Wednesday, May 31, 2006
[Fans begin streaming into Fox Cities Stadium (home of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers)]
[Wheaton's Chris McDonough nabs a Fighting Bishop (N.C. Wesleyan) on strikes]
[Electronic scoreboard announces Wheaton's first game opponent]
Some random observations about Appleton and the College World Series--
--I'm not sure whether the residents of greater-Appleton take a happy pill each morning, but I've never observed a more congenial area of the country. It's rare, upon entering a convenience store, walking downtown, or renting a car, not to be greeted by a pleasant demeanor and a convivial response from the folks we met in this part of Wisconsin. Having spent more than my share bemoaning the boorishness of society at large, I must say I wasn't prepared for the friendliness from this beautiful part of the country. With Madison as the state's capital, and the state's history for embracing progressive causes, maybe Wisconsin is the place for me? One dubious note; Joe McCarthy is a native son of Appleton.
--Wisconsinians (?) love beer, cheese, brats and did I mention, beer? Speaking of beer, a local variety that I grew fond of during my brief time in the state, was Leinenkugel, or "Leinies." My favorite Leinie was their Honey Weiss, a wonderful wheat ale.
--The absence of any coffee chains other than Starbucks, such as Dunkin' Donuts, Honeydew Donuts, Tim Horton's, etc. While downtown Appleton has a couple of neat privately-owned shops, I relied on the coffee at the local Kwik-Trip to start my day.
--Someone named Jeff Lindsey, a research engineer for Kimberly-Clark (one of the area's large paper producers), maintains a website where he has posted a plethora of helpful information about Appleton. I found his restaurant reviews and many of his other information about the city, informative, helpful, and accurate.
--Why doesn't Maine have a Woodmans? Woodman's is a mega-store that is employee-owned. Their prices are low, their selection is huge (I've never seen a dairy case with more brands and flavors of ice cream in my life). BTW, since their employee-owned, when you buy from them, some of the profits go back to their workers, rather than into the pockets of someone like Sam Walton, if you catch my drift.
--Staying at a budget hotel doesn't have to be a disaster. In the past, we've had some real horror stories associated with the Motel 6's, Travelodges and other budget chains (like the crack deals taking place outside our room at the Motel 6 in East Halsted, Illinois, back in '94). These experiences have turned me off to staying in the budget lodging category. However, while the La Quinta where 14 Wheaton families following the team stayed (as well as most of the Marietta parents) was economy personified, the place was clean and quiet (except for one night when the Wheaton gang commandeered the pool area). At $49/night, it served its purpose. I'm sure that the fact that it was in Wisconsin had something to do with it.
--Unfortunately, we ran out of time, as Wheaton's appearance in the championship round prevented me from making a trip to the Green Bay Packers' Hall of Fame.
Sunday, May 28, 2006
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
As parents, we feel very fortunate that Mark had the opportunity to attend an academically rigorous college like Wheaton. When he first began looking at colleges, Mary and I were concerned about whether or not we could afford some of the better schools that Mark was visiting. Since he was a top recruit for baseball, as well as having the kind of high school transcript and SAT scores that an academically-oriented school such as Wheaton looks for, this helped him to qualify for financial assistance that made his four years possible. While it wasn’t a cakewalk by any means for us, it quickly became apparent that Wheaton didn’t want a student body made up entirely of children of the privileged and the well-heeled.
Monday’s graduation ceremony for the baseball team was really special for several reasons. Since these eight young men were unable to march with their classmates on Saturday, due to playing in the regional championship game against USM, the school scheduled a private ceremony on Monday afternoon, in Wheaton’s historic chapel. This was more personal and much shorter than the regular one and with the rest of the baseball team and coaches in attendance, plus parents and family members, it was an intimate and very nice touch provided by the school. In addition, all the officials of the school—the dean of students, the president, the provost and others—all donned Wheaton baseball caps.
Interestingly, I just watched a documentary pertaining to the problems attending higher education in America. Declining by Degrees is a PBS film that follows 30 students and their teachers along the path of higher education. This well-written and well-produced documentary exposed many areas of concern that unless addressed, could result in some negative outcomes for future students.
