Thursday, July 31, 2008

Thank You Ivan Rodriguez

Yankee Stadium is known as the 'House that Ruth Built".


And Yankee Stadium is coming down after this 2008 season is over. A newer version being built right next door.



The core of the Detroit Tiger's current roster could be known as the "Team Pudge Built". And now this team may come down just like old Yankee Stadium.



Wednesday, in a very sudden move, was traded to the New York Yankees for relief pitcher Kyle Farnsworth.



Farnsworth is a mediocre pitcher at best – recently pitching well, but much like the Tigers own closer Todd Jones – Farnsworth is unstable at times in the role. Yankee fans had dubbed him "Krazy Kyle".



Great. Just what our bullpen needs – another flakey unstable bullpen pitcher.



Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez is in my opinion the greatest catcher to play the game during my generation. During his eighteen years of major league play he has attained a lifetime average of .302. When men are in scoring position his lifetime average rises to .382.



But while Pudge's bat is potent (perhaps waning in recent years) and still a threat, his prowess as a catcher is even more threatening. His laser like arm has so far thrown 597 runners trying to steal bases.



Pudge was named to the All Star team 14 times. He was the American League MVP in 1999. He was the MVP of the 2003 National League Playoff Series (NLPS) in 2003 as a Florida Marlin – the one of few years he was not named to the All Star Team.



Catchers have often been called the known as the "Quarterbacks of Baseball" calling pitches for most pitchers, and as the only player to fully view the entire field, leading the defense as each unique situations evolves in a game. And this is where Pudge is a master. He is a leader. In the locker-room he is known to inspire, and discipline his teammates with command and respect.



And the Tiger's will surely miss Pudge. Acquired during the offseason in 2004, on the heels of his 2003 NLCS MVP title – Pudge miraculously appeared in Detroit and donned the old English D. In 2003 the Tigers had lost 117 games – tying the worst record in Major League Baseball history.



And then came Pudge. He came to Detroit, and the fans took notice. And they realized the Tigers were about to get a lot better.



2004 saw some improvement as they lingered around the .500 mark. In 2005 a couple more moves were made as more and more players wanted to come to Detroit to be in Pudge Rodriguez team.



In 2006 – a season they thought was still one of building – the Tigers went to the World Series – led by Pudge Rodriguez. Unfortunately they lost that series to the St. Louis Cardinals – an inferior squad who for that series played superior ball.



These last two years have been spent tweaking the team to get back to the post-season. This 2008 season is still in question as the midway of the season behind us and the Tigers still five to six games behind the Chicago White Sox for the American League Central Division.



But our bullpen these last two seasons has been poor. More games lost by the bull pen than any other cause. So relief help was considered a top priority of the Tigers would make a push in the end here to make it to post-season ball.



So Dave Dombrowski and Jim Leyland – two baseball minds I have absolute respect for and trust in – deemed the best move to be a trade – even up – Pudge for Farnsworth.



It's a hard one to swallow.



But in Pudges defense – he deserves to be a member of the most storied team in Baseball – in a the last season of the house that Ruth built – before it comes down.



But it stinks if you're a Tigers fan.



Adios amigo Pudge – Tiger fans love ya – and we wish you the best – unless it comes down to the Yankees and Tigers in American League play.



Can somebody please show Mr. Farnsworth to bullpen. And tell him he owes this team some amazing pitching after what he has cost us. He had better get the job done.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

An Irish Intervention

My horoscope for today started by telling me:

"Don't be too concerned if your day starts slowly; just enjoy the easy pace without pushing yourself to move faster".

That's good advice on this beautiful Sunday morning.

Because the Irish are back for another visit.

Ray and Shell flew in yesterday from Dublin. They started their trip at what would be one o'clock in the morning our time, and arrived around six o'clock in the evening.

Darlene picked them up at the airport, and called me on the phone to say they had missed their connecting flight in Chicago. But she was fooling me. This time their travel went very smoothly.

We sat up until two in the morning, talking on the patio, and then Ray and I playing some pool downstairs. When the day ended, it had lasted twenty five hours for them both.

