Wednesday, August 30, 2006

One thing that really pisses me off is when a large company doesn't treat it's people well, especially when it is laying them off. Today it was reported in several places that Radio Shack notified 400 employees that they no longer had jobs via email. I was so disgusted, I wrote the following email to Radio Shack's public relations department:

I have been a Radio Shack customer for many years. However, I am ending that relationship due to the actions of your company in notifying it's employees of their layoffs by email.

As a manager of a department in a large company myself, terminating employees is the most difficult duty I have. However, I have always believed that I owed it to the people working for me that I tell them face to face that they no longer had a job with the company.

Informing people of a layoff by email is both gutless and disrespectful. Many of these employees no doubt put in years of good and loyal service to Radio Shack, and they deserved better than to get a faceless electronic notification that their services were no longer needed.

Sign me a disgusted former customer,

I still have to blog about the whole vintage base ball thing. It'll come this weekend, I promise!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Just when you think it can't get any worse, it does.

David Ortiz was pulled from the Sox lineup last night just before the start of the game in Oakland. Many people assumed that he had gotten a case of the flu that had affected several other members of the team, including Kevin Youkilis most recently.

The news came out this morning that Big Papi was suffering chest pains, a recurrance of the pain he had a few days ago. At that point, it was believed to be dehydration and stress, but the fact that this is happening again has everyone in Red Sox Nation nervous.

I think that increasing the concern over Ortiz's condition is memories of former Northeastern and Celtics star Reggie Lewis. Most folks around here remember that Reggie had a heart condition and eventually died on a practice court.

With stuff like this, the results of the games kind of become irrelevent. All we can do is hope that Papi is OK and keep him and his family in our thoughts.

Monday, August 28, 2006

What the hell happened to the Red Sox?

About three weeks ago, I talked about a stretch of 20 games facing the Red Sox that would make or break their season. It started with the Baltimore series and ends with the West Coast trip that has the Sox currently visiting Oakland. I had said at the time that the Sox needed to go 12-8 during these games to stay in the race for the division and the wild card.

What has happened is that they are 6-11 with three games left against the AL West leading A's. After a sweep of the Orioles, the Sox lost two of three to the Tigers at Fenway, followed by the excruciating five game sweep by the Yankees. Then, after taking two of three against the LA Angels, they were swept by the last place Mariners over the weekend. Turn that record around to 11-6 and they are no worse than 1 and 1/2 games behind the Yankees and 1/2 game behind the Twins going into tonight. Instead, they are 6 and 1/2 behind the Yanks and 5 and 1/2 out in the wild card race.

So what happened? Injuries certainly played a role: Wakefield, Nixon and Varitek were key losses. A legion of other guys are playing hurt. Kyle Snyder and Kason Gabbard are making way too many starts.

The finger is continuing to be pointed at Theo for not making a move at the trading deadline. Given the August collapse of the team, it's pretty easy to say that he should have done something, but I still think selling out the farm system to get a mediocre pitcher was not the way to go (now if you really can get Roy Oswalt, that's a different story).

So here we are; it's the end of August and, barring a miracle, the Sox are pretty much out of the playoff picture. Not exactly how things were supposed to work out, was it?

Sunday, August 27, 2006

We had a wonderful vacation to Vermont. It was our first time there since my father-in-law's house there was sold two years ago. The new place we stayed was great. We had the entire first floor of a two story house. It had two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a beautiful kitchen and a comfortable living/dining area. There was a TV, but no satellite or cable so we were limited to watching some DVD's we brought along. Not that this was a bad thing; we also left the laptop at home and it was nice to be unplugged for a few days.

We did lots of really fun stuff. Here are some of the more notable:

Montshire Museum of Science: This is our number one rainy day activity while we're in Vermont. The Montshire is a first class science museum set on 110 acres right on the Connecticut River. There are lots of great exhibits. My favorite was a display on the engineering and preservation of covered bridges, which are pretty common in Vermont. The kids seemed to be most interested in the soap bubbles and the insects.

We followed this up with lunch at Molly's Restaurant in Hanover, NH, right by Dartmouth College. It was a good place. In fact, we only had one bad meal all week, which I'll get to later. The weather still wasn't great, so we went to see Zoom, a movie about a team of young superheroes starring Tim Allen, Courtney Cox, Chevy Chase and Rip Torn. The movie was OK and the kids enjoyed it, but I wouldn't exactly go running out of my way to see it again.

