Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Happy birthday, Mom

Today is my mother’s 73rd birthday. Mom died six years ago, following complications from a mastectomy. The last years of Mom’s life were difficult for her physically, as she suffered the after-effects of a 40+ year, pack-a-day smoking habit. Toward the end of her time, she spent a large amount of her time in a wheelchair and was residing in an assisted-living facility at the time of her death. But that was only part of it.

Mary Jane Heimermann was born May 31, 1933, in Center Township, Outagamie County, Wisconsin, about 6 miles north of my hometown of Appleton. Mom was blessed with enormous talent and cursed with unfathomable demons. She was an accomplished singer, lead vocalist in a Sweet Adelines barbershop quartet that performed throughout the Midwest and in Canada. She came of age at a time when women generally were not able to reach the executive suites unless they were secretaries. She became one, serving as a top admin for senior management at Kimberly Clark Corporation. She could type over 100 words a minute on a manual typewriter and would regularly help her bosses craft correspondence and maintain complicated business records. She met an army veteran turned college student, Edward Heuring, and married him in January, 1963. Her husband graduated from the University of Wisconsin that spring and took a job with a large, Chicago based insurance company. The young couple then moved to a small apartment in Cicero, a Chicago suburb best known as the redoubt of Al Capone, where your faithful correspondent arrived at the end of that year, 10 days after shots rang out in Dallas.

Even then, the demons started to appear. Mom grew increasing apprehensive about raising her young son in the big city, so the family moved back to Appleton the following summer. A total of six more children arrived between 1965 and 1976, including a daughter who died shortly after being born. Meanwhile, the sweet, talented and poised young wife and mother began to slide into bouts of mental illness. She grew increasingly estranged from reality, regularly raging against her husband, her neighbors and the world at large. As her rages would escalate, she would be periodically hospitalized at mental health facilities in the area. She was provided medications which would help, but the side effects would eventually cause her to “go off her meds” and the cycle would begin anew. Mom would be confined several times to such facilities.

Meanwhile, her husband and children struggled to understand the demons. Dad eventually left in 1977, no longer able to deal with the rages and abuse she heaped upon him when she was sick. The children remained with Mom in the family domicile for six years, during which time Mom would do the best she could to raise her six children. My siblings and I turned our attentions outward, becoming involved in school activities and friendships. After graduating from high school in 1981, I left for college and returned home only infrequently. My siblings continued to live in the house until Mom was hospitalized in 1983. At that time my father and his new wife took the remaining kids into his home, where they lived the rest of their respective childhoods. My father passed away in 1990, following complications from surgery.

After the family left, Mom lived in various apartments and facilities. She watched as another woman completed raising her children, a task that she ached to complete but was unable to do. She lived the last few years of her life as essentially a ward of the state, with her older sister serving as her conservator. During the last years of her life, she remained on her medications and was able to be a proud grandmother. She greatly loved her children and saw them as the fruits of her life’s work. Unfortunately, she left too soon.

So why am I writing all this? There are a lot of reasons. You cannot choose the circumstances of your birth, or who your parents are. You can try to run away from the circumstances, but they are integral to the person you become. Mom suffered a lot in her life and I believe she is in a better place now, but I sense that she would have accepted the physical pain to remain here and watch her grandchildren grow up. Most young women coming of age in mid-century America did not have a lot of choices available. I can never really understand what my mother’s life was really like. But it is a conundrum that will eternally draw my attention. And it should. More to come.

Phillies tie Twins, prepare for Cubs

In a tense, tightly played contest, the Arden Hills Phillies tied the Arden Hills Twins 1-1 last night at Turtle Lake School. Both squads featured primarily students from the same school, Valentine Hills Elementary, so there was a lot of familiarity between the squads. One thing was especially similar – dominant pitching. The Twins were able to nick the Phillies starter for one run in the 3rd inning and threatened in 5th and 6th, but stellar relief pitching kept them at bay. Meanwhile, our Phillies were unable to mount a rally until the 5th inning, when a run scored. Unfortunately, that was it. Still, it was a well-played game between two evenly matched teams and there will be a rematch later on. The tie moved the overall record for the Phillies to 3-2-2. Our charges next take the field on Thursday against the Cubs. Game time is 6 p.m. at Silver Oaks Park in New Brighton. We’ll have the results right here.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Bloggin' Ben

My son wants into this blogging business and we're going to help him. I have reserved a new web space on Blogger for him and once school is out, he is going to start blogging away. Ben is a very bright fellow and he has strong views on many topics, especially sports. He is personally determined to take the wind out of Barry Bonds's sails. Barry better watch his back.... More details anon.

Hot fun in the summertime

Now that Memorial Day has passed, we find ourselves facing the summer season head on. Summer is, for most people, the most memorable season each year, as it is the time for vacations, fun activities and quite often when romance blooms. But it can also be a time of great unrest and violence.

It was a hot weekend here in Twinstown, which gave the local chattering classes an opportunity to prattle on about global warming and the like. We hit 97 on Sunday, which is certainly hot by any measure, and it was 94 yesterday before a front came through and dropped the temperature about 20-25 degrees. We discovered that our air conditioning had a problem on Sunday (water leaking around the coil) and so we had to turn off the AC and swelter, but it's not so bad. We'll get things fixed this week and we'll be ready for the the next blast of hot weather to come north. And it's possible that it will never top 97 the rest of the summer. You can't depend on global warming for anything....

One advantage of houses in Minnesota is that they have basements - we have a nice family room in our basement and so we were able to watch movies and baseball games when we needed a respite. We thought a lot about basements when we were considering a move to Oregon late last year. We did not see basements in the houses we looked at in the Portland area; we also noticed that many of the houses did not have air conditioning either. While temperatures are much more moderate in Oregon, they do get hot weather and I wonder how they manage it out there.

