game of the year.

So, what's next for Baltimore?  The chemistry of the current team certainly seems worth preserving.  While it was the bullpen who kept the team afloat all season, it was the starters who shined in the playoffs.  The Birds' young guns will be a year older and a year better come April.  If the starters can pitch deeper into ball games, that would be nice.  But I don't think the team needs to be looking to upgrade just yet - season and let sit.

Offensively, it might be worth looking for a few upgrades on the free agent market.  Baltimore's on-base percentage for the playoffs ranked dead last.  Granted, the Yanks didn't do much better - but just enough.  Maybe the team will make a bid in the Josh Hamilton sweepstakes but big picture, they might do better to go after a few of the lesser lights.  I think outfielders Nick Swisher and Ichiro Suzuki - both members of the O's recent conquerors - would be excellent targets.

The Orioles, Nationals and A's are all out of the running.  As such, my bold proposal survives another season.  The good news is that in 2013, at least according to my theory, all three teams will have a better chance of winning it all.  So, just as Cubs fans have been saying since 1908, just wait until next year.

I'm with the Band: Arkansas

Band: Razorback Marching Band
University: University of Arkansas
Founded: 1874
Current Director: Dr. Christopher Knighten
Fight Song: "Arkansas Fight"
Today's Home Game: Kentucky, 6 p.m.

Photo via Arkansas Alumni Online Community

The band enters the stadium:

The following video sounds like a joke but it definitely isn't.  It's quite wonderful, in fact.

So, often we tend to pigeon-hole kids - jocks, band geeks and so forth.  And let's be honest: we tend to be particularly dismissive of star athletes as one-trick ponies.  As a teacher, though, I'm always impressed to see the students who somehow manage to be good at everything.  Talent and work ethic are highly transferable assets.  There are probably plenty of Arkansas band members with high school athletic resumes, too. 

Finally, "Arkansas Fight" from a pep rally:

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Double Barrel #5

Title: Double Barrel
Issue: #5
Release: October 2012
Writers: Kevin Cannon and Zander Cannon
Artists: Kevin Cannon and Zander Cannon
Image via Comix Experience

The fifth installment of the Cannons' web comic is now available.  I got mine at ComiXology and it is also available wherever web comics or e-books are sold.  The price is a bargain: $1.99.  Back issues are available for $0.99.

I also got my t-shirt for being a finalist in their caption contest.  Ain't it snappy?

In the new issue, we get two chapters of Zander's Heck.  Hector and Elliott must contend with the minotaur's daddy issues.  An intriguing new character is introduced, and with him a new perspective on the death of Greg, Amy's husband.  In Kevin's Crater XV, Shanks is trapped in a blockhouse with members of the High Arctic League.  Meanwhile, Wendy gets a little too curious about the Canadian space program.

For the extras, we have part four of Kevin's mini-comic, Penny from the Front, Zander's continuing family adventures in Here Me Is! and a How To: exploration of 24-Hour Comic Day, a terrifying (to me) combination of creative fury and sleep deprivation.  New this month is The Dead Living, a mini-comic by special contributor Steve Stwalley, another Minneapolis-based artist (have I mentioned that the Cannons operate out of the Twin Cities?).  I have to admit, I'm not a huge fan of the current zombie craze, though Stwalley's story offers an interesting angle.

My usual disclaimer: I went to college with the Cannons and am therefore slightly biased.  However, I would not bother blogging about their work if I didn't think it was good.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

My Football Fantasy: Philip Rivers

College League: lost, 81.39-56.58 (2-3 overall, 9th place out of 12 teams)
Vermont League: lost, 113.80-79.76 (1-4, 10th out of 12)
My Player of the Week: Philip Rivers (Quarterback, Chargers) with 354 yards passing, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception and 1 lost fumble

Photo via Fantasy Football Sideline

Monday, October 8, 2012

Family Movie Night: My Man Godfrey

Title: My Man Godfrey
Director: Gregory La Cava
Original Release: 1936
Choice: My Wife's
My Overall Rating: 3 stars out of 5
Image via Wikipedia

We had guests for Family Movie Night this week.  Our Oscar party hosts joined us for the evening.  Screwball comedies from the 1930s and '40s are one of My Wife's great passions.  Combining it with her enthusiasms for good food (a taco buffet dinner in this case) and good company seems only natural.

