Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Mariners make me homicidal.

The Mariners signed relief pitcher Rick White about ten days ago. I thought very little of it at the time. White is the very definition of a journeyman (twelve teams!). Every team has a scrub at the end of their bench to eat up unimportant innings. The Mariners' main strength in a highly unlikely pennant drive has been their bullpen, so if they're looking for a guy to eat a few innings, White is interchangeable with anyone else.

But in the last few days, well...things have gotten strange.

First, White entered a tie game in Texas. If it's a tie game...well, those aren't unimportant innings. Why debut an unknown quantity there? White gave up two runs in two and a third innings, and the M's lost by those two runs.

Then, something truly baffling the other night. The M's were down by one in a must-win game against the Angels. It's the eighth inning. J.J. Putz hasn't pitched in four days. The bases are loaded. Vladimir Guerrero is coming up. It's a huge at-bat...absolutely massive. A Guerrero hit puts the game out of reach, and probably ends any hope of the division title. Time for J.J. It's not a save situation, but it's way, way more important than most save situations. The M's go to the bullpen...

and in runs Rick White.

HUH? WHAT? WHY?

White gives up two hits and a walk, and the game, for all intents and purposes, ends. (By the way, this is Exhibit A for why ERA is an inadequate stat for pitchers, particularly relievers. White, because the runs weren't "his," had an ERA of 0.00 on the day.)

Yesterday, White returned to give up four hits while recording five outs. He turned a four-run deficit into a six-run deficit. OK...with three straight subpar outings, even John McLaren should banish the guy to mop-up duty, right?

So let's fast-forward to today. I missed the Cleveland game because I was out seeing The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters again (and you should see it too). On the way home, I turn on the radio and hear that the M's have lost on a bases-loaded walk. I casually joke to myself: "Gee! Probably Rick White again! Ha ha ha!"

Well, shit. It was.

This time it was a tie score in the bottom of the ninth. One out, men on first and second. J.J. Putz hasn't pitched in six days. Sure, I'll grant that this isn't a save situation. But it's way more important than that. Saving Putz for a save that will never come makes absolutely no sense.

Nope. Not J.J. Rick. Flyout, walk, and walk. Game over. M's no longer in a playoff slot.

On ESPN radio tonight, they played the Cleveland announcers' radio call of the final pitch of the game. Here's what they said, as best as I can remember it:

"The pitch...Inside, ball four! Indians win! Kenny Lofton draws the walk, Josh Barfield scores, and Rick White hasn't changed!"

Ouch.

We've lost six in a row. In that time, Rick White has made four appearances while J.J. has gotten splinters in his butt.

Why this sudden Mariner obsession with White? Look at his stats. The man was a serviceable reliever briefly in the early '90s, and had a decent year the year before last. But his recent numbers have been bad. His ERA+ (100 is average, above is better) last year was 91, and this year it's sub 60. Putz's 2007 ERA+? THREE HUNDRED AND FIFTEEN. White is 38 (older than I am!), so it's not like he's going to pick up any new tricks. As the Tribe announcers noted, he "hasn't changed," and if he hasn't changed by 38, he never will.

Still, even if the M's see some spark and think he can develop into something, their recent moves with him are comically inept. Give White some meaningless innings to show what he's got (or, more likely, hasn't got). But the most important innings of a pennant race? Those are NOT the place to suddenly test an unproven guy who has been dumped by ELEVEN major league teams at one time or another! Every other guy in the M's bullpen has shown me at least a little something. I don't cringe when anybody else in the bullpen enters (and for a guy who suffered through the M's bullpens of the late '90s, that's a wonderful feeling). But Rick White? Rick White has shown me nothing, and he's shown John McLaren nothing. Why in the name of all that is holy are we hinging the season on him again and again?

I cannot come up with a philosophical approach to baseball, including any which I disagree with, that indicates this is a good idea.

I'm on record fairly often (most recently here) as saying that the M's record is a wonderful, joyous anomaly, and that it won't last. But if we're going to go down, I want it to be with our best players duking it out in the most important situations, and not a clearly overmatched journeyman who's been with us a week and a half, and has done nothing to get us into our unlikely playoff chase.