I have sensed that higher education, even at some of the more prestigious schools, wasn’t as rigorous as it might have been in the past. A college degree today, particularly at some of the “cookie-cutter” state schools, unleashes graduates that are not serious scholars and not very sophisticated as thinkers. Grade inflation has a lot to do with this. Also, many classes at larger universities and colleges are not taught by professors, but are conducted by teaching assistants, often graduate students. This all contributes to the incremental “dumbing down” of our country.
While we knew that Mark’s high school, Greely High School in Cumberland was a strong public school, we didn’t know how well it had prepared him, until he went to college. Greely had instilled good study habits, to go along with an intellectual curiosity that was aided by parents who cared about the world and spoke openly about issues. As a result, Mark made the most of his four years at Wheaton.
While the film exposed many problems, especially at many larger public institutions, it also showed positive examples of schools that still do things the right way and provide an academic environment and has high expectations of its students. Highlighting Amherst College (a school with a similar focus and academic reputation as Wheaton), the documentary emphasized the smaller class sizes, close interaction between students and faculty and young students that seemed to be making the most of their opportunities.
In addition to some of the issues mentioned, the rising cost of higher education is putting it beyond the reach of many students from middle class homes and families of the working poor. In the past, America had a social contract, which said that if a student wanted to go to college, then opportunities would be provided through grants, and other means, which would ensure a college education for all students. Instead, much of that prior funding that closed gaps caused by socio-economic differences have been cut. At no time since WWII has it been more difficult to obtain financial assistance for higher education. As a result, college is no longer an option for many graduating seniors. Those students who do make it through four years, are graduating with debt loads that place an undue burden on them, as they set out on life’s journey.
If this trend continues, it will just acerbate the class divide that already exists. In addition, it will create an entire underclass with little or no hope and lead to social pathologies that are much more expensive to address on the back end. I hope that our leaders will allow others the same opportunities at an education that they received. I’m not very encouraged by the current administration of privilege, but possibly, future administrations will reinstate Pell Grants and some of the other funding opportunities that have been taken away to fund tax cuts for the wealthiest few.
On a brighter note, at least for those who know Mark and/or follow college baseball, the College World Series games will be broadcast on the web, so you can follow Mark and the Lyons, as they try to capture their first national championship. There will be a link at the official NCAA Championshp 2006 site. I’ll also try to blog a bit about the trip, the games and the Fox Cities region via my other blog, over at Write in Maine.
Sunday, May 21, 2006
The Lyons will play their first game at the Division III World Series, in Appleton, Wisconsin, on Friday, May 26th, with a 1:15 pm game against North Carolina Wesleyan College.
Now it's time to make travel plans, reservations and enjoy the last leg of a magical season.
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
For those who have an interest in catching the action via the wonders of the world wide web, here is a release from Scott Dietz, Wheaton's SID.
Each of Wheaton's NCAA Regional Tournament baseball contests to be webcast
May 16, 2006
NORTON, MA- Each of the Wheaton College baseball team's NCAA Division III New England Regional Tournament games will be webcast through D3Cast, beginning with the top-seeded Lyons' opening contest Wednesday at 8:00 p.m. The webcast will include both audio and video and be available through dc3cast.com.
RealPlayer will be required to access the free webcasts, which will be available as live links on the front page of D3Cast and in the archive section of the site approximately 30 minutes after each game. The D3Cast staff will provide play-by-play and color commentary for each of the tournament's contests.
The seven-team, double-elimination tournament will be held at Whitehouse Field in Harwich, and Wheaton opens play by taking on the winner of tomorrow's 9:30 a.m. game between Salem State College and the University of Southern Maine.
Wheaton, which is ranked sixth nationally and first in New England by the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA), brings a 35-8 overall mark into the NCAA Tournament. The Lyons are making their sixth NCAA appearance in the past seven seasons after only being elevated to varsity status in 1998.
