Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Just Curious

If we're in such an age of parity, how come the season is already over in the AL?

And while I'm about it, should we be expecting the Red Sox to sign Barry Bonds now?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Compared to What?

Several times during yesterday's radio broadcast of what turned out to be the Mets 62nd loss of the 2010 season, the announcers pitched, as they have for a while, "Better seats, lower prices." During the 2002-2004 seasons (a collective 212-272 record), I went to Shea many times in September. I bought an upper deck ticket and then found a seat in the loge or mezzanine. The ushers never bothered me. I thought management might just be happy I was there, putting a body on camera, spending money. So I thought perhaps "Better seats, lower prices" might be this idea, only formalized. Nobody likes to cut prices but it's all about the net profit, right? After all, attendance at CitiField is down an average 5,235 per game from the inaugural season and the Mets .500 performance isn't much of an incentive by itself.

I went to Mets.com, where the promotion is prominently displayed on the home page, and clicked on the graphic. The 20 remaining home games popped up; I checked out a Phillies game. They were the same seats, at the same prices. I replayed the radio ad in my head and figured out the small print, 'Buy direct from the Mets and save' (or something like that). Let me explain something to management: all those season ticket holders already have the better seats and although a fan can over-pay on StubHub if they want to, tickets are being sold at a discount to face value. The Mets can't compete on the field, and they can't compete at the box office. I did buy some Phillies tickets though. I'm seeing them play the Marlins on Labor Day.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Best Part Was the Bison Dog

Once again this year, as summer turns to fall, there are few moments that might be called baseball "highlights" on the North Side of Chicago. Losing four in a row to the Padres isn't the humiliation it might have been in other years, but it's been clear for a number of weeks that the towel has been thrown in on the Cubs' season—and, while we're about it, on Lou Piniella's managerial career. Rod Blagojevich's hair is doing better in this heat than the Cubs are.

Today's series finale was no exception to the torpor and mediocrity that has covered Wrigley 's denizens like a damp and itchy blanket since before the All-Star break. The humidity was rising throughout the day, and there was a restlessness in the stands. Taking the mound for the Cubs was this year's Milton Bradley Award winner for senseless implosion, Milton Bradley. Sorry, no, make that Carlos Zambrano, who continued to build the case for his irrelevance with six innings of work that was uninspired but not actually damaging. He allowed only one run on four hits, but he struck out only one and walked a tedious six. That's great if you have three or four better pitchers hanging around, but on the day after the Cubs sent a record six rookies to the mound in a single afternoon, it's not really a cause for celebration.

An even lesser source of joy was the Cubs offense, which hacked and flailed to little good end in the face of Mat Latos, who whiffed 10 in seven innings to improve to 13-5 overall. A couple of doubles and whatnot in the sixth led to two Cubs runs, giving them their first lead since Sunday, when they somehow beat the Cardinals—though it was short-lived, as the Padres whanged away on Sean Marshall in the seventh until he coughed up three runs and put them up 4–2 with one out, runners on second and third, and Justin Berg relieving Marshall.

Let's see now, mediocre pitching, weak offense, what does that leave? Oh, yes, humiliatingly bad defense. Perennial quadruple-A outfielder Chris Denorfia comes to bat and trickles something down the third-base line. Koyie Hill alertly snags the ball and runs the Padres' Chase Headley back toward third. He doesn't even need to start the rundown because for not entirely clear reasons Will Venable has already advanced from second to third, leaving Headley nowhere to go. So Hill tags him out and tosses the ball to Berg, and they all have a good laugh as they walk toward the mound.

Except that Venable then takes off from third, because the play is not actually over and no one's guarding the plate. Despite a valiant dash from first by Xavier Nady, Venable slides in, putting the Padres up 5–2. Piniella made remarkable time coming out to discuss the matter with the umps, but he didn't have much to lean on—his team had just stopped playing before the play was over. I suppose it's only fitting that this echoes another Milton Bradley moment from about 11 months ago.

I just learned, incidentally, from an obituary of Bobby Thomson, that Yogi Berra attended the famous Shot Heard Round the World game but left early. That traffic on the Major Deegan was always a bitch, even five years before it opened.

