Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Vacation, all I ever wanted

Yes, it's tougher to get time to post when you're on vacation. I envisioned plenty of freedom to opine on world events over the past week, but up to 4 p.m. today I've been a single parent, and even with the grandparents spending copious time with the urchins, they've been keeping me busy.

That said, it's high time for the Wolves to complete the KG trade, high time for the Twins to either sign Torii Hunter or cut bait, and high time for Congress to start impeachment proceedings on our embattled Attorney General. The Bush administration has proved itself to be an absolute joke on so many levels -- Congress needs to act, like, yesterday.

I know, kind of a tame post, but with a 20-year high school reunion coming up this weekend, I'm sure there will be fodder for a much meatier discussion in the near future.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Halfway home and we'll be there by mornin'

Actually, we're more like two-thirds of the way home, and we'll be there by evenin', like Wednesday evening. For those who don't know, I'm driving with Fiona and Nora back to Minnesota for a little beat-the-heat and see-the-grandparents vacation. Kris is in Denmark visiting her best friend, Randi, and will join us in Minnesota next week.

Right now, I'm enjoying the free wi-fi at the Comfort Inn in Lexington, Neb. We left Henderson on Monday at 2:30 p.m. and made it as far as Eagle, Colo., over the next 11 hours. We'd hoped to stay in Grand Junction, but every hotel between there and Eagle was booked, so three weary travelers happly took refuge at an AmericInn, despite the branch's corny corporate name.

The kids have been great, and the Highlander has been getting awesome mileage -- anywhere from 23 to 26 mpg, which you can't beat with a stick for an SUV. We'll arrive at my parents' house in New Ulm on Wednesday night, and will visit Park Rapids and the Twin Cities before it's all said and done in mid-August. Hope to see some of you along the way!

(By the way, can anybody name the song from which the title of this post was derived?)

Monday, July 23, 2007

Gone but not forgotten

I hate to speak ill of the dead. I don't even get into death pools, despite my affinity for fantasy sports and recreational wagering, because I believe it's bad karma to celebrate anyone's death.

So far be it for me to dance on Tammy Faye Messner's grave. I loathe what the woman, and her creepy ex-husband Jim Baker, stood for. Their list of crimes against humanity are too long to list here, but as the great Bono once said, "The God I believe in isn't short of cash, mister!"

But Tammy Faye's passing causes me to ask this simple question: Did God give her cancer as payback for fleecing the public in His name? I only ask this because so many of her kind -- like the late Jerry Falwell and the increasingly senile Pat Robertson -- are so fond of the concept of divine retribution. Remember when AIDS was God's punishment for the hedonistic behavior of the gay community? How about when God sent the al-Qaeda attackers to punish our tolerant society on 9-11? And who could forget God's fury raining down on the sinful citizens of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina?

Yes, these arguments all were voiced by right-wing Christians (and I use that term advisedly) to help "explain" these monumental tragedies. So, why aren't these same religious leaders pointing a bony finger of shame at Tammy Faye?

Could it be hypocrisy? Nah, those guys are many things, but they couldn't be hypocrites.

Could they?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

James Loney, Professional Hitter

I teased a profile of a second member of the What The Hell Am I Still Doing In Triple-A? Club, and maybe I'm just trying to forget the Twins' dismal offensive performance as they were swept by the Tigers, but I'm following through on my promise.

If you don't follow the National League closely, you might not know about Dodgers' first baseman James Loney. And if you don't, shame on you.

Mr. Loney first caught my eye last year, when he was starring for my hometown Las Vegas 51's, the Triple-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers. All Loney did last year was lead all of professional baseball with a .380 batting average. When the Dodgers finally called him up in late July, he helped spark the team on its stretch drive to win the NL West by hitting .323 with four homers and 17 RBIs in just 62 at-bats. Nine of those RBIs came in one game at Colorado, when he homered twice and tied a 56-year-old record held by Gil Hodges with all those ribbies. And in his lone playoff game, he went 3-for-4 with three RBIs as the Dodgers lost game 3 of a sweep at the hands of the Mets.

You'd think that might be enough to make the Dodgers' brass sit up and take notice, but instead, they sent him back to Las Vegas to start the 2007 season. Why? Well, otherwise smart people make stupid decisions all the time, but the Dodgers wanted to go with the brittle Nomar Garciaparra at first base, leaving no room for Loney in the DH-less National League.

