At the Deadline, Part 2

July 31, 2009

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As we hit the Major League non-waiver trade deadline today, we also reach the conclusion of our story.  Pleased read part one first (see the link in the table of contents at the top of the article).

Buzz immediately grab his phone and called Prescott Williams.

“What now, Bismarck?  You trying to get Blanchett for thirty cents on the dollar?”

“I’m actually calling about Ray Mitchell.”

“Ray Mitchell?  Why on earth would you want him?  He’s a sieve at third base – your guy is a much better all around player.”

“Yours is not to wonder why, Prescott.  I’ll give you Oscar Bishop for him.”

Prescott Williams pondered for about ten seconds before snapping up the deal.

Next,  Bismarck dialed the number of George Peyton.

“George, this is Buzz.  I have that right handed power bat yu have been looking for.  Ray Mitchell.”

“Ray Mitchell?  I’ve been trying to pry him away, but that doodoo head Williams was insisting that they were in the race and needed to hang onto all of their core players.”

“They’re no longer in the race, George.  Al Blanchett took a liner off his leg.  From the sound of the impact, he has a fracture and he’s done for the year.”

“Shit.  I hadn’t heard that.  When did it happen?”

“About five minutes ago.”

“And you jumped in like a piranha,” laughed Peyton.  “OK, Mitchell would definitely give us some thunder, though we’d probably need to DH him.  What are you looking for?”

“Vance Barcone.”

“I’ll have to check with the boss and get back to you.  Barcone is one of our better minor league pitchers.”

“Mitchell is the bat that can get you into the playoffs, George.  If you don’t want him, others in your division will.  Fish or cut bait.”

“Just give me five minutes,” begged Peyton.

“You have three minutes,” replied Bismarck, as he hung up.  The key, as always, was to keep the pressure on and force the other team to act more quickly than they wanted to.

Buzz chomped a handful of corn nuts, swigged some Coke, and burped violently.  Two and a half minutes later, his phone rang.  Peyton was able to pull the trigger, and Vance Barcone was a member of the Jackals.  Buzz quickly went to work on pushing Barcone out of the Jackals organization and onto his final destination.

It was a mere ninety minutes before the trade deadline when Buzz was able to reach Gordon Auth.

“Gordo,” exclaimed Bismarck.  “If you’re still looking to deal Travis Wolf, I might have a deal for you.  I just nabbed Vance Barcone from the Rhinos.  I could bundle him with Lewis Burke.”

“From a talent perspective, that’s about right,” replied Auth.  “How much cash are you willing to throw into the deal?”

“Cash?” replied Bismarck, with a tinge of shock entering his voice.  “We’re taking Wolf’s salary off your hands.  We’re already helping you  with your finances.”

“We’ve been having some bad financial times, Buzz.  You know that.  You’re going to have to sweeten the pot with a few million bucks to get the deal done.”

“No way,” replied Bismarck.  “I have another deal brewing to get Blanchett from the Sharks.”  Bismarck was bluffing, praying Gordon Auth hadn’t heard the news of the injury to Blanchett.

Gordon Auth sighed audibly.

“Can you throw me some sort of a bone, Buzz?  I’d like to be able to tell the boss that I was able to get at least a bit of cash in the deal.”

“Tell you what, Gordy.  I could include two million in the deal if you throw in that Willewaldt kid.”

Bismarck could sense the uncertainty on the other end of the phone.  Auth tended to have a good handle on the players at the upper levels of the minor leagues, but had the tendency to ignore all but the elite prospects at the lower level.  Bismarck doubted that Auth was aware  of the metrics that indicated that Willewaldt was a considerably better player that his raw stats indicated.  There was a distinct possibility that Auth was completely unaware of Willewaldt.  Getting Willewaldt for two million would be a steal.  Buzz went for the kill.

“Gordy, I have Prescott Williams on the other line,” he lied.  “We’re very close on the parameters of a deal for Blanchett.  What should I tell him?”

The game of chicken had come to a head – and understandably, the weaker GM succumbed.

“OK,” replied Auth.  “I’ll send in the paperwork.”

Buzz hung up the phone and released a celebratory fart.  With Travis Wolf on board, the Jackals had a very strong chance of making it to the playoffs.  Not only that, but he had bought Willewaldt for considerably below fair market value.   The day wasn’t over, though.  He still needed to submit the paperwork to the league office.  He hammered away on the keyboard of his laptop until the documentation had been filed.

Buzz grabbed his phone for one last call.  He reached Commissioner Jaylene Wrigley to inform her of the trades – just in case the technology failed.  As Bismarck listened to her voice, he could not help but be reminded of that weekend in Vegas when too much tequila had caused Jaylene to make some rather poor decisions – much to the benefit of the league’s Don Juan, Mr. Buzz Bismarck himself.  After his mild flirting had been rebuffed, the call ended.  Buzz turned on the TV, and flopped down on the futon in the middle of the office, where he promptly fell asleep.

