Tuesday, April 15, 2014

First Golf of the Year, and Other Random Thoughts

It is April 15, and at 9:30 this morning, it started snowing to beat hell on our street.  No, none of it is sticking, and, yes, we know it is a freak thing, but as Ralphie said when he realized that his Little Orphan Annie Decoder Ring was nothing but a commercial vehicle for Ovaltine, "Son of a BITCH!"

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Yesterday afternoon, I took a creaky back and six months worth of rust on both my body and my golf clubs to Clover Hill for my first round of the season. It was about what you would have expected.  Duffed fairway shots, a lot of eight foot putts that came up three feet short, and crappy chip shots.  On the other hand, I was driving fairly well.  Still, the four to six strokes those new grips on the clubs I had put on this winter were supposed to take off of my score were not in evidence yesterday.  Also on the other hand, it was cold and windy and the greens were in poor condition, so THAT must have been the problem.

It started to drizzle as I played the eighth hole, started to rain fairly hard on the ninth tee, and was pretty much pouring as I stood over my approach shot to the ninth green with a nine iron in my hand.  When my shot airmailed the green and disappeared over the bank behind the green, I had the perfect excuse to put an "X" on my card for number nine, and head straight for the parking lot.  

Through eight holes, I had shot 40.  Not a good effort, but it was the first time out, the weather was bad, the greens were crummy and yada yada yada.

It will be better next time.

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The FX Network will premiere "Fargo" tonight.  It is a so-called limited series. There will be only ten episodes covering a single theme.  No cliffhanger ending and no plans for a second season (unless, of course, the ratings are great, then we'll see).  It is based on the Coen Brothers' excellent movie "Fargo" of some years back.  Loved the movie, and am very interested to see if the folks at FX either enhance that movie experience, or just plain muck it up completely.

Reason to be positive: FX has produced some good shows, notably "The Americans".

Reason to be negative: Frances McDormand and Steve Buscemi will not be in the TV version of "Fargo".

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Book Review: "Pedestrianism" by Matthew Algeo

Have you ever heard of Edward Payson Weston or Dan O'Leary?  How about the Astley Belt? Does the term "six-day" mean anything to you?

Well, I never had either, nor did I know what a "six-day" was until I read the newest book by Matthew Algeo:


Note the sub-title: "When Watching People Walk Was America Favorite Spectator Sport". Yes, this a book about a sport known as pedestrianism and for a brief period of time, from the early 1870's to the mid-1880's, pedestrianism was the number one, and a case can be made it was the first, major spectator sport in America.  Watching people walk in arenas over a six day period (hence, the term six-days) was a craze in the United States and in Great Britain as well. Weston and O'Leary were the biggest stars and the fiercest rivals in the sport.  They were the Palmer-Nicklaus or Ali-Frazier of the late nineteenth century.  The Astley Belt was a prize for which pedestrians competed for and prized every bit as much as athletes of today seek a Lombardi Trophy, a Stanley Cup, or a Green Jacket. 

How did such a sport came into existence?  Well, increased industrialization in United States and Britain led to a new concept among people, leisure time, and the people began to fill that time by paying to watch people walk.  Top line pedestrians earned, what in today's dollars, would equate to hundreds of thousands of dollars. They earned additional money from product endorsements, and were pictured on trading cards long before baseball players were.  And if you think the first great African American athlete in America was Jack Johnson or Jesse Owens or Joe Louis, you would be wrong.  That honor goes to pedestrian from Boston named Frank Hart.  And just to prove that everything old is new again, pedestrians were accused of taking performance enhancing substances (coca leaves, in this case) and the sport was also beset with problems related to gambling and accusations of tanking in races - and, in fact, gambling was among the chief issues that led to the undoing of the sport (along with the introduction of bicycle racing and, of all things, baseball).  So Barry Bonds and Pete Rose had their precursors way back in the late 19th century.