Phillies get ready for Twins

The suddenly red-hot Arden Hills Phillies will take the field again this evening against the Arden Hills Twins, with game time at 6 p.m. at Turtle Lake Elementary in Shoreview. This should be an interesting test, as the Twins team is, like our heroes, primarily composed of kids from Valentine Hills Elementary School, and there a number of familiar faces on their squad. The Phillies are on a two-game winning streak after victories over the Mariners and Giants last week, and are currently in 3rd place in the Junior Minor League South Division, while the Twins are in second. A win tonight will go a long way into sorting out the overall standings. We'll have the details right here.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Phillies top Giants 13-5, prepare for Twins, Cubs

The mighty Arden Hills Phillies turned in perhaps their most dominant performance of the season yesterday, defeating the Giants 13-5 at Lambert Park in Mounds View. Strong pitching and a consistent hitting attack were the story, as the Giants were only able to score in two of the six innings played. My son was 0-2 but drove in an RBI with a bases-loaded walk as part of a 4 run 5th inning.

The win brings the Phillies' record to 3-2, with an earlier tie. They will return to action on Tuesday against a formidable Twins ballclub. Game time is 6 p.m. at Turtle Lake Elementary in Shoreview. The Cubs tilt will be Thursday, June 1, also at 6 p.m. at Silver Oaks in New Brighton.

New Justice Department Cleanser! Cleans up mold and Milberg!

Or so the hype would lead you to believe. And there’s no question that the decision of Justice Department officials to indict the entire Milberg, Weiss law firm, one of the most successful of the predatory class-action law firms, fills the need for Schadenfreude. There’s little question that such law firms are fundamentally corrupt enterprises and that a lot of the litigation industry is more about enriching the sharks than it is about getting justice for its purported plaintiffs. I have been a member of at least a half dozen “classes” that have had lawyers purportedly acting on my behalf, and about all I’ve ever received from any of it are a few coupons, all of which have required me to purchase additional products or services from the companies which had supposedly harmed me in the first place. But the attorneys who pursued the cases received millions.

Even if you stipulate all of those things, it’s still highly problematic to pursue a criminal indictment against an entire organization. Ask the refugees of Arthur Andersen about that – a small number of accountants in that giant firm were involved in a matter that was prosecuted and, ultimately, ended up nowhere. But the indictment effectively destroyed Andersen and cost thousands of innocent people their jobs. You can call that many things, but justice is not one of them. Although I think the Milberg firm is fundamentally corrupt and dirty, the most likely victims of this action will be functionaries who type the complaints and answer the phones, not the pinstriped pirates who will use their firm’s “limited liability” partnership to shield their assets and careers.

Need some food ideas for Memorial Day?

Well, you could try some of these:

After all, nothing says holiday celebration like Caucasian Shaslik. Bon Appetit, y'all.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

What if they gave an indictment and nobody came?

That's the dilemma that J. Dennis Hastert, former high school wrestling coach and current Speaker of the House, faces. Yesterday ABC News aired a breathless report stating that "sources" had identified Hastert as the subject of a Justice Department investigation concerning possible corruption in the incredible shrinking Abramoff Scandal. After the report aired, it took Justice Department officials about 14.9 seconds to categorically deny, on the record, that Hastert was being investigated. But ABC stands by its story.

It is highly unusual for a Justice Department spokesperson to officially rebut a story about an ongoing investigation. But that is precisely what happened yesterday. About all that can be confirmed is that Hastert may have written a letter on behalf of a tribe that may have been a client of Abramoff. But even that is not certain. Washington is a ruthless place and there are a lot of people who would like to skewer Hastert. An educated guess is that someone within the Justice Department was angry that Hastert and others have raised objections to the search the Justice Department conducted in the office of William Jefferson, a New Orleans area congressman who is suspected of accepting bribes and keeping his booty in a freezer. There's a constitutional argument to be made that Congressmen are protected from such searches within their actual offices. I'm not sure whether the argument would pass muster with the Supreme Court, but that's another issue.

More and more, politics around Washington are beginning to seem more like the Thermidor period of the French Revolution. Instead of guillotines, the preferred instrument of choice is a leak on the network news.

Mr. Dilettante - Certified Youth Coach

Nothing says credential quite like a membership card - and now I have one. If following my son's exploits with the Phillies were not quite enough, now begins part two of our baseball-filled summer, as my daughter begins play in T-Ball in the mighty New Brighton Park and Recreation Department. She is a member of Team 1, also known as "the red team," for the t-shirt that she and her teammates will wear. And I am co-coach of this undertaking, along with another father whose son will be my daughter's teammate. As part of my preparation for being co-coach, I went through a coach's meeting, where I watched a mightily amusing video with blinding flashes of obviousness about the need for sportsmanship, fair play and overall good citizenship. As our charges average 6 years of age, apparently we are to refrain from instilling bloodlust into their performance. That needs to wait until they are 7, apparently.

