Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A few random thoughts for the day...

- The Boston Globe published a story today that Theo Epstein has gotten married. That sound you heard was the hearts of 20- and 30-somehthing year old single women breaking around New England.

- The big story in many of the Boston area blogs is the mess the MBTA has made of the CharlieTicket/Card rollout. For those of you not in the know, the T replaced tokens with an electronic fare collection system at the beginning of January. Complaints are legion, especially on the T specific blogs like Bad Transit and Charlie on the MBTA

- Speaking of big stories, apparently a promotion for the Cartoon Network's Aqua Teen Hunger Force backfired when the electronic devices they placed around the city were mistaken for potential bombs. The Orange Line and Route 93 were closed for a while today while the bomb squad took care of the devices. Mayor Menino and Governor Patrick were up in arms, threatening to sue Turner Broadcasting for the costs incurred by the city and state. It'll be interesting to see how this shakes out.

- The Todd Helton trade looks like it has fallen through. Theo didn't want to give up the top level pitching prospect the Rockies wanted. I think it's a good decision. Helton has been on the decline for the last few years and you would hate to give up a pitcher like Hansen or Delcarmen who might become something in the next couple of years.

- It's January 31, and we have yet to have any significant snowfall in the Boston area yet. Not that I'm complaining or anything...

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Now that the Sox have actually signed J.D. Drew, I thought I would take a look at the team as it stands now. There have been reports that Theo has been having talks with the Colorado Rockies about Todd Helton, but until something comes of that, this is our team as it stands now.

Starting pitching: This should be a strength of the team, assuming the starters live up to their potential. Curt Schilling stays atop the rotation in his last year, and you have to think that he'll want to go out with a good one. The core of the rotation is the three 26-year-olds, Matsuzaka, Papelbon and Beckett. All three have giant question marks: Beckett had a difficult time adapting to the American League last year. Papelbon was a lights out closer, but has only started 3 games in the majors. Despite all the hype, Matsuzaka has never pitched in the American big leagues. However, if these three guys live up to their potential, they could easily win 45-50 games total. The back of the rotation is anchored by Tim Wakefield, who will have his bad moments but will likely be better than any number five starter in the league. Joel Pinero and Julian Tavarez are available if any of the top five guys should falter.

Relief pitching: This is the number one question mark on the team. While there are going to be nearly a dozen players vying for spots in the bullpen in Spring Training, there is no obvious choice for the closer. The young guys like Craig Hansen, Manny Delcarmen and Bryan Cox have the most upside potential, but I'm guessing you won't be able to rely on them out of the gate. There is a group of veterans like Pinero, Tavarez, Brendan Donnelly and Mike Timlin, but none of them has any significant closing experience except the 41-year-old Timlin. It's going to be interesting to see how this shakes out in March. If no one steps up to be the go to guy in the 9th inning by July, you'll see Theo going hard after someone like Chad Cordero from the Nationals at the trading deadline.

Infield: Assuming no Helton deal, the corners remain the same with outstanding defense from Kevin Youkilis and Mike Lowell at first and third. If they can both hit like they did last year, I would be pretty happy with that. The middle of the infield is all new, with free agent SS Julio Lugo and rookie 2B Dustin Pedroia making up the new keystone combo. Lugo will be a huge offensive upgrade from Alex Gonzalez, although you lose something on defense. Pedroia hit below the Mendoza Line in a short stint last September, but he looks like a player from what I saw of him at Pawtucket. This will be his chance to show what he can do. Alex Cora continues to ably backup at 2B, SS and 3B, and I'm sure we'll be seeing Wily Mo Pena over at 1B from time to time, either spelling Youk giving or Lowell a night off as Youk moves across the diamond.

Outfield: The outfield could either be a strength of this team or a disaster, depending on the health of Drew and Coco Crisp, and the interest level of Manny. Coco broke his finger in April and never fully recovered, never living up to the expectations fans had for him as Johnny Damon's replacement. If he can get back to his 2005 Cleveland numbers, that would be huge. Although Coco made one of the most spectacular catches I have ever seen last season, he also takes some, um, interesting routes to balls as well. The Sox were so worried about J.D. Drew's health, they waited nearly two months to finalize the signing while haggling with agent Scott Boras over an out clause in the contract related to Drew's shoulder issues. Drew could easily be a 25 HR, 90 RBI guy hitting behind Manny and Papi if he stays healthy, but that's the big if with J.D., isn't it? Manny will give us his standard 40 HRs and 120 RBI if all goes well, but I'm sure we'll have a few more episodes of "Manny Being Manny" this year. Wily Mo Pena will be there if any of these guys goes down, but his defense is still an adventure, especially in the corner outfield positions.