At the deadline

July 29, 2009

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In the spirit of the Major League non-waiver trade deadline on Friday, I am writing a two part story about a GM trying to make a deal so that his team can make a playoff run.  You’ll get the first half today, but you’ll have to wait until Friday for the conclusion – just as the suitors of Roy Halladay must wait.  (At press time, Halladay had not been traded.)

Buzz Bismarck munched on a mid-afternoon donut as he stared at the list of possible targets. The Jackals were on the cusp of contending for the playoffs. With so many teams still in the race, it had been difficult to find a willing trade partner. It had already been a long day. Many donuts had been eaten since he got into the office at 5 AM.

Buzz kicked off his shoes, put his feet on his desk, and called the GM of the Sharks.

“Hey, Prescott, this is Buzz.”

“Buzz, I keep telling you, Blanchett is not on the block. This team in right in contention.”

Buzz sighed internally. The Sharks were nine games out of the wild card spot. They had caught every lucky break possible this season, and when the luck turned against them, they would quickly be eliminated from the race. Prescott Williams refused to wave the white flag, however, and a fine pitcher like Al Blanchett would pay the price – languishing on a Sharks team that would fade into a second division club instead of leading the Jackals into the playoffs.

“I do like that catcher you have down in the minors,” commented Williams. “What sort of price would it take to acquire Bishop?”

Bismarck made a non-committal response that left a door open. Oscar Bishop wasn’t in the long term plans for the Jackals, and he would be a good fit for the Sharks, whose starting catcher was aging quickly. However, this sort of deal could wait – he had bigger fish to fry. Buzz asked a few quick questions about Prescott’s family. To be honest, he didn’t really care about the answers, and paid scarce attention.

Buzz took a brief respite from the phone and sniffed in the general direction of his feet. One of his scouts had told him that his feet smelled like dead fish. The was clearly not true. Live fish, perhaps. Dead fish, no.

The phone rang and Buzz broke from his reverie to grab it.

“Buzz Bismarck,” he grunted into the phone.

“Buzz, good to hear your pleasant voice again,” chirped the always-pleasant GM of the Rhinos, George Peyton. “We’re still looking for a good right handed power bat. Is there any chance Larry Morrisson might be available?”

“Sorry, George,” replied Buzz. “We really need to keep Larry Mo in the mix in our outfield. We could make Maloa available if you’re interested.”

“We’re not as interested in Maloa. His power has been sliding for the last couple of years.”

Peyton was right, of course, which was why Buzz was trying to dump him.

“OK, George. I’ll let you know if I can figure out a mutually beneficial deal.”

Bismarck grabbed the phone again and chatted up the GM of the Hyraxes. Hyrax pitcher Travis Wolf would be a good fit for the Jackals, but Gordon Auth wanted two good young pitching prospects. Lewis Burke was the sort of guy he was looking for, but none of the other pitching prospects in the Jackals organization interested the Hyraxes. Bismarck sighed once again, and hung up the phone.

Buzz grabbed the remote and flipped to some random game on the idiot box. The Sharks were playing, and Blanchett was on the mound. Bismarck was distracted by his thoughts, but a sharp crack made his head jerk to an upright position. It was not a good sort of crack.   It was the sort of crack bones make when they break.

The batter had driven a line drive off Blanchett’s leg, and the pitcher was in obvious pain as the medical staff tended to him.

A late summer night’s dream

July 28, 2009

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Next week we will be into the throes of the Month of August.  August is an important date on the calendar for a variety of reasons:

  • Summer is winding down and school is just around the corner
  • Casual Observer Blog writer Johnny Goodman celebrates another birthday.
  • College Football fall camp starts
  • Fantasy Football drafts take place everywhere

Now normally I would say the second item on this list is the most important but since I am trying to entertain you all, I won’t go on about my 39th birthday plans.

Fantasy football has already begun for some of us.  Going to the local bookseller, picking up one, two , or even nine of our favorite magazines.  Websites galore publish countless articles about what rookies to take, who is hot and who is not.  Some of these sites are even proud enough to charge users a “fee” to tap into their myriad of insider information.  This is not the case here at the Casual Observer, where outstanding opinions such as ours are free of charge.

Before you harp on your friends at work, or grumble at the spouse who is heading over to a friend’s house all day on a Saturday to conduct a draft, there is a few things you need to know about fantasy football.  Heck, it might even be something that can continue to spur our economy….because it has turned into a big business venture and capital boon for many companies who have ties to this popular pastime.