A lesson to be learned from this book, I think, is that nothing lasts forever.  Pedestrianism, America's first great spectator sport, took hold in the early 1870's and then pretty much disappeared by the early 1890's.  Similarly, boxing and horse racing, were once the preeminent sports in America, and are pretty much niche sports today.  So, the Sport of Football, now being beset with safety concerns, should not think that the same fate could not befall it as well.

As much as it sheds a light on this now obscure sport and its practitioners, the book also gives a look at life and social mores in a now long gone time in America.  Through the wonders of Facebook, I feel that I have come to "know" Matthew Algeo, and I am hoping that his promotional tour for "Pedestrianism" will bring him to Pittsburgh sometime this year so I can meet him in person.  This is his fourth book, I have read them all, and I highly recommend them all....

"Last Team Standing" - about the wartime combine of the Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers, or "Steagles".

http://grandstander.blogspot.com/2011/09/book-reviews-last-team-standing-and.html

"Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure" - about a cross country drive that the former President and his wife took, alone, shortly after he left the White House.

http://grandstander.blogspot.com/2011/08/book-review-harry-trumans-excellent.html

"The President Is A Sick Man" - about a secret operation to remove a cancerous tumor from the mouth of President Grover Cleveland.

http://grandstander.blogspot.com/2011/07/book-review-president-is-sick-man.html

We also like Matthew Algeo because, even though a native of the Philadelphia area, in 2013 he became, again through the magic of Facebook, a Pirates fan, and while living in Ulan Bator, Mongolia (his wife Allyson serves in the United States Foreign Service), he proudly Raised the Jolly Roger in the Square in front of the Mongolian capital.



So, I ask, how can we not support this newest book from Mr. Algeo?


Friday, April 11, 2014

A "New" Babe Ruth Picture

The folks at SABR tweeted out a picture of an older Babe Ruth yesterday, and it was a picture that I had never before seen.  I re-posted the picture myself on my Facebook and Pirate Chat pages, and it got a lot of comments.  Like me, most found it to be a very striking photo.

I re-post it here for those Loyal Readers who may not follow me on Facebook or Pirate Chat.


Movie Review: "The Grand Budapest Hotel"


When this movie was released a few weeks back, Barbara Vancheri of the Post-Gazette said that it was the first movie of 2014 that was released as a movie for an adult audience, and it received a good review from her.

We finally got around to seeing it today, and we enjoyed it.  It is a comedy that is a bit off beat - Marilyn aptly described it as "quirky" - but pretty fun to watch, or at least we found it so.

Hard to describe what exactly the movie is "about", but I would recommend it. Directed by Wes Anderson and starring Ralph Fiennes, it includes a lot of name actors (Tilda Swinton, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, and Edward Norton among others) in relatively minor roles.  Very quick and snappy dialog, and some of the laughs come quickly so you might miss them if you aren't paying attention.

We enjoyed it, but, be warned, it is quirky and may not be for everyone.

The St. Malachy Fish Fry

Today, Marilyn and I closed out the Lenten Fish Fry Tour for 2014 by visiting St. Malachy Parish in Kennedy Township.  It was another great set up - HUGE fish sandwich, fried jumbo shrimp, all the sides.  Terrific.  The big attraction at St. Malachy's, we came to understand, is their home made pierogies.  Now, neither Marilyn or I are pierogi eaters, so that didn't appeal to us, but the the kitchen workers at St. Malachy's couldn't make them fast enough to satisfy the demand.

And speaking of those volunteer kitchen workers, we were greeted by none other than this guy slaving away in the St. Malachy kitchen.....


Yep, Southwest Airlines captain, Mr. Season Ticket Holder (Pirates and Penguins), star of the "Blackout Was Only the Beginning" Pirates commercial, and the Mayor of Section 20 himself, Tim Baker, doing his thing to help out his parish.  Well done, Tim, and we're glad we caught you there this evening.