After the shock of Venable's Charge wore off, the boos rose. The roster teardown has already begun, of course, with Ted Lilly, the Francophilic keystoners, and Derrek Lee all getting shipped out for a loaf of bread, a quart of milk, and a stick of butter. And the youth movement is arguably already under way—it's actually a little hard to believe that Starlin Castro was at Double-A in April. But there's a lot of rot on the roster still, and more sad, sleepy moments to come. Happy retirement, Lou.

Photo: Jauerback

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

2010 NYPL All-Star Game

The New York Public Library held its all-star...no, wait, that's not right; it was the New York Penn League that played its all-star game last night. The confusion does give me an excuse, however, to publish this very cool picture of the main reading room in the library's 42nd Street branch, made available by David Iliff on wikimedia by Creative Commons Attribution and ShareAlike license.

From the library, a half-hour ride on the number 4 train and another half-hour on the Staten Island Ferry brings you to the Richmond County Savings Bank Ballpark at St. George, to use its full(y paid for) name. The Staten Island Yankees played host, in the truest sense of the word, to the sixth annual league all-star game. One day earlier, the 55 players were taken to Yankee Stadium for lunch and a tour. "It's been non-stop things to do since we got here," Vermont Lake Monsters pitcher Neil Holland told the Staten Island Advance.

It was the fans who were feted the next day. The stadium opened four hours before game time. Fans got the chance to watch the players work out, take pictures of the Yankees' 2009 World Series trophy and bid at a charity auction on baseball memorabilia. The all-stars graciously autographed everything put in front of them. (Above, Batavia Muckdogs starting pitcher Justin Edwards.) As a friend and I arrived at the ballpark, a man was heading back towards the ferry terminal, four brand new bats covered in signatures and no interest in the game. Every fan got a souvenir cap; this lady made hers a keepsake.

My buddy and I timed our arrival for the home run derby. Marcell Ozuna (above), the Jamestown Jammers right fielder, had a league-leading 15 home runs going into the all-star break, but it was David Freitas of the Lake Monsters who launched the most balls over the wall. Then, Staten Island Yankees manager Josh Paul and Brooklyn Cyclones skipper Wally Backman, who some Mets fans hope will be called up to the big league club in September, exchanged the line up cards that soon became obsolete. Like some youth baseball leagues, every able body plays in an all-star game. Anyone who was keeping score in the bottom of the fifth--when a pinch hitter stayed in the game and there was a pitching change and six defensive substitutions--probably decided it was time for a beer run.

What can you say about a game where no pitcher lasted longer than an inning and most players got two at bats or less? For MLB.com staff reporter Jed Weisberger, the story was Jose Garcia. The Lowell Spinners shortstop made up for a fourth inning throwing error, which let the National League affiliates score two, by hitting a single in the eighth that brought home the winning run. It was a home-town story for Jim Waggoner, on the Internet edition of the Advance. Staten Island had six players on the roster and Preston Claiborne got the win; Chase Whitley earned the save. Joe Anuta, writing for The Brooklyn Paper, also took the local angle despite the absence of good news. The Cyclones players went hitless and Ryan Fraser blew the save.

2005 NYPL All-Star Game
One of the advertising pitches for minor league baseball is, 'see the players of tomorrow, today.' I have previously calculated that, on average, only two or three players on any NYPL team will make it to "the bigs." But what about the all-stars? Another friend and I attended the inaugural NYPL all-star game, held in Coney Island. I was curious how those 50 players (and two who were injured) have fared in the five years since. It turns out about 20 percent of the 2005 roster is playing in the majors. Generally, pitchers got there faster. Kyle Kendrick (Phillies) and Jensen Lewis (Indians) got their first taste just two years later and Chris Volstad (Marlins) and Bobby Parnell (Mets) had playing time in 2008. Wade Davis is in his first season with the Rays this year.

