If we had 2 million dollars ...

So Bernie Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison today ...leaving his wife with some $2 million ...

Must be nice.

Upon hearing this last night, Kates and I started musing about some of the things we could do if we had $2.5 million ...

... Pay off our house.
... Replace the windows and siding on our house.
... Get air-conditioning.
... Buy new computers ... for both of us.
... Pay off our credit cards.
... Pay for Phoebe's college.
... Gift some of the money to our family and church.
... And we'd still have money left over to take that trip to Paris we've always wanted.

Barenaked Ladies: What a good time

After a scrumptious breakfast with homemade French toast, I spent much of Saturday enjoying the gorgeous weather and doing yard work. Then, we were off to a family member’s graduation party. And we capped the night with a stop to see …

(angel chorus)

Canada's coolest rockers …

No. Not Nickelback. Ugh. Please.

(angel chorus again)

Barenaked Ladies at Summerfest.

I know, I know. I told friends early and often I didn’t think it would be worth the trip to see BNL. They haven’t had a hit on the radio in years. Steven Page’s distinct singing voice and personality left the group earlier this year. The Barenaked Ladies have fallen off the Top 40 radar.

But as the date approached, and the lineup for this year’s Summerfest got bleaker, I warmed up to the idea of seeing BNL doing some good, old-fashioned rock music again. Besides, I also was looking for some redemption from the poor experience Kates and I had seeing Barenaked Ladies in Kansas City during their “Maroon” heyday.

Of that performance, I wrote this in a 2007 post ...

... we got VIP tickets for a Barenaked Ladies concert. The sponsor advertised all the goodies -- great seating, no waiting for beer or bathrooms, yada yada, yada … But it ended up being one of the worst concert experiences of my life. The VIP seating was located behind a chain link fence to the right of the stage and half of the band's instruments and equipment obstructed our view. Sure, there were no lines for beer and bathrooms, but you still had to pay $6 for the beer and we’re still talking port-a-potties ...
After a long, drawn-out goodbye at the graduation party and finally getting Phoebe situated to go home for the night with Grandma and Grandpa, we got to the Summerfest grounds at around 9 Saturday night, about an hour later than I had hoped … We passed through the turnstiles as The Briggs Bluesbusters were pumping out their classic show-finisher, “Like A Rolling Stone;” I had been hoping to arrive early enough to catch a few songs from their set, but it wasn’t to be.

Already, the benches were packed and there wasn’t an open patch anywhere. Orrin and Kelli joined up with us and we settled for a standing spot on one of the front rows of picnic tables. Not ideal, but it would have to do.

(For the uninitiated, the benches are the ideal viewing level for Summerfest shows. The picnic tables set up behind the benches are the next best spot. And if you can’t find room on either of those, you might as well give up trying to see anything and head to the bar post where all you can do is listen to the music.)

The hour between the time we arrived and the time the Barenaked Ladies took the stage seemed like an entire night. A light rain fell as we watched some lightning flash in the distance behind the stage. And, inevitably, we were sharing the picnic table with a couple of inebriated 19-year-old guys who thought it was cool to dress and act like gangstas at a Barenaked Ladies concert.

At exactly 10, the band – now a quartet – arrived on stage. Even after seeing the band once before and following them pretty closely over the years, I had absolutely no idea of what to expect from their show …

Then, they burst into “Get In Line” and I knew immediately we had made the right decision to come …

Sure, the gangstas in front of us never stopped moving and annoyed us throughout the show. Sure, the weather and our viewing spot weren’t ideal. Sure, we could barely make out a lot of the group’s onstage banter over the crowd's talking. Sure, Steven Page was glaringly absent at times …

But the music sounded just as tight and youthful as it always has. Guitarist/keyboardist Kevin Hearn did such a fantastic job filling Page’s void that – unless you’re a follower of them – you’d never notice the difference.

After “Get In Line,” they doled out “Old Apartment” (one of my BNL faves), along with “Maybe Katie” and “Testing 1, 2, 3.”

A little boredom set in about a third of the way through the show as the group introduced some new songs – “How Long,” “Summertime” and “Another Heartbreak,” according to the group’s blog post about the show. And, like I said, it was becoming increasing harder, and frustrating, to decipher their banter in between songs. … Nevertheless, their good-humored improv abilities seemed on par. At one point, lead singer Ed Robertson mused about his urban planning abilities and took credit for building the overpass that infamously runs over the Briggs & Stratton stage to protect us from the rain. Of course, the group went on to play a song about it, too.

Thankfully, they got back to playing the hits.

