Scoring a Walk Off

Walk Offs.  The name is pretty descriptive.  One pitch and the game is over.  And last night, I had the chance to see one in person.  From my perspective, nothing in sports is so exciting. 

You may ask, “What’s the difference in a walk off in baseball and a sudden death touchdown or field goal in football, when the last score wins it all?”  (I recall Curt Gowdy liked to rename these extra periods “Sudden Victory” in place of “Sudden Death.”)  What about the last second shot in basketball?

Here’s why…in baseball, the walk off comes as part of the normal course of the game.  Baseball is famous for not having a clock.  This infuriates some when it is 11 p.m. and you have babysitters at home or an early morning alarm clock is on the horizon for work.  But there is no sudden death (or sudden victory) in baseball.  When you win with a walk off, it means that the home team has won in the course of the normal rules of the game.  It is exciting because you’re always playing in the home team’s stadium when a walk off occurs.  The home crowd goes wild.  What could be better?!

In many football overtime scenarios, the rules are increasingly tortured to try and get someone to score and end the game (e.g., each team gets the ball on its opponents 40 yard line; after several series you are forced to go for a two-point conversion; who can keep up with the difference between overtime rules in college and professional football).  And don’t get me started on basketball.  Ever since the NBA inserted that silly rule which allows a team to get the ball at half-court in the final minutes of a game, you have endings where teams (i.e., Lakers) steal victory after their opponents (i.e., Spurs) hit what should have been the winning shot because they are not forced to advance the ball the full 90 feet in the final .4 seconds left in the game (hello Derek Fisher).  That’s not basketball…at least as Dr. Naismith imagined it.

Saturday was a beautiful night for baseball at Nationals Stadium, and Dolores and Jamie had invited Candice and me to join them to watch the Nats vs. the Braves.  The seats are great (you can see the perspective from the shot above), Teddy (see right) lost the President’s Race again to go 0-for-his-career, and the crowd was swaying to the sounds from 70s night (reminds me of why I stopped listening to rock and pop music in the 70s…but that’s another story).  I brought along my scorebook, because as historian Doris Kearns Goodwin told Claire and me during a book-signing, “There’s no better way to understand the game.”  And it was an offensive show, with the Braves jumping off to a 4-0 lead, and then the Nats clawing back.  At the end of 9 innings, the score was tied 8-8, the game was already at 3 1/2 hours, and some had to leave for early morning drives to see family or other adult obligations.

But one of the great things about having teenagers is that you no longer have a baby-sitter at home, and one of the advantages of scoring the game is you want to see the thing through.  So there we were, as 11 p.m. neared, when the bottom of the 10th came around.  In the 9th I had said that Elijah Dukes was going to hit a walk-off, while Dolores opined that it would be fun to see a “walk-off walk.”  Well, that didn’t happen in the 9th.  But by looking at my scorebook today, I can remember that in the home half of the 10th, the inning started when Braves pitcher Vladimir Nunez (where is he from!) started by walking leadoff hitter Anderson Hernandez, who then advances to second on a passed ball.  The second batter, Christian Guzman (or GUZZZZZZZZZMAN as the Nats announcer intones) gets a single and suddenly we have men on first and third with no one out.  We CAN’T lose (can we?).  The crowd boos as the Braves play this right and intentionally walk Nat’s #3 hitter and rising star Ryan Zimmerman, who has already gone 3-5.  The bases are loaded with no one out.  I say to Candice, “Lastings Milledge has to do anything but strike out and we’re in great shape.”  So with the infield and outfield in tight, he strikes out.  All of a sudden, the infield backs up, and a double play means we play more free baseball (as Skip Carey liked to call it).  Groan. 

The #5 hitter Ronnie Belliard comes up and we look like winners.  Belliard is batting almost .400 for August and he rips one to left center.  But the outfield is in close, and the Braves catch the liner, whip the ball back in, and hold Hernandez at third.  The fans left around us scream that he should have tested the outfield arm, but I’m not so sure.

