Sunday, March 30, 2008

Top 10 reasons why this Opening Day is a beautiful day

The forecast calls for rain here in Michigan today. But it’s a beautiful day. Opening Day is always a beautiful day.

It is, quite possibly, my favorite day of the year. Will always has advocated for it to be named a national holiday.

But it’s not, and I’m finally OK with that. I wouldn’t get it off anyway – you need your newspaper every day – and I like getting mail. So it’s OUR holiday.

And I’m even more excited about this year’s Opening Day than usual, if that’s possible. Here are the top 10 reasons.

1) SheaQuest 2008. Through my awesome cousin Tim and even more awesome parents, I’m getting to the Shea one last time.

And this isn’t just any glorious game. No. Tim scored tix to the Ultimate Throw Down Between Good and Evil. That’s right, a Subway Series game.

Considering I get choked up when I get to see the Mets in a spring training game, I’m likely to be a puddle by the end of batting practice and a complete wreck when they send the Yanks back home in shame. But that’s not going to stop me from booing Derek F. Jeter, cheering every single Met and sending the grand ballpark out in style with some of the people most special to me.

2) April 21, Mets vs. Cubs. Speaking of special people, Will’s in a Wrigley Field season ticket group and members rotate games. For the second year in a row, he scored a game with the Mets and his lovely sidekick graciously allowed him to bring me.

3) July 19, Mets vs. Reds. is a memory – and a grand one at that -- but the Executive Game lives on! Board members voted to see a game in the Bronx, but that fell through. So after great deliberations and only a modest amount of lobbying/begging from me, we’re going to Great American Ballpark to see the Mets again.

That’s right, three regular-season Mets games this year! My records show that hasn’t happened since 1989 -- the last of our three years in Connecticut.

I know what you’re thinking. I’m a known jinx. I haven’t seen the Mets win a game since 1991, coincidently my last game at Shea. Perhaps that’s the team’s way of saying it was time to come home. That’s happening, and the streak is going down.

4) Johan Santana. Do you think he’s going to like throwing in a pitchers’ park against batters not used to his filthy stuff? I see great things.

5) Pedro’s back! Pedro Martinez’ cameo at the end of last season was nice, though way too short. He’s healthy, he’s back and hopefully we have him for the entire season.

6) Jose Reyes is serious. No one knows what happened when Jose fell into his September funk, but he’s focused and starting anew. I expect nothing short of a magical season.

7) You think David Wright is honked off that Jimmy Rollins in walking around with Wright’s MVP Award? I think D-Wright’s going to ensure that this one’s a no-brainer – by the end of May.

8) No more Tom Glavine. I was tired of his reluctant-Met routine. Let Mr. Homesick pitch for the Braves.

John Kruk was just all over ESPN talking about how John Smoltz and Glavine were going to lead the Braves to the division title. Kruckie seems to have forgotten that both those guys are on the wrong side of 40 and Smoltz is already hurting.

And we know what happens with Glavine as the season progresses. He runs out of gas then coughs up seven runs in the top of the first without getting a second out in the ultimate must-win game – then acts like he doesn’t give a damn. Tell Chipper we said “Hi,” Tommy.

9) And speaking of Glavine and Game 162, I am so ready to move on because I am so tired of hearing about last season. I swear, the ESPN announcers spent two-thirds of the spring training game against the Braves last week talking about “the collapse.”

Yes, we sucked. But the Phillies played out of their minds. They get credit for that.

And as if 4:10 p.m. today, it’s old news.

10) No Barry Bonds, no Sammy Sosa, no Roger Clemens. All of the alleged major juicers are done and out of the game. Maybe, just maybe, we don’t have to hear about steroids quite so much.

It’s been a long winter in so many ways. And it ends this afternoon in Miami.

In other words...

If this photo of Tom Seaver doesn't scream all that is good with baseball and life, I don't know what does. It's from a site called Steve's Baseball Photography , one of several great new baseball sites I've discovered.

Steve shares with us baseball photos he's taken over the years, and the shots from the 1960s and 1970s are just stunning. Enjoy.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Pet Shops, Pop-Tarts and pounding the Braves

It was pretty sweet to walk past the newsroom television Thursday and see the Mets and Braves playing. It was even sweeter to see the Mets scrubs beating the snot out of the Braves starters.

