Monday, April 27, 2009

West coast baseball

One could assume that California is all about celebrity restaurants, surgically-enhanced beauties, and luxury automobiles. At least that's been primarily the California that I've seen each morning, as I've traveled from Brentwood to Beverly Hills, ferrying my son to work, in my rental car. Saturday, at UCLA, in Westwood, the beautiful people were no longer in the forefront of the crowd at the LA Times Festival of Books. On Sunday, all it took was a 50 minute drive to Anaheim to dispel any myth that California is only about the rich and the famous, trim bodies, and manufactured beauty.

If you follow baseball with any seriousness, you've no doubt heard the stories about laid back Dodgers' fans, arriving late for games, and leaving in the 7th inning, to beat the LA traffic, even if the ball game is a barn-burner.

Given that I'm in California, and since my son and I share so many great memories connected to baseball, since the Angels were playing at home, and the 12:35 pm start fit our schedule for the day, we decided to drive out to Anaheim, and see the Halos play Seattle, at the Big A.

Our early morning drive to Orange County was mostly open freeway, and the drive from Brentwood was no problem whatsoever.

Driving in on Gene Autry Way made me consider that the long-suffering cowboy never got to reap the rewards for bringing the Angels to Anaheim in 1966. (he purchased the club in 1960, and they played in Los Angeles, as the Los Angeles Angels, the name for which Autry had to pay Walter O'Malley, of the Dodgers, $300,000 for the rights to use)

Autry's long tenure as owner was one characterized by mediocrity and stunning disappointment. Towards the end of his reign as owner, the Angels' front office often unloaded young and talented players for overpriced veterans in an attempt to finally win one for the aging “cowboy.” He would never got to see his dream of a World Series Championship.

[Fans lined up outside Angels Stadium, or whatever it's now called, waiting for the gates to open]

It's hard to appreciate so many of the newer ball parks, when your first experiences with major league baseball in person are colored by Fenway Park, as a youngster, and later, having the privilege of being in the Chicago area and going to see the Cubs play at Wrigley.

Granted, I also made many a trip to Montreal to see the Expos play at one of the ugliest stadiums ever foisted on baseball, the Stade Olympic, or for you Anglos, Olympic Stadium. The "Big A," the name I choose to use, as the ball park has never been able to settle on one moniker for the site, much like the club that plays there. Are they the Los Angeles Angels, or the California Angels. No, they are the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. It's hard for a New Englander like me, to find a local equivalent of that convoluted naming of the club. Maybe the Providence Red Sox, of Boston, if the club was moved out of Boston.

Mark and I arrived early enough to catch BP, or so we thought. Unfortunately, it was some kind of promotion day, where all the Little Leaguers from the region (some 8,000 of them), were lined up by team near the right field corner, and paraded around the outskirts of the field, exiting in the lef field corner. For 90 minutes, that's all you saw, with the announcer making the same announcement for the groups not to "stop on the field for photos," so that the game might begin on time.

With no BP, or infield practice, all we had to do was tool around the stadium. Since I'm not a fan of stuffing my face at ball games (a nod to a hot dog, and a bag of peanuts is as far as I'll go), and I refuse to drink watered-down, overpriced beer when I go to a game, there really wasn't much to do. We snapped some perfunctory photos to capture our visit, but mostly, we sat in the center field stands to soak up the sun. Our $28 game tickets were along the right field line, under the roof, which deprived us of that opportunity later (although I still ended up with a sunburn).

Angels fans are idiots. Apparently, no one sits in the right seat. Once the national anthem was played, we made our way to our assigned seats, only to find someone was sitting in them. We plunked down on the other end of our aisle, hoping we wouldn't have to move. Actually, my goal was to move closer to the field, since there are no ushers stationed to prevent the proverbial musical chairs that California baseball, at least Angels baseball is all about.

Not only are these very normal, overweight, and certainly not surgically-enhanced fans incapable of reading their ticket stubs to make sure they put their fat asses in the right seats, my assumption that my own oversized ass was safe where it was by the start of the 3rd inning was a fallacy. You see, Angels fans aren't there to watch baseball, apparently. No, they are there to eat, buy souvenirs, and boo their own players (like starting first basemen, Robb Quinlan ). Of course, just as I had settled in to the game, along came the rightful owners of our seats, so we had to shuffle around to the other side, and bounce people out of our purchased seats. Meanwhile, this was going on all around us.

