Byron Buxon Has Arrived

Photo by Mike James – AP

This year’s addition of the Cedar Rapids Kernels was scheduled to arrive at the Eastern Iowa Airport last night.  The entire team and season holds special interest for me.  After a long and productive relationship with the Los Angeles Angels (I still call them the California Angels), the Kernels signed a new player development deal with the Minnesota Twins over the off-season.

This brings many interesting aspects to Kernels baseball.  First, there is the proximity to the big league club.  Let’s face it, it was tough to follow the Angels unless you were an insomniac with the MLB Extra Innings package.  I hope this provides a boost in attendance as well as fan interest.  The Kernels are already reporting ticket sales for single games coming from the twin cities and Rochester.  All good.  There is also a great chance that the good people of Cedar Rapids will get to see a big leaguer or two on rehab assignment.  I still remember Damon Berryhill, on rehab from the Cubs, when he nearly homered off the scoreboard during a visit to town.  Finally, we may get to see some great prospects as the Twins try to develop players who they want to keep in close contact with.  That brings me to Byron Buxton.

Byron Buxton was a first round selection for the Twins last year.  Not just a first rounder.  He was the second overall pick in the draft.  That makes him the highest draft pick to ever be assigned to the Cedar Rapids club.  Time will tell of course, but everything I read about him says that he is the real deal and destined for greatness.  A couple of years ago when I saw Mike Trout play here for the first time, I commented to a co-worker that they should get out to the ball park and take a look quick, because he wouldn’t be her long.  He wasn’t and now he’s a star.  I can’t wait to see Byron take the field on Thursday.

Who am I kidding?  I can’t wait for anyone to take the field on Thursday.  It’s been a long, miserable winter and it’s finally over.  Spring starts on opening day.

 

 

The Spider’s Web

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my friend Donna.  I’m sad to report that Donna has left this world.  When I think of friends who are far away.  Those who can return, and those who cannot, I turn to this poem.  It’s one of my favorites.

The Spider’s Web (A Natural History)

The spider, dropping down from twig,
Unfolds a plan of her devising,
A thin premeditated rig
To use in rising.

And all that journey down through space,
In cool descent and loyal hearted,
She spins a ladder to the place
From where she started.

Thus I, gone forth as spiders do
In spider’s web a truth discerning,
Attach one silken thread to you
For my returning.

Thanks, Mom

Today is my birthday.  I guess when you reach a certain age, you spend more time looking back and evaluating rather than looking ahead with anticipation.  My age and my mind would suggest that I’m at the half-way point between the two.  This year I’ve spent a significant amount of time thinking about my mom.  After all, she’s the primary reason I’m here.

I’m not sure what started me thinking about these things.  But I do realize I haven’t given it much thought until just recently.

Here’s how 1963 went for her.  She’s 19 and will turn 20 in November.  She meets the boy (he just turned 19) who would become my father, they fall in love immediately and are married just a few days later.  None of the parents approve of the whirlwind romance and marriage so they sneak off and have a neighbor serve as the witness.

She gets pregnant almost immediately.  I was 27 when Curtis came along and 30 when Travis was born.  Even at those ages, I felt wholly unprepared for parenthood.  I can hardly imagine what it would have been like to be 19 and expecting a baby.  While all this is happening, tensions are mounting in Viet Nam and people my dad’s age are worried about being sent to war.  Thankfully, these fears were lessened because he had a job on the railroad, working with my grandfather and the railroad was still considered an essential service and therefore exempted people from the draft.

In the fall, the Dodgers swept the Yankees in the World Series and the Cubs finished in 7th place.

November rolled around and at the height of being pregnant, the president was killed.  I know from reading about that time and those weeks following Kennedy’s assassination, the stress level of people in this country was at an all time high.  A week later, Mom turned 20 and I can’t begin to think about what she was thinking during that period of time.

I made it into this world a few hours before leap year, 1964, and the rest is history.  Mom and Dad did a fine job raising my brother and me.  We were the first two in our family to go to college.  We both ended up with advanced degrees and have adequate lives.  In addition, we both know how to cook, clean, and wash dishes.  A product of having a mother who worked and taught us to be independent.

Dad died in his early 40s and after that, Mom went to Ames and became the housemother at my brother’s fraternity.  There, she inherited another family of boys who challenged her in different ways, but she loved every minute of it.  Today, she and her husband Don, do whatever they feel like doing and that’s just how it should be.

