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Unemployed ballpark trips rule!

So it's been forever since I last posted. I've been laid off for a couple weeks, so M and I went to St. Louis to catch two games, and I brought a camera along to prove that I was there.

Game 1 was a splendid affair. We bought a pair of tickets off a season ticket holder, and had great seats under the second-tier overhang, which was a good thing since rain was in the forecast. It was 93 degrees at 6 p.m. when we arrived. The sun was not out, and the feel like temp was 107. I splurged and spent $14 on a mini-fan -- the best $14 I've ever spent at a ballpark.

M made fun of the fan, but later asked to borrow it at least once. The happy, overheated couple.

The food at the new Busch Stadium is still mediocre, but I love my ballpark eats anyway. Here I sample a footlong brat. Yum.

The beer, however, is very mediocre. Big surprise in a ballpark named for Anheuser-Busch products, I know. M later found a stand selling regional brews Boulevard and Schlafly's, but of course they were located half way across the stadium. So I opted for the $8.75 24 oz. Bud Lights.

Donnie Baseball checks out Manny Ramirez's hair in the batting cage.

It was Chris Carpenter's first start at Busch Stadium in a year and a half, and just his second start of the season. Here he is prior to the first pitch. He blanked the Dodgers for five innings.

Then the rains came.

The first rain delay lasted about 20 minutes. The second was more like 45 minutes, and everyone with better seats ended up doing a lot of standing around in the concourse, right under our dry seats.

The positive thing about all the rain was that the temperature dropped about 15 degrees, making it a downright delightful evening. Manny didn't cool off like the temps, though. He was on base four times, so Pujols had plenty of time to catch up on old times.

The All Star logo for 2009's game at Busch was revealed. Yawn.

The game was well in control until the 9th. With the Redbirds up 4-0 and Carpenter in line for his first win since 2006, La Russa handed the ball to Ron Villone to start the inning. Villone promptly surrendered a home run to Andruw ".160" Jones. That set the wheels in motion for Izzy's entrance into the game. He has no business closing major league ball games anymore, a point driven home when he gave up back-to-back singles, then walked Manny to load the bases with one out. His own mishandling of a weakly hit ball back to the pitcher allowed the second run to score, then Kent singled home two more to bring the Dodgers to within one. Izzy was booed on his way to the dugout with a 6.28 ERA. La Russa brought in our next worst closer, Franklin, who was touched for a game-tying sac fly before closing out the inning.

Ryan Ludwick looked good swinging for the fences in the bottom of the 11th for a walk-off, two-run shot.

The metro ride back to the hotel was a happy one.

The next day we checked out the City Museum, which a friend had once told me was a great place to visit when under the influence. I think it would have also been a great place to visit when I was 10. The entire "museum" is basically this trippy metal maze, part indoors, part outdoors, in which a kid could easily get lost for a couple hours. M and I had fun exploring what nooks and crannies we could squeeze into. And, of course, the myriad slides.

The museum also had some interesting old opera posters and a few cool things for less limber adults, including a retro cafe with a ton of 1940s-1960s arcade games. I was fond of this one.

Wednesday's game was also a keeper. The temperatures were in the high 70s, just about perfect. Beforehand, I posed with Gibby outside the park.

The game was a bombastic affair. Pujols hit a grand slam to trump Manny's solo shot, and the Cards trounced the Dodgers, 9-6. Despite some bad news -- the Cards had picked up the woeful Felipe Lopez prior to the game and he started in left -- the game was quite memorable. My nephew and brother-in-law made the trip down, and I purchased the best seats I've ever had at a major league game -- nine rows back of the Cards dugout -- for $75 per.

On the way home the following day, we made sure to stop by Arcola for the best damn tacos around from El Taco Tako. Yum. For real.