Catcher: I'm hoping that Jason Varitek's offensive falloff last year was due to some nagging injuries early and the knee injury that made him miss a bunch of games. While Tek can call a game with the best of them, I'm hoping he's not getting old as he turns 35 this year. As for his backup, well, Doug Mirabelli can sure catch that knuckleball, can't he? If Dougie should continue to fall off after his poor performance last year, George Kottaras, acquired in the David Wells trade, is waiting in the wings.

Designated Hitter: Big Papi. Need I say more?

The Sox still look like an interesting team. If they can figure out the bullpen and stay reasonably healthy, they should be a force to reckon with in the A.L. East.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

You may remember me raving last summer about how much I liked having the MLB Extra Innings package. I loved watching all those out of market games, especially once the Red Sox fell out of the race in late August and September. I got to watch a lot of the Astros near comeback in the NL Central and a fair amount of the exiting young players on the Florida Marlins, among many other games I would not have otherwise seen.

Now Major League Baseball, in it's eternal search for the short-term buck at the expense of it's most loyal fans, is reported to be making a deal with DirecTV to be the sole outlet for Extra Innings. Of course, I have cable via Comcast, not satellite TV.

This essentially leaves me with two choices: replace my cable with DirecTV or give up Extra Innings. If it comes down to it, I'm going to skip Extra Innings. I'm reasonably happy with my cable, and I'm just not interested in dealing with switching over. There are plenty of games on ESPN, Fox and TBS that I can watch in addition to Sox games on NESN. I'm not willing to watch games on my computer on MLB.TV, either.

MLB is reported to have gotten $700 million for seven years from DirecTV for the exclusive rights for the Extra Innings package. According to the information that's out there, the $700 million represents an increase of approximately $1 million per team, per season over the offer made by the group that currently provides Extra Innings to multiple cable and satellite outlets. Basically, MLB made the decision to screw its fans for the cost of one bad middle reliever.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

One of the things that I have heard several people say since the Patriots loss to the Colts is that now we Pats fans know how Yankees fans felt.

It's a good point. The Colts beat the Pats, the team that had tortured them for so long, coming back from the largest deficit in AFC championship history. There are some similarities to the Sox in 2004. And the sinking feeling I had in the second half of the game on Sunday had to be somewhat like what Yanks fans felt as the Sox took the AL pennant.

Of course, the Patriots only beat on the Colts for about five years, as compared to the 86 years that Red Sox fans had to put up with.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Well, that was pretty disappointing.

The Pats blew a 21-3 lead and ended up losing to the Indianapolis Colts 38-34. The New England defense just couldn't stop Peyton Manning as the Colts scored 32 second half points.

So Manning finally gets the monkey everyone has been talking about off his back and the Pats go home. Wait until next year.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Finally back to the Florida trip, mostly because I wanted to talk about our day at Disney's Animal Kingdom Park.

I wasn't really sure what to expect out of the Animal Kingdom. Unlike the other three Disney World parks, which I have visited multiple times, I have only been to Animal Kingdom once on a somwhat atypical visit.

It happened when J. was 2 years old, and R. was just about 7 months. We were staying with my brother and sister-in-law and I had plans to take J. to the Orlando Science Center for the day. We discovered, however, that the museum was closed on Mondays, so we were thinking about what I should do with J. for the day. SIL suggested that I take him to the new Animal Kingdom park. Me, not needing a lot of arm twisting to convince me to go to Disney, agreed and we headed there.

Now, if you know my approach to visiting a Disney park, you know I always have a plan. I know what my must sees are, what would be nice to see and what I can skip and plan accordingly. However, since this was a spur of the moment trip to a park I had never visited before, I had no plan in place. I wasn't particularly worried about crowds, since this was an off-season trip, but I really didn't know much about what we should see.

So we get there, I pay $50 for a one-day ticket (J. was free) and we head into the park. I grab a map and start looking and see there's a Dinosaur ride. Great! J. likes dinosaurs, so we head that way.

Well, I get to the ride and see a bunch of the standard Disney warning signs not to go on this ride if you suffer from any of the various conditions, plus there's a height requirement. I notice that there is a kids play are nearby called the Boneyard, so I figure we'll just head in there for 20 minutes or so, J. can run off some steam and I can study the map and figure out what to do next.