But sweetest of all was finding out that my wife found the game was on and recorded it, which meant that I could stop finding excuses to walk past the newsroom television and could enjoy the pounding at my leisure.

The only thing that would have been better? If Tom Glavine had been on the hill when the Mets bench gang was circling the Disney World bases so often they probably thought they were on the Teacup Ride.

Hopefully we’ll have that chance during the season. Until then, we can proceed to the Deezo Friday Five.

1) I got my hands on “Meet the Mets 2008,” and it’s a little hard to figure out what exactly it’s supposed to be. At 112 pages, it seems more like a magazine than a book. But $12.99 is a bit steep for a magazine.

But it’s a neat collections of reviews, previews and history. Contributors include Greg Prince of Faith and Fear in Flushing and Jon Springer and Matt Silverman of “Mets by the Numbers,” so you know the quality is going to be there.

Matt’s story about the top 25 moments in Shea – and some of the sweet historic photos – is worth the price of admission alone.

2) A guy from Texas paid $1,300 to buy a cornflake that someone thought was shaped like Illinois. Incredible.

But I’m excited because I found a Pop Tart that’s shaped like Colorado. Bidding starts at only $500.

3) Check out this new Topps Heritage card of Johnny Estrada. He’s pictured in a Mets uniform, which is pretty neat because, as we know, he’s never worn one.

And that’s not some spring training deal where he was signed in the off-season and will be making is Mets debut this week. Nope, we traded for Estrada after the season was over and then cut him loose a couple weeks later.

But I’m still pretty happy to have this card because it remains a reminder that Guillermo Mota – who went to Milwaukee in the deal for our phantom Met – is no longer on our roster, and that’s sure to bring a smile to all of our faces.

4) I know far too much about Littlest Pet Shop toys. My daughter and I cruise the aisles of Target and Toys R Us eagerly anticipating the newest arrivals. She’s already rounded up all the kitties, and our epic search for a “Sugar Glider” – a flying squirrel – came to an end at Justice, a store that my son refused to be seen it.

The Pet Shops are so cute it hurts, so I was stunned when I saw the new, limited-edition Punkiest Pets Shops. Seriously, I thought it was some parody when I found them on the rack.

You just know that if the Ramones traveled with pet lizards, they’d look like our little mohawked friend.

5) “Pearls Before Swine” is becoming my favorite comic strip. It’s pretty sick, especially Thursday’s panels, which show the wimpy Ted from Sally Forth looking to get Rat, working as a concierge, hire some companionship for him.

And the best part is that in the Sally Forth world, Ted and Sally are right now staying in a hotel in New York, where, as we, know, such behavior will force you out of the governor’s mansion. The only thing that would be better would be if he were eaten by the crocs next door.

The two strips above can be found on the Comics Crumudgen blog, which is must reading for all fans of the funnies and is almost as twisted as Pearls on most days.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

"Mets by the Numbers," an awesome read -- with one very cool photo!

Tracy Stallard ranked 10th in the National League in home runs allowed in 1963 – but he was only fifth on his own team, which speaks volumes about the ’63 Mets. And he wore No. 36.

Vance Wilson will one day tell his grandkids that he backed up the two greatest catchers of his era: Mike Piazza and Ivan Rodriguez. And he wore No. 3.

Richie Hebner “arrived reluctantly on the eve of the 1979 season and overnight became the third baseman he no longer was and the clean-up hitter he never was suited to be.” He, too, wore No. 3.

Clearly, I’m reading from “Mets by the Numbers,” by Jon Springer and Matthew Silverman, quite possibly the best book ever written.

And I’m not just saying that because Jon asked me to contribute a photo of my Mercury Mets jersey, though that clearly doesn’t hurt. It’s right there on page 129. Sweet.

I got my copy earlier this month, and I don’t think a day has gone by without thumbing through its pages.

It’s not the kind of book where you plop down in a comfy chair and sit there until the next morning to see how Harry disposed of Lord Valdemort.

No, this is like a reference book I turn to each day, maybe for a couple minutes or maybe for half-hour. I plan to keep it on my desk at work, right there with my other resources.

Like with Jon’s Web site, , he approaches Mets history numerically from Richie Ashburn (1) to Turk Wendell (99), or until Tony Clark, depending on where you think his 00 stands in line.

He takes each number and tells you which players wore it and for how long – and why we should care about each one. And it’s written with equal parts tenderness and frankness.

