Brooks, Big Train, and The Onion

BaseballI’m not sure it is a good sign when New York Times columnists begin showing up at Bethesda Big Train wooden bat league baseball games.

Tonight I was at Shirley Povich Field for the Cal Ripken, Sr. League playoff game between Big Train and the Herndon Braves when I look down my aisle to the right (of course) and there sits David Brooks, conservative voice of the Times editorial page and PBS’s Newshour with Jim Lehrer.  Brooks is a commentator who says enough sane things (e.g., see comments about Sarah Palin) to make some believe he’s bi-partisan.  I’ll reserve judgment on that…but I usually agree with how his columns are “interpreted” by the Daily Kos Abbreviated Pundit Round-Up (e.g., David Brooks recycles another “we’re all going to die” column).

Nonetheless, I’m not picking on conservatives.  Heck, I’d be concerned if it was Maureen Dowd sitting down the row in the bleachers from me.  Part of the fun of college wooden league baseball is that it really has that small town, family feel.  Kids throw out the first pitch on their birthday and they have a water balloon contest in between innings to see who can burst the most with a bat in a 30-second period.  I’d hate to lose all that if the announcer feels he has to tell us what celebrity is in the house that evening. (Only in Washington are columnists celebrities.)

And maybe that’s what set me off.  I’m really happy that David Brooks and his family can relax and enjoy some great, winning baseball.  (The Big Train were just ranked 11th in the nation in the latest poll of summer college wooden bat league teams.  The Nationals are…not quite as successful.)

Just don’t announce it!

What does any of this have to do with the satirical newspaper, The Onion?  Well, nothing really, except I’m looking for a transition between columnists in the Times and the ridiculous sports columns I read today in the most recent edition of my favorite hard copy source of non-news. (At least you know The Onion is making this stuff up.  You can never be sure about the chattering class.)

The Onion’s July 30th edition reported on “Sports Going Through Slump.”

“Whether it’s mental fatigue, a lack of emotional involvement, or simply its age beginning to show, sports hasn’t been able to do anything whatsoever for quite a while now,” said noted sports psychologist Dr. David Grand, who tracks sports’ annual performance and believes this may be the worst year for the recreational activity since it went professional in the early 20th century…”Frankly, sports is showing all the signs of being an overworked, overstressed field of human endeavor,” Grand said.  “It’s been doing double duty for years, probably since the collapse of religion.  It should reaffirm itself, concentrate on its games, and stop trying to be all things to all people.  Otherwise sports will just have to give up for good and leave us with nothing but arts and literature.  No one wants to see that.”

In a “Sportgraphic” in the same issue, The Onion turns its attention to “America’s Most Flawed Sports Facilities.”  Among those gems:

Minute Maid Park: Jesus Christ, a hill in centerfield?  With a flagpole in play?  What the hell were the Astros thinking?

Qwest Field: The Seahawks organization is unable to explain how, during two years of construction, no one noticed they were building the stadium upside down.

Ebbets Field: Is actually a Popeye’s Chicken, and not a very clean one either.

Lambeau Field: There is absolutely nothing whatsoever wrong with Lambeau Field.

As for that last remark, truer words were never spoken in the New York Times.

More to come…


Modernism and Baseball Stadiums

Camden YardsMy colleague Dolores recently pointed me towards a springtime blog rant by long-time preservationist – and baseball fan – Clem Labine.  Entitled Hey Nick – Get REAL, the blog goes after New York Times architectural critic Nicolai Ouroussoff for panning the two new baseball stadiums in New York City by saying that “American stadium design has been stuck in a nostalgic funk, with sports franchises recycling the same old images year after year.”  Read it for the writing, if nothing else.  (Clem was the founder of The Old House Journal eons ago and you’ll see his way with the written word.)

Camden Yards in Baltimore (photo at the top of the post) began the trend toward throwback stadiums. Having attended many a ballgame there (and in other similarly inspired parks), I agree with Clem that these ballparks work AND give the fans what they want.Dolores and DJB at Kauffman Stadium

But my recent trip to Kansas City gave me the chance to visit one of the first of the good modernist sports venues – Kauffman Stadium.  The architects here show how Modernism can be lovely and beloved as a baseball park.

The bottom line…give us baseball fans good architecture, whatever the style, that works as a ballpark!

More to come…


Northern Ireland Photos

Northern Ireland Church WindowLate last month, Claire and Andrew took a trip to Northern Ireland with their youth group.  While there they walked the wonderful coastline of County Antrim and the Giant’s Causeway; visited sites of the National Trust of England, Wales, and Northern Ireland; met with groups focused on peace and reconciliation; and took lots and lots of photographs.

In looking at those photos, my mind went back a decade to my own trip to Northern Ireland for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  Like the children’s trip, mine was an eye and mind-opening experience.  I recently looked at my diary from that trip and enjoyed reliving my experiences.

So I’ll share Andrew’s (color) and Claire’s (black-and-white) photos from June/July 2009, and I’ll share a few diary entries from December 1998.

12/8/98 – I found Crom Castle most interesting.  As we arrived, Irish deer – with huge racks – stared at us from the deer park…had my first Irish whiskey of the trip.  Great for warming chilled bones!

Northern Ireland Coastline12/8/98 – We have a late afternoon stop at Florence Court, where we barely get a hint of the rococo plasterwork.  There is a fabulous view of an adjoining mountain from the garden from a bentwood shelter.  Very atmospheric on a gray, foggy evening.  Then back to Belle Isle for a hearty Irish dinner…the mincemeat pie is especially good.

