Friday, August 29, 2008

Tom Seaver again denied a spot on the ticket

Well, both presidential candidates have picked their running mates, and once again, Tom Seaver was not selected. I didn’t even see him on anyone’s short list.

Gross oversights aside, I’m glad to see the tickets assembled because I can start adding to my campaign pin collection, which kicks off the special Labor Day edition of the Deezo Friday Five.

1) I’ve been rounding up campaign pins and other political items since I was a kid and the parties had trailers or storefronts set up on Park Boulevard in Massapequa Park during election season.

Now I have them going back to 1896 with a goal of getting at least one from each ticket for each election since then. John W. Davis, the Democrat who got squished by Calvin Coolidge, remains elusive.

It took years to finally land a pin from James Cox's 1920 campaign. Legend goes that the party knew it would get pounded by Warren Harding, so didn't produce all that many items. And now too many folks held on to them once those perceptions proved to be correct.

His running mate seemed to make an impact -- it was Franklin Roosevelt.

I try to avoid such potential shortages by pouncing at the earliest opportunities. The best, or at least the most fun, places to buy pins are at rallies. There are always people working the fringes with boards covered with assorted pins. But few, if any, of these are official.

That means you have to go right to the campaigns. Both sides will have campaign headquarters where such things will be for sale -- and sometimes they're even free! Of course, they'll try to give you yard signs, too. A skilled collector will be able to exit the headquarters both without a yard sign or explaining that he doesn't actually support the candidate, but wanted a pin.

The campaign Web sites all have stores now. John Kerry's 2004 site had a special with about 25 different pins for one low price.

Alas, a trend in recent years as made pins more elusive. That is the dreaded sticker. I suspect they're way cheaper to produce. But 30 years from now a sticker just isn't going to look as cool as my pins.
I'm proudest of my glorious Theodore Roosevelt pins, but my favorite is from one of Dwight Eisenhower's campaigns. Democratic challenger Adali Stevenson was photographed in Flint with a hole in his show -- the shot earned the paper it's Pulitzer Prize. Eisnhower's people made this a campaign theme, with pins reading "Don't let this happen to you!" and showing the shoe.
But Stevenson used the image to portray himself as a common man, and made hole-in-sole tie pins. Very cool.

I search out the pins that list both the president and vice president because it seems more complete. And now that Sarah Palin and Joe Biden are on board, the search begins.

2) You’d think otters were the most dangerous critters running free in our woodlands these days, but a crazed woodchuck took over our neighborhood.

No, really. It was outside in the daytime, which you know right there is a sign that not all is well.

And when my wife sprayed him with a hose, just stood there looked all pissed off instead of scooting. We knew for sure something was wrong when he started walking around in circles on the neighbor’s lawn.

Then again, I was doing that, too, after Scott Schoenweis gave up that leadoff triple in the first game against the Phillies. At least I knew when to scoot when the neighbors got out the hose.

In the end, it took representatives from three households — and onlookers from at least two others — to catch the beast and drive him deep into the woods where he can contemplate the shortcomings of the Mets bullpen without so many people around.

3) Speaking of the spurned running mate, I’ve pretty much decided this Upper Deck Goudey card of Tom Seaver is the best thing to happen on cardboard this year.

4) The only things I know about tennis is that the U.S. Open usually has a T-shirt with a sweet Statue of Liberty design and that there used to be decent parking for Mets games by the tennis stadium.

But apparently James Blake is one of us, and openly supports his favorite team during matches. Maybe he can throw some innings in relief.

5) I know some pretty famous people, as you can tell from this photo taken Wednesday at Michigan’s Adventure, a sweet theme park that is both a water park and traditional amusement park.

You can tell this was taken early in the day because I’m not yet suffering from extreme sunburn, which seems to happen each year regardless of how much sunblock I apply.

The water park is always fun, but I'm starting to fear the rougher coasters. I swear I could feel my inner organs rearranging on the Wolferine Wildcat.

I do have to question the use of Peanuts characters as the park’s mascots. Does anyone under 30 remember Snoopy’s golden era.

“I hate Peanuts,” my son said as we walked past the pile of Charlie Brown plush in the gift shop. “It’s not even funny.”

Good grief.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Behind the wheel of the Batmobile -- the Best Car Ever

I’m not a “car guy” by any stretch. But then again, the Batmobile isn’t just a car.

You have to understand that, growing up, the Batmobile was the only car that mattered on the only show that mattered.

