Friday, May 30, 2008

Lincoln's hair, Rachael Ray's scarf and the Friday Five

Another crazy week. But the softball team won again — beating our friendly rivals — and the Mets are proving that Willie should be threatened with a pink slip more often.

So let’s waste no further time and get right to the Deezo Friday Five.

1) I fear for the future of baseball cards. Upper Deck apparently got bored slicing up historic baseball jerseys and bats because it’s now moved on to historical documents — and worse.

Actually Topps has been pasting cut autographs onto cards for several years. But Upper Deck has gone one step further: a strand of hair.

A "Hair Cuts" cards insert set is planned for 2008 SP Legendary Cuts Baseball boxes that will include a cut autograph and strand of the celebrity’s hair.

Included in the mix are locks from George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Geronimo, Andrew Jackson and Babe Ruth.

Frightening as it is, I think this could get worse. I fully expect this to leap from historical figures to current players.

It’s bad enough that I might pull a Derek F. Jeter card out of a pack, much less a card with a piece of a jersey allegedly worn by Capt. Intangibles. But to hold in my hands something plucked from Jeter’s head — and I hope it’s just his head — is just creepy, creepy, creepy.

A David Wright card would be pretty cool, though.

2) If that wasn’t bad enough, the company also has a "Presidential Predictor" card showing Hillary Clinton lifting Barack Obama in victory. You know what would be cool? If my baseball card sets had cards of baseball players. Seriously, I guy like Fernando Tatis can’t get on a card, but we have silly drawings of politicians.

3) There’s a slight chance I have a long-distance crush on Rachael Ray. I’m sure a lot of guys also subscribe to her magazine for the articles.

Rachael apparently likes to make herself available for us all to view her by appearing in many, many commercials.

But Dunkin’ Donuts pulled an ad featuring Ms. Yum-O after columnist Michelle Malkin said Ray was wearing a scarf that appears to be similar to a traditional Arab headdress called a keffiyeh. Malkin said the scarf makes Rachael appear sympathetic to jihadists. As if. She just wants them to buy Ritz crackers.

Now, if she were wearing a Yankees cap, I’d boycott.

Trust me on this, no one was happier that Malkin went off the deep end than Dunkin’ Donuts. Why would the company pull the ads? So newspapers and cable stations would write stories about the company pulling the ads, giving it all kinds of free publicity.

But Dunkin’ will get no such compliance from this blog. Oh, wait.

4) Baseball hasn’t really been the same since bullpen buggies disappeared. They were like our sport’s version of the Zamboni. And maybe our relief pitchers would have been less tired at the end of last season if they didn’t have to trek all the way across the outfield on their way to the mound.

5) I learned a lot of things researching this week’s lost iPod classic, "Hey, St. Peter" by Flash and the Pan. It’s another song where all kinds of things are going on, with unusual vocals and instruments that don’t seem to fit — but somehow do. And the lyrics mention New York, which always helps.

I always thought Flash was a one-hit wonder, but then I found out it was a side project from the songwriting team of Vanda and Young. They were in a band called the Easybeats that scored a hit with "Friday on My Mind" in the late 1960s, then settled into a career of writing and producing songs for a whole bunch of bands. Most notably, they worked with a metal band that included Young’s little brothers, Angus and Malcom. Maybe you’ve heard of AC/DC.

Now for a word of caution. The video is atrocious, even for something from the 1970s. I’d say it looks like something produced by high school kids, but I wouldn’t want to insult teen-agers. It might forever ruin whatever nice feelings you have for the song. It’s that bad.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Essential DVDs about Shea's essential games

I had no idea that pitchers used to warm up at Shea from a circle near home plate, throwing to a catcher near the dugout.

I learned this watching Game Four of the 1969 World Series, which is included in a new DVD set called “Essential Games of Shea Stadium.”

The folks at A&E passed along a copy for me to review and another to share with a lucky Mets Guy reader.

At the risk of sounding like a total shill, I’m really enjoying watching these games.

I have a highlight DVD from the 1969 Series, but I’ve never been able to see one of these games from start to finish. That’s how I learned about things like pitchers warming up near the plate, as Mike Cuellar was doing as the starting lineups were introduced.