They country-fied my other favorite BNL song, “One Week” – complete with a “Dueling Banjos” riff in the middle and a fun play on the “Chinese chicken” lyric that made it sound like a broken record …

The band was noticeably ditching the Steven Page-led songs until Ed Robertson mused to the crowd, “You know how you get a new car and people say, ‘Hey, you got a new car!’ but it’s not really new. Or when you get a new bike, but it’s not really a new bike. Well, we’re going to play a new song for you that’s not really new, but it’s new to me!” He said the last part with this wide-eyed exuberance and I immediately started thinking “Oooh, a cover song!?” … Instead, the band broke into “Too Little Too Late” – a song that had been sung by Page, and I quickly understood Robertson’s logic. Again, the song sounded too good to care about the difference; it was just as fun to sing along as it’s always been.

They followed with Kates’s favorite “Falling for the First Time” and the popular “Pinch Me.” … Here’s some good video from the performances via YouTube, including Robertson’s how-to-invade-Canada lead-in to “Falling” …

The guys ended the first part of their set with the crowd favorite and a great sing-along, “If I Had $1,000,000.” For the song, Hearn once again stepped up to the mic to fill Page’s shoes and do the song’s signature banter with Robertson. They also pleasured the Milwaukee crowd by inserting the lyric “I would buy you a Harley.”

For the encore, the band topped off the show with a couple more songs and ended the night with a refreshing rendition of “What a Good Boy,” another song Robertson noted was “new,” but not really new.

I hadn’t realized “Brian Wilson,” arguably BNL’s most popular song, hadn’t made an appearance in the show until a couple of the kids standing near us shouted out the title during the encore …

But it didn’t matter to me. It was a good show.

Here's a good pre-show story from the Journal-Sentinel: Barenaked Ladies snack on kids' music

And here's a good post-show interview with local radio DJ Van McNeil ...


Game 6: Windy City

We won again today.

That’s three in a row for us and puts our record at 4-2 for the season, good enough for a solid fourth place among the 10 teams in our league. For the record, we suffered our two losses to the top two teams – which are 6-0 and 5-1, respectively – and we have yet to see the third place team, which lost 28-6 today to that 6-0 team. Yikes!

Although, we did come frighteningly close to handing an 0-4 team its first win today …

The wind was whipping, straight out toward the right field corner. And where I was playing in right, it felt like I was standing in the path of a tornado. I couldn’t hear a thing because the wind was blowing through my ears like a freight train, and I could barely see a thing with all the dust kicking up in my eyes. … I didn’t pick up the only ball hit in my direction until it was over the first baseman and bouncing in front of me.

Our opponent crossed four runs in the top of the first inning, but luckily our bats were more potent today – and the windy conditions helped turn the game into a slugfest. We came right back with seven runs in the bottom of the first inning and stayed ahead until the final inning.

In my first at-bat in the first inning, I hit a hot shot right at the second baseman. But he made a good play on it and tossed the ball to second base for a force-out and the final out of the frame … Then, in my second at-bat, I slapped a ground ball down the third base line for a single and an RBI. And later, I hit a line drive down the right field line for a single and two RBIs. A 2-for-3 day with three RBIs, two runs scored and no strikeouts – I’ll take it.

Heading into the final inning, we were ahead 14-11. Our shortstop moved to the pitcher’s mound, and I replaced him in the infield … We gave up a few solid hits, made a couple defensive miscues and pretty soon, we were tied at 14.

Still, heading back to the dugout for the bottom of the last inning, I don’t think there were any doubts we’d put the game away …

Sure enough, the opposing pitcher loaded the bases with no outs. They made a pitching change, and the first ball the reliever threw was in the dirt. Ball got past the catcher. Runner on third base scores standing up …

We win.


The way he made us feel

I can’t seem to get Michael Jackson songs out of my head this morning …

While I was in the shower it was “I Want You Back.” Once I was at work this morning it was “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.” And at some point it changed to “The Way You Make Me Feel,” which I just heard on the radio as I was driving home. … The songs are playing over and over in my head like a skipping jukebox.

In the meantime, I’m watching my Twitter feed go crazy with tributes coming in from all the big stars

Years from now, we’ll be sitting around a table somewhere and the subject will come up: Where were you when you heard the news that Michael Jackson had died? A few of us had barely arrived in the newsroom this morning and that conversation was beginning.

It already had been a newsy day yesterday. Third day of this crazy heat wave. Power was knocked out in the center of the city when a crow flew into a bunch of wires and blew a fuse. Farah Fawcett died …

Late in the afternoon, I was home, listening to some music and getting ready to meet some friends at a retirement party when I checked my e-mail and saw the first news alerts that Jackson had been taken to the hospital. My first thought was Really!? Suicide, maybe? … The jaded journalist in me thought, Here the big entertainment media go again, breaking a story too early when Michael probably has just a bad cough. But there was another part of me that thought, Whoah, this could be it.

By the time I’d arrived at the party, the TVs were tuned to CNN and their headlines said Jackson was in a coma. As more people arrived, there were rumblings that Jackson had died …

I couldn’t stay at the party much more than a half hour because Kates had a church thing at 6 and I was on Phoebe-sitting duty. I got in the car to drive home. The radio was playing “Billie Jean.” Then the DJ came on and confirmed Michael Jackson had been declared dead …

Back at home, I was paying more attention to the news rambling and the footage of fans gathering at the hospital than I was to feeding Phoebe … After awhile, I turned it off to play with Phoebe, read her bedtime stories and put her to bed. But after that, my attention was devoted to the special edition “NBC Dateline.”

I’ve been racking my brain to come up with a list of my top five Michael Jackson songs … I start with “I Want You Back” and “Black or White,” and “The Way You Make Me Feel.” But then I think about “Human Nature” and “Man in the Mirror” and “Wanna Be Starting Something.” And pretty soon I throw my hands in the air thinking, I can’t do it! There’s just so many of them

Like every other child of the ’80s, Michael Jackson has been a vivid part of my consciousness for as far as I can remember. I’ve long considered myself a big fan of his music – not the kind you always see sobbing and fainting over the very sight of him getting out of a car, but big enough that I’m not afraid to blare his albums (I have most of them, along with Jackson 5: The Ultimate Collection) or attempt to dance like him in front of (close) friends …

Sure, he made us roll our eyes more than a few times in recent years with his eccentricities – stuff I never paid much attention to – but when it came to the music, no one could do it better than Michael. The jaw-dropping dance moves. The smiles he brought to our faces with his funky grooves and singable choruses.

The way he combined R&B with soul and rock to produce the perfect blend of pop music is unmistakable. All of his albums are, at the very least, better than average … and “Thriller” is a classic, period. Practically every song on that album is a hit …

More than once last night, I thought about how excited I was a couple weeks ago to get a copy of “Thriller” on vinyl, at a garage sale for a buck. Since I started collecting vinyl albums a couple years ago, I had been on a mission to find a good-conditioned copy of “Thriller.” … As soon as we got home, I set Side 2 of the album on the turntable and Kates and I spent several minutes bopping around our basement as Phoebe stood and bounced to the beats with us -- “Beat It,” “Billie Jean,” “Human Nature” “PYT” … I won’t soon forget how fun those moments were ...

Other memories drifting through my mind include watching the “Thriller” and “Smooth Criminal” videos on MTV with my uncle and cousins. How my elementary school art teacher had us watch the “Leave Me Alone” video as the basis for an art project. How my brother and I nearly wore out his “Dangerous” cassette tape during the summer of ’92. And how I bought the “HIStory” album the week of its release in Summer ’95.

Perhaps my most enduring Michael Jackon memory is watching the Jackson 5 30th Anniversary reunion special several years ago with a bunch of friends in our college newspaper office … I’ll never forget that night, how at 20 years old, seeing all those dance moves and the songs performed again, transported us back to days when we were 8 or 9 and watching him on MTV. How every little move excited us and how we couldn't turn away from watching him. ... I'm giddy now just watching the video again on YouTube.

Surfing the Internet ...

Time’s got a list of Top 10 MJ moments ...

Here’s full coverage from the NY Times ...

The Washington Post also has a look back on some of its coverage through the years:

Here’s a good read: The Culture: Long Before 'Thriller,' Jackson Shattered Racial Barriers

Here's an interesting story about how the news broke ...


Summer means fun

It’s that time of year again, folks.

What did I call it last year? Oh yes, “The Good Times Tour.”

It’s that glorious 10-day span of every summer where the weather is perfect — not to hot, not too cold (I say that as we reached a record-high 91 degrees yesterday and we're experiencing another scorcher today). The colors in our yard are bursting. I celebrate a birthday. We gather with friends and family for Fourth of July festivities. And of course — cue the angel chorus — there's Summerfest.

The Big Gig begins tomorrow, baby. My tickets and enough parking passes — so that this year I don’t have to endure any boisterous, drunken, post-concert shuttle rides with the teenie-bopper/frat boy crowd — are in hand.

But then again, I’m feeling the least excited about this year’s Summerfest that I’ve felt in my entire Summerfest-going history.

