Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Tampa Bay Is A Shoe-In To Win The AL East

I have been told by those in the know that I have a knack for stating the obvious.

Here we roll into the final six games of the 2008 regular season, and it is obvious to me that the Tigers are not going to fulfill Sports Illustrated pre-season prediction and win not only the AL Central, or the American League, or the World Series.

In fact as I write this, Detroit is in game two of a three game series with Kansas City to stay out of the AL Central Basement. And it's not looking good, as game one was lost last night due to bullpen failure, and the Royals just struck early in the first two hitters to take a one – nothing lead in the first.

The Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins are still battling for the AL Central title . In fact, they are playing each other in the next to last series of the year with Chicago taking the first game and leading the Twins by two and a half games. Chicago will finish the year against the Indians of Cleveland, and the Twins against the same Royals my Tigers are facing right now. Only the winner will move on to the playoffs. And in my opinion it will be close but the Twins will take it in the final game of the year.

Write it down.

Because in the AL Central, you have to win the division.

Because the wild card in the American League sits in the East. And the war is on between Tampa Bay and Boston.

Boston is also two and half games back. But they are finishing the season against the Yankees. Against the Yankees in Fenway. And I do not give any edge to Boston in this year of a disgruntled Yankee club who is embarrassed not to be in the playoffs.

No, this year, the edge goes to Tampa Bay. The Devil Rays probably don't even need to make contingency plans. They pretty much have the final four games all wrapped up.

And it breaks my heart. Because the Devil Rays finish the season against my beloved Detroit Tigers. A team I love more than any other team I have ever rooted for – obsessively my friends and family will tell you – ever in my life.

The Devil Rays will face pitching that will struggle to put in six innings, but likely stay in for seven because there is no bullpen. They will face Tiger hitters that sound intimidating – but are meek in these final four games. They will face defense that looks great on paper, but on the field make stupid mistakes and errant throws.

Writing this piece, I feel like a father telling the bully not to be too worried fighting his son, "He may look big, and has a known name", advises the father, "but you should take him no problem."

It just breaks my heart.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Slipping Into Fall

Once again, I am waking up to a beautiful summer morning, sitting on the back patio deck, next to the pool, with Suzy, our black lab retriever curled up at my feet.

But this morning is different. This morning I am wearing a jacket.

This morning I had to wipe the thick layer of dew off the glass patio table before I sat down my laptop.

The nights are cooling down. The sun rises later and sets earlier. Not just here in Windsor, but everywhere north of the equator.

But you already knew this of course. It's most likely happening to you to.

Unless you're in Africa, South America, or Australia. If you are, then lucky you.

Because the Northern Hemisphere is slipping out of summer and into fall.

This morning is special as I write this. Because it is my last chance this year to sit beside the pool and write. My beautiful wife Darlene's brother Glenn is coming over when I finish to help me close the pool. We will drain half the water, put in chlorine and algaecide, remove the hoses and crate up the pump. And then we will put on the black tarpon cover that will be the main back yard fixture until May of next year.

In the summer, our back yard patio deck becomes our family room. Everyone gathers around our glass patio table, under the shade of the umbrella, and we hang out together.

So I sit here now and remember all the great friends that have visited here this summer – sitting at the table, taking a cooling dip in the pool, returning to dry off and enjoy cool sips of whatever their summer pleasure be.

Some friends from as far away as Ireland, others from the northern reaches of Ontario, and some as close as next door. Neighborhood kids splashing in the pool for Ashley-Rae's birthday. Barbeques wafting the smells of hamburgers, sausages, hot dogs, chicken or steaks. Darlene's blender grinding down ice to mix frosty thick margaritas or pina coladas. Cold bottles of bear clanking in cheers with friends, or being enjoyed by myself as the reward for a lawn well cut and trimmed.

There is no time in Windsor like summertime.

Fall is nice to though. The colors of the changing trees, the changing smells in the air. The niceness of sitting outside in cooler weather. Baseball playoffs are just around the corner – although not as sweet when my beloved Detroit Tigers struggle to stay three games out of the basement of the American League Central division standings. No playoffs for them. At least not like we expected just six months ago when summer was still a future glimmer still waiting to arrive.

So today I will busy myself with closing the pool, cutting the lawns, cleaning out the gardens, and readying the yards for fall and then winter. No leaves have fallen yet, but some trees have started changing colors already.