Sometimes a number is redeemed and forever linked to glory, like No. 41.

And others just seem to be either bad luck or an indicator of trouble to come. Take this passage about No. 43, which comes a mere two digits over.

“Former Yankee Shane Spencer made the Mets in 2004 and proceeded to make an Art Howe-led club make more taken advantage of than usual. Whether it was urinating outside a pizza joint then beating someone up about it, walking through a bar barefoot and being amazed about a foot getting cut on broken glass, or getting a DWI on a subsequent rehabilitation assignment, Spencer made you forget that he was about the best 43 with a bat the Mets have ever had.”

Plus, Jon takes little side trips down all kinds of streets, telling us, for example, that Jason Isringhausen had the longest name in team history. Like with Pop-Up Videos from Friday, I don’t why I needed to know that information, but I’m better off because I do.

What’s neat is that Springer and Silverman show a fan’s appreciation and for players who were stars, but an affection for the guys who might have just been passing through but made Shea a better place while they were there.

I’m going to keep it in arm’s reach for those moments when I think, “George ‘The Stork’ Theodore was a fun player back in 1973. Wonder what number he wore.” And would be both 18 and 9.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Batmobiles, bunnies and the snowy Friday Five

It’s spring time here in Michigan, which means that we only had four inches of snow instead of six.

That’s going to cause some trouble for the Easter egg hunts that were scheduled throughout the area.

We participated in a community organized hunt when my son was really young. It was a disaster because organizers allowed parents to “help.” I never thought I’d see adults pushing and shoving three-year-olds so they could pick up plastic eggs with one Hershey’s Kiss inside.

The real Easter bunny must have been mighty displeased to see what was happening in his name. And you know what happens when bunnies get mad. You don’t? Well read on into the Deezo Friday Five!

1) Turner Classic Movies recently ran “Night of the Lepus,” a classic from 1972 starring a DeForest Kelley distancing himself from “Star Trek.”

It’s about elephant-sized rabbits that ravage a town and apparently kill people by spitting ketchup on them. That’s my guess because you see a lot of red and no actual wounds, or even pretend ones. I swear Bones was dipping french fries on a “bloodied” extra. There were plenty of real rabbits running around miniature sets in slow motion.

At least three of the rabbits out-acted Kelley.

2) I was doing the patented “Yes-Yes Dance” right in the aisle of Meijer when I saw that Hot Wheels is producing versions of the Batmobile, which of course is the greatest car ever.

No, not the black blob used in the Tim Burton movies and the crud that followed.

The only real Batmobile was the one from the television series. I got to sit in one — there were several made for the show — at an auto show in Detroit years ago. It was one of the highlights of my life.

3) The Cubs think they need more money to spend on pitchers with injured arms and are considering selling the naming rights to their historic yard, Wrigley Field.

The Chicago Tribune owns the Cubs, and apparently thought they could muster up business with a link on its Website that allows readers to see what it would look like to put the name of their choice in the ballpark’s famous read sign.

Click on the link and make your own sign.

Personally, I’m partial to a suggestion from fellow blogger Lonestar Mets a while ago when names for the new Mets stadium were being bandied about. It’s still a good name. I’ve love to see the logo.

4) I discovered this week that my cable network has VH-1 Classic, recalling the days before the channel went right to hell. I’d forgotten just how entertaining “Pop-Up Video” was.

I learned all sorts of stuff about Metallica, like how some of the members got motion sickness filming “The Memory Remains” video. I don’t know why I needed to know that or what I can do with such knowledge, but some how I know I’m better off.

5) Sometimes a CD just sneaks up on you. I thought The Afters new disc “Never Going Back to OK,” would be decent because I liked their debut CD and they rocked in concert. And I saw it on sale for a can’t-say-no price of just $5. I did not expect this thing to dominate my subconscious like it has. You know, like when you're shoveling snow that should have stopped falling weeks ago.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Let Mike Piazza retire properly -- as a Met

Let’s review the Mets catching situation as spring training hits the home stretch.

Brian Schneider: Gimpy.

Ramon Castro: Gimpier.

Friends, clearly these guys are incapable to bellying up to the post-game spread without straining a hamstring. They are injury prone and one of them seems to be making plans to open the season on the disabled list.

Luckily, I have found a solution. And his name is Mike Piazza.