In all we hit six Fish Fries this Lent, and four of them were ones that we had not attended in prior years: Good Samaritan, St. Killian, St. Bonaventure, and St. Malachy.  The two that we returned to were St. Suva (Serbian Club) and St. Alexis.  We also got to visit with friends Carole Kon, Patti Nelson, and the aforementioned Tim Baker at these events as well. 

Fish fries abound throughout the Diocese of Pittsburgh every Lent.  If you have never attended one then you are missing out on a chance to eat well at a reasonable price and support great causes.  Think about it come Lent in 2015.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

A Tradition Like No Other


Cue the schmaltzy music, cue the hushed reverential tones of Jim Nantz, cue the absence of Gary McCord, cue the Green Jackets, who still think it's 1934 in America.  (Clifford Roberts is no doubt still spinning like a lathe over the fact that Condalisa Rice is a Member at Augusta National.)

It's time for The Masters!

I kid the reverence that surrounds this Tournament every year, and the self-important Green Jackets that rule over every element surrounding it, but I will be watching this weekend, as I do every year, and I count my three visits to Augusta National in 2002, 2008, and 2010, as among the highlights of my sports watching/attending life, so if that makes me a hypocrite, so be it.

Actually, this year's Masters will be dominated, not so much by who is there, than by the absence of a certain figure.  And this figure has been a dominant force in Masters for years and years, and while that figure's absence probably will not diminish this year's event, it surely will alter the event in ways not quite imaginable.

I am speaking, of course, of the Eisenhower Tree.


This huge land mark of a pine tree that sat on the left side of the fairway some 210 yards from the 17th tee for time immemorial, was lost this past winter to severe ice storms that hit Augusta.  It has played havoc with many a shot from many a golfing legend over the years, and it will be interesting to see how the overall scoring on #17 (sorry, but I can't tell you which flower this hole is named for) will be compared to Masters past.  And, surely, CBS and toon-a-mint officials will provide us with such stats.

There is probably no more difficult prediction in all of sports that to predict the winner of any given golf tournament.  I will go out on a limb and say that Tiger Woods will not win this year's Masters .  I will say this.  The 2014 green jacket will go to an American, and it will go to either Dustin Johnson or Jason Duffner.  So, there's my prediction.

Enjoy the Masters, A Tradition Like No Other.  Remember, no running and no unseemly cheering while watching.


Monday, April 7, 2014

Big Game Tonight - A Prediction

Tonight the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship will be decided when the Kentucky Wildcats take on the Connecticut Huskies. 

The UConn story is kind of amazing to me.  When last we looked, legendary coach Jim Calhoun was "retiring" under a cloud of academic improprieties that led to the team being put on NCAA probation.  Further, when various conference realignments forced the Big East to return to it's basketball only, Catholic school roots, Connecticut seemed to be still standing when all the music stopped playing, and sort of disappeared from the Big Times College Hoops scene, at least from my vantage point. And now here they are, a number seven seed playing for the National Championship.

The team they will play, John Calipari's Kentucky Wildcats seem to have an equally improbable story.  National Champs in 2012, they failed to even qualify for the big tournament last year, returned with another bunch of potential one-and-done blue chippers this year and started the season with mixed results.  They made the tournament this year as a number eight seed.  

I have no horse in this race, no chance to win any money in any pool that I entered, so what I am really rooting for tonight is a good game.  If forced to root for someone, I would choose Kentucky because I kind of like Coach Cal, despite his reputation for sailing near the wind on several occasions.  Still, if you want a prediction, I am going to choose Connecticut as the winner tonight.  Kentucky probably has more talented players, but in watching both semi-final games on Saturday, Connecticut seemed to me to be a better team.


As always, watch but don't bet.

It could also be a very special year in Storrs, CT, as the UConn women will play for the national title tomorrow night against Notre Dame.  Both teams are undefeated, and that one should be a treat to watch.

Enjoy the game!