The game was a yawner, to boot. Since I could care less that about either team--I hate the Angels, and it's hard for me, as a Sox fan, to muster any passion for the visiting Seattle Mariners, the only hope I had was that former Angel, Jarrod Washburn, a former D3 player from Wisconsin , might represent for Wisconsin like his fellow cheesehead, Jordan Zimmermann), who won his 2nd big league start and now owns half of his team's victories in the early going.

No luck there, as the Angels jumped out early and Jared Weaver was making Swiss cheese of the makeshift Seattle lineup, which featured 41-year-old Ken Griffey as its cleanup hitter, someone obviously on the backside of an illustrious career.

Thoroughly bored by the sixth, we made our way up to the right field, rooftop patio to get a view, and take in the atmosphere. Talk about morons. No one had a clue up here that a game was going on. Here was a group of people, at least the men (if you could label them that), who were obviously graduates from special ed programs in school (if they graduated). And the dumpy looking women, trying to appear something they weren't, with their oversized sunglasses, and bling, hung on every slurred syllable of their inane banter.

Boston fans, for all their imperfections, know baseball. They can be stupid, and moronic, like any sports fan, but they also issue forth some witty and sometimes piss your pants funny lines, especially when drunk. This wasn't happening at the Big A, as witty repartee was nowhere to be found in Anaheim.

So like Dodger fan, in Los Angeles, we were tooling out of the parking lot, and headed for the traffic of LA, by the bottom of the 7th.

[Pregame picture taking; notice the Sox hap perched on my head. I was East Coast representing my team, in hostile territory.]

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Books in LA

I'm in Los Angeles, for the 2009 LA Times Festival of Books. I'll be posting from Los Angeles and the festival, at Write in Maine.

I also have a post about my visit to Skylight Books, where I had the chance to hear Amy Goodman (and her brother, David), who were in town in support of Standing Up To The Madness: Ordinary Heroes in Extraordinary Times.

It's ironic that I've never been able to catch Goodman during her regular visits she's made to Maine.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Small college kid makes good

Jordan Zimmermann's MLB debut with the Washington Nationals ended over five hours after it was originally scheduled to start with the 22-year-old right-hander earning his first major league win in the 3-2 DC victory over Atlanta.

Zimmermann, who played his college ball in Division III, with the Univ. of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, now finds himself pitching in the big leagues.

I happened to see Zimmermann pitch in 2006, at the D3 World Series in Appleton, Wisconsin. His school was one of the participants, along with my son's team, Wheaton College. Zimmermann pitched the opening game for the pointers, against Marietta (the eventual national champs and the team that Wheaton finished runners-up to) and their ace, Mike Eisenberg. Both pitchers would eventually be drafted, Zimmermann in the 2nd round and Eisenberg, in the 7th, during ML draft a week later. Marietta won, 2-1, but it was evident watching both these pitchers that they were destined for bigger things. Both pitchers struck out 11, and exhibited poise and command that isn't the norm in Division III.

Eisenberg's professional success was limited to two seasons with in the minors, and last year, he spent the summer playing independent ball in the Frontier League. He appears to be out of professional baseball at this point.

Zimmermann, on the other hand, has continued to improve and has had success at each rung of the minor league ladder. As he characterized himself in an interview, he is the prototypical "late bloomer," who now has a fastball that is consistently in the mid-90s, after probably not throwing much harder than 88, or 89, in college.

Here's a bit more from Beyond the Box Score, on the kid's debut.

It's nice to see Zimmermann at the big league level and here's to hoping he finds much success in the coming season. Given the Nats struggles to find pitching, Zimmermann will certainly warrant another start or two. I'll be following these closely. This could be one of those feel good stories that makes following sports worthwhile.

Friday, April 17, 2009

As Gainesville goes...

Renewable energy may not save us all, or even lead the nation out of our economic doldrums; it may not even be viable for a rural northeastern state like Maine. It's worth considering, however.