Still, T-Ball is a lot of fun for the kids, even if it only tangentially resembles baseball. At this age, kids are just as likely to be playing with dandelions in the outfield when the ball rolls out their way. New Brighton offers a very basic, everyone bats and runs station-to-station type of ball, so it's not likely that we'll have to instruct any of the kids in some of the black arts of baseball. Games will generally take place on Monday at 6:15 at Pike Lake School in New Brighton, beginning on June 12, and will run through most of June and July. We'll update the exploits of Team 1 in this space.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Tommies continue struggle with modernity

It's been a very interesting year over at the University of St. Thomas, the burgeoning college run under the auspices of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. As part of the commencement exercises, graduating senior Ben Kessler addressed the assembled graduates, faculty and loved ones and discussed at some length his concerns about how the school was not living up to Catholic teachings, with special mention/approbation concerning birth-control use by co-eds and the earlier controversy about non-married faculty members sharing lodging on the road. Kessler has subsequently apologized for his speech, which apparently offended the wide variety of cafeteria Catholics (and non-Catholics) in attendance. By the way, it's worth noting that Kessler plans next to study for the priesthood.

Catholicism is a tough religion - to be faithful to Catholic teaching requires discipline and sacrifice and most every Catholic I know falls short to varying degrees. I know that I do. Still, it's difficult to see how ignoring Church teachings benefits anyone and it's pretty comical that young Mr. Kessler, who was named "Tommie of the Year" by his classmates for his varied exploits at the school, had to apologize for essentially telling the truth about what the Church expects of its adherents. Perhaps if he'd recommended that his classmates head over to the multiplex to watch "The Da Vinci Code," he would not have these problems. My guess is that young Mr. Kessler will make an excellent priest.

St. Thomas has a choice to make - they can be nominally Catholic, as many of the Jesuit universities now are, or they can take Catholicism seriously, as do a small number of colleges in the U.S. -- Ave Maria (FL) and Franciscan of Stuebenville (OH) are two examples. But since the college is run by the Archdiocese and not by a religious order, they will have difficulties downplaying Catholic doctrine in their day-to-day affairs. Catholicism is not for wimps.

Blogging the Oregon Trail

If you haven't had a chance, check out the following new blog:

The intrepid correspondent at this blog has provided some wonderful writing about her family's move to Oregon from Minnesota. As the family detailed includes a good friend of this feature, it's an intriguing look at what it's like these days to move cross-country. It's definitely an adventure, if blissfully free of dysentery these days. Hit the link, kids!

Phillies outlast Mariners, 11-10

The mighty Arden Hills Phillies broke out to an early 10-0 lead before coasting home with an 11-10 victory over the Mariners yesterday at Island Lake School in Shoreview. The Phillies combined a steady hitting attack that put eight runs on the board against the Mariner starter, adding 3 more against some tough Mariner relief pitching. Phillies pitching was strong through the first three innings, but the Mariners were able to rally in the 4th and 6th. Still, it was a fine victory and squares the team's overall record at 2-2-1. Your faithful correspondent's favorite player went 0-1, scoring two runs (both as a result of walks) and grounding out sharply to the pitcher in the 5th inning. The Phillies return to action tomorrow against the Giants - game time is 6 p.m. at Lambert Park in picturesque Mounds View. We'll have the details here.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Meanwhile, on the field

It was an excellent weekend for the Twins in yet another shiny new ballpark, Miller Park in Milwaukee. The Twins took 2 of 3 from the Brewers, scoring impressive victories on both Friday and Saturday. A few quick thoughts:

  • Francisco Liriano is as good as advertised. He was masterful against the Brewers, showing that he can dominate major league hitters. He'll get cuffed around at some point this season, but he looks like a guy who could be a big winner, maybe even this year.
  • Boof Bonser may have a silly name, but looks like a serious pitcher. Bonser did a nice job keeping the aggressive Brewers off balance, striking out 8 in his debut and giving up only one run in his initial appearance. Jesse Crain blew the game later, but Bonser is a poised fellow and certainly looked more impressive than the man he replaced, Kyle Lohse. Let's see how he does next time.
  • Joe Mauer is a heck of a hitter. Mauer had nearly as many hits in Milwaukee over the weekend as Kirby Puckett did in his famous weekend in 1987. Mauer has a better understanding of a major league strike zone than just about any 23 year old hitter I've ever seen. The power will come eventually, too. When Mauer is about 28 or 29, he's going to be a monster.
  • The Brew Crew has a lot of upside. The young players that Doug Melvin and Ned Yost have assembled are an impressive group. Prince Fielder is a very good young hitter, Rickie Weeks has a lot of talent and Bill Hall is an excellent all-around performer. The key will get getting their young pitching to be more consistent. This is the best Milwaukee team I've seen in probably 20 years.

New Crib for the TC Men

After a debate that lasted over 11 years, the Minnesota legislature finally approved a new stadium for the Minnesota Twins. The move means that, sometime around 2010, the Twins will escape the Metrodome and take up residence in a new open air ballpark in the Warehouse District. And the 11 year delay meant that the price tag only tripled since the first proposals way back in 1995.

So what to make of this? The most important thing is that the Twins will now remain in business and we'll continue to have Major League baseball in the Upper Midwest. That's a good thing for the region and for the many fans of the team. Legislators are betting that the "outrage" of those who don't support "subsidies for billionaires" will fade once fans settle into a seat at the new park. Whether you think that private enterprises like the Twins don't deserve public subsidy, as long as other communities are willing to provide same, governments have to decide whether or not they are willing to risk losing a team to stand on principle. As it stands, the principled opposition has now ensured that the cost of constructing the new ballpark, along with the new on-campus stadium for the U football team that was also approved over the weekend, has gone up significantly. And ol' Carl Pohlad will get his money anyway. Carl always wins in the end.

The only "newer" ballpark that I've been in is US Cellular Field, which the White Sox have called home since 1991. It is not at all like the newer parks, which all take their inspiration from Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the beautiful ballpark that opened in Baltimore in 1992. Based on the plans that have been shown to date, the new park for the Twins will be more like PNC Park in Pittsburgh or maybe Comerica Park in Detroit; that is, a nifty structure that is exposed to the elements. No matter what, it will be a much nicer atmosphere than the unloved Metrodome.

