Friday, October 9, 2015

A Movie and A Book from 1999

In recent days I have aught up with an old book and an old movie, both of which hit the marketplace, coincidentally, in 1999.

The first was the following movie...

My long aversion to prison movies long outweighed my liking of Tom Hanks, so I had never seen this Academy Award nominated movie (it didn't win).  However, at the urging of my friend Bill Montrose - he loaned me his DVD of the flick - I finally watched this, and, yes, I liked it.  It was long and leisurely (three hours), and well acted.  Like "The Shawshank Redemption" (another prison movie that I finally got around to watching thanks to Mr. Montrose), it was directed by Frank Darabont and based on a story by Stephen King.

I thought Shawshank was a better movie.  Green Mile leaned a bit too heavily on mystical or supernatural elements for my tastes, but that's Stephen King for you, and I've never been a fan of his.

Still, the movie featured Tom Hanks and that can never be a bad thing.

After one has seen an older movie like this one, it is interesting to go on line and read reviews off the movie that came out when the movie did.  "The Green Mile" was far from a unanimous hit with the critics back in 1999.  It has, however, stood the test of time fairly well, thanks in large part, I believe, to the performance of Tom Hanks.


The book that I read was "Majic Man" by Max Allan Collins. This was another in his series featuring private eye Nate Heller, and if you read this Blog, you know I love these stories.  

This one takes place in 1949, and finds Nate working for real life Secretary of Defense James Forrestal.  Along the way, Nate also gets involved with muck-raking Washington DC columnist Drew Pearson, the supposed UFO landing at Roswell, NM in 1947, has dinner with Harry Truman, gets beat up and kidnapped by the Air Force, almost gets killed, has sex with a beautiful woman (of course, he does!), meets up with several other real life historical figures, and offers an alternative theory to Mr. Forrestal's suicide in 1949, and a theory of what REALLY happened in Roswell.  Like all of the other Heller novels, it's a really fun and terrific read.

Max Allan Collins has written fifteen Nate Heller novels, and, I am sad to say, that only one, "Chicago Confidential" (2002), remains for me to read.  I think I will put of reading that one for awhile, because I know that there will be no more Heller stories left once that one is done.  

A Very Special Absent Friend

I am in the habit of posting these "Absent Friends" write-ups whenever someone well known, or famous, or even semi-famous, passes away.  However, this week, we lost a good friend and wonderful person.  Because this lady was not a public figure in the accepted sense of the term, I wasn't sure whether or not to mention it in this blog, but then decided that I would, but not mention her name.  I am not sure that it is my place to do so.

The friend that we lost was a fellow volunteer with Marilyn and I at the Highmark Caring Place.  We have known her and worked with her for six years, and she was truly a wonderful and special person.  The kids and families  she worked with at the Caring Place loved her, and all of her fellow volunteers REALLY loved her.

In July, we leaned that she had developed cancer.  Her battle with the disease was a brief one, and it ended this past Monday evening.  She was 57 years old.

She described herself as a "professional volunteer", and in addition to the Caring Place, she will be missed by her parish, her local library, and many other organizations where she gave so much of herself.

She was a very special person, and I wish that all of you out here could have known her.

Rest in Peace, PLN.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

And So It Ends....

As it did in 2014, the Pirates 2015 season ended with a Wild Card loss.  This time, it was 4-0 to Jake Arietta and the Chicago Cubs.

Much of the pre-game strum und drag  centered around Clint Hurdle's decision to start Sean Rodriguez and first base and sit Pedro Alvarez.  In what was thought would be a tight pitchers' duel, Hurdle and the Pirates' advanced metrics boys went with defense over offense.  Of course, the Cubs jumped to a 3-0 lead, and all of a sudden the Pirates had to play for offense, and Alvarez pinch hit for Rodriguez on his first turn in the order.  Alvarez responded by going 0-for-3 with three strike outs.  Of course, no one else in the line-up hit either, as the Pirates recorded only four hits, and Arietta continued his almost unprecedented streak of pitching excellence.

