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Yes, friends, this is gonna be pretty boring, not to mention loooong. The vast majority of you will wanna skip directly to the Today in Baseball History stuff below. But, someone asked, so I’ve taken up the challenge of relating my life story, in installments, beginning with what was really an extremely awesome, quintessential small town childhood experience. But you know me. I’ll find a way to include details so minute and uninteresting as to induce catatonia.

It all started way out west (see?), in San Francisco, CA. Born there in 1961, spent a few years there, in Oakland, and then finally in Stockton. My father was a college professor, specializing in electronic media, my mom a professional student, eventually getting degrees in art and teaching I guess. In truth, I’m not real sure what they have degrees in. We’re not the most close-knit of families. Anyway, we ended up leaving all extended family and friends behind when we moved east in 1967, to Geneseo, NY, where my dad had gotten a job teaching and running the radio station. My folks were pretty heavily involved in the counterculture movement that had by then become a bit of a circus in the bay area, with busloads of gawkers canvassing Haight-Ashbury to point and laugh. I’ve been told that this kind of thing influenced the decision to get the hell out of there, and I can’t say that I blame ‘em. I do have some memories of CA, all pleasant, but at the time the move east was simply a grand adventure, one that we were all fully on board with and excited about.

So, we make the cross country journey, using our green Rambler and a U-Haul truck, stopping along the way at motels and nudist camps and some places that, to this day, I have no idea what they were. A few truck and car breakdowns later, and we’re there! The house that dad had bought, sight unseen, was amazing! On the corner of Second and North streets, within walking distance of everything, this was a 200+ year old, two story, white, huge-ass monstrosity of a thing, with the biggest oak tree in the county taking up most of the tiny back yard. I loved it the second I set eyes on it! I was set to begin first grade, which was nice timing, and loved school right away.
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Real early on, like by the end of second grade, they identified me as being “special”. I remember singing the national anthem in front of classes of older kids and not being nervous or anything. I just liked singing, and even went to the trouble of learning the extra verses, just in case they wanted more. I was forever being pulled out of class and sent over to the college (SUNY Geneseo - at the time all the schools in town were on the campus) for these little tests or exercises or whatever. I didn’t think much of it, but it started dawning on me that I was, like, smart or something. There was talk of skipping grades, but I wasn’t too keen on that and chose to stay where I was. These early grade school years were damn near perfect. Lots of friends, both in school and in the neighborhood, teachers that not only liked me, but seemed to freakin’ LOVE me, and a home life that I was still too young to realize wasn’t quite the same as most people in town. It was great!

Not that it wasn’t without some challenges. I was a really small, scrawny, short, sorta effeminate looking kid, and on one of the streets I used to use to walk to school there was this bully kid that used to torment me and a very few others. It never became physical, but led to learning to use some shortcuts through folks’ back yards to avoid trouble. Also on that same street was a gigantic Great Dane that every kid I knew was afraid of, myself included. Never did confront either challenge, just sorta avoided ‘em and got on with my business. Within a few years, neither were concerns any longer.

By the time I was in maybe 3rd or 4th grade, I was aware that my folks were different. They smoked things that they sometimes had to hide when people rang the doorbell. They listened to music that was nothing like what my friends’ parents would listen to. There were always other people in the house, often staying in a spare bedroom for months, even a year at a time. I was curious, and at some point realized that my folks were real live hippies! Just like on TV, but not really! I came to know that, yes, mom and dad both enjoyed the weed, along with the acid, and lord knows what else. These college age kids weren’t all student friends of the folks, a few of ‘em were also draft dodgers, being hidden in our home. That corner of the living room with all the cut out posters and album covers and original artwork? Nope, other families in town sure didn’t have that. We were different. Really different.
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Geneseo was and still is a unique little town. The picture postcard version of small town America, with the indignity of having a big state college dropped right into the thick of things. The townsfolk were, in retrospect, pretty conservative and working class. The folks that attended and worked at the college were a whole other story. My folks were at the extreme far edge of the liberal/hippie contingent that inhabited this once less divided village. I became aware of a certain dynamic amongst my friends’ parents especially. I was a curiosity, that kid whose folks were the talk of the town. I was doted on by these normals. Probably did more sleepovers than most kids at the time. The parents loved having me over. I was polite, they knew I was smart, therefore a good person for their kid to be around, and I think there was an element of “awww, lets try to give this poor kid a normal day or two, away from those evil parents” going on.

As time went on, I was more and more aware of all this, and I embraced it. As a kid at the time, it was very very cool to have parents that liked the Beatles and Stones and let you do things some other kids weren’t allowed to do. So I reveled in it, started actively doing things to show my solidarity with it even if I was too young to understand some aspects of what was going on. I started listening to music beyond just the radio, growing my hair long, became more aware of what drugs were (though I never even thought about trying ‘em, yet), and payed attention to politics, more than I do today in fact. As all this was happening, it was just normal, happy, kid life. Bliss.

This bliss? Imagine a small town with a Main street, with a soda fountain owned by the mayor, anything a kid could ever want available in the stores on said Main street, and everything within walking, or better yet, biking distance. A typical summer day would find a big gaggle of us riding up and down Main street, checking every parking meter for pennies, the phone booth (one) for bigger denominations, and then taking our booty and plunking it down on candy, chips, soda, comic books, model cars, whatever. Usually candy. We had a choice of stores to spend it in too, from the good ol’ Ben Franklin, to the Red & White (the one in which there was a decapitation as a result of a car accident - big excitement!), to an A & P, to later arrivals like a more modern convenience store. Spend those pennies, then retire to the park right at the end of Main street, with swings, a slide, and even a merry go round you could have one kid get underneath and push to lightning speed with his legs. Also in this park was local historical figure Mary Jemison’s log cabin, which got used for summer camp type activities once in a blue moon, but was usually secured. Down the hill from that? Baseball diamonds, football fields, tennis courts, and even the “college pool”, where I spent a LOT of time, especially in the winter months. Bliss, I’m tellin’ ya.
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We’d also do some weird shit, like hitch hiking to just outside town where there was this little mini-Niagara Falls sorta place. We’d slide on the mossy rocks and just have a blast there. Our secret place! One of the neighbor families had a big overgrown field behind their house, with paths worn, a treehouse, a creek, even an old abandoned well into which my brother fell one time and had to be rescued. Tree swings, sleepovers in giant 300 year old barns, playing pick up baseball or football on real regulation fields, or trying to anyway. I recall this one big football game, the only really organized one we played, we used the field sideways. 100 yards is LONG when you’re 9-10 years old! Buses would appear out of nowhere to pick up kids to go to Rochester Red Wings games around 30 miles away. Sometimes we’d have to ask our parents, sometimes I think we just went. It was all a blur of summer fun, easy scholastic achievement, hippie home life, and these little trips we’d take every few years.

Like the time we all went to NYC, Long Island as it turned out. But as we were preparing to leave, the big question was “Will uncle Dave be there?”. “Uncle” Dave was a family friend, and we all just loved this guy. Known for wearing furry masks and riding motorcycles, he wasn’t a college student like most of my folks’ friends, but a California friend. One of the few that my parents kept after moving, along with the people we were gonna be staying with on Long Island. Dave’s remained a lifelong “friend”, really more like a family member, eventually going into the Hollywood special effects trade somehow. It’s his Russian motorbike that’s seen in that Indiana Jones flick with Sean Connery. The third one I think it was. Anyway, us kids are bugging the folks with “Will Dave be there?” incessantly, always being told “no!” But as soon as we walked into wherever we went (not LI yet, somewhere amidst all the shockingly tall buildings), there he was! In the furry mask! Like it was a big setup all along! Man was I happy!

The watershed event of that NYC trip though was our attending the premier of the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” the next day. Family legend has us all consuming hash brownies before leaving, and I don’t doubt that. I very specifically recall NOT being stoned however. I can still see the interior of that giant theater, still remember how awestruck I was by the film itself. My brothers’ memories are just of being wasted. I dunno what happened really. My guess is that us kids weren’t supposed to get to these brownies, but things happen… Maybe I didn’t eat ‘em, was immune from the effect at that tender age, who knows? What I took from that trip was how cool NYC was (tall buildings! that theater! Dave!) compared to Long Island. What a letdown it was to be bustled off to suburbia for the remainder of our time in the area. No memories of anything we did on the trip after that.
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Then there was the trip west to visit grandparents, a couple of those trips actually, always driving (yes, VW Bus - no decals). The memorable one was when we went from the grandparents’ house in San Pablo all the way up to Vancouver Island in Canada, stopping along the way to enjoy Oregon beaches and probably other things that left less of an impression. The grandparents thing was always tricky. My mom’s parents were very easygoing and didn’t give her too much shit about having become a “free spirit” or for moving so far away. It was always fun visiting their house, with the tiny little immaculately manicured lawn that felt like moist, cool plastic-y velvet every time you got tackled or found another reason to get close to it. My dad’s parents were another story. I could tell there was some tension, especially with his dad. I later learned that this grandpa was a stern taskmaster, disappointed in all his children to varying degrees. An accountant that had weathered the depression, he had zero interest in any of this hippie shit and that was apparent even to a 10 year old. My dad’s brother (whom I’ve never met) joined the Merchant Marine and basically disappeared. His sister married and divorced a few times, military men, and stayed near home, so was presumably the favorite.

But anyway, the Vancouver Island trip. We’re going there to visit a couple we’d known in Geneseo. I still don’t know if they were students or what, but it was interesting to say the least. Had to take a small motor boat, after having already taken a ferry to a larger island, to get to this smaller island, owned (apparently traded for) by this couple. That alone was quite an adventure. First thing we did upon arriving was send a few people right back out to catch dinner, a gigantic salmon which was then cooked over an open fire on the beach. Even then I wasn’t a seafood person, but I didn’t care. It was pretty rustic. No electricity or running water, no toilets. That last one became an issue for me, as I tried to hold it for a few days. Unsuccessfully. Got to see a real live cougar though, and soon we were on our way home.