When Loney came back to Sin City, he didn't exactly tear up the Pacific Coast League, hitting just .279 with one home run in 233 at-bats. But like Matt Garza of the Twins (see below), Loney knew he was playing one level below where he belonged, and punched his card in the What The Hell Am I Still Doing In Triple-A? Club.

And when the Dodgers finally recalled him in early June, despite his performance in Las Vegas this year, he predictably went on a tear. After tonight's 3-for-5, he's now hitting .374 with three home runs and 18 RBIs in 107 at-bats. With Nomar back at third base, Loney's free to put his stamp on the club at first base, and he's done just that. He's had a four-hit game, four three-hit games, and put together an eight-game stretch in late June in which he went 17-for-31 with 10 RBIs.

You stat geeks can rest assured, those are not empty numbers. He's got 11 walks and only 14 strikeouts, and an OPS hovering around 1.000. Simply put, the man's getting it done -- just like he did late last summer (whenever he got the chance), and just like he should have been doing all season at Chavez Ravine.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Ready for prime time all along

Sure, the Twins lost 1-zip to the Tigers tonight, but they got a second straight outstanding effort from Matt Garza, who allowed three hits, one walk and zero earned runs over seven innings of work against one of the toughest lineups in the league. This comes on the heels of his first start of the year, when he tossed six shutout frames against the White Sox.

Close observers of the Twins might be surprised at Garza's domination after he failed to make the team in spring training, then struggled for three months at Triple-A Rochester. But even closer observers will note that Garza likely was the victim of a phenomenon known as What The Hell Am I Still Doing At Triple-A? Syndrome.

You see, some guys who struggle at Triple-A are doing so because, frankly, they suck. But others get mired in a funk because they know -- hell, they've proved -- that they belong in the big leagues. They know there's nothing more for them to prove at Triple-A, and instead of being the happy camper and good soldier when the big club sends them down, they get frustrated staring up at the glass ceiling and wondering why they're still riding buses and eating at Carl's Jr. and the Waffle House.

Last year, Garza joined the Twins in August and went 3-6 down the stretch (with losses of 1-0 and 2-0 thrown in for good measure) and showed enough moxie that most people expected him to make the club this spring. But the Twins sent him down to work on his curve ball (so they say), then gave lesser lights Kevin Slowey and Scott Baker the first two shots to make the rotation after the predictable implosion of Sidney Ponson and Ramon Ortiz.

Meanwhile, Garza stewed, whined about being forced to throw something other than his electric fastball, and posted a 4-6 record with a 4.21 ERA against Triple-A hitters. When the league finally caught up with Slowey, the Twins' brass seemingly had no choice but to bring up Garza and hope his results at Rochester were not indicative of future performance.

And they weren't -- not because Garza came back with a huge chip on his shoulder, trying to prove to Terry Ryan, Ron Gardenhire and Rick Anderson that they were wrong to send him down this spring. Because if you're trying to prove somebody wrong in baseball, the game will eat you alive. (It's probably the same in all sports, but I only speak from experience with baseball.)

No, Garza has been successful so far (and I suspect he'll continue to impress) because he knew all along that he belongs in the big leagues. Now, instead of being nervous like most young pitchers with less than a year of major league service time under their belts, Garza can finally exhale, relax and do what he knows he's capable of doing. And that's exactly how he's pitched thus far since his callup.

Of course, I have no specific insight into Garza's case because I'm here, not there. This is all just speculation on my part. But I've seen it happen before, and tomorrow I'll point out another member of the What The Hell Am I Still Doing At Triple-A? club who's having a breakout year in 2007.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Trucker hits the highway


I didn't discover the Drive-By Truckers until after Jason Isbell had joined the group. I do love their older stuff, but for my money, some of their finest work came with Isbell filling the third-guitar, third-songwriter role alongside Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley. I mean, if you don't get a lump in your throat listening to "Outfit," or chills down your spine listening to "Decoration Day," or a hop in your step listening to "The Day John Henry Died," I don't know what to tell you.

That's why I was dismayed to learn that Isbell had left the group this spring and was venturing out on his own. All sides are reporting the split as a mutual decision with much love and handshakes all around, but I can't imagine everything was quite that cozy. After all, his now ex-wife, Shonna Tucker, is the Truckers' bassist, and she's still in the band. Can you say awkward?

Still, Isbell clearly has the talent to front his own band, and he shows that off with his first solo effort, Sirens of the Ditch, released earlier this month on New West Records. It's less Southern-fried rock than the Truckers' stuff, more of a power-pop feel with some twang. He also tries his hand at blues ("Hurricanes and Hand Grenades") and dark introspection ("The Devil is My Running Mate"), and a great greasy slide through some twisted characters ("Down in a Hole") that would have fit in nicely on the next Truckers' disc.

But alas, he's on his own. No word yet if Hood and Cooley are looking for another third wheel, or if they'll stick to a double-axe sound for now. And as for the amicable split, Sirens features appearances by Hood, Tucker, DBT drummer Brad Morgan, and Hood's father, David, who's a legendary session player on the Muscle Shoals, Ala., scene (which really exists -- Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett and Lynyrd Skynyrd have recorded there).

To get an idea of Isbell's talent, check out this video for "Dress Blues," a chilling tribute to a fallen Marine from his hometown in Alabama. DBT promoted it heavily on their web site while Isbell was still in the band, and it probably would have been on their next disc, but now it's on Sirens. Well worth your time.

UPDATE: Just got an e-mail from New West, touting a promotional e-card for Isbell's new CD. It includes a live performance of "Chicago Promenade," filmed at First Ave in Minneapolis. Again, worth the time to check it out.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Sweltering again

So, we're back in the sauna that is Southern Nevada after a fabulous four days in San Francisco. I wanted to post more frequent updates from the all-star activities, but we ended up spending much less time in the hotel and much more time walking around the city and the ballpark, and I didn't lug my laptop to the yard, so that limited my Internet availability.

That's OK though -- we took every opportunity to explore AT&T Park, take in all the breathtaking views (see above) and the whole all-star experience, including Monday's interminable Home Run Derby, which lasted three freakin' hours. There were some fun moments, like when Alex Rios hit five straight home runs on the "money ball," raising $85K for the Boys' and Girls' Clubs of America. And seeing Gardy pitching to Morneau (right) was a treat. And an added benefit was not having to listen to Chris Berman after the introductions, during which he referred to the St. Louis Cardinals' star slugger as "Albert 'Winnie the' Pujols."

The game itself was a load of fun -- it's always a blast to see the best of the game face off, and for my money, this is the only all-star game that matters. In the NBA, NHL, and NFL, the stars don't play defense, don't try to do anything but create highlights, and really don't seem to care. In baseball, you can't put forth a half-assed effort without it being obvious, plus there's no real physical risk in playing top-notch defense the way there is in other sports. So the effort was there, Ichiro made history with the first inside-the-park homer in an all-star game, and the AL won.

Good times were had all around, Kris and I enjoyed plenty of kidless bonding time (oh so crucial to a good marriage), and we were welcomed home on Wednesday by our lovely daughters, who were thrilled to see us. Nora, in particular, smothered me in kisses and told me numerous times how much she missed me, which made me feel like an all-star dad.

Pretty cool.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Sunday, Mascot Sunday

Everything's been going well so far here at the all-star extravaganza. Had a nice dinner on Saturday night with aunts (Marg and Eme), cousins (Natalie and Ethan) and beautiful baby (Winona). Sunday was spent getting our credentials, kicking around the park and generally getting the lay of the land.

And posing with mascots.

Never really got the masoct thing before we had kids. Now I appreciate them on a whole other level. Plus my buddy Corey has a thing for getting his photo taken with mascots, and he missed the Pirates' parrot when we were in Pittsburgh this spring. So, I'm one up on him now.

The photo with me and Slider (the inexplicably pink Indians mascot) is noteable because it was taken just as I was telling him that we saw him in Cleveland in April when it was about 40 degrees in the sun at gametime. He didn't say anything, but I could feel him shiver. Poor mascot. Even inside those furball suits, it's cold when it's 40 degrees and windy.

As for on-the-field action, the Futures Game was OK, but I bet I'll appreciate it more in about five years when I'll know who these guys are. The Twins' lone prospect, Matt Tolbert, whiffed in his only at-bat I saw.

The celebrity softball game had its moments of levity and action. If you're so inclined, tune in tonight to see Kenny Mayne make a hell of a play, robbing Jimmy Kimmel of a home run (legitimately). He also hosed a runner at third base -- pretty good athlete I guess. Wonder where he went to college?

Anyway, a good time was had by all, and we're off to the park to see some more flying baseballs. Cheers!

Friday, July 6, 2007

Getting primed for the derby

That subject of that headline could be either Justin Morneau or me, because we're both going to be at the Home Run Derby in San Francisco on Monday. Morneau prepared for his trip on Friday by becoming the first Twin since Tony Oliva to hit three home runs in a game as the Twins pasted the White Sox 12-0 in the nightcap of a doubleheader that featured an ugly 20-14 victory in Game 1.

Meanwhile, I prepared for the trip by packing a bag. It's not quite the same thing, but it'll get me to the Bay Area and that's all that counts. Kris and I are celebrating our 15th anniversary this summer, and decided a four-day trip to one of our favorite cities in the world would be a good way to mark the occasion. Plus we got all-access media passes thanks to a friend of her boss (it's good to be the king, or at least work for him), so we've got that going for us. Which is very, very nice.

I'll be blogging from the Bay Area this weekend and early next week, offering some insights on the Futures Game, Home Run Derby, the game itself, and whatever else tickles our collective fancy during our visit. I can taste the clam chowder already.

Meanwhile, here are some factoids about Morneau's feat to tide you over until then. Bob Allison, Harmon Killebrew and Oliva were the first three Twins to hit three homers in a game. Oliva turned the trick in 1973, before I was old enough to follow the game. In the 34 years since then, 17 players have hit three home runs in a game against the Twins. The odds of 17 consecutive three-homer games coming off the bats of the Twins' opponents have to be astronomical, even given the putrid state of the Twins' pitching in some of those years.

Then again, when you realize that Morneau was the first Twin in 16 years to hit 30 homers in a season when he did it last year -- a period that encompassed the steroid era, the wave of smaller retro ballparks, the juiced ball and two expansion seasons when the pitching is always watered down -- maybe we shouldn't be surprised.

Just for giggles, here are the 17 players who hit three homers in a game against the Twins between Oliva and Morneau:

Bobby Grich, Al Oliver, Eddie Murray, Jeff Burroughs, Doug DeCinces, Harold Baines, Cory Snyder, Joe Carter, Dave Winfield, Dave Henderson, Juan Gonzalez, Darnell Coles, Ernie Young, Geronimo Berroa, Ivan Rodriguez, Edgar Martinez, Ellis Burks.

Not a bad list -- some decent sluggers in there -- but when the Coles-Young-Berroa trifecta hit, that's when I became convinced the baseball gods would never allow another Twins hitter into the club.

Thank you, Mr. Morneau, for putting that to rest. See you in San Francisco.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

I'm an iMac-Daddy

I'm writing this post from my brand spankin' new iMac, the first time I've used a Mac since I quit teaching in 1996. I have to say, I'm pretty thrilled. Macs have come a long way since then, while PCs really haven't. Plus I can use Windows on the Mac now, which is important to a fussy old codger who's happy with Microsoft Word and Excel and wouldn't give them up for anything. Yes, I've studied the subject for years, left no stone unturned, researched my options and decided that the iMac was the way to go.

Oh, who am I kidding? I fell for the John Hodgman-Justin Long "Mac-PC" commercials. I'm such a sucker.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Who's selling whom?

I remember fondly the days when songs on TV commercials meant an entirely different thing than they mean today. Time was, if your music appeared in a 30-second spot pitching blue jeans or beer (or wine coolers -- thank you, Bruce Willis!), you were either officially washed-up, or officially a sell-out. Or both.

But these days, hearing your song on a TV commercial can be a badge of honor for an up-and-coming band craving some national attention. Of course, big dogs looking to make a big splash have done it -- think U2 and Microsoft, Dylan and Victoria's Secret, etc. But usually, it's the edgier companies trying to reach a hipper audience that follow this route. The Fratellis were introduced to many Americans through an iPod ad featuring their song "Flathead." Volkswagen's been a big player in this game, with the likes of Elliot Smith and the Kings of Leon heard on their soundtrack in recent years.

On Friday, I was watching the FSN-Detroit feed of the Twins-Tigers game, and they dropped in a new VW spot with Wilco's "That's the Thanks I Get" as its backdrop. Apparently, it's part of an ongoing collaboration between Wilco and VW, which of course has pissed off some self-appointed purists of the rock snob world. Ah well, what are you gonna do? Tweedy's got a point -- those rehab bills aren't gonna pay themselves.

But even some entities not viewed as hip or edgy have paired their spots with excellent music. For instance, has anybody else noticed the ad for the University of Phoenix that uses the bouncy buildup to the excellent chorus of the New Pornographers' "Bleeding Heart Show"? It's a jaw-dropping song, both live and on disc, and I can't believe I heard it on a University of Phoenix ad. What's next? The Arcade Fire singing the theme for National American University?