Wheaton won its eighth New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) regular season title in the league's eight seasons and notched its seventh postseason tournament crown to earn the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
Beginning Wednesday, I'll be on the Cape, watching my son and his Wheaton Lyons teammates, take on six other opponents, in the NCAA Division III Regional tournament, in Harwich, Massachusetts. Mark is a senior, so this will be a sentimental three or four days, for me. We've developed much of our father-son relationship on lonely baseball diamonds, with me throwing batting practice and as he got older, lining baseballs back at his father, watching time erode my former cat-like reflexes. While the Lyons have had a remarkable run this spring, including a team record 24 game winning streak, #6 ranking in the country and the #1 seed in the regional, this will all be for naught, if they can't advance to the Little College World Series, in Appleton, Wisconsin.
Division III baseball doesn't receive the fanfare (or the scholarships) of the Division I brand of college baseball, but for the young men who play, actual student-athletes, they bring much of the same intensity, passion, and often level of skill to the game, of their bigger, sometimes faster, large-college counterparts. For me, small-college ball seems somewhat purer.
Against my own personal storyline, is the Maine backdrop of three Maine small colleges being represented, with their large contingents of Maine born and bred ballplayers. I'm hoping some of Maine's sports reporting community will pick up on this. I've send the following release to many of my contacts, in hopes that this story gets picked up.
Maine well-represented in NCAA baseball tourney
In college baseball circles, Division I programs often receive much of the attention and the lion’s share of press coverage. In New England and more specifically, Maine, Division III baseball, while sometimes overlooked, has often overshadowed and often outperformed Maine’s lone Division I program, headquartered in Orono.
It’s been over two decades since the Black Bears, then coached by the legendary John Winkin, appeared in the College World Series. On the other hand, Ed Flaherty’s USM Huskies have won two national, small college championships, in Division III, first in 1991, then again in 1997.
This year’s Division III, Northeast Regional, in Harwich, Massachusetts, features an abundance of Maine-grown baseball talent, with three Maine-based schools participating. Never before has the Pine Tree State been this well represented in a regional college tournament, before.
With Bowdoin College, USM and St. Joseph’s College all participating among the seven seeded teams in Harwich, there are 51 Maine-born players on the various rosters of the combatants. Bowdoin and St. Joseph’s are making their first appearances ever, in a NCAA regional baseball tourney.
Even Massachusetts-based Wheaton College, the #1 seed, as well as 6th ranked team in the country, has six Maine players on their roster, with four position players that start and another considered one of the Lyon’s top starting pitchers.
In addition, many of these players have all played one or more summer’s in Portland’s Twilight League, Maine’s premiere summer college baseball league.
Here is the breakdown of teams and number of players from Maine:
USM (seeded #5)-19 players
St. Joe’s (seeded #2) 18 players
Bowdoin (seeded #7)- 8 players
Wheaton College (seeded #1)- 6 players
That’s 51 players with roots firmly planted in Maine! Who says Mainers can’t play baseball, particularly of tournament-caliber quality?
It would seem quite obvious to me that there is something newsworthy about this, certainly from a sports perspective.
Saturday, May 13, 2006
In a nation that seems to have mutually lost its spine and its soul, Stephen Colbert’s performance at the White House Correspondents dinner is still being talked about all over the blogosphere, some two weeks after Colbert showed President Bush and his administration no mercy in skewering its policies, practices and indicting the mainstream media for being co-conspirators in the removal of our democratic underpinnings. There are those who might argue the merits of even using the “d-word” in relation to the United States, at any time in our recent past. That’s a discussion for another post. What I’d like to highlight, is at a time of timidity and caution, Colbert threw expediency and diplomacy to the wind and let it rip, when given an opportunity to make his case about the president.
Oddly, the one consistent place to find some “truthiness” has become Comedy Central, with its nightly duo of Colbert and former comedy partner in crime, John Stewart, tag-teaming Bush and the political debacle we find ourselves in, during the first quarter of 2006.
While it’s not the first time that comedians have provided some context for politics during wartime (anyone with a cursory knowledge of Lenny Bruce and his comedic salvos understands comedy’s ability to provide a working framework for current events), it’s been awhile since the nation’s turned its weary eyes to the comedic profession for truth and understanding.