But why the fuck are we driving back through Canada? I’ve never figured that one out. It’s not like we were stopping to see the scenic wonder or anything. Piecing it together years later, it’s not impossible that a large quantity of something was procured, perhaps part of the reason for the trip. I know that we used some pretty scary mountain roads and seemed to be driving late at night, staying under the radar. It’s a blur to me, this return trip. We may have gotten to Ontario in like two days of solid driving. Entered the US near Detroit for some reason. Ah, but at that age, who cares? We made it home, school started back up, and things were as they always were. Bliss.
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It’s hard to find fault with anything in my world during these years. Yes, we were different, and yes, that did make things weird occasionally, but it was fantastic overall. And my parents did a pretty good job of straddling the line of “do we admit to all this?” or “we better hide all this”. It’s not like they sat us down and told us what was up, at least not yet, but they didn’t hide smoking weed or talking about it or other sensitive things in our presence. I wonder now if they knew how much I knew at the time about what they were doing. Not that it bothered me. It was cool to have parents that did things like march on Washington and go to Woodstock or the Lennon/Ono Bed-In things. I was reading their Rolling Stone magazines and underground comics by 4th or 5th grade. I wanted to be part of that world. I was just too busy having fun being a kid in the greatest little town ever to be a kid in! Bliss, goddammit!

I’ve often thought back on my six years in Geneseo with glowing nostalgia. It was pretty much perfect, and most importantly, completely separate from lots of less fun stuff that happened immediately after and at points interspersed throughout later years. Leaving Geneseo, where I was well liked, part of a social group that included the coolest of the cool, and where I knew everyone and everything, was awful. Worse than awful. I’ve gone on far too long already, and this will be the next chapter (if and when I get around to it), but when my parents divorced at the end of my 6th grade year, that was when life, for the first time, became really really difficult. It led me in directions positive and negative, but it was mostly just a lot of stress and getting used to an alien world (suburban Rochester) I wanted no part of at first.

But, that’s where we’re gonna leave it for now. Geneseo in many ways was the best time of my life, or at least a close second. Even now, every time I travel north to Rochester, I can’t help stopping briefly in this still idyllic small town. It’s changed a little over the years. They have fast food joints and big shopping centers and all that, and Main street is now populated by more bohemian sorts of businesses, but it still looks and feels the same if you keep to certain streets and areas. All the houses on my old street now have these little historical markers on ‘em because they’re so old. The big oak tree behind our house was cut down decades ago. George’s soda shop isn’t there anymore, nor is the Ben Franklin or the Red & White. But there are still huge chestnut trees lining all the older residential streets, still fields behind houses, still a baseball diamond within easy distance. I truly truly loved that little town, and I still do. Bliss.

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Today in baseball history:

1908 - Addie Joss of the Cleveland Naps tosses a perfect game against the Chicago White Sox. The future Hall of Famer wins a 1-0 decision over Ed Walsh in one of the greatest pitching duels in major league history. Joss strikes out only three batters, while Walsh fans 15.

1920 - In the only tripleheader ever played in the 20th century, the Reds win the first two games, 13-4 and 7-3, with the Pirates avoiding the sweep in the finale, 6-0. Peter Harrison is the home plate umpire for all three games.

1966 - Sandy Koufax of the Los Angeles Dodgers wins his 27th game of the season and the final game of his career.

1968 - In one of the most memorable World Series performances ever, Bob Gibson of the St. Louis Cardinals strikes out 17 Detroit Tigers. Gibson sets the World Series record for most strikeouts in a single game, set on this day in 1963 by Sandy Koufax, and leads the Cardinals to a 4-0 victory over Tigers ace and Cy Young Award winner Denny McLain.

2012 - On the penultimate day of the regular season, the Yankees maintain their one-game lead over the Orioles in the AL East when Raul Ibanez homers off Boston’s Andrew Miller in the bottom of the 12th inning to give New York a 4-3 win. Earlier, the Orioles had defeated the Rays, 1-0, when Chris Davis homered for the sixth straight game, tying a club record, with a solo shot off James Shields in the 4th inning. Shields sets a Tampa Bay franchise record by striking out 15 opponents in the loss.

2013 - The Rays shut out the Indians, 4-0, in the AL Wild Card Game, behind the pitching of Alex Cobb, a solo homer by Delmon Young and a two-run double by Desmond Jennings.

Pretty light day for wacky or historically interesting items, in my opinion at least. Looks like that may be a trend moving forward, into a time of year when only postseason baseball has been played, and oddball publicity stunts, rule, or equipment changes are a rarity. I started compiling these during the offseason, and was able to find things, so we’ll see.

Thanks for reading, hopefully just this part! Leave a comment, won’t you? It shows you care. No topic off limits. It’s gotten pretty deep in here lately. Pretty sure you could get some kinda degree by fully understanding some of the best comments lately. Keep ‘em comin’!

Oooh, I just remembered, this will be posting on the day of the first O’s playoff game. No-the-fuck-body is gonna be readin’ this shit! Even more reason for you, yes YOU, to leave a comment.

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Gonna try to make this a short one, so I thought I’d talk today bout one of my favorite electrified blues tracks, by one of my favorite unknown greats of the guitar, Mr. Earl Hooker. He’s easy to look up, so I won’t tell much of his story. Suffice to say that he had a very long career for a guy that died young, never really made much money, and was never once named by Eric Clapton as his idol, even posthumously. Well, not that I know of. Everyone else though. Anyway, this track, “Blues in D Natural”, an instrumental, is a tour de force of Hooker’s incredible tone and pitch accuracy on slide, as well as some rippin’ with plain old fingers. It’s not in your face, Stevie Ray type blues guitar. There’s some subtlety and a a high degree of sophistication on display here. I could talk about how he emulates and improves on Robert Nighthawk, while also dropping some nifty jazz-ish chord inversion, but let’s face it, who the fuck cares?

This is a tune that works due in large part to the band, for whom, if I were less lazy, I could probably dig up names. The drummer especially is groovin’. Hardest thing to find when building a great blues band is a guy that can play the shuffle like this. Love it! And the bass. The organ is cool too I guess… gets a bit wacky at times. There’s a cohesiveness here, tightness, flourishes in the right places. Subtlety in the guitar work, pulsating rhythm below, some licks that’ll drive you crazy for a lifetime… High on my list of instructional aids back when I was playin’.

So just a few fun facts in relation to ‘ol Earl. First of all, I was lucky enough to have played, at various times, with a sax player that toured and recorded in the early 60’s with Hooker (JJ Johnson). Great guy, and while I’m not big on having a sax in a blues band necessarily, he was damn near perfect, even on crappy tunes like George Thorogood covers or other less “authentic” material. Nothing more hilarious than JJ trying to fit in on “Voodoo Child”. I miss him! We had some times…
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Secondly, Earl’s middle name was Zebedee. How can you not love that?!? Finally, if you wanna delve deeper into Earl Hooker’s recorded legacy, be aware that it’s not all this great. He was never much on singing (he suffered from and eventually died, at 41, of TB), and much of his stuff was done for really small cheap labels and with bands of varying quality. This particular tune stands out, for me, like a shining diamond of blues guitar bliss from every other track he recorded.

So now, without any further yammering, here we go. Blues in D Natural, by Earl Hooker.





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Today in baseball history:

1866 - The first game of the East Coast championship between the Brooklyn Atlantics and Philadelphia Athletics in Philadelphia, PA is a victim of its own success. Newspapers estimate that the crowd gathered around the baseball grounds numbers close to 40,000. The host ball club is ill-prepared to handle the huge crowd, which soon invades the playing field and forces the cancellation of the game. However, the fiasco does prove that there is a large potential market for top-level professional baseball.

1903 - In the first World Series game ever played, Pirates’ hurler Deacon Phillippe beats Cy Young and the Pilgrims (Red Sox), 7-3 at the Huntington Avenue Grounds in Boston. Jimmy Sebring hit the first Fall Classic home run.

1921 - White Sox backstop Ray Schalk is the first catcher to make a putout at every single base. The feat has not been accomplished again.

1944 - The St. Louis Browns, for the first and only time in their history, clinch the American League pennant when they beat the defending world champion Yankees at Sportman’s Park, 5-2. Most of the team’s offensive output is provided with a pair of two-run homers hit by Chet Laabs, an all-star outfielder in 1943 who has seen limited duty this season due to his job at a wartime defense plant.

1951 - The Giants’ 3-1 victory over the Dodgers in the first game of the National League playoffs is the first major league contest to be televised coast-to-coast.

1961 - Breaking the Babe’s single season home run mark, Roger Maris hits his historic 61st homer off Tracy Stallard when the Yankees defeat the Red Sox, 1-0.

1997 - The Baltimore Orioles continue their dominance over the most dominant lefthander in major league baseball. Baltimore bounces Randy Johnson and the Seattle Mariners in the first game of the American League Division Series. Johnson, who has a winning record against every other team in the American League, drops to 3-8 overall against the Orioles.

Well kids, that’s it for today. Leave a comment, won’t you? On anything. No rules here. You can say fuck if you want, post links without doing any of that crazy shit to  ‘em, even post YouTube videos. Not you matthew.:=}

Stay tuned. Something great’s coming. That’s a bald faced lie, but you never know, maybe I’ll think of something.

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For those that don’t know, and my avatar should be a dead giveaway, I’m a huge fan of cartoons. Specifically those made for theatrical release up to around 1960 or so, and among those, especially the magnificent Warner Brothers Studios cartoons. There are great ones from all eras, but I tend to prefer those from the early 1940’s right into the early 1950’s. Lots of creativity and genius on display in many if not most of these releases, a team effort which included the directors, writers, animators, voice talent, music scorers, etc. The WB guys were a well oiled machine, cranking out reels and reels of high quality, American made animation, with ultra-topical jokes, hilarious and immortal characters voiced by a genius, intricately detailed and musically rich scores, just great craftsmanship all the way around. We’ve all seen ‘em. They’re a part of the culture. I think they’re great art as well, but I’m crazy like that.

Anyway, Porky In Wackyland has long been one of my favorite Warner Brothers cartoons. Released in 1938, supervised (directed) by the fabulous Robert Clampett, and featuring the usual array of WB talent (Mel Blanc doing the voices, Carl Stallings’ music), this cartoon is unique. Dali-esque. The plot’s nothing to write home about, Porky seeking the elusive dodo. It’s the artwork and playfulness that dazzle here. The backgrounds alone are astonishing when contrasted with the idyllic forest scenes typical of cartoons of the time. “It can happen here!” It’s a pageant of animated and background surrealism, grounded only by the familiar presence of Porky Pig, the pop culture references, and, at one point, the WB shield popping out of nowhere.
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Or you could just call it silliness. As alluded to, there are tons of references to contemporary popular culture scattered throughout this cartoon, everything from the Three Stooges (all sharing one body), to Al Jolson, to several sitings of “Foo”, a nonsense word popularized in Bill Holman’s Smokey Stover comic strip, eventually going viral, as we’d say today. But I think my favorite part is when the dodo makes its first appearance, after a huge buildup involving several impossible doors and grand musical fanfare, motorboating in from his castle across the water. How can you not love that?!? The animation of that in particular is spectacular. The pacing! I love the dodo’s bobbing movement as the boat suddenly stops too! From there it’s pretty standard chase fare, but with extra-crazy gags and more of those surreal backdrops along the way. Just your standard edge-of-the-classic-era WB cartoon.