Sounds like a good plan, right? Well, there was one minor problem. J. had no interest in leaving the Boneyard, which has all kinds of cool slides, things to climb on, and a big sandpit where you can dig for "dinosaur bones". I just could not coax him out and we ended up staying there for 90 minutes! I was sitting there thinking, "I just paid 50 bucks so he could play in the playground!" Finally, he got hungry and I got him to leave.

After grabbing something to eat we did one attaction, Rafiki's Planet Watch, and by then it was nap time. So let's just say that my first experience at Animal Kingdom was less than satisfying (for me, J. had a great time).

This time, of course, I had a detailed plan which started with getting up at the crack of dawn to get to the Animal Kingdom for it's 8AM opening on the day after Christmas. We arrived right at 8 and made our way through security and into the park.

The first thing I noticed about Animal Kingdom is how lush the landscaping is. Plants of many varieties are growing everywhere and everything is amazingly green, especially as compared to Massachusetts in December. We made our way through the Oasis, which is an area with animials in enclosures. We rushed through this in the morning to make our way to our first ride which was:

Expedition Everest: Disney World's newest headliner ride, Expedition Everest is a roller coaster that looks like a train which takes you up and around Mount Everest. Also waiting for you is the Yeti, who makes a couple of appearances during the course of the ride.

A. headed off to the Kilamanjaro Safari to grab some Fastpasses, since she had no interest in a big roller coaster. J., R. and I headed off to to Everest. It was early, so there was no line and we made our way through the wonderfully themed queue area. The line runs through a building that is something of a Yeti museum, with displays and speculation as to whether the mythical creature really exists. You then make your way to the "train station", which is the boarding area.

One thing I noticed about all of Animal Kingdom was the signage. There were lots of signs meant to add atmosphere, as if you were really in Asia or Africa or whatever. A lot of them were fun to read and looked as though they had been there for a very long time.

So we get on the train and we are taken on a very fast ride (the train reaches speeds of 55 MPH) which takes you up and down hills, through the dark and even backwards. Finally, we meet up with a wonderfully lifelike audio-animatronic Yeti who makes a grab for us as we went past.

We get off the train and R. is a little freaked out. She tells me that she didn't like going backwards so fast and that she didn't like the Yeti. I comfort her and tell her she never has to ride it again if she doesn't want to. R. is 7, so younger kids might be scared by this ride. J., who is 9 and I loved it.

We met up with A. She had purchased ponchos, since it was raining on and off (I mistook the rain for a special effect as we were going up the first hill on Everest). She had gotten the fastpasses for the Safari, but we had a little time until they were good, so we went on the first of two trail walks that we took that day.

Pangani Forest Exploration Trail and Maharajah Jungle Trek: Both of these are similar, so I'll talk about them both here. These are wonderful, zoo-like trails that you walk along and view the animals. No ride, no lines, just wonderful, close-up views of some amazing animals. If you spend your time at Animal Kingdom rushing from ride to ride, you are really missing out on something.

Kilamanjaro Safari: This was the best thing at Animal Kingdom. You get onto a truck that brings you through the park's savanah, where the animals roam free. Well, not really free. To prevent young guests from seeing the animals eat each other (and prevent them from eating the guests,too, I suppose), Disney has cleverly walled off the predators with natural looking barriers. Unless you were looking for the barriers, you would swear that that lion could come down and have a few of the paying customers for lunch.

We got on our truck for what the guide promised us was going to be a "two week tour". She starts driving us through the savanah and we see numerous animals up close. We even had to stop for a couple of minutes as the road was blocked by a giraffe crossing.

There was a nominal plot about poachers that cut our two week tour short to about 15 minutes, but seeing all these animals in a natural setting with no apparent barriers between them and us was nothing short of exhilirating.

Rafiki's Planet Watch: We took the train over to Rafiki's Planet Watch. The train ride itself is nothing special, although it does give you a backstage look at the buildings where the savanah animals spend the night. Rafiki's is a series of exhibits and hands on stuff (including a petting zoo) where we spent a fair amount of time. Again, no lines to stand in (other than to get on the train) and lots of cool stuff to see. One thing we did wait for were some character pictures with Rafiki, Pocohantas and the rarely seen Jiminy Cricket.

Festival of the Lion King: My one regret on this trip is that we didn't see many of the shows, but we did get to see the wonderful Festival of the Lion King. It doesn't really retell the story of the movie, but is more of a celebration hosted by Timon and includes lots of dancing, singing, acrobatics and even a guy who eats fire. Unfortunately, it was too dark in the theater for my pictures to come out but it was a lot of fun. Anyone who comes out of this show and isn't humming some tune from the Lion King soundtrack wasn't really paying attention.