Thanks, Mom!

Ralph Branca’s Cameo in Parental Guidance

Photo by Tim Sieck

This weekend I went to see Parental Guidance.  Make no mistake, it will win no awards and it may not be remembered at all six months from now.  I went to see it for two reasons.  It was at the Palace Theater in Vinton, and I’ll spend $3 to see just about anything, and it stars Billy Crystal.

There’s a theme that runs through the film.  Billy Crystal is an unemployed baseball announcer and he carries around an iPod loaded with famous announcer calls in baseball history.  He has a grandson with a speech impediment, and in one scene he has the boy listen to the call of Bobby Thompson’s shot heard round the world.  He tells him to close his eyes while he’s listening and he’ll be able to see the action.

At the end of the movie, while at an children’s orchestra audition, the boy steps up to the microphone during a break and recites, word for word, the radio announcer’s call of Thompson’s homerun.  No stuttering at all.  Just a perfect recreation of the call.  The camera pans to the judges, and right there in the middle of the table, is Ralph Branca, the pitcher who threw the pitch that Thompson hit out.

Most people would have no clue it was Branca.  It’s incredible that at 87, he is still a good sport about what was undoubtedly the worse moment in his baseball career.

Better Days

Every so often, a Facebook post catches you off guard.  We all love to check our feed from time to time, just to catch up on what our friends are doing.  A clever status update, a rant about a political figure, or a shout of encouragement about our favorite sports team.  This morning was different for me.  This was the post that greeted me as I looked at my “close friends” list.

Today was a tough one – Rhonda and I went to church and – after some oxygen mishap – visited my dad to tell him that the new chemo is not working and my body cannot take anymore. We just held each other and cried – it broke my heart. It was good to have Rhonda, my big Sis, and my niece and nephew there to hold us and each other. I have started on home hospice and we will be focusing on quality of life. My dear family and friends, I hope you know that I love you all so much and I feel wrapped in the blanket of love and positive thoughts you send my way. Please continue to pray for Rhonda and our families – for God’s healing love and presence in our lives and peace as we follow the road ahead.

 

The post was from my good friend, Donna.  Donna is a warrior.  We’ve known each other for over a decade now.  When I met her, she had already beaten breast cancer twice.  When I visited her in Memphis in November, she was just starting a new course of chemo to battle the stomach cancer that had found its way into her body.  This post brought instant tears and stopped me in my tracks.  So I’m going to think about better days.  And Donna, when you read this, I hope you will too.

The date was August 3, 2006.  Donna and I were working in St. Louis with a client.  During the meeting, the talk turned to the Cardinals and the new Busch Stadium, which was had just opened that season.  We said it would be fun to go to the game and see the new ballpark. The client promptly said that there was no way we would be able to get a ticket,  every game was sold out long before the season started, and we should just hit the sports bar and watch it on TV.  Challenge accepted.

I remember it being hot that day.  We drove downtown about an hour before game time and parked about 6 blocks from the stadium.  We hadn’t walked more than a block before we found a scalper and a pair of tickets.  Upper level, outfield, on the first base side.  We found our seats and settled in for a great night in the heat of summer.

Cole Hamels pitched for the Phillies that night, against Jason Marquis.  The Phils sent nine men to the plate in the top of the 3rd and the rout was on.  By the bottom of the 5th, the Cardinal fans, mostly dressed in Pujols t-shirts and jerseys, started streaming for the exits.  No sense watching a beat down in the sweltering heat.  At that point, Donna and I started seat jumping.  By the seventh inning, we were about eight rows behind the Phillies dugout watching the game from seats that felt more like Lazy Boys than stadium seats.  It was a fantastic night.  Philadephia won 8-1 and we got to see the new stadium in its first year of existence.

Those are the days I’m focused on right now.  Donna, I hope you find time to close your eyes and think about warm summer nights, subway rides, and Yankee Stadium.  Your friends love you.  We all hope things will be better.  What can be hard for us is realizing that what’s better, is not always what we hoped for.

One Man Remembers Lincoln

I saw Lincoln this weekend. It was an extremely well done film, and there is no doubt in my mind that it will sweep (or come close) the Academy Awards. I will write more about the film in the coming days, but wanted to share this piece with you. Written by Witter Bynner in 1919. From the perspective of A man who had actually had the privilege of interacting with him.