It is indeed a beautiful morning to sit beside the pool and write. But as I watch Hoppy the squirrel carrying once green walnuts and acorns back to his storing spot – cheeks bulging as he hops so delicately, accurately, and speedily over the fence posts that line our back yard border – I realize that like Hoppy, I better to get to work to welcome in autumn.

No matter how much I would like to avoid this changing of the seasons, you can't run and hide from fall. Time marches on as this big blue ball we all live on spins continually around the sun, and we are almost to the position in that orbit that is fall.

I guess it's time to uncover the pool table in the family room. But it's still covered with laundry as the warmer clothes are brought out and the summer clothes packed up and away for another season to come.

I wouldn't mind fall so much except that I know what comes next.

And as I have said here before … I am not a winter person.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Now Yer Messin With A …

Amazing how music finds memories in the very back recesses of your brain.

It happened to me just today.

I left the office today and marched across the parking lot to my little Sebring. It was a beautiful afternoon of full sun, so I rolled down all the windows and opened the moon roof all the way for that convertible effect.

Detroit has a great radio station, 94.7 that plays classic rock just like the play list that my favorite station in Atlanta, 96 Rock, used to play when I was a teenager in Lawrenceville, Georgia.

It was one of the best things about moving to Windsor from London. A 94.7 made me feel like a kid back in Atlanta again. To me, it's a great radio station.

As I pulled on to the expressway, an old song came on that brought back memories like only music can do.

Even songs you don't like, but still remember, will bring back great memories.

This was an old song by a band called Nazareth. In all it's crudity. The song is called "Sum ub ah Bich" (or something that might sound like that anyway…).

So at the now graying age of forty six, I turned it up real loud, put on my sunglasses and reclined the seat of the car back a bit.

"Now yer messin' with a … son of a …"

And my mind went back to when my family first moved to Georgia in 1975.

At that time we were living in Apple Valley Minnesota. South of Saint Paul – Minneapolis – just outside another small town called Rosemount.

Minnesota was – at least to me as a boy of twelve or thirteen – a very sterile and clean environment. Everyplace was well groomed. Gardens and the greenest of grass. And the people in Minnesota were very … well .. I guess "proper" is the best term that comes to mind. Boring – but sterile and proper.

My Dad received notice in the summer of 1974 that he could choose the transfer of his choice to become a regional manager for 3M company's business products division. The choices were San Diego California, and Atlanta Georgia.

Dad chose Atlanta.

Mom and Dad took a trip together to go look for our new house. And they found one in a little town I have written here about before, Lawrenceville. It was a nice subdivision, with a community co-op style club around the corner called Plantation Swim and Racket Club – or PSRC for short.

When we arrived, the culture shock was immense.

We were Canadians living in the United States as green-card-carrying landed immigrants. And in Michigan, where we lived when I was a little boy in elementary school, and then Minnesota, where we lived when I was in middle school (grades seven and eight), we fit right in. Minnesotans could easily be confused for Canadians – at least I think so.

But Georgia – well that's a whole different bowl of peach cobbler. A completely new slice of pecan pie.

The food was different. The attitudes were different. The rules were a lot more relaxed. And well, the pattern of speech was different.

I remember sitting in my very first class in the eighth grade – a trailer – a busted down trailer – with graffiti on the desks and walls – dirty and smelly – waiting amongst this strange trailer full of southern kids – all talking like a completely different language. It was English – but damned if I knew what they were saying.

"That thar's the new kid, I dun wonder where he come from?" said a pretty little girl a couple of seats ahead of me.

"Don't know, but he's kind-a funny lookin."

I guess I was pretty funny looking to them. I had a short haircut my Mom would approve of, I was short, and pudgy. I was also very pale in comparison to southerners. I was just new from Minnesota – and Minnesota wasn't really a sun tanning paradise.

"Hey kid, where y'all from?"

"I'm sorry, what did you say?" I replied.

I thought I had landed in Mayberry. I thought "all these kids couldn't really talk this way, could they?"

In came the teacher. Mrs Blylock.

"Thank God", I thought. "She'll tell these kids to stop faking their Gomer Pyle accents."

"Mornin' y'all", said Mrs. Blylock. "How was y'alls summer?"

"Oh my God", I thought, "This is real. Holy cow these people really are serious".

Every single syllable word was spread out to become two or three syllables. The pitch of their voices went up and down in a sing song manner as they practically sang their words. I wish I could write music to express it to you more effectively.

But as time went on, I adapted.

I learned that y'all meant you. And all y'all meant everyone present. I learned that yonder meant someplace over there – or thar . And dun (done) didn't mean something you completed, but just simply added action to the sentence. You didn't just do something. You dun did it.

Then I was assimilated.

And that year of eighth grade at Lilburn Middle School went along quite nice. There were big kids in my class that I looked up to, like Kirk Ewing and Damon Huston. On our street it was Bill Huseby and Mike Lefevbre. The cool guys. The big guys. The guys who weren't scared to fight. Not bully's. They were all pretty damned good guys.

After eighth grade was over, and summer was kicking in, I started playing baseball in Lawrenceville's little league and swimming for the local club PSRC. I was pretty good at both. And I also hit a growth spurt. I grew somewhere between six inches and a foot in a single month.

And now I was as big as the guys I looked up to.

And I learned what confidence felt like.

But now to get back to the point about a song bringing back memories … It was the first day of high school at Berkmar High. Waiting for the bus with my now neighborhood buddies. And the bus pulled up to let us on.

As I got on the bus, an old dilapidated version of a bus with those big green seats with the springs shot out and rips bandaged up with silver duct tape, there was something weird. The driver was a hippy looking girl probably in her early twenties. And she had … an eight track tape player … in the bus? And it was playing Rock music. Pretty heavy music.

And as I sat down in my seat, the music blared …

"Now yer messin with a … son of a …."

"So this is high school.." I thought as I sat with my buddies. "This is pretty cool".

And when I got to school, my new found height, my athletic build, and the muscles in my arms – not to mention my deep tan, was noticed. The guys I used to look up to came up to me to say "hey" – southern for hi.

And I said "hey, how y'all doin?"

And I was converted.

And on the way home from school, the hippy chick bus driver was playing her eight track tape again. And I remember thinking to myself as I sat next to a pretty neighborhood girl …

"Now yer messin with a son of a …"

Monday, September 01, 2008

The Double-Saturday and the Tale of the Phone Call

Here I am again, another Sunday morning sitting on the back patio. Trying to wake up.

Only this time it's actually Monday morning. Labor Day Monday morning.

Long weekend holidays are great because it's like having two Saturdays in a row. And who doesn't enjoy a good double-Saturday?

This morning Suzy the black lab puppy and I are waking up together out here with a gorgeous blue sky and warm breeze. The water in the pool is crystal clear but now starting to cool down to the chilly seventies.

It's beautiful out.

My only wish today is that Suzy could fetch me another cup of coffee.

Now that would be a sight. The coffee mug bouncing as Suzy's teeth gnarled around the black handle. Coffee sloshing out of the cup and the nearly empty remains set in a thunk at my feet as she hopes I drain the cup hoping I'll toss it into the yard for her to fetch another. "Suzy!" I would say - in my best puppy disciplining voice, "You put too much cream in my coffee, bad girl".

But that could never be. I can't get Suzy to poop in the same place in the yard, let along get her to pour from a carafe without spilling and not put the spoon you stir with in the sugar.

Lassie, maybe. But not Suzy.

If poor little Timmy were ever trapped in a well, and Suzy were his only hope to be found and rescued, poor Timmy would find that Suzy would rather reach her head down and lick him to death rather than find help. And if she did venture off, she would be distracted the first time a squirrel came by. Poor little Timmy.

But Suzy is very happy today. Jumping and tail wagging and just plain excited.

Suzy is happy because we are staying home today. Poor Suzy spent yesterday locked in the garage with the fan on and the garage door open just a crack to let fresh air in. Poor Suzy.

Suzy was locked in the garage because, well, we had two Saturdays back to back. And so on the first Saturday – the real Saturday, young Katie came over to babysit the girls – and Suzy, while Dar and I headed to the lake to visit our other great friends John and Darlene.

Now this gets confusing, because both my wife and her best friend Darlene have the same name. And both answer to Dar for short. The confusion gets more interesting because my Darlene's first husband is also named John. This caught me off guard one summer afternoon eight years ago when Dar and I had just started dating. Dar had gone off to run some errands and I was watching a ballgame on TV. And the phone rang.

I made the mistake of answering it.

"Hi, is Darlene there?" said a nice elderly lady on the other side.

"No, she is out running errands right now", I answered. "May I take a message?"

"Why is this the Fred I have heard about?", asked the nice lady.

"Why yes it is."

"My name is Louise", I am John's mother. I am so happy to talk to you", said the nice lady.

But I only knew one John associated with Darlene. And that was her ex husband. I have met him once since and he is a great guy, actually.

"We have heard so much about you", continued this very pleasant lady, "and we can't wait to finally meet you!".

"I .. uh .. err. Well, that will be very nice."

The nice lady who was Louise, John's mother, then went on to invite Darlene and I to her house on the lake front in Colchester – a cottage community on the southern tip of our Essex County community – the most southern point – other than Point Pele – in Canada. The whole state of Michigan is north of this little Canadian town.

"It's a surprise celebration for Darlene and John" she continued. "To celebrate their anniversary!".

"Well, that does sound great", I said – lying because I had never heard of anyone ever being invited by their girlfriends ex-mother-in-law to the an anniversary party for her and her ex-husband.

"Should we bring anything?" I asked.

"Oh, just yourself, please. Oh Darlene and John will be so happy to see you."

I actually held the receiver away from my face and looked at it. I shook my head in disbelief and put it back to my mouth. "Indeed this will be a surprise", I replied. "And very interesting".

"Yes, well then we will see you both then?"

"I wouldn't miss it", I said. It was the most honest statement I had spoken the whole conversation.

I hung up the phone and I resumed watching the ballgame. Shortly after, Darlene had returned home from her shopping.

"Anybody call?" she asked.

"Funny you should ask", I said. I told her verbatim the phone call.

"Oh, that's great!" replied my then new girlfriend Darlene. "You'll love their place. It's on the lake, and right next to the marina. Louise is so sweet, and John's house is right beside hers".

"I can't wait!", I said. "I've never been to an anniversary party for my girlfriend and her ex-husband. This should be quite a hoot. Maybe I'll bring a banjo and wear my straw Stetson. I wonder where my old cowboy boots are …"

Darlene looked at me and realized. And she laughed so hard that I couldn't stop her for several minutes – each moment getting more annoyed by the fact that she was laughing at me. Not with me, but right in my face.

"Yes, I found it humorous too", I said in my classic dry sarcastic manner.

"No, no, no, you got it all wrong!" she answered. "You haven't met Darlene and John yet!"

"There is another Darlene?"

And so she explained. And then I laughed and laughed to.

And that anniversary party was actually quite great. And when I met Louise, who was indeed a very nice woman, we both laughed as I explained my misunderstanding on the phone.

"I'm surprised you didn't hang up on me", laughed Louise.

It turned out she was right. They are great friends. And have been ever since. In fact they are now called Aunt Darlene and Uncle John by our little girls. And Darlene is in fact both the girls God Mother. And Katie is their sixteen year old daughter whom my girls adore.

Sadly, Louise passed on several years ago after a long tough battle with cancer. Darlene and John rented out then sold their house, moving into Louise's and renovating it to the beautiful estate it is now.

So that is where Darlene and I went this weekend. And Katie came to babysit our girls, and Suzy. We had a great barbeque and a bonfire that night. In their back yard, with Lake Erie as a back drop we sat in this sunken area surrounded by Stonehenge type tocks around the biggest bonfire a committee of friends could build. The total gathering was about ten couples and a couple of guys John works with. It was a great group. And as you do around the bon fire, you tell stories as you sip the beverage of your choice.

And so I told this story again to this new crowd of friends.

The next morning, I drove back into Windsor to pick up Katie and my girls to take them out to the house on the lake. And poor Suzy was put in the Garage. We took the girls to the Harrow fair – as county a fair as one could ask for with rides, and games, and horse riding and showing contests and a barn full of animals to meet. Late that night we all arrived back to our own home in Windsor. To a very happy Suzy who found it was bedtime shortly after we came home exhausted from our two Saturdays in a row.

So as I started to tell you, before I was distracted, It's a beautiful summer Sunday-Monday morning out in the backyard on the patio.

The coffee is perfect, and Suzy is very excited.



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