While the late Bill Hicks provided a fringe take and hot poker to the ass of much of what passed for right-wing lunacy, Stewart, and now, Colbert, bring a needed perspective, albeit one less caustic (but just as deadly), to a much wider audience, particularly the living rooms of middle-America. Better yet, they have found a way to reach an apathetic group of 20 and 30-somethings, who have tuned out politics and rarely focus on traditional news outlets for their political or cultural understanding.
Arianna Huffington offers up her perspective on Colbert’s gutsy performance, one in which he dared to speak truth to power, when power was a stone’s throw away, literally at his right elbow. In fact, Colbert walked into the lion’s den with nothing more than his comedy routine and schtick from The Colbert Report and systematically put poor little rich boy, George, squarely in his place with a comedic, “up yours” to the commander-in-chief.
Huffington’s take is a good recap for anyone who’s been living under a rock for the past two weeks, as well as summarizing the perspective of other bloggers and pundits on Colbert’s comedic tour-de-force.
Thursday, May 11, 2006
To the "true believers," there is very little room inside their brains, riddled by talk radio, for information bathed in reality and pregnant with facts. Most likely, they'll have to resort to the usual ad hominem attack, or Euro-bashing that is a favorite activity of the Faux set.
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
Clara Jeffery's piece, titled "The Perks of Privilege," clearly illustrates the growing disparity in wealth that is now, 21st century America.
Here are just a few "highlights":
- In 1985, The Forbes 400 were worth $221 billion combined. Today, they’re worth $1.13 trillion—more than the GDP of Canada. (Income disparity)
- ONLY 3% OF STUDENTS at the top 146 colleges come from families in the bottom income quartile; only 10% come from the bottom half. (Educational disparity)
- BUSH’S TAX CUTS GIVE a 2-child family earning $1 million an extra $86,722—or Harvard tuition, room, board, and an iMac G5 for both kids.
- A 2-CHILD family earning $50,000 gets $2,050—or 1/5 the cost of public college for one kid. (These last two, taken together, show a tax disparity that leads to the above-mentioned education disparity)
- ADJUSTED FOR INFLATION, the federal minimum wage has fallen 42% since its peak in 1968. (How can lower-income workers compete when an already inadequate wage continues to shrink? It makes trying to make a living an absurd joke.)
- IF THE $5.15 HOURLY minimum wage had risen at the same rate as CEO compensation since 1990, it would now stand at $23.03. (which would make it a living wage)
These are just a few items from Jeffery's article, which is definitely worth going through, if for no other reason than to have some talking points to throwback at the conservative trolls you work with, or other Limbaugh-loving family members that make you bite your tongue until it's nothing more than bloody pulp.
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
As a writer and social critic, Lapham has continually written about class in America. The 600 pound elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about, class arguably informs American life more than any other factor.
In the late 80s, as the Reagan years were mercifully winding down, Lapham gave us Money and Class in America: Notes and Observations on Our Civil Religion (Grove Press, 1988). In this book, a series of Lapham’s essays, his underlying theme is the degradation and caustic effects that chasing money for money’s sake has on culture, politics and society as a whole. Showing that his thoughts and ideas are still relevant, Lapham notes in an interview granted for The Progressive,
“We [also] need an awakening on the part of large numbers of people, both Democrat and Republican, of a political consciousness that has been dormant for the better part of the last thirty years. We have to change the notion that politics isn’t important, that what’s important is the economy and money, and that politicians serve at the pleasure of their corporate sponsors. They might as well be hired accordion players at a hospitality tent at a golf tournament.”
Lapham also has some interesting insights about young college graduates and how they no longer are interested in ideas and things bigger than themselves—only how to land a cushy corporate gig and make money.
If you’d like to read more from the interview with one of America’s great essayists, you can access it here.
Monday, May 08, 2006
I can’t remember a recent book that achieved national attention that implicated professional sports or athletes and led to substantial changes in the way that Americans looked at, or resulted in radical behavioral alterations in how they associate with athletics of the professional variety.