This morning, both Ray and Shell beat Darlene and I out of bed. They were just coming in from a morning wake up swim. That's when I read my horoscope.

I jokingly tell people that people "an Irish intervention is when a bunch of blokes show up at your house and ask why you haven't been to the pub lately."

I made that up. I hope it doesn't offend anybody.

And it's not far from exaggeration.

So I do plan to take it slowly today. I really have no choice. My body won't go fast right now.

This afternoon, just as we did with our first visit, we are going across the river to take in a Detroit Tigers baseball game. But unlike the first time, Ray will know better what's going on. He's been studying and watching the game highlights from their home in Dublin. And as we listened to the Tigers lose their second game of a three game series with the Chicago White Sox in yet another heartbreaking fashion last night on the radio – Ray was asking questions. Good questions, about the strike zone, and stealing bases, and such.

I think they are excited to go back to Comerica Park again.

"You see, Ray, in baseball they play a hundred and sixty two games in a season. They play almost every night. So it's not like Premier league football where a loss devastates you for a week until the next play again next week. "

"So every game is not important, then."

"No, every game is very important, but not as critical. You always have tomorrow night."

And then Ray proceeded to take seven games straight in nine-ball from me on my own pool table.

As I am typing this, Ray poked his head out the screen to ask if he could shoot some more pool. He doesn't need to ask, our house is his house.

But I don't think he needs anymore practice.

We are so glad they are here. We can enjoy the next three weeks together.

And I am sure I will be writing more their visit while they are here.

But for now, I am moving a bit slowly. And I will behave myself with more discipline as well.

Before they leave, I am sure a bunch of blokes will arrive at my house, and hold an Irish intervention.

That's my goal anyway.

Read a bit more about Ray and Shell's first visit four years ago, and their first tiger game in my post "Baseball and Cricket – they are both confusing".

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Ashley-Rae

Six years ago today, my little family experienced the most wonderful and most terrifying experience we have yet faced together.

My wife Darlene had given birth to our first daughter Alannah a year and 4 months earlier. Her birth was pretty normal with little complications. But Darlene did have to have some surgery afterwards to simply set things correct again.

I guess in the medical biz they refer to this procedure as "dusting and cleaning".

As we celebrated Alannah's first birthday the following February, we found out that she was again pregnant and the baby was one month into the gestation process. And we were happy about it. But the first go around with Alannah had taken a toll on Dar's baby making facilities.

In July, the days were passing as normal. Darlene was working as an Emergency Room RN in Detroit in a part-time capacity, and working for a respiratory services company outside of Windsor as well, again in a part-time capacity. But one day, she noticed that she her tummy was not as taught, and she thought ... well … to keep the conversation civil, she thought she was leaking.

Her pediatrician put her into the hospital. Grace Hospital on the west side of Windsor. And for two weeks, Alannah and I continued our daily routines of work and baby-sitters while the doctors and nurses at Grace kept an eye on Darlene's leaking uterus.

On one particular Saturday, six years ago today, Alannah and I went into Windsor to visit Mommy – bringing with us a huge McDonalds lunch of Big Mac's the Mommy had requested. We sat in that hospital room, a corner room with windows on both sides on that bright sunny Saturday, eating our lunches and hanging out with the leaking Mommy.

The doctor came in to make his daily rounds, and noticed that Darlene's fluid had dropped beneath a significant amount – meaning (if I understood him right) that the baby room in the uterus was too small, and now the baby had to come out. This was confirmed by a quick ultrasound.

So they prepped the operating room, while I rushed to take Alannah to the Grandma's house. When I returned they rushed me into a blue set of operation scrubs – a hat and those little scrub shoe covers. And they led me into the operating room.

There on the table was Darlene. They had begun and they had her covered on the table with a blue blanket that had a window open to her abdomen. I did not look at the opening. Instead they sat me up by Darlene's head. There was a screen set up like a tennis net that kept me from seeing the real activity of what they were doing.

It was very surreal, as Darlene was wide awake. And her medical experience was coming to the top as she monitored her own vital statistics. Mean while, on the other side of the tennis net, I could see the elbows of the doctors pushing, shoving and digging away. Darlene was talking to everyone, almost enjoying the rare experience.