So, it all comes down to…Elijah Dukes!  The Nats right fielder has started hitting since coming off the DL with an injury and he just is built like a hitter.  Nunez works him very carefully.  After fouling off some pitches, we find our selves at a 3-2 count, with two out and the bases loaded.  Dukes wiggles his bat, steps in – and watches Nunez fire a ball outside for ball four – and a walk off walk!  Unbelievable!!  Dukes dances down to first base where he’s slapped and congratulated by teammates.  Hernandez stomps on home plate with the winning run, and the fans scream and go home happy.  The most exciting moment in sports indeed!

More to come…


An End-of-Summer Farewell to the Pool

The first thing to know is that I’m not a very good swimmer.  The second thing that’s important to know is that I love our neighborhood pool. 

And here at Labor Day weekend, I’m sad to see it close for a host of reasons.

We were so pleased when we moved to Silver Spring early in 2000 to find several nearby pools that are part of Montgomery County’s wonderful network of neighborhood pools.  Candice, with her usual thoroughness, visited them all in the hopes of finding the one that was right for us.  We had vague thoughts of Andrew and Claire joining a swim team, but we really didn’t know what that meant and it really didn’t play much of a role in our decision.  In the end, we settled on Franklin Knolls, which was an older pool, nestled in a grove of trees at the end of a dead-end street, that just struck us as having a family – yet slightly funky – feel that would fit us.

The pool was family oriented and Andrew and Claire immediately found friends.  We learned about the Gator swim team and became more involved with each passing year.  The funky factor results from the great mix of diverse people from very interesting backgrounds along with the fact that our pool isn’t “regulation” length so all our swim meets – even our home meets – are at the other team’s pool. 

Why am I sad to see the pool close?  Not just because it signals summer’s end is near. I’ll miss the pace of life that comes with the pool – and the wonderful relationships that pace fosters.

Franklin Knolls is pretty much our life for the first half of summer.  Every day before work I’d drop Andrew and Claire off at Franklin Knolls between 6:30 and 7 a.m. for swim team practice.  (They begin with an hour of “dry lands” exercise before hitting the pool.)  In the evenings I’d often come home to greet Candice and the twins coming in from a full day with friends.  We’d enjoy “No Cook Fridays” and the annual Crab Feast.  After taking in the delightful July 4th parade in Takoma Park – a Brown family tradition (see the picture of the stilt walker who mugged for the camera as she went by) – we spent most of the rest of the afternoon at Franklin Knolls eating hamburgers, lounging, talking with old friends, and meeting new ones. 

Swim team has also been one of the great traditions of summer for us for seven years.  We like the competition and the exercise for the kids, but we love the kids and their parents.  The Franklin Knolls Gators are a good team but not at the top of the league, so that means we end up competing in divisions in the C – G range.  That fits us fine, because the parents – not to mention the swimmers – are WAY too competitive when you get in the A or B divisions.  Candice is the Assistant Clerk of Course, so she knows every child on the swim team.  This year I took on some more administrative responsibilities.  (As Assistant Treasurer I now get to carry around a Franklin Knolls debit card in case we need a hot dog run for the after meet cookout).  I also sign up to time when I can, but mostly I just enjoy the meets – cheering on all the kids, drinking coffee at our 7 a.m. meet-ups at the parking lot on Saturday morning (remember, we ALWAYS have to travel), and watching the occasional phenom blow everyone out of the water (such as the 12 year old on another team this year who was beating our strong 15-18 year olds).

The end of swim season brings the wonderful team banquet where you eat mediocre country club food, listen to the coaches say something nice about every swimmer, and occasionally get inspired as when a kid who will never win a race gets a standing ovation when the coaches give him the spirit award.  Franklin Knolls has had a nice tradition since we’ve been involved of hiring its coaches from within.  Andrew and Claire have been blessed to have some great role models – just a few years older – who take off from their studies at Stanford, Brown, the University of Maryland, and other schools to return to the pool where they once competed and coach our kids during the summer. 

You don’t dare schedule a trip during swim season, so many families leave town immediately following the banquet for vacations…and we follow that timetable as well.  Because of that rhythm, the pool changes character for us in August.  We still drop by on the occasional day for a swim or picnic.  Andrew has been working the front desk for a couple of years, so he’s connected more than the rest of us this month.  And with many schools now back in session, we joked that Andrew was “paid to study” as he’d held down the front desk this week and did his summer reading while keeping an eye out for the handful of moms and pre-schoolers who still took advantage of the last days of August.