Several times this spring, I’ve driven to Norton, Massachusetts, to watch my son participate in a college baseball contest. During portions of my three hour drive, I’ve spent time listening to sports talk radio, most notably content on WEEI, Boston’s preeminent sports talk station. Several times during my time listening, I’ve wondered about the amount of time and energy, as well as the amount of passion that callers obviously devote to their local professional sports team. Seeing that it’s baseball season, most of the focus is on the Boston Red Sox, although, with the recent NFL draft, time was devoted to the Patriots’ draft selections. [I must admit, when the subject veered from the Red Sox, to football, I often changed the station. I’m just not a big enough pro football fan to listen to caller after caller discuss the minutia of the draft.]
I think it was Noam Chomsky, speaking about the aversion of many, to follow politics closely (or their lack of understanding), observing the phenomenon of sports talk radio and fan’s obvious complexity of thought about scenarios and circumstances regarding pro baseball (or football, or even NASCAR, heaven forbid) that made him confident that it wasn’t capability, or intellectual rigor of Americans that made them deficient in understanding political circumstances that affected them more directly than whether David Ortiz hit a home run, or Adam Vinateri kicked a field goal.
I am amazed that Portland’s own sports talk station, WJAB (“The Big Jab”), will spend four hours each morning, five days a week, talking about the Red Sox. Caller after caller will weigh in on the previous night’s game, or some aspect of the team that is obviously troubling them enough to spend considerable time framing their arguments, or points of view.
Like their political talk counterparts, sports talk jocks don’t seem particularly insightful or wide-ranging in areas outside of their sports “expertise.” Like many right (or left, for that matter)-leaning political hosts, many sports-talk hosts seem somewhat deficient in the personality department, particularly in areas of politeness and tolerance of differing viewpoints from their own.
Interestingly, many sports talk hosts seem to be exceedingly patriotic, right-leaning, and several seem to be given to making racist, homophobic and sexist comments, on a regular basis. Several hosts (or host teams, as WEEI likes to pair their jocks) didn’t seem to have any qualms about disparaging last Monday’s marches and planned walkouts by immigrants. Several times, snide comments were made about certain Latino ballplayers, as to whether or not they might not be in uniform. These were usually followed by the co-hosts raucous guffaws, indicating that a certain political ideology and orientation was deeply ingrained in that station’s culture. The intimation was that anyone who didn’t think like them was somehow, less manly, less American, or less intelligent (or any combination of these).
This has led me to consider what it is about sports that seem to play into dominant American cultural stereotypes? Obviously, sports have played a major role in the assimilation of immigrants into mainstream American culture. In my own research, I’ve found that many immigrant families encouraged young boys to embrace baseball, during the first half of the 20th century, as a way to quickly “fit in” to their communities.
Professional sports are clearly part of America’s corporate onslaught, and as such, must toe certain predetermined marks of decorum and parrot certain culturally-prescribed behaviors. If the business of business is business, then the business of baseball (and other professional sports) is also business.
Yet, while corporations increasingly control many national outlets of expression—books, magazine articles, and even mainstream news—occasionally, malfeasance is exposed and corruption within corporate culture is revealed.
Rarely, if ever, even among political progressives, does pro sports receive such scrutiny, even though the culture of professional athletics is riddled with racism, sexism and is very much homophobic. Commentators and writers, who rarely miss an opportunity to skewer our current president for his lack of intelligence, concern for the poor, or privileged pedigree, turn a blind eye to the very same "qualities" in their favorite professional athletes.
While two writers recently wrote a very damning book, about Barry Bonds and his alleged steroid usage, Bonds is allowed to continue his assault on baseball’s home run records, with very little concern voiced by baseball’s millions of fans (and even less by baseball's guardians), nightly tossing down their hard-earned dollars and passing through ballpark turnstiles. While small numbers of fans have found this recent allegation the last straw, revenues continue to shoot skyward, salaries reach new heights of absurdity and players continue to look like cartoon caricatures, sculpted and beefed up with the latest chemical enhancements.