All the position players have been infielders, no doubt a non-stat. First baseman Steve Pearce made the majors in 2007 but has only played in 42 games in four seasons. Brent Lillibridge (Braves, now White Sox) and Jed Lowrie (Boston), both shortstops, and first baseman Gaby Sanchez (Marlins) all got their first call-ups in 2008. Detroit shortstop Will Rhymes is in his first year in the majors. A bit more than half of the 2005 NYPL all-stars appear to be out of organized baseball altogether, leaving a quarter still in the minors. Half are in Triple-A; three are playing at a lower level than last year.

And how did those guys do on August 23, 2005? Sanchez was the most valuable player, hitting a two-run single in the fifth. Pearce was one of the runs to score. Davis gave up four runs in that inning and thereby took the loss. Volstad pitched a perfect seventh. Three unearned runs scored while Kendrick was on the mound in the eighth. We no doubt saw some future major leaguers last night, but it is impossible to guess who from how they played in the game.

NYPL All-Time Team
The league announced its all-time team prior to the 2010 all-star game. I guess this just couldn't wait, since the announcement came in celebration of the league's 72nd anniversary, not your usual milestone. The players were elected by online fan balloting, the bogus method used to pick the major league all-stars, so I won't list the players selected. (You can read it yourself, if you really want.) Pete Rose, of the 1960 Geneva Redlegs, will at least have this accolade to fall back on.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Going Down

A friend and I got to see Johan Santana pitch a masterful, four-hit, complete game shut out of the Colorado Rockies on Thursday. He struck out the side in the first inning and ten total in a game lasting a brisk 2:18. The Rockies had men at the corners with two outs in the second but Climt Barmes (2B) popped out, ending the only threat. Santana also got a hit, but it didn't figure in the score. Jose Reyes (SS), Angel Pagan (RF) and Carlos Beltran (CF) put two runs on the board in the first. Reyes hit an RBI single in the seventh, then Fernando Martinez (LF) plated the fourth run with a sac fly. Replacement catcher Josh Thole, who is averaging almost 60 points higher than at Buffalo, got a hit. It was almost enough to make me think I've got the wrong title and image at the top.

Almost. The win got the team back to .500 (57-57). It was their first series win since July 29 and only their second in their last 12 (2-9-1), going back to late-June. The team hasn't won back-to-back games--Does two games constitute a "streak?"--since June 22/23. I do something in this paragraph that fans often do but I generally don't: use the first person plural when the team is winning, the third person when the team is down.

So let's remember the phrase coined by Mets closer Tug McGraw in 1973 as the Mets went from last place at the end of August to win the division and the National League Championship. (My ex-wife, a knowledgeable baseball and Mets fan, never pronounced the first word "yuh," but exactly like it's spelled only more so.) The Mets have 15 series and 48 games left to their 2010 season. One-third of those games are against the first place Braves and second place Phillies. Six of the nine games against Philadelphia are at CitiField, where the Mets not only swept the Phillies in May, but shut them out. Can the Mets prove Governor David A. Paterson (".500 team") and former Mets pitcher and current broadcaster Ron Darling ("85 wins") wrong? The most telling fact for me is management's decision to not make any trades before the waiver deadline. It says to me they don't believe.

R.A. Dickey pitched a one-hit, complete game shut-out of the Philadelphia Phillies on Friday, the first back-to-back wins in over seven weeks. It was also back-to-back complete game shut-outs, and the fourth shut-out victory at home this season against the Phillies.

The Mets have had success the old-fashioned way, smart player acquisitions and good play, but it's the dramatic wins people remember. The 1986 Mets won the National League East by 21.5 games but Mookie Wilson's hit in Game 6 of the World Series defines the season. The "miracle" season of 1969, when an expansion team that never finished higher than ninth place in a ten team league became the world champions. The late-season comeback in 1973. The 1999 wild card play-in game against the Cincinnati Reds. Come on Mets; let's see some drama.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Bear Witness

I saw the Newark Bears on Saturday and had a couple realizations; one easily quantifiable, the other still theoretical. The first is I have seen more Bears games than any other team except (in order) the Mets, Yankees and Brooklyn Cyclones. I was surprised because I am not a fan of independent league baseball (with the exception of the St. Paul Saints where the game is irrelevant to the enjoyment). I wish I could make a logical argument for my disconnection but it's conceptual. In minor league baseball, players generally are advancing towards the major leagues until they aren't, at which point most find another career and some go play independent league ball. Without the developmental framework, I don't have another way to conceive of independent, professional baseball. It's an entertainment product with a weak brand identity?