Labor Day means we all head back to school and work, and Franklin Knolls closes up for the year.  We’ve developed such friendships over the years that we’ll see many of our pool families during the school year.  But it just isn’t the same as sitting around the picnic tables at Franklin Knolls on a lazy Saturday afternoon with all the time in the world.  Here’s to summer and memories!

More to come…


Jon Stewart Is the Dean of Convention Anchors

As the Democratic convention comes to a close, I found this article from the online version of the San Francisco Chronicle to be right on target. 

It is a telling media milepost as political convention TV coverage unfolds over the next two weeks: Jon Stewart is now the dean of commercial network political convention anchors. The old guard is either retired, deceased or disgraced.

For the past two nights, Stewart’s show – The Daily Show has brilliantly skewered the cable news from the left (MSNBC) and right (Fox News).  Thanks to my colleague and friend Melita Juresa for sharing this article.

More to come…


Irish Band Solas Plays in Arlington This Week – Recommended!

One of the great Irish bands of the past decade will be playing twice in Arlington, Virginia this weekend.  The band is Solas and since the late 1990s they have been hailed as the best Irish band to ever emerge from the United States.  I agree.  Led by the terrific Seamus Egen, they exhibit superb musicianship that is infectious, and their new album also includes duet work with the Canadian band The Duhks.  Solas will play at a CD-release party on Friday evening, and then will follow that the next day with a concert as part of Planet Arlington’s World Music Festival.

Solas is a great live band – which you can see in Arlington and (for those outside Washington) on the joint CD/DVD album SOLAS:  Reunion – A Decade of Solas A great concert and a great band.  More to come…


Three Cups of Tea

Those who receive emails from my father know that I could fill up a blog by just passing along the great material he sends my way. As I watched the political convention tonight, I thought that a recent book recommendation from my father was worth passing along.

So, this posting is from Tom Brown:

Last week I read Three Cups of Tea, One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time, by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin (Penquin).  I had the good fortune to hear the author, Greg Mortenson, this past Saturday night at the local Friends of the Linebaugh Libray meeting.  In addition, Brian Lamb interviewed him recently on C-Span.

What Greg has done is build schools, primarily for girls, in Pakistan and Afghanistan.  The hard cover edition had in the title “. . . one man’s mission to fight terrorism and build nations one school at a time.”  He objected to the “fighting terrorism” but the published thought it needed that to sell.  It didn’t. So he got his way in the paper back edition.

The title comes from what he learned from Haji Ali, Korphe Villiage Chief, in northern Pakistan.  I will paste that conversation here:

Three Cups of Tea

All through June, the school walls rose steadily, but with half the construction crew missing on any given day as they left to tend their crops and animals, it progressed too slowly for Mortenson’s liking.  “I tried to be a tough but fair taskmaster,” Mortenson says.  “I spent all day at the construction site, from sunrise to sunset, using my level to make sure the walls were even and my plumb line to check that they were standing straight. I always had my notebook in my hand, and kept my eyes on everyone, anxious to account for every rupee.  I didn’t want to disappoint Jean Hoerni, so I drove people hard.”

One clear afternoon at the beginning of August, Haji Ali tapped Mortenson on the shoulder at the construction site and asked him to take a walk.  The old man led the former climber uphill for an hour, on legs still strong enough to humble the much younger man.  Mortenson felt precious time slipping away, and by the time Haji Ali halted on a narrow ledge high above the village, Mortenson was panting, as much from the thought of all the tasks he was failing to supervise as from his exertion.

Haji Ali waited until Mortenson caught his breath, then instructed him to look at the view.  The air had the fresh-scrubbed clarity that only comes with altitude.  Beyond Korphe K2, the ice peaks of the inner Karakoram knifed relentlessly into a defenseless blue sky.  A thousand feet below, Korphe, green with ripening barley fields, looked all small and vulnerable, a life raft adrift on a sea of stone.