But then as she monitored her own vitals, she said to one of the assistants, "hey look at my pressure starting to drop! I think I need ….", and her head rolled over to the side and for a few seconds she closed her eyes while in mid-sentence. The assistant came over, and poked a needle in the IV tube and pushed a drug into her. As soon as he did so, Darlene's eyes opened back up, her head raised back up and she continued: "five mgs of <some drug I can't remember>! Hey no it's back up!".

"I already did it", smiled the technician. "You were right."

"Darlene turned her head to look at me smiling – proud of her correct diagnosis of the situation.

Darlene talking on the one side of the tennis net, and the doctors pushing and pulling fixing on the other side of the net happened for a couple more minutes. Then suddenly very tiny blue body was extracted from the other side of the Tennis net. I only glimpsed it for a second – as the doctor said "It's a girl!" and they quickly moved her into the next room. I kissed Darlene on the cheek and she told me to go take care of our new little daughter.

In the next room they were working hard on this tiny baby the size of a Barbie doll. Her little head was so small and the skin was so tight to her skull. After urgently working with her for what seemed to me like minutes, a cry came out of my new little girl, and her skin turned quickly from blue to pink.

I held her for a second or two, and we weighed her. A picture was taken with her next to my finger to show how tiny she was.

Ashley-Rae stayed in that neo-natal clinic at Grace Hospital for almost 3 months. For three months, we would go and spend all our free time as a family with Ashley- as she lay in her incubator with tubes to feed her and ventilator tubes to help her breathe.

Within the first month, Ashley suffered a horrible set back. Somehow, poop from her diaper had gotten into her blood. The infection was horrible and she had to have a full blood transfusion. She actually received two.

And she survived both.

One day, early in September, we arrived for our daily afternoon of time with Ashley-Rae. As we came in, a pretty nurse named Holly had Ashley-Rae all dressed up in pretty clothes and was taking pictures of her. And for the very first time we say some enthusiasm – smiles – and laughing coming from our little daughter. And that was the day that I think Holly saved Ashley-Rae's life. After that day, Ashley grew quickly to become more and more like a big pink beautiful happy little baby girl. In early October, we were finally able to bring little Ashley-Rae home.

Today is Ashley-Rae's sixth birthday. And every year for me, I sit in amazement as I watch my beautiful youngest daughter turn more and more into a smart, compassionate individual. And I remember those early days with her six years ago, and I thank my stars that she is here.

Because it could have easily been a different story.

Happy birthday, Ashley-Rae!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Announcing ProjecTalk

There is more to having a successful IT team than simply knowing how to write source code.

Yet as I surf the Internet, the vast majority of discussion is how to write rock solid code using various techniques, technologies, and best practices.

But techniques, technologies and best practices are not constrained only to source code development. There are so many more roles in today's IT environment. So I have a established a new talking space for persons of those "other" skills to share, collaborate, and inspire each other.

What roles do those "other" professionals fill?

  • Systems Architecture and the project identification process
  • Needs analysis and requirement gathering
  • Project scope control
  • Analysis and design
  • Integration, user, and post-implementation testing
  • Customer expectation management
  • Communication progress and status to project stakeholders

In short, ProjecTalk will focus on everything but the actual practice of writing code.

Over the last 20 plus years, I have held positions up and down the IT role ladder. So I will be sharing my thoughts and experiences. But I do not intend to simply tell you what I think. Instead I am hoping I can inspire conversation and debate as we discuss these topics … but in a way uncommon to most IT environments – as calm, rational, professionals.

There are several blog sites I follow religiously – one sports blog in particular. And the lesson I have learned from observing these sites is that the while the authors of these blogs are knowledgeable in their writing, the real insight comes more often than not in the discussions and debates.

I look forward to this new adventure. And I am really excited to meet those of you out there who share the same interest, and learn from your experiences and opinions.

As the same time, I will continue writing my essay's here on my original Head Stuffing site.

These stories, after all, are truly what I love to write.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Reading Green Eggs and Ham


One of my favorite books of all time is by Dr. Seuss.


'Green Eggs and Ham' is a book of pure genius.