I know, I know. Mikey didn’t even pack a catcher’s mitt when he played in Oakland last year. And his hitting wasn’t all that spectacular, sporting a .275 average with 44 runs batted in and 8 homers in a mere 83 games.

But it’s not like we’re asking him to be our starting catcher for the whole season. We just need a back-up catcher while out two guys recover from a couple months in Port St. Lucie, apparently the most dangerous place on the planet.

All he needs to do is perform the basic duties of the back-up catcher. And those being taking warm-up tosses from the pitcher while the starting catcher gets his pads back on after batting and starting the rare April day game after a night game.

Plus, I want him to make an occasional pinch-hitting appearance.

Look, Clemens is out of the game. He won’t be able to drill Mikey in the dome. He’ll be safe.

Piazza deserves better than what he got. Legends deserve to go out on their own terms.

Look at Willie Mays. He got to leave the game as a Met, which is pretty special right there. But his last appearance was Game 3 of the 1973 World Series – at Shea, before fans who loved him.

Piazza, in contrast, went 1 for 4 in a meaningless game for an American League team that was a game out of last place, then waited for the phone to ring all winter into the spring for a team – any team – to ask him to grace their roster. He’s about to experience a de facto forced retirement.

Here’s what I want.

I want to see Mike Piazza see the standing ovation as he strolls to the plate, basking in the love from the Shea faithful thanking him for the glorious postseason runs of 1999 and 2000, and for enduring the Art Howe era with class.

Then, when either Castro or Schneider is ready to play, I want Mike Piazza to be able to say, “Fans, it’s time for me to hang ‘em up.”

I want to see Mike Piazza retire as a proud New York Met in a stately ballpark’s final go-around, and not as an Oakland Athletic – ick – in a football-fractured stadium where they have to cover the seats in the upper deck so the place doesn’t look as empty as it is.

Then, the very next day, I want to see No. 31 hoisted to the wall in rightfield, so the best position player to ever play for the Mets can join No. 41, the best pitcher ever to play for the Mets.

Piazza certainly has nothing to be ashamed of if his career ends now. He’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer. In fact, five years from now he’d be on the same ballot as his old nemesis, Bat-Chucker Clemens, who I think we can all say will not be joining him at the podium.

But it could be so much nicer.

It’s a zero-risk proposition for the Mets. And what’s the alternative? Raul Cassanova? It’s not like Mikey is blocking a prospect from getting a shot.

Let him come back so he can go out in style.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Cornzilla and Panera Bread muffies? Take it easy, it's only spring training.

Been a pretty good week in Mets land, especially compared to the ongoing fiasco that is the Yankees.

Both teams are hosting events in their stadia in their farewell years. The Mets, of course, are allowing Billy Joel to rock the house, a nod to the historic concerts Shea has hosted over its four decades.

Meanwhile, the Yankees are using their dump for a hockey game. Because, well, they know the team won’t be needing it after the now-traditional swoon in the first round of the playoffs.

Notice, to that the Rangers will be playing the Red Wings instead of the Isles or Devils. That’s probably because the Rangers wanted people cheering for them instead for the opposition.

And then the team turned a spring game into a glorified fantasy camp, allowing Billy Crystal to celebrate his 60th birthday by taking an at-bat.

Billy Crystal pretending to be a Mets fan.

I noticed they didn’t let Crystal take the field, which would have been pretty risky. You think Derek Jeter is pouting now with A-Rod by his side. What would have happened if all the world had seen that Crystal has more range than Jeter?

It should be noted that when Garth Brooks was in camp with the Mets, he took it seriously and raised money for a valuable cause.

Then you have new tough guy manager Joe Girardi whining because Rays prospect Elliot Johnson hustling in a spring training game took out one of his prospect catchers, saying Johnson should have given himself up so no one got hurt. That must have been what Joe Torre told the Yankees in the 2004 playoffs against the Red Sox.

But enough about the Yankees. Let’s get to the Deezo Friday Five :

1) This is probably the coolest Mets T-shirt ever. I’m expecting to see a lot of Shea Stadium stuff out there this year, but nothing is going to top the glorious Home Run Apple, finally given the respect it deserves. I found this on the Mets shopping site , not that I’m dropping birthday hints or anything.