Haji Ali reached up and laid his hand on Mortenson’s shoulder.  “These mountains have been here a long time,” he said.  “And so have we.”  He reached for his rich brown lambswool topi, the only symbol of authority Korphe’s nurmadhar ever wore, and centered it on his silver hair. “You can’t tell the mountains what to do,” he said, with an air of gravity that transfixed Mortenson as much as the view.  “You must learn to listen to them.  So now I am asking you to listen to me.  By the mercy of Almighty Allah, you have done much for my people, and we appreciate it. But now you must do one more thing for me.”

“Anything,” Mortenson said.

“Sit down. And shut your mouth,” Haji Ali said.  “You’re making everyone crazy.”

“Then he reached out and took my plumb line, and my level and my account book, and he walked back down to Korphe,” Mortenson says.  “I followed him all the way to his house, worrying about what he was doing. He took the key he always kept around his neck on a leather thong, opened a cabinet decorated with faded Buddhist wood carvings, and locked my things in there, alongside a shank of curing ibex, his prayer beads, and his old British musket gun. Then he asked Sakina to bring us tea.”

Mortenson waited nervously for half an hour while Sakina brewed the paiyu cha.  Haji Ali ran his fingers along the text of the Koran — he cherished above all his belongings, turning pages randomly mouthing almost silent Arabic prayer as he stared out into inward space.

When the porcelain bowls of scalding butter tea steamed in their hands, Haji Ali spoke.  “If you want to thrive in Baltistan, you must respect our ways,” Haji Ali said, blowing on his bowl.  “The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family, and for our family, we are prepared to do anything, even die,” he said, laying his hand warmly on Mortenson’s own.  “Doctor Greg, you must make time to share three cups of tea.  We may be uneducated.  But we are not stupid.  We have lived and survived here for a long time.”

“That day, Haji Ali taught me the most important lesson I’ve ever learned in my life,” Mortenson says.  “We Americans think you have to accomplish everything quickly. We’re the country of thirty-minute power lunches and two-minute football drills.  Our leaders thought their ‘shock and awe’ campaign could end the war in Iraq before it even started.  Haji Ali taught me to share three cups of tea, to slow down and make building relationships as important as building projects.  He taught me that I had more to learn from the people I work with than I could ever hope to teach them.”

Three weeks later, with Mortenson demoted from foreman to spectator, the walls of the school had risen higher than the American’s head and all that remained was putting on the roof.

From Three Cups of Tea, p.149-150.

This is a story that America needs to hear.  Mortenson said on C-Span that the Pentagon had bought 500 copies to distribute to their people.  (The Apostle) Paul had it right:  “Do not repay anyone evil for evil….Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  Romans 12:17, 21.

Grace and Peace.

Pandora Radio and Ben’s Chili Bowl

A couple of random topics about unique institutions that you may find of interest…

Pandora Radio – My friend and colleague Scott Gerloff introduced me to Pandora Radio, the Internet radio station that allows you to program your own music.  If you’ve never tried Pandora, I recommend you pay it a visit.  No matter your musical taste, you’ll enjoy it…because you get to program it!

In a posting today on the Bluegrass Blog, there’s a story about the difficulties Pandora is facing due to royalty issues with the music industry.  Check out the blog, learn more about Pandora, and become a listener.  Let’s hope we can all enjoy it for a long time to come.

Ben’s Chili Bowl – There’s a Washington institution celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and the blog at PreservationNation captured the celebration at Ben’s Chili Bowl on historic U Street in a posting today.  The Washington Post also had a terrific article earlier this week that covers the history – and future – of Ben’s.  After coming back from two weeks on the road where our family enjoyed local diners and restaurants, I’m in the mood to celebrate these special places.

More to come…


Wrapping up the Western Trip

Acoma Pueblo Detail, photo by Claire

Acoma Pueblo Detail, photo by Claire

After the first day back at work, I have pulled together a few final observations from the road and even more photographs from our trip out west.

  1. #1 – Acoma Sky City (see Claire’s photo at left) is one of the most moving and beautiful places in America.  If you ever travel near Albuquerque, take the time to travel about an hour west and see this extraordinary place.