Dinosaur: A. and R. headed off to the Boneyard while J. and I went to ride Dinosaur. The basic story is this: you travel back in time to save a dinosaur, just before the asteroid that wipes out the species hits. The pre-show consists of a video briefing on your "mission", and then you get into the ride vehicle. It's a car, somewhat similar to the ones on Test Track in Epcot. You then get sent back 65 million years into a really intense experience where dinosaurs pop out at you, lights flash and go out and the ride vehicle bounces this way and that. J. and I both thought it was fun, but definitely not for the faint of heart. When we left the ride we had the opportunity to buy a picture. J. was clutching my arm, and a little girl in the row in front of us had her head buried in her arms so she couldn't see anything.

Those were pretty much all the attractions we visited. The other thing the kids did was this stamp book. There was a station in each land where they did an activity and learned something about animals or conservation and they would get a stamp at each spot. When they completed all the stamps,they got a big stamp. Completing the book became a bit of a mission during the day. The kids had fun with it. My only complaint would be that it would have been nice if there was a better prize for completing the book. Maybe a pin?

So we had a great day at Animal Kingdom. It had such a different vibe than the other Disney parks. Instead of rushing from attraction to attraction, Animal Kingdom works best if you take the time to really see the animals and interact with the Cast Members and not just try to check rides off a checklist.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Goodbye to the dirt dog.

Trot Nixon signed a one year, $3 million contract with the Indians, marking the end of his tenure with the Red Sox. Trot was the Sox right fielder for eight years after being drafted in the first round by them in 1993 and breaking into the starting lineup in 1999.

Trot never quite lived up to the potential projected for him in that draft, but he was a very good player for the Sox for a lot of years. What I liked about him is that he always gave maximum effort, played hurt and seemed to take great pride in being a member of the Boston Red Sox.

His greatest moment was probably his 11th inning home run to beat the A's in game 3 of the 2003 ALDS and prevent the Red Sox from being eliminated. I'll never forget that night since I was watching the game at Chan's Chinese Restaurant in Woonsocket, RI at The Hey's 40th birthday party.

Thanks, Trot, for all your years with the Red Sox and for never letting us down. Good luck in Cleveland.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

What a game. The Pats beat the Chargers today 24-21 on a field goal with 1:10 left by rookie Stephen Gostkowski (Adam who?). Tom Brady did it again, bringing the Pats downfield in the last three minutes to set up the game winning field goal.

We may never see the like of Tom Brady in these parts again. A guy who just wins and comes through in the clutch just about every single time the situation calls for it. Russell, Bird, Orr and Big Papi are the only ones in Boston sports history that are in the same class. Every time you watch Brady play, keep in mind that you are watching something special.

So, it's on to Indy and another big game against Peyton Manning and the Colts. The winner goes onto the Super Bowl. Can't wait.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

This is a bit embarrassing, but I'm really looking forward to the new season of American Idol on Tuesday night.

Part of it is that I enjoy the social aspect of the show. A group of us at work talk about the previous night's episode in the morning. It's something we have in common and makes the work day a little more fun.

I think the other thing is that Idol is one of the few shows A. and I watch together. It's nice to spend an hour (or four, this week) and talk about the contestants and just enjoy each other's company. With work, kids and other activities, we don't get much as much time as we would like to spend together, so it's nice to have this "appointment" each week to sit together and watch the show.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

A moral dilemma

Back in college, I spent a fair number of evenings at the legendary Eliot Lounge. It was a somewhat divey bar at the corner of Mass Ave. and Commonwealth Ave. in Boston. It was known for two things: post-Marathon parties with many of the top runners, and as the favorite Boston bar of Sox lefty Bill "Spaceman" Lee.

The Eliot closed in 1996. It was replaced by a high-end restaurant called Clio. I walked by Clio on the way to work one morning just after it opened, and through the window it looked like a classy place. In other words, the exact opposite of the Eliot. I vowed on the spot never to eat there.

So, here comes the dilemma. My boss's boss invited several of us and our spouses to dinner. I find out today that dinner is going to be at (where else?) Clio.

So what to do? Well, I'm going to have to go. It wouldn't be a good thing for me not to, and the people who are going to dinner are a good group, so it should be fun. I'll have to drink a toast to the Eliot while I'm there.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

This is probably my busiest week of the year at work, so posts will be short for the next few days.