Win or lose, M's fans deserve way better than what they've gotten this week.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Next time you complain about American education...

please remember this video. (From Jim at 5/17.)

Commuting

I've been doing a hellish commute for the last couple of weeks while Swankette and I have been shacking up with the Parents of Swank. It started as about 50 minutes to work, although I've adjusted my route a little and knocked it down to 45 minutes. But the way home...man oh man. It's been as long as two hours, although it seems to be settling in around an hour and 15 minutes.

It's temporary, which is good. It's about an eighth of a tank of gas a day, which is bad. It's exhausting, which is troubling--I have to be at school by 7AM, so I leave at 5:40 (just in case there is a traffic snarl). I worry a little about fatigue...I'll be very careful, don't worry...I'm already prepared to take a nap on my desk if need be, and my brand new boss has already offered for me to stay the night in her family's guest room. ("You'll even get dinner and breakfast out of the deal, but I don't want you driving home tired!" she said. First impression of the new boss: very good!)

But the main thing I've been thinking is that some people choose to do this!

Who in the name of God would subject themselves to this?

I don't care how wonderful your distant rural or suburban place is, how could you sacrifice that kind of time and energy every single day? It's just an awful thing. Horrendous. I can't WAIT until it ends.

Anybody wanna buy a condo near Microsoft? Please? We've even knocked the price down...

Textbooks

As you all should know, I'm teaching at a new school this year. In the process, I'm adjusting to a new culture.

Part of that culture is figuring out how to use a lit textbook.

I've certainly had lit textbooks in my past, but I've only ever used them occasionally. I used them in Creative Writing just as a repository of cool stories. If there's a short story in there by someone whose novel we're reading, I'll often use it to introduce the novel. But I never plowed through it front to back.

I plan by figuring out what skills kids should build (a given, always), but then decide what big human or societal question I want kids to address. I then pick texts to back it up. From time to time, if there's a novel I want to teach, I work backwards from that, pick the questions, and then pick supplemental texts.

But I'm in a new situation now. I've been told: "You can teach what you want, but we've got these four novels in the book room. Also, please teach from Units One, Two, and Three of the book in semester one."

So it's not start-at-page-one-and-go-forward, but it's still unusual for me.

The problem: it feels bassackwards.

What I've done for the first six weeks plan is read most of the stories from Unit One and picked a few that are sort of thematically related (the big question: How do we determine what Success is? Or maybe: "What do our decisions say about us?"

Yeah, I don't like them much either.

I'll make them work--many of the stories are wonderful. But I'm feeling a little restrained in the planning. It's just not me...it's like wearing someone else's socks.

Perhaps I need to find a like-minded someone in the building and life his/her unit?

Al Gore's book

On my way home from my recent quickie baseball trip (to be put on the baseball site as soon as the computer situation is remedied), I read The Assualt on Reason, which I've been intending to do for some time. It wasn't what I was expecting. I was expecting the book to focus on his introduction--which discusses the is that people don't seem to value logic or evidence much anymore, particularly in politics. I was eager to read why this might be the case, and what we can do about it. Instead I got an entire book of Bush-bashing. It was very good, very high-quality Bush-bashing. He absolutely dismembers him in all sorts of areas. I hate him more now, think he should probably be impeached (which I didn't necessarily think before reading the book), and am intensely POd about his incredible disregard for the Constitution. There are similar chapters about the decision to invade Iraq, the environment, and other issues.

So I'm reading, thinking "Yup, Bush sucks. Yup, still sucks. Uh-huh...bad President."

Alas, that's not what I wanted. I wanted to know a lot more about how this happens, and why so many people buy it.

Maybe I read Obama's book next. He's my horse right now, but I'm not as enthusiastic about him as I would be about Gore.

I'm back, and better than ever

New job plus trying like all hell to sell a condo plus a broken computer plus a horrific commute mean not a lot of blogging. This place ain't dying. I'll still be writing it. Every day, one or two things happen where I think "Gee, I should blog about that." They're backing up in my brain, waiting in line like cars merging onto I-5. In fact, they often back up in my brain WHILE I'm a car backed up onto I-5. I'm going to try to remember all of them and present them in the future. They might be in present tense. But hey, I'm permitted a little poetic license.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Join the 2007 Underdog Pool

Clearly, this ref hasn't learned from the NBA scandal, and is going right forward with running a pool...but hey, I doubt this twenty bucks will impact my ability to officiate HS hoops.

I've just sent this email out to my friends, and I wanted to invite blog-friends as well. If you're interested in joining, fire me off an email, or comment here with an email where I can reach you. (I'll delete your reply as soon as I see it.)

Details:

We'll keep it relatively cheap--twenty bucks--as last year. I feel like the $220 from last year made a winner-take-all pool sensible, but if we get up to 20 participants or so, I'd like to give prizes to second and third places as well, or maybe beyond.

To refresh your memory on the rules, on Tuesday morning of each week (or as soon thereafter as I remember), I send out the first line on the left from Yahoo's list of lines. Before the first ballgame is played on Sunday (unless, of course, you pick an underdog from a Thursday or Saturday game, in which case it's due earlier), each participant selects one and only one underdog for the week. If that team wins outright, you get the number of points they were an underdog by.

So picking Oakland to win in Indianapolis might net you 15 or 16 points, depending on the opening line; picking a slight underdog, however, will net you a point or two. Of course, the latter is far more likely to happen than the former, so the game is tricky. Last year's winner had no points as late as week 8, but got hot and pulled out the win.

If you're interested, fire me off an email or just send me twenty bucks if you see me or know my address.

Unlike last year, I'd enjoy starting out with week one this year. I'll get lines out to everyone who expresses interest in the middle of next week. If you see this later than that, no sweat; you certainly can join in during week 2 for no penalty. I would like all money in my hands, however, by Tuesday, September 18, 2007, at which point I'll set up the prizes.

Let me know, y'all. And good luck to you.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Death and Dismemberment

Maybe I'm just stressed into a sick sense of humor...starting a new job while not yet in the new home because you can't sell the old condo which the realtor suggests may be overpriced does things to the mind.

But as my bride and I talked over benefits with the new job today, I simply found the list of "type of loss" associated with Death and Dismemberment insurance to be hilarious. I partially duplicate the list below.

TYPE OF LOSS and PERCENTAGE OF PAYMENT:

Life--100%
Both Hands or Both Feet--100%
One Hand and One Foot--100%
Sight of Both Eyes--100%
Speech and Hearing--100%
Either One Hand or One Foot and Sight of One Eye--100%
Speech or Hearing--50%
Sight of One Eye--50%
Either One Hand or One Foot--50%
Thumb and Index Finger of the Same Hand--25%

Why do I find this so funny? Bride did too. Most of it was trying to imagine a bizarre accident that would take both one foot and the sight of one eye. Would a hand, foot, one eye, and hearing produce a 250%? And why was I having such fun imagining scenarios where one would injure a foot and an eye in the same event?

I also like that it's so carefully called "Accidental Death and Dismemberment Insurance." Note that it's "and" and not "or." If I were BOTH dead and lost one hand and one foot, my bride would not get 200%.

Quoth the bride: "There goes my plan to have the mortician cut off your extremities."

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Still out here...

but the move and the new job and a recent vacation have quieted me here.

I'll be loud again soon.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

An often-overlooked problem with adjusting to a move

When they show the national weather map on TV, my eyes immediately go to where I until-recently live, and I have to go "oh yeah" and physically force my eyes to go to the new location.

I first noticed this when I first moved for my freshman year of college, and I've had the same problem for every move since.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

At today's Beavers game


The Beavers wore pink uniforms today for "Strike Out Breast Cancer Day." Real men wear pink, yo.

Early in the game, Memphis scored a run, and there were some cheers...expatriate Cardinal fans, probably. The six-or-seven year old behind me asked the following question:

"Dad, why are so many people cheering for cancer?"

Don't worry, kid...cancer would lose. Yordany Ramirez is an absolute stud. I saw him at Lake Elsinore last year and three times in Portland this year. First time I saw him in Portland--I think it might have been his first game in AAA--he made a catch in center and crashed through the wall by busting open a garage-size opening. Today, he hit a two-out, game-winning three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth. He's a guy I have a non-sexual minor-league man-crush on.

And what do you know: he's interviewed on Portlandbeavers.com today. His favorite restaurant: Chili's. "I love eating there because there's all kinds of great food."

But another of his answers worries me even more than a guy whose favorite restaurant in the world is Chili's. If he could have three wishes, they would be as follows: "First, to be able to hit better. Second, I want to be bigger, like 220 pounds (he's listed at 160 now), and last, I would like to play in the Major Leagues."

Those three wishes in combo are a little scary, ain't they? Stay away from the 'roids, Yordany. You're a stud just the way you are. And you just turned 23...I see a future for you in the majors.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Hangin' with the in-laws

We are now in the no-man's land of the move.

Friday was the big day; the mover guys came by. We met at the storage place, where we loaded a truck. We drove the few blocks to the condo, where we gave the directions: if possible, we wanted all of our stuff in the Pod. If not, we would take any leftover boxes back to storage, and Swankette and I would figure out what to do from there.

We had an absolute artist. Anybody moving in the Seattle area should use this company to load up your stuff. I spent most of the day watching Keenan and his sidekick Michael load up our pod. I swear to God we have no air inside of that thing! Swankette said it was like watching a 3-D game of Tetris, and it was. Our stuff was shrink-wrapped and stacked gorgeously.

It wasn't from Keenan's lack of effort, but we couldn't quite get everything into the Pod, so there will be one or two more trips back to Redmond in our future to clear out the rest of our possessions. And we somehow managed to leave behind our vacuum in the condo. But, we are officially out, and once they replace our carpet on Monday, our place will be back up for sale. Anyone want a condo conveniently located near Microsoft?

So here we are, in an extended period of transition. We can't buy the new place until we've sold the old, but we can't stay at the new place--I start AP training in Vancouver on Monday, so we need to be down here. Net result: we're at the in-laws place. They're great people, and I think that Sarge is glad to have someone to watch baseball with, as the Mariners somehow have pulled within a half game of a playoff spot. But it's weird not having a place of our own, even if it is so self-evidently temporary.

There's a walking trail nearby here, and Swankette and I enjoyed a walk tonight. And we'll head to a Beavers game tomorrow afternoon. Just makin' the best out of our brief spell here in Oregon.

Blogging may decrease for a while here, especially while I take AP Comp training, and while I read Julius Caesar for the first time, and especially while the "M" key on my keyboard is so very temperamental.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

What a ballgame.

I stand by my assessment that the Mariners aren't good enough for the playoffs. Tonight, we threw our best pitchers, Felix Hernandez and J.J. Putz, at the Angels, who might be the best team in the AL. And with them, we couldn't hold 5-0 and 7-4 leads. The dagger was the Gary Matthews 2-run game-tying homer after having the Angels down to their final strike in the ninth.

Then Jose Lopez didn't get down a suicide squeeze in the tenth.

There was a considerable amount of profanity from me tonight.

But in spite of all of this, plus a heck of a lot of baserunners for the Angels in the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth, we managed to pull this off anyway. 20 hits in 12 innings ain't bad, even for a slow, low-power outfit like Seattle. And in the end, hey, we're a half game out of the wild card and three out of the division now.

Three against Boston now, and we swept them in Seattle earlier this year. Let's send the smug Boston fans home again now.

And let's make me wrong. I'd love October baseball in the Pacific Northwest again.

The union is watching me.

And it's actually pretty cool. This blog post from a particularly good teaching day in May was selected as a "Best In Class" for June by the NEA Blog Watch.

Thanks, y'all. That was a really, really good day, and I'm glad to share it.

At least I'm not the teacher who got the F-you on her board. This time, anyway.