Fantasy football has turned into a billion dollar industry.  The popularity of football, coupled with the things such as Direct TV, the NFL network, and your local sports bar establishment which will show each and every game, has had significant effects on football viewing and rooting habits among participants. 55 percent of fantasy sports players report watching more sports on television since they started playing fantasy sports. The NFL entered into a five year, $600 million deal in 2006 with Sprint that was driven at least in part because of fantasy sports, allowing subscribers to draft and monitor their teams with their cell phones.  Other outlets such as ESPN have tapped into this market as well in the last two years.

Many folks are so rabid with their fantasy leagues that they will even forgo their normal “root, root root for the home team” in exchange for cheering for the players on their fantasy roster.  To circumvent this,  many longtime fans refuse to draft players who play for ‘their [real] team’s rivals, thus preventing the problem of cheering against their team.

Often, a fantasy owner may end up watching a game he would otherwise have had no interest in, simply because he “owns” one or more of the players involved.  It pays (literally speaking) to familiarize oneself with the rosters of each and every team in the league.  If your player gets hurt, finding the best replacement quickly before someone else can tap the services of the hot player can often mean the difference between winning and losing.  Most leagues play for some sort of monetary prize, a trophy, or both.  Many on line sites such as CBS Sportsline even have fee leagues whose overall winner can make more than most of us doing in our careers on an annual basis.

Yes, fantasy football is popular, likely kills productivity in the workplace to some degree and has created its own subculture and the need for business to support this pastime of thousands of sports fans everywhere.

…..Now I will bid $32 on Adrian Peterson.

Baseball Preference Rankings

July 27, 2009

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I hit some news stories in Saturday’s article, so I’m taking a bit of a break today, with a fun article.

I am a huge baseball fan.  I am a big Rockies fan, of course, but I am also a bit fan of the sport, in general.  If I flip a game on, I can always root for one of the teams.  In fact, I have a fairly well defined team preferences, shown below.  It does get a bit hazy in the middle, between about 12 and 20.