The more I read about alternative energy, the more I realize that it comes down to policy. And given that I'm spending far too much time of late, seeing Maine's policymakers up close, it's making me concerned that once again, we'll be left behind to places like Florida, not exactly the world's most forward-thinking state.

A good article on Gainesville, Florida, from the Washington Monthly.

Think policy doesn't matter? Well think again.

Why is the renewable energy market in Gainesville booming while it’s collapsing elsewhere in the country? The answer boils down to policy. In early February, the city became the first in the nation to adopt a "feed-in tariff"—a clunky and un-descriptive name for a bold incentive to foster renewable energy. Under this system, the local power company is required to buy renewable energy from independent producers, no matter how small, at rates slightly higher than the average cost of production. This means anyone with a cluster of solar cells on their roof can sell the power they produce at a profit. The costs of the program are passed on to ratepayers, who see a small rise in their electric bills (in Gainesville the annual increase is capped at 1 percent). While rate hikes are seldom popular, the community has rallied behind this policy, because unlike big power plant construction—the costs of which are also passed on to the public—everyone has the opportunity to profit, either by investing themselves or by tapping into the groundswell of economic activity the incentive creates.

Check out the reference to "feed-in tariff," just like LD 1450/HP 1006, in Maine, Herb Adam's bill.

Read the rest of "The Rooftop Revolution" here.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tax Day, 2009

"Taxes are what we pay for civilized society."
-Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Apparently many members of the right-wing are holding "tea parties" across the country. Actually, while these look like grass-roots events, they're really AstroTurf orchestrated by the Republican Politburo, and publicized via Fox (Faux) News, aka GOPTV. Here's their national website, promoting events around the nation.

Since it's Tax Day in the good 'ole US of A, here's a NY Times article that manages to shed some new light on taxes, while dispelling a few myths at the same time. Basically, it's good journalism being practiced. Maybe newspapers can be saved?

From the article, on why raising top marginal rates may not be such a bad thing, despite protestations from the right:

The argument against such increases is not insignificant. Conservative economists say that higher tax rates could damage the economy and ultimately be self-defeating, because they would give the rich an incentive to shift their pay into stock or other investments that are taxed less. And to some degree, such shifting would surely happen.

But one economic lesson of the last couple of decades is that these responses are fairly modest. An academic study of the Clinton tax increases found that they caused corporate executives to exercise some stock options earlier than they otherwise would have. But the increases had no noticeable long-term effect. The executives didn’t ask to be paid entirely in stock, and the economy boomed. Increasing taxes on the rich, in other words, has some unintended consequences, but it mainly has the intended ones: it raises revenue and reduces inequality. That study was written by Austan Goolsbee, a University of Chicago professor who later became the first economic adviser to a Senate candidate named Barack Obama.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

More tragedy from the baseball world-Mark Fidrych

[from the Boston Globe; 4/14/09]

Mark Fidrych, whose aw-shucks charm and colorful on-the-mound antics helped make him a national phenomenon with the Detroit Tigers in 1976, was killed in an accident while working on his dump truck at his Northborough farm yesterday. He was 54.

Fidrych, who won 19 games as a rookie in '76 but had his pitching career abbreviated by injuries, was found dead by his friend Joseph Amorello beneath his 10-wheel truck at about 2:30 p.m. State Police detectives are investigating the circumstances of the accident, said Worcester County District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr.

You can read the rest of the article, here.

Here's a link back to my own story about Fidrych, when he was a member of the Bill Lee-led barnstorming team that came to the Ballpark, in Old Orchard.

Speaking of The Ballpark in OOB, here's a heartwarming story about a group of volunteers, and their labor of love, as they attempt to restore the former home park for the Maine Guides.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Maine Renewable Energy Resources; LD 1450 (HP 1006)

There is a pending bill in the Maine Legislature that could greatly increase the potential for renewable energy for Maine, as well as offer the opportunity for job creation. The hearing on the bill is scheduled for 1:30 pm, Tuesday, April 14 in the Utilities and Energy Joint Committee's hearing room, Room 211, Burton Cross Office Building. The Cross Building is located behind the Capital building, on the Sewall Street side.

