Monday, March 31, 2008

March Goes Out Like A Tiger

As I sit here writing this post, the final minutes before the Detroit Tigers opening day at Comerica Park are counting down.

Currently the temperature is eleven degrees Celsius (or 50ish for you metrically impaired Americans). The wind is blowing cold from the north and the air is wet, very wet as we sit between rain clouds.

Perhaps it's not a perfect day for the Detroit season opener with Kansas City. Perhaps not as warm as when March arrived like a kitten just thirty one days ago. But it is better than last year. Last year at this time the temperatures were below zero. The second game of that opening series with Toronto was snowed out. But we don't expect that to be the case today.

This will be our first chance to see the new face of the Tigers since last year's block buster trade. We will see Cabrera at third. Renteria at short. Guillen moves to first. But center field will not see Granderson for a couple more weeks as his broken finger heals. Instead the Detroit fan favorite Brandon Inge will take the center stage. And Inge has had a great spring at the plate!

Starting for our boys this afternoon is Justin Verlander. Verlander had a tough spring pitching what appeared to be grapefruits in two of his outings – getting slammed pretty hard. It will be interesting to see – and telling as well, I think – what kind of outing he has today.

I think it's important for these guys to start off with a win. But this year's KC squad is said to be built much tougher than the previous years. I guess we will see.

The Tigers were picked this last week to win the World Series by Sports Illustrated. This is a nice compliment – but unfortunately SI put their prediction on the cover of the magazine. And as many of you know, SI cover stories predicting the future of a team or individual rarely pan out. It is somewhat of a curse. But for every early prediction I have seen so far, the Tigers have always been predicted to at least make the post season.

But they were last year too.

I will not be at the game today. The first pitch is to be tossed at the 1 PM mark, just eight minutes from now. I will be at my desk, working ever so dutifully on reverse engineering rate analytical spreadsheets. I will be sitting in meetings discussing how the progress of the project is shaping up. I will be talking on the phone to Toronto to get clarification on some questionable points.

But I will have a web browser open. And that browser will be showing me the most up-to-date scores I can find. Discretely, of course.

Very discretely.

Discrete until someone hits a long double to drive in the winning run in the bottom of the ninth. There might be a slight holler from my cubicle then.

So to answer the question I asked on March first: "But what the heck will (March) go out like?"

The Answer is hopefully "A Tiger!"

Go get 'em boys.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Absolutely Right

When I was a boy, growing up in the southeastern state of Georgia, my Dad would continually pound into the heads of my brother Paul and I the means to achieve a positive outlook on life, and demonstrate to us again and again the kind of doors such an outlook would open for us.

At that time we lived a suburban town of Atlanta called Lawrenceville. It was there that Paul and I grew into teenagers. It was there that we became athletes. Not only did we love sports, but we were very good.

Okay, I know, that sounds egotistical. And I apologize. But this is how we saw ourselves. This is how our Dad taught us to see ourselves. We believed wholly in our hearts that we were and therefore that is what we became.

It started with baseball. And baseball started before we moved to Georgia. As long as I can remember, anytime we came across a ball diamond, we pulled the family car over, got the equipment bag out of the trunk, and held infield, batting, and pitching practice.

We did this for fun. This was our family’s way of having fun together. I still remember slamming long drives and flies out to center and right fields and watching mom get on her horse to get under the ball to make the catches. She would throw the ball back into Paul who was on the mound pitching, and Dad catching behind the plate.

God those days were great.

Dad would pound balls at me at short stop – making me trust me myself that charging the hardest hid grounder was the best way to pick up the ball. Charging hard in, picking up the ball on the short hop, and wheel it to first.

We were both good, we made every all star team, and we knew that we always going to play well. That was what our Dad instilled in us. Confidence in the very skills he taught us.

