Friday, October 23, 2009

Musical interlude

It's been a while since I've posted any music. Lately I've been searching out artists I'd heard good things about, but hadn't listened to. Sites such as Amie Street Music, Free Music Archive and Pandora are great for that.

One of my favorites I ran across is Langhorne Slim, who offers a sardonic, modern take on traditional folk, country, and blues, according to his MySpace page. I'm not sure what that really means, but I like his sound and he's a gifted songwriter.

I was listening again to his self-titled CD today. I really like the track "Diamonds and Gold." It makes a good bridge from my last entry to what lies ahead. Please give it a listen and try to take the lyrics to heart. We've all got to learn to get a little happy along the way.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Life is finite

Our friends’ daughter, Mary, recently turned 4 years old and is just getting the hang of counting. The other night during a church fundraiser at a local pizza place, Mary counted all the way to 39 before she couldn’t figure out what came next. Another friend helped her get to 40, and then Kristin piped in to ask what should follow.

“Forty-one?” Mary asked, hesitating.

“That’s right,” Kristin said, before adding, “That’s how old Paul is!”

Everyone at the table broke out into laughter as Mary looked up at me and blinked, clearly trying to comprehend how someone could be that old (even though her father is 46, I might add). I wondered aloud what was so funny.

I understand how 41 would seem old to a 4-year-old. It seemed old to me when I was a kid. But now I know it’s not old to be in your 40s. It’s young … and far too young to die. Sadly, I’ve been reminded of that three times this week.

The first came Monday morning when I heard the news about Tim Wheatley, the Baltimore Sun business editor who I met several years ago when he was the sports editor at the Indianapolis Sun. Wheatley was killed in a car accident as he drove his 9-year-old daughter to school. He was 47.

One night later I learned about two other premature deaths. One happened a year ago, but I just found out Tuesday about it. Kevin Kotz was a former sports writer at the Duluth News-Tribune. I used to hang out with him and several other reporters at the Pioneer Bar. That led to me getting a job as a sports clerk, which set me on the path to becoming a professional sports writer.

I’d lost touch with Kevin over the years, so I didn’t know he had died of a heart attack in his home about a year ago. He was 47.

Moments after learning that, I was jolted by more sad news. I was surfing through Facebook updates after the Twins thrilling victory over the Tigers a few hours earlier. I came across a friend’s that froze me: “Saddened by the sudden loss of a high school pal.”

She didn’t mention a name, but because we went to the same high school I knew I would know the person who died. A few minutes later I discovered it was Farrell Ball, who is pictured above.

Farrell was two years ahead of me at Cathedral, and I knew him and his older sisters pretty well back in our high school days. Cathedral was a small school so many of us had friends across grades. Some of my good friends to this day are from my older brothers’ classes.

Like so often happens, I lost touch with Farrell after high school. Then three weeks ago he sent me a Facebook friend request. We caught up a little, but mostly we lamented how the Twins were driving us nuts.

It appears Farrell died of a heart attack. He was 43. His Facebook profile has morphed into a stirring memorial.

Death always surrounds us. We just don’t always pay attention to it. We hope it stays hidden in the shadows, content to tap somebody else on the shoulder while we somehow manage to stay just out of reach.

While I knew Tim, Kevin and Farrell to varying degrees, their deaths have all had a profound effect on me. I’m honest enough to know better than to promise I will lead a better life now, one where I get into shape, watch what I eat, try to swear less while watching the Twins (which is exceedingly difficult when they lose games like they did last night).

What I will do, though, is to remember my time here is finite. I admit I’ve wasted a lot of time since I left the Sun. I haven’t accomplished nearly as much as I had hoped, both professionally and personally.

It’s a reminder we can all use. I just wish it could be delivered in a different way.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Dome voyage

This will be hard to believe for anyone who knows me, but I’m not going to miss watching the Twins playing in the Metrodome. While the place holds many fond memories for me, baseball was never meant to be played under a Teflon roof.

Aesthetically, the place ranks up there with this place. The right-field Hefty bag fence. The white dome ceiling that conveniently disguises a baseball. The plastic smell that hits you when you walk in. At least it no longer has a Plexiglas fence in left field, or the green cement carpet that always reminded me of the Brady’s yard.

Yet, I still feel the Metrodome is a special place. That feeling, no doubt, stems from the two World Series titles the Twins won under the dome. Memories were flowing over the weekend as the Twins played what was expected to be their final games in the Metrodome.

I regret not having more first-hand memories of the place. I was not present for any of their seminal moments. I wasn’t there for even one playoff game, let alone a World Series game. I wasn’t there for the Puckett memorial. I wasn’t there for Sunday’s finale (which turns out not to be the finale after all).

I also wish I would have seen a game more recently than the one from the picture above. Kristin and I went to that in 2004. I’ve only been back inside the Dome once since then—a Vikings game last season.

Yet, fond memories abound for me. I’ve already shared my favorite one on the blog. There are others, though. The 1988 home opener as we celebrated again the World Series title from five months earlier. Hrbek’s retirement ceremony on Aug. 13, 1995. The summer vacation excursions I’d go on with my friends to see a Twins series.

My memories of outdoor Twins baseball are sparse. Actually, the only one I have is seeing the Twins at Metropolitan Stadium against the expansion Toronto Blue Jays. I don’t remember if it was 1977 or ’78. I went with a group from the neighborhood rec center.