Rank Team Reasoning
1 Colorado Rockies I became a fan of the Rockies before they actually played a game. When the Cubs failed to resign Greg Maddux following the 1992 season, I looked for a new team and decided to go with an expansion team. Why did I pick the Rockies? Probably because I like mountains. Nearly 17 years later, I’m a die hard fan.
2 St. Louis Cardinals A week ago, the Cardinals would have probably been at #4 – but the acquisition of Matt Holliday pushed them up to #2. I like the city of St. Louis, and the only playoff game I ever attended was a Cardinals game. I got a chance to watch Albert Pujols in Peoria when he came through the minors.
3 Chicago Cubs The Cubs were my favorite team from 1983 (ish) until 1992. I was a huge Ryne Sandberg fan – to the extent that I purchased a drawing (more accurately, a print) of him from an artist at the state fair a few years ago. I’m also a longtime fan of Greg Maddux, enjoying the way he was able to excel with his brain, rather than simply dominant physical tools.
4 Boston Red Sox A brother-in-law is a longtime fan of the Sox. Interestingly, he was a fan of the Reds until the night that Carlton Fisk waved a ball fair for a home run in the 1975 World Series. This moment is also a reason why the Sox are this high on my list – just a wonderful moment (even if they did eventually lose the series).
5 Chicago White Sox Another brother-in-law is a White Sox fan (none of my siblings are sports fans, by the way – hence the influence of brothers-in-law). They are also a relatively local team, and Field of Dreams pushes them up the list a bit.
6 Oakland A’s Their mascot is an elephant – who can’t like that? I’m also a fan of the work Billy Beane has done, making playoffs runs despite low payrolls most years.
7 Atlanta Braves After Greg Maddux went to the Braves, I started watching his starts on TBS. Then I started watching their other pitchers. I grew to really enjoy the broadcast team. One of Erin Andrew’s early gigs was during Braves broadcasts.
8 Milwaukee Brewers Fans of this long-suffering team are finally seeing some success. Another beneficiary of my midwest bias. The fact that Bud Selig is no longer officially affiliated with the team is also a positive.
9 Tampa Bay Devil Rays The Devils Rays turned around a lifetime of failure with a run to the World Series last year. They are within striking distance in the wild card race this year – can they make another run? I do think that dropping the “devil” from Devil Rays was a dumb idea – and thus I still refer to them by the old name.
10 Cleveland Indians Bob Feller is a native Iowan, and his Hall of Fame career with Cleveland looms large.
11 LA Angels I like the way that Mike Scioscia runs a team, and I’m a fan of Vlad Guerrero. Sure, they made an obvious bad signing with Gary Matthews Jr. (a good player, but clearly not equal to the money he signed for), but it is nonetheless good to see owner Arte Moreno spending money to build a winner (while still showing some restraint and not going completely Steinbrenner).
12 Houston Astros I’m not really sure how the justify their spot on the list. The named is cool, and I’m partial to teams in the NL Central, since it’s the local division.
13 Seattle Mariners Cool name (“It is an ancient Mariner, and he stoppeth one of three”). They’ve also been able to draft world class talent in Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez. Both were #1 overall picks, but a lot of #1 picks bust. They also found Felix Hernandez in Venezuela and wooed future Hall of Famer Ichiro from Japan.
14 Minnesota Twins Although Twins owner Carl Pohlad was richer than most owners (richer than George Steinbrenner, in fact) he ran the team on a shoestring. Still, they managed to win. I’m a fan of Joe Mauer, and hope they can hang onto him.
15 Cincinnati Reds Good history with the Big Red Machine. I also enjoyed watching Barry Larkin and Chris Sabo when I was growing up.
16 Detroit Tigers Tigers are my favorite animals.  Also, being associated with Magnum, PI gives you style points.  Hey, I didn’t say the reasons had to make sense.
17 Philadephia Phillies Still getting some good karma from Mike Schmidt’s Hall of fame career.
18 San Diego Padres I’m a big fan of Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, and he prevents my division rival from appearing lower on the list.
19 LA Dodgers Why aren’t my hated division rivals lower on the list? If I just included on-field personnel, they would be. However, Vin Sculley pushed them up – he is simply the best. I often listen to the LA audio feed when the Rockies play the Dodgers.
20 Toronto Blue Jays Rogers Centre (previously SkyDome) is a cool idea. 70 hotel rooms that overlook the field! I also appreciate that way they are playing hardball with the suitors of Roy Halladay.
21 Florida Marlins It is impressive for such a young team to have two World Series titles, although I don’t like the slash-and-burn methodology that has followed the winning years.
22 Texas Rangers Mostly, I like the name. They need to acquire a few more players with the last name of Walker.
23 New York Mets The implosion of probable Hall of Fame careers of Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry (due completely to their own actions) soured me on the team.
24 Arizona Diamondbacks They are a division rival, and have no redeeming qualities to push them any higher on the list.
25 San Francisco Giants Barry Bonds.
26 New York Yankees They would be even lower if not for the presence of Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira. I’m not a fan of Derek Jeter. I am also not a fan of fixing every problem by throwing money at a player, with little attention paid to team chemistry.
27 Kansas City Royals The team is actively destroying a rich team history with many seasons of losing.
28 Baltimore Orioles Like the Royals, the Orioles have dropped into mediocrity (and below) after achieving excellence in the past.
29 Washington Nationals It’s never a good sign when you can immediately assume that the Nationals are going to have the top pick in every draft from here until eternity. Hopefully they can take a page out of the Devil Rays book, and I do like the acquisition of Adam Dunn.
30 Pittsburgh Pirates The Pirates, another team with a rich tradition, have fallen on hard times, losing with stunning frequency since the departure of Barry Bonds. Their answer to building for the future – reaching and drafting players far ahead of the spot dictated by their value.  Throw in a bunch of trades where they trade their best players for prospects, and you get a never ending cycle of losing.


What about you – what are your favorite and least favorite teams? You can just list a few; it isn’t necessary to put together a complete list from 1-30 (unless you want to).

What did you miss over the weekend?

  • Friday  – Finishing up a trio of articles related to dinosaurs (including this giveaway) is the fiction short story What Really Killed the Dinosaurs.
  • Saturday Stew – A pleasant mixture of news and sports from the week.  A considerable chunk of ink is is devoted the the Cardinals’ acquisition of Matt Holliday, while the subject of necrophilia also pops up.  We also welcomed Bob Inferapels back as the weekly entertainment writer.
  • Sunday – Tyson Turner touches on some news briefs from Canada in North of the Border.

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Canadian Current Events

July 26, 2009

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This week to mix it up, thought I’d present a few of the noteworthy news stories that have taken place in this wonderful and sometimes odd country.

The Lotto Loser

Barry Shell of Brampton, Ontario must have thought he had all the luck when he found out he had won a cool 4.4 million dollars in a national lottery recently.  However, Barry’s enjoyment of his winnings was short lasted, as he was almost immediately carted off to jail. The skeletons came tumbling out of Shell’s closet on account of the simplest of reasons – he failed to provide the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation with proper ID during the routine processing of his winning ticket. An arrest warrant had been issued in 2003 after he didn’t show up for a court date.  Now granted the warrant was for something minor (theft under $500) but still, I would bet he didn’t anticipate that result.