When Paul started getting good at tennis, Dad used those same principles to instill into Paul that he was good and he could compete with anybody in the State. In the mid-seventies, Atlanta was quite a hotbed for junior tennis, and the competition was fierce. Paul moved his way up the state ladder to reach the top-five. He had the skills, he had confidence in those skills, and he used them to achieve the goals that he set.

Those same principles are still deeply instilled in both my brother and I today.

We both know that there is nothing to hard for us to learn and master. We both know that we can acquire any skill we need to meet any challenge we may face. And we both know that having mastered the skills, the confidence comes naturally.

"So what does this have to do with positive thinking?" You may ask. "Did you get off track again, Fred?"

No, confidence is the core foundation needed to acquire optimism. When you are confident in yourself, in your skills, then you can only be optimistic about the results. You simply know you will succeed.

You will succeed. There is no doubt.

Optimism is the ultimate positive state of thinking.

My Dad had a saying. “If you think you are right, then you are right. You are absolutely right, until you are proven wrong.”

"Huh? You lost me."

Well, let me break it down. If you think you are right about something, and you are a confident person, then you will commit yourself to the decision you believe is right. You will not approach that decision in a wishy-washy manner of “I think this might work”.

That confidence allows that commitment to that decision to be clear in your mind. That clear decision becomes your goal. And you have commitment to your goal. And once you set a goal, you must be absolutely committed. There is no room to waver or second-guess yourself. You are absolutely right, and you must proceed with that commitment to complete that goal.

The part about “until you’re proven wrong” simply means that should your decision be incorrect, meaning your committed to a false goal, you have to understand – identify that you are wrong, accept that you are wrong, and re-align your commitment to your new decision.

To follow this method of thinking will result in ever-deepening confidence in yourself. That ever-growing confidence will inspire greater optimism. That optimism will ultimately conclude in a very positive thinking, self-satisfied person.

The person you want to be.

For all the things that my brother Paul and I have to thank our Dad for, this lesson I believe is the greatest gift I have ever received. While it is difficult – if not impossible – to maintain this state of thinking all the time, it does become easier each time you slip from it to identify that slip, and correct your mental course.

And of this, I am right. I am absolutely right. Until I am proven wrong.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Line Has To Be Drawn Somewhere

There are times that I question the decisions made by bureaucrats.

Our house is about a mile away from the school my daughters go to. My daughters are in the first grade and senior kindergarten. I have said it before and I'll say it again, I am amazed that there is enough information to teach small children that a junior and senior kindergarten distinction is necessary. I would assume that at the end of junior kindergarten, the child is just starting to achieve a capable status as a finger painter, and therefore the senior kindergarten class allows that child to explore various techniques of the masters so that they can extend their finger-painting prowess. That's my assumption.

But I digress, as that is not the decision I am referring to, and I know that much study by early childhood educators has deemed it quite advantageous to the child to better prepare them for the perils of first grade by doubling up their kindergarten experience.

As I was saying before I so rudely interrupted myself, my girls school is about a mile away from our house. And at the age of five and seven, and the fact that they are both pretty, I would never allow them to walk themselves that distance to school.

But they are not allowed to ride the bus. They live too close to the school for the bus – according to our local school board bureaucrats.

So every morning, I drag them kicking and screaming into my car, and I deliver them to school. When we arrive at the school, I drag them kicking and screaming out of the car, and around the block to the school doors. There I gently nudge them in, wishing them a good day as I leave.

And every day as I am pulling out of our driveway, I have to stop at the end of the driveway while the school bus stops to pick up the children waiting on my front lawn. I then follow this same bus to the same school – stopping behind the bus as they pick up more and more children along the way. I follow this bus all the way to the same school that my girls attend.


The very bus that stops at my front yard and picks up the kids who live across the street will not pick up my girls because our house is too close.

Darlene did try to get the school to let them on the bus, but to no avail as she was told that our house is inside the boundaries of walking students.

"But we pay the same taxes as the parents who ride the bus!"