#2 – Follow your spouse’s good instincts when you travel.  When we pulled into Gallup, NM after spending the day at Acoma, Candice really wanted to attend the Native American Tribal Ceremonial gathering that was taking place, to see the dancing and cultural displays.  I was tired and didn’t follow through, and so we ended up resting in the hotel.  Two days later when reading a regional paper we learned 1) that the event itself was pretty spectacular and 2) that PAUL McCARTNEY was in Gallup that evening and had attended the event to watch the dancing.  Apparently he was traveling on Historic Route 66 and decided to visit the ceremonial.  So, we missed the chance to see the ex-Beatle in person.  Oh well…

#3 – It is difficult to drive by iconic places…even if they are somewhat silly icons.  Four Corners is one such place.  We had been told not to take the time to visit the tourist trap that is the place where Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico come together.  But as you drive by and see that the Four Corners marker is all of about 200 yards off the road, the car pulls left all on its own and you suddenly find yourself shelling out the $3/person to get in and get your photo taken.

Standing in Four States at Once

The Navajo Nation makes it pretty easy to get to the marker, find some willing soul to take your picture from the photo stand (in exchange for photographing their family…lots of cameras change hands, if only for a minute).  And – as you can see on the right – we have the photo to prove that we did indeed stand in Four States at once.  It was worth it!

#4 – There are great funky places to eat on the road if you avoid the chains.  At the end of two weeks, Candice and I thought back on our tour and realized that we’d only eaten in one chain restaurant over the course of the two weeks – and even in that case, it was a Panera Bread-type cafe that we didn’t realize was a chain.  Over the course of two weeks we ate in great places, small places, strange places, elegant places, and funky places…but they were all unique and part of the special memories from our trip.  So the Brown family offers up thanks for My Sister’s Place in Gallup, Goulding’s Trading Post in Monument Valley, La Posada’s Turquoise Room in Winslow, Absolute Bakery & Cafe in Mancos, The Decker House Inn in Bluff, Blondie’s Pub & Grub in Cortez, Cafe Pasqual in Santa Fe…and so many other places we enjoyed along the way.  Look for those out of the way places on the road.

#5 – The men and women of the National Park Service do a great job of showcasing America’s special places to audiences of all types from all over the world.  At right you’ll see a picture of Ranger Zack, standing on the edge of the world at Balcony House in Mesa Verde giving a funny, informative, yet insightful talk to a group of people with many interests and perspectives.  The ranger talks at places like Mesa Verde flew by – something we saw again and again in parks across the Southwest.  We had a nice introduction to the archaeology at Mesa Verde by another ranger acting the part of the first explorer of the site.  Two volunteers at the Grand Canyon provided very helpful introductions to the majestic California Condors.  Through these talks and in many more ways we all came away from the trip with a renewed appreciation for the treasure that is our National Park System.

#6 – One of the things I hoped our children would take away from the trip is a love for the western landscape.  Judging from the photographs they took, I think they made that connection.  Andrew’s photo to the right shows an interest for the detail of the plant life of the west set against the backdrop of the Grand Canyon.

Andrew’s Acoma panorama below is typical of the many landscapes both children photographed over the course of two weeks.  They loved using the digital camera to stitch together three photos into one view.  (And Andrew was kind enough to teach his dad how to use it.)

#7 – You can use your own memories to build new ones for your children.  Both Candice and I had taken western trips with our families when we were young.  We remembered them fondly.  (Mine involved traveling from Tennessee to New Mexico during high school in an un-air conditioned car as we hit record highs in town after town in West Texas.  Two weeks after we returned, my brother totaled that automobile and we finally got a car with air conditioning.  We all laughed and said it would have been a better-timed wreck if it had happened a couple of weeks BEFORE the trip.)  Candice and I planned this trip at a time when Andrew and Claire would remember all aspects of the trip AND would still agree to ride two weeks in a car with us!  From all accounts from Claire and Andrew, we succeeded.

Thanks to all for the nice comments (both public and private) on the travelogues.  You helped by allowing us to share the joy of travel.

More to come…