Sweet and Sour Mouse Sauce

The owners of an Edmonton, Alberta restaurant were fined $23,230 yesterday for “horrible and disgusting” conditions that included having mice skeletons and beetle larvae.  The restaurant of note is the Wonderful Garden Restaurant in Edmonton’s downtown area.  Turns out this is not the first time the restaurant has had reprimands from the local health inspector.  They have been hit with numerous violations before, and were actually shut down for two weeks back in March.  Another highlight of the most recent inspection was the sight of staff washing hands overtop of meat that was thawing in the sink.  I think that given Edmonton’s size and diverse selection of restaurants, why would anyone continue to eat there?

Scary Swamp

In a story more that affected some people close to me, Valerie Cain was found safe after being missing for 6 days in the bush near Red Lake, Ontario.  Cain, an x-ray technician, was working in Red Lake for the weekend and on the way home pulled over on an old road to go to the bathroom and somehow got disoriented and ended up lost.  She survived mainly on a bit of cherries and crackers she had with her, and drank disgusting swamp water to try and avoid dehydration.  Miraculously, she escaped only with a lot of mosquito bites and some dehydration.  She was discovered a day after her vehicle was found.  She credited being in great physical shape as the reason why she survived.  It seems like these disappearance stories end too often with tragedy, so it was great to see a happy ending here.

Strike Out

Canada’s national passenger train company, Via Rail, has set a strike deadline for Friday at noon.  As a result, passengers en route to different vacations across the country have been stranded or forced to take alternative modes of transportation.  This was particularly an issue for a young man from Halifax, Nova Scotia who was stuck here in Winnipeg today.  He ended up taking a Greyhound bus to his destination.  Of course that is not a popular choice of travel in these parts, given that it was only 80 kilometres west of Winnipeg where Tim McLean was beheaded in a greyhound bus just over a year ago.

Oh, Canadians

The funniest story of the week comes from Hatfield Point, New Brunswick.  A man was found guilty of uttering threats to a school principal who had planned to scale back the singing of Oh Canada every morning.  The man threatened to “beat the principal senseless” outside of his office.  The principal, Erik Millett, is now considering libel suits against the man and others who threatened him with violence.  The whole controversy was put to rest when New Brunswick government gave in to public pressure and made it mandatory for the anthem to be sung in all schools across the province.

Saturday Stew

July 25, 2009

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Necrophilia

In 2006, three young men in Wisconsin attempted to dig up a recently diseased young woman so that one of them could have sex with her body.  One of the men had become infatuated with her after seeing her photo in the obituary column.  (Maybe it’s just me, but that’s not the first place I expect people to look for dates).  After a stop at a local Wal-Mart to buy condoms, the men arrived at the cemetery and proceeded to dug all the way down to the concrete vault before police, who had been notified of suspicious activity, arrived at the scene.  One of the men quickly cracked and blurted out the entire scheme.

Authorities in Wisconsin soon realized that the state did not have any necrophilia laws on the books.

The prosecutors wished to try them on sexual assault charges, but it was unclear if the state’s sexual assault laws applied to dead people.  The state supreme court decided that the laws did indeed apply, as a corpse is unable to give consent.  This logic threw me for a bit of a loop, as I had never stopped to wonder if someone had human rights after they were dead.

This week, the mastermind of the crime was found guilty of attempted sexual assault and was sentence to two years in jail.

Roethlisberger

Pittsburgh  Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was named as a defendant in civil lawsuit this week.  The lawsuit alleges that Roethlisberger raped her last July at the Tahoe resort where she worked.  The lawsuit seeks $480,000 in compensation.

Is it possible that the allegations are true?  Of course.  Is it likely?  No.  The woman has not contacted police to file any criminal charges … just the civil lawsuit.  This really seems like a ploy to squeeze money out of Big Ben.  After all, if she was traumatized to the extent of $480,000, wouldn’t she consider this to be criminal activity that should be reported to the authorities?  Show me a criminal complaint, and I’ll take notice.

Erin Andrews

ESPN reporter Erin Andrews was videotaped nude by a voyeur, apparently through a peephole in her hotel room.  The video quickly made its way onto the internet.  Interestingly, many of the links the purport to be the Andrews video are actually attempts to trick people into downloading a virus – so those of you who are trying to find this video should be aware of the distinct possibility that you may instead give your computer a nasty virus.  And if the thought crosses your mind to look for this video, stop for a minute and realize that this video was made without any knowledge by Andrews – give her some respect and stay away from the video.

The story got even worse, as some news networks used pieces of the video or photos (captured from the video) as part of their coverage of the story (with parts of Erin’s body obscured).  This crosses a line of journalistic ethics.  ESPN lashed back at one of the papers – The New York Post – by banning any of its reporters from appearing on ESPN shows.  Good call, ESPN.

Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin racked up a sizeable legal bill fending off multiple ethics complaints against her.  Most were dismissed, although she did have to pay back taxes on roughly $17,000 that the state reimbursed her for per diem expenses (on nights she spent away from the the governor’s mansion in Juneau – staying instead at her home in Wasilla) and had to reimburse the state for travel expenses for her family.

Palin created a fund so that her supporters could contribute toward her legal expenses.  Ironically, these donations may be a violation of state ethics laws.

Do yourself a favor, Republicans – find a better candidate in 2012.  If you want to have a woman on the ticket, take a look around.  Is Sarah Palin the best woman for the job?

Matt Holliday

On Friday, Matt Holliday was traded from the A’s to the Cardinals for three prospects, including 3B Brett Wallace.  The presence of Holliday will add another strong bat to join Albert Pujols in the Cardinals lineup.  There will be a cage match fight to determine who gets to keep the number 5 on their jersey.

Holliday’s numbers have slid from his numbers with the Rockies.  While many of his critics say that this shows he is a product of Coors Field, other factors are at play.  Not only did he move to a less hitter-friendly park (indeed, to a very hitter unfriendly park in Oakland), but he also changed leagues, rendering years of studying National League pitchers mostly useless, and forcing him to learn the tendencies of a hundred new pitchers.  This takes some time.  While Holliday had a dreadful April, he has a .905 OPS since May 5 (before Friday’s game).  And while Oakland is a terrible hitter’s park, Holliday’s home OPS is actually 89 points higher than his road OPS – compared to a standard MLB home/road split of +30.  Sure, it’s a small sample, but perhaps he’s the type of player who is simply more comfortable in his home surroundings, regardless of what those surroundings are.  When he was with the Rockies, his split differential far exceeded that of any other Rockies player – casting some doubt on the assertion that he was merely a production of Coors (since a rising tide should lift all boats).

How did Holliday do in his first game with the Cardinals, on Friday night?  4-5, with a double, a stolen base, a run, and an RBI.

Holliday has typically fared very well in the summer months, and the playoff race may energize him and boost his performance.  Enjoy the view, St. Louis.

Rockies update

Todd Helton of the Rockies recorded his 500th career double on Wednesday, becoming the 50th player in the history of Major League Baseball to reach that mark.  Helton’s once prodigious power numbers have been sapped by back ailments and a humidor in Coors Field, and his contract is considered by many to be a financial albatross, but Helton is universally revered by Rockies fans as the first truly great player that was drafted and developed by the Rockies.

On Monday, the Rockies took over the lead in the National League wild card race.  The Rockies had gotten off to a horrible start under former manager Clint Hurdle before rebounding with a 31-10 record from June 4 through Monday – good enough to push them past division rival San Francisco for the catbird seat in the wild card race.

On Wednesday night, Rockies top prospect Jhoulys Chacin was pulled from his start with AA Tulsa after 9 pitches.  The reason given was that the move was made in anticipation of possible future organizational move.  Speculation quickly came to a head, with fans wondering in Chacin would be traded (perhaps in a deal for Jays pitcher Roy Halladay), or would he skip AAA Colorado Springs for a promotion to the big club?  Well, it turns out that JC will be tossed into the shaky Rockies bullpen.  On Thursday, the Rockies acquired Rafael Betancourt from Cleveland to further bolster the pen.  Don’t be surprised if Garrett Atkins is traded before the deadline.

Welcome Back, Bob

July 24, 2009

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Bob Inferapels approached me today with the good news that he is able to resume his weekly entertainment column.  Not long ago, Bob had come to me with the sad news that circumstances had resulted in an inability to continue writing for us on a regular basis.  I believe the circumstances may have been related to a problem with a gerbil infestations.  Or maybe a problem with jelly beans.  I really don’t remember the specifics.  At the time, I was reluctant to simply let Bob go, and shifted him to the role of “contributor” instead, so that he would be able to retain his staff parking.  I am glad to be able to reverse this move and reinstate Bob to the status of weekly writer.

Bob will resume writing next Saturday.

Welcome back, Bob.

On the topic of writers … we are working to define the role of one additional writer.  Once that is done, we’re going to close the barn door for a bit, and we will cease searching for new staff writers, although new “day in the life” articles will still be considered.  The staff is now at a point where I believe The Soap Boxers can move forward as a 7 day a week web magazine, providing fresh, quality content every day.

How diverse are we?  The current  staff (10 writers) represent three countries.  Four US states (soon to be five, pending a move by one of our writers) and two Canadian provinces are represented.

Giveaway – Dinosaur Books

July 23, 2009

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Now that we have a complete writing staff on board, we’re going to make a push to increase the popularity of The Soap Boxers over the course of the next month.

To reward our loyal readers for spreading positive word of mouth, we are happy to announce a giveaway.

