Wednesday, June 30, 2004

They're ruining my summah!!!

Another hideous loss by the Red Sox to the Evil Empire tonight. As if last night's beating wasn't bad enough, they had to tantalize us by going into the bottom of the 7th with a 2-0 lead. I started to have a bad feeling when they loaded the bases with no one out in the bottom of the 7th and failed to score, with Felix Heredia (7.08 ERA) coming in to get Damon, Bellhorn and Ortiz. I started thinking, "We're going to regret not capitalizing on this."

My thoughts were pretty prophetic. The Yankees loaded the bases with two outs in the bottom of the inning, and Tony Clark hit a grounder to David Ortiz at first. Ortiz missed the grounder, it squirted out into short right and the Yanks tied the score. They went on to score two more in the bottom of the 8th (which included another Nomar error), and the game was for all intents over, as Rivera blew away the Sox in the 9th for the save.

I can't figure out this team They should be MUCH better than they are, but they've only played .500 ball for the last two months. On paper, this should be the best Red Sox team of my lifetime, but something intangible seems to be missing. I don't know whether it's all the guys in the walk years of their contracts or what, but if the Sox don't start getting it together soon they'll be watching the playoffs on TV again this year.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

This will be short, since it's late. Saw the Sox beat on the Phillies today at Fenway, winning 12-3, along with J. and my friend Dave. It was my first time seeing Curt Schilling. He had a bit of a shaky start, giving up bombs over the Monster Seats to Pat Burrell and David Bell in the 2nd, but the Sox came back with back-to-back ground rule doubles by Manny and Nomar, pulled away later with home runs by David Ortiz and Mark Bellhorn. Schilling settled down and took control with six strong innings, and Embree, Timlin and Foulke came in from the bullpen to finish up. J. did quite well again, and really seemed to get into the crowds energy in the late innings.

This evening I watched some of the Mets-Yankees game on ESPN HD. During the game they were interviewing Ray Romano and the guy from the King of Queens, who were sitting with each other at the game. One thing I noticed: Ray Romano + no makeup + high definition = not a pretty sight...

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

So, who thought having the Democratic National Convention in Boston was a good idea, anyway?

The inconvenience for those of us who actually have to work and live in metropolitan Boston is unbelievable. Interstate 93 (also known as the $14 billion Big Dig) is going to be shut down for several hours a day. North Station, a commuter rail terminus which serves over 25,000 commuters a day, is going to be shut down, and passengers will be bussed into Boston from outlying stations. Today it was announced that people who carry bags on the MBTA will be subject to search.

It’s incredible. Didn’t anyone in Mayor Menino’s administration think through the security issues and their effect on the city? Didn’t anyone realize that people still have to get to work, regardless of what’s going on at the FleetCenter? Didn’t anyone think about the fact that the Big Dig is still being finished and that the area around the FleetCenter still looks like a big construction project?

Menino screwed this one up royally. He was so intent on having a big party for all his Democratic cronies that he didn’t think through the effects on the taxpayers. He wanted to show off the city, but all the delegates and the TV cameras are going to see are construction zones and empty streets. Anyone who possibly can is going to avoid the city that week. Tourists won’t be coming and residents won’t be heading into the city for dining or other recreational activities.

If this thing is a disaster, it could cost Mayor Mumbles his job. And it will serve him right.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

We had a great time in Story Land up in New Hampshire this past weekend. Story Land is a small amusement/theme park, where the theming revolves around nursery rhymes. The kids had a blast riding the rides and checking out the various buildings and such - they had the Old Woman’s Shoe (the one with too many children), an old-fashioned school house, Red Riding Hood’s grandmother’s house (complete with disguised wolf) and such. Most of the rides were fairly tame, but certainly hit the sweet spot with my five and six year olds.

A. and I enjoyed the place, as well. Much like the Disney parks, Story Land was kept meticulously clean. Unlike the Disney parks, everything was very reasonably priced. Admission, food and souvenirs were all priced so as to not bankrupt a family of four. As much as I love Disney, and feel like I get entertainment value for my money, I do sometimes feel like I’m walking around the place with Mickey’s hand in my wallet. Story Land lacks the spectacular, polished feeling of Disney’s rides and shows, but it makes due with what it has and creates a nice family atmosphere.