We’re talking about the mid-1960s television show version of the Batmobile, not the merely adequate version in the Tim Burton movies or any of the disasters that followed.

I think a lot of guys my age treat the Batmobile with reverence. One co-worke recently came over to my desk and said, in hushed tones, “The Batmobile is coming.”

That got my attention.

The annual Metrocruise in a Grand Rapids suburb often has special appearances, and this year the glorious vehicle of our youth would be there.

Naturally, plans were made.

Behind the wheel of the Best Car Ever.

My 11-year-old daughter wanted to go with me, but that was going to require a proper introduction. Thursday night we watched the 1966 movie, which I never thought was a good as the television show, but is on DVD and is a suitable introduction to the Bat-world.

The cruise is conducted in a series of parking lots along the area’s busiest street, so traffic crawled as we got closer. There were hundreds of hot rods and fancy cars, with people setting up along the street for the parade later in the day.

I was interested in none of those. They are just cars. I’d rather have my Vue.

But then we saw it – the sleek black beauty with big fins, red striping and bubble windshields. It is beautiful.

Now, there are four officials versions of the Batmobile. The original was famously built by George Barris based on a Ford Futura, and Barris made two more as stand-ins for the television show and car shows.

Another copy was made for drag racing shows. There are also other versions out there made by collectors.

The guy at the cruise said there are 10 made, and only six exist today. That goes against everything else I’ve read, but I wasn’t considering this person a Bat-expert.

They also were advertising this car as Batmobile No. 1, which would be the first one Barris made. I don’t think this is that car. I’ve read that Barris owns it, and it’s in his own museum in California.

Plus, I didn’t see the slot in the front where the blade pops out.

So I kind of suspect that these folks were calling in No. 1, as in it was the first Batmobile, with the Tim Burton vehicle – a version of which this person also owns -- would be No. 2.

So I don’t know if Adam West ever sat in this particular car. If I were buying it, I’d be asking some more questions. But since I was just planning to sit in the driver’s seat for a couple minutes, I was ecstatic.
I happily paid the $10 -- which they said would go to charity -- so I could slide in behind the wheel.

It was snug, but part of that might have been because I was trying to be careful not to touch things.

The Batphone was under the dash and the t-shaped handle for the emergency Batturn hanging from the arch. Everything was labeled, just like in the show.

The speedometer was neat – it was more like a big compass, with the numbers spinning under a dome.

There was a mannequin dressed like Robin in the passenger seat. I kept waiting for him to say, “Atomic batteries to power, turbines to speed!” and flick the switch to fire up the flames out the back. Commissioner Gordon awaited.

My daughter dutifully snapped photos from all angles, and an employee offered to allow her to sit with me for a shot.

Eventually I had to slip back out for another entranced 40-something to relive his youth.
It was a glorious day.

The bat emblem on the doors.

The wheels looked pretty cool.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Ford to Jeter: Drop Dead

Well, not quite.

But that famous Daily News headline is on display at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum and Capt. Hype was properly dismissed in a new exhibit.

The museum here in Grand Rapids does a phenomenal job combining my two areas of interest. For the second time in the past couple years, the presidential museum has hosted an exhibit about baseball.

Created in conjunction with the George Herbert Walker Bush Museum, “Born to Play Ball” is intended to inspire debate.

The exhibit lists what someone has determined to be the top 50 players – five for each position, plus right-handed and left-handed pitchers. Then, there is a secondary list called “Best of the Rest,” which is kind of cheating.

Naturally there are some problems here. Some of the lists didn’t even include Mets. Each section had a little bio plaque and an artifact for each player – some of which were amazingly awesome. There also were displays for the Negro Leagues and the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

But the coolest thing to me was a collection of signed baseballs – Richard Nixon and every president since, most of the first ladies, John McCain and Barack Obama and a host of world leaders. That’s something you just never see.

Using a coupon from the West Michigan Whitecaps program, I spent a lunch hour first paying respects to President Ford, then enjoying the exhibit. It’s here until January, which means there is time to make some, um, corrections.

OK, let’s get to the players:

Catchers: Yogi Berra, Johnny Bench, Mike Piazza, Roy Campanella and Ivan Rodriguez. Best of rest: Carlton Fisk, Mickey Cochrane.

Piazza and Berra are proud Mets, Campanella is kind of a pre-Met, at least according to our team owners and new ballpark. Bench swiped Jerry Koosman’s Rookie of the Year Award, but we like him anyway. Rodriguez is only a reluctant Yankee.