My Man Godfrey was a big hit for Universal in '36.  Starring William Powell (better known for his role in the Thin Man movies) and, intriguingly, his ex-wife Carole Lombard, the film is based on the short story "1101 Park Avenue" by Eric Hatch.  A socialite hires a "forgotten man" out of the Hooverville slums of New York to be the family butler.  The family are all crazy and, needless to say, madcap antics ensue.  Powell (Godfrey, the butler) was under contract with MGM at the time and, in agreeing to the project, insisted that Lombard be cast as Irene (the socialite).

The film was nominated for six Academy Awards but didn't win any.  It is, in fact, the only film ever to be nominated for best director, best writing and all four acting awards yet go home empty.  Over the decades since, critical appreciation for the film has increased.  AFI listed it at #44 on its list of 100 funniest comedies.

Multi-generational considerations:
  • Our Girl was lukewarm on watching with us at all and didn't make it all the way through, actually preferring to go to bed instead.  She did manage to grasp the basic comic elements of the story, if not all of the dialogue's subtle humor.  To her credit, she is not one to dismiss black-and-white movies out of hand - just not quite ready for this one.

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.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Let's Talk Baseball: A Great Year to Storm the Castle

Following are the final 2012 standings for my proposed baseball realignment, essentially based on the European soccer league concept.  The basic idea is explained here.  This year's initial post is here.

Photo via The Beltway Sports Blog

First Division

1. Reds
2. Yankees
3. Braves
4. Giants
5. Rangers
6. Rays
7. Angels
8. Tigers
9. Cardinals
10. Dodgers
11. White Sox
12. Brewers
13. Phillies
14. Diamondbacks
15. Red Sox
16. Rockies

Second Division

1. Nationals
2. A's
3. Orioles
4. Pirates
5. Padres
6. Mariners
7. Mets
8. Blue Jays
9. Royals
10. Marlins
11. Indians
12. Twins
13. Cubs
14. Astros

Here is how the year would shake out in my alternate universe.  The top eight teams in the first division (in red) would make the playoffs.  The bottom three (in blue) would be relegated to the second division for the following season.  The Phillies and Diamondbacks finished with identical records but the Phillies won the head-to-head series between the clubs, 4-2.  So, Philadelphia gets to stay in the top flight.

It's been an exciting year in the second division.  As the top two teams (in green), the Nationals and A's are automatically promoted for the 2013 season.  The next four (in purple) would enter a playoff for the last spot.  We'll give the Orioles the benefit of the doubt and bump them up.  This isn't just my personal bias.  The O's were 14 wins better than the Pirates this season - not exactly a close call.

As I've said before, I will declare my concept a failure if one of my second division teams wins the real-universe World Series.  Let me be very clear: I want this to happen.  I want to be convinced that any given team can win the Championship in every given year.  In three seasons, it hasn't happened.  With three of my second division teams in the real world playoffs, this could be the year.  Obviously, the Orioles are my club and my first choice to win it all.  My DC-area roots would make the Nats my second choice.  I can claim a bit of a home team connection with the A's, too, as they are the parent club for the Vermont Lake Monsters.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

My Baseball Fantasy: Thrice Champion

Private league: won, 5-4-1 (league champion)
Public league: lost, 9-1 (4th place finish out of 12 teams)
My MVP for the Year: Giancarlo Stanton (Outfielder, Marlins) with 37 home runs, 86 RBI, 75 runs, 6 stolen bases and a .290 batting average

I have won my private league for the third year in a row.  I am genuinely worried they won't let me play anymore.  At least they get to beat up on me during football season.

In the public league, I finished just out of the medals.  I think for my public endeavors, I may switch back to Rotisserie next year.  I was better at that.  Head-to-head is more sociable but that's unimportant in a league of complete strangers.

Photo via Facebook

Giancarlo Stanton had a strange season, at times magnificent - he was NL Player of the Month in May - but also was out for a stretch with an injury.  In fact, he finished with the fewest at-bats of anyone on my team with 449, but still the most home runs with 37.  He was chosen as an All-Star but missed the game due to knee surgery.  He is only 22 and, as long as he stays healthy, seemingly has Cooperstown written all over him.