I did discover one thing this weekend - my 40 year old stomach can no longer handle spinning rides. I took J. on this twisting turtle ride and was out of it for a couple of hours. I find that rides that spin in one direction (like a carousel or the flying Dumbos) are OK, but rides that spin me in two directions at once (like the teacups) make me nauseous. And roller coasters don’t bother me at all. A., however, had a tough time with the small roller coaster there. Needless to say, I avoided any similar rides for the weekend.

So, as they say, a fun time was had by all.

It was disappointing to see the Sox performance on their trip to Colorado and San Francisco. Losing 2 out of 3 to the hapless Rockies was the real let down - I had really hoped to split the six games, and the Sox lost four out of six. The Sox left the bases loaded five times in the first two games in Denver - you just can’t do that if you expect to win a lot of games.

Would the Indians C.C. Sabathia be better off playing defensive tackle in the NFL? I saw him pitch for the Tribe against the White Sox last night on ESPN. The guy is huge! He got squeezed on a couple of ball/strike calls in the first inning and started to get into it with the umpire. Lou Merloni came over to calm Sabathia down (and keep him in the game) and it looked like Sabathia was about three times Lou’s size. The guy really can pitch though. It looks like the Indians are starting to produce a new generation of stars to replace the Manny Ramirez/Jim Thome/Albert Belle generation that left for bigger paychecks elsewhere.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

I bought a baseball team.

Well, that’s a bit of an overstatement. I bought a tiny percentage of a baseball team that’s forming in Pittsfield, MA. The team is scheduled to start playing for the 2005 season in Wahconah Park, an ancient ballpark best known for having “sun delays”. When Wahconah was built, it was set up so that the batter would be facing west at sundown, so games are sometime delayed until the sun goes behind the trees and the batter can see the ball without being blinded by the sun.

So, how did I get involved in this? A few months back, I had sent Jim Bouton, the former major league pitcher and author of the second-best baseball book ever, “Ball Four” (the best is “Veeck as in Wreck”, but that’s a topic for another day) an email through his Web site about something in his latest book, “Foul Ball”. To my surprise, I got an email back thanking me and from then on I’d get an occasional email intended for some sort of “friends and family” list. I’d also send him something of interest once in a while.

Just before our Cooperstown trip, I sent Jim a piece of news that I thought he’d find interesting. When I was checking my email at the inn, I got an email back asking if I’d be interested in joining a group he was putting together to bring minor league baseball back to Pittsfield. The town had been abandoned by the Berkshire Black Bears after the 2003 season. I discussed it with A. and then wrote back and said I would be interested. Jim said he’d have his partner send me a copy of the prospectus.

A bit of background here. Jim Bouton’s last book, “Foul Ball”, was about his attempts to refurbish Wahconah Park and bring an independent minor league team to Pittsfield. It didn’t work out, for reasons detailed in the book (you can find it on Amazon or in your local library). The Berkshire Black Bears team came in and quickly moved out.

So I got the prospectus, read it, and liked the business plan. Much of the plan was outlined in “Foul Ball”, although it’s been tweaked over the last couple of years. I thought the financial projections were doable, given good management. The company, Wahconah Park, Inc., is planning to upgrade the ballpark (which is in desperate need) and bring in an independent minor league team, likely from either the Atlantic or Northeast League.

I decided I wanted to do this and talked it over with A. She asked me a lot of really good questions and wanted to make sure for herself that this wasn’t primarily an emotional investment. I convinced her (and myself), that while there was certainly an emotional component to doing this, I though the venture had a reasonable chance to succeed and that we could make some money with this if it works out.

Wahconah Park, Inc’s first event is going to be on July 3, with a vintage baseball game played at the ballpark. The players will all wear uniforms and play the game as it was played in the 1920’s and ‘30’s. I’m going to go out to the game and meet my partners for the first time, along with checking out the ballpark. I’ve been to Wahconah once before, pre-kids, when I went with a friend to see the Mets NY-Penn League team out there. The ballpark has an ancient wooden grandstand, and the seats are VERY close to the field. In fact, we had box seats for that nights game and we were closer to the batter than the pitcher was! I was very alert every time a right handed batter came up, and I was wishing that I hadn’t left my glove in the car. We managed to escape uninjured, and had a good time, but it was obvious even seven or eight years ago that Wahconah needed some serious improvement.