2) Panera’s chocolate chip muffies = breakfast crack. It’s true that I get a sesame seed bagel and a muffie from my local Panera probably four days a week. The nice people in the store know my order and start bagging and toasting as soon as they see me walking in the door. The down side is that sometimes I actually want something else, but once they start bagging and toasting I don’t have a choice. And if you start yelling "DON’T SLICE THAT SESAME! I WANT A CINNAMON CRUNCH!" as soon as you cross the threshold it’s gonna freak out the other customers.

3) I know very little about "High School Musical," but I know enough to wonder how it could possibly translate into an ice show. I refuse to see this. I’m holding out for "Field of Dreams — On Ice!" The idea of the 1919 Black Sox skating around guys dressed as corn stalks moving in precision nearly moves me to tears. "Hey, Dad. Wanna do a Salchow?"

4) Mary Ann busted for pot? Gotta admit I didn’t see this coming. The Professor? Maybe. Gilligan? Obviously. But not America’s girl next door. Tony and I met Dawn Wells once. She came to Columbia, Mo. to appear at an open house at a new hospital that opened next to our dorm at Mizzou. She was really nice and really pretty and happily autographed photos for us. On the bright side, she followed Tom DeLay's philosophy, "They're gonna use the photo everywhere, so you might as well smile."

5) Cornzilla. The West Michigan Whitecaps are easily the best-run sports franchise I’ve ever seen. But I have to tell you I’m a little worried about this. Here’s the release:

"The Whitecaps are getting even cornier this season! Welcome the newest addition to the Whitecaps family, Cornzilla! Cornzilla can roast 400 ears of corn every hour. You can dip the corn in butter with choices of salt, ranch, Cajun or secret special corn seasoning to top it off! Make sure you stop by Cornzilla on the main concourse — if you dare!"

I dare. I can’t wait. The team’s other signature food is Frankie the Swimming Pig, a darn good pork sandwich, and he gets to be a mascot and everything. I want to see somebody in a Cornzilla costume in the worst way!

In other words:

Two of the best Mets Web sites teaming up? That's what happens when Mets By the Numbers interviews Greg Prince of Faith and Fear in Flushing for a must-read post. But Joe Girardi would say "Take it easy, boys. It's only spring."

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is full of Rizzutos


Well, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has now joined the Baseball Hall of Fame in jumping the shark.

Actually, the two institutions are more alike than anyone suspects. The people voting on the baseball hall seem to be overly generous to the players they worshipped as kids and ignore more recent stars, who they watched play every day and became more aware of their faults.

Then you have the old Veterans Committee tossing in their buddies, like Phil Rizzuto.

The rock hall is pretty much the same thing. Note the lack of 1980s and 1970s bands in there.

Since we have long bemoaned the failings of the baseball hall, let’s turn out focus on the rock hall, which this week inducted John Mellencamp -- yes! -- and Madonna.

I’ll list bands that, like Keith Hernandez, have long been denied recognition. Plus, for each one we’ll offer up a Rizzuto, people and bands with no business in that building without buying a ticket.

Hernandez: Rush
Rush was hall-worthy the moment "Moving Pictures" was released. The fact that the band continues to produce outstanding music and incredible tours 25 years later and is universally respected by its musical peers later begs the question: What exactly does one have to do to get in the place? It's as if the baseball hall didn't have the game's all-time hits leader. Oh, wait...

Rizzuto: Bee Gees
The Bee Gees are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Let that rumble around the cranium for a moment or two. The personification of the disco era. I’m not saying the brothers don’t have some great songs. They do. It’s just that none of them are rock and roll. And Barry Gibb’s falsetto makes Geddy Lee sound like Barry White.

Hernandez: Kiss
Influential? Check. Longevity? Check. Biggest band in the land at one point? Check. Best album cover of all time? Check. Cool action figures? Check. What are they missing here?

Rizzuto: Grace Slick
I have no problem inducting Jefferson Airplane/Jefferson Starship/Starship if for no other reason than "White Rabbit" is funny as a period piece. Plus they get points for writing about "Alice in Wonderland," showing that stoned rockers can read classic literature or at least were coherent enough to watch the Disney movie.

But Grace as a solo artist? Granted, there is precedence here, as the baseball writers seemed intent on inducting every member of the 1927 Yankees. But this is one sum that is greater than its parts.

Now, if she could breathe fire, spit blood and wear menacing dragon boots, it would be different.

Hernandez: Foreigner
OK, this is sort of a combination ballot of Foreigner, Styx and Journey, the so-called "corporate rock" bands that ruled the late 1970s and 1980s. All three have been dissed, and I can’t figure out why. Some of the Styx stuff that overdoses on keyboards sounds a little dated, but much of the music from these three bands holds up pretty well. I dare say "Urgent" is better than anything in the Billboard Top 100 today. The fact that "The Sopranos" made a big deal out of "Don’t Stop Believing" shows its staying power.

Rizzuto: The Dells.
Do-wop is not rock and roll. It just isn’t. They’re in the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, and I’m fine with that. But they don’t belong here. And same thing goes for The Coasters, the Moonglows, the Drifers, the Teenagers, the Ink Spots, the Impressions and the Flamingos -- all of which are members.

Hernandez: Twisted Sister
An atrocity. Kick-ass Long Island bar bands should get to go to the front of the line. Standing up to Tipper Gore should at least get the band in the conversation. Where was Jackson Browne and his protest-loving ilk when Dee Snider was up there smacking down Mrs. Global Warming?

Rizzuto: Ritchie Valens
Hold on, hear me out before you start yelling. I love "La Bamba." And "Donna" is a nice song. And it sucks that Valens was killed just as his career was starting. But if a hall of fame career is based on one awesome song and one nice ballad, then you’re going to have to expand the heck out of the place. He’s the Mark Fidrych of rock, except that Fidrych was fortunate enough to just blow out his arm instead of being in a plane crash. And Mark Fidrych is not in the Hall of Fame.

Hernandez: ABBA
I’m not a huge ABBA fan, but this is another group that made an undeniable impact. And there’s a chance they were the biggest band in the world at one point. There must be some kind of anti-Swedish bias.

Rizzuto: Dusty Springfield.
How many times in your life have you ever thought: "Dusty Springfield, she rocks!" Yes, she had some nice hits and sold some records. So did Joan Jett. And Joan Jett rocks! One awesome cameo in a Pet Shop Boys song does not make one a rocker.

Alas, we're only scratching the surface. Boston, Cheap Trick, Genesis, Yes, Asia, Motorhead, Judas Priest.....all on the outside looking in, just like Andre Dawson, Dale Murphy, Jim Rice and Bert Blyleven.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Moises needs wings that are like a shield of steel to protect him

Been a pretty good week, though it was Tuesday before my legs stopped hurting from the day skiing. But I was able to meet the son of a president, and that’s always a good thing. Of course the carnage in St. Lucie continues. Moises Alou heads to surgery for a hernia? I almost don’t want to know. So before anyone else gets hurt, I present the Deezo Friday Five.

1) The new Topps Heritage set. Only Topps has the history to come up with a set like this, and year after year it is stunning. This year Topps gives us current players in the glorious 1959 design, as seen here by the sweet Carlos Beltran card.

But things get a little screwy. Topps gives us a “News Flashback” insert subset. The only problem is that ’59 wasn’t all that newsy. Sure, the Nixon-Khrushchev kitchen debate card is cool. But my box had the “Castro become prime minister” and “In Cold Blood Murders Committed” cards. Yuck. I’d rather have cards of a couple Yankee scrubs than a couple of murders.

name="wmode" value="transparent">
2) Kitty say what?

3) All-Star Game caps. I got this sweet cap from the 2006 game for just 99 cents! Twins Enterprise makes the best caps by far, and I have them through the start of this decade. Of course that streak comes to an end since this year’s game is at Yankee Stadium and refuse to wear anything with a Yankee logo.

4) I won a copy of the “Batfink – The Complete Series” DVDs. Oh my. There are 100 episodes that are about five minutes each. And at least half of each show consists of scenes recycled from previous shows. But his wings are like a shield of steel!

5) Taking the youth group to see the Winter Jam concert this weekend in East Lansing. As always, the lineup is stellar, with MercyMe and Skillet headlining, and the $10 tickets are an extreme bargain. The only problem is that the show is hosted by Newsong, and they have a big, long set in the middle. These are the people who brought us “Christmas Shoes,” and their non-holiday fare doesn’t stray too far from that. A little too in-your-face for my liking. But MercyMe rocks!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Flying is easy. Landing, however, is more dangerous than spring training with the Mets

"Oooooh ooooooo Black Diamond!" So this is what Kiss was singing about!