I had bought our copy for my youngest daughter Ashley-Rae's birthday when she was no more than two. I had bought it to read to Ashley and Alannah at bed time. And frankly I bought it more for my own selfish pleasure because I enjoy reading that book out loud. The rhythmic cadence, and the opportunity to inflect cartoon-like exaggerated emotion as the main character is persistently harassed by Sam-I-Am to eat that plate of green eggs and ham, chasing him across the country side by car and train, and finally into the bottom of the sea to finally achieve his objective.


It's simply a lesson in persistence.


Last night at bed time, I let Ashley-Rae – who is now more than 2 – she is now five, pick the story of her choice from volumes piled high and wide across her personal library of beaten up story books. And low and behold, she pulls out the orange covered "Green Eggs and Ham" book.


I opened it up to read. But then I stopped.


Ashley-Rae had proven she can read certain words and such before. But sometimes you did not know if she simply memorized the words of the story and recounted her memory back to you, or if she was truly reading.


"You read this time", I said as I held the book for her and put my finger under each word.


"Sam-I-am", she started. "That Sam-I-am, that Sam-I-am, I do not like that Sam I-am".


I knew Ashley-Rae was indeed reading to me as she paused for a second on each word to figure it out.


As we went along, she stumbled on a few, such as "would" or "could", but she figured them out and carried on.


And that is the beauty of this book. A beauty that was, until that experience last night, lost on me. Dr. Seuss was such a genius because he would introduce a new word or two every page. Then he would repeat that word over and over again so that the word becomes known – learned – by the new reader.


"Would you, could you in the rain? Would you could you on a train? "


Halfway through the book, Ashley-Rae had learned a wealth of new words that she knew as soon as she saw them. But the genius of Dr. Seuss is even more dazzling by the way he takes what would normally be such a mundane, monotonous method, and he makes it fun.


Giggly.


Ashley-Rae ended her reading - "Thank you, thank you, Sam-I-am". Ashley turned to look at me with the realization that she had just read a complete book, a literary masterpiece in my mind, from cover-to-cover.


All by herself.


And that beautiful little smile poked up from the sides of her mouth, her eyes got real big, and she gave me a great big daddy hug. Then she scrambled out of bed, and all around the remaining corners of the house to tell Mommy, Alannah, and the Grandma what she had just accomplished.


And I know that she now has the confidence to do it over and over again. She will pick up books to read so as not to look at the pictures, but to actually read the words. And Ashley-Rae will now like reading. She will enjoy it.


I have always known that there is no more fun book to read aloud that 'Green Eggs and Ham'. But until last night I did not understand the true genius behind the book, or the reason that educators herald the book as a treasure.


But now I do.


And Ashley-Rae has been given the greatest gift in the world. The confidence and desire to read.


And that is the best gift I could ever receive.


Thank you Dr. Seuss.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Major League Baseball is a Tough Sport



Major League Baseball is a tough sport.



There are one hundred and sixty two games in a regular season. The season spans the months of April through September. Six months in total. And the endurance of Major League baseball is one that has to be paced. You can't put a hundred percent of your heart into it for the entire duration of the season. You really have to take a break from the game and remember to enjoy life.



No, I am not writing about how tough it is to be a player. I am speaking about the fans perspective.



Major League Baseball is tough on the die-hard fan.



There have been years where it has been a piece of cake to be a baseball fan, depending on the team you root for.



In my case, the easiest year to be a baseball fan was 2006 when the Tigers took off on a blistering pace – reaching and incredible seventeen game lead over the remainder of their division by mid-July. But for as sweet as that was, as comfortable a lead as that was, the Tigers squandered their lead away through August and September, losing their lead on the last day of the season after being swept by the worst team in the American League Central Division – the Kansas City Royals. Instead they had to settle for the American League wild card spot as the Minnesota Twins won the same division in what they called a "miracle come-back".



But truly the only miracle was how a team that played so well for the first half of a year could play so bad in the second half.



The Tigers did regroup in the post-season, beating the New York Yankees four games to one, then sweeping the Oakland A's to win the American League and go on to play in the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. And then, to the dismay of all Tiger fans, die-hard or casual, the Tigers lost to the Cardinals winning only one game in a series they should have easily won.