Both new stadiums will likely have corporate names as well, which still seems to outrage people who forget that Wrigley Field has been named for a gum company since the 1920s. It was especially amusing to hear these complaints about corporate sponsorship for the Gophers stadium. Considering that major college football programs play in places like Papa John's Stadium and the Carrier Dome, the objection to having TCF's name on the facility has always seemed silly. The only acceptable name for most new public structures in this state is after Paul Wellstone, but at this point his name is on everything from schools to office buildings to someone's coffee kiosk in the Northtown parking lot. Enough already....

Friday, May 19, 2006

Blogging with an editor/Twins Face Future in Milwaukee

For something new, I've been working this morning with an editor. She knows me well and has made a number of helpful suggestions. Everyone needs an editor.

It may be the first time in a while that the words "future" and "Milwaukee" have been placed in the same sentence, but that's what the Twins will be looking at this weekend as they enter Miller Park after another bad series in Detroit. The Brewers are on a hot streak, having dispatched the Philadelphia Phillies three times in succession. The Brew Crew now features an imposing lineup led by lefty sluggers Geoff Jenkins and Prince Fielder, and also bring former Twin Corey Koskie to the mix. Cleverly, the Twins will start Francisco Liriano against this lefty-heavy lineup tonight. This is a good idea for Liriano's first start. On Sunday, the long anticipated debut of Boof Bonser will take place. These two pitchers are integral to whatever future the Twins will have, so the games in Milwaukee should be very interesting.

Phillies fall to Brew Crew

The mighty Arden Hills Phillies dropped a 6-0 decision to the Brewers last night at Silver Oaks Park. Pitching was good enough to win, but it seemed that our heroes just couldn't piece together enough hits at the right time to get their teammates across the plate. There are two opportunities for redemption coming quickly, though - the Phils will take the field on Tuesday against the Mariners (at Island Lake) and Thursday against the Giants (at Lambert Park, the picturesque spot in Mounds View, not the gigantic Green Bay football stadium misidentified by John Kerry). Be there - aloha.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Phillies return to action

The mighty Arden Hills Phillies return to action tonight in a 6 p.m. tilt against the Brewers at Silver Oaks Park in New Brighton. The Phils have had a 9 day break since thrashing the Angels 17-6 in SAYB action last week. Watch for a spirited performance from the lads, who looked sharp in their Tuesday practice. We have no scouting report on the Brewers, but it's always fun when the Phillies take the field. Watch this space for updates!

Panic in Detroit/Who's next?

So the Twins not only brought in the Boof (as predicted here), but also sent Kyle Lohse off to Elba (a/k/a Rochester) for a little time to get his attitude right. And only four days after it looked like the Twins had righted the ship, they are on a four game losing streak and the starting rotation is in tatters. So what do we make of this?

  • This season will be a slog, at best. Carlos Silva is the key to the season. When he is right, he can eat up innings and keep the Twins in games. There's reason to believe that the Twins ultimately will end up with pretty good offensive numbers. Michael Cuddyer has greatly improved at the plate, Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer continue to improve and even elderly imports Tony Batista and Rondell White are contributing some better at-bats lately. But it won't matter unless the Twins can stay in games. If it's close at the end, Joe Nathan will keep them winning. But right now the pitching is not good enough.
  • Lohse is more trouble than he's worth, at least in Minnesota. There are some smart baseball people who still think that, with a change of scenery, he could be an effective major league pitcher. But it's clear now that he has lost Ron Gardenhire's trust and the backing of his teammates. I'd suggest bringing him back up, putting him in the bullpen for a few games in a 6th-7th inning type setting, and let him go back to blowing away hitters with his good fastball. Then ship him off to some pitching-desperate NL team around the All-Star break and get something useful in exchange. I'm guessing the Rockies will be needing extra arms around then.
  • I'm looking pretty good on the bet I made with my son before the season - that the Milwaukee Brewers would finish with a better overall record than the Twins. This should put an end to his amusing/annoying taunts of, "Dad, you know your Brewers stink!"

p.s. The title of this post references two recording artists. One is easy, the other not so. If you know the answer, put it in the comments section and I'll give you at minimum a hearty handshake some time....

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Bring on the Boof!

As in "Boof" Bonser, a righthander currently toiling for the Twins' Triple A team in Rochester. Mr. Bonser currently sports a 2-1 record and an ERA well under 3.00, which indicates that he has achieved mastery over Triple A hitters. Can he do the same in the American League?

It's clearly time to find out. Kyle Lohse continues to demonstrate that the only thing he can win is an arbitration hearing, as he was again rocked by the Tigers last night in a 7-3 defeat. Lohse is, to use a favorite word, "enigmatic." In sports parlance, that means someone who possesses, but never seems to harness, talent. In other words, he's not getting it done.

Time grows short. The White Sox and Tigers are getting away. Francisco Liriano is on his way into the Twins rotation already. Scott Baker may not be ready to go and Brad Radke is running on fumes. Time to bring on the Boof!

Birds, Bees and Not-So-Civil Servants

Now, children, we present a cautionary tale....

The 4th grade child brings a note home in his "communication folder" one Friday afternoon. Behold, the school is ready to present its "Family Life" curriculum next week! The curriculum will endeavor to present, in a rudimentary fashion, certain aspects of human sexuality and reproduction, including "Fertilization of the Egg" and "AIDS," among other things. The curriculum is available for review in the school library. Please tell us whether your child will participate by no later than Tuesday morning!

Human sexuality is ubiquitous. Many, many people have made the study of it their life's work. People as varied as Hugh Hefner and Oprah Winfrey have gained vast wealth through clever marketing and exploitation of the topic. You cannot avoid sex talk in our society. Half the cable channels are filled with mouth-breathing discussions of the topic. What is the likelihood these days that any 4th grader hasn't already heard all about it? So what's the big deal about this, right?

It makes you wonder - why even ask a parent if their children can participate? We are all participants in the discussion, even if we never say a word. There isn't a day when I don't encounter someone's else sexual self-expression somewhere, either over the airwaves or in one of the newspapers that land on my doorstep. Parents who attempt to control what their children are learning are plowing the sea.

Still, the note I mentioned did come to us last Friday. And when I complained to the school that one day is hardly enough time to review the materials, I received a high-handed note back from the school administrators about their "not being able to tailor the curriculum to specific parent concerns." Never mind that we have no interest in altering the course material. We just want to know what it is we are approving. Can't tell us that, apparently.

I've long sensed that when schoolteachers started thinking of themselves as "educators," that the fundamental relationship between them and the public they serve was changed inalterably. To question a decision is to be labelled a troublemaker or an "angry parent." Sometimes, all we're asking for, as Otis and Aretha would say, is a little respect.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Liriano up, Silva down

As speculated here yesterday, the Twins have moved Francisco Liriano into their starting rotation, moving Carlos Silva to the bullpen. Liriano has been pretty dominant in most of his appearances this season, and having another powerhouse southpaw in the rotation will be useful later on in the season. The demotion of Silva merits more discussion, however.

For the past two seasons, Silva has been arguably the second best starting pitcher the Twins have had, but this year his sinking fastball has ceased sinking, which has led to some horrible outings where he has been little more than a batting practice pitcher. It's difficult to know what to do about Silva at this point; I don't know enough about pitching mechanics to understand if he's doing something different this year, but the results he's getting this year have been abysmal. What will be equally important is taking care of his psyche. Silva gives the impression of being a very conscientious guy and he has worried aloud about how he has been letting down the team as he struggles through this slump. Taking responsibility is an admirable trait, but at times he's looked and acted a bit hang-dog on the mound. Pitching is about confidence as much as anything else; you do not have to be an intimidating physical specimen or throw 100 miles per hour to get major league batters out, as Jamie Moyer and Greg Maddux have conclusively demonstrated in their careers. Right now Silva doesn't look like he believes he can. He'd better, though, because the Twins will need about 140 quality innings from him for the rest of the season if they want to contend.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Lazarus at the Metrodome

As recounted previously, we went and saw the Twins battle the hated White Sox on Saturday evening at the Metrodome. While the Twins still have some issues to solve, it was good to see them in person, as you can see things at the ballpark you can't see on television. A few quick thoughts:

  • Brad Radke is about gassed. Radke struggled manfully through his five innings, but still gave up four runs in ticky-tack fashion. Even when he avoids the crippling, highlight film home runs that he has served up faithfully through his career, it doesn't look like he has much left. We can only hope that another person named Radke surfaces in professional sports so that a certain faithful reader of this feature will have a source of headlines for his cube....
  • Francisco Liriano is the real deal. There's been a lot of talk about this youngster, but you have to see him pitch to understand what the fuss is about. He relieved Radke in the sixth inning and simply blew the world champions away with 94 mile-an-hour fastballs and some really nasty breaking balls. His control appears to have improved significantly from last year and he is an intimidating presence on the mound. Gardy will have to put him in the starting rotation soon.
  • It's sure nice to have a professional second baseman. Luis Castillo is a lot of fun to watch. Besides his 2 run homer that essentially sealed the result, he made a number of nice plays in the field and his demeanor on the field meshes well with what the Twins like to do. He's the kind of guy you want on your side.
  • The Twins were wise not to panic. It would have been easy to do so after a disastrous April, especially the lost weekend in Detroit, but as the Twins now approach .500, it's clear that the fire sale that some called for would have been a mistake. While the AL Central is going to be a tough neighborhood for the foreseeable future, the Twins can compete. An extra bat or two would help, but they may get it done anyway, especially when Liriano finally replaces either Lohse, Silva or Radke. Then it will be time for Boof Bonser mania!

Moving to Portland without leaving

After another very soggy weekend here in lovely Twinstown, it seems like those of us who had an opportunity to move to Oregon, but did not, are living Oregon anyway. My in-laws live about 3 miles from me and they received about 2.5 inches of rain in their rain gauge over the weekend, which brings our yearly precipitation total up to approximately 475 feet. I may be exaggerating a bit, but not much. You know you're in trouble when you wake up in the morning and find that lichens have replaced whiskers on your face.

I own a machete with a two foot blade that I acquired in 1979 when I was an exchange student in Guatemala. (As an aside, and to show you how much things have changed, I brought it on the plane with me when I came home and no one said a word.) It is looking like I'll need to put it to use in the yard, given the way everything is growing right now. It is astonishingly green here right now, much like Portland appeared when we went to visit last December. I'm running out of adjectives to describe it and I may require a trip to my daughter's Crayola box to find the proper words to describe what I'm seeing.

And in this incredibly wet spring, we still find the solons in St. Paul debating new stadia for the Twins, Vikings, Gophers and other potential late entrants (perhaps the Augsburg Auggies or the Gustavus Gusties are lacking in infrastructure). As we entered the hated but dry Metrodome on a very soggy Saturday evening, we were all glad that we got to see a baseball game. Had the Twins set up residence on the other side of downtown, it would have been a rainout. While the debate over a new stadium is more complicated than that, it's something to consider.

They don't worry about those things in Portland, from what I can tell. The city has a very nice Triple A park and there seems to be no enthusiasm to build something that might attract a big league team. Perhaps Oregonians have less of an inferiority complex than Minnesotans do. I'm not sure, but the long-standing crack about Minneapolis becoming a "cold Omaha" seems to animate much of the discussions of these issues. I would have suggested that we could become a "dry Portland," but given the forecast for the week, there's no chance of that happening.

Friday, May 12, 2006

General Hayden may be viewing this blog. Slowly back away.

Evil Bush is at it again. Turns out he's had the NSA looking at patterns of phone calls for millions of Americans since 9/11. Can you believe it? What an invasion of our privacy!

Have you ever thought about the amount of staff it would take to personally investigate all the phone calls that take place in even one day, let alone to eavesdrop on them? There are nearly 300 million people in the U.S. Of these, more than 200 million have a telephone. If all of them use the phone for even 5 minutes a day, that's a billion minutes of call time to analyze. You would need millions of people just to monitor all those calls. Your privacy is safe.

By the way, you may know that our gallant local Baby Bell, Qwest, refused to help the NSA in this matter. Qwest values the privacy of its customers, except when they sell similar data to any marketer who is willing to pay them. So their principles are negotiable as well. And every visit you make on the Internet leaves footprints that marketers use to find you and to offer you everything from financial services to Viagra (sometimes you may need both, depending on the sequence of use).

I'm not sure what's more annoying - the silliness of the people who are complaining about this program, or the fact that the Bushies seem incapable of returning fire with the scorn and contempt that the Pat Leahys and Ted Kennedys of the world so richly deserve.

44 degrees, driving rain. Don't you hate that Metrodome?

If you were to do a Google image search for "foul weather," you might find today displayed. We've had a steady, wind-driven rain all day here in the Twin Cities and it appears that we are looking at another wash-out weekend. This is a day that has "rainout" written all over it, but the Twins will take the field later today in their teflon-coated playhouse. The reason the citizens of Minnesota built the reviled Metrodome 25 years ago is precisely because of days like this. Now, everyone wants to get rid of the thing and move back outdoors. We've got tix for tomorrow night; while the Dome is an eyesore, at least we'll see a game. Not so sure that will be the case if we have similar weather some year in the future....

Thursday, May 11, 2006

A reading from the first letter of Mahmoud to the Infidel

Who knew that soul of a theologian and writer resided in the Iranian president? Mahmoud Ahmedinejad becomes just the latest literary luminary to heap calumny on George W. Bush, a/k/a Bushitler Chimpmeister Warmonger. Iran's ever-so-thoughtful president helpfully suggests that Bush should take responsibility for his role in creating a Hobbesian state of affairs in the world, suggesting that allowing Israel to experience a Hobbesian end (that is, solarity, nasty, brutish and short, and likely glowing with radiation) might forestall something worse for the Great Satan. And, not surprisingly, the calls are out from our more thoughtful politicians that we should accept Ahmedinejad's missive of mass destruction as the opening of some form of "dialogue." After all, if we hadn't supported that nasty Shah all those years ago, we wouldn't be having this problem. So it's our fault, really.

We've been here before, of course. The Unabomber was famous for sending notes explaining how he might stop his reign of terror, if only society would reject its wasteful ways and we exchange our lattes and SUVS and live instead like forest gnomes. Osama bin Laden is fond of sending similar messages, suggesting that acceptance of Sharia would stop all this nasty business of airplanes slamming into buildings and whatnot. All these hirsute titans deeply regret that they might have to destroy us. They'd really rather not destroy us, but we are just too damned selfish and aren't ready to accept their will as our destiny. We all need to be more reasonable. It's a shame, really, but we must repent. And if we don't, well, they simply have no choice.

I hate to belabor the point, but it's not George Bush's fault that we are facing the world we live in today. It's not Bill Clinton's fault, either. America is at fault because America exists. That is why this War on Terror, and all of its manifestations, is an existential struggle. Our enemies do not feel we should exist as we are; they will allow us to exist as long as we comport to their views, and if that means we get burkhas for the women and summary execution for infidels, that's just how it is. We can fight, or we can surrender. We aren't going to be able to finesse our way out of this through UN resolutions or the ministrations of the EU. There is no separate peace available. So the question for America, and those who would lead America, is this: is America worth fighting for? I know where George W. Bush stands. I'm not so sure about a lot of the other politicians out there.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Phillies victorious

The mighty Arden Hills Phillies won their first victory of the season with a 17-6 thrashing of the New Brighton Angels at Lambert Park. Clinging to a 7-6 lead after 2 innings, Phillies pitching tightened considerably and the team exploded for five runs in each the 3rd and 4th inning. Three Phillies made their pitching debuts yesterday and nearly everyone got into the action in some form or another, including a spectacular diving catch by one of the team's 3rd graders. Your correspondent's son had a tough day at the plate, going 0-3 and reaching base as a hit batsman in the 4th inning. That's the second time this year the intrepid youngster has taken a plunking, but that is the nature of Little League baseball among the younger set.

The overall Phillies record is now a balanced 1-1-1. There's a break in the schedule until Thursday, May 18, when the Phillies take the field at 6 p.m. against the Brewers at Silver Oaks Park in New Brighton. Be there - aloha.

Monday, May 08, 2006

I hear you're working for the CIA/They would not have you in the Maf-I-A

So the discord continues in the spook shop, as Porter Goss departs after less than two years at the helm in Langley. President Bush appears to have chosen a military intelligence man, General Hayden, to take over the CIA. So what does this all mean?

