Sunday, July 27, 2014

Baseball Hall of Fame thinks fans are easily confused by two-syllable names

Big problems with the Baseball Hall of Fame plaques unveiled today.

The obvious issue is that neither of the two guys representing the Mets are wearing the Mets logo on their plaque caps.

Tom Glavine as an Atlanta Brave? Seriously? As if any one remembers Glavine’s time down South. Remember, earned No. 300 as a Met.

Then you have Joe Torre, who, for some odd reason, is shown wearing a Yankees cap. Right city, wrong cap.

You’d think the Hall would want to salute the next-to-last player-manager in baseball, a highlight of Torre’s tenure in Flushing, rather than guiding a number of steroid-soaked Yankee teams to ill-gained championships.

Torre would  be wise to simply slip those trophies over to the more deserving teams, especially the one from 2000.

But I’m not even talking about those slights.

The Hall, apparently, thinks baseball fans are easily confused by common two-syllable names.

In the past, Hall of Fame plaques would list a player’s full name. If necessary, it the plaque also included a nickname.

Let’s use plaques from some other former Mets misidentified with lesser teams as examples.

Sometimes this was essential, as with Lawrence Peter Berra, “Yogi.”

Sometimes it was more playful, as with Willie Howard Mays, Jr., “The Say Hey Kid” and Gary Edmund Carter, “Kid.”

But in recent years, for some odd reason, the Hall decided that fans needed to see in quotes shortened versions of very common names.

Glavine’s plaque reads Thomas Michael Glavine, “Tom.” Torre’s reads Joseph Paul Torre, “Joe.” Tony LaRussa’s plaque reads Anthony LaRussa, “Tony” and Bobby Cox’s reads “Robert Joe Cox, “Bobby.”

Greg Maddux’ plaque is a total mess, with Gregory Alan Maddux, “Greg” “Mad Dog.” Yes, two nicknames. Imagine -- a guy named Gregory getting called "Greg." Didn't see that one coming.

Frank Thomas benefits from having a one-syllable first name, with his plaque reading Frank Edwin Thomas, “The Big Hurt.” You just know there was a heated conference call discussion where someone debated that “Frank” should be added along with “The Big Hurt.”

Enlighten me, Hall of Fame. After 75 years of hanging plaques on the wall, why was this suddenly necessary?
It seems that 2001 was the last year when basic, common shortenings were not included, as Dave Winfield’s plaque simply calls him David Mark Winfield without being followed by “Dave.”

There were a bunch of years with one-syllable names like Ryne and Barry, Dennis and Paul and Bruce.
Then we started getting Tony Gwynn’s plaque including “Tony” and “Mr. Padre,” Calvin Edwin Ripken Jr. with “Cal.”

Was there confusion in the past? Do people walk by the Michael Jack Schmidt plaque and wonder if it’s that’s the same Mike Schmidt who played all those years for the Phillies? Could Roland Glen Fingers be the guy with the mustache known as Rollie?

And in an example near and dear to our heart, George Thomas Seaver is identified as such without “Tom” and we all still can figure out who he is.

Hey, Hall of Fame – baseball fans are smart people. Give us some credit!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Bad postcard of the week: Warm pigs, social goats, champion sheep and other adventures at the fair

Somewhere, off in the distance, is a fair.
Pigs are warm to the touch. I learned this over the weekend.

First, somebody needs to tell our postcard photographer about this concept called “framing.”

The idea, generally, is for the subject of our postcard to take up most of the space in the photo. Perhaps this one should be called, “Greetings from the sky above the Kent & Sussex Fair.’ 

It’s a little tough to figure out what‘s happening at the Kent and Sussex Fair even in the sky above it since our photo seems to be taken from a completely different county. The back doesn't help: “Amusement Area, Kent & Sussex Fair, Harrington, Del.”

Luckily, I know what happens at fairs since I just spent two days at one of the largest in the state.
Such events were fascinating to this New York native. The closest thing we had were catholic church bazaars, which included some of the rides, some of the games and some of the food.

Oh, sure. Those are fun. And I’m always up for a good debate about whether funnel cakes are better than elephant ears – as if either is bad.

No, the real action lies beyond the neon and the Journey cover bands.

I’m talking about the animal barns. Some of them might be visible off in the distance on this bad postcard. 

Then again, Maryland is visible in the photo of the bad postcard.

When we learned we were headed to the fair this week, I told all coworkers that my goal was to touch a goat and eat a corn dog, and I wasn't particular about the order as long as there was hand-washing involved.
I did touch and consume, and so much more.

We saw a glassed-in hive with real bees.  It’s good to be the queen. We also saw bees wax crafts, including an entire nativity scene.

I settled for the bees wax policeman and fireman holding a flag with “God Bless America” on the base. My daughter thinks the figures might actually be Teletubbies with a re-purposed mold. I say it’s awesome either way.

We saw real cows hooked up to a machine getting milked. This was very cool, and they let us inside to get a close-up view. I got a pretty sweet cow sticker, too, which I wore with pride.

There were newborn baby goats in the Miracle of Life barn, with young cows, ducks, chickens and rabbits. 

Across the way were chickens and roosters, who are far more interesting than would seem when breaded and slapped between a bun. (Though that’s pretty good, too.)

Then we ventured to where the big animals were hanging out.

Here’s the thing with sheep. If you are a champion sheep, you get a special coat-like thing that you get to wear to the fair. It’s like a baseball player’s championship ring. We saw a sheep who was named champion in 2010 who was still showing off his coat.
Champion sheep are allowed to boast.

Most didn't seem to mind being petted.

“It’s OK, she won’t hurt you,” one goat owner said. “About the worst she’ll do is suck on your finger.”

I took her word for it, because there is a fine line between adventurous and reckless. We patted the head, far from any area were finger-sucking or worse could occur.

Then we saw goats, which seemed to be having a good time. Most of the larger animals were lounging around, napping or eating, seemingly oblivious to what was going on around them. Not the goats. They are social animals. Many were standing on their hind legs, peering above the fence, looking to see what was going on.  One kept sticking his face into a fan to chill out.
Goats were eager to make friends.

Finally, we saw the pigs, which were easy to pet because none of them were moving. Seriously, it looked like a daycare center at nap time. While other animals felt soft, pigs felt warm, like little ovens. I thought that was neat.

Having accomplished our goal of goat-touching, we snacked on corn dogs and funnel cake and slowly walked back through the neon, content that we had supported Michigan’s thriving and important agricultural industry and learned many things. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Chatty Cardinals fans, Pokeman and other adventures at Busch Stadium

Caroline takes awesome photos.
One aspect of attending a baseball game is that you develop short-term acquaintances with the people sitting around you.

You are elbow-to-elbow with a stranger, as well as getting to know the back of the head of the person in front.  This can be a pleasant experience. Or it can be an adventure, like the one Caroline and I shared when we attended the Cardinals-Marlins game at Busch Stadium this month.

Busch is a nice ballpark, and we’ll get to that in a minute. But first let me tell you about the guy sitting behind us. He would not stop talking. Ever.

You’re pretty much trapped in these situations. It’s not like there is a no-talking rule at the ballpark. Nor can you turn around and say, “Dude, you are driving most of section 452 crazy, especially the middle of rows seven, eight and nine.”

There was no avoiding this guy, who was in is early-to-mid 20s and wearing a hunter camo cap with his free Cardinals jersey. 

He had a loud voice, and since he was in the seat right behind me, talking at the back of my head the whole game. It was impossible to tune him out.

Sometimes people get settled and chill out a bit. Not this guy. He had stamina. 

It started out annoying, before turning into one of those can’t-help-but-listen things, wondering where this guy was going to go next.

Before the first pitch he was talking about a strange fantasy baseball league he was in where he somehow was allowed to include non-baseball players on the roster. 

He had a president on there – a good one, too – and former Jets quarterback Tim Tebow and finally a Pokémon in the outfield. Don’t ask how this could work. He didn't explain and I sure as heck was not going to ask.

But there was a long discussion about the particular Pokémon he selected and his powers. I’d tell you which one, but I've tried to purge all knowledge of Pokémon from my memory since being the parent who volunteered to take all the kids to the first, soul-sucking Pokémon movie years ago.

Then we learned, in no particular order, that:

He’s still afraid of his high school football coach. 

He quit scouts because he didn’t like a lot of other kids in the pack. His parents made him drive to the scoutmaster’s house and tell him in person. The scoutmaster was not happy with this decision

He was on the wrestling team. So were other scouts, so this did not sway the scoutmaster.

He occasionally smokes dope, but will not allow anyone to bring it in his car.

This went on and on. Not a lot of baseball talk, save for his fantasy team. He's a football fan.

At one point, he saw that Caroline was taking photos, and looking over her shoulder, noticed that she was able to zoom in on the observation deck windows of the Arch from our seats in the Busch upper deck.
Caroline was able to zoom in on the Arch windows.

“That must be a nice camera,” he said.

Caroline, being polite, said that it was.

“You guys must not be from around here.”

Danger! I know better to engage with one of these guys. You just don’t want to do it, because you don’t want to get sucked into the conversation and hear about the football coach, Tim Tebow and the Pokémon again.

But I also don’t want to be rude to anyone, especially a Cardinal fan. I like Cardinal fans.

I explained that we are from Michigan, but attended University of Missouri, so we did, in fact, have some St. Louis cred.

He asked about my major, and I told him that I studied journalism, which I offered tentatively because I've learned the subject either interests or horrifies people and I didn't want to prolong the conversation.

“That’s one of the top five journalism programs in the country, isn't it?”

OK, he got points for that. Flattery and accuracy bought him, a “Well, yeah, there are a number of good schools,” before I was able to disengage thanks to new antics from Fred Bird on the Cardinals’ dugout.
Thank you, Fred Bird.
Oddly chatty fans aside, Busch is a nice ballpark. No stadium is at its best when it’s near capacity. The concourses were packed, the lines were long and it was difficult to get a good look at everything.

But it's certainly better than the multi-purpose Busch Stadium that this new version replaced. True story. Former Cardinals outfielder -- and later Met -- Bernard Gilkey once told me that the artificial turf at the old stadium was so hot in the summer that players would run off the field and stick their feet into buckets of ice water in the dugout to cool off.

One interesting thing about Busch is that some of the neat features are outside the gates.  The big statue of Stan Musial and the smaller statues of Stan and other Cardinal greats as well as broadcaster Jack Buck are all on the sidewalk, which is nice because you can check them out before or after the game and not worry about missing anything.

New this year is a “Ballpark Village” across the street, with rooftop seats like Wrigley – but I suspect owned by the Cardinals. The team’s Hall of Fame and Museum is part of the complex, but the $12 admission was a little steep. It seemed like that should be part of the game experience. The rest of the village appeared to be a bunch of bars.
These fans are across the street.

Give the Cards credit for a great scorecard, too. It came with four pages of stats. If you’re like me, and one of the handful of people still keeping score, this is a cool thing.

The game was exciting, with the Cards building a lead and giving part of it back. The team had a one-run victory in its grasp, with the apparent final Marlin down to his last strike. 

Fans were on their feet, going crazy as the Casey McGehee fouled off what seemed like 10 pitches. Then he got a hit, driving home Donovan Solano to tie the game. 

Then pinch-hitter Jeff Baker got a hit, and the Marlins went ahead.

The crowd was stunned into silence, even our compulsively chatty friend.