It’s been 35 years since Jim Bouton’s Ball Four ripped the veneer off baseball’s protective cocoon. There hasn’t been another book written since that brought similar cries of outrage and betrayal and changed the way a particular professional sport is looked at and how its stars are treated. Bouton’s book was truly ground-breaking, because prior to its publication, baseball players were thought to be whiter than the driven snow and at least on par with mom’s apple pie—not a bunch of drunken, whoring, crude human beings that they’ve always been—with the steroid allegations, we can also add “cheater” to the litany.
Despite efforts by a few writers, professional sports once again occupies a unique place in our current climate of bread and circuses, continually receiving kid-glove treatment from members of the media that no other business, or corporate entity does. This, despite a culture that is as corrupt, if not more so than anything found residing at Haliburton, Enron, or occupying the corridors of power in Washington, DC.
Maybe the role of sports isn’t intended to set a standard and indicate what’s best about our country. Maybe its role is to be a mirror, reflecting all that’s wrong with America, paraded before the rest of the world, once again revealing our ugliness and true nature, dripping with corruption and stained by the lucre that currently plagues it.
Tuesday, May 02, 2006
The Chicago Post wrote, "The Irish fill our prisons, our poor houses...Scratch a convict or a pauper, and the chances are that you tickle the skin of an Irish Catholic. Putting them on a boat and sending them home would end crime in this country."
Despite being despised, the arrival of Irish immigrants came at a time when manual labor was needed to fuel the American economy. As the country grew, men with strong backs were needed to do the heavy work of building bridges, canals, and railroads. It was hard, dangerous work, but these new immigrant laborers were willing to accept the brutal work and miniscule wages offered. A common expression heard among railroad workers of the time was "an Irishman was buried under every tie." Desperation drove them to these jobs, like many Mexican immigrants of today, who accept agricultural jobs, meat packing occupations, domestic work and many other occupations that whites consider below their dignity. Today, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated by non-Irish and Irish alike.
Just like the Irish, the Mexican immigrants and others that gathered Monday, to rally, parade and enact economic boycotts in Los Angeles, New York, Denver and even Ashville, N.C. were utilizing the same tools of solidarity that allowed the Irish and other immigrant workers before them, to acquire dignity and forge a place of belonging as Americans.
Despite the xenophobic rhetoric that has accompanied immigrants before them, economic conditions and lack of opportunity in their homelands drive immigrants to our communities in the U.S. The desire for better lives and living conditions for their families cause them to persist and persevere, despite calls to the contrary from the Sensenbrennars, Tancredos, Lou Dobbs and others.
The immigration debate has energized elements of the progressive community from their slumber and has provided a context for groups to come together around a common cause and realize once again the power that resides in grassroots movements and in people.
The call for boycotts from many of the immigrant organizers sent shockwaves of fear running through the corporate suites from New York, to Washington, to Los Angeles. The president himself said that “boycotts weren’t the answer,” as he prefers his subjects to be meek and docile and accept the scraps the fall from the masters' tables. Basically, we all should just shut up and be happy with our lot in life. If that lot doesn’t include a golden parachute, or a trust fund, life has become more and more difficult, however.
While the media has done its best to ignore the crowds that gathered and the unleashing of economic clout held in check for too long, Monday’s May Day celebration was a sign that real change comes from the rediscovery of the tactics that our forgotten labor history teaches.
When working conditions were deplorable across our country, in the early years of the 20th century, workers gathered together with fellow workers and organized around common demands—demands for a shorter work day, better pay, access to health care and better housing—similar demands that go wanting in our own day and are denied by the very same bosses that have always sought to exploit workers and keep them divided and in check.
For the past 35 to 40 years, we’ve allowed power to take from us the rights that others fought for and many died for. We’ve allowed the lifestyle of consumerism to lull us to sleep and forget that our corporate overseers never have our best in mind, only how to further exploit our daily labor for their own benefit.
Monday’s marches might be the first stirrings of a movement that could become hard to put down. It’s certainly worth watching to see if some of the alliances forged around immigration will continue to strengthen and could lead to a resurgence of grassroots, people-powered democracy.
Juan Gonzalez had a great column in Tuesday's New York Daily News on the subject of immigration and solidarity.