Yogi’s artifact, by the way, was a signed harmonica box. Phil Linz would be so proud.

Shortstop: Honus Wagner, Alex Rodriguez, Ernie Banks, Cal Ripken Jr. Robin Yount. Best of rest: Ozzie Smith and Arky Vaughn.

Yount is a clear Hall-of-Famer, but among the five best shortstops of all-time? And where’s Jose Reyes and Bud Harrelson? On the bright side, Derek F. Jeter is nowhere to be found, so I give them credit for recognizing the fraud that is the Jeter Hero Cult. But don't let Tom Verducci find out about this, or there will be a spleen-venting the likes of which we have never seen!

Left field: Ted Williams, Barry Bonds, Stan Musial, Pete Rose, Carl Yastrzemski. Best of rest: Joe Jackson, Rickey Henderson, Willie Stargell

Can’t argue with Teddy Ballgame or Stan the Man. Yaz is a good Long Islander. I was surprised to see Rose, given that he’s usually banned from such things. Then I saw Bonds, and I refused to read his bio plaque because all suspect that he doesn’t belong and that space can do to a more worthy player, like Cleon Jones or Endy Chavez.

Then things got even more problematic.

Right-handed pitcher: Cy Young, Walter Johnson, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens. Best of the rest: Christy Mathewson, Tom Seaver , Bob Gibson

Ryan’s over-rated, but he was a Met so we cut him some slack. But to see Bat-chucker there in the top five and Tom Seaver delegated to also-ran status is just a travesty. Naturally, I got all weepy reading the Seaver bio plaque and had no interest in the Clemens puffery.

Left-handed pitcher: Warren Spahn, Sandy Koufax, Lefty Grove, Carl Hubbell, Steve Carlton. Best of the rest: Whitey Ford, Randy Johnson

Spahnnie’s a former Met. Koufax has enough Mets connections that he qualifies.

Right-fielders: Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Mel Ott, Frank Robinson, Roberto Clemente. Best of the rest: Tony Gwynn, Reggie Jackson, Paul Waner

It’s nice to see Mel Ott get the love, as he is usually overlooked, usually for a punk like Reggie Jackson. Clemente’s vest jersey was on display and just commands respect.

Third base: Mike Schmidt, Eddie Mathews, Brooks Robinson, George Brett, Pie Traynor Best of the rest: Ken Boyer, Wade Boggs, Ron Santo

OK, clearly David Wright, Edgardo Alfonzo and Wayne Garrett should be here. But check out the “Best of the Rest.” Neither Boyer nor Santo have been in enshrined in Cooperstown. So the sixth- and eighth-best third-basemen of all-time aren’t worthy? The museum gets it right, the baseball writers who vote on the Hall of Fame did not.

Second base: Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins, Joe Morgan, Jackie Robinson, Roberto Alomar. Best of the Rest: Ryne Sandberg, Nap Lajoie, Rod Carew, Bill Mazeroski

Alomar’s a former Met, Hornsby’s a former Mets coach and our new stadium is a Robinson tribute, so he counts.

But wait! Is that Joe Morgan the ESPN broadcaster? Joe played the game? You’d think he’d mention that once or twice or a hundred times during each edition of Sunday Night Baseball.

Centerfield: Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Ken Griffey Jr. Best of the Rest: Tris Speaker

Willie obviously waves the Mets flag here. I’m stunned that they list only one player in the “Best of the Rest.” Former Met Duke Snider doesn’t even merit a mention?

First base: Lou Gehrig, Jimmy Foxx, Eddie Murray, Harmon Killebrew and Willie McCovey. Best of the rest: Mark McGwire, Johnny Mize

Murray’s our Met here, but where in the heck is Keith Hernandez? It’s another glaring and stunning omission.

Now, I don’t hold McGwire in the same contempt that I do Bonds and Clemens, so I started reading his bio. And I was stunned to see a reference to him performing under suspicion of steroid use.

I thought, “They’re gonna out McGwire, yet let not call Bonds and Bat-chucker on the carpet for laundry list of alleged sins?”

So I scurried back over to the pitchers’ section and scanned the Clemens bio. Sure enough, there was a big note at the bottom saying that the exhibit was put together just after the Mitchell report had become public, and that Clemens was implicated.

Then I walked over to Bonds, and, again, a large portion of his bio covered the cloud of ‘roids suspicion.

Walking away, I was pretty impressed. While the Mets didn’t quite get as much love as they deserve, there was no Jeter to be found, and Bat-chucker was held accountable for his alleged cheating.