10 random thoughts while watching last night's Suns-Spurs game

1) This Suns-Spurs match up is too good for the first round. Superstars out the wazoo: Stoudemire, Nash, O'Neal, Duncan, Ginobili, Parker. Even the role players are former stars: Grant Hill and Michael Finley. After watching a season's worth of boring, crappy, Big Ten basketball and maddening Bulls basketball, watching these two teams play is just heavenly.

2) I'm taking my parents to authentic German restaurant Bayern Stube this weekend. I've never been there in the ten years I've lived in Champaign, and that needs to change. Check out these pics ... looks yummy.

3) All you El Taco Tako fans out there, it sounds like we've (or at least I've) been neglecting the excellent Mexican food right under our noses.

4) Speaking of good food, it's about time to get the grill out of the basement. M is very anxious for the first grilled food of the year.

5) I've gone running four times in the past eight days. I'm hardly up to my old high school pace or distance, but tonight I completed about a 1.5 mile jog. For me, that's significant progress. All my friends (and now co-workers) are running marathons. I've got to play catch up.

6) The Pennsy primary was disappointing. I wasn't anticipating a win for Obama, but I had hoped that he'd finish within five points. Here's to hoping Obama can seal a big win in Indiana and North Carolina and send the Clinton campaign into further debt. I don't care who you root for — or who you blame for it — but this negative campaigning and back-and-forth bickering has become so annoying and distracting that it needs to end soon before the Democratic party disillusions not only independents and disgruntled Republicans, but also its own base.

7) So far my new job is a lot of fun. I signed up a college basketball book that I'm very excited about. It will deal with mid-major basketball in an entertaining fashion and be written by an authority on the subject. (The odd twist to this author: He's a Guided By Voices, Pavement, and Silver Jews fan. Go figure!) My ease in gaining the confidence of authors has always been a strong suit, and it's helping me out immensely as I discuss potential book ideas with writers.

8) I'm finishing up a pair of sports books: Tom Adelman's Black and Blue, on the 1966 World Series between the O's and the Dodgers, and Paul Shirley's humorous diary of his pro basketball career, Can I Keep My Jersey? The latter features Shirley's self-deprecating personality and is presented in Ball Four style. Shirely's name probably doesn't ring a bell for you, because he is what could best be called a fringe player. Still, his insights into the ludicrous world of pro sports — including mini-manifestos on the anti-intellectualism of the modern athlete — are worthwhile reading. Adelman's book is not quite as enjoyable as his first tome, The Long Ball, but is still a good read for historical purposes. I enjoy his prose, and his research and insights are often revealing of both a team's character as well as its characters. If anything, this book feels a bit short.

9) Still hoping that a trip to NYC is in the works for late June. Hopin' and wishin' ...

10) Lately, I've been kicking the tires on ORGANS!, the follow-up to HORNS! I just need to pin down the desired tone for the compilation. I'm leaning toward mid-Sixties mod-era rockers and blue-eyed soul. The trick is finding some modern tunes to blend in.



10 random thoughts on a chilly Friday morning

1) I'm ready for spring now, but thanks for all the snow. M is ready for spring, too, so she can get her garden in the ground and off the kitchen table.

2) In the past week, I've managed to roll my left ankle TWICE. Read about the first time here. The second time happened last night. While walking down the two steps that lead into the garage, I landed on a partially hidden shoe, rolled the ankle again, and screamed "MOTHERFUCKER" while hopping on my good ankle until I could stabilize myself on the garage door. Fun times!

3) At the above link, you can also read about my recent social/sporting experiment: tennis lessons. Mr. DF, if/when we play again, let it be known that I will have with me $79 worth of knowledge that I did not possess the last time we faced off.

4) Sorry I've neglected the blog over the past month, but my life has been full of big decisions of late. Many of you already know about my recent job offer. But if not, in short I was offered a lucrative position with another company in another college town in southern Indiana. On the surface, the offer was tempting. But after much deliberation, I decided to stay put and sweat it out a while longer. I left a lot of money on the table, but I leveraged the offer into a 25% raise where I'm at, plus a significant promotion. So, that's good. I'm not anxious to go through the entire process again, as charting out your financial health under various salary/cost-of-living scenarios on a spreadsheet is not fun. But it was good to reassess my worth in the outside world.