Who knows? It sure seems, from this safe distance, that the spooks are completely dysfunctional. Goss struggled mightily against the entrenched bureaucracy at CIA headquarters, watching nearly helplessly as politicized agents leaked damaging information to the press, in most cases designed to damage the administration. There's plenty of reason to believe that the CIA, as it's currently constituted, may be beyond reform. I can't think of anything worse than an intelligence operatives with civil service protections and a civil service mentality, who are more interested in sticking knives in the back of the president than they are with fighting the bad guys. And while it has been highly enjoyable for the Democrats to watch this spectacle and to add the tympani to the orchestrated outrage, they ought to remember that the evil Bush has been putting his boys and girls in sinecures at Langley for the better part of six years now. It would be easy to imagine a few self-styled right-wing "patriots" who wouldn't think twice of skewering a President Hillary or President Gore. Of course these "patriots" would be "traitors," not "whistleblowers," but the damage would be the same. It's a dangerous game.

Probably the only good thing to come of this is that Hayden will go through a very contentious confirmation hearing, which will allow the Democrats to prattle and preen about their concerns over the NSA spying "scandal," which Hayden oversaw. I think a more fleshed out discussion of the purposes of this program of "eavesdropping on Americans" would inure to the benefit of the Administration. The gauntlet to throw down - if the Democrats think that the program is so heinous, they should call for its immediate abolition. Have you noticed that they haven't? Why do you suppose that is?

I have a guess - the D's will need to act like adults should they ever gain power. And acting like adults means, among other things, being able to control the behavior of underlings and having the levers necessary to deal with insubordination. They will need something like the NSA program if they ever take power. Will they have it? Again, who knows?

Deadlock under the lights

The mighty Arden Hills Phillies rallied from a 4-1 deficit with 3 runs in the 6th inning to tie a scrappy Centennial Blue Jays squad under the lights at Lexington Park last night. Again, the Phils demonstrated strong pitching, as all three Phillies pitchers struck out at least four Blue Jay batters apiece during their respective two-inning stints. Hitting and fielding are coming along, although fielding opportunities have been sporadic due to the dominance of the pitchers. The son of this author took had a rough night at the plate, fanning twice as he struggled to adjust to the Blue Jay pitching, which was considerably slower than what teams typically see in Shoreview league play. The Phillies next take the field tomorrow against the Angels, with game time at 6 p.m. at Lambert Park in lovely Mounds View. Your faithful correspondent will be there, as always!

Friday, May 05, 2006

Phillies prepare for Centennial

Our fighting Arden Hills Phillies had a spirited batting practice on Thursday at lovely Sitzer Park in Shoreview, preparing for their Sunday matchup against an unknown squad from the Centennial Little League. We're seeing some progress in their hitting and the young men all appear eager to learn more. Hope springs eternal in May.

Kennedy Driving School

It must be nice to be a Kennedy. Sometimes, it's just too easy, though. The father crashes his car and leaves a woman to drown at Chappaquiddick. Now, the son crashes his car like a drunk driver and claims to have been hopped up on Ambien, though there's a cocktail waitress who has indicated that young Patrick had a few pops earlier that evening. Instead of a visit to jail, he gets a ride home from the Capitol police. You or I do that and we get a field sobriety test and a nice visit to the station.

Do we really think we're doing anyone any favors by giving Patrick Kennedy preferential treatment? Hard to imagine that. Also, why on earth don't the Kennedys hire a driver? Lord knows they can afford one. It's worth noting that young Kennedy may be the least respected member of Congress there is, which is saying something, given the vast array of crooks and potted plants that currently occupy the lower chamber.

The better question is this: why do the good citizens of Rhode Island make themselves a fiefdom and keep sending this clown back to Congress? Surely there must be someone, anyone in Rhode Island who could do a better, more coherent job than Ted's son.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Fightin' Fran Foley

So Fran Foley will not go gently into the good night. The Vikings ended up having to fire their erstwhile personnel expert yesterday after he refused to accept their terms. Now the matter will go before an arbitrator and potentially even Paul Tagliabue. Amazing. Well, at least the new uniform sales are brisk....


"I win," says Zacharias Moussaoui, as he enters federal prison with a life sentence. Apparently enough of the jurors in his case had fully absorbed the lessons of Oprah Winfrey and the other bien pensant arbiters of taste and decorum to cast a gimlet eye on Mr. Moussaoui.

He came from a broken home, we learn. His parents were tough on him, it is said. He suffered from slings and arrows of outrageous racism as he grew up in France, we find. All in all, his wretched beginnings make him a victim and therefore somehow undeserving of the ultimate sanction.

Goodness. What an insult to the millions, even billions of other people who endured hardship, squalor and bad treatment without resorting to vengeance on a cosmic scale. Why do the right thing when you can hang with a death cult and allow thousands of non-combatants to be slaughtered on a clear bright Tuesday afternoon. Why have remorse? Osama was right, Moussaoui finds - we may not have the nerve to do what it takes to stop him. If one day you find yourself living under Sharia law, remember May, 2006, when we lost the nerve to fight an existential threat.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Si se puede/Donde esta el bano?

So the big May Day protests came and went and the major impact discovered here is that apparently you can't run a Chipotle without illegal immigrants. But it was different other places.

The headline/question in the paper was - how to turn the power in the streets into votes? It's an excellent question, since non-citizens can't vote. Here's an easy answer - you can give non-citizens driver's licenses, and you can allow same day voter registration, and allow driver's licenses to be proof of citizenship, even though the election judges are much too polite in Minnesota to ever ask for a driver's license. In fact, I would imagine that you could get nearly everyone in that crowd fitted for a Mike Hatch t-shirt in a matter of days. Si, se puede.

