The Sacrificial All-Stars

When Scooter Gennett took Edwin Diaz deep in the bottom of the ninth inning of Tuesday’s All-Star game, NL Manager (and looter of the greatest base in major league history) Dave Roberts was ecstatic in the dugout. For a moment.

But the NL skipper, as well as AL counterpart A.J. Hinch, was suddenly also worried how he might manage the rest of a game that had no end point guaranteed. Fortunately for the gents, a couple of Hinch’s regulars and one of Roberts’ pitchers, made that a moot concern.

We, of course, have seen this before. In 2002, the All-Star game was declared a tie when the teams ran out of pitchers at the end of the 11th inning. Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, formerly considered a boil on baseball’s anus but today revered as the guy who isn’t Manfred, responded to the fiasco by giving us This Time it Counts, tying hosting duties for the World Series on the outcome of the game. That condition held until 2017, when the league did away with TTiC in favor of best record, a solution with its own problems that we won’t get into here.

The problem with Bud’s solution is that it didn’t do anything to actually solve the problem. Sure, managers are more cognizant about holding back a hurler or two for the possibility of extra frames, but since neither manager wants to overwork a guy who might be key to a pennant race (and play for some other team), the possibility of Total Hurler Depletion remains.

That’s where I come in. There’s a better solution to this issue, one that would not just be workable, but fun.

Each league should designate one minor league pitcher to serve as its final arm in the pen. If a league skipper exhausts all of his supply of hurlers, the ball gets handed to the minor league tosser and he’s got to pitch until we’ve got a final score.

Now, teams aren’t going to want to use some top prospect in the role. Instead, the distinction should go to some ML lifer, the Crash Davis type if you switched his place in the battery with Nuke. Let the Triple A fans vote from a slate of willing candidates to enhance the experience.

The upshot: The leagues don’t have to worry about a tie. A career minor leaguer gets a chance to rub shoulders with the game’s all-stars and cashes a nice paycheck just for making the squad (plus a larger one if he’s called upon to pitch); and, quite possibly, we get to watch a no-name pitcher set down a bunch of the league’s second-best players (the best having already departed the premises) for several innings.

 

 

 

 

Go West, well East.

Over the past few days, Clan Markham made a long-desired return to West Virginia, which we’d made a brief stopover in two decades earlier. We followed up one night in Charleston with two days in Hawk’s Nest State Park in the southern portion of the Mountaineer State.

Day 1) Lunch in the Tri-State hub of Huntington took us to the Marshall Hall of Fame Café, as we allowed Cormac to make the choice of eatery. Following lunch, we wanted to get a look at West Virginia’s share of the Ohio River, so we plugged in directions in Kem’s iPhone to what was surely a beautiful Riverside Park. Once again, the map lady revealed her sadistic side, taking us on an unnecessary route that had us navigating a street that was barely wide enough for our Subaru Impreza, let alone the cars parked all along the curb. And the restroomless park was even more of a disappointment, given the only activity taking place there was a drug deal in the car next to ours, and the river that gave the park its name was chock full of garbage (c’mon river states, get yer act together).

Then it was on to Charleston, the state capital. The most notable thing about Charleston is just how many damn tall buildings they have for a city of 50,000, or not a whole lot larger than my city of Portage. They’ve got to have the most stories per capita in America, as you can see from this photo taken from one of the city’s many bridges that cross the Kanawa River.

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Before heading southward, we made a Sunday morning stop at the state capitol, where we stumbled across a peculiar site. There on the lawn was a statue of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson. While I’m not as opposed to confederate statues as I am confederate flags* (people being a bit more complex than cloth, for one), Jackson’s presence here was perplexing  (he was born in a town that would become part of West Virginia, though it was obviously in Virginia at the time).

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But West Virginia wasn’t just a union state. It seceded from Virginia to remain a part of the union. Honoring a general from the other team on your statehouse lawn struck all of us as more than a little bizarre.

Day 2) We arrived around midday at Hawk’s Nest, which Kem had long ago discovered in a state parks calendar. We were going to spend two nights in the state park lodge in the rural outskirts of rural Ansted, W.Va.

The park, as it’s name suggest, sits high in the mountains, with the state’s famed New River 750 feet below. As you can see from the photo to the right, the view was spectacular.

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We hiked down to the bottom of the hill on a trail that neither Kem nor I would describe as “moderate.” From there, we took a jet boat down river to a few hundred feet below the New Gorge Bridge.  We also met a charming and seemingly out-of-place Englishwoman who sold tickets to the boat ride. She was the bride of the boat driver. She had relocated to the Mountaineer State after one of her many visits to the states over the years. We filled her up on the recently completed World Cup final, among other conversational tidbits.

Later, we enjoyed dinner in Fayetteville, where the signs describe it as both “one of America’s coolest small towns” and “America’s coolest small town.” I never did get to the bottom of the discrepancy, though it’s possible it had once simply been a finalist but was elevated to the top spot when the former title owner lost a Starbucks or added a Wal-Mart.

Day 3) We spent much of the day getting chased by rain, initially from our visit to Summersville Lake where we did a little kayaking on the “Little Bahamas of the East.” That name comes from its clear lake waters that allow for scuba diving opportunities, though it seems strange to call it “of the East” since the real Bahamas is east of there.

With more rain coming, we opted for an indoor activity, so we headed west to Beckley and the town’s Exposition Coal Mine. I didn’t have high hopes for the small museum, so I was pleasantly surprised at what an informative and entertaining little operation it was. The museum told me a little of mining’s history, the underground mine tour laid out just how West Virginians have been extracting the ore from the ground for more than a century, and a few restored buildings gave some flavor to life in the mountains over the past 150 years.

Coal mining may not have much of a future, despite DT’s promises to the state, but it has a hell of past.

One of our last acts before shutting it down for the evening was to finally stop at the lookout area adjacent to the New River Gorge Bridge, the longest single-span arch bridge in the Western Hemisphere and the third-tallest bridge in the U.S. It is, without question, an architectural marvel, and if the rest of West Virginia doesn’t interest you, stopping by just to see the bridge is absolutely worth the trip. And, by all means, descend to the lower level for the best views of the bridge and the river below.

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Day 4) Not much to report, since it was mostly just driving. We did stop in a restaurant in Peebles, Ohio, for lunch, where a group of regulars was opining how Trump really had no choice but to say what he did in Putin’s company, and how the media were the real culprits. Sadly, my proposal to engage in a conversation at equal decibel levels about what a complete and utter embarrassment DT is got voted down by the rest of the family (all of whom, it should be mentioned, share my opinion about the DemocracyFucker).

*If you fly one today, you’re a racist. Sorry, but that’s just a fact. Since you know it understandably offends African-Americans because of its unmistakable connection to slavery and you fly it anyway, you’re just a bigot.

75 Percent Less Fat: No. 40

Some albums grab you right away. Others take a little while to marinate.

This album was released back in 2008. The band then went on tour with Eulogies to support the album. As part of their tour promotion, the two bands offered a giveway of their new albums in a woxy.com effort. I was the lucky listener, so I soon received copies of both discs in the mail.

I kind of liked Eulogies right away. It was a nifty little indie pop record, with a lead single that Vampire Weekend clearly enjoyed.

The Dears more densely packed album didn’t immediately resonate. But as time wore on, the more I listened to the beefy disc (58 minutes of music in just 10 tracks) from Murray Lightburn and co., the more I realized they were the headliner on that bill for a reason.

I still don’t hear the Morrissey comparisons that have beset Lightburn from the outset, other than the fact that both men are decidedly difficult to get along with. But Black Moz or not, he’s a pretty gifted musician. These aren’t little ditties, but complex works where the brilliance is revealed on multiple listens.

Highlights: Like Who’s Next, this is a disc that is good from the start, but truly shines on the back half. Crisis 1 & 2 , Demons, and the 11-minute, album-closer Savior are among the strongest tracks.

Important Information:

Name: Missiles

Released: 2008

Record Company: Dangerbird Records

Running Time: 58:16

Track Listing:

  1. Disclaimer
  2. Dream Job
  3. Money Babies
  4. Berlin Heart
  5. Lights Of
  6. Crisis 1 & 2
  7. Demons
  8. Missiles
  9. Meltdown in A Major
  10. Saviour

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sending out an SHS

Sarah Huckabee Sanders is pretty easy to loathe, even in a Trump Administration crawling with such detestable characters. There’s the daily lying, of course, but that’s to be expected with the press secretary for a president whose relationship with the truth can most generously be described as “estranged.”

But it’s more than that. She somehow plays moral scold while defending the most inhumane administration on record. And she does so with a joylessness that must come standard with being one of Mike Huckabee’s offspring.

Now, she’s not as despicable as Captain Orange, his vapid veep, his uneducated education secretary, Betsy of Vos, his ethically vacant EPA secretary Scotty P, his (well, you get the picture), since she’s not responsible for any of the odious policies and decisions that we have to live with. Yet she manages to be equally icky. That’s no small feat.

And yet, SHS, like the rest of us, ought to be able to eat her dinner at whatever the hell restaurant she wants.

I know the arguments – this is what the right wanted, her working for the administration is a choice, etc.). Bullshit. And for evidence, look no further than the legendary Supreme Court Case of Mother vs. Misbehaving Child, where it was held, and I quote: two wrongs don’t make a right.

If you believe that it’s wrong for Christian bakers to refuse to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple, or for restaurants to refuse service to LBTGQ individuals, you can’t forfeit that belief just because the patron is now your version of hideous.

It would have been much better, and defensible, for the restaurant owners to tell her guest: “Ms. Sanders. I want you to know that I find your boss’s policies reprehensible, and your defense of them to be outrageous. The entire Trump Administration is a disgrace to what makes our country truly special, and someday you will be forced to answer for your role in implementing them. However, since I believe that is not my place to refuse service based on beliefs, you are welcome to dine here, even if you are decidedly not welcome here.”

Principles are only tested when it’s hardest to live up to them.

Don’t forfeit them for some temporary schadenfreude.

75 Percent Less Fat: No. 41

Since discovering the New Pornographers with the release of their second disc, this album, they’ve been one of my favorite bands of the new millennium. As a present from my lovely wife, I caught them on my 50th birthday last year, joining a lot of other old people at Metro in Chicago, where I discovered that standing in one place for 3-plus hours is a lot harder than it used to be.

The New Pos enjoy one of the longest stretches on my CD rack (yep, I’ve still got one of those). I’ve got their entire catalogue, save their last release, which I’m sure I’ll add to my collection in time (I’m rarely a new release guy – typically acquiring an album long after it hit the shelves. Well, back when there were shelves).

Just as I’m sure I’ll eventually purchase Whiteout Conditions, I’m equally certain I’ll enjoy some parts of it immensely*, while other parts don’t wow me. While the New Pos were certain to have a spot in this here countdown, the choice of album was up in the air. And, if I were to review this down the road, I could easily peg debut disc Mass Romantic, No. 3 Twin Cinema (which contains my No. 1 song of all-time), or some other entry in this slot. The New Pornographers have churned out consistently good albums in their 15-plus years of recording, but I think a true masterpiece has eluded them. At this point, I doubt they’ll deliver one. It’s still a testament to just how good the band is that an imperfect work could still crack my list.

The Laws Have Changed was my intro to the band, and it remains one of their best singles. The song is a perfect example of the group at its best, with changing tempos and Carl Newman and Neko sharing shifting vocal duties. Other highlights include All for Swinging You Around, The End of Medicine and The New Face of Zero and One.

*Given the absence of Dan Bejar from the disc, the first time the Destroyer frontman hasn’t appeared on an album from the band, it’s possible I’ll like it more than most. Though I think his presence is a net positive overall, given the change of pace he provides from the Newman-penned songs, I’ve never been a big fan of his work.

Important Information:

Name: Electric Version

Released: 2003

Record Company: Matador

Running Time: 46:41

Track Listing:

  1. The Electric Version
  2. From Blown Speakers
  3. The Laws Have Changed
  4. The End of Medicine
  5. Loose Translation
  6. Chump Change
  7. All for Swinging You Around
  8. The New Face of Zero and One
  9. Testament to Youth in Verse
  10. It’s Only Divine Right
  11. Ballad of a Comeback Kid
  12. July Jones
  13. Miss Teen Wordpower

TBtB: Arizona Diamondbacks

 

Following the lead of the Rangers, the Diamondbacks owners were in negotiations over the conditions of their 20-year-old ballpark, which I like to think of as Miller Park Southwest (I’ve only been to Miller, but they strike me as pretty similar. Their retractable roof set-ups look alike from my screen, and the Bernie-only slide in Milwaukee is countered by the pool built in the desert for inebriated Phoenicians and celebrating Dodgers). That issue appears to be settled. At least for now. You can never say never, since there’s no quit in extortionist.

I do have high hopes the name you guys come up with will be a good one. The Diamondbacks, while a little long, is a great baseball nickname, meeting my two main requirements (uniqueness and local relevance), and as a bonus, it’s got a baseball term tucked in. Along those lines, despite arriving on the scene much later than the rest of the major facilities, Phoenix’s Sky Harbor is the best-named airport in America, or at least the best since the tongue-tickling Idlewild became one of 11,232 things in New York to change its name to JFK in the mid-60s.

Of course, the club also represents one of the true sources of destruction of the American ideal. Our problem isn’t in the ability to name things, but nickname them. Two perfectly suitable diminutives exist for Diamondbacks, either Backs or Snakes, and Diamonds would do in a pinch. Instead, we get the thoroughly artless D-Backs. If the Pittsburgh club was born near the turn of this century, instead of the last one, we’d undoubtedly be eschewing Bucs for P-Rates. Blecch.

Ballpark History

Built: 1998

 

Capacity: 48,686

 

Name:  Chase Field 2006-present. Formerly called Bank One Ballpark (2000-05).

Other ballparks used by club in its current city: None, though the area is rife with spring training stadia given the Cactus League is now entirely a Valley production.

Distinctive Features: The skinny tie of dirt that connects the pitcher’s mound to home; swimming pool beyond right field; first retractable roof stadium paired with natural grass; like everything else in Phoenix, working AC. The Diamondbacks annually rank first in the Fan Cost Index, which estimates the average price for a family of four to attend a game. That’s a nice feature.

Ballpark Highlights:

On Oct 3, 1999, Jay Bell tripled and homered to lead the Diamondbacks to a 10-3 win over visiting San Diego, the 100th victory of the campaign for a team just one season removed from its first year of existence. Of the sport’s other 13 expansion franchises, only five (New York Mets, LA Angels, Seattle, Houston and Kansas City) have ever won 100 in any season.

On May 8, 2001, Randy Johnson fanned 20 Cincinnati Reds before exiting after nine innings of the eventual 4-3, 11-inning Diamondback win. Because the game lasted more than nine, even if the Unit didn’t, the feat isn’t listed in the record book alongside Clemens, Wood and Scherzer.

Luis Gonzalez’s cued a single over the head of a drawn-in Derek Jeter off future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera to cap a two-run ninth-inning rally and one of the best World Series of the last 30 years. The fourth-year Diamondbacks won their only title despite Bob Brenly’s dogged efforts to prevent that from happening.

In 2006, Jake Peavy and six relievers combined to shut out Mexico in the United States’ inaugural game of the World Baseball Classic.

In 2009, Opening Day starter Brandon Webb, who had placed first, second and second in voting for the three previous NL Cy Young awards, was lifted after four innings. He would never throw another pitch in the big leagues, thus retiring as the greatest Diamondbacks-only player in club history.