The bill, LD 1450 (HP 1006; HP stands for House Paper), would allow Maine citizens to reduce their energy costs, in fact, may allow them to profit from energy production, by selling their net energy production (from, say, solar panels on their home) back into the grid.

A friend of mine, with a strong science background and 20 years of engineering work experience in Maine's paper industry, as well as the state's semiconductor sector, is urging passage of the bill.

He sent me the following information in an email:

I believe the Renewable Energy Resources Program is vital for Maine's citizens because:

1. It lessens Maine's dependence on out-of-state energy sources.
2. It will create good paying renewable energy jobs in Maine. These jobs will be local jobs, difficult to export or outsource.
3. It will help Maine citizens to reduce their energy costs, in fact, may allow them to profit from energy production.
4. It will act as a model for other states. If enough electricity is generated from renewable sources it will lessen the amount of electricity generated by coal fired plants that contribute to Maine's acid rain problem and to global warming.
5. It encourages distributed power generation, alleviating outages caused by the electrical power grid. Just in the last few years Maine has suffered through several ice storms and experienced extended power outages for tens of thousands of Mainers. Distributed power generation will reduce this problem.

The proposed legislation is modeled on a German law passed in 2000 that has had extremely good results. In recent years, Germany has greatly increased the amount of renewable energy they produce. The costs associated with producing this power have decreased and the number of power outages (brownouts and blackouts) has been greatly diminished. With the passage of the Renewable Energy Resources Program, Maine will gain these same advantages.

The Renewable Energy Resources Program is good public policy. It does not depend on tax dollars or tax credits. The Renewable Energy Resources Program rewards investment in renewable energy sources by ensuring a predictable rate of return. It encourages early adoption of renewable energy systems and provides strong incentives for performance and efficiency.

If you are concerned about renewable energy in Maine, and see the need for job creation, particularly the kind of jobs that pay a livable wage, then email your local representative this weekend, as the vote takes place on Tuesday.

You can listen to an informative audio feed from Etopia News, with Maine State Representative, Herb Adams (D-Portland), explaining the bill, and speaking about the state's potential to harness some of our natural resources like wind, tidal, geothermal, biomass and other renewal sources, which could benefit our state. Click here for Rep. Adams' interview with Marc Strassman, of Etopia News.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Tragedy strikes Angels

Nick Adenhart, a promising rookie pitcher for the Los Angels of Anaheim, was killed in an automobile accident, just hours after his impressive 2009 debut.

From this morning's LA Times;

Adenhart and two friends were killed early Thursday morning when their car was broadsided by a driver who police said had a suspended license and a previous drunk driving conviction. The news of the young pitcher's death stunned friends, teammates and fans, some driving to the Fullerton intersection to place flowers and candles in the roadway and others going to Anaheim Stadium, seemingly just to be there.

Adenhart's father, Jim, had flown in to watch his son pitch. The younger Adenhart, plagued by arm injuries the past two years, blanked Oakland over six innings, Wednesday night.

Spencer Weiner photo/LA Times

After leaving the Angels' stadium with friends, the Mitsubishi Eclipse Adenhart was riding in was struck broadside by a Toyota Sienna minivan driven by 22-year-old Andrew Thomas Gallo of Riverside. Gallo allegedly blew through a red light at 50 to 60 mph and struck the Eclipse, killing Adenhart.

Police said Gallo, convicted in San Bernardino County of drunk driving in 2006 and marijuana possession the following year, ran from the scene but was quickly apprehended. Fullerton Police Lt. Kevin Hamilton said his department planned to seek felony hit-and-run driving, DUI, vehicular manslaughter and, possibly, murder charges. A decision could be made today.

As fate would have it, the Red Sox travel to the west coast and will be the Angels opponent, Friday evening.

Bill Shaikin has a column today, on Adenhart's father, grieving and going through what no parent ever hopes to experience--the death of their child.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Where's Ben Sheets

On May 16, 2004, Ben Sheets struck out 18 Atlanta Braves. I was watching the game on TBS, the Atlanta Braves network at the time. Sheets made major league hitters look like overmatched Little Leaguers, with an unhittable 12-6 breaking pitch, and a fastball routinely touching 95 on the gun. I'm thinking, "this guy's sick."