Vermont Institute of Natural Science: VINS is a nature center in Quechee that focuses on the preservation and study of raptors: owls, hawks and such. They have a demonstration of the birds which is both entertaining and informative, and some displays of birds who were either injured or are otherwise unable to live in the wild. One example was a bird who had been illegally adopted by a person. It now doesn't know how to relate to other birds either thinks it's a human or thinks we're all birds. They also have some beautiful nature trails. We took a hike on one that ran along the Ottaquechee River.

Shelburne Farms: This is another one of our old favorites. It's an old farm that was built by the wealthy Dr. William Seward in the late 19th century using the latest scientific farming methods. Kids get to interact with the animals, milk cows, chase chickens and feed the goats. J. and R., both animal lovers, had a blast. Toward the end of the day, one of the kids who works as a hired hand took them around to help do his chores. They also specialize in cheese, made on the premises all the way from milking the cow to selling blocks of the stuff in the gift shop.

Vermont Lake Monsters: Formerly known as the Vermont Expos, the team got a name change this season after their parent club headed south for DC. The opponent for this evening was the Tri-City ValleyCats, an Astros affiliate. Both teams play in the short-season Class A NY-Penn League, which consists mostly of players who were picked out of high school or college in the June draft. We hadn't been to Burlington to see a game since before the kids came home.

The game itself was entertaining enough, although the Lake Monsters came out on the wrong end of a 6-1 decision. Tri-Cities Jimmy Van Ostrand hit a grand slam home run in the top of the 5th inning to break a 1-1 tie and the Valley Cats never looked back.

I was a bit disappointed in the Lake Monsters home park, Centennial Field. Although the sight lines are wonderful (the picture here was taken from our seats) and the park is intimate enough, it looks rather worn. Paint on many of the seats was peeling, and the concourse area behind the grandstand could use some work as well. The grandstand was built in 1922 and the ballpark was renovated in the '90s when the Expos moved in, but it would be nice if the team and the University of Vermont (which also plays at Centennial) would make more of an effort to keep the ballpark up.

Ben & Jerry's factory tour: This is another old favorite, and it never disappoints. We drove up to the Ben & Jerry's factory in Waterbury to take the tour. The first part is a short film which talks about the company's history and social mission, all the way up to the takeover by Unilever a few years ago. The second stop is a hall overlooking the factory floor, where you get to see them making ice cream and your guide explains such mysteries of the universe as how the chunks don't all sink to the bottom of the pint container (it has to do with the temperature the ice cream is kept at). The final stop is the best; the tasting room. After all, what is an ice cream factory tour if you don't eat any ice cream?

After leaving Ben & Jerry's we took the scenic route home down Route 100. We stopped into the Little River Hot Glass studio where the kids watched the two artists creating various glass creations. It was pretty fascinating, plus they had a friendly dog for when attention spans started to lag. The kids had the opportunity to feed the dog who, interestingly enough, eats carrots. We grabbed dinner at Jay's Restaurant in Waitsfield, a very kid friendly place with good food and local beers on tap (I sampled the Long Trail Blackberry Wheat).

One of the things I love about Vermont is taking these little backroad detours and seeing the countryside. You are able to absorb a lot more about a place if you are traveling through the towns and farms than if you are whizzing by on the interstate.

We did eat out a lot during the week. The Three Stallion Inn in Randolph was so good we went twice, on our first and last nights in Vermont. This is a place that A. and I discovered years ago and had the best steak tips I have ever eaten. Unfortunately, they are no longer on the menu. I had felt that the quality had suffered a bit in our last couple of years in Vermont. Someone else must have noticed because the restaurant was back to it's old standards, if not even better. The food and service were excellent, and the kids were treated very well, down to their own "salads", a cup of carrots, cucumbers and tomatoes. It's a bit pricey, but not much more than going to the Outback and the experience is just worlds different.

We had some other good meals: The Sauce Bistro in Shelburne had one of the best sandwiches I have ever eaten. Dana's Restaurant in Quechee is good roadfood in a friendly atmosphere. And, of course, I couldn't leave Vermont without a visit to my all-time favorite breakfast place, Eaton's Sugarhouse in Royalton.

In fact, we only had one bad experience in our totally non-chain dining for the week. That was the Peavine Restaurant in Stockbridge. This place opened a few years ago as an ultra-kid friendly place, with computers for the kids to play with, a model train running around the dining room and a "Treasure Chest" filled with toys that the kids could pick from on the way out. The food and service were pretty good, too.

This trip, however, was awful. The service was extremely slow. It took forever to get our dinners. Promised bread never arrived. A two-man band was playing classic rock. They weren't bad, but they were too loud for the size of the room. The food was still pretty decent, but it took so long to arrive we really just wanted to eat and get out of there at that point. I'm not sure whether we would ever go back there again.