Then I went down to the museum store, which is usually well-stocked with cool things. There was a nice assortment of baseball books and ties and some Hall of Fame postcards.

Then I saw those Uno decks with the boxes in the shape of team jerseys. Staring right at me was the white Mets jersey version and the black jersey version.

And get this – the Mets were the only team represented! Do you know how long I’ve been looking for one of these for the basement baseball shrine?

Now I have no idea why they would only have Mets versions. Sometimes it’s best not to ask questions, at least not until finishing the “Yes-yes!” dance.

So let’s review: Piazza praised, Jeter denied, Clemens dissed, president-signed baseballs displayed and long-sought souvenir needs fulfilled.

It was a good day.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Bob's hair, Beltran's card, Billy's announcement and the rest of the Friday Five

Check this out! I heard a rumor that there are sports being played at the Olympics other than swimming, gymnastics and beach volleyball.

I’ve been sucked into the Olympics like everybody else. It’s easy to go all otter on NBC and lob grenades at the coverage. But I have just one complaint, and it leads off our Deezo Friday Five.

1) That would be Bob Costas’ hair.

You need to know that I like Bob. He’s an outstanding announcer. And all the little historical facts he rolled out during the parade of nations were really cool.

But then I saw his hair. I don’t know if that’s an ill-fitting rug or just a bad dye job. But it’s not working.
With all the millions of dollars dropped on that production, there was no one assigned to making sure the main anchor’s mop looked decent?

2) Topps is on a roll. Just got my hands on the special Mets boxed team set. There are 55 cards, most of them glorious.

This is as complete a set as you are going to find. Willie Collazo, Angel Pagan, Brian Stokes Marlon Anderson and Ramon Castro are all in the set. Even the coaches, Mr. Met and Shea Stadium get cards.

Team leaders are presented three players to a card like in the good old days. There are a number of "Classic Combos," which in some cases appear to be an excuse to get another Carlos Beltran card in the set. But it’s all justified by one card that has Endy Chavez, Beltran and Jose Reyes in their 1986 retro uniforms. Beautiful.

Speaking of the 1986 team, each box contains one card signed by a member of the champions. There’s nothing bad about that, until I remembered that Doug Sisk was on that team. I figured that he and Randy Neimann were doing the bulk of the signing. But my box had Kevin Mitchell, so I shall continue to bestow only praise. Nice job, Topps!

3) I was stunned what I saw while walking away from my seat at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati after the Streak of Shame was snapped. Somebody tossed their Reds ice cream sundae helmet right there under the seat! What’s wrong with these people?

Instinctively I picked it up and washed it off, a souvenir of seeing the Mets win for the first time since 1991.

I don’t know why these things are cool. They just are.

Apparently the folks at the brilliant Fleer Sticker Project think so, too because they had a whole post about fellow obsessives who not only collect the cup-caps, but also customize to add the proper details. Amazing. Check out and for more information.

4) Speaking of Ohio. Fresh off my visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland I learned that the folks running the place have decided to open an annex in New York.

I’m sure this will ruffle some feathers in Cleveland, where folks seem a little defensive about hosting the hall in the first place, and noses are out of joint about induction ceremonies being in New York.

Apparently this is to be the first of several annexes, with others planned for known hot beds of rock history like Las Vegas and somewhere in the Middle East.

Now that Billy Joel is done kicking all kinds of butt at Shea, he was able to help with the announcement.

Sounds to me like the hall is trying to franchise itself out, kind of becoming a Hard Rock Cafe without the music — but with the T-shirts and pins.

But the most shocking revelation was the admission price to the New York mini-hall: $26 a head. That’s $4 more than the price to see the entire museum in Cleveland.

5) Taking a break from ER for treadmill viewing to get back to Dead Zone for its final season.

There are issues.
The first episode killed off Walt, killed off Malcom Janus, banished Bruce and replaced the actor playing JJ with a kid who kind of looks like a munchkin. We haven’t seen the Rev. Purdy since the first episode.
And now we’re supposed to think Stillson is a good guy? Also, Stillson is vice president, yet still seems to wander around Cleaves Mills running into folks without an oppressive Secret Service contingent? Plus, Stillson’s hair makes it seem like Bob Costas’ "barber" was involved somehow.

I’m about two-thirds through the season so far, and I’m curious whether the producers will tie up all the loose ends in the finale. But I’m not optimistic.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

These Met-lympians brought home the gold

Well, Met pitcher Brandon Knight fared better against the Cardinals than he did today against the Koreans in Olympic action.

Amazingly, Knight is not the only Mets player to have a connection with the Olympics. In honor of the Beijing games starting on 8-8-08, we now should take a look at our top eight Met-lympians. And that’s not counting skipper Davey Johnson, who is guiding the American team as we speak.

We’ll start at the bottom and work our way up to the gold “Met-al” winner.

No. 8) Doug Mientkiewicz, 2000 Team USA.

Dougie Eye-chart had a decent Olympics, even hitting the game-winning home run against South Korea in the semi-finals in Sydney. That team went on to win the gold medal.

And he’s not even the worst player on the list. But he’s No. 8 because he’s a punk. Mientkiewicz started out decently enough with the Twins, and ended up on the Red Sox because he can flash the leather and the Sox didn’t want another Buckner moment.

And sure enough, Douggie caught the final out, then famously pocketed the ball. All of Red Sox Nation was pissed off, which, granted isn’t hard to do. After much bickering, Doug allowed the ball to tour New England with the trophy, then be sent to Cooperstown. Then again, Doug says it’s the game ball. With this guy, you never know.

Mientkiewicz then came into his Metdom the next year, giving good quotes to the press but hitting a measly .240 with 11 homers and showing that he defense was over-rated.

Then after the season, Doug burned his bridges, saying all kinds of unkind things. Since then, he’s made the tour of teams of stink and evil, spending time with the Royals, the vile Yankees and currently the Pirates, where he seemingly had more hits against the Mets on Monday than he did the entire year at Shea.

No. 7) Braden Looper, 1996 Team USA

Looper was part of the bronze medal winners in Atlanta and became the Marlins’ closer before Trader Jack lost confidence in him. So who knows why the Mets thought he could close for them? I’m sure Pedro was asking that very same questions when two Reds fired bombs to blow Martinez’s Mets debut.

Loops then came back to haunt us in the 2006 NLCS and openly mocked the Mets during the post-game celebration.

No. 6) Mike Kinkade, 2000 Team USA

Kinkade came to the Mets from the Brewers’ farm for Bill Pulsipher in 1988,and left with Melvin Mora in late 2000 in the trade for Mike Bordick. He enjoyed only cups of coffee at Shea, hitting just .196 with a couple homers in 46 at-bats for the 1998 team.

But unlike Looper and Mientkiewicz, he didn’t tick anyone off.

No. 5) Kris Benson, 1996 Team USA

Benson didn’t tick anyone off, either. But his bombshell wife Anna sure did. Kirk arrived in a deadline deal in 2004 – not that deal – and really didn’t pitch too poorly. He just wasn’t all that great either; at least not great enough to deal with the headaches his wife caused the front office.

On the bright side, Omar sent him to the Orioles in a deal where John Maine was a throw-in, one of our GM’s best heists.

No. 4) Dae-Sung Koo, 2000 Team South Korea

Koo also played in Sydney, and had one year with the Mets, logging 33 games without a save and unimpressive 3.90 ERA.

Ah, but Koo had one golden moment. He had just two career at-bats in the majors. One was an expected strikeout. But the other was a glorious double hit off a shell-shocked Randy Johnson in a Subway Series game. That Johnson remained on the team even through the end of that game was proof that George Steinbrenner was no longer involved in the day-to-day operations.

Bronze Met-al) Hideo Nomo, 1988 Team Japan

Nomo was a member of the Japanese team long before his 1995 American debut and all that ensued.

Alas, he seemed done when jettisoned to the Mets for spare parts Greg McMichael and Dave Mlicki after starting 2-7 in LA in 1988. Nomo was a little better at Shea, going 4-5 with a 4.82 ERA,

We released him the next spring, and naturally Nomo went on toss a no-no while playing for Boston – and he pitched all the way through this season, making an appearance with the Royals.

Silver Met-al) Orlando Hernandez, 1992 Team Cuba

El Duque earned gold in Barcelona, escaped from the oppressive regime in Cuba to the vile regime in the Bronx.

He was finally liberated in 2006, swiped from the Snakes for Jorge Julio, back in the days when Omar could do no wrong. Hernandez added 9 wins before the end of the season and gimped to the playoffs.

Duque won 9 more games in an injury-filled 2007, and is spending this season vacationing in Port St. Lucie, allegedly still on the roster while awaiting Nike elves to produce some alleged magic cleat that will bring comfort to his aching bunion.

Gold Met-al: Robin Ventura, 1988 Team USA

Rockin’ Robin and his gold medal came to the Mets as a free agent in 1999 and made Steve Phillips look brilliant, finishing sixth in the MVP voting that year. Of course he was robbed.

His glorious Grand Slam Single against the Braves should have already earned him a bust in the Mets Hall of Fame.

He’s such a good guy we can overlook that he rediscovered his stroke after we sent him to, of all places, the vile Yankees, where he earned his second All-Star appearance.

There you go, Met-lympians can claim their medals and stand atop the podium while “Meet the Mets” plays to a misty eyed house.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Broadway Brett, Coney Island Joe and the rest of the Friday Five

There’s a good chance we’re done traveling for the summer. All this time on the road has provided for adventures, but I’m behind in many things, including blogging.

Let’s just say we got some spring yardwork taken care of this week, and the underground sprinklers are good to go — after four tips to Lowe’s and more profanity than even the Mets bull pen can generate.

We even have a semi-late Deezo Friday Five to offer:

1) I have a love-hate relationship with Topps’ Heritage sets.

I love the idea of putting modern players in old-fashioned designs, especially with the level of detail that Topps provides. They’re usually beautiful cards.

But the downside is that they’re way too expensive and the sets are filled with short-printed cards, making them more expensive and impossible for me to ever assemble a complete set.

This year, the company’s Bowman Heritage has some photos that are so brilliant that it hurts. Topps had fun tinkering with the backgrounds. Some of the cards have old stadiums such as the Polo Grounds and Ebbets Field, and others have city icons.

Check out Tom Glavine’s card, which combines both elements of Shea and Citi Field under construction. Too bad Glavine is a known Met saboteur.

Then I saw this sweet card of Joe Smith with the Coney Island Wonder Wheel in the background. Clearly this is the best card of the year, possibly second to the 1972 Topps Tom Seaver.

2) Having trouble deciding who this shirt is aimed at. A real Phillies fan would want nothing that looks like a Mets logo, just like I wouldn’t even consider anything reading "Yankees" on my body.

Maybe this is for a Phillies guy who knows he should be rooting for the Mets, but just can’t bring himself over to the right side.

Or maybe it’s for someone who lives in Jersey between both teams and is just, well, confused.

3) Speaking of shirts, I’m convinced that Cafe Press has a shirt for everything.

A little back story here. My daughter and her fifth-grade friends started a little elementary school publishing empire, producing books based on the same characters, Mr. Otter and Mr. Otter Jr.

One day I read one of her books and was startled to see a passage where Junior was unhappy that someone at a fast food restaurant incorrectly filled his kiddie meal order and casually circled the place and lobbed a hand grenade through the drive-through.

The rest of the book had other acts of random mischief that prompted my son to say that, if the book was made in to a video game, it would be called "Grand Theft Otter."

I was contemplating counseling until learning that the rest of the authors were boys and the body counts in their tomes was far higher, and my daughter was just writing to appeal to their tastes.

Nevertheless, the idea of casually tossing a grenade has become sort of a family inside joke.

Then poking around Cafe Press one day I discovered a design of an otter, holding a hand grenade. Part of me was horrified that someone else would link otters and explosives, and the other part wondered if we could sue for trademark violations.

4) My softball team picked up a little hardware this year. And we were so close to something so much bigger.

After demolishing our opening round opponent, we faced the goon squad of the league that, as far as I know, has never lost game. I also think they play dirty, so there is some bad blood there.

We were having the game of our lives, winning through the top of the sixth as the skies darkened. The thugs tied the game in the bottom of the sixth, and lightening started to flicker and thunder roared. After much debate and confusion, the umpires suspended the game.

We resumed a week later, missing some of our best players and still held the punks scoreless for two innings before finally allowing them to push across a run. It was a sad, sad day.

We fell apart in our second game that day, against my church’s other team, after our pitcher got hurt and I had to take the hill.

Alas we turned it on again for the last game, allowing us to claim third place in the consolation round. Our other church team claimed second place.

Usually such a finish will get you only a flier telling when next season’s league fees are due, so I was pretty happy when the umpire came over with a sweet plaque. Someday I’ll hand it over to the church. Someday.

5) Not sure how this happened. Not even sure it’s a good thing. But I’ll take it.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Taking a seat in Milwaukee, but probably not Shea

In hindsight, we probably could have been arrested for trespassing. But it wouldn’t have been an adventure without a little risk.

I was bummed when I saw this week that the Mets were asking $869 for a pair of Shea Stadium seats once the season ends. That close to double what other teams have been asking, and light years beyond what I’d be willing to pay.

That means there won’t be an adventure to pick up the chairs like Will and I had in 2000 in Milwaukee.

Stadium seats were a very reasonable $100 if you were able to swing by County Stadium to pick them up. Milwaukee’s only about five hours from Grand Rapids, so Will made a baseball weekend of it and we planned a one-day roadtrip.

The letter from the Brewers said to pick up the chairs at Miller Park, which I thought was odd because the stadium was still under construction. Seemed odd that the team would remove the seats from County Stadium and haul them into the new building just to have fans take them back out.

But I follow instructions, so we pulled up to the team offices at Miller Park, kind of surprised to see only a couple cars in the parking lot.

The door opened, and it was apparent that the offices were not yet fully in use. There was cardboard on the floor to protect the carpets, and only a couple items scattered on desks.

So we started walking around, looking for some kind of sign to point us to the chair distribution point.

“Hello? Hello?” No one responded, so we kept walking and opening doors.

We pulled open on heavy door and discovered we were standing on the concourse of the new stadium, at that point still heavily under construction. Will quickly and smartly grabbed the door before it closed behind us — it would have locked us out.

There were no chairs to be seen, so clearly this was not where we were supposed to be. But after taking our time to get a closer look — and snapping off some photos — we went back inside.

Finally we encountered an employee, who was not happy that we were where we were, but not openly hostile, either. I showed him my letter, and he said the seats were available in the parking lot — way on the other side of the stadium.

And sure enough, there were all the chairs in neat rows and a drive-though lane where if you rolled down your window and showed the letter, an employee would run up and drop the chair in your trunk.

Miller Park rises above County Stadium.

There also were large tents off to the side with items that were both for sale and available through an auction. The Brewers did a nice job of making something available at every price point, so any fan could walk away from something. Far as I know, they’re still selling bricks in the Miller Park gift shop for $10 as they were when I was back two years ago.

After picking up a vial of infield dirt, we headed over to the auction section. Most of the items here were way out of our price range, especially since we’re not Brewers fans.

But the team was allowing everybody to have a good look — and touch — of everything there. We had great fun climbing into Bernie Brewer’s chalet, his outfield perch from which he’d slide into a giant beer stein after a Brewer hit a homer.

And, of course, no visit to Milwaukee is complete without some brats. The Brewers have an elaborate concession stand in the parking lot to cater to all the tail-gaters, and it was open during the seat dispersal. The brats are great, and the Secret Stadium Sauce is essential.

After that, we walked around both stadiums. Miller Park towered over County Stadium, which almost seemed to blend into its neighborhood, at least as much a stadium surrounded by parking lots could. Miller, however, could be seen from the interstate heading into the city, miles away.

I had seen one game at County, back in 1988 on our ballpark tour, and liked the friendly atmosphere and all the tailgating — best-smelling parking lot ever!

And we’ve been to Miller twice since then, including one trip that featured an audience with Bud Selig himself. Of course, it’s not quite as fun without the risk of being branded a trespasser.

The Milwaukee County Stadium chair in its new home, the baseball room.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Cleveland sites creepy -- but kinda cool

Where in the heck is Rush?

That, I explained to my son, is a very valid question.

But gaping induction holes aside, we had fine time on the second day of our Cleveland adventure.

We made it to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum just before it opened, arriving just ahead of a tour bus full of people we suspected would be absolutely horrified at much of what they were about to see inside.

The hall is a neat-looking building — designed by I.M. Pei — but I wonder if its unusual shape limits what organizers can display, because for all its size, there doesn’t really seem to be all that much space, and much of the space that is there doesn’t easily lend itself to displays.

My wife and I visited the hall not too long after it opened in 1995, and I checked it out again with the Baseball Truth gang in 2003, discovered that there had been almost a total overhaul – a dramatic improvement.

You might be wondering why such an institution is in Cleveland. A sign out front reads that Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed is credited with coining the term "rock and roll" and that the city was the location of the first rock concert. What it doesn’t say was that civic leaders pledged $65 million in public money to fund the construction, which didn’t hurt.

One of the few things you are allowed to photograph in the hall: The Trabant cars from U2's Zoo TV tour.

We started in the lower level with the baseball exhibit and found it kind of lacking, but they did show a Dwight Gooden album that I never knew existed.