My structuralist and existential qualms notwithstanding, I have seen a half-dozen or so Bears games. Melvin, who does not suffer from these philosophical questions, has proposed numerous outings while living in or visiting New York City. I always agree to go because it often includes dinner at Seabra's Marisqueria, in Newark's Ironbound section. I have fallen in love with Seabra's Açorda de Marisco, a traditional Alentejo "dry soup" consisting of shrimp, clams, mussels, scallops and cubed bread with an olive oil, garlic and fresh coriander sauce, topped with a poached egg. (Photograph by Ricardo, aka zone41, from Wikipedia.) It all gets stirred together into a delicious fishy, garlicky, starchy, eggie stew.

I saw last weekend's game with my brother, my niece and my older nephew. None of them are baseball fans but it was a social outing for my brother's church, and I appreciate their asking me to join them. Bears starter Kelvin Villa (four years in the Braves organization; a year and nine games as a Royals farm hand) allowed eight hits and walked four in six innings. The Somerset Patriots parlayed that into one run in each of the second, third and fourth innings. The three-run tally might have been higher but for a couple Bears double plays. The Patriots' starter, Brian Adams (42 innings en Marzo y Abril con los Broncos de Reynosa), held the Bears to three hits and a walk while striking out a career-high ten. But then the Bears bats came alive when Adams was relieved by Tim Lavigne (Triple-A, 2005-2007). Fourteen-year major leaguer and two-time all-star Carl Everett hit a long solo home run, followed by a walk and a two-run shot by Eric Munson. As the hero of the game, I will dispense with the parentheses for Munson (no relation to the Yankee catcher), who was a first-round draft pick of the Detroit Tigers in 1999. Munson (mid-trot) spent parts of the 2001-2007 seasons (and one game in 2009) in the major leagues. A career .214 average couldn't keep him in "the show" and the Padres released him in June.

No score in the eighth and the 3-3 tie held. My brother, who had been looking forward to the post-game fireworks since the fourth inning, was beginning to worry about extra innings but he needn't have. Munson led off the ninth and was awarded first when Lavigne hit him. He went to second on a sac fly and after another fly out, Pablo Ozuna (309 games over seven intermittent years in the majors) hit a two-out single to center that brought Munson home. The throw got to the plate first but Munson, a catcher himself, crashed into Jason Belcher (reached Double-A) and knocked the ball lose, winning the game. The fireworks, by July4Ever, were excellent; less bursts of light and more fields of color. A video on YouTube from after the Bears' July 4 game might give a better sense of the distinction I'm trying to make if it had higher resolution.

My second realization is my experience of the Bears, and my hesitant expectations for all independent league baseball, has been colored by the team's home town. Newark is depressed, and that's depressing. Walk down Broad Street and you'll see blight like the former S. Klein department store, which closed over three decades ago. (The clock doesn't work either.) How did this happen? Some point to six days of riots in 1967 that left 26 dead, hundreds injured and property damage in excess of $10 million. (At the fortieth anniversary of the riots, the New York Times prepared a slideshow of historic and contemporary pictures.)

But the civil unrest--sparked by a rumor that a black cabdriver arrested for a traffic violation had been killed by the police while in custody--was as much a symptom of where Newark had been headed for some time as it was the beginning of a new era. Industry had been leaving the city, followed by the white middle class. Much of the remaining African-American population suffered from unemployment, poverty, poor housing, and a general disenfranchisement from a white-dominated political structure out of touch with one of America's first black majority cities. After the riots, many in the black middle class also left. Out-migration accelerated in the 80s and 90s as the largest city in New Jersey went into a death spiral. Poverty worsened. Educational attainment declined and in 1995 the state took over the local school system. Time Magazine called Newark "The Most Dangerous City in the Nation" in 1996.