"It has nothing to do with your taxes, Ma'am", she was told. "Riding the bus is a courtesy that the school board extends to students who live outside the walking boundaries".

The line has to be drawn some where", said the bureaucrat to Darlene.

Apparently that line is my front yard.

I think it is quite obvious that there is drinking at these boardroom meetings where the bureaucrats make these decisions. And after the drinking session, the leader of the bureaucrats – the big-cat- bureaucrat gets up out of his chair.

"We need to define the boundaries for school bus stops" slurs the big-cat-bureaucrat.

"When I was a kid", slurs another, "we had to walk ten miles to school"

"Up hill – both ways", chimes in a third.

".. and it was snowing all the time" finishes the big-cat.

"Cheers!" they all shout and clink their once-frosty mugs together

"This is a tough decision to make" states the big-cat. "We must use our most prudent bureaucratic skills to determine these boundaries. If we take facts, figures, and common sense into account, again we will find the issue is to big and complicated to resolve."

All the bureaucrats around the table nod in agreement.

The big-cat- bureaucrat stands up in front of a map and closes his eyes. The second and third bureaucrats get up and spin the big-cat around and around and then fall down. When the big-cat finally gets back up – his eyes now so bleary and blurred that they no longer need to be closed - he draws a circle around the school – about a mile wide in each direction.

"There, that's where we draw the line!"

"It has be drawn somewhere!" chimes the rest of the bureaucrats.

This is the same school that sends home chocolate bars, cookies and flower seeds for my daughters to sell to unsuspecting relatives and neighbors. Sell to raise money for the functions of the bureaucrats who run this school board. These are the same bureaucrats who make statements to my wife and I that the parents of the community need to work with them to build a better school, to pay for the services that we are lucky enough to have provided to our children.

<deep sigh>

Okay, perhaps their not drunk when they make their decisions. I might concede that point.

I have talked to several of the neighbors across the street. I have asked if during the week, on school days, if my daughters could sleep over at their house. Then they would qualify to ride the bus.

But so far none of the neighbors have agreed. I can't say that I blame them. When I asked them why they couldn't do me this favor, they said:

"The line has to be drawn somewhere".

Friday, March 14, 2008

As the Snow Melts

I just stepped outside at lunch time here at the office. The temperature was easily 13 Celsius, or 55 Fahrenheit. The sun was shining warmly on my skin. The birds were singing.

And the snow was melting.

As I stood there enjoying the warmth, I couldn't help but start to make a list of all chores about to come due:

  • Clean the brush out of the gardens
  • Overhaul the lawnmower
  • Sand and paint the decks
  • Get the patio furniture out
  • Clean out the garage
  • And one day even open the pool

And I started to think about my long lost summer routine: coming home from work each night, throwing on a bathing suit, grabbing a beer, and sitting out on the back deck listening to my beloved Detroit Tigers on the radio.

And I started to think about baseball. I started to think about my Detroit Tigers heading home in a few more weeks to open the season at Comerica Park. I started to imagine what our team will look like after our block buster trade in the fall where we acquired an all star third baseman in Miguel Cabrera and an all star starting pitcher in Dontrelle Willis.

Our former shortstop Carlos Guillen, easily one of the most under-rated players in the league will move this year to first base. Edgar Renteria was also acquired from the Atlanta Braves and will join our infield as well.

So these three new players will join our already strong roster of Pudge Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, Maglio Ordonez, Placido Palanco, and Curtis Granderson.

To a person who knows major league baseball this sounds pretty strong.

Our starting pitching rotation got stronger as Willis joins Justin Verlander, Jeremy Bonderman, Kenny Rogers, and Nate Robertson.

To a person who knows baseball – this sounds like an indestructible team.

But we have an Achilles heel. Our bullpen.