It’s in black and white, like all Looney Tunes prior to 1942. Remember, there were Merrie Melodies too, and those had been in color since like 1936-7. Various beloved characters appeared in both, but the Merrie Melodies, especially earlier ones, were more likely to be songs set to animation, in a slightly more Disney way. This is 1938, at the cusp of when these WB cartoons would really take off (both popularly and artistically), with the introduction of Bugs Bunny, and an increased “wise guy” attitude in general. The cute and rounded, somewhat boringly animated characters in the WB cartoons of the earlier 1930’s were giving way to Bugs and Daffy, a leaner, funnier Porky, and smoother animation that would soon reach an apex with some of the 1940’s Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, and Clampett efforts. Porky In Wackyland is a forward looking cartoon.
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I should mention that Porky In Wackyland was re-purposed in 1948 as Dough For The Dodo. It’s not that successful really. It’s now in color, but the backgrounds, voices, and music have all changed, and not for the better. There are lots of other minor differences as well. The “Foo”s are replaced by “Zoot”s, a few sequences are cut, and the ending is completely different. It’s nice to see it in color. I mean, most of the original is intact, but it’s just not right. Too many liberties taken with the colors, inferior music, often not matching action as well as the original, it makes you wonder why they didn’t make it easy on themselves and just color the original. They worked pretty hard to mess it up, with new animation and styling for Porky, the new music and voice recordings, and replacing all those fantastic backgrounds with more desert-like renderings. Dough For The Dodo is worthwhile, but if you can stand black and white, Porky In Wackyland is the way to go.

Jeez, even when it’s just one cartoon, I get long-winded as hell. I’m sorry. With no further ado, I present Porky In Wackyland for your viewing pleasure.

See? That wasn’t so bad, was it? OK, maybe not your thing. Just felt like doing a cartoon piece and I had watched this one a few times recently. More baseball stuff soon.

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In fact, right now! Today I’m gonna start with putting Today in Baseball History on here as well as on Roch Kubatko’s fine School of Roch blog. You never know when I’m gonna post it, and a few have had trouble finding it, so it’ll be here too from now on. Maybe by itself if I’m too busy/lazy to post anything that day. So here’s today’s maiden voyage of TiBH in this here place:

Today in baseball history:

1893 - On the day he is honored by The Sporting News as the most popular baseball player in America‚ Joe Quinn collects eight hits in the doubleheader, becoming the first player to accomplish the feat. The St. Louis second baseman, a mortician in the off-season, helps the NL Browns, who will change their name to the Cardinals after the 1899 season, sweep a twin bill from the Beaneaters, 17-6 and 16-4.

1924 - In the only game scheduled, the Series-bound Senators lose a laugher, 13-1 to the Red Sox. Coach Nick Altrock, 48, pitches the last two innings for the Nats and gives up a run, while driving in the lone tally with a triple. With the Red Sox outfielders making little attempt to run the ball down, Altrock is the oldest player in ML history to hit a triple.

1951 - Preceding the Browns’ season closer, the Harlem Globetrotters defeat a team led by baseball clown Max Patkin. The basketball game is played on a wooden court set up behind third base. Then St. Louis ace Ned Garver cops his 20th game of the season, defeating the White Sox, 9-5. Garver becomes the only player to win 20 for a last-place team that loses 100 games, as the Browns win just 32 other times.

1956 - At the age of 16 years and 10 months, Jim Derrington of the White Sox becomes the youngest pitcher to start a major league game this century. The teenager loses to the A’s 7-6, but singles, becoming the youngest player to get a hit in the AL.

1971 - The Senators draw 14,000 for their final game in Washington, with another 4,000 crashing. Dick Bosman gives up homers to Bobby Murcer, Roy White, and Rusty Torres and the Nats are down 5-1 in the 6th. Mike Kekich then grooves a fastball for Frank Howard, who parks his 26th homer, and thanks Thurman Munson as he crosses the plate. The Senators take a 7-5 lead, and after Murcer makes the 2nd out in the 9th, fans swarm onto the field, causing the game to be forfeited to the Yanks, 9-0.

1976 - The Chicago White Sox try a different approach against California, using a lineup in numerical order by field position. The batting order is: Brian Downing - 2: Lamar Johnson - 3: Bill Stein - 4: Kevin Bell - 5: Bucky Dent - 6: Alan Bannister - 7: Chet Lemon - 8: Jerry Hairston - 9. Finishing off the lineup is 53-year-old DH Minnie Minoso. The Angels are unimpressed, winning, 7-3.

1978 - Baltimore 2B Rich Dauer makes his only error of the season in the final game, a 5-4 loss to Detroit. Dauer’s 86 games and 425 chances without a miscue are American League records.

2012 - The Yankees defeat the Blue Jays, 9-6, and the Orioles beat the Red Sox, 6-3, to remain tied atop the AL East. Both teams clinch postseason spots with wins today.

2012 - En route from Baltimore to Tampa Bay to play the Rays, the Orioles’ charter is forced to make an emergency landing in Jacksonville, Florida because of smoke on the plane. The cause of the fire is not immediately known, but there are no reported injuries.

This is where I’d normally say something random and uninspired. Consider this that.

Why not leave a comment, huh? Gets lonely in here. It’s the right thing to do. Adieu until tomorrow!

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Not sure how to feel right now. What to think. Why I should be feeling so almost numb with impending playoff excitement, yet feeling no need or desire to look up stats or in any other way do homework on the opposition. It’s a mild form of shock maybe. This is all so new. Not being a life long Oriole fan, this is a first for me. Having nothing to play for for the final weeks? How do you even process that? Who were some of those guys we were putting out there? I swear I saw Brandon Fahey in the dugout…

Yep, it’s been some flat out bad baseball for the last little while, and that can cause worry for some folks. Understandable to an extent, and a valid opinion might be that the regulars maybe won’t feel as regular as they should, having played only a game or two as a unit for the last month it seems.

But we all know, or should know, why all that happened. It was Fall Training is what it was. Buck doing what he does best. Pity that things had to get quite so Bad News Bears-ish. But Buck has by now likely crafted his master plan. Made his lists, checked ‘em twice, then made sure they can throw from third to first. Things will be just fine. Again, to an extent.
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I don’t expect a hitting barrage from our guys. Detroit has great starting pitching, as everyone knows, and it may not always be possible or even wise to drive up the pitch count. Some aggressiveness is warranted, especially if they’re throwing a ton of strikes. We’ll be lucky to scratch out runs in the early through middle innings. But the great thing is that they will be too. Keep it close, get to the late innings, and good things should happen. Runs. Runs are good. In this context anyway.

Because the Tigers’ bullpen really is pretty bad. Closer that can’t close, middle guys with faces that look suspiciously like Jim Johnson, some guy named Albuquerque, Joba Chamberlain and his oinkball… It’s a delightful collection of fellas that aren’t as good at pitching as a team expecting to advance through the playoffs should have. The easy way to speculate on game outcomes is to expect our pen to beat theirs, lather rinse, repeat. It could work!

Or it couldn’t. This is still baseball, and you never know when the arbiters of baseball physics might decide to send every hard hit ball by the good guys into the gloves of the bad guys. Anything could happen really. These are human beings after all, not the little oceans of numbers that describe them and attempt to forecast the future. Some guys will be better than others, for no apparent reason. Flaherty could have a four home run game. Tillman could have a 47 pitch first inning. Conversely, Cabrera could eat a bad piece of candy corn or be sidelined by the mange. Scherzer’s eyes could suddenly explode.
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Or they’ll just batter us with their Detroit superiority, because they’re scary and they beat us in April and they have all this experience and all. This is where I start thinking to myself, hey, we were still gettin’ our shit together when we played ‘em back then. Pitchers hadn’t settled in. Their pen hadn’t melted into the sad morass it currently is. Plus, we tend to forget that we’re better than them. Like, a better record and stuff. Nothing to fear!

So, I’m pretty optimistic. Why be otherwise? This team has passed every test, climbed every mountain. In the face of injuries, suspensions, even a rash of devastating groin issues that seemed to spread like wildfire, remember? I always kinda wondered if something else might have been going on, with the way it seemed to be spreading. This is Baltimore. Anyway, we’ve persevered and triumphed, with little guy after little guy stepping up big from time to time to keep us winning, and most of all, pitching that’s become better than any of us could have expected in May.

Not being a prediction kinda guy is fun at times like this. I have absolutely no idea what will happen, how many games it will take, if we’ll make it to the promised land. I have a feeling we will, but sometimes sentimentalism can trip you up. It’s not impossible that Detroit smokes us. You’ve got to account for all possibilities, or winning wouldn’t be quite as much fun. Detroit, like us, is a very good team, with flaws.
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On paper the hope is that our flaws matter less than theirs. This could well be the case. I’d submit that having great OBP or getting lots of walks isn’t gonna matter quite as much as having a bullpen that can and will shut you down, for multiple innings if need be. The weather and their ballpark might limit our propensity for hitting bombs. Those same limits would apply to them as well though. Without scouring the numbers, I’d ignorantly say that we have the more complete and ready for the postseason team, even without that one guy. Or that other guy. Or that guy that got suspended, the one that did that stuff.

That’s about as much as I can muster for speculation or making predictions. There will be playoff baseball, and the Orioles will be in it, with home field advantage, at least in this first round. That’s a lot to be thankful for right there. Anything else is gravy. I really really like gravy though. This year in particular, I want it on everything. I want the O’s playing in home World Series games! Becoming a huge national story! Attendance next year through the roof!

Actually I couldn’t care less about the national exposure thing. It’d be nice to get some respect, but we know what we are and why. In fact, I’m in favor of us really earning this thing. I want to play the tough teams. Nothing would please me more than an O’s/Dodgers Series. Not that I wouldn’t also be OK with the Nationals making it a local extravaganza, but the Dodgers would be a greater achievement somehow, and certainly would be seen by more viewers. Beating Kershaw, Greinke, the artist formerly known as Fausto Carmona, and bringing the LA team to its knees an even 48 years after the first time. That would be awesome for me. Maybe it’s just because I’m a Giants fan too and despise the Dodgers so.
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Guess I should sum up. Like there’s a point to any of this rambling. I suppose the theme is optimism tempered with the knowledge that baseball is baseball and can shatter your psyche at any moment. What I will say is that we’re competitive with anyone, as proven over and over again all season, with varying collections of players at a few positions. It’s gonna be fun. Hell, it’s gonna be off the motherfuckin’ hook! Camden Yards is gonna be insane!