Cory A. Booker--the smart, industrious and charismatic mayor first elected in 2006--has said he wants Newark to be "America's leading city in urban transformation." Metropolitan New York City is expected to grow by 2.5 million people by 2025, a 13 percent increase. A recent planning document dares to imagine Newark gaining not just a proportionate share--37,000 new residents--but perhaps as much as 50 percent more. The city's population is estimated to have already grown 9,000 since the 2000 census. If the city is going to grow its way out of crisis, it will need to tackle its high rates of unemployment, poverty and crime; rebuild a housing stock that is both deteriorating and unaffordable; and create a new downtown with high-density residential buildings, regional shopping opportunities and connections to the Passaic River.

And why not? Port Newark is the world's fifteenth busiest port. Newark Liberty International Airport is the fourteenth busiest in the United States, tenth for cargo. An estimated 60,000 students attend six post-secondary schools. Three Interstate and two United States highways, plus numerous other roads, serve the city. There is Amtrak service, five New Jersey Transit commuter rail lines, an interstate subway, and two light rail lines. Downtown has handsome public spaces and beautiful buildings from all periods, preserved by lack of investment. (By comparison, the S. Klein mothership on Union Square in Manhattan was replaced by the architecturally undistinguished Zeckendorf Towers.) The 1929 New Jersey Bell Telephone Building (above) was designed by Voorhees, Gmelin, and Walker, who specialized in Art Deco architecture. The massing, reveals and sea-green fenestration make the Mutual Benefit Life Building, from 1957, one of my favorites in the International Style.

However, until Newark can make its assets pay greater dividends for its residents, a trip to "Bears & Eagles Riverfront Stadium"--and I suspect the New Jersey Performing Arts Center and Prudential Center sports arena as well--will remain a melancholy day-trip for many, in spite of good company and fine play on the field.

Monday, August 9, 2010

I Went Back to Ohio, and My City Was More or Less Present

One perk of our recent visit to Ohio was the opportunity to spend some time talking with a person who had been intimately involved in the siting and planning of Jacobs (now Progressive) Field in Cleveland in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Jacobs wasn’t the first of the “new breed” parks, as it opened two years after Camden Yards in Baltimore, but it was an early success. Beyond its amenities as a ballpark—which are not trivial—Jacobs is significant as one of the anchors of what is called the Gateway Complex. As our friend told us, the development of the district was contentious and detail-oriented, as the precise siting of all the elements would make or break the project.

Downtown Cleveland had been in standard Rust Belt decay mode. Much like Buffalo, Cleveland had a core filled with significant architecture and history but little else. People did not stay downtown any longer than they had to for work, and there was a general sense of menace there after dark. Yet a baseball stadium or any other investment would not ensure a turnaround purely on its own merits.

The negotiations over the site had to meet the needs of the ballclub and other interested parties, but they also had to lead to a result that would have collateral benefits for the downtown over the long term. This seems sort of obvious, but too many cities have built stadiums without paying sufficient attention to this. There are obvious failures—like U.S. Cellular Field, which is next door to nothing except the former site of Comiskey Park—and there more subtle ones. If the unlamented Metrodome was only a quarter mile closer to either downtown Minneapolis or the University of Minnesota, there might be genuine secondary development (read: nightlife) around it on its account.

In the case of Cleveland, our friend told it came down to a matter of proximity to downtown and specific orientation of the field. As it stands today, there is a lively corridor of restaurants and the like that leads from the traditional center of downtown direct to the doorsteps of both the arena that hosts LeBron James’s old team and Progressive Field. It’s not all a consumer’s paradise—and I'm stipulating only for the moment that this brand of economic development is a desideratum in the first place, as there are strong arguments against it—in part because there are also some humongous parking decks attached to the field. Those may help in luring excessively timid suburbanites back in for a game, but of course they don’t keep them in the area afterward.