5) I've been downloading a lot of obscure, out-of-print records from the '60s and '70s. Most of it is psych/prog/garage, and many selections are foreign (i.e. non English speaking). But one new band that I've fallen in love with is Fleet Foxes, who recently released a debut EP titled Sun Giant on Sub Pop. In my opinion, the two songs featured on their Myspace page from the EP don't do the five-song EP justice; the other songs are great. (Still, "English House" is cool.) Fans of Band of Horses, The Shins, and mellow My Morning Jacket will likely dig this Seattle band.

6) I'm so loving the German board game Carcassonne. If you're ever been a fan of Risk or Stratego or really any strategy-based "war" game, then you'll probably dig Carcassonne, which is not a "war" game per say but carries with it some similar concepts. The advanced copy of the game that I've been playing will be leaving town in a few months with its owner. So too will two of the three people I regularly play the game with, so I'll need to purchase my own copy and recruit some new players. Listmaker's recent post about Settlers of Catan, coupled with Tim's desire to play the game, will probably lead to my purchase of it soon.

7) I've totally tuned out college basketball this year. It's funny how my favorite team's horrible season has impacted my desire to pay attention to the rest of the sport. Last year, M and I watched 4-6 games per week, sometimes two or three on Saturday alone. This year, meh. Maybe I'll be able to get geared up for the tourney?

8) The final episode of The Wire has arrived. I'm terribly sad to see the show go, more so than I was for The Sopranos, even. There is nothing else on TV (or really, in the theaters) that's similar to The Wire. The show's complex examination of the American big city is enthralling, to say the least. But like any great TV show, the real drawing card is the characters, not the plot or thesis. And The Wire has some of the most engaging characters that I've had the pleasure of getting to know since, well, Six Feet Under. It will be sad to know that after this Sunday there will be no more Bunk, McNulty, Sgt. Landsman, Omar, Bubbles, Snoop, Dookie, Marlo, Gus, Carcetti, Prez, and especially, Senator Clay Davis. Sheeeeeeeiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit, brought a tear to my eye just to type that sentence.

9) The battle between Obama and Clinton has been so enthralling to watch. I'm saddened that Obama has lacked the knockout blow of late, but that's in part a testament to the staying power of Clinton. It's a shame we're now going to go weeks without any significant developments in terms of big-ticket primaries. But I, for one, don't buy this sense from many that the longer the race for the Democratic nomination goes on, the more the Republican nominee will benefit. This is such a captivating race that it has buried news coverage of Republicans, and that was even when there was a Republican race to be won. Now that McCain is the nominee, I don't see how he will continue to keep his name in the headlines as the press continues its smothering coverage of Obama-Clinton.

The potential drawback to a lengthy bout is that McCain, with no Republican to pick on, could begin the sort of character assassination we know the Repulbicans will resort to, on both Democratic candidates. The person who stands to lose the most in that instance, I feel, is Obama. That could hurt his chance to seal the nomination, and cause him to take his focus off Clinton. I'm also a bit worried that the two sides (Clinton and McCain) will gang up on Obama, becuase it's been widely discussed that the Republican party would rather face Clinton, whom many feel is more beatable than Obama.

10) I'm already thinking about taking a few trips this summer. Luckily, my new job will allow me to be less tied down to the usual summer deadlines, so I can afford to sneak away for a few long weekends. M and I are already planning a trip to NYC in late June. I'd also like to go through with our long-discussed trip to Cinci. And we've got tickets for one Cardinals game in early August. Outside of that, if there was any way to make it to a beach this summer, I'd love to follow through with it. But I just don't see it happening.


2 photos or less

One. It sleeps. (My new computer, not Elton.) I love it like a third arm. (My new computer, not Elton.)

Two. Today was the foggiest day in a long time. The view from my front porch proves it. (Chris' photo is better.)


If you know M and I...

...then you may find this week's edition of Unsportsmanlike Conduct to be to your liking.


Reading material

I just finished a pair of books that couldn't have been more opposite. Joshua Ferris' Then We Came to the End was the perfect book to read over Xmas "break" at the "in-laws". Ferris (it turns out he was born in Danville) writes of a Chicago ad agency in the post-dot-com bust. The company is going under quickly, and the staff is left to deal with the fallout. For me, the subject is very personal, as it currently describes my professional situation well. But the book is far more funny than my day-to-day work life ever could be. In many ways, this book is the perfect marriage of Mad Men and The Office. For those of you longing for either show's return, buy this book now.

I really enjoyed this novel, from it's unique first-person plural narration to the anecdotal storytelling approach. On the latter point, its worth noting that this book does have a traditional plot, but that the plot is rather obvious and isn't really the point. That may sound counterintuitive, but to a large degree Ferris' book is more a collection of short stories and character sketches held hostage by a novel than it is any traditional narrative construction we've become accustomed to in typical novels. The end result is rarely in question; for the reader the fun is in character assassination rather than plot twists. There are some laugh-out loud moments in this book, but the swath of emotions in this book make for an office dramedy. I found myself identifying strongly with certain characters, because I've worked with their near-equals in real life. Other characters I only wish I could say the same for. By and large, it's Ferris' attention to detail that makes for an enjoyable read, as he truly nails the mundane things that define office work and office life: the gossip parties, the absurd personality ticks, the power plays, the ridiculous company policy, the tracking devices. I could go on -- lest I leave out office furniture, so vitally symbolic that it plays a key role in this book -- but you get my drift. This is my favorite novel of the past couple years, for sentimental reasons.

I then transitioned to Cormac McCarthy's The Road, the first of his novels I've read. After seeing the film adaptation of No Country for Old Men and listening to M talk up this novel, I was eager to begin. The book is a big departure from anything I've read ... ever. It took me a long while to adjust to the writing style itself, from his truncated passages to the lack of traditional punctuation. The novel is written in such a sparse manner -- McCarthy tells us only what few details he deems necessary -- that it leaves the reader plenty of time to wander around in his or her own head to create scenarios and ponder the past. It's almost like a Mad Lib exercise in some ways, as the reader is left to fill in blanks. The book is a post-apocalyptic tale of a father and his young son wandering "the road" to nowhere. It's a sad, existentialist affair, often touching. But on the whole, I'm not certain if I really enjoyed the book on the level I anticipated. After the hype (self-inflicted and otherwise), I thought I may be setting myself up for a Top 10 book. In the end, I'm not sure if I'm more taken by the book's oddity or the force of the story. Either way, it's worth reading, for sure. I just finished it last night, so possibly some more time away will allow me to come to a more defined stance on The Road. I'll definitely read another of McCarthy's books for perspective's sake. I think I'm going with All the Pretty Horses.

Next up on my list is another huge step in the opposite direction: Rick Telander's Heaven Is a Playground, which comes recommended by Chris. The '70s tome deals with the culture of NYC streetball. I'm expecting to find some insights into the AAU dominance of today's high school game and the revival of urban basketball culture in the media.


10 random comments before the sky falls on me

1) My office space sucks. I have a new office, true, and it is much larger and grander and more private than my previous office. But it doesn't change the fact that my new office only serves as a metaphor for the state of my company. Currently, I sit in my office with five waste cans collecting drips from the leaky ceiling sixteen feet overhead. Yesterday, I heard a loud boom. When I walked down the hallway I discovered a chunk of concrete, probably the size of a fist, shattered across a desk. Granted, no one was sitting at the desk, because no one sits in that hallway anymore, because my company laid off all of my co-workers in editorial and production. But if my former co-worker would have been sitting at her desk, she probably would have been knocked unconscious by the blow. Just minutes ago, a much smaller piece of concrete fell in the loft space in my office. Luckily for me, my new office is in a different part of our converted warehouse. I have ceiling tiles above me -- many of them stained and leaky -- which in theory would break the fall of any large chunks of concrete. In three spots, however, there are no ceiling tiles. Those just happen to be the spots that drip into my office, and from where my piece of the ceiling came crashing down. That, in a nutshell, best explains the place where I am employed. And every time it rains I am reminded of the symbolism.

2) But it's not just at work that I get to enjoy drips when it rains. It happens at home, too. Every time it rains heavily, I can expect drippage in my records room, either from the center skylight or directly above where my records and stereo sit. That means I have to cover my stereo with a towel (just in case) and also lay towels on the wood floor in front of my IKEA shelving. The landlord is fixing these leaks for the second time -- "when it gets dry up there" -- most likely in June. It also leaks in the living room, as water travels down the stove pipe that penetrates the ceiling and collects on top of the stove. So a bowl sits there to collect water on mornings like this. (At least M and I have finally enjoyed the stove for its true purpose -- keeping us warm on 10 degree nights. But it doesn't do us much good on 60-degree evenings in January, like the last two nights.)

3) I started tennis lessons last night at the park district. When I showed up it was just me and my friend and occasional tennis opponent E signed up for the lessons (intermediate level, if you're curious). Shortly thereafter, a couple walked in and our group doubled in size. So far so good on the progress, but the lessons are moving at a slightly faster pace than I had hoped for (especially given the size of the group). There's not enough one-on-one teaching of mechanics. Clearly, the things I know I need to work on -- backhand, volleys at the net -- are my faults. The instructor did say I have the best overhand volley (i.e. "smash") that he's seen in his instructing of intermediate level groups, which is funny because I typically fuck those up in game action. But it's a motion (leaping and smacking the racket down) that feels normal to me, I guess from my time playing basketball. And I can deliver a great overhand volley when the element of surprise is taken away, like when the instructor lobs the ball high into the air for practice. I'm beginning to understand how crucial (in inches) the ball toss is to my serve clearing the net. I need more height on my toss. The instructor also said I should be able to get more slice on my serves from the ad side as I'm a lefty, so hopefully he'll teach me how to do that.

4) I've had a cold now for 3+ weeks. My visit to the doctor's office did not produce a prescription for an antibiotic, which pissed me off. That was well over a week ago. Maybe I should go back, cough in hand, and be more forceful?

5) The holidays were busy, filled with family and recently lots of friends. It was good visiting with everyone, but I'm glad that M and I have our lives to ourselves for a bit. It's nice to begin to settle back into our groove.

6) Speaking of settling, we still have not watched the first episode of The Wire (Season 5). That will change tonight.

7) I'm fairly certain that no one is reading the sports posts at SP, let alone my specific posts. But that doesn't mean I'm going to refrain from linking to them and encouraging you to do so. I didn't expect a sports section at such a site to be all that well read, but I did hope that someone out there would feel the need to check in regularly and leave a comment. As a site, we need to begin the process of earnestly publicizing ourselves to the community at large. A sticker campaign ain't gonna cut it.

8) M got me this game for Xmas. I'm anxious to set aside a few chunks of time to play it. I've chosen the school I'm going to "coach" -- my alma mater, WIU -- and begun play (I'm 1-2). It's a lot more complicated than the last college basketball game I played many years ago. The recruiting process is interesting, if not a bit much to keep tabs on.

9) I found a gem while shopping at Furniture Lounge this weekend: a copy of Prefab Sprout's Steve McQueen on vinyl for $2. I had never heard the band before, and after listening to one side I'm not so sure I'm into it. But nonetheless, it was a great find on the cheap.

10) Finally, I've decided that within a couple months I will own one of these: