Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Perfect Summer Sunday Morning

Another Sunday morning, and I again find myself on the back patio by the pool with Suzy – my black lab – laying at my feet – waiting for me to do something more entertaining than pushing all these little black buttons on my laptop.

It's a beautiful morning – although threatening thunderstorm clouds drift high in the sky mixed among those big white puffy clouds. The breeze is warm with a thread of cool refreshing air weaved in like a fine piece of tapestry.

My lovely wife Darlene is asleep in the house – the girls are trying to figure out the rules to a new board game they bought with some of Ashley-Rae's birthday money, and Pat Caputo is on the radio talking about my Detroit Tigers having taken the first three games of a four game series – from the Chicago White Sox who had made up enough ground in the American League Central to tie the Tigers before this series began.

So the Tigers again have three game lead in the American League Central division.

It's just a perfect morning.

The grass that comprises my lawns is a bit long and needs some cutting. The laundry basket holds my weekly assortment of work attire – and they need laundering attention. The water in the pool is crystal clear – but the pool could use a quick vacuuming. The cars could use a good cleaning – inside and out and the gardens could use a few weeds to be pulled.

But I will get to all that later.

Right now I'm just savoring a perfect summer Sunday morning.

They won't last forever.

I want to somehow capture this day – keep it and save it somehow. Save it so I can pull it out of a box of cherished days later on – when the days don't strike my fancy quite this way. Days in January, February, or March – days when I can't sit on my back deck in this way – with the warm sun and the inviting pool – beach balls floating around in chaotic patterns . The sound of neighborhood lawnmowers whirring in the near distance. The warm coffee sitting in my Detroit Tiger coffee mug.

At some point in the next couple months, I will have to cover that pool, seed the lawn, cover the annuals in the garden, and put the storm glass window back in the front screen door. The patio furniture will get put back away – waiting for next May to reappear again. And for all that time between October and May, I will pull this day out of that box of cherished days and try to climb back into it.

Suzy couldn't wait anymore – her black fur growing to hot in the sun on the deck – she jumped into the pool, did her normal lap up the middle and back to the stairs. The girls are getting changed into their bathing suits to go swimming. And my coffee cup is now empty. Pat Caputo has now started talking more about the Lions NFL football franchise and their expectations being higher this year with their new number one draft pick competing with Dante Cullpepper for the starting quarterback spot.

So the moment has passed already.

In the fall, winter, and early spring, I will sit inside and continue to add to my collection of stories. I will try to move the laundry and my lovely wife Darlene's sewing workstation away from my pool table so that I can work on my nine-ball game. I will be told by my household supervisor (my lovely wife Darlene) what household chores I need to do like vacuuming or dusting, or rearranging the furniture and maybe some wall painting.

As as I have said many times before, I am not a winter person.

I did find a great neon light I want to buy to hang by the pool table – the Tigers old English D in the center of the face.

But today is still a perfect summer Sunday. The Tigers playing the White Sox in the fourth game of the series tonight at 8:00 pm. The lawn will be cut, laundry done and the cars cleaned up, and I will sit on the back patio with the girls swimming in the pool and my lovely wife and household supervisor Darlene will be cooking up a tasty summer dinner for us on the barbeque. And I will sit with my lovely family and friends – enjoy a beer or two – and listen to the Tigers game on the radio.

Because the Tigers are in first place and could stretch it to a four game lead in the American League Central.

And it's such a perfect summer Sunday.

Life won't be this perfect for ever.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Old Tom – A Proper Distinguishment

What Tom Watson did at the British Open (The Open) last Sunday – over the course of four often blustery days – was indeed unfathomable.

It's the only word I can think of to describe leading The Open for a good duration, and up until his final putt in regulation play.

Unfathomable. Period.

It was indeed the greatest feat I have seen since being a fan of professional and tournament golf in 1982.

Better than Tiger Woods winning the US Open at Pebble beach by fifteen strokes.

Better than Jack Nicklaus at age 46 winning The Masters in 1986.

It was a man of a great magnitude of humble legendary class, stepping up and performing at a level that no one ever believed he could maintain over the course of four days of grueling conditions amongst the field of truly the best in the game.

No one – not a single sole – thought Tom Watson could win The Open.

And he missed it by a single stroke – a stroke of bad luck at that – causing his ball to roll only a few feet further down the slope of the back of Turnberry's 18th hole. An extra rotation on the ball that made his recovery a magnitude more difficult.

With a final putt of some ten or twelve feet left to win the match – it was clear – as he pushed it just right – that the chance to win The Open Championship was just one rotation of a golf ball out the grasp of the fifty-nine year old Tom Watson.

He bogeyed. His score dropped to two under par.

It was destiny missed by a single roll of a golf ball.

The playoff that ensued – due to a long putt for birdie by Stuart Cink for birdie on eighteen – taking Cink to two under par - was doomed from the start for Mr. Watson, his heart already crushed by the missed opportunity. Mr. Watson lead the applause for Stuart Cink upon dropping the tournament winning putt.

The play off was no contest, as the eighteen holes and the stress of recapturing and holding a lead in one of the most prestigious tournaments in professional golf, was clearly taxing enough.

Harry Vardon won a major tournament in 1914 at the age of fifty nine. But 1914 did not have the same level of players (or players with modern equipment) that 2009 has. And Mr. Vardon's major won at the age of fifty nine was not the Open Championship – which was a good deal more prestigious than the US Open of that same era.

The oldest player ever to have won The Open Championship was indeed a man known as "Old Tom". Tom Morris Sr. won The Open Championship at the ripe old age of forty six. The same age as the Golden Bear, Jack Nicklaus, won The Masters Championship at Augusta National in 1986.

Old Tom Morris was a native of St. Andrews, Scotland. He is deemed to be the second golf professional in the history of the game, making his living from not only tournament golf, but also as a golf ball and golf club maker, course designer, and greens-keeper.

Old Tom is responsible for standardizing the golf course to being eighteen holes in length. And that both the front and the back nine's should play back to the clubhouse. Old Tom determined that bunker or hazard should always have a playable route around it. He standardized the golf course – equal in perfection to only the specifications of a baseball diamond – so that the golf course is how we play it today.

All through the playing of the 2009 Open Championship – Tom Watson was commonly being referred to as Old Tom – one of the most beloved figures of the sport. One of the most respectable figures – founders of the game we know and love today.

And the nickname is well deserved for Mr. Watson, who plays the game with a level of integrity second to none.

Not second to Mr. Palmer.

Not second to Mr. Nicklaus.

Not second to Mr. Hogan, Mr. Snead, or Mr. Jones.

Okay, He is second to Bobby Jones.

Because Bobby (Robert Trent) Jones - founder of Augusta National Golf Course and The Masters golf tournament – did indeed exact a sense of integrity and honor in golf – never turning professional in his career – maintaining amateur status throughout his grand slam achievements.

And second also to Old Tom Morris Sr.

Both Jones and Old Tom enshrined in St. Andrews to be of the highest stature of the Royal and Ancient Golf Association – paralleled to saints in the Catholic Church.

And Old Tom Watson – in my humble opinion – deserves the same honor. Not only for his monumental wins on such famed courses such as Turnberry in an epic match against his old friend and foe Jack Nicklaus, but also for what he showed us over four days in July in 2009, on the same Turnberry course.

Those four days should live forever in the tombs of the greatest feat a golfer ever accomplished. And the Royal and Ancient should accommodate the same grandeur to Old Tom Watson as they did for Old Tom Morris Sr. and the Wee Bobby Jones.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

My Not-So-Deep-Thoughts of a Summer Vacation Morning

As I sit here this beautiful summer morning by the pool, with my black lab Suzy sitting at my feet, I couldn't help but let my mind wander. And it occurred to me that at the age of forty seven, there are so many things about life that I still do not know the answer to. Because I am on vacation today – and my wife is out and about (as we Canadians say), I found myself with the luxury to write some of these questions – and a few observations – down.

These are my own not-so-deep thoughts of a summer vacation morning:

"How is it that a Mom's work is never done, but Dad's Honey-do list has no last page?"

"How come every kid in North America plays or has played soccer over the last thirty years, yet they keep telling me the game will never catch on over here?"

"If Darwinism is a scientific basis for natural evolution and based on the principles of survival of the fittest, then why are kittens so damned cute?"

"How is it possible for a child to move the entire contents of their bedroom into the living room in a matter of minutes, but it takes me an hour to put them back?"

"If we tell our kids that 'no' means no, then why do we answer their unreasonable requests with .. 'We'll see'"

"How come Dads always have to use the downstairs bathroom?"

"How is it that a Mom's work is never done, but Dad gets up at 6:30 every morning?"

"Why did I bother to get the full baseball package when the DVD player and the Wii are hooked up to the same TV as the digital cable box? Did I really think I was going to watch baseball games on the good TV?"

"Why is golf such a waste of time and money, but there is always time for bingo?"

"How come when there is pee on the toilet seat, all the women in my house blame me?"

"Why is it that when Dad watches a movie and one of the characters is a really hot looking woman, Dad gets in trouble … but Mom can read all the trashy Harlequin Romance novels she wants?"

"How can my wife actually know I'm looking at the gorgeous woman walking down the street when she is driving and I'm wearing very dark sunglasses?"

"Why is it okay for me to have a beer after cutting the grass on a hot summer day, but not after three loads of kids laundry on a Sunday morning?"

"Why is it that the sandwich my wife makes me tastes twice as good as the ones I make for myself?"

"Why is it okay to send my daughters to their rooms for a whole afternoon, but when I lock them in a broom closet for ten minutes, the cops show up? Maybe next time I should take their cell phones away first."

"Why hasn't anyone stood up against these evil breakfast cereal manufacturers putting toy surprises in the box?"

"Why does my black lab prefer the water in the toilet bowl to the fresh water in her dog bowl?"

"How come kids can swim in cold water in a swimming pool until their lips turn blue, but you have to drag them kicking and screaming into a bath tub?"

"Why is summer the fastest season to pass, yet winter seems to last half a year?"

"Why does Michael Jackson have more fans than Neal Armstrong?"

"Why hasn't anybody yet invented a Velcro fastener for socks so they stay together when you wash them?"

"Why does my wife insist on planting so many flowers in our gardens that I'm just going kill from neglect anyways?"

"Why aren't there any professional kick-ball leagues?"

"Why is it that the eighty dollar designer sunglasses I just bought are broken or lost within the first day, but the dollar store pair I bought seem to be made of indestructible material?"

"Why do dogs like to eat kitty litter?"

"If cats truly hate water, then why do they keep falling in the toilet bowl?"

"How come when I was eight years old, my Dad wouldn't let me listen to rock-and-roll because it was music for druggies … but he played Johnny Cash's Folsum Prison album so many times I learned all the words to 'Cocain Blues' ?"

"Since getting our energy from the wind is so popular now, why aren't people putting sails on the motor boats?"

"If we are supposed to be moving towards electric cars that we plug into sockets when we come home every night, how come our power grids can't handle the everyone running air conditioners in July?"

" I think they should have a worldwide championship every year for all the professional sports teams of the world to play against each other."

"How come a beer tastes so much better when you're drinking it with a good friend?"

"Why don't people buy designer pool covers so they can find their houses easier when flying in airplanes?"

"If two wrongs don't make a right, then three wrongs should be a ticket-able offense."

"Why do rich people who live on the lake have swimming pools?"

"If the sun generates enough power to heat the entire planet and make the chlorophyll in all the worlds plants make them green, then why are my solar garden lights so dim?"

"Why is it every time I go to professional baseball game, there is a drunk guy in my section heckling the umpire and players? Is there one in every section?"

"Why is it now that the music I listened to as a kid often sounds like music that only a kid would listen to?"

"How come the solar blanket I cover my pool with to heat the water doesn't melt the plastic pole I role it up on when we go swimming on a hot day?"

"If perpetual motion is an impossible feat to achieve under the earth's gravity, then how come the water that flows over Niagara falls never stops?"

"Why is it the cutest moments of you children's young lives occur when you digital camera is broken? "

Monday, July 13, 2009

How Will The Detroit Tigers Do In the Second Half of 2009

It's the All Star break.

The halfway point. The 2009 Major League Baseball season is half over.

And this year – 2009 – just like 2006 and 2007 – my beloved Detroit Tigers are in first place. They a three and a half game lead over the Chicago White Sox, and a four game lead over the Minnesota Twins.

So for this brief break in the season play, it's nice to sit and cherish the moment – but not for too long, both Chicago and Minnesota could pass by the Tigers in a single week.

The Tigers have the schedule on their side for the second half of 2009, but unless the bullpen gets it done, and the bats wake up more often, it will be a very close race right up to the final game in October.

And baseball is a funny game. Any team can win on any given day.

The Tigers as a Team

Q: The Tigers are winning the American League Central, how good are they really doing?

It is true that the American League Central Division is the weakest division in baseball. The Tigers win / loss average right now is .552. If they were in the American League East, they would be in third place behind Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. In the American League West they would be behind the L.A. Angels (of Anaheim) and tied in second place with the Texas Rangers.

So in the American League, the Tigers are tied with Texas as the fourth best team. If they were in the National League, they would be the fourth best team in the National League.

In all of the Major Leagues, the Tigers would be tied for seventh place – again with the Texas Rangers.

The good news is that if they hold on and win the Central Division, they go to the playoffs – and anything can happen in the playoffs.

The bad news is that if they slip even to second place – surpassed by with Chicago or Minnesota – they will likely be out of play offs – because most likely the wild card team will be from the AL Easter division – and New York and Tampa Bay are fighting it out for that spot at the moment.

So – the Tigers are first in the AL Central – but tied for fourth in the American league, and tied for seventh overall in the Major Leagues.

Q: Is that good?

Considering four teams from the American League, and four teams from the National League – eight teams in total – go to the playoffs – so far the Tigers are making the cut. But they are on the outer edge.

Q: Well, are the Tigers any good?

One of the Tiger's most famous managers, Sparky Anderson, used to say he couldn't judge how good his ball team was until they had played forty games. Give a season consists of one hundred and sixty two games, that's nearly the whole first quarter of the season. But here we sit at the half way point. The Tigers of played eighty seven – six games past the halfway mark.

So the second half of the season is actually already under way, and the Tigers have won five of those six games. But those games were played against Kansas City and Cleveland, the two bottom feeders of the AL Central.

So at the halfway mark, I still cannot tell if my Detroit Tigers, leaders of the American League Central, are any good.

Q: How the Tigers stack up against their American League Rivals?

To me, the proof of how good the Tigers have been is how they have played against the four teams ahead of them in the American League. The Red Sox, Yankees, Angels, and the Rangers (whom they are tied with). How did the Tigers fare against these teams?

  • The Tigers were swept by Boston Red Sox – losing all three games. So that's not good.

  • The Tigers won one game and lost two to the Yankees – so that's not so good either.

  • The Tigers won three against the Angels (of Anaheim) and lost three – so that's not good or bad. Home field advantage is the key when these two teams face each other.

  • The Tigers have won all six games they played against the Rangers – two sweeps. So that is very good. I would say that even though their record shows them tied with the Rangers, the Tigers are the better team.

So it sounds like the Tigers are clearly the fourth best team in the American League.

But what about against those other teams in their Division? The Chicago White Sox and the Minnesota Twins? It's more important that they can beat those guys, right?

Well, kind of. Let's see.

Detroit has won four and lost two to the White Sox. And the Tigers have won two and lost four to the Twins. Yet the White Sox are in second place and the Twins are in third place.

In the American League Central, the Minnesota Twins are the team the Tigers have to watch out for - and play their best against. They have to be up for games against Minnesota.

The only conclusion I can make from these team win loss records is that it is more important how the schedule falls. Who you play more often and when?

Any team can beat any other team on any given night.

That's baseball.

So how do the Tigers schedule look for the next half of the season?

  • The Tigers play better at home – at Comerica Park. Their winning percentage at home is quite high.

  • They play six games against the White Sox at home, and only three in Chicago.

  • They play seven games at home against the Twins, and only three games in Minnesota. These will be very important games - at the end of a long season.

  • The last seven games of the Tigers schedule are against Minnesota and Chicago in Detroit at Comerica Park.
So that sounds very promising.

The Tigers Roster

Q: How is Manager Jim Leyland doing?

In my opinion, Jim Leyland - the Skip - has done a very good job in the first half. He has dealt with both expected and unexepected circumstances smoothly. He has made moves to pull runs out of no where, double switching, pinch hitting, and positional changes that have pulled the Tigers through some close games. Some would debate that Leyland has left the odd pitcher in too long, or pulled a pitcher too early, but that - I think - is pure speculation.

Overall I would give Jim Leyland a solid A for the first half of 2009. His intuition and sage like wisdom will again be key in the second half of the season. But the Skip has a habbit of easing up in the second half.

Q: Let's talk about the Tigers players

Things can change very quickly. This is simply assuming the current trends will hold, and they likely will change a bit. Trades will be made in the next several weeks. Contending teams will try to bolters their rosters with pieces they are missing – trading with teams likely out of contention and that need to change direction or ease their payolls.

It would be safe to assume that both Minnesota and Chicago will make a deal in their bid to catch the Tigers. Who knows what those deals will be?

The Tigers also need to make a couple of trades. Who knows if anything will be available though. Their payroll is quite high - half of it spent on the stars that are not performing. So any deal the Tigers would make would likely be minor moves aimed at their weaknesses.

Maglio Ordonez

Tigers superstar Maglio Ordenez is not playing very well at all. Mags has a career average of .310. He is hitting .260 this year. He has never been an outstanding right fielder. He has a strange contract that states if he reaches a certain amount of games played for the Tigers this year, he earns an automatic extension and another 33 million dollars.

The expectation is that Mags has to go. I'm sorry to say that. His quality is still in the upper echelon of baseball, but that damned contract paints the Tigers into a corner that they must … well .. get out of.

My own feeling about Maglio – for what little it's worth - is that a controversy he was caught in the middle of – where he publically supported an unpopular Venezuelan president caused his fellow Venezuelan fans to boo him harshly through this springs World Baseball Classic appearances. Mags batted around .220 in those exhibitions, and that slump carried well into this season. I think that hurt Maglio emotionally, and is a big part of the reason for his slump.

I would hate to see Mags traded to a team and have him come back to beat us, But I also appreciate the fact that his numbers this season do not warrant a 30 million dollar contract extension.

Tigers Pitching

Q: The Tigers have one of the best starting rotations in baseball?

As well, the Tigers starting pitching has been their strongest weapon. Justin Verlander and Edwin Jackson have been spectacular so far. So has rookie phenom Rick Porcello. The fourth starter Armondo Gallarraga has had a bumpier start than his break out rookie season last year, but he could step it up in the second half. Some would say Gallarraga's 2008 break out year was a abnormally high blip - and that in 2009 he has come back down to his expected level. I only hope they are wrong.

The fifth starter, Dontrelle Willis has been a dud since joining the Tigers in 2008. His ERA is 7.49. And so the Tigers basically are stuck with a four man rotation. But now with the rising of Lucas French up from the minor league system – a no decision in his first start – a sixteen inning marathon in Minnesota loss, and a brilliant start in Kansas City that made people take notice - the Tigers might think they now have a five man rotation again.

French will start the first game back from the All Star break against the New York Yankees - in the new Yankee Stadium - a field already known to be a hitters paradise. This may be the best test of French's mettle - and we will know a lot more about French after that start.

Time will tell. But it's unlikely any pitching trades will occur. Perhaps the dismissal of Dontrelle Willis.

Q: Fernando Rodney has never blown a save this year.

The Tigers bullpen has been as much to blame for Tiger losses as the often quiet bats of an explosive Tigers Offense. Fernando Rodney has stepped in to assume the role of closer – and has a perfect save record of 19 – 0, with an ERA of 3.92. That ERA is a bit high for a perfect save record. The news is that in Save situations – Rodney has given up less runs than the Tigers explosive runs have provided as a lead. Every outing is a roller coaster ride, and his record in non-save starts is rather abysmal.

In short, Rodney can get the job done to close a game out when the Tigers are leading into the ninth inning, but he is unlikely to hold the opposition off from scoring to give the Tigers a chance to catch up.

Solution? Only use Rodney in true save situations.

Q: How bad is the Tigers bullpen? That's what everyone nationally wants to know.

Our bullpen needs help.

The only problem is that every team hordes their quality bullpen staff. To acquire from another team means paying costly with talent you already have. The hope is that Joel Zumaya, Ryan Perry, and Fu – Te Ni can raise to the quality Tigers management expect of them.

Bobby Seay, Freddy Dolsi, and Brandon Lyon – on the other hand – have done well to hold up their end of the bullpen, and it is critical they maintain those levels.

So I do not expect to see any big trades for pitching coming, just some shuffling and perhaps a release or minor league repositioning or two.


Q: So Fred, sum this all up – what is your conclusion?

Well, if our quality starters – Cabrera, Laird and Inge can maintain their above normal paces this year, and Granderson, Anderson, Polanco, and Ordonez can raise their games to where they should be – the Tigers regular players will be competitive with any team in the Majors.

As well, if the players trying to stay in the majors from the minor leagues – Raburn, Thomas, Kelly (who might pop back up from Toledo) – can continue to contribute the way they have in the first half of the season, the Tigers chances grow even higher. These guys have played extremely well for the Tigers while regarded as 4A (AAAA) players – too god for the minor leagues but not quite major league material. And this has been a big reason (in my opinion) for the Tigers first half success.

As well, if Verlander and Jackson stay hot and healthy, and Luke French does not get found out, our starting rotation will be among baseballs very best.

But the starters can only be expected to get you six or seven innings in a game. The Tigers bullpen is the key to the second half. If Rodney continues getting saves – in his own roller coaster fashion that would make Todd Jones look dependable – then the Tigers can continue to win games with a lead into the ninth.

But if Joel Zumaya, Zach Minor, and Ryan Perry don't step upon the middle relief roles – the Tigers explosive bats get cancelled very quickly.

But the Tigers have the advantage of the smartest Manager in the American League Central in Jim Leyland. And that again will be worth a couple of close game wins.

I think the key to the second half of the Detroit Tigers second half of the 2009 season is the bullpen, and the often quiet bats of the offense to wake up a bit. There will be something done with Maglio Ordonez, Dontrelle Willis, and most likely a couple of our super 4A role contributors – but who and what that will bring to the Tigers is a crap shoot.

Who knows.

The Tigers have the schedule on their side for the second half of 2009, but unless the bullpen gets it done, and the bats wake up more often, it will be a very very close race right up to the final game in October.

And baseball is a funny game. Any team can win on any given day.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Thank You Bill Huseby

I came home from work Thursday, and like most summer evenings, I grabbed my laptop and my radio and settled down to checking out the baseball stats for the evening. And while I do so, I flipped on the radio to listen to my favorite Detroit sports talk host and columnist – Pat Caputo.

Caputo – or "The Book" as he is better known inspired me to start this blog. I read his daily and comment on it almost every time he puts a new post up. And I think we have kind of become buds of sorts. I do know I would love to have a beer with the guy if the opportunity ever presented itself. A link to Pat's blog is on the left column as "Open Book".

Thursday, Brandon Inge – third basemen for my beloved Tigers – was voted on to the roster of the 2009 All Star team. He was voted in by "the final vote" – screwy system where fans can vote online as many times as they want for the player they want to get in. I had spent the last four evenings at home – tied to the laptop – plugging in votes for Inge. I must have voted a kajillion times.

I figure Inge owes me big time.

So I was happy for Inge. He is one of my favorite players – if not my favorite player – on the Tigers.

And I am not alone. Even though Inge career average is .238, he is a spectacular third baseman. But This year – Inge is hitting in the .280s.

Now this drives The Book nuts. He sees Inge as a mediocre player that fans like me put on a pedestal for no reason. Last year, when the Tigers pitching was so awful, he sarcastically said "hey .. maybe Inge can pitch, and son-of-gun his phone lines lit up with callers thinking the Third basemen who was then catching – could also pitch.

So on this great evening, The Book had started his show congratulating Inge – but before he took a breath he went on to say that by the end of the season, Inges average would be down to .242. I took exception to the back handed compliment and typed a text message in and sent it to the show – basically saying that it wasn't right to degrade a Tiger on the night he gets voted to the all star team.

Then, as I sat to listen to the radio to see if The Book would respond to my text – I checked my email.

That's when I read the email from Robb Irby – Bill Huseby had passed away after a battle with cancer.

Bill had lived two doors over from us when I was a kid living in Lawrenceville, Georgia. His name is kind of sprinkled through various posts on Head Stuffing when I remember my teen age years living on Plantation Court.

In my book, Bill was one of the coolest guys I ever knew. Sorry to use the word cool, but it meant something when I was a kid. And I valued Bill's opinion very much.

I jumped over to Facebook on my laptop – to see what my old Berkmar high school friends from the Class of 1980 were saying. Bruce Thompson had a post stating that we should appreciate our time while we were here, and Tommy Wester posted another tribute to Bill, announcing his passing and honoring him. And the list of classmates adding to the tribute were growing.

I wanted to post something to, but I had only known Bill for the five years we lived in Georgia. The last time I saw anybody there was 1980.

Then I heard the Book on the radio behind me

".. and I have a text message from Fred Brill in Windsor … "he started .. The Books temper starting to flare .. and he read my text in a sarcastically loud way ..

But I was thinking about Bill.

"Fred … Fred! C'mon now Fred ….", finished The Book, and he went to commercial. My favorite sports writer had just yelled at me so the whole town of Detroit could hear. But I didn't care. "Bill wouldn't have cared", I thought. "Bill would have thought it was funny", and I started to laugh to myself as I pictured the Bill I remembered from my youth.

So I started to write my comment into Tommy's tribute for Bill. I don't remember what I wrote – but I remember it was from the heart. I remember stating that Bill and the rest of the guys from the neighborhood were a part of me and were a big part of who I am today.

They are.

And then I sat back and remembered Bill.

I remembered playing football in Bill's back yard shortly after moving to Georgia from Minnesota and trying to fit in. And Bill and the guys welcomed me easily. And how much I appreciated that.

Bill was a leader in that group. And some of the Leadership traits that I have today I adopted from Bill, like how to diffuse a bad situation with humor. And how not to be scared of anybody – even another kids Mom or Dad.

Bill stood up for himself.

I remembered Bill on his Yamaha motorcycle – riding through the woods across the street. Popping wheelies – making jumps – and making it all look easy. And I remembered seeing a picture on Bill had posted of him and his son riding – Bill in what looked like the same riding suit – and you knew it was Bill because it was that same posture – the same silhouette of the guy. That was Bill alright.

I remembered playing pick up basketball in the Livesay's driveway. Bill was the first of us to get a summer and after school job at a car dealership on Peachtree Boulevard.

The other guys in that group were Robby Irby, Mike and Ronnie Lafever, Ken and Chris Stillwell, and John Bartles. The girls in the neighborhood were very pretty – very nice,and just as important and close in our group. Girls like Donna and Debbie Rice, Debbie Smith, Tracy Tomblin, Amy Livesay and Shelly Guyton.

I remembered one day my Dad took a whole bunch of us to a ball diamond he found buried way back in isolated spot – and he got us playing ball. Each of these guys played little league – and some on the high school team. My Dad could always find something to teach a kid about baseball – but when Bill went to the plate – Dad just sat and watched – Bill didn't need any help. He had it right,

When I left to go to University, I fell into another real good bunch of guys. And I fit in really well with those guys. But only because Bill and the guys from Plantation Woods taught me how to be a guy.

Later on that night I sent a twitter message to the Book – in an attempt to make peace with him – about a quote from the movie Bull Durham about the difference between hitting .250 and .300. I thought it an appropriate and humorous attempt to explain Inge's batting average:

"You know what the difference is between hitting .250 and hitting .300? I got it figured out."

"Twenty-five hits a year in 500 at bats is 50 points. Okay? There's six months in a season, that's about twenty five weeks--you get one extra flare a week--just one--a gork, a ground ball with eyes, a dying quail-- just one more dying quail a week and you're in Yankee Stadium!"

The Book tweeted me back to let me know he read my text on the air – and that he agreed the quote was appropriate. I knew it was ok because he used "LMBFAO" in the tweet.

And maybe it's appropriate in life too.

Because being friends with Bill Huseby and the guys from Plantation Woods was a lucky break for me – a break that changed me.

My groundball with eyes.

Twenty nine years later – I still remember that break. And I still appreciate Bill's and the rest of the guys generosity to let me be one of them – even if only for five years.

Rest in peace Bill. And thank you.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

House Full of Kitty

For all the stories that I have written here, I hope I have never left you with the impression that I have any control over the happenings in my home.

Because that just isn't true.

This most recent event makes my point perfectly clear.

I only seem to live here, do the chores my wife tells me, and contribute all my earnings, savings and investments to satisfy the whims of the women who control my home and my life.

I'm not complaining, I am only explaining.

Since my two daughters were very little, I have made up songs and rhymes to entertain them. Bedtime songs, good-morning wake up songs, and songs to keep their attention when we need to be getting ready for school.

One day, the girls were not cooperating when we were doing the morning hair-brushing ritual. Our kitten Skye had just passed away, and the girls were missing her pretty bad.

So I made up a rap song:

I was standing in the bathroom, brushing girlies hair

When I thought I saw a fur ball in the corner over there

Spice Spice Kitty

Spice Spice Kitty

Of course it sounds better when the girls help me with those beat sounds that rappers spit into their microphones:

"phbbb phbbb-phbbb"

I was eating in the kitchen

The Ice creams pretty sweet

When I felt a furry buddy

Rubbing across my feet

Spice Spice kitty, "phbbb phbbb-phbbb"

Spice Spice kitty, "phbbb phbbb-phbbb"

We have a million of these versus because we just make up new ones when we need them. And the girls go into their six and eight year old version of disco-dancing as we literally spit out these tunes.

And the task at hand gets done, and our schedules stay on track.

Spice Spice kitty, "phbbb phbbb-phbbb"

It has been almost a year since our little family lost Skye the kitty.

A couple weeks ago, Dar was talking to one of our neighbors. It seemed that a stray cat – who used to be someone's house cat, delivered a litter of kittens under her back yard porch steps. Dar went over to investigate, and you can probably guess what happened next.

Last week, a tiny little kitten, eight weeks old, white with a solid grey stripe patch down her back and across her mask - like Batman's cowl – arrived in a travel kitty box – and was put into the downstairs bathroom to acclimate to our house.

When I came home, I discovered that our family had again expanded to six and they excitedly introduced me to the new little kitten. She was very friendly, and not very shy. And when we introduced her later to our black lab Suzy, her tail wagging so happy to see a little kitten again and eager to make friends. The kitten did not shy down from Suzy. Her first action was to punch Suzy in the nose with her furry little front right paw. Then she followed it up with a left cross. A nice combination actually.

So the dog and the kitten get along.

We held a contest to determine the kitten's name. Last time, when we held naming vote for Skye, I pulled for the name Buster. But again, I was beaten down by the women in my family. The only name that made sense for this little kitty was, of course, Misty.

"Misty? Why not Spice Spice Kitty?"

No, the way the grey lays over this kitten draping down on her body was like mist on a summer morning. I told Alannah, our eight year old who last year named Skye, that again she came up with a great name. The other name Ashley-Rae came up with was "Niblets" – which I also thought was good.

So now our little family had increased again from five to six.

Misty had the run of the house to herself. She played tag with Suzy, punching her in the nose and running away, Suzy clomping after her with tail wagging.

All the while, Darlene kept talking about the other kittens of the litter that had not yet been taken. And I took it just to be that, just conversation – and she suggested to her Dad that he take one.

After returning to work last week, I came home the Monday night, and Ashley-Rae and Alannah came to me to talk about how one of brothers was coming over to visit the next day. Apparently m lovely wife Darlene was scheming her way to get the second kitty into the house.

"Misty is so lonely ..", my lovely wife Darlene started.

"No she's not, she plays with Suzy", I retorted.

"It's not the same …", she continued. " … she needs a kitten to be best friends with."

"No", I said and went back to doing the Sudoku in the paper.

Shortly after, the girls came to me. They started telling me how scared they were for the little boy kitty.

"What if nobody takes him Daddy?" said Ashley-Rae – sincerely worried for a kitten she had never met.

"The kitty will be fine", I said in my best Daddy reassuring voice.

"But what if they take to Humin Siety?"

"Well … ", I had no answer.

They sat there with her saddest eyes. The expression on Alannah 's face reinforced her sister's position.

"You would have to call her Spice Spice kitty", I joked – trying to break the tension. But instead what I unwittingly did was agree to a second kitty.

The girls both turned and ran into the house to find Mommy. I still had not realized what I had done.

My lovely wife Darlene came out about twenty minutes later. She leaned over and kissed me on the cheek as I was still absorbed in my Sudoko puzzle.

"I can't believe you agreed!", she said, looking at me with love in her eyes.


"I just called Suzanne and told her you said it was ok …" she continued.

"You what …?"

"… so tomorrow morning she is bringing Spice over …."

Ah crap. That was my moment of realization. I have to stop making jokes.

So now Spice is downstairs in the bathroom, like Misty was two weeks ago. And son-of-a-gun, Spice is a girl kitty too.

So now I am the only male in a house of six females.

Ah crap.

And now our little family has expanded from six to seven.

But I don't think Misty is too happy about it all. I think she does not like Spice moving into her new territory. Every time I take Misty in to the downstairs bathroom to visit Spice, Misty goes up to Spice, and gives her the left-jab-right-cross combination. And Spice sits back on her haunches and hisses at Misty.

That's Spice's Sister. And Spice hasn't even met Suzy the black lab yet.

So here I sit on my back patio again. Suzy laying by my feet on the deck – unaware a second kitten is in the downstairs bathroom.

I have lost another battle. I have again demonstrated my lack of contol in my own home.

And now I have a house full of kitty.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Remembering My Golf Lesson From A Shark

Last week I had the opportunity to play eighteen holes of golf with my next door neighbor.

Mark shoots commonly in the low seventies.

Or so he told me.

He made a believer out of me on the first hole, driving the ball out about 300 yards down the middle, and his approach put him in good birdie position.

"Okay", I said to Mark and the two other fellows the starter paired us with. "I believe ya".

You knew Mark took the game seriously when you saw him. Dressed to the nines and another new set of irons, it was easy to see he loved the game like I do.

But I am still playing the same Lynx Master irons my brother Paul bought for me in Baton Rouge in 1982. And I still play persimmon woods – Wilson Staff's – except I do play a driver I won for closest to the pin in a tournament a couple of years ago.

I played pretty crappy the first nine, as my tee shots left me in trouble – and I kept trying to save the hole by playing recovery approach shots from behind trees, deep roughs and the edges of water hazards. But on the back nine, I found my drive – hitting the fairways on each of the par four and fives.

And I shot two over par on the back.

As we were having a drink in the clubhouse – we got to talking about the most interesting people we ever picked up with on a golf course. And I started thinking about the guy who joined up with me one round playing Carriage Hills.

I was down staying with my Mom for a couple of weeks in the early nineties. Her backyard is the twelfth green, and to the side of her apartment is the thirteenth tee. I called the clubhouse and told them I was starting on thirteen and would play the whole eighteen holes back to Mom's apartment at the twelfth hole.

The green on thirteen is hidden at the bottom of a hill, and you can drive the green, so you wait at the tee until the players ahead of you ring the bell. While I was waiting, a big old boy in a pink golf shirt, straw hat and plaid pants walked up to the tee. He was in his mid-forties, and he looked like he had slept in his clothes. His skin was bright red brown – a weathered tan that was maintained by constant golf in the direct sun of northern Florida. His hair was a straw like blond, and his smile was sincere – and accentuated by the heavy worn lines on his weathered face.

"Y'all mind if I join ya?" he asked. "I'll try not to hold ya up much".

"Not at all", I replied, stuck my hand out and shook his monster sized paw. "I'll more than likely slow you down instead".

At this time I was just barely in my thirties and still in fairly good shape. I considered myself to be street smart and savvy, having spent time a good deal of my younger years in downtown New Orleans and the French Quarter – I had seen my share of scams and shysters.

This guy was a golfer – a good golfer. I looked over to the parking spot by my Mom's apartment and saw an old Cadillac convertible – top still down – and knew that is what this fellow arrived at the course in. His bag was a black leather tour bag with brass fittings, but well worn like an old leather coat, with more wrinkles than his leathered face. This guy was a shark – I guessed he had won that bag - and I knew what was coming next.

"Check out that classic Caddy over there", I said – just to make sure. "That's a beaut, eh?".

"Thanks, it's mine", said the shark. "I was parked there and saw ya playing alone. I hope ya don't mind".

"Not at all, my Ma lives there and I'm visiting, so I just stepped out here to start myself".

"Y'all Canadian?"

"Yup, just down for a visit." I replied. "Are you from around here?"

"Nope, just passin through".

The bell beside the hidden green at the bottom of the hill rang to signal we could play.

"Y'all wanna make this interesting?" he asked.

"Oh I think it'll be interesting enough. I don't bet, sorry, but I'll certainly do my best to give you a good match if that's ok with you."

The Shark smiled and nodded. He knew I knew and he said, "Ok, let's go have some fun then."

He gave me the honors and I stepped up to the tee and used my three wood to tap my drive down the middle. I watched my ball clear the crest of the hill – knowing it would roll down the hill to a spot where I would only be chipping to the green.

"Glad y'all ain't a betting man." He said – rather patronizingly. He stepped up to the tee with a three iron, looked at me and said, "You gotta play a cut fade into this green to get it to hold".

His swing was smooth and controlled; the ball flew to the left of where the green would be at the bottom of the hole, and started cutting back to the hole as it sunk below the crest of the hill.

As we cleared the crest of the hill, his ball was sitting pin high to the right of the hole, a ten foot putt for birdie. My ball was sitting at the mouth of the hole – in the little opening five yards shy of the fringe. We congratulated each other and marched down the hill to the green. I chipped to with three feet of the hole, and the Shark's putt lipped out from the high side.

As we played each of the next holes, the Shark started having more fun. He started hitting trick shots, teeing off with a nine iron and going for the green with a three wood, or putting himself behind a tree and shaping his low recovery shot to draw around the tree running low and chasing up to the center of the green. He took great joy in calling each shot – like a pool shark calling a double railed shot on the eight nicking the nine as it falls in the side pocket.

The Shark was indeed a shark. And he was having a ball showing me his shots. And I was having a ball watching him make them. I made a big deal about each shot he called and made. It was like being treated to my own private carnival show. I had seen Moe Norman once in London do trick-shots, and I think this guy was just as good. The Shark was doing his tricks on the course – in the context of the hole, and pulling them off.

As we came off of eighteen, still with thirteen holes to play before we're done, I went into the clubhouse to pay. The guys in the clubhouse knew the Shark, and asked me how much I was into him for. I lied and told them he had me for forty-five bucks so far, but I would catch him on the back. I paid for his round and mine – it was only seventeen bucks – and lied and said that would make up for some of what I lost to the Shark.

"He'll take every penny you got, son – walk away now", said the senior pro. "Don't make me call yer mama!"

I smiled and walked back out. I told the Shark I bought his green fee, and he handed me a cold beer. "Yeah, they know me here", he said.

I told him about what they told me and that I told them I was into him for forty-five bucks so far.

"That's all?" he smiled and laughed. "Thanks, for keeping up my reputation, but by now I would have had a couple hundred off ya!"

I raised my eyebrow at him and he nodded like I should know it was true and that I should count my lucky stars.

As we teed off the back, the Shark started watching me play. I was doing really good – a couple birdies a couple of bogeys and I was scoring really well. Mainly because I was watching him. But I played a straight ball. I aimed point to point and if I got behind something I couldn't shape a shot around it.

We walked off the twelfth green and sat down on my Mom's back patio. I went inside and got us both a beer. And I told him what a real pleasure it was to get such a lesson.

"The lesson ain't over yet" he said. "Grab your clubs, let's go".

He threw my clubs in the back seat of the old Cadillac – socks and shoes and shirts and golf gloves littered the back seat floor. He opened the trunk to put his clubs in, and there was an open suitcase with more stuff laying all about. He did indeed live in this car.

He pulled into a driving range a couple blocks away. He told me to go down to the end of the row of tee boxes, and he came out a few minutes later – chatting with the head of the range, and he was carrying two large buckets of balls.

The range pro sat on a bench a few spots down from us to watch. The Shark took my five iron from my bag and started my lesson.

"This is the only club you should ever practice with" he said – showing me the number five on the bottom of my club. "If you can master this club, you have mastered all your clubs."

"What about my woods, my driver?", I asked.

"It's the same swing". That's all he said.

I hit five or six balls, nice and solid, proud of each one.

"Not bad, now move the ball to the back of your stance. You want to pinch this ball with this club into the ground like squeezing a watermelon seed to shoot it".

He could see I didn't catch on, so he took my five iron from me, put the ball at the back of his stance, and came down on the ball as he said he would – squishing the ball into the ground. A good sized divot of grass – like a beaver's tail flew up from the ground.

The range pro said nothing, he just sat there watching.

The ball took off low, and rose up high in mid flight. The ball hit the ground and spun backwards.

"You just bit and spun back with my five iron!" I said. "Wow!"

He handed me my club back. "Yup, now you do it".

My first attempts simply rolled across the ground, but the shark didn't say anything, he just put another ball on the ground for me to hit each time. Finally I hit it right, like spanking the ball on the butt, it squished into the ground and made a whistling sound as it spit out low, climbed high, hit the ground, and spun backwards. A beaver-tail-divot landed two yards in front of me.

"Wow", I said looking up at the Shark.

"Atta boy", said the Shark. "Do it again".

I did it over and over again until I could do it consistently. The last one, the ball hit the ground and pulled back like a yo-yo on a string.

"Now let's learn how to draw a ball", and he put the ball more to the front of his stance, turned his hands over one knuckle and spanked it again making the ball do a slight draw. He took another ball, put it in the same place and turned his hands over two knuckles, and increased the degree of the draw.

You do it now.

He then taught me how to do a cut fade, a low runner, and how to flip a five iron with your wrists to act like a sand-wedge.

When we got to the end of the second bucket, the Shark smiled at me and said "There ya go".

There was barely a spot of grass in that tee box that had not been carved out as a beaver-tail-divot.

The range pro got up from the bench and walked by himself back into the trailer.

"I don't know what to say", I started, shaking his hand and saying thank you way too many times.

"You got the idea now", he said. "Now you just gotta play a lot, and learn how and when to use each one. Remember it's the exact same swing for every club. Practice it".

He dropped me back at my Ma's apartment, and simply said, "See ya around".

I never saw the Shark again.

I looked for him each day I had left staying at my Mom's. I went back to that range each day to practice what he showed me, each time the range pro just smiled to acknowledge he witnessed my experience with the Shark. I tried to reproduce everything the Shark showed me, but the results were never as good as while the Shark was there.

When I got back home to Canada, playing with my buddies in London, I tried to tell them all about this experience with the Shark, and I tried to show them what I was talking about, but their interest was little.

I still remember everything I learned from the Shark that day, although I have never mastered it. But I still know how to make a ball land and bite, and can do it consistently with my six iron through to my sand wedge. I understand it, even though I haven't mastered it.

I still play with my old Lynx Master irons. I still play with my old persimmon Wilson Staff woods.

And every time I go to the driving range – which I admit is not very often – I only use my five iron. And I go through the sequence that the Shark showed me.

And since that lesson with the Shark, I have won way more than my share of closest-to-the-pin competitions in tournaments. But I still shoot in the mid-to-upper eighties, simply because I can't always hit a good tee shot.

And I'll always remember the Shark.

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