Actually there were all kinds of neat things in these broadcasts. I liked how Orioles slugger Boog Powell was introduced by the Shea PA announcer as “John Powell.” That’s how all the primitive on-screen graphics showed him, too. Made me wonder if we would have seen “William Wilson” instead of Mookie had he played back then.

At first I was surprised that Game 4 would be included and not Game 5, where the Mets won the series. But it’s a pretty sweet game, with Seaver going the all the way into extra innings, Ron Swoboda’s legendary dive and J.C. Martin getting drilled in the back as he ran to first allowing the winning run to score.

Other games included are the 1986 NLCS Game Three against the Astros where Dykstra hit the walk-off homer and, naturally, Game 6 of the 1986 World Series with the Mookie, Buckner, Schiarldi and the rest of the friends.

We also get Robin Ventura’s “grand slam single” game from the 1999 NLCS and the Sept. 21, 2001 game, the first after the terrorist attacks. Plus, David Wright’s walk-off hit against the vile Yankees in 2006.

It’s hard to grumble, but I would have liked to have seen a game from the 1970s. The Pete Rose-Buddy Harrelson dust-up in the 1973 playoffs would have been fun. Tom Seaver’s return in 1983 would have been a treat.

One of the discs has special features that fill in the gaps, including the final inning of the 1969 Series, Gary Carter’s Opening Day walk-off, the last inning of the 1986 division clincher, the last inning of the 1986 Series, Matt Franco’s 1999 game-winning RBI against the Evil Empire, and several others right through Endy Chavez’s amazing leap.

I always enjoy watching the Mets clinch the 2000 pennant against the Cardinals, with Timo Perez jumping for joy before he even catches the final out. And it ends with a short interview with Bill Shea, a very nice touch.

One thing that jumped out at me while watching the highlights march though history is how cluttered the stadiums and broadcasts have become. Shea in 1969 had those scoreboard ads, but little else. You see more and more slipping in through the years until the most recent clips, where ads are everywhere, like dugout railings. It became distracting when I started to think about it.

Hail to the Chief

I get to give one of these sets away, so I figured I’d combine my two areas of interest, the Mets and presidents. There have been 23 Mets over the years to share a last name with an American president.

And I know this stuff, so don’t try to tell me there was a President Mientkiewicz back in the 1800s.

First person to post in the comments the names of all 23 gets the DVDs, which sell on Amazon for $42. Good luck!

Friday, May 23, 2008

New Nitro has me starry eyed

I was pretty excited after the Mets dispatched the vile ones last weekend, even if it meant sitting through Joe Morgan on ESPN. Then, with rest of us, I was plunged into depression after the bleeping Braves slapped us around, sweeping four. Been that kind of week.

Luckily we have a special Memorial Day Deezo Friday Five to carry is through.

1) I’m blaming my bat for my hitting woes of last year.

It routinely failed me in clutch situations. I was fine with the bases empty. But several times I came up with the bases loaded — one time down by a run with two outs in the bottom of the last inning — and hit weak-assed infield pop-ups.

But in our second game this year I came up with the bases loaded, two outs and the game tied. So I borrowed a friend’s brand new bat and promptly hit a triple over the center-fielder’s head that gave us the victory. I was thrown out at the plate trying to stretch it into a grand slam, but I can’t blame the bat for bad base-running.

So off I went to the local sporting goods store for a new weapon to call my own. Shockingly, there are bats that cost $400. I can’t imagine what a $400 bat could possibly do, except inflict serious pain upon my noggin if my wife thought I bought one.

Needless to say, I was looking in the much, much, much cheaper section, and took advantage of a half-off sale.

Picking out a new bat is difficult. It’s not like you can take cuts there in the store, and they all have assorted mean and dangerous-sounding names.

Then, like Excalibur, I pulled a DeMarini "Nitro" from the Dunham’s sale rack and knew that life would be different form here on out.

I boldly strode to the plate and promptly walked in my first at-bat. The pitcher obviously feared the Nitro, its painted red flames glistening as it waved above my head. Then hit a sweet double in my second time in the box.