This is where I get to rub in everyone’s faces the fact that I get to go to all the home games for free! They even pay me a little! I’m over the top excited to get there on Thursday, watch the place fill up, feel the energy, hear the cheers, smell the smells, taste the tastes. Anyone starts the wave’s gettin’ ejected if I have anything to say about it. I expect the yard to be packed of course, but with baseball fans! Not packs of students each clutching two beers and weaving! Not families unsuccessfully keeping tabs on their children while clutching two beers. Not large groups of young women dressed for… success… and staring into their phones the whole game, possibly while some chump is clutching two beers for her.
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I’m gonna savor every moment, every crack of the bat, every pop of the mitt, every single pitch of every last game. I’ve been doing that all year, but now things are exponentially better in every way. To boil it all down, I’m hoping for as many more games as possible at home, along with an Orioles World Series win. That’s not too much to ask, is it? 1983 is a long long time ago. We deserve this. We’ve put the pieces together in a way that makes this not an impossible dream. If we win it all, we will have earned this, and that’s what makes it sweet.

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I’ve been a huge fan of the Heath bar since I was a kid. They always seemed fancy sorta. Classy packaging, smaller portion. Most importantly, delicious! Not to mention keeping dentists in yachts for 86 years now. Because the Heath bar is hell on teeth. If you don’t chip one simply taking a bite of the rock hard scrumptiousness, what it turns into once you’ve tamed it into submission, filling every nook and cranny of every molar and bicuspid, will stay with you for a while. But they are so so delicious. And there’s something about that first bite, when you’re first breaking the quartz-hard piece into smaller pebbles, then sand, that’s satisfying as well. Seems like that’s when the most flavor explodes forth from the glass-like shards being muscle and toothed down to a semi-hardened shellac paste. It’s simply a great taste, just the right blend of almond, chocolate, toffee, and good ol’ sugar flavors. Nobody doesn’t like a Heath bar, unless they have tooth issues maybe.

Looking into the history of the Heath bar was eye-opening. The whole thing began back in 1913, when the patriarch buys a candy store in Robinson IL, and hands the reins over to his two sons. They branch out into ice cream and dairies and manufacturing and all sorts of heinous capitalism, and in 1928, were able to procure the recipe for what we all know today as the Heath bar from a Greek dude somewhere else in the state, via a traveling salesman. They were popular right away, and the boys, now back with their dad involved, did some clever marketing, making the Heath bar available to folks for delivery by their milk man. It wasn’t for the miserly. A one ounce bar was a nickel in the 1930’s, the same price as many much larger candy bar competitors. But they were unique and did well enough to thrive through the depression.
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When the big war broke out, it was discovered that the Heath bar had a pretty amazing shelf life, being make of quartz and all, and decided to purchase $175,000 worth of them to be distributed to soldiers with their rations. It was at this time that the candy was first mass-produced in a partially automated manner. They’d been hand made up until then. After the war, sales continued to be strong, as returnees from the war fondly remembered their Heath bars. The business remained family owned and pretty hands on in terms of manufacturing process well into the late 1980’s. There was however a fascinating level of family intrigue and infighting. At least one grandson was “expelled” from the business, eventually writing a tell-all book. But they soldiered on until finally selling off in 1989.

The Heath bar is now made by the Hershey mega-corporation. The guys that keep Clark bars off the shelf because they haven’t snapped up the NECCO people yet. I hate this, but they still taste the same to me, so whatever. I’ll eat ‘em, but I don’t like contributing to the shrinking of choices in the candy aisle. The good news is, they’re bigger now. And no longer in the delightful but inefficient two-piece packaging, like so few women I’ve known. Nope, it’s all one big slab o’ quartz that tastes real real good. I think it’s better this way. So I’m not complaining. At least you can find a Heath bar. Much easier to track down than a Clark bar. For MD people, you can get ‘em at Royal Farms, not at Wawa. For Clark bars you’re on your own. I have a secret place I get ‘em and I’m not tellin’. Wait, Cracker Barrel has ‘em too. There you go.
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So that’s today’s meaningless drivel, of interest to few, hopefully read by less few. Much much shorter than last time, which can only be good. I’ll probably do a big Orioles season recap/overview/idiotic thoughts sorta thing soon. With no baseball, I’ll be looking to fill time, so beware. Lord knows what the topics will be. I know what they WON’T be! Anyway, why not go out and treat yourself to a Heath bar? Live a little! Your dentist will love you, as will your taste buds.

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In a rather large way, the title here is misleading, as it’s really only rural Harford county with which I’m intimately familiar. But it’s true. I’m not a native to these parts, and there’s a lot not to like, for me. Boring background, for the benefit of nobody, but I was born in northern California, then moved to western NY at age 6. Moved here in 2003, through circumstances best left to the imagination. So I’m really a western NY guy. It’s home. The finger lakes region is really really beautiful, and as much as I detest cold weather, I learned to deal with it. There’s more definition to the seasons up there. Winter is winter and summer is summer. Spring and fall are abbreviated, but more intense themselves, crisply bordered by snow on one or the other side. I know the territory, had favorite restaurants in multiple cities and small towns scattered over half the state. Even after living here for over a decade now, it still doesn’t feel like home.

First of all there’s the weather. Sure, it’s nice that the winters are milder, but the side effect of that is that even the hint of a chance of a threat of (egads) snow, and people go apeshit! I still haven’t gotten used to it. Schools close, power lines go down, people stock up on toilet paper and Schmidt’s Old Tyme bread, and mayhem ensues, as plows and salt trucks just don’t quite get it done. It’s unbelievable! Coming from a place where it takes feet of snow, and over, say, three to cancel school, this makes me laugh every year. How can a local infrastructure not cope with amounts of snow that are negligible compared to so many other regions? You get three feet of snow up in NY and it’s plowed, even the side streets, immediately and often, as it’s happening and after. Here? Not so much. You’re on your own. Oh, and they really rip you off with plowing here. Less than half the price up north. So that’s winter. Hate it in general, but I got used to it up north and it can even be beautiful and fun. Here it’s just a series of nuclear level warnings and rare actual weather events, broken by vast stretches of yellow lawn, no leaves on the trees dreariness.
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And then there’s summer. Granted this past one has been near perfect, with almost zero unbearably hot and humid days, but the norm is less lovable. Humidity so thick it’s like breathing cheese. Heat that makes your steering wheel a toaster oven. I mean, I can deal with one or the other maybe, but usually it’s both. I once worked overnight shift at a warehouse that was not air conditioned. People falling out, ice and free beverages brought in, the obligatory Gatorade, made from that concentrate so it always tastes funny. That stuff’s everywhere, these little branded coolers full of the stuff, made cold somehow. You don’t see that so much up north. Anyway, it’s too hot and humid here for too many days usually, again, this year excepted. Western NY summers can be nearly as hot, but generally many fewer days of it, and not as often with the stifling combination of heat and humidity. And the contrast factor, summer standing as a narrow jewel amidst months and months likely sullied by snow, plays into making summers seem more special. “This bush here, with the berries on it? Well, son, there was a twelve foot snow pile on that very spot, most the year…” The starkness of the edges of the seasons makes ‘em better, for me.

One last brief note on weather. Y’all are crazy here with how much weather information you demand. Up yonder, it’s real easy. It’s gonna snow or it isn’t. Five minutes, after the sports report, even if it’s a big storm. Big storms are normal. Down here it’s seemingly non-stop weather. On the 8’s, the 9’s, etc. on radio, and comprising a huge slab of time on the local news. The folks that delight in having a reporter out standing in it like it’s some kind of nuclear fairy dust from Mars. I guess it’s true that weather patterns are more complex down here, but c’mon. Nobody needs 20 minutes of weather speculation during dinner time. Of course, I’m watching my DVR’d General Hospital anyway, so it’s not that big a deal ultimately.

And then we come to food. I am not a seafood person. I’ll eat a tuna sandwich or those frozen battered fish deals that have no taste of fish, but no crabs, lobster, oysters, clams, any of that stuff for me. And I have tried it all. Just don’t like that taste of the sea. Strange in a way, as I’m of partial Portuguese heritage. Fish should be ingrained in my genes. But nope. In fact, it does seem to be a genetic thing. My daughter and dad both have the exact same aversion, with the same exceptions even. So I’m not real big on the regional cuisine. Not a fan of the roadside corn or peaches, basically anything from any of them farm market type places. Pies maybe. My taste in food runs more towards the highly processed meats, cheeses and other dairy products, and sugared grains corners of the food triangle. You can get that anywhere. But one of my true food loves that requires restaurant quality is Mexican. I’ve yet to eat at a better than merely average Mexican restaurant here. Tried tons of ‘em. Mostly all the same, with their ground beef and way too runny cheeses. So that pisses me off too.
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But, the silver lining is that some of the best foods ever are things I’ve discovered here. There are the obvious things like Utz chips and Berger cookies (cookies, ha!), and then there are little hole in the wall places everywhere that make one thing great, be it chicken, cheesesteaks, subs, burgers and malts, whatever. A few of my favorites are the absolute best pizza place ever, (and believe me, I’ve tried a lot, from coast to coast, from sea to shining sea), Bella Pizza, conveniently located at the corner of routes 1 and 543 near Bel Air. I rave about that here. Then there are the malts at Uncle Wiggly’s in Towson/Rogers Forge on York road. Best I’ve had. The cheesesteaks from any number of places, including everywhere from this tiny corner market down the road from me here in the sticks, to the Baltimore Chop House at Camden Yards. I talk about that here.

So there’s a lot to like around here for a guy like me food-wise, despite the insistence of normal people to beat on poor little crabs with those tiny mallets. I’ll be honest with you, one of the most disturbing days of my life was a crab feast at my brother’s suburban abode. Crustacean parts flyin’, people’s faces encrusted with dried claw meat and maybe some of that yellow stuff, things being beaten. The carnivorous rhythmic mayhem was too much for me. I had to retire to an area unblemished by crab pieces or parts, on people, furniture or pets. Gruesome stuff. But other than the crab/seafood thing, I’m good. Tons of chain restaurants within easy distance (for me that’s like 20 miles - Bel Air), and some little joys even closer, like that market and the dozens of Wawas and Royal Farms franchises littered around even my remote neck of the woods. Overall it’s a wash I guess, maybe a slight edge to Maryland.
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What I miss from the Rochester area, still on food here, is my favorite Mexican restaurant mainly. There are a few regional dishes and products up there, but nothing irreplaceable or that can’t be made yourself anywhere. I do miss Zweigle’s skin-on hot dogs. White hots are big up there (made with veal), but I never cared for those, or the iconic garbage plate, which is just a bunch of average foods (beans, meats, slaws, etc.) covered in this hot sauce that’s really more like bad hot dog chili. Chicken French is something I never realized was regional until I moved. It’s on lots and lots of menus up there, but is easily made, so that’s covered. It’s a battered, flattened piece of chicken breast, sautéed in a wine and lemon sauce, often with mushrooms, and usually garnished with more lemon. It’s truly delicious when properly made. Recipes are easily findable.

So yeah, it’s just that Mexican restaurant, Maria’s, in the back basement of an old church in Webster, NY. The key to great Mexican food, divulged to my ex, as she befriended one of the cooks, is shredded, marinated (secret recipe!) skirt steak, and mozzarella cheese. Yeah, I was surprised too. I haven’t a clue or a care if it’s authentic or not, but man is it great. Stretchy, chewy, NOT slimy and pourable like around here. Heaven to me is a bowl of their chili, made with skirt steak, a few beans but more of a sauce, with salsa in it and tons of cheese on top. That and simple nachos (more tons of stretchy mozzarella!) as an appetizer. Then it’s on to the main event. The beef enchilada. Three usually. So great, with the skirt steak, the perfect sauce/cheese/tortilla proportion… I’m making myself salivate all over the keyboard just thinking about it! I don’t get up there as often anymore with my daughter getting older, so I really do miss Maria’s, the one food experience I can’t duplicate or at least approximate down here.
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Good gravy, four paragraphs on food! Shocker! There are other little details that bother me about where I live. The confederate flags everywhere are discomfiting. The way suburbs are built here, big acres of huge houses and winding hilly streets, with nary a tree taller than a horse. The way roads around where I live are insanely windy and illogical directionally. I’m forever being talked into taking these “shortcuts” by friends and family members and entering a fun house world of zigs and zags and backtracks and portions of dirt roads and one lane bridges… Insanity! Take the beltway, people! At least if you crash there, somebody will find you before the coyotes and hawks. I don’t like living in a place that’s known for crime, STD’s, rotting inner city, heroin, all that stuff you come here knowing about Baltimore. I can’t say that I’ve ever been bothered by any of that stuff personally, though I’m not in the city that often. It’s just a lot of little things. The Baltimore accent, while I can take it now, really sounded like people were drunk the first few years I was here. I found it hilarious, still do. Can’t count that as a negative I guess.

It’s just that sense of home, that knowing where you are feeling. I still have to do Google Maps to find things even in my own neighborhood. Up there I could drive from East Rochester to West Henrietta without even having to think about it, and with both an expressway method and a non-windy backroad method. Need to be in Jamestown for a gig? Piece of cake. Olean? Easy, like the fondly recalled women of St. Bonaventure U. I could go to Canada at will, as we often did as youths, bringing in that high-test Brador beer and selling it for profit, or at least some of it, for break even. I just knew where I was, and always did. Even in my grade school years, my little town, Geneseo, was easy to navigate. You’ve got your Main street, your Second street (where I lived!), and your North and South streets, making a big rectangle, on top of which the grid of the rest of the town lay. Easy. Never once got lost as a kid. I get lost constantly now. So overall, the verdict is that I like it better up yonder. It’s not terrible here or anything, and the food piece is especially strong, but home is home, even with 200 inches of snow.
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I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the one thing that makes this the land of pleasant living for me, and that is, of course, the Baltimore Orioles. Is it a coincidence that this summer’s great weather has coincided with a historic year for our Birds? It’s been incredible to enjoy the rise of this team as a true contender, a force to be reckoned with. I’m an insanely devoted O’s fan, reading and commenting and inhaling as much information as possible between never missing an inning of the actual baseball. Being lucky enough to be in a position where I’m actually PAID to be able to watch O’s home games is like heaven! Wish I could stay there year round! So the O’s make the entire pro/con thing highly unbalanced for several months a year, more now, happily. Never having lived in a city with big league sports, the O’s have been a life changer for me. Again, I’d pitch a tent (stop!) at the yard and live there if I could.

I don’t know how this got so long. Kudos to anyone that’s actually read this far. Just had an idea and ran with it, stream of conscience, one take, as is my way. Editing isn’t in my bag of tricks. It’s why I earn a big case of family size Nothing™ for each entry I post. There’s really no point to anything I’ve said here. So one guy, some crazy baseball fan living lord knows where, with coyotes and shit, thinks maybe where he grew up is better. Whoop-de-doo! Who the fuck cares, right? Well, I got these words, see? And they gotta come out, see? It’s beyond my control really, and in a more concentrated form now that I’m saving all the goodness for you, treasured claudecat’s place reader. Leave a comment, send me an email (claudecat17 AT gmail), tweet me, but don’t Facebook me. I don’t do that shit. The Walmart of social media. I’m reachable is the point. Few do it, but you gotta try anyway. Happy blogging. :=}

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As a late in life O’s fan, this is the first time that I’ve experienced an end of season like this. Weeks of games that really don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Lots of looks at players that may or may not make the postseason roster, lots of rest for key position players and bullpen arms. I’ve never seen the likes of this, and I guess I have to like it, because it means we’re finally that good. There is however something disconcerting about watching Paredes airmail throws to first base, the general disarray inherent in seeing players unaccustomed to playing with one another play with one another. It’s often entertaining baseball, as little guys get to shine and potential postseason heroes are born. Plus we’re still winning enough to not embarrass ourselves. I’m cool with it. Some exhibition baseball for a few more days, then the wait begins for that first ALDS game at the yard.

Oh what a treat that’s gonna be. Tillman facing, who? Scherzer? Whomever it is, the key (in my opinion) will be patience. Try to drive up the pitch count by any means necessary. Maybe Buck has stats on who hits the most foul balls, or better yet, most pitches seen per AB. Facepalm, as I realize that Buck undoubtedly has that covered and will do what he wants, which, even if it’s wrong, will be OK by me. In any case, once we get to that bullpen, it’s gravy time. Al Albuquerque? Really? Do they even let Nathan pitch anymore? Is Jim Johnson available to inflate our stats? I’m not scared of these Tigers. Lions and bears? Whole ‘nother story. Those guys are big. But hey, what if it’s not Detroit? In that case I have no idea. Honestly I’d hate to face KC’s bullpen, especially on the road. Bring on the stripey cat guys! We’ll herd ‘em. Herding cats is only anecdotally difficult. We’re quite agreeable with the correct lunch or breakfast meat as friendly enticement.
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But I digress. I dunno how much more baseball-y stuff I can say. Most of all I’m looking forward to working that game. Full house, expensive tickets, even up in the eyelash-curlers where I am, potential big tippers… It’s gonna be special, win or lose. Winning would be preferable of course. I’ll admit that a part of me hopes that all series go the distance just so there are more games, at home. It’s gonna be electric, a sea of orange and black, for each and every blessed game. The reward to this crop of players for having a collectively, extremely team-oriented great year, but also the reward for long suffering fans starved for another dose of playoff baseball. 2012 seems so fluky now, so far away. Who were some of those guys? This year’s team, warts and injuries and big guys and little guys alike, is so much more complete. The pitching especially. Light years better top to bottom than 2012.

Yes, 2014 really feels like a special year. I’m happy just to have made the playoffs. Anything beyond the ALDS is extra pudding. A championship? That’s a truckload of Clark bars, maybe one of them shipping container things full. What will be most fun, aside from winning a lot, is seeing which players emerge as postseason stars. Who gets that walk off, comeback homer in game 5 to win it? Will Caleb Joseph ever get another hit? Which pitcher steps up and throws the near no-hitter? How undramatic will Britton’s saves be? Will semi-secret weapon Delmon Young, who has been known to go apeshit in October, be unleashed upon an unsuspecting baseball world? Will he be allowed to come within fifty feet of a glove? Will Lough make the roster? Berry, who has the better speed and is AJ’s buddy? It’ll be fun to watch, to play the chess game along with Buck. His moves are more likely to be right than any computer from 2002 or before. Baltimore loves Buck.
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And why the hell not? He’s almost singlehandedly, through both unparalleled wisdom and tons of hard work and research, turned this franchise around. Give me your Ryan Flahertys says Buck, your TJ McFarlands, even your soiled Kelly Johnsons. We’ll getcha in there fellas. At last we’re a destination franchise, if any city defined by crabs can be considered a destination. We have a great reputation amongst the player community. You know, those guys that move around so much that they get mistaken for opposition players. Gotta watch the hidden ball trick with them. But yeah, if we choose to loosen the purse strings for anyone, they’re less likely to run away laughing, and in a few cases might even sign a fair deal to play here. Thank god a’mighty, free at last.

Free from the Ty Wigginton as sole All-Star years. The Brandon Fahey year(s). The Steve Kline and Steve Trachsel years. Even the more recent Freddie Garcia year. We’re genuinely, measurably, no-you’re-not-insane good! Even the guys on all the networks that all the folks hate are saying nice things. Between interviews with Jeter’s personal shoppers. This is gonna last a while. A good long while. At least until Buck retires, possibly after 2018. It feels weird to even think about who might replace him, or that anyone could! Buck’s gonna be one heluva tough act to follow, and Wallace and Chiti are no spring chickens either. But I do think that the organization is now strong and smart enough to negotiate whatever hurdles arise. A far cry from not long ago. The Lou Montanez year(s).
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I guess that’s all I got folks. I’ll be posting here more, as this is my sole outlet for inanity, for reasons too stupid even to contemplate. Expect maybe even daily reports on something. Heath Bars are a possibility. Really diggin’ those lately. Anyway, thanks for reading, forgive the reused pics, and remember, loyalty is a word. Go motherfucking O’s!!!

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Well, first of all, it’s been a tremendous season. Far beyond anyone’s expectations. Even I, ever optimistic, didn’t think it was possible until shortly after the All-Star break. But here we are, the second best team in all of baseball. One might even argue that we’re already number one by virtue of the fact that AL west teams get to feast on the Rangers and Astros so often. As it stands now, we’ll have to make up four games to overtake the Disneyland team for top seed in the playoffs. Not impossible, and let’s face it, we still get a series with Boston, so our competition from here on out isn’t the best either. The Yankees and Blue Jays are somewhat better, but not by as much as some think.