I came to some conclusions in the short time I was sliding headfirst on my back looking up at the heavens and clutching my ski pole.

First, I can no longer keep up with high school kids.

Second, a ski hill is the second-most dangerous place on the planet, apparently following only the Mets spring camp.

Seriously, the walking Mets wounded includes Carlos Delgado, Ruben Gotay, Marlon Anderson and Ryan Church – who got hurt together – and perpetually gimping Orlando Hernandez. It seems the only one not hurt is Moises Alou, who must be saving his annual injury spree for when games actually count.

And just as seriously, I learned I can hurt myself and others, including a ski lift operator.

I spent the weekend chaperoning the church’s high school youth group on our trip to Crystal Mountain, which is just south of Traverse City, or where the tip of your pinky and ring finger meet on the handy hand map of Michigan.

It started out safe enough, braving some of the easiest runs, identified by green signs and names like “Giggles” and “Hoot Owl.”

Some of the kids thought I was able enough to try some of the more challenging runs, designated by blue signs, which, I must say, I handled skillfully.

After about four of these runs, the kids decided I could attempt some of the dreaded “black diamond” runs, the toughest.

I looked down at one, and it was indeed steep. But it was also pretty wide, allowing me to go from side to side, as opposed to being a goggled bullet stopping only after impaling myself on the wall of the ski patrol offices.

It really wasn’t bad. I could handle the speed, and avoided fellow skiers and other obstacles.

After a few runs down this hill, the kids – who I learned were members of their school’s ski team – took me to another diamond run. We stood at the top and looked down.

“Kids, this is not a hill. This is a cliff,” I stated, accurately. “A cliff with big icy patches.”

Then one of the other chaperones, a mom, said that it was, indeed, very steep and icy, then effortlessly went over the edge and zoomed to the bottom.

“Oh yeah,” the chaperone’s son said. “You need to know that mom is really, really good.”


Then the rest of the kids in turn took off down the hill, through not all as cleanly and successfully as the mom.

I moved over about 40 feet or so where the start was less steep, though still by far the steepest I had ever skied down – and did so with nary a wobble.

Sure, it doesn't look scary. This "Main Street," an easy run.

Success breeds confidence. And like the also successful and confident Mets of last season, I became a little cocky.

Two of the boys in my group took me on some of the tougher trails after dinner, then to a “terrain park,” which should be properly titled “place where guys show off for snow bunnies.”

The guys went through the half-pipe and on some of the grinding boxes. I watched, clearly well out of my league.

But they convinced me to go through the mini-terrain park, with scaled down grinding rails and jumps. I sought a small bump, caught some small air, landed poorly and hit the deck slightly embarrassed.

But the second and third times over the bump were pretty sweet. And I hit another bump on another run, got some air, landed well and heard someone on the chair lift overhead yell “Good one!”

A little encouragement was a bad thing.

We went back to the mini-terrain park. One of my high school friends was going to try a 360-degree turn, and I was going to hit a slightly larger – but still small – bump.

There was much glory as I floated through the air. The flying part is easy. Landing, however, is not. Skis went flying, one of the poles got tossed and I somehow proceeded down the hill on my back, head-first.

“Whoa, did you guys see my spectacular wipe out?” I asked.

“Austin crashed, too, and he’s spitting up blood!” one of my friends yelled.

These are not words chaperones want to hear. I scrambled over to see him on his knees, spitting blood into the snow – but only a little.

Apparently his 360 ended up in a face plant and his braces cut the inside of his mouth. I could exhale. But we went to the ski patrol just to be sure – after finding my skis and other pole.

After that I ran into another of the chaperones with our youngest youth group member, and they suggesting taking one last run – on one of the easy trails, at my request. My jumping days are over.

Alas, this, too, proved to be perilous. And that was just getting on the lift.
The younger member got a little tangled as the chair approached and stumbled into us. I fell backward – hard, but right into the seat. But the ski lift operator yelled, put his hands to his face and turned away.

“Did you get hit by the chair?” I asked.

“No, it was your pole! You just missed my eye! Is there a big mark?”

Luckily, it wasn’t the tip of the pole and I didn’t see a mark. But I felt horrible.

Two calamities in less than a half-hour is an indication that you should stop skiing for the day. We took our sweet time coasting down the green trails, taking care not to injure anyone else – or myself. Again.