We will give away one copy of Eric Garcia’s Anonymous Rex (read once, nice condition) and four copies of the Pockets Full of Knowlege reference book, Dinosaurs (brand new, with a remainder mark).  Small prizes?  Yep.  Fun reads?  Certainly.  Free = good?  Oh, yeah!  Mini-reviews of the books can be found in this morning’s main article.

The giveaway winners will be announced on August 24.

How do you enter?  Here are the ways (you may enter via multiple methods, but you can only win a maximum of one book).  Staff members of The Soap Boxers are not eligible to win.

  • Two books will be awarded to people who write comments in response to articles.  As long as you enter your email address in the requested spot (note: other readers will NOT see your address) I will be able to contact you if you win.

Anonymous Rex will be awarded to the person who posts the best comment during this period.  This is purely a subjective judgment on my part.

The writer of one random comment will be chosen to receive a copy of the Pockets Dinosaurs book.  You will receive an entry for each comment you write, up to a maximum of one entry per day.

  • One random RSS subscriber will be chosen to receive a copy of the Pockets Dinosaurs book.  I don’t have a way to identify my RSS subscribers, so you’ll need to send me an email to enter.  As “proof of RSS”, copy/paste the copyright notice from the RSS feed (it is at the bottom of each feed item).  If you’re not an RSS subscriber, consider subscribing (it’s completely free, of course).
  • One random Twitter retweeter will be chosen to receive a copy of the Pockets Dinosaurs book.  If you retweet one of our tweets, send a tweet to @CasObserver to let me know.
  • Mention The Soap Boxers on your blog, and you’ll be entered into yet another drawing for a copy of the Pockets Dinosaurs book.  Send me an email to the blog post that references The Soap Boxers.

Don’t worry – I will NOT spam you if you send me an email.  I will only use your email address to let you know that you have won a prize.

Want the books, but don’t want to wait to see if you win?  Check out the Amazon widget on the right side of the screen.

Haven’t had your fix of dinosaurs yet?  Tune in tomorrow to find out what really killed the dinosaurs (fiction story).  We’ll take a break from dinosaurs after that.

Dinosaurs

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Like most kids, I was fascinated by dinosaurs when I first learned about them. Unlike most kids, I never really lost the fascination. An entire family of beasts that science could tell us very little about! This left huge gaps for my eager young imagination to fill. In hindsight, this was a foreshadowing of what would become a persistent interest in the unknown. My favorite books have always been mysteries, dating back to Encyclopedia Brown and The Boxcar Children until my modern day fanhood of Lawrence Block and John Sandford. My favorite TV shows – by a wide margin – are Monk and Pysch. My favorite type of math? Algebra – I always enjoy solving for the “unknown.”

I read nearly everything I could about dinosaurs when I was a kid. For the parents out there – if your kids have a fascination with some subject, encourage it. A desire to learn more about a specific topic can bleed over into a general desire to learn. My early fascination with sports and dinosaurs encouraged me to read. The desire to read also helped improve my reading comprehension and made me a better student.

Here are some of the more interesting dinosaur books I have read:

  • In the 1990s, I was exposed to Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park. The thought that we could manufacture living, breathing dinosaurs was very appealing to me – after all, who wouldn’t love to have a pet dinosaur in their back yard? It worked out OK for The Flintstones. I have read Jurassic Park and Lost Word multiple times, and have watched all three of the movies. Interestingly, Jurassic Park was my gateway novel to the world of Michael Crichton. Over the past few years, I have read a lot of his books.
  • I nabbed a copy of Eric Garcia’s Anonymous Rex mostly because there is a dinosaur on the cover (well, a dinosaur tail, anyway). (Hint to book publishers – put a dinosaur on the cover of a book and I can guarantee that I’ll at least give it a glance). Anonymous Rex is one of those books that you will either love or hate. You will think that it is the dumbest book you have ever read, or you will find it incredibly funny. The premise is that dinosaurs never died out, and are in fact living among us. They wear disguises, of course – the finest latest human suits that money can buy. Garcia subsequently published Casual Rex (a prequel) and Hot and Sweaty Rex. I haven’t had a chance to read them yet, but I enjoyed Anonymous Rex enough that the other Rex books are definitely on my reading list.
  • A recent find was a nifty little pocket reference guide from the Pockets of Knowledge series (published by DK Pockets), aptly titled Dinosaurs. I got a good deal on these and actually snapped up all the copies the store had. The book’s dimensions are small, but it’s really a pretty handy reference guide. Some of the book’s features include: a dinosaur classification chart, a list of major discoverers, dinosaur anatomy, information about the vareity of fossils found on each continent, and much more. It’s far from a comprehensive reference guide, but it packs a lot of information for a book that actually will fit in the back pocket of your jeans.