I'm with the Band: Texas Tech

Band: Goin' Band from Raiderland
University: Texas Tech University
Founded: 1923
Current Co-Directors: Dr. Keith Dye and Duane Hill
Fight Song: "Fight, Raiders, Fight"
Today's Home Game: Oklahoma, 2:30 pm

They are called the Goin' Band because they were the first college band to travel to an away game - they're goin', you see, rather than stayin'.

Photo via Lubbock Online

The band plays the Tech alma mater - "The Matador Song":

The drumline performs "ZIT 60":

"Fight, Raiders, Fight":

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Orioles 2012: Bottom of the 9th

The art of loving a bad team is the eternal hope for a season like this one.  The 2012 Orioles haven't hit especially well.  Their team OBP is 11th best in the American League.  Their starters haven't pitched especially well: ninth best ERA in the league.  They have been astonishingly good at one thing: winning close games.  That's not about ability.  That's about belief.  That's about manager Buck Showalter convincing a still very young team that on any given night, they can beat anybody.  He's Manager of the Year - no contest.

Photo via The Beltway Sports Blog

For the first time in 15 years, the O's are back in the playoffs.  The Rangers are a miserable draw.  Out of the remaining AL playoff team, Texas would be my last choice to face in a one-game series.  Even the Yankees would be preferable.  But big picture, the Birds already have ample reason to be tremendously proud of their season.  Why not one more improbable win?

Photo via WBAL

There's one new face to introduce before the playoffs.  L.J. Hoes made two appearances last week against the Blue Jays: as a pinch runner on September 25th and as a pinch hitter on the 26th.  He failed to score in the former case and failed to get on base in the latter.  He is a very highly regarded prospect and will most certainly get more opportunities.  Hoes is a Washington, DC native.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

My Football Fantasy: Jamaal Charles

College League: lost, 105.10-76.35 (2-2 overall, 7th place out of 12 teams)
Vermont League: won, 103.36-81.06 (1-3, 8th out of 12)
My Player of the Week: Jamaal Charles (Running Back, Chiefs) with 92 yards rushing with 1 touchdown, 23 yards receiving with 1 touchdown and 2 lost fumbles

Photo via Cosby Sweaters

Charles was a track star in both high school as a hurdler and college as a sprinter.  He made All-America at Texas in both football and track. This week, he helped me get my first win of the season in the Vermont League.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Family Movie Night: Finding Nemo

Title: Finding Nemo
Director: Andrew Stanton
Original Release: 2003
Choice: Mine
My Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Image via Wikipedia

It was really Family Movie Afternoon this week as we headed to the cinema to take in the re-release of the Pixar classic Finding Nemo in 3D.   If any of the Pixar catalog is worthy of the full-immersion treatment, it is Nemo.  Surround sound is also a definite bonus for appreciating an underwater adventure.  As an added bonus, there's a Toy Story short included before the film entitled Partysaurus Rex.

During my carefree mid-20s, I went SCUBA diving a few times in Southeast Asia: Philippines and Malaysia.  It is not exactly the world's most practical hobby - particularly in a landlocked state such as Vermont - nor the cheapest so I haven't been in years.  Nemo reminds me of everything I loved about diving - the deceptive quiet as life's grand parade swims past.  The colors and textures of the ocean floor inspire the feel of an alternate dimension, so much more subtle and complex than our own.  The ecosystem is as fragile as it is beautiful.  Humans are most certainly the invaders.  Observing sea life is a privilege one should never take lightly.

For all its grandeur, Nemo retains a sweetness and a light humor throughout.  The story is a simple one: Marlin, a clownfish voiced by Albert Brooks, goes in search of his lost son Nemo (Alexander Gould). Ellen Degeneres's Dori and director Andrew Stanton's Crush (the sea turtle) are particularly charming.  And, of course, one can hardly go wrong casting Willem Defoe (Gill) in anything.

Multi-generational considerations:
  • The beauty of the ocean and the clever humor of the dialogue are enough to keep the grownups interested.

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.