So I’m pretty confident going forward. Can’t see us losing a series, and lately we’ve acquired a taste for sweeps. We could very well roll through these next few weeks and close the season with nearly a hundred wins. Maybe more. Not counting that out. It’s one of the few things left, goal-wise. First of all, catch the Angels. Second of all, get to 100. I’m not even counting clinching the division because that’s a foregone conclusion. Other fun ways to relieve the boredom of winning include things like looking at run differential. Ours is nearing 100. We’d join just four other teams at that mark, three of whom have the aforementioned Rangers/Astros advantage. We could overtake two of these teams easily. Exciting!

It really is a bizarre experience being this good after all this time. As a fairly recent O’s fan (2003), this is my first all-in participation in this degree of success. 2012 was nothing like this, as we clawed and scratched our way into a one game playoff, miraculously won in true underdog fashion. We’re no longer the plucky underdog, but that gigantic (but friendly!) Great Dane down the street. It’s hard to wrap my mind around the fact that this is even happening. The days of Brandon Fahey and Ty Wiggintin and Steve Kline and Mike Jakabauskus… My goodness we were bad. We deserved to be bad, acquiring and “developing” what we put on the field for so many years. That’s almost the best part of this year. Knowing it’s not a fluke, that this has been steadily progressing since Buck Showalter’s arrival. That it’s gonna happen again. That there’s a foundation in place now for smarter and more effective scouting and decision making in general, as well as coaching at all levels. We’re not only really good, but we’ll probably be that way for a while.

Buck Showalter’s arrival. That’s when things got rollin’ here. Anyone would have looked like a genius after the parade of clowns filling the skipper uniform for so many years, but Buck… I think we all knew he was gonna be good, but what he’s done here is already among his greatest accomplishments, if not at the top of that list. The clubhouse culture and sense of looseness while never forgetting working hard and fundamentals, the astute use of the bullpen, the savvy manipulation of the Norfolk, Bowie, even Aberdeen and GCL shuffles… The man is unparalleled in baseball smarts, and he’s mellowed, become more grandfatherly, since the days of his being labeled a control freak. The players seem to love him, and what’s not to love? I can see a statue in the bullpen garden happening for Buck, among others.

I’m not big into predictions. I’m sorta just letting this season wash over me. In general terms I think we’ll end up with at least the second seed in the playoffs, insuring a home series against the winner of the AL central. KC or Detroit. I’m not even looking at that yet though. I think we can catch the Angels and get to play the stumbling corpse of whatever team wins the wild card game, as well as home field advantage for the next rung of the ladder. Whatever happens, I’m pretty confident we can advance to at least the ALCS, and I’m almost counting on being in the World Series. I wanna win it all, but also I just don’t want this season to end!

I’ll cut it short here, leaving it for future entries to obsess over playoff matchups and beyond. I hope as many people as possible will make it out to support the O’s on this final home stand. Attendance during the last one wasn’t what I’d hoped. Hopefully word is filtering down even to the normal people that something special is happening here and the yard might be a nice place to be seen. But I won’t rant about attendance beyond that. Too many great baseball things happening. I’m wallowing in every last pitch and hit as the 2014 season winds down. Why must it end? I guess if it has to end, we may as well win it all. These fellas didn’t dream of playing golf in October like the Sox or Yankees. Let’s watch their dreams come true! Go O’s!!!

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Alright, I’ve been lazier than usual lately. Just catching up with life after that long, winning, far too sparsely attended last home stand. Things are looking good for the Birds. Despite dropping the first two, at least one a winnable game, Nelson Cruz’s heroics allowed us to avoid the sweep and conclude the brief road trip on an up note. See, we’ve got nothing but AL east opponents from here on out. Is that a good thing? I’m thinking it is. The concept of the Yankees and Red Sox as good teams is so deeply ingrained in us that we forget that they’re both not good. One of them is outright dreadful. Without dark magic/voodoo/witchcraft, the Yankees would be dreadful too. And the Jays? Please… No, I like that we’re playing these hapless teams. A lot.

Would we rather be the Angels, the lone team standing in our way for best record in baseball, by 4 games as I write this? I dunno… They do get to play the Rangers 6 times, but they also get 7 games with Seattle and 3 with the A’s, as well as 3 with the Astros, who seem to live to spoil the hopes of our nemeses. Go ‘Stros! That’s a fair amount of good to great pitching to face. I’ll take the Joe Kelly Sox or Chris Capuano Yanks over that schedule. The only good starters we’ll likely face from here on out are guys like Kuroda, Pineda, Dickey, Buehrle, Hutchison, etc. Not exactly King Felix or Lester. We may be able to overtake the Disneyland team yet!

Another thing I like about playing all these AL east teams is that each win seems like two. Not just in the standings, but emotionally. One O’s win over the Yankees or Sox especially, and even the Jays and Rays, is worth 2-3 wins over any other team in terms of satisfaction. Add to that the fun of keeping good ol’ Derek Jeter out of the playoffs for eternity… well, it don’t get better than that, does it? And the look on Girardi’s face! You just don’t get this kind of bliss by beating the Indians or Astros.

Will we actually get it done though? Will we be too focused on resting players and all that? I think we’ll exceed expectations in terms of wins, while getting looks at newer players and resting the core guys at the same time. Buck’s a detail oriented guy and he’s fully aware of the benefits of top seeding in the playoffs, as well as all the other factors to be considered going into the postseason. He’ll strike the right balance with the rest/win thing. Someone new will endear themselves to us all only to be left off the playoff roster. The core guys will keep doing what they do, with more rest than they want. The pitching will be well rested and freshly loosened (if need be) just in time for the first home playoff game. No detail will elude the attention of our meticulous and friendly skipper. We’ll be ready, and we’ll have won a lot of games in September.

All this optimism. I’m nuts, right? Well, it took me half the season to see it, but what we have here really is special. Once we got through that post-break west coast swing, I was feeling good. Once we rolled through the next home stand, I was ecstatic. Once we grabbed first place and didn’t let go, continuing to win both at home and on the road, I was convinced. Oh, we have our flaws for sure, well known by all and discussed daily. But we keep winning! It almost makes no sense if you analyze it. Still no ace pitcher, just a bunch of solid guys that can be great or average on a given night. A good to great bullpen, better than 2012, though not perfect, because after all, baseball. Hitters up and down the lineup that love to hack and hate to walk, with few (one?) exceptions. Defense that can be insanely great, and is pretty consistent when the core is on the field. We’re a team that ideally will pitch you tough and dong you to death, with the occasional manufactured run by accident.

Many claim that this will not play in the postseason but if the pitching stays strong who knows? Any one of our hitters could get hot and carry us. Games are likely to be close and low scoring. One or two dongs could win a game. We have that in our arsenal more than any other team. It will be up to the starters though, most likely Tillman, Chen and Norris. I’d probably go with Gonzalez over Norris, but it’s a nice dilemma. We’ll be well set for long guys in the pen should a starter struggle early. And all the starter needs to do is get us through 5-7 innings with a lead or close game. Barring unforeseen meltdowns by many, we’re gonna shut teams down in the late innings, and even in the middle should that need arise. I kinda like how our team stacks up. We’ve proven time and time again that we can beat or at least compete with the best pitchers in the game. Bring ‘em on!

A final note on the intangibles that have, for years now, defined the Buck Showalter era in Baltimore. It comes down to the fact that these guys like one another, learn from one another, respect one another. They want to be together. They want to win, for themselves, for their teammates, for Buck, and for Baltimore. They know the deal here, the decades of futility, the laughable parade of clowns that alienated generations of potential O’s fans. It’s no accident that so many players are active in the community. These are fine human beings. The culture of respect, fun, and above all, winning that began upon Buck’s arrival is only intensifying, getting better. Hell, even the addition of AL east troubadour Kelly Johnson hasn’t caused it to go kerblooey. No idea why, but that guy bothers me. Anyway, it’s gonna be fun watching this group of players celebrate as we move forward. They deserve everything they achieve. Could they be world champions? Only time will tell, but yeah, I think they could be. Go O’s!!!

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8/26/14 Baltimore Orioles lucky praying mantis, arriving in section 374 just in time to shut down the Rays and inspire our offense from afar. Shot by my boss.

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Hey, I’m sorta liking this writing about one song at a time thing. Laser-like focus on one thing, less scrounging around for links to embed, the chance to spout off at length while still not filling too many paragraphs full of tripe. What’s not to like? No annoying research or comprehensiveness to which to aspire, and the freedom to opine in a manner immune from fact-checking or the strictures of logic. And awaaay we go! (Jackie Gleason voice)

Today we explore one of the most dour and pessimistic tunes ever written. “The End of the Rainbow”, by Richard Thompson, from the “I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight” album released in 1973 under the banner of Richard and Linda Thompson. I’ll not waste time going into the history of this turbulent, talented couple. Use the Google. Suffice to say that Richard, the sole culprit here, Linda being completely blameless and possibly horrified elsewhere, was and still is a fantastic songwriter, often given to doom and gloom lyrically and thematically. Nowhere has he plumbed the depths of despair to greater effect than on this song however, in my opinion, and not for lack of trying. The man is not what you’d call happy and peppy, from a songwriting perspective. He’s a Muslim, now residing in southern California, so maybe that plays into it…

Anyway, this song is just about perfect. Not as well recorded as some of his later material, but still very nicely arranged and played, in a sort of restrained, champing at the bit way. Rhythmically it feels like it wants to break free but just can’t, as if mired in quicksand, which fits the song nicely. Lyrically it’s just plain gloomy. I mean, slit your wrists kinda shit. “There’s nothing at the end of the rainbow”, and here’s why, “you little horror”. Few works of art express disdain for humanity as a whole quite like this. It’s dourness you can dive into whole hog. Not feeling too perky about the boss? Listen to this tune and pretend you’re holding a “bread knife four feet wide” to HIS throat! It’s fun to wallow in this kind of inspired glumness. We all have those kind of days. Why not revel, at least for a few minutes, in unabashed hatred for your fellow man, or at least that dude that’s pissin’ you off?

This tune is sorta legendary among Richard Thompson fans. I’ve seen him live several times and it’s always one that gets called out during encores, but he’s never once played it. I’m aware of just two performances of it since this original recording. It’s like he’s embarrassed by the sheer volume and weight of the bile spewed towards life, love, humanity, etc. here. Can’t say he’s off base there if that’s the case. Not the kinda song you’d play for your kids before a certain age. Maybe 35 or so.