My favorite part of the lower level is the display of all the stage clothes. There’s a good representation of everyone from Aerosmith to ZZ Top. For people who are supposed to be larger than life, rock stars are often smaller folks, at least that what it looks like when you see their outfits.

Pausing at the David Bowie exhibit, I saw a kid who looked to be 12 studying some "Ziggy Stardust" era artifacts and say "Is that a boy or a girl?" and suspected Bowie would have been pleased.

Not having any Kiss outfits on display is a gaping hole in the exhibit, but I’ve heard that stems from Gene Simmons refusing to offer up anything unless he got a cut of the admission fees. We can’t fault the museum for that.

But there are plenty of interesting relics, including John Lennon’s piano and glasses, one of Elvis’s jumpsuits and Billy Joel’s motorcycle.

Heading upstairs, we found a new Ramones display that was just glorious — a set list even includes when Dee Dee would yell "one-two-three-four" between songs. We immediately picked Joey out of his elementary school class photo in his Cub Scouts uniform.

We also found the display that includes the cremains of Alan Freed. This is either really creepy or really cool. Or both.

The actual "hall of fame" is an audio-visual presentation showing each year’s inductees and snippets of songs, lyrics and interviews – and in the case of the Sex Pistols, their letter calling the museum "a piss stain" and stating why the surviving members chose not to appear at the induction ceremony.

Most of the songs selected to represent the inductees were obvious choices, some seemed of odd. For Madonna, the hall picked "Vogue." It seemed strange to select a throw-away track on a greatest hits CD that is better known for its video for someone who has a boatload of iconic hits.

And is "Kiss," the best example of Prince’s work? I thought something – anything – from "Purple Rain" would be better. And "Why Can’t This Be Love?" sure isn’t what I think of when I think of Van Halen.

The hallway leading out passes what used to be the hall, etched glass with simulated autographs, the names of the performers and the year inducted. It was kind of a letdown when it was all there was. But it’s perfect as a compliment to the video.

Then you pass through another temporary exhibit – this time it’s about the Beatles’ movie "Help!" – before taking a circular staircase to the very top of the building. That used to be the proper hall with the etched glass. Now its more temporary exhibit space, now dedicated to The Doors.

One my favorite exhibits includes some of the huge stage props from Pink Floyd’s "The Wall" tour, which was a big part of the soundtrack for anyone going to high school in the early 1980s.

After navigating the massive gift store, we walked around the lakeside for a little bit then moved on to our last adventure.

We had to work presidents into this trip somewhere, and James A. Garfield has what must be the most unusual of all presidential tombs. The 20th president rests in Lake View Cemetery on the city’s east side.

We arrived at the castle-like memorial about 4:02 — only to find it closed at 4 p.m. We ran up the stairs and found the doors already locked, and were about to walk away when it slowly opened.

The caretaker said he was sorry, and that he had just closed. I asked if we could quickly pay our respects, and was slowly shaking his head when I added, "We’re from Michigan!"

I intended this to show that we came a long way, forgetting that in Ohio State University country, this is like saying, "I would like to be pushed to the ground and kicked."

But I also know that people who volunteer to staff such places do so because they are passionate about the subject.

He opened the door all the way and said, "Let me go and turn all the lights back on."


And once inside we saw a spectacular rotunda with a large white statue of Garfield, dramatically lit. The caretaker said the architect didn’t want the statue in there, thinking it was unnecessary, but was overruled by the committee overseeing the project.

The caretaker pointed out some of the features, then sent us to the circular stone staircase to the lower level.

And there, on simple stone pedestals, were the caskets of President Garfield and his wife, Lucretia as well as urns containing the cremains of their daughter and her husband.

I’ve been to a number of presidential gravesites, and in every other place the caskets are either buried or stashed in a vault. Like with Freed, I couldn’t decided whether this was cool or creepy.

I didn’t want to impose any longer, so we rushed back upstairs and thanked the caretaker profusely. But he said we weren’t done, and pointed to stairs leading up to an observation deck, where, he said, we’d have the best view of the Cleveland skyline in the city. And he was correct.

Asking him to stamp my National Parks passport would have been pushing our luck, so we were on our way.

Lake View is home to a number of other famous Ohio residents, including John D. Rockefeller, lawman Eliot Ness and Ray Chapman, the Indians player killed during a game.

We found Rockefeller and stumbled upon Ness, but were unable to locate Chapman before deciding we needed to start our 5-hour trek back to Grand Rapids.