So, that’s it. I’ve fulfilled a lifelong dream. The July 3 game is going to be aired on ESPN Classic at 7:00, so you can get a glimpse of what I’ve bought there.

On another baseball front, I had my first experience in a suite at McCoy Stadium on Saturday night. There were 20 of us who rented out the suite and we had an incredibly fun time. The suites are on the field level, a place I had only sat once before, so it’s a completely different perspective on things than sitting in the regular seats, which are elevated above the field. The suites themselves are very nice, with seating outside to watch the game, plus a TV, private bathroom, fridge and other amenities. Included in the price of the suite is food, which consists of typical ballpark fare (hot dogs, hamburgers, chips, ice cream, etc.). There’s also a menu for drinks and other types of food, which cost extra.

We had a great time in the suite. It’s such a different way to watch a ballgame that it really made even a lousy game (the Pawsox lost 15-7) into a really fun evening.

Ah yes, the game itself. This may have been the most poorly played game I’ve seen in all my years of watching baseball. There were six errors made by the two teams, three dropped fly balls (including one by rehabbing Trot Nixon) and an assortment of poor pitching. If I had been sitting in the regular seats, I probably would have taken off after the 7th.

Final note on the suite: a big thank you to my friend Dave for arranging it. I can’t wait to go next year!

Finally, I saw Roger Clemens lose his first game of the season to Mark Prior and the Cubs last night. Roger was 9-0 going into last nights game, and he’s pretty much a dead certain lock to start the All-Star Game for the National League next month. At 41, Roger has a decent shot to win his seventh Cy Young Award. It’s amazing how my dislike of Clemens dissipated once he wasn’t wearing that big “NY” on his hat anymore.

Friday, June 11, 2004

It’s been a busy week. Work was once again very busy with all the new requirements as we had our first month-end close in the post-merger world. I think things went pretty well, and it can only get easier as we get used to the new stuff.

Our trip to Cooperstown was great. Much of Saturday, of course, was spent at the Hall of Fame. The museum is under extensive reconstruction this summer. Many of the exhibits were moved around to new locations, and some weren’t open. The Hall itself was, of course. I thought a good addition there were these badges they put under the plaques of each player who had served in the Armed Forces, indicating which conflict they had served in. I thought it was a nice touch to recognize these players for their service, especially since many of them gave up significant portions of their careers to serve their country.

One new part of the museum that was finished was the World Series room. It looked terrific, and if the rest of the museum is as good when it’s finished it will be a big upgrade over the previous version. One really interesting exhibit in the World Series room was the showcase of World Series rings. They had rings going from the early part of the 20th century all the way to the 2002 Angels championship rings. It’s amazing how ornate the players rings have gotten in the past few years. Whereas the World Series rings were once akin to a college ring, they’re now these huge, diamond encrusted pieces of jewelery. It seems like the price of the rings has gone up at the same rate as players salaries over the last couple of decades.

There was one jaw dropping part of my visit to the Hall. I was looking at the Negro Leagues exhibit and standing nearby was a woman and her son. He was probably 10 or 11. They were checking out the exhibit when the son asked, “Mom, what’s a Negro?”

I wasn’t sure what to make of his question. I suppose it’s a good thing that the kid didn’t know the word - it’s certainly gone out of common use. Did he just not understand that African-Americans were once forced to set up their own leagues if they wanted to play baseball? Major League Baseball, of course, didn’t admit them until Jackie Robinson broke the color line in 1947. His mother answered his question by answering that “Negro” was a word that was once used for African-Americans, and that people didn’t use that word anymore. I hope she later used it as a teaching moment when they were in a more appropriate place to discuss it than a crowded museum.