But it’s just a great song. Unequaled in its depiction of the human condition as utterly hopeless. Dirge-like in tempo yet festooned with guitar filigrees that crackle and buzz from above like circling vultures, that border almost on beauty, yet are there only as contrast and support for the overriding theme of angry dejection. There really is a certain beauty here. Musically this would be a magnificent song even if the words were less harrowing in intent, more (at all) upbeat. But the fact that Thompson has chosen to contrast the musical beauty of sorts with the sociopath lyrics makes this what it is. A masterpiece of gloom. A crowning achievement in the field of artistic thumbing of the nose to all that is good and lovely. The pinnacle of musical doom and gloom from the tomb, a phrase that serves, unsurprisingly, as the title of one of his bootleg collections.

Yes, Thompson succeeded early in his career here, at a young age, in describing just how awful life can be, just how little reason there is for optimism on a certain level, just how bloodthirsty and detestable a huge portion of humanity can be. Oh, what the hell… IS. All while writing, playing, arranging, and singing, a gem of a ditty. So here, without further ado or tapping of my internal thesaurus, is “The End of the Rainbow”. Hide the implements of self-destruction and enjoy, won’t you?

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Yeah, I know things look bad right now. Swept by the Cubs, losing Manny, not hitting, aside from the occasional dong. It isn’t ideal. I’ll even look ahead to the Rays series and say that we may be lucky to split that one. By the time that series is over our hitting may appear to have come to a screeching halt in the face of the Rays’ starters. The so-called “contenders” in the AL east may even have crept back to 4-5 games back. But in the long run I’m not worried. Nope. Not a bit.

Here’s why. Let’s look at this Cubs series. A motivated team under zero pressure, with a few players with chips on their shoulders and inside information as to how to beat us (and some hungry and talented young hitters), beats us. Good pitching from their bullpen, plus Arrieta and Wada, who are, somewhat surprisingly, for real. Against us at least. Wada especially looks suspect, truth be told. Lots of fastballs up. Soft tossing lefty kryptonite. But with that funky Asian stop-start delivery, so who knows? Maybe he really is that good. So we ran into a bit of a buzz-saw disguised by their W/L record. No biggie. Not that we shouldn’t be able to beat teams like this, but if you watched the first game at least, the arbiters of baseball physics weren’t havin’ it. And the rain delay game was just a bunch of tweeners and bloops really. One well hit ball off Norris, then the deluge, then we’re into the bad part of the pen in a game that feels like a loss already. No air in that balloon once the rains came, and once it started again, their pen was great. Better than the lesser part of ours. Overall, we were just plain out-pitched, and not by much. Our hitting approach could have been better, but again, we are who we are and it’s worked well enough to get us to this point. Sometimes it doesn’t. No embarrassment in that. Baseball.
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The hitting does look bad when this happens, but again, you need to look at how well the other guys pitch too. Jim Palmer was raving all weekend about how great Arrieta, the Cubs bullpen, and then Wada looked. Jim’s pretty smart. He researches even the nobodies with bad stats and sees the quality that’s often there, ramped up a notch or two against us. We play into that by swinging for the fences too much (Schoop especially looked awful in the third game), but when it works it’s a whole lot of fun. We’re gonna get there being who we are. Probably won’t be a lot of small-ball winning us games, and that’s fine. Too late to change now. Not gonna nitpick this Cubs series beyond wishing the rain delay hadn’t occurred, that Bud hadn’t served up that meatball, and wondering why Miguel Gonzalez had to throw a fastball outside to Rizzo. That RBI double sealed our fate in the final game as it turned out. Miguel was awesome aside from that, and we were able to rest the top bullpen arms for what I’m sure will prove to be a tough Rays series.

Another thing to keep in mind is that we’re now a “top dog” team. The little guy teams always get up for those. Remember what we did to the Sox in 2011? They shuffle their starters to put their best up against us and use their pens like it was a playoff game. It may seem odd after so many years of being the spoiler team ourselves, but we are now the spoilee. We’ll lose some games to lesser teams. I take some solace in the fact that our pitching hasn’t blown up completely, in fact it’s stayed pretty great. Even in the 7-2 middle game, it was such a bizarre baseball physics and then weather induced circumstance that I don’t really see that as a loss as lopsided as the score might imply. Bud throws one less meatball, we use our top end bullpen guys, and that was maybe the most winnable game of the three. Baseball.
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Things can and will get better. Once we’re through the dangerous Rays, we’re into the Twins and Reds. I’ll become slightly concerned if we can’t at least win those series. I really think that coming home, seeing the crowds, eating home cooking, facing less skilled/vengeful competition, will get us back on track. Listen to me… “Back on track.” Like we’ve collapsed or something. Three games, all of ‘em winnable if not for some bad luck and weather! Still with a 6+ game lead on teams that are far worse than us! Still within reach of the best record in baseball! We just swept a road series! It’s baseball folks. We will lose consecutive games, even get swept occasionally, no matter what our success in those areas this year has spoiled us into believing. Getting a grip would be fine.

So yeah, not worried really. Marginally concerned? Maybe. More like the kind of petulant ire a little rich girl might feel when her tea party silver isn’t properly polished, or the stuffed unicorns aren’t lined up just so on the Chippendale miniature furniture. We’re winners, people! Don’t let that knowledge fall by the wayside under the weight of three measly and semi-fluky losses! So we didn’t cause Wada to whine. Magic will happen once more. The time to panic is not nigh. It’s all good. Most of it anyway. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. The silver will be polished once more, the unicorns properly situated. Worry not Birdland. We still got this. Go O’s!!!

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I’m gonna write about one song today. Just one. Should be a short entry. We’ll see… The song is by Linda Thompson, the less heralded half of the somewhat obscure English “folk-rock” duo Richard and Linda Thompson. They were critic’s darlings in the 1970’s, but never really sold any records. Then they divorced in acrimony in the early 80’s and Richard went on to a semi-successful solo career which continues to this day. Linda made a few solo albums, but was stricken with a voice affliction, dysphonia, which rendered her career moot for the most part. Not sure of the timing or what ultimately happened with the voice thing, but in 2002, after an absence of 11+ years, she began to record again and the result was a fantastic CD, appropriately titled “Fashionably Late”, from which the song I present here is taken.

The CD itself is great overall, a family reunion of sorts, with Richard appearing an some tracks, and their children Teddy and Kamila on several as well. The track I’m featuring has the whole family on it, save Kami (I always thought it was her, but have since learned that it’s Kate Rusby on harmony), and that makes it all the more poignant. I’d go into some of the back story on their marriage, living as Sufi Muslims in an English commune of sorts as the children were being born, but I want to focus on the music here.

The song is called “No Telling”, and it’s a self contained piece written by Linda. It’s a simple melancholy tale of a “crazy old man” that finds his object of a lifetime of unfulfilled longing singing in a ballroom. Or does he? It’s a tale oft told, or similar ones at least, but the beauty of the lyric, the singing, the arrangement, everything about the way this song is rendered is flat out perfect. It tears me up (you can read that either way) every time I hear it.

First of all, Linda Thompson’s voice here is not perfect. She sounds like a woman who’s been unable to sing for years, newly freed from those shackles and unwilling to be too careful. There’s a tremble in her voice that conveys the emotion of the lyric and melody perfectly. Listen to how she phrases and plays with the melody when singing “He was weary of living…” at round 1:30 in… gets me every time. She’s not a great singer by some measures, but man does she have what it takes to sell this story. With the help of Kate Rusby on harmony, it’s spine-chilling by the time you get to the final verse with limited accompaniment. I dare anyone to truly listen to this song with dry eyes.

Speaking of accompaniment, that’s not to be ignored here. There’s the push-pull of suspended fourths going on throughout this piece, on the guitars. For non-musical folks, that’s just a device that adds a certain tension, an unresolvedness to the proceedings. It’s like you’re waiting for the perfect sunny resolution, but when/if it comes, there’s still some cloudiness happening. Fits the theme of the song perfectly and is something you feel viscerally even if you know nothing about music.

This is a song of bittersweet fulfillment, of a lifetime of hell perhaps made right by the object of the protagonist’s inner affections being found. But is she found, or is it just his inner demons playing tricks on him? It’s not spelled out clearly. It could be that his one night of bliss, coming in from the cold to a ballroom and seeing and hearing a dazzlingly beautiful chanteuse, has rendered him unable to deal with reality. Is he clinging to this night in a sort of alcoholic dream state? Maybe I’m reading too much into this song, but there you have it. That’s what great songs do. And when they’re sung and played this perfectly it’s hard not to wax enthusiastic and even a little kooky. Sue me, I love this song!

So here it is, before I go any more crazy long-winded irrational. From 2002’s “Fashionably Late”, Linda Thompson, with son Teddy and ex-husband Richard accompanying on guitars (maybe more), performing “No Telling”. Hope you like. Lemme know your reaction, won’t you? Thanks!

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This has been an odd season for Orioles shortstop JJ Hardy. All his career he’s been known as a plus defender with a lot of pop for such a skinny, brittle lookin’ dude. I mean, just look at the way he runs. Like the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz. Not the most athletic or powerful looking baseball player. Which endears him all the more to me, truth be told. Anyway, Hardy’s had a few minor injuries this year, the key one being a bout of back spasms early in the year, the after effects of which may or may not have lingered even as he returned to the lineup. I have a feeling that that’s why his home runs are down this year. Normally a guy that hits in the 20’s, he’ll be lucky to get much above 10 this year. He’s also had a few spells where he’s made some uncharacteristic errors, also perhaps injury related. Odd year.

It probably sounds like I’m down on JJ, but you know what? I’m totally not. I LOVE the new JJ Hardy, the one with the higher batting average, the one that leads the team in doubles, the one that leads the team in clutch hitting. He’s apparently taken some steps to deal with the lingering back thing and adjusted, opting to get hits rather than hit lots of bombs. It’s admirable if that’s indeed what’s going on. It may be completely coincidental for all I know, but JJ’s such a great guy and scrappy competitor that I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s doing this consciously, or at least was at first. Maybe the back thing made him cut down his swing a bit and he came to like it, seeing its value to the team. Who knows? All I know is that I like it and that it pays huge dividends in O’s wins.

In fact, Hardy may be my second favorite Oriole after Adam Jones. All he does is routinely, quietly (like Nick Markakis), make all the plays at short, hit pretty dang well, and anchor a young and historically great defensive infield. He’s the go to guy for Manny or Schoop or Flaherty, the mentor, the rock of stability. He’s in the right place at the right times and makes sure the others are as well. It’s like having an extra coach when you have a multiple Gold Glove shortstop with Hardy’s demeanor and love of Oriole baseball. He brings a lot of intangibles to the table and every player with whom he interacts is better for it. But you barely notice the guy, at least compared to Jones and Davis and Manny, even Nick.