A Farmer Remembers Lincoln
Witter Bynner

Lincoln?—
Well, I was in the old Second Maine,
The first regiment in Washington from the Pine Tree State.
Of course I didn’t get the butt of the clip;
We was there for guardin’ Washington—
We was all green.

“I ain’t never ben to the theayter in my life—
I didn’t know how to behave.
I ain’t never ben since.
I can see as plain as my hat the box where he sat in
When he was shot.
I can tell you, sir, there was a panic
When we found our President was in the shape he was in!
Never saw a soldier in the world but what liked him.

“Yes, sir. His looks was kind o’ hard to forget.
He was a spare man,
An old farmer.
Everything was all right, you know,
But he wasn’t a smooth-appearin’ man at all—
Not in no ways;
Thin-faced, long-necked,
And a swellin’ kind of a thick lip like.

“And he was a jolly old fellow—always cheerful;
He wasn’t so high but the boys could talk to him their own ways.
While I was servin’ at the Hospital
He’d come in and say, ‘You look nice in here,’
Praise us up, you know.
And he’d bend over and talk to the boys—
And he’d talk so good to ’em—so close—
That’s why I call him a farmer.
I don’t mean that everything about him wasn’t all right, you understand,
It’s just—well, I was a farmer—
And he was my neighbor, anybody’s neighbor.
I guess even you young folks would ‘a’ liked him.”

Game Called – Grantland Rice (1948)

One week has passed since the final out in the 2012 World Series.  Baseball depression has started to set in.  How long until pitchers and catchers report?  Too long.  Grantland Rice wrote Game Called in 1910.  It is one of my favorite poems.  In 1948, he re-wrote a version as a tribute to Babe Ruth.  This version is just as stirring.

 

Game Called by darkness — let the curtain fall.
No more remembered thunder sweeps the field.
No more the ancient echoes hear the call
To one who wore so well both sword and shield:
The Big Guy’s left us with the night to face
And there is no one who can take his place.

Game Called — and silence settles on the plain.
Where is the crash of ash against the sphere?
Where is the mighty music, the refrain
That once brought joy to every waiting ear?
The Big Guy’s left us lonely in the dark
Forever waiting for the flaming spark.

Game Called — what more is there for us to say?
How dull and drab the field looks to the eye
For one who ruled it in a golden day
Has waved his cap to bid us all good-bye.
The Big Guy’s gone — by land or sea or foam
May the Great Umpire call him “safe at home.” – Grantland Rice 1948

Why High School Golf Should Adopt a Ryder Cup Format

Every two years, the Ryder Cup requires the golf world to set aside their individualistic tendencies and play the game as a team for a few days.  National and continental pride are engaged and huge crowds dressed in colorful costumes chant and cheer.  It doesn’t take long for you to feel the difference between a PGA event and a Ryder Cup.  At the first tee, on the first day, you don’t hear the ubiquitous yells of, “you da man”, or “it’s in the hole”.  Instead it’s a raucous shout of USA, USA, USA, or ole ole ole.

For as long as I can remember, high school golf has been played in the medal play format. It makes sense.  Golf is billed as an individual activity that can be played for a lifetime.  I happen to be one of those people who started when I was young and it’s the predominant sport of my adult life.  Both of my boys played high school golf and it taught them many things that will be useful as adults.  That doesn’t mean that it couldn’t be improved, and I think the Ryder Cup provides the clues to improvement.

Here are my reasons:

  1. More kids could play – When my kids were on the team, 5 played varsity and 3 scored.  In the new format, on a 9 hole course, you would shotgun start 4 singles (2 per team) on 1 hole.  4 pairs of better ball on 4 holes.  And 4 foursome matches on 4 holes.  That’s 18 golfers that could be playing at the same time.
  2. Sportsmanship improves – There’s already more sportsmanship in golf than in other sports, but I don’t think there is anything more classy than the conceded putt.  It shows you respect the other golfer’s ability and it keeps the play moving at a brisk pace.
  3. It engages the kids – What I’ve seen happen in event after event at the high school level is a clubhouse full of kids that have finished their round, eating snacks, drinking soda, and messing around while coached hunch over laptops with spreadsheets figuring out the scores.  This process takes an eternity with the end result being a 2 minute announcement of which team won and who (1 kid) got the medal.  With the simplified scoring of a Ryder Cup format, kids would know the score and they would be at the close holes cheering for the point that might decide the match.