I was pleased to see the baseball writers kept Mark McGwire out of the Hall of Fame. Only about 23% of the writers voted for McGwire, which shows me that the "cheaters never prosper" ethic is still out there.

It'll be interesting to see what happens with McGwire next year. Will some writers vote for him after "penalizing" him by keeping him out of the Hall on the first ballot? Or does he slowly lose support over the years? It'll be interesting to see what happens.

Congratulations to Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn for getting in. I was disappointed to see that Jim Rice didn't make it again. I still think he's deserving. And if Bruce Sutter is in, there's no question that Rich Gossage and Lee Smith should be in the Hall as well.

It's a very weak class next year - there are no obvious first ballot guys becoming eligible, so maybe some of these guys who are on the bubble will get the support they need to get in next year.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

I'll get back to the Florida trip tomorrow. Today was all about the weather. It's January 6 and the temperature in Boston hit a record-setting high of 69 today. I had to work today, so I didn't get outdoors too much, but I could see dozens of sailboats out in the harbor today.

I don't know if this is global warming or just and odd weather pattern, but I'm not complaining. I'm sure winter will come back and bite us sooner or later, so I'm going to enjoy it while it lasts.

Go Pats!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Welcome to the Joel Pinero era!

Well, not really, but if a guy with a 6+ ERA last year can get a $4 million contract, I think I'm going to sign J. up for that pitching clinic at the weekly baseball clinic he goes to.

Florida trip - Part 2: Christmas Day and Jiko

A. and I got to sleep in on Christmas Day since the kids were staying with their cousins overnight. My brother brought all the kids back to my parent's house later in the day. This gave A. and I time to have breakfast and take a walk before the kids got back and the rain started.

We weren't getting a lot of warm, sunny Florida weather on this trip. The TV showed a band of intense rain, thunderstorms and even tornado warnings making it's way across the peninsula. The kids showed up before the rain got really bad, so we hung out and had lunch while we watched the rain fall outside.

After things slowed down, my brother, niece and nephew headed back home. A. and I had an 8:00 reservation for dinner at Jiko, the African restaurant at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge. We had eaten there a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it, so we decided to go back for another meal.

The rain had pretty much stopped, so we left around 5:30 and wandered around Downtown Disney for a bit. It was very crowded, as people who had probably been cooped up in their hotel rooms most of the day decided it was time to get out. Still, we looked around and purchased a few things. The one thing we couldn't find was the Hanukkah pin that we have been collecting for the last few years.

The whole pin collecting craze has to be one of the greatest money generating ideas that Disney has concocted in recent years. They started to hype it for the Year 2000 celebration and it took off like gangbusters. Trading between pin collectors is a huge hobby. Disney even has tables set up at the pin kiosks at each park and at Downtown Disney to facilitate trading. The pins sell from around $5 to $10 and up, and probably cost 50 cents or so to make, so Disney is just raking in the cash from this. A. and the kids have been collecting pins for a few years, and I finally gave in this year as I decided to collect pins from my favorite rides in the parks. Call me a sucker, but I have to admit it is kind of fun.

After we finished at Downtown Disney, we headed over to the Animal Kingdom Lodge for dinner. Jiko provided us with the best meal we have had in a long time.

That's a picture of where our table was. The service was outstanding and the food was excellent. We started with the artichoke peppadew flatbread, then after a salad I had a chicken dish and A. had a kind of shrimp stew (sort of an African jambalaya). Everything was a very different mixture of textures and spices than what you usually get. One thing Jiko is known for is it's extensive list of African wines, so I very uncharacteristically had a glass of wine. It was really excellent and complimented my dinner nicely.

After our outstanding dinner we headed home to get to bed. We had an early morning the next day at the Animal Kingdom.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy 2007, everyone!

This year got off to a much less disastrous start than last year. It wasn't perfect, though. I came down with some kind of a nasty bug that had me doing nothing more than either sleeping or wanting to sleep the last two days. A. and the kids went off to a New Year's party last night. I stayed home and went to bed at 9:15. Not even the temptations of a Three Stooges marathon on channel 38, a Marx Brothers marathon on TCM or a Twilight Zone marathon on Sci-Fi were enough to keep me awake.

I felt better today, though, so we went to see Unaccompanied Minors. It was quite a bit better than I was expecting from the previews I saw. Certainly not the movie of the year, but not one of those kid movies that I couldn't wait for it to end.

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