Finally, in the bottom of the last inning, we were down by three runs and had two outs when I stepped up with runners on second and third. Normally, the person keeping score would just start writing "pop-up to short" in the book while I was still on deck.

But with the mighty Nitro in my hands, I had no fear. On the second pitch I launched another double, and scored the tying run when our next batter drove a walk-off blast.

2) Someone at Sports Illustrated is going to be fired this week. The latest edition to land in my box features an article by Yankee-hack Tom Verducci talking about how this is a bizarro season because the Rays are at or near the top of the standings and his lowly Yankees are bouncing around the bottom, where they belong.

The cover is a comic-book style painting, with Bizarro Superman, who we know exists in a backward universe, watching as an unnamed Rays player is casting Derek F. Jeter over his head.
The first problem is that they painted Jeter’s name on the back of his jersey, and we know the Yankees think they are above such things. Whatever.

The second issue is that we don’t quite know where the Rays’ player has his hand. It looks like it’s in kind of an icky place.

You just know that Verducci got one look at the cover and flipped out.

It’s one thing to show Robinson Cano or Melky Cabrera or some other fringe Yankee getting tossed around like a piece of Mike Piazza’s broken bat.

But St. Derek the Intangible is off-limits. I’m still recovering from the obscene fawning that Joe Morgan bestowed on Jeter during last Sunday’s broadcast.

I imagine that ‘Ducci was in there arguing that even in bizarro world, players stand in awe at Jeter and his amazing abilities because he’s Just. That. Good.

3) I found an amazing baseball card blog — The Ugly Baseball Card Blog — that both celebrates and pokes fun at glorious cards of the past. I was all sad when I saw the 1980 O-Pee-Chee card of Freddie Patek and saw the writing on the photo. I didn’t even know he died.

Oh, the California Angels. Nevermind.

4) We all know that Mike Piazza retired this week, two days shy of the 10th anniversary of his trade to the Mets, otherwise known as the Best Day Steve Phillips’ Career as GM.

I saw a column by Ray McNulty saying that Piazza should go into the Hall of Fame as a Dodger. I’m assuming that Verducci is preparing one saying Piazza should go in as a Yankee, "Because that’s the way Mike probably wants to be remembered." But then, he’s still distraught over the who bizarro Jeter thing.

To me, it’s a no-brainer. Of course he wears a Mets logo on his plaque. And the Mets should hastily arrange a "Mike Piazza Day" where they induct him into the Mets Hall of Fame and rise No. 31 to the outfield wall so he can forever be linked with Casey, Gil, Tom, and Jackie.

5) This week’s hidden iPod gem almost didn’t even make it to the iPod. I bought a 45 of "Starry Eyes" by The Records back in 1979 and always thought it was a great song. It’s British power pop at its finest, though I can’t figure out what’s going on in the lyrics. It almost sounds like they’re singing about a bandmate who is too busy goofing off at the beach when the rest of them are taking care of business. Doesn’t matter, the song is fun and the chorus sticks in your head. And it remained in my head when I moved on to the CD era and couldn’t find the song anywhere. Then one day I was flipping through the discs in the Grand Rapids Public Library, and came across a compilation called "Poptopia" and saw some off-beat selections like Bram Tchaikovsky’s "Girl of My Dreams." Then I started doing the trademarked "Yes-Yes" dance when I saw that track 11 was the lost-lost "Starry Eyes." Enjoy.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Willie Randolph, the tribe as spoken.

This past season of Survivor was the best in years even though Parvati pretty much flirted her way to $1 million without contributing to anything in any way that I could see.

Then it had me thinking. What if we could combine my two favorite shows – Mets baseball and Survivor – into one. Wouldn’t it be cool if we could have "Survivor – Flushing?"
Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez is like Jonny Fairplay, who has the rep and the cool nickname – and seems to make only a cameo appearance in the season.

Brady Clark would be like Mikey B, who got voted off during one of the first episodes and I forgot all about him until the reunion show.

Aaron Heilman is like Chet, the guy who kept getting his butt kicked week after week and somehow kept hanging around. Aaron, take note. Eventually everybody got tired of Chet’s whining and sent him packing. And unless you want to be playing in New Orleans in July – shudder – you’d better get your act together.