It’s true, certainly, that Cleveland’s heyday is past, and that it is too large for its present population. We drove numerous decayed blocks that featured large boarded-up or burned-out apartment buildings, and we saw any number of carved-up and crumbling mansions that still house people but before too long probably won’t. Incidentally, here’s a look at a mural celebrating African-American contributions to the pursuit of powered flight:

However, that’s actually a reproduction of it that’s installed at the John H. Glenn Research Center out by the airport. The actual mural, at 105th and Superior, is in a condition that unfortunately reflects the state of much of the east side of Cleveland. We attracted local curiosity when we popped out of the car in the pouring rain to take pictures of it.

What Cleveland and other cities like it are wrestling with is the problem of reconcentration. Finding ways to promote viable and vibrant parts of town can be difficult in good times; it’s all the harder when the city is filled with cheap, unattractive real estate and a declining population. Some cities (like Flint, Detroit, and Philadelphia, to name only a few) are actively tearing down decayed housing. We used to call this urban renewal, but that was when there was a plan to build new housing on those same locations. Now, the main thing that cities are trying to do is reduce the blight and, perhaps, reduce the fear that accompanied it—though in the long run this might lead to more sustainable use of resources and more equitable distribution of land value. To the extent that the lingering residents of such areas can be brought into nearby neighborhoods that actually provide amenities and a sense of community, this solution is better than doing nothing—and it could even be transformative, though history has taught us to be wary of projects that promise too much. It is undeniably psychologically difficult to triage a city in this way and hope that the healthy parts can thrive again as a result. (Two of the leading figures in this movement are Flint's Dan Kildee and Terry Schwarz and friends at the Shrinking Cities Institute in Ohio.)

Rob and I saw evidence of a similar urban transformation in Akron, where a surprising amount of the downtown seems to have been turned over to the University of Akron and its New Landscape for Learning program. The result is a downtown that feels strangely new and focused, even if it’s sort of dissociative to see little direct evidence of the massive tire industry that built Akron in the first place. There’s been some reuse of older buildings in Akron, but it sure doesn’t seem like any sort of crucible of industry today.

Below: The Canal Park site before and after.

As Rob noted, the stadium in Akron is located along the Ohio and Erie Canal. We also guessed that it is atop a former railroad right-of-way—both an efficient use of urban land and an acknowledgment that heavy industry is not a part of the downtown’s future. The park was designed by the same firm that did Jacobs Field (as well as many other of the new-era parks), and it opened a mere three years after it.

Both Akron and Youngstown are lucky enough to have relatively strong institutions of higher learning downtown, and those may prove to be the engines of future development and growth. Growth’s not an unlimited good thing in all contexts, but these underused downtowns that took shape in another era can use all they can get.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Fellow Travelers

Melvin is generous. He is a giver of gifts. I could go on--his generosity takes other forms--but let it suffice that I make these statements right here at the top.

After our April trip to the Gulf Coast, Melvin gave me a copy of Ilf and Petrov's American Road Trip; The 1935 Travelogue of Two Soviet Writers.

The 2007 English language edition by Cabinet, edited by art historian Erika Wolf, tells the story of Ilya Ilf's and Evgeny Petrov's drive across America and back.

It's not long, 176 pages, and Ilf's 150 black-and-white photographs makes it shorter still.

Unafraid of the pun, I think of Ilf and Petrov as fellow travelers. Like Melvin and me, the Russian satirists drove through a foreign country, made critical observations and took pictures. There are differences, for sure. Instead of blogging the trip, their thoughts were serialized in Ogonek, a Soviet Life magazine if you will. In general our photographs are in color and more sharply focused, at least optically. And, of course, Melvin and I live in this foreign country we are exploring, which doesn't make most of it any less foreign.

There are all sorts of fellow travelers out there. There are travel blogs, baseball blogs, baseball travel blogs, websites about road food and folk art and any number of the things that interest Melvin and me. Whether or not the sites themselves are interesting or not is largely a personal matter, although some times the banality is unquestionable. I recently skimmed a baseball road trip blog consisting of low-res' cellphone photos and no or brief unenlightening commentary. On occasion, we find a website that transfixes us. Melvin has expressed a fascination for Josh Wilker's blog and book, both called Cardboard Gods. (I'm not surprised; Melvin and Josh share a sardonic--never to be confused with sarcastic--perspective and way with words.)