The game was also sparked by a benches clearing brawl in the seventh inning when Tony Watson hit Arietta in the butt with a pitched ball.  The back story here is that Arietta had previously plunked two Pirates, one of whom, Francisco Cervelli, had to quickly fall backwards as the ball was headed right for his face.  Anyway, Watson responded by hitting Arietta in his left ass cheek, about the least vulnerable spot to hit a batter.  Instead of taking first base, Arietta had to start jawing at Watson, and that led to the benches clearing.

I found it interesting that announcer Ron Darling, a pretty good pitcher in his day and a smart guy (he has a degree from Yale) to boot, said, and I am paraphrasing here, if you hit two of the other teams batters, you have a nice lead, and then you get plunked in the butt by the other team's pitcher, smile and jog down to first base.  If Arietta had done that instead of jawing with Watson, there would have been no incident.

Right now I am betting that Tony Watson is the most popular guy in the clubhouse amongst his teammates.

Back to Alvarez.  What we all saw last night was surely Pedro's last appearance in a Pirate  uniform.  How he was used by the Pirates this season made it apparent that the team had  lost their patience with such a one dimensional player, and the decision to not start him yesterday surly reinforced that notion.  I have always been a Pedro backer.  Many times over these last six seasons, and as recently as just this past Sunday afternoon, I have been in awe of how far he can hit a baseball.  Last night, however,  truly encapsulated the Conundrum that is Pedro Alvarez:  Over the course of 162 games, he will hit a lot of home runs, but when it comes down to any one specific game, he is far more likely to do what he did last night - strike out three times - than he is to launch one on the river walk.

I am sure that I will be writing a lot more about Pedro over the course of the off-season that started at about 11:00 last night.

It was certainly a disappointing end last night, but I am going to try, really try, not to let that sour finish mar what was a pretty terrific season for the Pirates.

How many days 'til pitchers and catchers report?

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Pirates Regular Season Ends

Back on April 3, I wrote a post on The Grandstander called "How I See the 2015 Pirates".  It consisted of 17 points concerning things I DO WORRY and I DO NOT WORRY about the Pirates as the season began.  You can go look it up if you care to do so, but on balance I think I did pretty well.  For example, I stated that I DO NOT WORRY about the top of the rotation, and "that Gerrit Cole is poised to become an elite pitcher in the National League."  

I believe I had that one.

I also said that 

"I DO NOT WORRY about Pedro Alvarez.  I believe that he will adapt well to his new position at first base, and I believe that he will hit between 28 and 36 HR's this year, and if he can somehow manage to hit in the neighborhood of .255 to .260, he will drive in 110 runs, give or take a half dozen."

Oh, well, you can't win 'em all.

As to the bottom line, I had this to say:

"I say that this all adds up to seeing this guy (the Jolly Roger) fly 91 times this season, and, what the hell, an NL Central Division Championship, edging out the always strong St. Louis Cardinals."

Wrong on both counts.  The Pirates did not edge out the Cardinals, which was not good, but they did win 98, not 91, games, which was fantastic.

Changes lie ahead for the Pirates following the post-season, and there will be plenty of time to ruminate on that when the time comes.  What is important to remember now, I think, is what an absolutely terrific season the Pirates gave us in 2015.  I said to my companions, Dan Bonk and Len Martin at the season finale yesterday, that I honestly believe that this 2015 team was one of the very best and most exciting Pirates teams that I have seen in my now fifty-seven seasons of following the team, and that includes three World Series winning years.  I truly mean that.

Regardless of whether the post season lasts one game or twenty games for the Bucs, this one was an absolute blast!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Lost Weekend

Yes, this was to be the weekend of a "Guys Trip" to Blacksburg, VA to see Pitt take on Virginia Tech.  However, the dire news of torrential rains, high winds, flash flooding, road closures, Hurricane Joaquin, and the Governor of Virginia declaring a state of emergency across the state, well, come Thursday afternoon, a unanimous decision was reached among the six of us to cancel the trip.  But, hey, we all have that unused ticket as a souvenir of What Might Have Been.

Too bad, because we missed what was an impressive win by Pitt.  The 17-13 score makes the game seem closer than it actually was, as Pitt put on a thoroughly dominating defensive performance in stifling the Hokies.  Pitt now stands at 3-1, and yesterday's win was the most impressive of the season thus far because (a) it was against an ACC opponent, and (b) let's face it, Pitt SHOULD win against schools like Youngstown State and Akron (something they were NOT able to do in the not so recent past).