I think that needs to change. Has there ever been a JJ Hardy t-shirt or bobblehead giveaway? If so, not in the last few years, not that I can recall anyway. I think we sorta take this guy for granted at times. He’s not flashy, he rarely gets the dramatic game winning hit, but he does quietly set the table for the others to shine, both defensively and offensively. There’s been tons of talk over the last year or so about who do we re-sign first. Matt Wieters? Chris Davis? Nick Markakis? My vote goes to JJ Hardy, the glue that holds our insanely great infield together. The guy that’s found a new way to contribute offensively without having to go yard all the time. The guy that brings his personality and work ethic each and every day for others to emulate. I’m no contract speculation kinda dude, but I’d try to lock him up for at least 2-3 more years, maybe more. And I’d do it before any of the others mentioned.

Because none of the others are as irreplaceable if you think about it. Maybe it’d be tough to find a guy as steady and reliable as Nick in right field, but he’s gonna demand a big chunk of cash probably. Not that I don’t want him back, but I want JJ first, and I bet Nick does too. Wieters? I’m not convinced that he has many more years left behind the plate, and he hasn’t proven to be a good enough hitter, to me anyway, despite the hot start before injury this year, to DH or play first base at the level his expected salary will make you want to see. I want him back too, but at what price? Davis? His year is making him more affordable with every passing day, and I’d lock him up for a few years ASAP, before he has another monster year that’ll jack up his price. But again, I’d get JJ signed first. Obviously I’m no expert on this kinda thing. Maybe none of these guys will sign for less than more years than I’d want to do. Just sorta opinionating in general terms here. The point being that JJ’s a key player, maybe more so than the others mentioned.

I’ve already gone into more detail and areas I’m not smart enough to talk about intelligently (contract terms), so I’ll get back to the theme here, which is that JJ Hardy is a pretty darned good baseball player that I believe flies under the radar even among die hard Oriole fans. I’ve seen people say that they don’t want him back, that he’s getting old and fragile, that the home runs aren’t there this year so he must suck. I disagree with all of this completely. I think he’s got plenty in the tank, maybe as many as 5-6 years of high level play. He’s never been fast, so that won’t decline. His power may stay down, but as outlined above, maybe he’s found a new groove. I think he’ll be able to hit for years to come at a respectable level. His defense will probably never become anything close to less than above average. He’s steady and reliable with great fundamentals and those skills don’t fade with time. He’s one heckuva valuable player that may never get his due from fans but will always have the respect and love of his coaches and fellow players because of how he does things day in and day out. He’s the ultimate lunch pail guy on a team full of ‘em. It would be a travesty to let him go.

And I don’t think we will let him go. Buck Showalter has made no secret of just how much he loves and values JJ Hardy as a player and as a human being, and I’m betting that JJ will be here until Buck’s contract runs its course in 2018 if not longer. That may be true of others too, but I think JJ is, again, the keystone, the one piece that makes so many of the others stand strong and unbreakable. Buck’s always valued defense, and rightly so. JJ and his work ethic are a perfect fit for that emphasis. Wieters and Markakis may be Buck guys, but JJ is maybe the Buck-iest. You can get by with an average outfielder or even a catcher that’s not an All-Star, but the shortstop that can and does teach and lead by example is a more difficult thing to find, and something you covet and don’t let slip away easily. That he hits pretty well is a huge bonus if you really think about it.

Alright, I guess I’ve beaten this dead horse to a pulp by now, so I’ll wrap this up by reminding the reader that, as is often my wont, I did no research whatsoever for this piece. Totally a stream of consciousness thing, inspired by a segment on the Wall to Wall Baseball postgame show with Tom Davis and Dave Johnson in which Tom went off on a JJ lovin’ spiel. It struck me just how right he was and I made a mental note to do the same here. So really there’s no originality going on here at all, just another guy that loves JJ Hardy making a case for his value to the Orioles and lobbying for maybe a t-shirt or bobblehead night for the guy. I’d even go so far as to implore the ladies to take a second look at him. He’s pretty dreamy if you’re into the sensitive, hard working, not particularly athletic type.  The soul patch is pretty cool too. I’ll sum it all up by saying I love JJ Hardy, and I hope you do too. There’s nothing wrong with a hetero guy saying that, right? I know PA announcer Ryan Wagner likes him a lot too, as evidenced by his iconic “J… J… HARDY” introduction each time he’s announced. Why not clap a little harder and cheer a little louder next time you hear it? He may hear you even if you’re at home. He is a sensitive guy after all…

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OK, we’ve just witnessed yet another bad outing by Ubaldo Jimenez (not using the labor-intensive “é” anymore because it’s not on his uniform). The blogosphere is predictably and reasonably up in arms. Buck is no doubt at the end of his rope. It looks right now as if our big free agent coup of the off season, the move that rallied even the pessimists back into hopefulness, may be a bust. The question looms: what does Buck do? The fact that we have six viable starters, if Ubaldo counts as one at this point, makes things harder, not easier. Poor Miguel Gonzalez is being shuffled from minor league level to level, staying ready for his inevitable and likely quick return to the rotation. But what to do with Ubaldo?

Well, it’s not an easy question to answer. Put him in the bullpen? Yeah, right. Everyone needs a reliever that immediately walks the first few batters he faces. I just don’t see that happening unless he’s relegated to the mop-uppiest of mop-up roles. Like the 12-2 game we’re on the wrong side of, the game that’s less likely to occur with him out of the rotation. DFA him? Sure, Peter Angelos would just love to kiss ~$50M goodbye just as the MASN deal is in legal limbo. Phantom injury or deliberate Gilooley-ing? This seems to me the best, if most comical and legally actionable option.

The thing is, there are only a couple more weeks until the rosters expand and we can afford to have Ubaldo taking up a spot that might be better used by somebody else. We’ll have Miguel back in the fold and won’t feel as obligated to use Ubaldo. Even if we do use him, we’ll have enough bullpen help, theoretically, to pull his ass outta there at the first sign of trouble. So it’s really just a two week issue. I honestly don’t know what Buck will do, but his body language and the looks on his face tonight lead me to believe that he’s pretty tired of all this crap. He’s bent over backwards already to accommodate Jimenez and it’s bitten him in the butt, at least this time. I know he hated sending Gonzalez down. I just can’t see him erring on Ubaldo’s side again real soon.

So I guess that means that I think Buck will find some way to hide Ubaldo from starting until September, and maybe beyond. Perhaps he’ll see a really favorable matchup on the schedule and surprise me, and thereby piss off the majority of the fan base, but I just don’t think Buck is in the mood for another walk walk dong kinda game anytime soon. I mean, this was Cleveland, in a relatively pitcher friendly park. Neither dong was of the cheap variety, They were hammered. The kind that leave the outfielders looking at their shoes rather than finding a route to the ball. No, Ubaldo’s been bad. Not always, and maybe not as often as it seems, but often enough that it seems to me that we shouldn’t roll the dice with him again if we have a choice.

I’ve sorta been an Ubaldo supporter. I was happy when we signed him I guess, but I would have opted for either Tim Hudson or Bartolo Colon. Both of whom haven’t been great great, but probably (definitely) better than Ubaldo. Mainly I think I was, like everyone else, shocked that we were willing to sign a pitcher to such a big deal, and then massaged the stats and writing about him into a belief that, yeah, sure, maybe this guy COULD be good. Look at what he did for a few months last year! Maybe that Callaway dude in Cleveland really did fix him! The first time I saw him pitch though, I was underwhelmed. I expected much better velocity, and having not really seen him pitch since the Colorado years, I’d forgotten just how nebulous his ability to throw a pitch to a location in the same zip code as the plate could be. In short, I was not happy.

And I’ve not really gotten any happier all year, even through the wins and almost wins and not awful starts. I’ve attempted to halfheartedly rationalize him being semi-decent by looking at his numbers in the second half (not a thing - total fluke last year), or at night (less of a fluke but still not enough to inspire confidence), but it always comes back to the eye test. He just doesn’t look good, whether he’s allowing runs or not. Way too many pitches, full counts out the wazoo, and baserunners galore in almost every start. When he puts pitches in the zone, they all too often end up being crushed in a zestful manner by the bad guys. When he doesn’t, he walks so many that he eventually has to exit due to pitch count if he hasn’t already been touched up. He has to be soooo perfect around the edges of the zone, with that delivery that just plain does not allow for pinpoint control, that the chances of his having an effective AND efficient start are virtually nil. It’s a shame.

Because he really is a likable guy that wants so badly to contribute to this O’s juggernaut in the making. You can see it in the dugout celebrations and hear it in his interviews. It’s obvious that the players like him and he likes them. He just can’t pitch well enough all too often to be a part of it. I’d love nothing more than for him to suddenly find it, become the pitcher he was last year down the stretch, start being a real factor in wins rather than a source of angst for fans, Buck, and probably even his teammates if they were speaking off the record. It just doesn’t look like it’s gonna happen this year, and that’s too bad. I feel sorry for him, but there are bigger things in play here than Ubaldo’s feelings.

The O’s have a chance to not only win the AL east, but to actually have the best record in baseball! To gain home field advantage throughout the playoffs! After squeaking our way in in 2012, and missing out despite a winning record last year, 2014 looks like it could be a magical, historic year for the Birds. We just can’t afford to keep running Ubaldo Jimenez out to the hill every 5-6 days to stink up the joint and tax our fantastic bullpen. Great guy or not, this is a business, and we’re in the business of winning for a change. I mean winning it all, not just getting that cute wildcard slot and having to win a one game playoff to advance. We have a chance to be the big scary best record team for the first time in forever, even if the national media and too many locals still think we suck, and Ubaldo ain’t gonna scare anyone. We must do what’s right and most likely to get us the most wins, loyalties and big contracts be damned.

What will Buck do? That’s the $64,000 question, to use a phrase whose relevancy has long since expired. I personally think he’ll do the right thing and opt for Miguel Gonzalez the next time Ubaldo’s turn comes around. I’d be very surprised if he runs Ubaldo out there again until September, and maybe not even then unless in that extreme mop-up role. I could be wrong, and often am (Ryan Flaherty’s offensive awesomeness), but I think that Buck knows what’s at stake here and how important it is to reward the Baltimore fans with as many home playoff (and even WS) games as possible. Winning the east and achieving the best record is the best path towards that goal and he knows that. He also knows what he’ll likely get if he runs Ubaldo out there again, as evidenced by his dugout demeanor tonight. Buck is nothing if not wise, and even his intense player loyalty seems to have been tempered this year. He will not Jim Johnson us with Ubaldo. This is my hope, this is my belief, this is what will happen. Unless I’m totally wrong. I guarantee it! Wiggle room is a wonderful thing.