In his recent post, "Novelty and Its Perils," Melvin mentions our visits to the Petrified Creatures Museum, Ave Maria Grotto and Howard Finster's Paradise Gardens. It would be false modesty not to admit having been to all three makes us fairly unique. So imagine my delight to discover Debra Jane Seltzer, who has visited all three and more--and that's just the sites she calls "Obsessive Places." Her photo-archive is voluminous. Our interests don't fully overlap. She doesn't seem to have made the trek to Spiral Jetty or the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas (above), for example. Shared interests some times have taken us different places. Melvin and I have not visited any of the Frank Lloyd Wright buildings that Debra Jane has photographed and she apparently has not been to the Price Tower (below). [Update: dj got there on April 25, 2011.]  But the breadth and the depth of her research and documentation is impressive.

I first discovered Debra Jane while researching the Bottle Hollow Resort, which Melvin and I chanced upon on last year's cross-country trip. I found a couple of 2008 photographs of the Ute resort on Debra Jane's website. Hours, really days later--consider that fair warning--I had explored a fraction of her roadside architecture website, flickr photostream and discontinued and current blogs. (Her 2003 picture of the Miss Uniroyal figure at Werbany Tire Town in Blackwood, New Jersey, serves as her flickr icon. More on the statue's history here.) Eventually I realized Debra Jane lived in the same neighborhood in Brooklyn. Gobsmacked as I was, it took me a while to introduce myself but I did so just before we all hit the road at the end of July. Following Melvin's example I gave Debra Jane a copy of Ilf and Petrov, meeting her at the dog beach in Prospect Park. (Debra Jane's other great love is her dogs, who are trained to compete in dog agility races.)

Then the really amazing thing happened, on Day 3 of the recent Ohio trip. Melvin and I stopped by Blue Jean Farms to see if the concrete nursery rhyme figures, which we knew about from Debra Jane's website, still existed. Debra Jane thought in 2006 the statues were at risk of being sold or destroyed. The plant nursery was closed but we let ourselves in, only to be caught by the owner and a friend, portable phone in hand, ready to call the cops. However, when "Blue Jean" learned why we were there, he became our host, explained the current restoration efforts, showed us figures tucked behind greenhouses, lamented having to discontinue his annual Halloween display. Jerry, his real name, had just invited us to have a beer and stay for dinner when that really amazing thing happened: Debra Jane arrived. (Although not 18 feet in height like Miss Uniroyal, Debra Jane is taller than the three feet she appears here. I am, however, as out of shape as shown.)

We were all losing the light, so there was no time to chat with a woman on a mission. Melvin and I let her take pictures and we doubled-back down the road for a shot of a memorial to astronaut Neil Armstrong's first flight in an airplane. (That's one small step for a man, 1350 calories for a large size Big Mac® meal.) Later we had excellent thick-crust pizza at the Sunrise Inn in Warren, Ohio, home to a sizable collection of baseball and other sports memorabilia. As I post this, Debra Jane is in Iowa. "dj," godspeed and good weather.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Gubernatorial Update (He's right about Mets)

When we first checked in with New York State Governor David A. Paterson, he had announced in the wake of scandal that he would not run for re-election, was grappling with the legislature over the then 45-days late budget, and predicted the Mets would have a .500 season. Eighty days later, the New York State legislature completed a budget yesterday. The final piece of legislation took measures to raise an additional $1 billion. A spokesperson for Governor David A. Paterson called the budget "fiscally responsible" noting, "This was done primarily through spending cuts and with no new borrowing." The latest state budget ever passed was approved on August 11, 2004 and state lawmakers feared (further?) public scorn by setting a new record.

Yesterday also marked a new phase in the scandal over how Governor Paterson and associates acted after one of his top aides was involved in an allegedly physical domestic dispute. An independent investigation by Judith S. Kaye, the former chief judge of the New York State Court of Appeals, concluded last week that the governor and other officials made errors of judgement but those errors did not warrant criminal prosecution. Other investigations and actions, in abeyance pending Judge Kaye's findings, have now resumed.