One thought that I had in watching this game was that the offensive play-calling by Pitt seemed to be really conservative.  My question is, is this a function of

a) The weather conditions in Blacksburg yesterday,
b) The abilities of the offensive personnel, or
c) Coaching philosophy 

If the answer is (a), okay, I get it.  

If the answer is (b), then you have to trust that the new coaching staff will recruit better players.

If the answer is (c), then I guess we better get used to seeing a lot of runs into the line, punts inside of the opponents forty, screen passes on third-and-eight that gain six yards, and not-so-high scoring games.  This will be okay so long as the defense can continue to play like they did yesterday, and, oh, yeah, Pitt wins.

Now, bring on those UVA Cavaliers next week!

Friday, October 2, 2015

"The Diary of Anne Frank"

 Earlier this week, we attended a performance of the Pittsburgh Public Theater's initial presentation of its 2015-16 season, "The Diary of Anne Frank".  Like so many of you, I read this book in high school (no doubt before I could fully appreciate it) and had seen the movie many years ago, but this was the first time that I had ever seen a stage production of this play (a Tony Award winner for Best Play in 1955).

When telling someone about this the other night, I used the phrase "hope in the midst of horror" in describing this play.  The story of Anne Frank and her famous diary is well known, and it is still a story that is hard to grasp.  It is a story that cannot be told often enough.  There is a reason, I suppose, why "The Diary of Anne Frank" remains required reading in high schools today (or, at least, I hope it remains required reading).

We have been attending plays at the PPT, a jewel in the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust's crown, since the 1980's, and I cannot recall having seen a better production than this one, nor one that captivated and moved the audience as did this one.  This is a production that should be seen by as many people as possible.

Here is a picture of Remy Zaken, the lovely twenty-six year old actress who plays Anne Frank on stage at the O'Reilly Theater.  She is wonderful in it, as is the rest of the cast.

Ravens 23 - Steelers 20; The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Well, if you care at all about it, you already know what happened at Heinz Field last night, so let's just break it down as follows:

The Good

  • The Steelers defense was going to be the downfall of the team this year, everybody said, but since being torched by Brady and the Pats in Week 1, that unit has turned in three very respectful performances.   Granted, the 49'ers, Rams, and Ravens may turn out to be bad teams, but you can only play the teams the schedule puts out in front of you.
  • Le'Veon Bell is back and appears to be as good or better than ever.
  • At least it didn't rain and turn the Heinz Field turf into a quagmire that would have been an embarrassment on national television.
The Bad
  • The offensive playbook seemed to have been dumbed-down for new QB Mike Vick, but why?  It seemed like the Steelers were afraid to let Vick even try to throw down field.  As a result, we got a lot of screen passes that gained six yards in third-and-eight-type situations.  Is it because....
  • ...Vick just isn't any good anymore?  Time was, Vick was an all-pro QB who could run, and, just as importantly, sling the ball all over the place.  Vick is only two years older than Ben Roethlisberger, and three years younger than Tom Brady, so I am guessing that there ability is still in there, so the Steelers offensive game planners may need to let him loosen up a bit.  
  • Or, perhaps I'm wrong on that, and Vick really is over the hill, in which case, that Big Ben injury really is going to take down this whole season for the Steelers.
The Ugly
  • Do I really have to say it?  All I'm thinking is that Kevin Colbert has been on the phone all day looking up out of work place kickers.
  • Because of Josh Scobee's performance, I will NOT criticize Mike Tomlin for going for first down in the overtime.  I wouldn't have either.  
  • If I will be critical of Tomlin, it will be for attempting a FG on fourth and four near the end of regulation after Scobee missed a FG attempt earlier.  (A) The Steelers might have made the first down, which would have clinched the game, (B) even if they didn't make it, it would have bled some time off the clock, and (C) it would have caused Baltimore to start seven yards deeper than they did after the missed FG; those yards could have made a big difference.
I will close it out with this meme seen on Facebook this morning, which I thought was pretty funny: