Friday, March 28, 2008

A completely self-centered look at baseball history

On August 11, 1980, the Red Sox's Rick Burleson stepped into the batters' box in Tiger Stadium against Jack Morris. He singled to center to spark a first-inning rally. The Tigers eventually came back to win.

Last September 29, the Rangers' Jason Botts grounded out to pitcher Sean Green to end a Mariner win over Texas.

In between and including those games, I have been to 212 major league ballgames.

A good chunk of those--130 of them, 102 at Safeco Field--have been in Seattle, watching my beloved Mariners.

And now, every single statistic from those games (which I carefully scored starting in 1982, and which, in any event, has boxes and play-by-play for) is in a beautiful Microsoft Access Database.

16,113 plate appearances.
3,793 hits, 428 of them home runs.
2,643 strikeouts.

Now, the fun part.

What ballplayers perform better in my presence? What ballplayers do I have a negative effect on?

To be fair, we have to divide this question into three different groups: those who I've seen sparingly, those who I've seen from time to time, and teams I've regularly seen: Mariners and 1995 Rockies.

In the first category, there are two players I have seen homer in their only at-bat in my presence: Richie Hebner (in the aforementioned 8/11/80 debut game) and Roberto Petagine (for the Mariners against Francisco Rodriguez on 4/3/06...but alas, the M's still lost). That's a career OPS of 5.000, and you can't do better than that.

For the bad end, we'll turn to pitchers. Mac Suzuki was a terrible Mariner, and I saw him implode in the last game I saw in the Kingdome. He gave up 6 earned runs in a third of an inning. ERA? Hmmm...carry the seven...162.00. Among those who couldn't get an out in my presence are two who gave up three runs without retiring a batter. Ricky Bottalico blew a save in a great game in 2000--a walk, a walk, and a walk-off homer. And some Ranger named J.D. Smart gave up three singles without retiring a batter in 2001. All three went on to score. They share the honor of being the Doc Hamann of my baseball viewing career...most batters seen without getting an out.

As for middling guys, Preston Wilson is 8-for-10 with a home run and a double when I'm in the park...two four-hit games! He also leads all comers with a 2.000 OPS, nosing out Derek Bell, who I saw go 10-for-15 over three games as a visitor in Denver's hitter-friendly conditions. Third place, notably, is Carlos Delgado...notable because he pulled it off with a higher sample size, 10 games at 5 stadiums. He goes 12-30 with 7 home runs for a gaudy OPS of 1.768.

Among pitchers, C.C. Sabathia has three solid wins in my presence, as does Mike Mussina. Roger Clemens has two...shame I can't look back on that memory untainted.

Worst? I saw Miguel Olivo play 12 games as a Mariner. He was the centerpiece of the Freddy Garcia trade, and was supposed to solve our problems at that position. He went 1-for-27 in my presence,--a batting average of .037. (He wasn't much better outside of my presence, of course.) Adam Kennedy is an astonishing 2-for-41 .049, and Ian Kinsler wins the battle for biggest hits in 13 at-bats when I'm around.

Among those with a minimum of 100 at-bats (all Mariners), Edgar Martinez, not surprisingly, leads the way. .318/.412/.570/.983 overall, including 15 home runs, many of them very memorable. He'll always be my favorite Mariner. Ichiro, whom I have seen come to the plate more than any player in my viewing career, is a disappointing .665 OPS (compare to his career .816 OPS). I'll try not to let him know I'm in the ballpark...clearly I make him nervous.

The only sub-.200 hitter in my presence with over 100 at-bats is David Bell, who is 20-for-105 with a with a putrid .246/.352/.598 line. Ew!

Among pitchers with at least 50 innings in my presence, Jarrod Washburn...whoa!...has the best ERA at 2.44. For that, he is rewarded with a 4-4 record in my presence. Geez, the M's have had lousy offenses lately...

Meanwhile, Jeff Fassero netted an ERA of 5.84 over 50 innings in the Kingdome. He managed to go 2-3 over that stretch. Geez, the M's scored a lot of runs back in the late 90s.

Has anyone actually read this far? If you have, send me a box top and I'll send you a decoder ring.

But in all seriousness, I think what we've learned is the value of channeling one's OCD into one area of life. By channeling it all into this spreadsheet, I am able to lead an otherwise healthy, normal life.

I've been watching too much NCAA

You know that Enterprise Rent-a-car spot where they celebrate the student athlete, and they morph from a shot of the women's soccer player celebrating a goal with her arms in the air to a shot of the same woman, now in a class, raising her hand in the back of a giant lecture hall? Not just raising her hand, either, but raising it like Reese Witherspoon in Election, desperately calling for attention by raising her hand in a way that nobody does after fifth grade? You can practically hear her grunting: "Oooh! Oooh! Pick me! Pick me!" And in the background of the shot, about a half a time zone away, the professor, writing something on the board, has his back to the too-eager student-athlete, who still continues to raise her hand with enthusiasm normally associated with potential Let's Make a Deal contestants trying to attract Monty Hall?

I hate that commercial.

Well, there goes the bracket.

I led my workplace, er, competition (because pools are illegal) after the first weekend. But with Wisconsin out (they were a final four pick) and Tennessee and probably Stanford (elite 8) gone, I can kiss that money--er, pride--goodbye.

Temperature is down to 100, and I no longer feel like just sitting around in the fetal position. That's a good sign, eh?

And only four more games until my full stat spreadsheet for major league games I have attended is done. Looking forward to that...

For now, I think I'll sit with the cat and get this computer off of my lap. The heat from the computer can't be good for my fever.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Because TRP is sick

He will sit out the last one-and-a-half days before Spring Break. Incredibly, our head secretary managed to score a sub for me (a tough maneuver, since so many people take personal days to extend their vacation). Since my fever is 101, I suspect I'm staying put here and hoping to be good for our planned excursion to Seattle on Sunday, Mariner Opening Day on Monday, and trip to the Ozarks on Tuesday.

Anyhow, here I sit in the sick room, inputting baseball stats (after 4 more games, there will only be the 2007 season to go), getting set for my bracket to become even more perfect (although I guess I can't manage to be better than a junior high boy without cable TV).

I will blog at least some tomorrow. I have thoughts on Hillary Clinton and the distinction between bad memory and lying (she did the latter about her 1996 Bosnia trip, and it pisses me off).

But for now...grape juice and the Sweet Sixteen.

Monday, March 24, 2008

My bracket

is in the 98.4th percentile on ESPN. I hope that translates well in the two office pools I'm in. It'd be a pretty kick-butt infusion of cash into my life. Go Badgers!

Train whistle

I fell asleep to the sound of a train whistle about a mile off just about every night of my childhood. I love the sound...associate it with winding down.

Now I live a little closer to a train track, and the train whistle is a part of my late nights and early mornings again. But I'm not enjoying it as much. Why?

The pitch and duration of the whistle is almost exactly the same as the first note as the commercial jingle for Video Only. So I spend much of my late nights and early morning with that instrumental in my head, followed by the tagline of "You'll be sorry!"

I need to disassociate that sound from that commercial.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Obama rocks my world

If you haven't read the whole Obama speech on race today, you'd best do that. The press won't do it justice, and that's part of his point, I think. We're so focused on stupid racial spectacle, like the O.J. trial, that we neglect to talk about the real issues that divide us--and the critical needs that bind us.

Say it with me.

There is no them. There is only us.

This man is my President. It's not even close. And I actually think, once we bind the wounds from the battle with Hillary, that he'll win in November. I can't believe I think that, but I do.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Jinxing it

I want to write a book.

I won't be telling you what it's about here, except that it's a non-fiction book on the same topic as the most rewarding magazine article I've ever written. (Y'all who know me: that should be enough information). I wrote this article about a year and a half ago, and the article was published about a year ago. This past summer was devoted to the new house and the new job. This summer, I think I want to, you know, actually get stated on this thing.

But I do NOT want to write it if I don't think anyone is going to publish it.

So today--my first day back from State (nobody broke except my Public Forum team who made the first cut...but hey, we're a new team, and I'm damn proud of them all)--I decided it's time to research exactly how the hell one gets a non-fiction book published.

A trip to Powell's and $90 later, I'm stuck on the question of whether I want to have an agent or not.

Money is nice, but it's a nagging need to write this book that's driving me. Even so, I think there's a small niche of people out there who will buy it. We won't make the best-seller list, but I'm 100% certain I can make some money for a publisher and/or agent. But of course, I don't have any real idea what I'm talking about.

Arguments for an agent: He/she will have a good sense of who would be receptive to my proposal. This would mean I would not have to expend energy on this part of the process, and could have more energy towards, you know, writing the damn book. An agent would also get me in the door to some larger presses, in case I'm underestimating the appeal for the book and could make more books and more money.

Arguments against an agent: Maybe I don't want a larger press...maybe I want a smaller one with more individualized attention. And with a little bit of time and energy, I could research and find an appropriate press for myself. If they don't require an agent, I could save myself some money by skipping that part of the process.

Anyway, I need to do a little more research--and soon, because ideally, I'd like to be traveling, interviewing people, and writing as much as possible this summer.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Professional change afoot?

I don't like blogging about work, but I'd like some input.

There are days when I'm a fan of my new school, and there are days when I am not a fan of my new school. The culture is sometimes toxic. I've promised myself I'd put in a second year at the place to see if things resolve, and if it looks like the toxic atmosphere is too deeply embedded to disappear, I'll put in for a transfer.

The decision-making process was accelerated considerably this week when my principal pulled me aside and asked if I'd like to become department head when the current one leaves in the fall of '09.

I asked him why he picked me based on just 6 months of work. He complimented me, saying he liked how professional I am, and everyone says I'm a good teacher. That's nice. But he also said something like this: "When I hire somebody, they become 'my people' in the building." The department heads in this building have been the same since the building opened [nearly a decade ago]. I'd like some of my people in the room."

Red flag.

From my still-limited impression of my principal, I like him. He's very unpopular among a loud batch of large, I don't know. And I do think he could handle me disagreeing with him (which I certainly would). But does he want a yes-man? My instinct, in spite of that quote above, is that he does not. He's just tired of being in the room with people with such palpable anger towards him, and he recognizes that I would not be one of those angry people.

I've been at this eleven years now, so it's logical that I should get involved in leadership roles at the school (although, on pain of death, I will never, ever become a principal). And I'd enjoy some of what being a department head offers. Even though I hate budgets and I hate meetings, I would like the opportunity to be a part of the discussion about what we as a building ought to be doing next. I'd enjoy being central in hiring teachers, and I'm told they're working on getting a release period to enable the department head to spend time helping new and struggling teachers. I'd really like that.

However, I will NOT take the job if I feel like it will inspire resentment among my colleagues. It's possible there are people who have been around longer who want the job. It's not their choice, of course...department heads aren't voted on here (unlike my old school), but are appointed by the principal. So if I accepted the position, it might be that a good chunk of my already-gut-churningly-angry colleagues will channel that anger at me. I'd be the Golden Boy appointed by the principal...a symbol of what they feel are the principal's dictatorial powers. That could be really awful.

Then, later that day, and unbelievably, the plot thickened more.

I was chatting about this with our literacy coach. She crashes the classrooms of new teachers (which, in this district, I am one) and sets up professional development in reading. I'm not often a fan of professional development (few teachers are), but she has helped me out a lot by watching me teach and giving feedback. She's also been a great sounding board when I have become frustrated with the new job. I trust her.

I learned that she suggested me for department head, and she thinks I should take it.

As I talked, I said something about how this is a logical next step for my career, and how I just didn't see it happening so soon, and that I could see me enjoying teaching teachers someday, and heck, I could enjoy her job down the road.

Two minutes later, she offered me half of her job. "I'll be splitting it after next year. We should work together! It'd be fun!"

Whoa. Two major career-changing offers in one day.

So, if I take both offers, I'd be teaching either two or three classes (and therefore grading fewer papers and being, I'm sure, a far better teacher), helping prepare a few professional development offers in literacy, working with new teachers, serving as department head,
and perhaps helping this building go in a new direction.

However, I would also be marked as Unpopular Principal's Golden Boy, be seen as an insider, and be painfully central to my school's growing process, whichever direction it may be going (even if it's a bad direction, which I have to admit I worry about). I'd be tying my fortunes to the current school for at least the next 5-7 years, since I wouldn't want to bail from a leadership position. If I didn't take these offers and continued working exclusively in the classroom, I would have flexibility to transfer out if I didn't like the direction the building was headed.

I think I have developed a plan here, but I'm wondering if you, my smart friends who know me well (and those who don't), have any insight for me.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

-Made- review

I just watched the NFL Made. There's no two ways about it--MTV did a very poor job.

As I said earlier, MTV followed a kid from a fellow SW Washington school around as she tried to transform herself from ditzy cheerleader to confident debater. I was on hand for three of the meets, as the kid dipped her toe in the water by doing Congress and IR, eventually working her way to debating Parli and Public Forum.

The main issue, as I saw it, sprang from the fact that her Made coach was not nearly as able as her actual, real-live, forensics coach who was right there in the building. MTV declared that spiky-haired neophyte had to be the "primary" coach, while the expert but in-his-fifties-and-not-remotely-hip coach had to serve as "secondary" coach.

As I tried to figure out what was going on with this show (so I could tell my kids what to expect), I watched a couple of episodes, and believe it or not, I enjoyed them. I watched an overprotected girl try to become a skateboarder, and a 4.0 student try to become a rapper. In each case, the interaction between the kid and the Made coach was entirely central to the piece and to the kid's growth, as well as to the arc of the story.

But the guy they picked for this job simply didn't teach this aspiring debater very much. He made her lug around a jar and put a quarter in it every time she said "like," and he got her to debate against a fellow cheerleader on Ninjas vs. Pirates. The first helped her a little; the second not at all. So instead of seeing the value of a one-on-one coach working with a kid to push her intellectually (and the excitement and joy that can produce, even for an MTV audience), we got almost nothing from him.

Net result: he was barely in the show.

Instead, once we were done with an entirely useless bit where she walked around Seoul (she spent Christmas break with her Air Force dad in Korea) doing irrelevant Amazing-Race style challenges, the show mostly consisted of the kid spending lunches in the library working on her Public Forum case with her partner, then heading home and working with him some more.

The message, perhaps unintended: if you want to get smarter and be taken more intellectually seriously, you don't need a damn Made coach. Just spend some time in the library and some time talking to smart people. Even a casual observer of the show could see that the kid's teammates and newfound work ethic helped her far more than the spiky-haired Made coach did.

I don't know if Made's target audience will pick up on that message--but I sincerely hope they do.

Still, we saw debate for only the last 20 minutes of the hour-long show. And it was the only part of the show worth watching. Good debate is good television. Why did MTV zero in on so little of it? They had a legitimate story arc just in the three meets I saw the cameras at: kid comes into the less-challenging events, gains confidence, tries tougher events, takes a few lumps, and comes out smarter. If they'd made that the story, it would have been both better TV and more accurate. Everyone wins.

As is, they made a fairly compelling story look silly and boring. That's a shame, because a better program would have been better for debate overall. Nobody won.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Will my blurred face be on TV?

I never did get a release from MTV, but they're going to soldier on and continue their broadcast day anyway. The show Made is profiling a local debater, like I told you earlier, and it will be on at 11AM Pacific on Saturday the 8th. I'm very interested to see how much this looks like actual debating.

The NFL is all over this, as they should be. Click here for the perspective of the student subject. More interestingly, click here for the perspective of the best coach in Southwest Washington, who had to endure the indignity of playing second fiddle to a spiky-haired neophyte.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

The State of Public Forum Debate 2008

Since the guy in charge of my NFL district knows me and trusts me to work in the Tab room, babysit Congress, judge a few debate rounds, and be Extemp Prep Nazi (all in one weekend!), and since he paid for my sub, I spent this weekend up in Seattle helping shepherd the meet to its conclusion and about a score of kids to Nationals in Las Vegas (thank GOD this is a year I won't be going...I don't want to try to knock the whore trading cards out of my teenage boys' hands). In the process, I got to judge three rounds of Public Forum Debate. I saw both of the teams we'll be sending to Nationals. More to the point, I saw that the event still doesn't know what it's supposed to be about. I talked about this last year, and I thought I'd update it again.

My main concerns from last year--that PuFo continues to have an identity crisis because it only is negatively defined (e.g. "This isn't LD, I don't have to [whatever]")--remain. There was a Grand Crossfire that positively made my head explode. Four incredibly smart kids sat in front of me and yelled at each other about what a lay judge should find impressive. "I think they'd be very interested in expert evidence!" "No, I think a lay judge would care more about logic and reasoning!" I wanted to raise my hand and say "Hel-LLLOOOOO!!! I'm right here!!! I'll decide what I like, thank you very much!!!"

But this moment is instructive, I think, because it at least shows that the kids are interested in
what the judge is thinking. In LD (and, I assume, CX, which I have excised from my life), students assume that there is something that an "expert" judge is looking for, and if the judge goes against this miniscule paradigm by dropping a student's team, that judge is "unqualified" (although the kids--and a disturbing minority of coaches--usually use the word "idiot" instead).

If the NFL were to state, more publicly and prominently than it currently does, that "In Public Forum Debate, all efforts shall be made to make all judges lay judges," this kind of elitist bullshit would be literally impossible. It would make the judging as unpredictable as the populace. Students would have to resort to the most effective ways of arguing in the real world, and even then, wouldn't always wind up convincing their audiences. Schools and reputations, which are too strong an influence in determining a winner of an LD or Policy round, no longer would matter one iota. All of these are valuable lessons to teach kids, and PuFo can do that in ways that LD and Policy debate too seldom do.

As I judged these few rounds this weekend, I couldn't get a recent discussion out of my head--a discussion I had with a former debater who judged LD at a recent meet. She'd been out of the game for a while, and didn't know what Public Forum was. I told her about it, and its stated goal (well, my stated goal for it, anyway) to get kids to communicate effectively to non-debater audiences.

She thought using lay judges was a ridiculous idea. She more or less said that most everyday citizens are simply too stupid to bother communicating with, and that in any job worth a damn, smart adults only have to communicate with other smart adults.

I believe that this toxic, cruel elitism is fostered by the atmosphere of LD or CX debate, which frequently teaches this attitude in all ways except explicitly.

I got my hair cut before going to the meet on Friday. The woman cutting my hair was in her late twenties...nosering, tattoos. Our conversation led her to discover I was in town for a debate meet, and she asked what the topic was. I told her: political primaries and whether they're in line with democratic ideals. She asked me what I thought about the issue. I gave her my take on it.

As she shampooed me, she then gave a thoughtful, interesting take on the Obama/Clinton race. Her roommate is a massive Obama fan...bought the sweatshirt and a hat. But when the hairstylist looked up Clinton and Obama's views on issues important to her, they're pretty well the same. She likes Obama's style, but likes that Clinton is a woman. She went on for several minutes, concluding by telling me that she hasn't made up her mind yet.

Tell me...isn't this woman worth talking to? She is a working woman who has examined substance, examined style, and genuinely wants to make the right choice. Isnt' she worth convincing? And isn't this "only a hairstylist" exactly the kind of person that elitists like too many in the debate community dismiss as not expert enough to be worth the breath it would take to talk to her?

Keep Public Forum in the hands lay judges. Keep the debate-heads out of it.

Here's a way to do that:

At Nationals, on the form, if a judge checks that he or she can judge LD or Policy, he or she will not be allowed to judge Public Forum that year--no matter who they are. Anyone who shows up to judge any IE or Congress can expect to judge a round or two of PuFo.

Not enough PuFo judges at Nationals? There's a fix to that. Work with local TV and Radio stations, service clubs, and schools to get non-debaters in for a day to judge. With enough of them to create a critical mass, that will send the message that PuFo is about convincing our neighbors of one side of an important issue. Then, in National finals, instead of giving judging slots to coaches, give all of them to local lay judges. Coaches and districts will get the message that the event is for lay judges and will coach accordingly.

The event is only 6 years old, and it's already turning into card wars. The sooner that we emphasize and even require lay judges, the sooner Public Forum will become what it ought to be--smart kids learning to communicate backed arguments in a way that their fellow citizens find convincing.

Things I learned in Student Congress

Five hours of student congress. Seven hours of acting as extemp Nazi. Man oh man, Nat Quals is a marathon...

I learned the following:

On the overbearing prevalence of advertising:
"Chocolate releases endorsements in the brain."

On a word that I need in my vocabulary:

"Foreignly." comment:
"Sex education shoves beliefs down students' throats."

On something more necessary than Columbus Day:

"Why doesn't Lincoln have a holiday? Isn't he more important?"

On holidays, part II:

"Thanksgiving: we celebrate the wholesale slaughter of Native Americans."

My brain hurts.

(Inspired by Jim's litany of Student Congress blunders.)