The longer this debate goes on, the more disheartening it is. I really want to be sympathetic to immigrants; as I've said here many times before, I am the great-grandchild of immigrants and it's perfectly understandable and reasonable to imagine that distressed people will want to follow in the footsteps of Great Grandpa Joe and Great Grandpa Peter, among others. But all I am asking is that people who come to America be willing to accept the notion and ideal of America that my ancestors accepted. Multiculturalism leads to Quebec (in the best case) and Kosovo (in the worst). And neither Quebec nor Kosovo is America.

Hang down your head Fran Foley

Wow, that didn't take long. Amid much fanfare, the perpetually amusing Minnesota Vikings are apparently in the process of buying out their head football guy, Fran Foley, who was brought in with much fanfare from San Diego earlier this year. Since his arrival in Winter Park, we have discovered that:
  1. He likes to embellish his resume. He claimed to have a number of lofty football positions in his formative years of coaching, somehow turning "graduate assistant" into "assistant coach" at a number of colleges. While that didn't sink George O'Leary here, he had a better pedigree than Foley, at least what could be independently confirmed.
  2. He's apparently high handed and has angered the staff at Winter Park with his ways.
  3. He's quite fond of argyle sweaters.
  4. He's not necessarily a draft genius, based on some of his trades.

So now he has to go, and the Vikings need to start over. They may want to give the job to Scott Studwell, who has served the Vikings organization well for nearly 30 years now, as a stout linebacker, scout and executive. But they will need to do something.

The NFL North Division is hardly a festival of greatness these days - my beloved Packers are probably at least a few years away from contending again, Brett Favre notwithstanding. The Lions have pretty much defined mediocrity for nearly 50 seasons. And the Bears are a mirage - while they have some undeniable talent on defense, they can be beaten. But the Vikings look increasingly unlikely to take advantage of the situation. Brad Johnson is decrepit and Mike McMahon wasn't good enough to hold the QB job in Detroit, so it's difficult to imagine he'll do better wearing purple.

The season begins for the Phillies

After a very soggy weekend, the Arden Hills Phillies made their 2006 debut yesterday, losing 7-0 to a Yankee team comprised primarily of New Brighton kids from my son’s former school. Except for one poor inning, it was tight contest featuring very good pitching on both sides. Both starters went 3 innings apiece, with the Yankee starter striking out the side in each inning. Only one baserunner reached against the Yankee starter, a young, bespectacled lefthander who threw hard. The Phillies starter was nicked for one run in the 3rd, while his reliever had a rough debut, surrendering 5 runs in the 4th inning. Yankee pitching remained strong throughout, although the Phillies left the bases loaded in both the 5th and the 6th innings.

My son was officially 0-0, being hit by a pitch in the 3rd (making him the only baserunner to reach against the Yankee starter) and walking in 5th. He also stole two bases and missed a catchable popup while playing 2nd base. All in all, he was just fine. While the team was disappointed in losing the opener, they may have seen the best pitching they’ll see all year in the first game. I would not be surprised at all if the Yankee lefthander is pitching for Mounds View High School in about 6-7 years. Next up – a game against an unnamed opponent from the Centennial Little League, under the lights, on Sunday at 7 p.m. at Lexington Park in lovely Blaine, hard by the potential future home of the Vikings.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Rainy Days and Mondays

Recapping a wet weekend....

A light but nearly constant rain fell all weekend and is continuing today, although we have it on good authority that the rain will end this afternoon. Among the things that the weather affected was the debut of the mighty Arden Hills Phillies, who had their weekend games wiped out by the rain, along with 30 other games scheduled for Perry Park. The Phillies will take the field on Tuesday against the dreaded Yankees at Island Lake School, assuming the rain finally stops.

One trick on a rainy weekend is finding things to keep kids occupied, especially kids who are disappointed that they can't play baseball. Both kids were able to participate in an indoor baseball clinic sponsored by the Minnesota Twins, which took place Saturday morning at the New Brighton Family Service Center. This is a program the Twins have been doing for nearly 20 years now and it's really one of the better things they do. The Twins employ good high school coaches, some of whom have experience in organized ball at the minor league level, to teach youngsters the fundamentals of the game. The clinics are free and participants usually get ticket vouchers to attend a game at the Dome. As we've noted here previously, baseball is a sport that is declining in popularity and it will take a concerted effort for the sport to retain its fan base. I believe that those who play baseball and have a good experience with the game are the future of the sport, so the Twins are wise to offer this program.

Unfortunately for the Twins, it did not rain in Detroit all weekend, unless you count the deluge of runs that Twins pitching gave up. The Twins were absolutely humiliated at Comerica, losing games to the Tigers 9-0, 18-1 and 6-0 over the weekend. The TC Men looked inept in nearly all phases of the game. It's difficult to imagine that they will continue to be this ineffective, but early indications are that fans are looking at a long season.

One activity that is perfect for rainy weekends is watching the NFL draft coverage. There's a torrent of words (and even more commercials) among the highlight clips and prolonged stretches of inactivity that attend to what is an administrative exercise. My beloved Packers seem to have made a wise decision in choosing A. J. Hawk, a talented and marketable linebacker from Ohio State who should greatly improve the Packer defense. He could be the best overall linebacker the Packers have had since the days of Fred Carr back in the 1970s. Meanwhile, the Vikes picked another Big Ten backer, Chad Greenway of Iowa, who is similar in many ways to Hawk in both talent and pedigree. It will be interesting to compare the trajectory of their respective professional careers - this is really the first time we've seen comparable players at comparable positions drafted by the Packers and Vikings since tailbacks Eddie Lee Ivery and Ted Brown arrived in 1979.