These included a state ethics commission probe into the conduct of Major Charles Day. The victim of the alleged domestic violence testified in Judge Kaye's investigation that Major Day, the head of the governor's security detail, contacted her on the night of the altercation and urged her to let the State Police handle the matter internally. The acting superintendent of the State Police yesterday transferred Major Day to the division of traffic services.

As the state legislature finalized the budget and the State Police transferred Major Day to a new command, the Mets record stood at 53-53, consistent with Governor Paterson's prediction on WFAN on May 15. With a third of the season remaining, the Mets are 7.5 games behind the Braves and 5.5 back of the Phillies. The Giants are the current wild card leader with a record better than any team in the National League East.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Further Exploration of the Metroplex

Melvin and I took a busman's holiday on Monday morning, which is a new byway for us. The Youngstown 2010 master plan was one topic we discussed with a local operative who was generous with their time and knowledge. (For more on the planned shrinkage of Youngstown, click here for a September 2009 report by Free Speech Radio News.) If life gives you lemons, make lemonade and drink it at the Lemon Grove Cafe.

We also talked about megalopolitan regions, the Cleveland-Pittsburgh metroplex in particular. I couldn't help noticing that geographic area corresponds to the itinerary of this trip. The Ohio Rail Development Commission, among other planning analyzes, connects the Cleveland-Youngstown-Pittsburgh conurbation to a regional rail system with Cleveland as the hub. But what do I see? -- five major league clubs, three Triple-A franchises and Double-A and Single-A teams in Erie and Dayton, respectively. And that leaves out the Double-A Akron Aeros, who Melvin and I would see lose 10-5 to the Bowie Baysox that night.

Speaking of which, good game; the best of the four we saw, especially if you like offence. A total of nine pitchers gave up 29 hits and 15 runs. Pedro Espino took the loss for Akron, giving up 11 of Bowie's 17 hits and half of their ten runs, all earned, in 4.1 innings. Seven strike-outs was his positive take-away for the night. All of the Baysox starters got hits; most of them got several. Third Baseman Ryan Adams had an excellent night, hitting two doubles in five at bats, one for a two-out RBI. The stand-out, however, was outfielder Jonathan Tucker (right), who went three for four with a walk. His double in the fifth would have been a triple but for the third base coach holding the runner in front of him. In the sixth, Tucker fired back a fly ball from the center field warning track that almost picked off catcher Damaso Espino at first. Espino (Are the Akron battery mates brothers?) had rounded the base and then realized Tucker has a cannon.

MiLB Reports: Game Recap Box Score

After the game, Melvin and I reviewed the Double-A stadiums we had been to and decided Canal Park in Akron might be the nicest ball park we've visited at that level. It's on a tight, downtown site, with the skyline (such as it is, this ain't Pittsburgh) visible beyond the outfield. The Ohio & Erie Canal, and its towpath now rebuilt for recreation, are just behind the left field wall. A 1931, Art Deco YMCA building is in straight-away center but it does not erupt into a display when the stadium staff performs the song by The Village People.

Also after the game--in the Quaker Square Inn, a renovated grain terminal--Melvin and I drank the beers we had bought earlier in the day at Vintage Estate. A couple were from the Dieu du Ciel microbrewery, who I first discovered in New Orleans; the Equinoxe du Printemps (Spring Equinox) maple scotch ale and the Rosée d'Hibiscus (Pinkish Hibiscus) wit. We also had the Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye and Founder's Red's Rye Pale Ale. At the game, Melvin and I were surprised by the Ohio Brewing Company, whose kolsch, red ale and stout may not be strictly true to style but are excellent. Oh, and before the game we went to 69 Taps. We didn't drink all day; we saw an office building that looks like a UFO. Photographic proof we didn't just hallucinate it:

Tuesday morning, I drove Melvin to Cleveland-Hopkins International Airport and pointed myself towards I-80 and hours upon it. Melvin had written that I was going to see a double-header on Wednesday but I changed my mind. The historical society where I would have spent the off-day is closed on Tuesdays and I still wasn't interested in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Let's save Erie and Jamestown for an itinerary that includes Rochester, Batavia, Buffalo and Toronto.

Map by Drew Dee