Despite being barely 10, I remember paying attention enough to know it was my first time seeing Rod Carew in person. I wish I could remember how he did that day—or if the Twins even won. I do remember it being a sunny, warm day in the middle of the summer.

Those days are coming again for the Twins at Target Field, days when that sun will envelop fans like a long-lost friend. Days when that green, green surface (oh yeah, that stuff is called grass) will glisten. Days when it seems baseball was invented only for this moment.

There will be other days too. Days in April and early May where people will arrive bundled up in their winter best, hoping the teams are able to play in between the snow flakes. Some will complain. Some will wish the organization had sprung for the retractable roof, or that they had never left the Dome.

As a Twins fan, I might join in that line of thought. And I will miss the Metrodome for what it represented—the best years in franchise history.

But as a baseball fan? Well, baseball was never meant for the great indoors.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Guest blogger: Kristin says F&%#@*^ Cincy...

Editor's note: My wife, Kristin, has had about enough of Cincinnati even though I don't think she's even been there, other than that time we drove through it on our way from Memphis to Cleveland. She wanted to blog about it, but the topic really isn't appropriate for her own blog. So I said, what the heck, you can have the floor here. Without further adieu, I give you a rant by my wife.

I wasn't always like this. I went through the first 22 years of my life not knowing anything about football. My dad would fall asleep to a Sunday afternoon game, and my sister and I would try to change the channel. Back before remotes, the click of the dial turning would wake up my father, who would growl at us to switch the game back on and go find something else to do. Fall Sunday afternoons sucked.

But then, I met Paul. And I liked Paul. And I realized quickly that if I wanted to spend quality time with him, I'd have to learn more about sports. I had a good grasp of baseball since I had played softball, but we met in the fall, just as football season was starting. I also found out that Paul is a great teacher. He patiently explained downs, offense and defense, how points are scored, and how penalties are assessed.

Now I know just enough to be dangerous. I'm like Paul Blart, Mall Cop. I can't keep up with the "real" experts, but I can finagle my way through a discussion on what positions the Vikings need help with, and why a touchdown didn't count since someone's foot was just outside the line.

But I often ask ridiculous questions, mostly to annoy Paul, but sometimes I just don't get things. Like why it's not OK to have a forward pass beyond the line of scrimmage? Why not just do anything you can to get the ball to the end zone? And if there's a red zone, why isn't there a green zone or a yellow zone? And why don't more teams use the flea flicker? I LOVE the flea flicker.

Anyway, a few years ago, Paul joined some of his cousins, uncles and brothers in a pool for NFL games. They pick who will win each game, and then the tiebreaker is done by guessing the combined score of the Monday night game. There's probably a clearer way to explain it, but again, I'm not a sports junkie like Paul.

Anyway, Paul didn't do well in the pool at first. He lost a lot. And he's a sports writer. He should know more about this stuff than his lay relatives, right? [Editor's note: I covered mostly high school sports. That does not qualify one as an NFL expert, despite what my relatives think.]

One weekend I got mad he was losing and said I'd help. He was pretty desperate and let me. He did better. He didn't win, but he improved. He asked me to help the next weekend, and the next. Now we do the picks together, and we have little rituals that go along with it. I don't buy the ritual thing, but I play along. Greasing the wheels, you know.

Here are some of my quirks about doing these picks. Streaks make me itchy. If a team has been on a streak, it's bound to break. We picked the Lions last week. I knew they were due. And the Colts can't win every game, and neither can the Patriots. No one can. Or they can for a long time, but not forever. And if there's a pick-em, I go for the team with the stronger mascot. A Viking is going to beat down a Patriot. An eagle is going to claw through a raven. See? We look at a lot of things, like point spreads, experts, etc., but who knows?

This brings me to Cincy. For the past few years, Cincy has been nearly impossible to pick. They are listed as favorites, have home-field advantage, and a strong winning record, so we pick them. And they lose. Or, they look terrible the week before, and the spread has them in the gutter, and they're playing away. We don't pick them. They win. Consistently, this happens. We cannot pick them.

This has lead me to start saying, "I hate the Cincy," when it comes time to do the picks. And when we watch the scores come in on Sundays, my constant refrain is, "Hate the Cincy." It's gotten to the point that I dislike anything to do with Cincinnati.

For example, we were watching a baseball game on TV this past summer. Everything the color commentator said annoyed me. He would state the obvious. "Wow, that ball went a long way." Yes, it did. Then he'd spend lots of time talking about his playing days. "When I played ball, I never would have swung at that ball." Who cares? We're watching THIS game, not you. If I wanted to watch what you would do, I'd watch ESPN Classic. As I voiced my displeasure, I asked Paul who this bozo was.

"That's Joe Morgan. He used to play for the Reds," he said, looking up from his laptop.

"Of course he did! I HATE the Cincy!" I exclaimed. Paul was laughing.

I don't care that Cincy had the first professional baseball team, or that the city was the first to license a public television station, or that three U.S. presidents resided there. It's also the home of Pete Rose, and Jerry Springer was its mayor. Those are pretty good reasons to be suspicious of the city.

And I know a tiger could eat a Viking, but only if it made it past the swords, clubs and armor. So there, Cincy. You can be damned, at least until I can make a decent pick and win some of the money back that we keep putting into senseless sports gambling.