Finally, we did spend a fair amount of time just hanging around the house. The kids and I took the canoe out on Silver Lake a couple of times and paddled around. It was a lot of fun, although my shoulders were feeling the impact of the unaccustomed rowing.

The kids also took to fishing, surprisingly enough. I never had any interest in fishing, as I find it unspeakably boring. There were some fishing poles in the house, so we let them fish off the dock behind the house. They had a great time and even caught what must be the first "lobster" ever found in Silver Lake. They threw the lobster back and (fortunately) didn't catch anything else.

When the house was sold, we talked about how it would open us up to try new places to vacation in the summer. What we discovered after this week is just how much we all love Vermont. We're already talking about going back next year, so I guess Barnard is just where we belong.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Well, we're back! I have a ton to blog about, but I'll whet your appetite with some short bits about the major topics:

Vermont: We had a fabulous week in Vermont. We missed the old house a bit, but the place we stayed was beautiful - right on Crystal Lake. We did lots of touristy stuff, saw a baseball game and the kids had a blast fishing and canoeing on the lake (both fishing poles and the canoe were provided with the house).

The Decline and Fall of the 2006 Boston Red Sox: Maybe one of the best parts of being in Vermont was the fact that we didn't have any cable or TV reception and I wasn't forced to watch the Yankees five game sweep.

Vintage Base Ball: Last Friday before we went on vacation I was given the opportunity by Jim Bouton and Chip Elitzer to invest in the Vintage Base Ball Federation, a new umbrella organization for vintage base ball teams. It sounds like a great opportunity, and I'm really excited to be in business with Jim and Chip again. Among others, former baseball commissioner Fay Vincent and sportswriter Frank Deford are involved, so this could really be a lot of fun. I'll have a lot more to say about this, but you can check out this article in the New York Times for information about the press conference that was held in NYC yesterday announcing the VBBF.

Lots more to come. Stay tuned!

Friday, August 18, 2006

You won't hear as much from me as you normally might during a five-game Red Sox-Yankees series. We're off to Vermont for a week starting tomorrow morning and we have decided to disconnect from the net while we are away. No laptop, although we are toting along two cell phones, three iPods, two GameBoys and a portable DVD player. So it's not like we'll be totally rustic!

The Sox fared badly in game 1 of today's doubleheader, as they lost 12-4. With Jason Johnson pitching I was pretty much conceding the game anyways, and unfortunately Johnson didn't exceed my expectations. The nightcap is going somewhat better as the Sox lead 10-7 in the 6th. This is an incredibly long game; we're closing in on three hours at this point with one out in the 6th. The surprise hero for the Sox, so far, is Julian Tavarez, who has pitched 2.1 scoreless innings in relief of Jon Lester, who gave up seven runs in less than four innings.

We don't really have any scheduled events in Vermont except for a Lake Monsters game (the Nationals NY-Penn League affiliate) on Tuesday, although there are lots of things we want to do.

So have a great week, and I'll let you know about our vacation when we get back!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Seven things that have me worried about the Red Sox, as last night's loss to the Tigers puts them three back in both the AL East and the wild card races:

1. They have lost seven in a row against teams not named after birds.

2. Sox starters have gone at least seven innings just four times in the last 21 games. Three were by Schilling and one by David Wells.

3. Josh Beckett's ERA is 7.00 in August.

4. Jason Johnson is still the #5 starter. When is Wake getting back?

5. The younger pitchers seem a bit lost without 'Tek behind the plate. I'd love to see some splits for Beckett, Lester, Papelbon, Delcarmen and Hansen with and without Varitek.

6. The offense has been pretty anemic lately, except against the Orioles.

7. The teams second best starter is a 43 year-old fat guy who is one bad step from screwing up his knees again.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

A little over two years ago I wrote that the ARod-Varitek shoving match may have been the turning point in the 2004 season. Did we see something similar last night?

Aside fro David Wells desperately needed pitching performance, Mike Lowell came up with a 'Tek-like inspirational moment. Lowell was beaned by Orioles rookie Adam Loewen in the first inning, the ball ricocheting off his helmet. For long-time Red Sox fans, it brought back memories of another #25 getting hit in the head with a fastball on an August night 39 years ago. Fortunately, Lowell was only shaken up and was able to stay in the game.

Then, a couple of innings later Lowell makes a spectacular catch, diving into the stands and landing in the first row of seats. The catch was reminiscent of Jeter's diving catch against the Sox in '04, although, as a Fenway observer noted in the Boston Globe, Jeter hadn't just gotten hit in the head when he made his catch.