Besides the Giant’s Causeway, the children and I also visited Dunluce Castle…just ten years apart.  The third and fourth pictures are both of Dunluce, which I wrote about on…

12/10/98 – The entire coastal drive (of County Antrim) is magnificent, with a constantly changing landscape….We see the ruins of Dunluce Castle, perched on a cliff and making for a very dramatic view.  We also visit the ruins of Earl Bishop’s Downhill Palace – very remote.  It is too wet to get near the domed rotunda library recently saved by the National Trust from falling into the sea.

Andrew's View of Dunluce Castle12/11/98 – Low tide forces us off the ferry and we drive around Strangford Lough to Castle Ward.  They are not expecting us and it is pouring rain, but we still manage a quick tour.  Bizarre house – one side is Palladian and the other is neo-Gothic.  The husband and wife couldn’t agree – and the argument continued inside.

12/12/98 – A wonderful trip and a great introduction to Northern Ireland – the same week when the Nobel Peace Prizes are awarded for the Good Friday Peace Accords.

Historic travel should take place during historic weeks.

Enjoy the rest of the pictures.

Claire's Dunluce Castle Picture

Andrew's View of the Northern Ireland Coastline

Claire's Detail

A late sunset in Northern Ireland

More to come…


Bluegrass in Nashville

Playing with John and JodyThere’s an interesting article in last Monday’s Washington Post about bluegrass music venues in Nashville.  For those who live in the city, this report is old news.  For many of my friends and colleagues coming to Nashville in the fall, however, this will be important information you’ll want to tuck away for those times in between conference sessions.  If you want to find bluegass music in Nashville, you’ll want to visit places like the Ryman Auditorium and the Station Inn.

At the top of this post, you’ll see an old black-and-white photo of the author – in his college days – playing some bluegrass very near Nashville with good friends:  banjo-picker John Balch and singer Jody Kammerud.  Thought it would be fun to see those Tennessee pickers in their youth!

The article mentions the family band Cherryholmes.  Enjoy the video of the band.

More to come…


Wooden Bat League Baseball Makes the Big Time

Big Train BaseballOur local college wooden bat league – the Cal Ripken, Sr. League – made the big time tonight when the DC/Baltimore regional sports network (MASN) carried the Wooden Bat League All Star Game between the Ripken and Valley League all stars.  Held in Waldorf, Maryland, this was a great showcase for a wonderful summer tradition.

Just like last evening’s MLB All-Star game, pitching dominated, with the Ripken All Stars taking a 2-1 win in a crisply played contest.  It was great to see Staunton Braves players, from our former home in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley, battling players from the Bethesda Big Train and the Silver Spring-Takoma Thunderbolts.

There’s still plenty of time to catch a Wooden Bat League game in your area…whether it be DC, the Shenandoah Valley, Cape Cod, Alaska, California…you name it!

More to come…


As We Approach the All-Star Break…

BaseballRegular readers know that I like good baseball writing.  So on a night when the Nationals are uncharacteristically beating up the Astros with 13 runs and 21 hits in a laugher, it was a double treat to find a great story on by Jayson Stark.

Best, worst, and weirdest of the first half is a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of April – July 2009 in Major League Baseball.  Stark goes through his first half Cy Young winners, but he also calls out the Cy Yuk winner for the worst pitcher in each league.  Yep, you guessed it…former National Daniel Cabrera won that dubious award for the National League.  Cabrera got the boot…

…from a boss so exasperated by his work that GM Mike Rizzo actually announced to the Washington Post, right out loud, that he had to dump this guy because “I was tired of watching him.

There are little gems throughout, but the laugh out loud stuff comes in the “Injuries of the Year” section.  Here’s Stark’s take:

First prize: Another great moment in Cub-dom: Pitcher Ryan Dempster tried to hop over the dugout fence to go high-five it up after a win, broke his toe and stumbled right onto the disabled list. Dempster’s best line (to the Chicago Sun-Times’ Gordon Wittenmyer): “I guess it’s what I get for making fun of the guys who go on the DL for burning their faces in the suntan booth.”

Second prize: Reds outfielder Chris Dickerson knocked himself out of the lineup — literally — when he went mano-a-skullo with a revolving glass door at the team hotel in Pittsburgh. And lost. “My real story,” he quipped, “is I hit my head on the rim during a celebrity slam-dunk contest.”

Third prize: How did Blue Jays pitcher Ricky Romero land on the DL in April? He hipped and he hopped and he strained his oblique — by sneezing while listening to rap music.

Honorable mention: Royals reliever Kyle Farnsworth needed stitches in his hand after getting cut trying to break up a fight between his two bulldogs. … Pirates second baseman Freddy Sanchez strained his back getting out of a cab — and missed six straight games. … And Phillies reliever Scott Eyre proved once and for all that running from the bullpen to the mound is overrated. He strained a calf muscle on the way — and wound up on the disabled list. Tell that to the speed-up-the-game police!

Read the entire story and see if you don’t chuckle (at least) a time or two.

More to come…


Happy Birthday Satchel Paige

Satchel PaigeToday would have been the 103rd birthday of Leroy “Satchel” Paige, the legendary pitcher from the old Negro Leagues. has a column about Paige by Larry Tye, who has written a well-received biography of the baseball star.

Tye’s column contends that Paige was a subversive to the Jim Crow laws of his era:

But there is more to Satchel’s legacy than eye-popping records. While many dismissed him as a Stepin Fetchit if not an Uncle Tom, he was something else entirely – a quiet subversive, defying Uncle Tom and Jim Crow. He refused to play in a town unless it supplied lodging and food to him and his teammates, a defiance for which young civil rights workers later would get arrested.

Paige is known for many things in baseball, but most remember him because of his turn of a phrase.  The Brainy Quote website has a host of Paigeisms, including:

Age is a case of mind over matter.  If you don’t mind, it don’t matter.

Ain’t no man can avoid being born average, but there ain’t no man got to be common.

And his most famous line:

Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.

Happy birthday, Satchel Paige.

More to come…