For years past, we relied heavily on our closer Todd Jones. Two years ago we got our hands on a young rocket – fireball thrower Joel Zumaya, who filled our short relief role. Fernando Rodney had always been strong in the long relief role, as did Jason Grilli. These four guys did an incredible job in 2006 by being rock solid and helping the Tigers get to the World Series.

But alas, last year was a different story. Our bullpen let us down. Bad. Joel Zumaya injured his finger on his pitching hand playing "air-guitar". Fernando Rodney had something wrong because his pitch speed dropped from the mid 90s to the mid to high 80's and was getting blasted all over the park. Jason Grilli just plain lost it, as did Todd Jones, who had trouble getting anybody out.

There were so many games that we should have won last year, but lost because the bullpen let five run leads slip away and lose. We were leading the American League Central at the All Star break. Everyone was talking about the Tigers coming back to the World Series in 2008. But we didn't even make the playoffs.

That same bullpen is in spring training. And from everything I can read and hear on the radio – it sounds like the same bunch of problems. Zumaya is still hurt. Rodney and Jones are still not right.

As Yogi Berra would say, "it's deja vous all over again."

It would be a shame to see such an amazing batting line up go to waste. Getting eight to ten runs in a game only to lose in the closing innings. It would be a shame to see Verlander, Willis, Rogers, Bonderman, and Robertson pitch 6 innings of shutout ball, only to see the remaining three be a slug-fest for the opposition.

It could easily be a year of frustration. Not only for the Tigers, but the fans as well. Knowing full well the bullpen issue has been visible for the last ten months. But nothing change.

Or the bullpen boys could turn it around. Get the job done. Hold 'em off.

But that's not what we are seeing in spring training.

I better make sure I get those decks sanded and painted first. That'll give me a place to put the radio and set my beer down so I can listen to the games each night.

Friday, March 07, 2008

March Came in Like a Kitten

Here I sit after a week of March. The night has fallen and the weatherman is calling for seven to ten inches of snow. That to sit on the ten inches there already. It’s hard to see out the big cathedral window in the front of the house because the snow is covering it. But through the holes of snow, you can almost make out the street light across the road.

But at least it’s now March. Hope springs eternal that spring will hopefully arrive.

There is an old saying that everyone knows. If March comes in like a lion, it will go out like a lamb. And it seems pretty lion-esque at the moment.

Unfortunately on Saturday, the first day of March, we reached temperatures of 10 degrees Celsius (that’s fifty degrees for you Fahrenheit freaks). The sky was blue and clear.

So March came in like a kitten.

A kitten you say? You mean lamb, do you not?

No, like a kitten.

Our little home was blessed with a new arrival on Saturday; a beautiful little kitten that we have for now named Skye. She is white with black patches – or black with white patches – depending on which patch you focus on first.

She looks like a little furry heifer.

I pushed for the name Buster – but in my house I am outnumbered by two little girls and one outspoken wife. So the name – for now – is Skye.

March came in like a kitten.

I am quite partial to dogs. My last was a border collie named Champ. Champ could herd anything, catch Frisbees in the air, and even play a mean goalie. Champ understood English, and would be your best friend.

I am not sure if Skye will be able to catch Frisbees. I have not yet tested her goalie skills. But she does seem to understand English. At least when Darlene is talking. And so far she loves chasing the girls around the pool table while they drag her little mouse toy behind them.

I think Skye will prove to be a great best friend.

She already had her first bath. Unfortunately it was in the toilet. After all this years of the girls in my house screaming for me to keep the seat down, I finally get revenge by reminding them to put the lid down.

Poor Skye. She couldn’t climb out. It was not a pretty scene. But she is fine now, and has an understandable respect for the john.

The girls of course love her. But she is their Mom’s cat. The kitten adores Darlene.

It’s quite the scene in the middle of the night. Darlene snoring to wake the dead, and the kitten on her stomach purring to drown the noise. It’s like sleeping next to Darth Vader in a motor boat.

So indeed, March came in like a kitten.

But what the heck will it go out like?

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