Today the good news continued as the Sox came back from deficits of 5-1 and 7-3 to beat the O's on a Manny walkoff single in the 10th. I know it's only two wins against a bad Orioles team, but we have to start somewhere, right?

Friday, August 11, 2006


Swept by the Royals. I just can't get my head around that. How can the Red Sox lose three in a row to the Royals? How can they drop five out of six to two last place teams that are a combined 53 games under .500? How can this be?

As usual, the answer comes back to pitching. The starting pitching has been mediocre at best. Everyone except Curt Schilling has not been getting the job done. Even Schill blew up in the 8th inning last night, giving the Royals (the Royals!) their second win in their last at-bat in as many nights.

The problems with the starting pitching cascade into the bullpen. When Beckett, Lester, Wells, Johnson and whoever else the Sox can pull off of Yawkey Way to start that night can't go more than 5-6 innings, it puts a tremendous strain on the bullpen. The guys who were the most reliable relievers; Papelbon, Timlin, Delcarmen and Hansen have been struggling of late and I think you have to attribute at least some of it to the workload they have been forced to take on. Certainly the loss of Varitek to a knee injury is hurting as well. Few catchers handle pitchers like 'Tek. There's a reason why Mirabelli is the backup, and Javy Lopez is not known for his defense. I have to think that the young guys miss particularly miss Varitek.

The talk radio reaction seems to be to blame Theo for not doing anything at the trading deadline, especially when the Yankees picked up Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle. It certainly would have been nice to pick up a Roy Oswalt or a Dontrelle Willis, and I would have given up some of the jewels of the farm system for a dominant starting pitcher in his prime for one of those guys. But do you empty out your farm system for a guy like Lidle, who had a 4.74 ERA in the National League? I wouldn't. And I don't think that guys like Kip Wells are any better than what you have.

The next three weeks are really going to tell the story of this season. After playing the Orioles this weekend the Sox have three games at home against the resurgent Tigers, five against the Yankees, then a nine game trip to the west coast with three games each against the Angels, Mariners and A's. That's 20 games in the next three weeks. Realistically, they need to be no worse than 12-8 to stay in the race. We'll see how they do starting today against the Orioles.

(I wrote this before David Wells' 9-2 win over the Orioles tonight. Boomer's start (7 innings, 1 run) was certainly encouraging. Jason Johnson starts tomorrow - NESN named his start against Tampa last Sunday as the best Sox pitching performance of the week. When Jason Johnson is your best pitcher, that tells you a lot about how things are going)

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

I'm not talking about the Red Sox tonight because they are making me depressed right now (although they are leading the Royals 4-3 in the 6th at this moment.) Tonight, I'm talking about ballparks.

I have written about this before, but one of the items on my "Things I need to do before I die" list is to take a road trip to visit every major league ballpark. That's probably going to have to wait until I retire, but I have managed to visit 18 ballparks over the last 20 years or so, including 10 that are still being used. These are:

Fenway Park
Yankee Stadium
Shea Stadium
Rogers Centre
Oriole Park at Camden Yards
Dolphin Stadium
Wrigley Field
US Cellular Field
PNC Park
Safeco Field

I was thinking about the next five I want to visit. Now that R. and J. are getting to the age where they might be interested in accompanying me on a ballpark road trip, I'm hoping to see a few new places. Here are the top five ballparks I would like to see, in no particular order.

Dodger Stadium: Believe it or not, Dodger Stadium, opened in 1962, is the fourth oldest ballpark in MLB, after Fenway, Wrigley and Yankee Stadium. From everything I have heard, it's an outstanding place to watch a game, and the ballpark is supposed to be kept sparkling clean. While we were in the area, I would try to visit Angels Stadium as well, but it's not in the top five. Of course, we'd have to make a side trip to Disneyland as well!

AT&T Park: Now on it's third name in six years thanks to telecom industry mergers, I have heard Peter Gammons (among others) say this is the best park for a fan experience in baseball.

Citizens Bank Park: Word is that the Phillies new home is a great place to watch a ballgame. It's also fairly close to home, so there's a good chance that it will be the next one I visit. Veterans Stadium, the Phils former home, was such a horror show that Philadelphia fans must get a little giddy each time they enter a real ballpark.