If you’re interested in these books, there are a couple of ways to obtain them. You can, of course, BUY them. If you choose to buy them, I hope you consider using the Amazon widget on the right side of the screen. When you buy by clicking on one of those links, I receive a commission on the sale – at no additional cost to you (the commission comes out of Amazon’s profits). Psst – Jurassic Park Adventure Pack is a steal – $15 for all three movies on DVD!

What’s the other way? Watch later in the day for a giveaway that will allow you to win Anonymous Rex or the Pockets of Knowledge Dinosaur book!


Anonymous Rex

DK Pockets – Dinosaurs

Jurassic Park – Book

Jurassic Park
DVD combo pack
All 3 movies!

Canyonlands and Arches

July 22, 2009

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The National Park system of the United States is one of the great jewels that citizens of the USA should be proud of. It is wide-ranging, well funded, and spectacular from a conservation perspective. 27 states are home to at least one park and many states have multiple parks, with the greatest concentration in the west. Recently, myself and three others took a meandering trip that visited six of these great coliseums of nature. Over the course of 13 windy, asphalt packed days, we visited: Wind Cave N.P in South Dakota; Yellowstone and Grand Teton N.P.’s in Wyoming, Arches and Canyonlands N.P.’s in Utah and, finally, Rocky Mountain N.P. in Colorado. Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Rocky Mountain are three of the most visited conservation areas in the world, and are consistently among the top-15 most visited national parks in the U.S. As much as the four of us loved those parks, our hearts were truly stolen by the grandeur of the desert plateaus in southeast Utah defined by Arches and Canyonlands national parks.

After leaving Provo, Utah we took a more direct route southeast along Highway 6, which cuts through the mining towns of Thistle, Price, and Wellington. Dirt roads, broken signs, and sagebrush litter the dry, dusty hills as you descend towards Interstate 70. Between Price on Highway 6 and Green River, just off I-70, we did not pass a single gas station or convenience store, so be sure your fuel is sufficient to make the 90-minute trip. Turning south onto Highway 191 towards Moab, Utah, one sees high tabletop mesas, long windswept valleys, and the occasional lush green patch where a natural spring bubbles to the surface. The southeast portion of the state near Moab is dominated by the two national parks and various other recreational activities that are available inside and outside of the parks. There is an annual Jeep-fest where enthusiasts try their skills at navigating the area’s slick rock outcroppings. The same features draw thousands of mountain biking fanatics who pedal and climb through a labyrinth of trails. The Colorado River runs just north of Moab, forms the southern border of Arches N.P., and runs for nearly 35 miles through Canyonlands N.P. (including a major confluence with the Green River). The Colorado is available for rafting for most of the year through various independent outfitters in the area.

We took the right off Highway 191 onto State Road 313 and began the slow incline towards Canyonlands National Park. Unfortunately, many visitors to the Moab area miss out on Canyonlands and its epic views because the entrance to the park is some 12 miles off the main drag that runs through the town. We camped at Canyonlands the first night, taking the last campsite available, and walked the quarter-mile to the “Island in the Sky” overlook. On a clear day, like every day during our visit, one can see upwards of 50 miles to the south and west, overlooking the great Colorado and Green Rivers, while standing on a cliff whose precipice is some 1500 feet above the canyon floor below. We visited in late May, and the weather was perfect with temperatures in the mid-80’s and almost no humidity. While some may think of the desert as a barren, identity-less place, we found it to be more expressive and dynamic than expected. Beautiful desert roses bloomed, lanky jackrabbits scampered, and a night sky, unleashed from any urban presence, filled the late evening with undefinable numbers of glistening stars. In the morning, we retraced our route down 313 and took Highway 191 towards Moab for lunch and then to spend the afternoon exploring the bounties of Arches national park.

Arches covers some 310 square miles on a plateau that is reached by driving a series of switchbacks from the visitor’s center some 600 feet below the plateau. Arches is most often enjoyed as a day hike park with various 3-4 hour long hikes throughout different areas. While the park does contain nearly 2,000 individual arches made of eroding sandstone, the great attractions are the “Devil’s Garden” and the “Fiery Furnace”. These two areas have accessible parking areas and miles of hiking paths which meander between steep columns and cliff faces of sandstone intermingled with various arches, large and small. Each major column (some rising hundreds of feet) on the main park drive has been named and there are parking areas for photographers at nearly all. We found the natural arches to be impressive and overwhelming in size, with even famous Delicate Arch standing over 50 feet high.

The Utah portion of our trip was certainly eye-opening, as the desert’s sweet poetry was taken to heart. I encourage all the adventurous to visit the Moab region to admire spectacular views, visit unique phenomena, and rest the soul. And if you have time, stop for a meal at Zax’s Restaurant for the best fire-grilled pizza in the southwest.

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