I left the Hall around 3:00, and we headed over to the Cooperstown Brewing Company for a tour. The brewery is actually in Milford, NY, about 8 miles from Main Street in Cooperstown. I had sampled their Old Slugger ale at dinner the previous night, and it was very good. We went into the brewery, paid our $2 and one of the brewers took us around. The tour was very well done, as he explained the brewing and bottling process, took us around to the different parts of the brewery, and took great pains to explain the difference between craft brewing and what he described as “beer factories”, (i.e., Bud, Miller and Coors). He said the main difference was that craft beer was brewed by people, where the factory beer was brewed by computers.

The highlight of the tour was the tasting at the end, where we had samples of their six styles of beer. They had a golden ale, pale ale, India pale ale, a special ale, a porter and a stout. They were all very well done, and all had appropriately baseball themed names and packaging. Even the bottle caps had a baseball painted on them! We bought a case of the beer to bring home, plus a pint glass. The pint glasses had a baseball molded in the bottom, which was a cool touch.

After the tour we went back to Cooperstown to relax until dinner. We had another excellent dinner at a restaurant called Portabellos in neighboring Fly Creek. The Cooperstown area has no shortage of good, locally owned restaurants, as compared to Framingham which has chain after chain after chain.

We reluctantly left the Inn at Cooperstown on Sunday morning, and drove to Brookline to pick up the kids. They were happy to see us, and they had a good time with their grandparents over the weekend.

It was a very quick, four day week and before I knew it we were packing up to head to Vermont. We were to meet with two realtors and choose one to take on the task of selling the house.

We drove up Friday night after I got home from work. I had been really looking at the bright sides of selling the house. First, it would give us the freedom to try some new vacation spots during the summer. While we’ve discussed going other places in the past, it’s hard to justify spending money on a place to stay when there’s a free room in a beautiful spot. However, it really began to hit me what we would be giving up as we drove down route 12 into Barnard. I’m really going to miss having the freedom to go up there whenever we want, although I understand the necessity of selling.

We met with the two realtors on Saturday morning, and the difference between them was astounding. One was an older man, a very folksy kind of guy. He seemed to be much more interested in the legal niceties surrounding the sale of the house than in the sale itself. He recommended an offering price which seemed a bit conservative, as well. The second realtor was a 180 degree turnaround from the first guy. She seemed very focused, had an excellent presentation, and seemed to have a much better grasp of the market and the value of the property than the first guy. It took us about five minutes to figure out that she was the one we wanted to charge with selling the house.

After the business was taken care of, it was time for some fun. We had lunch, then headed up toward Burlington to the Champlain Valley Fairgrounds for a balloon festival. We stopped at the Ben & Jerry’s factory for some ice cream, then went to the festival. Our intent was to wander around for a couple of hours, ride some rides, see some exhibits, have some dinner and then watch the balloons go up at around 6:30. One thing we didn’t count on was the heat; it was a pleasant, cool day in Barnard, but it got warmer as we went north. The Burlington area was downright hot. As we were eating dinner it was obvious that the kids were wilting (to be honest, A. and I were wilting a bit, too). We asked them if they wanted to stay to watch the balloons or go home, and they both wanted to go home. So, we left without seeing the balloons. But we had a good time, and that’s all that really counts.

A sad note on the week was the passing of former President Ronald Reagan. While I didn’t agree with all his policies, he certainly had some great successes. His huge defense buildup, while it seemed like a budget buster at the time, contributed to the eventual fall of the Soviet Union.

Maybe the most important thing Reagan did was to make us all proud to be Americans again. Before Reagan won the election in 1980, the U.S. was having a pretty hard time. The disaster of the Vietnam War had ended only five years earlier. We had gone through Watergate and the Iran hostage crisis. The economy was in a shambles, with high inflation and mortgage rates in the teens. Reagan reminded us that, even with all the troubles, America was still a great place to live and, even more importantly, that it was OK to feel good about that.

That’s it for this update! We have a big baseball weekend ahead of us, with J.’s last two T-ball games of the season, my first visit to a Pawsox suite on Saturday night and a trip with the kids to Lynn to see a North Shore Spirit game on Sunday. On top of that, the Dodgers are in town to take on the Sox in a meaningful game for the first time since the 1916 World Series.

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