There are probably more reasons, but those are the most apparent to me.  It allows for keeping medal play for big weekend tournaments with several schools present.  I don’t know.  Just thinkin’.

Will Rogers – Blogger

Will Rogers would have been a phenomenal blogger.  I find myself thinking from time to time about different people throughout history and what their preferred method of social media would have been.  No doubt about it, Groucho Marx would have been addicted to Twitter.  Walt Disney would have probably been an early adopter of Facebook.

 

The best bloggers:

  • Connect with a broad audience –  In 1932 Will was asked to speak at both the Democratic and the Republican national conventions.  A practice that would be unheard of today.
  • Post regularly – From 1926 to 1935, Will’s Daily Telegrams appeared in newspapers across the country.  Think about it.  A daily column for 9 years.
  • Are both thoughtful and thought provoking – It’s easy to see from his writing and his performances that he had a firm grasp on the problems of the times while never being offensive.

Below is a post, or at least a post I imagine, excerpted from Will’s essay titled Bacon, Beans, and Limousines, which was given as a speech before a Herbert Hoover radio address.  I think it could stand alone as a blog post, even today.  It’s funny (and sad) how some topics never go out of style.

These people that you are asked to aid, why they are not asking for charity, they are naturally asking for a job, but if you can’t give them a job why the next best thing you can do is see that they have food and the necessities of life. You know, there’s not a one of us has anything that these people that are without it now haven’t contributed to what we’ve

got. I don’t suppose there is the most unemployed or the hungriest man in America that hasn’t contributed in some way to the wealth of every millionaire in America. It was the big boys themselves who thought that this financial drunk we were going through was going to last forever. They over-merged, and over-capitalized, and over-everything else. That’s the fix that we’re in now.

 

Comments:

F. Roosevelt, Hyde Park, NY – Mr. Rogers, you have captured the very issue at hand in the nation today.  What the country needs is not the same policies and practices that got us into this mess.  It needs a new deal.  Hey, there’s an idea!


W. Guthrie, Somewhere between OK and CA
– Keep spreading the message.  The good people I meet here on the road are hearing you loud and clear.  It makes them smile and that’s a currency that never loses value.

H. Hoover, Washington, DC – I’m doing the best I can.

Thanks for setting the bar so high, Will.

 

The Blue Cooler

This is not really about a blue cooler.  Okay, maybe it’s a little bit about a blue cooler.  It’s mostly about the man who owned the blue cooler.  To be precise, the man who owned the blue cooler prior to me.  I’ve owned it since yesterday.

Many of my Saturdays are spent in search of interesting items at estate sales.   I’ll begin the day with a cup of coffee and the classified ads to see what might catch my eye.  Yesterday, the ad that made me take notice read like this:

John Swords Estate

Not simply an address.  Not just a listing of the items I might find when I arrived.  A man’s name.  I always think I learn a great deal about a person when I am in their home during an estate sale.  Rarely, however, do I have a name to associate the items that made up their history with an actual person.  So this sale was going to be different.

A Google search told me a little about John Swords before I left.  Born in 1920.  Died in May of this year.  John had served in WWII, worked a long career at Iowa Manufacturing, liked bowling and gardening, and had written a book of memoirs about his time in the war.

At John’s house, I learned even more about him.  John liked to read.  Nearly every room in the house had bookshelves packed with books.  Time periods ranged from the early 1900’s through the last few years.  Many were of the war he participated in.  Stories of battles.  Biographies of war heros.  Pictorial anthologies of the places he spent the early part of his twenties.  There was also a cardboard box filled with Grumpy’s Trials, the book he had written.

I learned that when Grumpy bought something, he held onto it and took good care of it.  It didn’t matter where you were in the house, or what you were looking at.  Kitchenware, tools, appliances.  All appeared to be in nearly new condition even though some of them were 60 or more years old.  The blue cooler I purchased was from the forties or fifties and although there were a few scratches from a trip or two to the river or lake, It was in fantastic condition.  Most things that get purchased around my house end up missing pieces and parts within days or weeks of coming home from the store.  This cooler had been sitting around for decades and still had the can opener and icepick neatly tucked inside the lid, just as they had been the day it was bought.

So now the cooler is in my care.  I will take care of it.  It will be put to good use at Shores Event Center with the Philco radio and other pieces of history that have moved from one person’s life to begin a new purpose and bring some happiness.  I wish I would have met Grumpy when he was alive.  I think we would have had an interesting conversation or two on his front porch.