Since then, I've been a lurker, following Ben Sheets, and his up and down, injury-plagued career, always wondering just how good he could have been without his propensity to get hurt, and also, if he played for a real major league team, not a AAA squad masquerading as one. Sorry Milwaukee.

When I want to this morning, I noticed he was no longer listed on the Brewers roster. I'm like, "WTF?"

I guess I'll have to do some digging when I get a chance.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Opening day redux

The Boston Red Sox, New England's team, disappointingly saw their home opener foiled by yesterday's deluge. They'll try it again today, at 4:00 pm.

I attended opening day once, back in 2000. It was a miserably cold day, and while it was fun to say I'd been to opening day, I prefer to wait until June, to view my baseball in the flesh. In fact, my uncle, left-handed ace of the old Roberts 88'ers town team, always insisted that "we don't get baseball weather in Maine until June." That adage has always served me well.

In saluting the hope that accompanies opening day for fans of every team, even perennial cellar dwellers like the Kansas City Royals, I leave you with this piece from Russ Smith, and my own take on opening day, back in 2006, and the optimism that accompanies this uniquely American experience.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

History Maker Malfunction

I may have miscalculated just how much words matter, at least words that have time, research, and thought behind them.

Back in January, I launched what I had hoped would be a weekly exercise in presenting history, most notably people and events that currently receive short shrift, or have been the subject of some recent revisionism.

This was not an insignificant undertaking, as trying to post something that I considered substantive, and not a mere rehash of someone else's work, required considerable effort.

Each one of the 10 posts that became History Maker Mondays involved reading, research, and then the requisite time necessary to put the information into a readable format. What I thought might become a boost to my site's traffic, for whatever reason, has instead resulted in a decrease in readership.

Despite the drag my takes on history have become to Words Matter, I don't consider these exercises in research and information retrieval to have been total waste of time. Each one of my weekly forays back into the past have helped me to have a better understanding, and further cemented my belief that history is important. It also reinforces my belief that much of what remains important to me puts me in the place of swimming upstream, against the superficial, and overly simplistic and banal.

My decision to suspend my weekly history posts isn't just about a lack of positive feedback, however. When I set out to try to tackle something substantive, in January, I was looking for a way to prime my creative pump, and possibly push my writing forward, hoping it would allow me to fall into book project mode. I think it may have had its desired effect.

While I'm not abandoning the Words Matter ship entirely, I've experienced a noticeable shift in my interests of late. Typically, this blog has been about my views on politics, culture, media, with other subjects tossed into the mix (including history). While I still maintain an interest in these matters, I've become aware of the day-to-day drain on my psyche that these subjects engender. Instead, I'm choosing to focus more on books, reading, the craft of writing, and because of this, a literary focus has emerged.

For the short-term at least, I'll probably post infrequently here, preferring to concentrate on books, other authors, and the progress I'm making towards developing book #3. You can find these musings over at my writing blog.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Moral nihlism

We live in an age of moral nihilism. We have trashed our universities, turning them into vocational factories that produce corporate drones and chase after defense-related grants and funding. The humanities, the discipline that forces us to stand back and ask the broad moral questions of meaning and purpose, that challenges the validity of structures, that trains us to be self-reflective and critical of all cultural assumptions, have withered. Our press, which should promote such intellectual and moral questioning, confuses bread and circus with news and refuses to give a voice to critics who challenge not this bonus payment or that bailout but the pernicious superstructure of the corporate state itself. We kneel before a cult of the self, elaborately constructed by the architects of our consumer society, which dismisses compassion, sacrifice for the less fortunate, and honesty. The methods used to attain what we want, we are told by reality television programs, business schools and self-help gurus, are irrelevant. Success, always defined in terms of money and power, is its own justification. The capacity for manipulation is what is most highly prized. And our moral collapse is as terrifying, and as dangerous, as our economic collapse.
--Chris Hedges, Truthdig, 3/23/2009

Hedges never pulls any punches. If you can pull yourself away from Twitter, and your other social networking endeavors long enough, think about making Hedges' Truthdig column a weekly habit. Better yet, stop thinking about it, and just do it!