Kauffman Stadium: The home of the Royals is supposed to be one of the most beautiful parks in baseball. I always thought the outfield waterfall was very cool. Aside from the ballpark, any visit to KC must include a trip to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

Jacobs Field: I have taken a couple of memorable trips to Cleveland; once for the International Superman Exposition, a 50th anniversary convention for the Man of Steel in 1988 and a couple of times for visits to the old Municipal Stadium (where Bismo and I nearly caught a foul ball, but that's a story for another day). I would love to check out the Jake, one of the centerpieces of Cleveland's revitalization. A stop at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame would be mandatory as well.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

They're ruining my summah!

This is the first time I have actually felt this way this season, but the Sox are in a really bad stretch. They lost 2 of 3 to the Angels at Fenway, then split 4 with a bad Indians team. The two games they did win were come from behind, walk-off deals that they could have easily lost. Now they lost 2 of 3 to Tampa Bay this weekend, blowing a four run lead including a blown save by Papelbon today and a walk-off homer by Greg Norton off Julian Tavarez in the 10th.

It seems all the injuries are finally catching up with the Sox. 1/3 of the starting lineup (Lowell, Varitek and Nixon) are out, along with 2/5ths of the projected starting rotation (Clement and Wakefield). They are now two behind the Yankees, 3 in the AILC (all-important loss column).

We really need a sweep in the series in Kansas City this week, and hope the Yankees slump a bit and the Sox can beat them head to head later this month. The next three weeks or so are going to tell the story of this season.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

A couple of thoughts...

- Another night, another walkoff win. This is almost becoming routine...

The change from the usual script was that the Sox player providing the heroics was not David Ortiz, but Mark Loretta. Loretta hit a bases loaded double with two outs in the 9th after a complete meltdown by the Indians 22-year-old closer, Fausto Carmona. After striking out the first two batters, Carmona totally lost his composure, hitting Mirabelli and Gonzalez, then walking Youkilis. Then Loretta hit the double, leaving Papi in the on deck circle. It was a great win for the Sox, who were in danger of falling out of the virtual tie for first place they are in with the Yankees.

- The Cubs are playing Arizona in a good, old-fashioned single-admission doubleheader at Wrigley Field today. If sitting at Wrigley for 7 hours or so watching baseball and drinking Old Style isn't a little piece of heaven, I don't know what is.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

My division CFO at work dropped by my office with a very nice surprise yesterday; a pair of tickets to the EMC Club at Fenway for last night's game against the Indians. I called A. to let her know and she broke all speed records in getting a sitter so that she could join me at the game.

We met up at the Brookline Village T station and then drove over to the ballpark, using the parking pass that came along with the tickets. That's right, free parking! We were in the lot directly across from the ballpark on Brookline Ave, and we entered through the Crown Royal Club. We then made our way through the ballpark up to the EMC Club.

When you enter the Club, there is a large dining room with bars on either side. Since this was a last minute deal, we didn't have time to sample the dining room fare, so we opted for the in-seat service. Waiters come around and take your order on Palm-like devices and someone brings the food to your seat. I had a cheeseburger and A. had a turkey wrap. Both were quite good, although it was all at pretty much standard Fenway prices.

We're in the middle of a major heat wave here, so it was pretty damn hot at the ballpark last night. We ended up spending $13 on bottled water to combat the heat, and we also took advantage of the access to the air-conditioned dining room on a couple of occassions. This is definitely service you don't get down below.

The view from the seats was outstanding. We were about 100 feet above home plate and had an unparalleled view of the ballpark. I could even pick up what kind of pitch was being thrown. The brochure that came with the tickets described the seats as the "most comfortable at Fenway Park" and they weren't fooling around. The seats are wide, with plenty of legroom and they're padded. It was really an amazing way to watch a ballgame.

Unfortunately, the game itself didn't live up to the seats. The Sox lost 6-3, with Jason Johnson starting against Indians ace C.C. Sabathia. After a seemingly endless first inning, where Johnson have up 2 runs and threw 36 pitches, he seemed to settle down a bit and only gave up one more run on a homer to Casey Blake. Unfortunately, the Sox couldn't muster much offense against Sabathia, who only gave up one run in his 8 innings of work. That 97 MPH fastball looks pretty impressive close up. The Sox generated some momentary excitement in the 9th with a 2 run homer by Alex Gonzalez, but couldn't get anything else going.

Of course, the evening wasn't a total loss. We were thoroughly entertained by the bird.

This little black bird somehow managed to get on the field and for some reason was unable to fly away. So he wandered around the field, finally making his way to second base in the 9th inning as the crowd went wild. It was kind of odd, but kind of fun. even asked people to suggest names for the bird. My favorite? Crow Crow Crisp.

So, we had a fun night. The only thing that would have improved it was a Red Sox win.

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