Pedro is like Jonathan — a great player and good leader who was ejected early because of an injury.

Nelson Figueroa is like James, who was just happy to be there and was in over his head, sticking around so long that even he was surprised that he was still there. You just know he’d hand off a fake immunity idol to Jorge Sosa, like James did to Eliza.

No Met is as stupid as Erik, who was tricked into giving away his immunity necklace.

And speaking of the immunity idol, Willie Randolph has been managing like he’s had the thing in his back pocket. Realistically, I think he played it to keep his job after last season’s collapse.

Willie, if you lose two of three to the vile Yankees this weekend, and you see the players chatting together on the beach, rest assured they are going to write your name on the next ballot.

The tribe has spoken. It’s time for you to go.

On happier note, let’s get to the Deezo Friday Five.

1) I loved the pink bats and ribbons players used on Mother’s Day to bring awareness to breast cancer. My daughter and I went to see the West Michigan Whitecaps, who were going to wear pink jerseys. The game was rained out, but they didn’t announce this until we had already had our fill of Bosco sticks and the gift shop. They handed out pink T-shirts with the ‘Caps logo on the front. Only problem was the back listed the date as "Mother’s Day, May 11, 2007." Oops. The game has been rescheduled for May 26, and the team promised correctly dated shirts.

2) Holland, Mich. is a city about a half-hour from here, and you know you’ve crossed the border when you see each yard has either a decorative wooden windmill or statues of two Dutch kids bending at the waist and puckering — but not actually kissing, because you wouldn’t want to encourage such racy behavior. Don’t get me started. I was making fun of this at work, and my wife pointed out that such abuse was being hurled about by a guy who has a Statue of Liberty lawn sprinkler. I replied that the issue shouldn’t be whether or not I have one, but why everyone else doesn’t have such a glorious display.

3) The Home Run Apple lives. Apparently Jeff Wilpon took reporters on a tour of Citi Field and confirmed there would be a place for the beloved apple in centerfield. While it might not be THE apple — which looks a little worse for wear, though we certainly can’t blame Carlos Delgado for that — a sparking new one has the potential to be very cool.

4) The Ebbets Field Flannels catalog is always a fun read because of the obscure minor league teams they choose for jerseys, caps and T-shirts. I was very impressed to see them come up with an Alaska Goldpanners jacket. That’s a short-season team usually stocked with college players — including a young Tom Seaver. That nugget led me to purchase a Goldpanners cap though the team years ago. The team hosts the famous Midnight Sun Tournament, played overnight, without lights.

5) Last week’s hidden iPod gem has a hit, so I thought I’d hit shuffle and see what else came up. There is absolutely no reason why Sniff ‘n’ the Tears’ "Driver’s Seat" should be as good as it is. The lyrics make no sense whatsoever, the drummer sounds like he’s playing a different song and the other instruments drop in and out as if a middle schooler with ADD is deciding who plays when. I love it. A quintessential one-hit-wonder track.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Like the 1985 Mets, a step closer

I’m not an especially fast runner.

It’s a bad sign when the people at the race registration table hand me a number to pin to the front of my shirt and a reflective red triangle to pin to the back.

It's also not encouraging when they say, “Remember race etiquette. Yield to things that are faster, like roadkill.”

Nevertheless, I boldly signed up to participate in the 31st River Bank Run, a huge festival of races here in Grand Rapids.

I’ve participated in small, charity races over the years. But the River Bank Run attracted a record 15,940 people, including a handful of athletes headed to Beijing this summer. Of course, the famous folks are competing in the 25K event, and I entered in the 5K, which is just over 3 miles.

I have two racing goals this year: To participate in three events, and to break 30 minutes.

My previous times have been between 38 and 35 minutes, so it’s a pretty bold goal. But I’ve been running six miles a night, five nights a week on the treadmill, and it takes about 65 minutes. So you think 3 miles and change would be a sprint.

But each night it seems like the first three miles are the hardest, and once I hit that mark, I feel like I could go forever. My pattern in past races has been to go all out for the first two thirds then slip into a race-walk pattern for a while, then pick it up at the end. My goal heading into this race was to keep running the whole time.

I also heard that it helps to eat a pasta dinner the night before. So I did – a little too much, as evidenced by the 4 a.m. hurling incident.

But I got up a couple hours later and headed to downtown Grand Rapids with thousands of others. The people in the 25K race started first, then the people in the 10K, and the wheelchair racers.

I was standing with about 5,000 others ready for the 5K, looked over and saw Michigan’s secretary of state. She is from the area, and we’ve spoken over the years. We had a nice conversation. A lot of times VIPs call attention themselves at an event like this. But Secretary Land was just huddled with the regular folks. The governor travels with a police escort, but the secretary of state can stand in a crowd of 5,000 people in her running shorts, and no one gives her a hard time. I thought that was pretty cool.

Finally, I could hear the race start … and we just stood there. There were so many people packed so tightly that there was nowhere to move. It eased up for a little bit, then stopped again. “This is not going to help my time,” I thought. Note to self: Next race, stand closer to the starting line.

After starting to move, I switched on the iPod and focused on my strategy. I’d look for someone running ahead of me, and think “I’m not going to let that person beat me.” And when I’d pass them I’d look for someone else. And it seemed like I was passing as many people as were passing me, so I was feeling pretty good.

The iPod is essential. I made a playlist of fast-paced God rock songs. But there are a couple things to keep in mind when racing with tunes. First, it’s OK to sing along as long as it’s not loud – humming level seems about right.

Then, air-guitar is right out. But you can sneak in a little air-drumming if it looks like you’re just pumping your arms as you run.

Having never run this race before I was not sure where the course would twist and turn. And there were no mile markers that I could see, so I was never really sure how far along I was. There was one big hill that had my calves barking, and it seemed like the point where I would usually drop into race-walk mode. But I kept pushing it, hoping to make it a little longer.

And it was pretty exciting. My other big race, the Komen Race for the Cure, starts and ends in a mall parking lot, and the scenery doesn't improve too much. The course runs through downtown Grand Rapids, starting down the block from my newspaper, and passing all the landmarks -- and a president.

Then I turned a corner on Monroe Center, and there, down the street, was the big banner reading “Finish.”

Yes! I hadn’t dropped into a walk, and still had energy, so I tried to sprint all-out for the last three blocks. But there were so many people, and all of them slowing down, that I had to zig-zag my way along. I felt like Barry Sanders weaving through the slow-pokes.

Crossing the line, I saw a time of 34 minutes, 19 seconds. That's about a minute better than my best time, but not even close to my goal. All the congestion at the start no doubt robbed me of precious time, but I didn’t know how much.

But I remembered someone talking about “chip time.” Runners attach a small piece of black plastic with a computer chip that activates a timer when you cross the finish line. Turns out they also keep track of time from when you cross the starting line through when you cross at the end – so you don’t get penalized for being stuck back in the throng. That would be posted later in the day on the race Web site.

The end of the race is pretty cool because there was someone from Panera Bread handing me a bagel, which pretty much happens every day. But this time they didn’t charge me. Plus there was free granola bars and bananas. I also tried free Red Bull. Yuck.

I was pretty giddy had having run all the way through, and was happy that the posted time was a minute better than my best.

Checking out the Web site later, I found that the chip time was 31 minutes, 21 seconds – about four minutes faster than my best-ever time. And with a 10:07 minute pace, way ahead of my previous best pace, 11:21 from the Thanksgiving Run this past November.

So it’s kind of like that 1985 season for the Mets – falling short of the goal but making substantial progress.

And I might soon be able to shed the reflective red triangle.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Softball, Split Enz, Survivor and the Friday Five

Between school board elections and the Mets playing on the West Coast, I’m suffering from sleep issues.

That doesn’t bode well for my first 5K of the year, which starts at 8:15 a.m. Luckily, the course goes through downtown Grand Rapids and past a Burger King, so I can grab a quick Diet Coke to perk up. It’s not like speed is an issue for me in this race, so there will be no Clemens-like denials and apologies.