So even in the best years, it is hard to be a Major League baseball fan.



The only real satisfaction is when your team wins the World Series.



Then there are years like this one. 2008.



Tiger fans were excited about this season as early as November of 2007. That day a trade was announced that was so great it would already have many sports writers declaring the Tigers to win the World series this year before spring training even started. They were supposed to score ten thousand runs, and run away with the American League – challenged only by the Boston Red Sox.



And this year has been a heart breaking disappointment from the start. Opening the 2008 season with seven straight losses, bettering themselves to maybe win one game in a series, they slowly progressed to winning the odd series here and there, then went on a tear of winning long string of series' as Inter-league play saw the Tigers playing a fairly weak schedule against National League teams.



But when Inter-league play ended, so did the winning streak. They lost the next series on the road to Minnesota, and lost night lost for the time in a row to the Seattle Mariners.



All the hard work to climb back into the race for the American League Central seemingly being squandered away before our eyes.



As a die-hard fan, it is crushing to sit on the edge of your seat – pitch by pitch – almost willing your team to do well, only to see the game lost in similar fashion again and again, with nothing to be done but to try to will them harder. Certain that they will respond to your extra-sensory messages your send by wishing them so hard that they must come true.



Wishing for a clutch hit with men on base to drive in a much needed run only to heart the announcer say the batter " … took strike three with the bat on his shoulder".



Wishing the bullpen mid-relief pitcher can just get this one more hitter out to salvage a one run lead, only to hear the announcer say ".. it's a long fly ball that could be trouble, hit up the gap and rolls to the wall for a double and the tying run comes to the plate standing up …"



And you, as the die-hard fan – feel those most familiar pangs of once again being disappointed.



But then you say to yourself, "there is always tomorrow" and you anxiously await the next game hoping the result will be better.



There is no better feeling than when your team wins that game you invested all your emotion into willing them to victory. There is true satisfaction as they move one step closer to that short term goal of catching a division leader, then leading the division, and moving in to post-season play. The playoffs are so wonderfully exciting when the team you live and die for is contending in the play-offs.



It's almost a euphoric high.



That's the beauty of a season of one hundred and sixty two games. It is also the problem with a season of one hundred and sixty two games.



There is always hope that tomorrow will be better. There is always opportunity for your team to win that next game.



And a true die-hard fan always believes their team has a chance to win the World Series.



Major League Baseball is a tough sport.



Full of highs and lows. Often more lows than highs. It's emotionally draining.



And one really has to pace themselves to be a fan.



I wish I knew how to pace myself.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

The Heart of Summer is Berries and Cream

It's berries and cream weekend.


It's the weekend where the shortest grass is well worn with bare spots.



And this version of the Saturday final day was fought by two sisters who put their sibling love aside to fiercely contest the most coveted of trophies in their sport.



I do love Wimbledon. It is the second most prestigious and elegant sporting event, in my book. Second only to golf's The Masters.



I know that tennis has fallen off the North American radar screen, just a small blip as it appears to be wandering off the screen over the horizon in the mind of western culture. But Wimbledon holds an air of legitimate royal legendry. And sports need that level of legitimacy in this era of steroids, corrupt officiating, and the overall consistent contempt shown by professional athletes.



I have always loved tennis since my brother Paul was successful as a junior. I had the joy of being his best rally partner – and the dismay of consistently being beaten by him although I tried my best to better him.



Big brothers are supposed to be better than their little brothers, right?



There is beauty to stand behind a baseline and strike a well hit ball in the heart of the face of the racket driving it hard over the net and the top spin drawing it back down into the opposite side of the court by the base line. The grace of a well struck serve as you toss the ball over your head in a rhythmic movement as your racket swings back behind you - moving in motion to strike the ball with a twisting spin move to curve the ball into a corner of the service line – the racket thrown at the ball in almost the same motion of a pitcher throwing a curveball.



Tennis is a beautiful game of trying to drive the ball to an area of the court where your opponent is not. Trying to guess where your opponent will hit it and moving into position to set your feet to ready your swing to drive the ball back.



I miss it.



And while next year I will be able to play again, that's not enough. Because my brother Paul is not here to play against. He is in Baton Rouge. And in my book, there is playing tennis, but then there is playing tennis against my brother Paul.



There's nothing as fun to me as playing tennis against Paul. Okay, maybe playing golf with Paul.



So when Wimbledon plays out like it did this year, with big sister Venus Williams playing against little sister Serena, I can identify with just how great an experience that would be. And I watch every point. And I love it.



Yes, the Williams sister play at a couple levels higher than either I or Paul, although I strongly think Paul had the potential to get there.



And yes, I do root for Venus – as we older siblings have to stand together against those obnoxiously arrogant younger siblings who teased us until we punched them only to get sent to your room or get grounded.



Damn those younger siblings.



Today Venus won. And I believe her sincerity when she said in the post-match interview that her first responsibility is that of big sister, and to be conscious of her little sister's disappointment so as to not over celebrate her victory.



And that's where Venus is a better older sibling than I am. Because I would have been dancing around that pristine palace of tennis among the royalties of the sport – pointing my finger at my brother and screaming at him "Who's the winner lil' bro?! Who's the winner now!."



And they probably would not have invited me back the next year. And I probably would have gotten sent to my room.



Wimbledon, to me, is the heart of summer.



And the heart of summer is when I miss my little brother Paul the most.


Tuesday, July 01, 2008

You Just Can’t Say That Anymore


I was reading a book this morning.

In this electronic age of the internet, book reading is becoming a lost past time, unless you are my wife – drilling through volumes of romantic novel drivel in a single afternoon.

I was reading a collection of writings by my all time favorite writer - Lewis Grizzard. Lewis was the sports editor and weekly columnist for the Atlanta Journal. In University I would buy the paper every Thursday only to read Mr. Grizzards column.

It struck me this morning, as I read one of his stories, that I envied him for his free and easy way of describing a person, condition, or situation. There were no holds barred. He could call things as he saw them.

In one particular passage, he is describing his honeymoon night with his beautiful new second wife. They had travelled four hours by car to Savannah Georgia after being married that afternoon by a Texaco gas station attendant that his brother Ludlow had hired to pretend to be a minister.

Once at the train station, the newlyweds are told they had no reservations for a sleeper car on the Amtrack to Orlando, Florida. And in typical Grizzard fashion, Lewis informs the frail elderly train attendant that unless a correction was made, he would "come behind the glass, and punch you and hit you, and pull off your raccoon hair toupee and tell everyone that you are a bedwetting communist homosexual …".

And … well ... you just can't say that kind of thing anymore.

If you did, the National Organization of Bedwetting Communists would complain about being called homosexuals.

Not that there is anything wrong with that. No, not at all. Some of my best friends …

But in this electronic age of posting immediate news and celebrity humiliation video, it ironically goes against the grain to call anything as you really see it.

Now at some point in our lives, we have all had the occasion where we have woken up on a soggy mattress and maybe even had our sheets hung out to dry for all to see. And it is not unheard of to have considered the position of Karl Marx and wondered if it weren't for the fact that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, that in some conditions communism might actually be a feasible means of governing.

And that would just plain upset the homosexuals. Not to mention the political right.

But we are not allowed to talk about such things now.

Nobody likes to be offended. Not the bedwetters. Not the communists. And certainly not the homosexuals.

And far be it from me to ever cross any of those lines.

Some of my best friends were bedwetters, and others I know are actually former communists. And for all the homosexuals I have known, there have only been a few I didn't like, and the reason was not their choice of alternative lifestyles.

They were just not very nice.

It's probably a blessing to Mr. Grizzard that he passed before seeing the content of the internet be so controversial, yet the language that we use be so dumbed down as to be sure we don't offend.

But I do not have the luxury of writing in a time of such a more simpler age.

So I make my solemn promise to you all that I will do my best to not offend anyone by the postings on my blog. And I will do my part to stand up for the rights of all readers.

Even bedwetting communist homosexuals.

This post is dedicated to the memory of Lewis Grizzard – former columnist and sports editor of the Atlanta Journal.



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