Apparently speed wasn’t a factor in posting the latest Deezo Friday Five, either. But here it is:

1) Coed softball. Our season started on Wednesday, which is late. But we needed it to stop snowing. The team is called Know Mercy because in the first year the team lost through the mercy rule in every game. Plus, we're a church team and Lutherans are subtle when it comes to evangelizing. We play much better now, even splitting into two teams because we have so many players. I’m the coach of Know Mercy 2. Luckily we have many players who are younger and better, but I did get to make sure I have jersey No. 41. And unlike Willie Randolph, I’m still likely to be managing the team by the second week in June.

2) El Kabong. My son went to see Iron Man last weekend. He said it was good. But I’m tired of super heroes all full of angst and issues, with their complicated suits and gizmos. No, give me EL Kabong, armed only with an out-of-tuned guitar and faithful sidekick dispensing justice as only a caped and masked cartoon horse can.

3) This is the best Survivor season in years. Erik was playing a decent game — until last night, when he became the stupidest Survivor. Ever. Um, Erik. After watching what those girls did to the previous three people they blindsided right into the jury, what made you think you could trust them? Maybe now he can get a bath and a haircut and sit on the jury with the rest of the duped ones.

5) The only relative downside to an iPod with 5,700 songs on it is that occasionally one doesn’t get on a playlist and is lost amid the greatness of the Ramones, Rush, Relient K and Twisted Sister. I was bouncing around iTunes recently found one such song — "I Got You" by Split Enz. It’s one of my all-time favorites, and iTunes said it hadn’t been played since 2006. Absolutely shocking. I quickly played it about five times and added it to three playlists so this doesn’t happen again. It’s a song built entirely around the chorus, but what a fine chorus it is. It’s one of those songs that instantly takes you back in time to the magical era of the 1980s, and brings a smile to your face. The video is horrible, but enjoy the song.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Bush, Bugs and other babes Clemens has NOT had affairs with.

Been a pretty crazy week, with the college class ending, softball starting and school board election controversies taking whatever time was left – and that made blogging difficult.

So I’ve been busy. But not as busy as Roger Clemens, it seems. The Daily News says Clemens has had, um, unauthorized relations with country singer Mindy McCready – starting when she was just 15, ick! – and then golfer John Daly’s ex-wife.

In the past, I have been rough on Clemens. I resented the whole trying to kill Mike Piazza thing. But friends, I now say, “Enough!” It’s just piling on at this point. In fact, it is time to say nice things about Roger Clemens.

So, in the spirit of a belated Deezo Friday Five, I present to you five women Roger Clemens has NOT had an affair with.

1) Barbara Bush. Clemens certainly had motive and opportunity. The Bushes are known Houston Astros fans and frequent guests at Minute Maid Park when he was pitching there. And she’s related to people who can issue presidential pardons. Rocket might be in the market for one of those before too long. But there have been no stories about Roger getting cozy with the first mother. Granted, the Secret Service might have had something to do with that. But we’ll give Roger the benefit of the doubt here.

2) Bugs Bunny when he’s dressed like a woman. Clemens isn’t the smartest guy around. A congressman asked him if he was a vegan, and Clemens didn’t know what the word meant. Look it up. OK, so he’s “The Rocket” and not “The Rocket Scientist.” But dense as he is, I think Clemens is smart enough to know that the bunny is really a guy rabbit in drag.

3) Hannah Montana. Well, the age is about right.

4) Emmy Lou Harris. Oh, sure. Roger tried. We know he likes country singers. He even gave her the World Series ring from 2000 that he didn’t deserve. But we have no proof of a liaison beyond this photo op. Maybe she wasn’t buff enough for Roger. Maybe Emmy Lou has standards.

5) University of Texas cheerleaders. It looks bad when you see a photo like this. But we know what really happened. UT Alumni Rocket introduced himself to these five lovelies, and they acted all happy see him, especially after they found out that he was older than 21. After the game, they walked Roger down to the 7-Eleven so he could run in to buy a couple cases of Busch Lite for the party with the Beta Sigs. Once they got to the party, the Lady Longhorns dispersed – with the beer – to go nuzzle up to some Biff, leaving Roger surrounded by a bunch of hero-worshipping pledges eager to hear him tell time and again how he struck out 20 Tigers in a game, as if that was hard to do.

So there you go, Roger. For one week, we had you back. Next week, things are back to normal.