Maybe it’s me getting older, becoming a father, having more responsibilities at home and not feeling as connected with the said teenie-bopper/frat boy crowd as I once used to. Maybe it’s the stress and crazy hours of my work-life these days. Maybe it’s just that the whole shine of Summerfest isn’t what it used to be for me ...

I really hope, though, that my lacking excitement has to do with this year’s less-than-stellar lineup ...

There’s only a couple bands I’d go to see — hands-down, no re-thinking needed — Guster and Shiny Toy Guns, who happen to be playing on the same night.

Now, I’ve been wanting/trying to see Shiny Toy Guns for two or three years, but every time they’ve come around they’re playing at the same time as another band I’m more interested in seeing, or their show is canceled ...

But Guster, over the last few years, has become one of my favorite bands in the world. I’ve seen them three times (2 1/2 times if you consider the night I decided to bug out because I wasn’t having any fun) and they remain super entertaining in my eyes. I also adore their music, packed with their sunbathed harmonies, singable melodies and Brian Rosenworcel’s percussion-playing.

Thus, Guster gets the nod over Shiny Toy Guns ... Sounds stupid, I know. Why go for a band I’ve seen multiple times when I could see a band I’ve been wanting to see for years? I guess it’s the comfort of being pretty sure I’m going to enjoy Guster, I'm pretty sure I'll get my money's worth, and Guster, over the last few years, has become one of my favorite bands in the world.

Few others on this year’s Summerfest lineup caught my eyes ...

... Barenaked Ladies ... But they haven’t had a hit in years. And with Steven Page departed, there appears to be a huge hole in their lineup ...

... Sister Hazel or Blues Traveler ... If this was 2000, I’d be all over it. But I’ve seen both a couple times and don’t have an urge to see them any time soon.

... Erin McCarley / Brett Dennen / Mat Kearney ... An intriguing list of up-and-comers playing back-to-back-to-back. But I've seen Brett and Mat, and the combo isn't enough to give up a couple extra hours of sleep and still get up by 4 the next morning.

... Train ... Kates and I thought about hitting them up again. But neither of us wanted to run the risk of devaluing their show a couple year ago — which we still regard as one of the best we’ve ever seen.

And the Marcus Lineup ... Last year’s lineup was stacked with greats; this year, eh. Bon Jovi — though I wouldn’t mind seeing him once — seems to come every year. Counting Crows, I’ve seen them. The Fray, seen them twice, not a fan. Bob Dylan — can’t stand his singing — with Willie Nelson, not interested. Stevie Wonder, saw him last year and I'm afraid of trying to top that. No Doubt, glad their reunited but they’ve never sounded good to me live, plus it's the same night as Guster. And Kiss, thanks but not a bit interested.

Ah, who am I kidding? I’m going to Summerfest and I'll have a ton of fun hearing music and taking in the scenery. Just like I do every summer ...

Movie Review: 'Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen'

... I wasn't even remotely interested in seeing the first Transformers film. Even the trailers, I thought, looked awful ... So, of course, I've been wondering for weeks as the trailers for the sequel rolled out, why?

Thus, this piece this morning on the Washington Post gave me a good chuckle ...

With its fascist sensibility, assortment of smutty asides, illiterate gold-tooth-wearing homie robots and the hero's brainless mother, much of "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" is simply despicable. So complaining about one's physical discomfort seems petty. But given the relentless din, the Leni Riefenstahl-inspired music and the headache-inducing visuals, OSHA should probably be investigating the conditions under which human beings made this thing. Or the conditions under which they watch it.
EW.com also has this.


Game 5: Happy Father's Day

My Father's Day began this morning with my eyes opening around 8:30 and the sight of Kates carrying a tray of breakfast to me in bed, with Phoebe shuffling and giggling into the bedroom behind her ... It was priceless.

I got to enjoy a breakfast in bed, while watching the sports channels... Then, I joined Kates and Pheebs in the living room as we read, watched more TV and Phoebe played...

It was the perfect start to the morning -- especially after the drama of the storms on Thursday and Friday nights ... With more tornado warnings, damaging thunderstorms and flash floods sweeping through the area Friday night, we resorted to spending the night in the basement...

When we awoke on Saturday, the house was still standing, so I guess that was good ... But some parts of our basement carpeting were considerably damp, leaving us to spend much of Saturday drying the place out.

As we talked to friends and neighbors, though, we decided we're some of the lucky ones. With the deluge of rain we got over the course of the two nights, it would be a feat for anyone who didn't have water in their basements. ... News stories have reported streets and properties that were so flooded, the water was crashing through basement windows. And the photo on the front page of the newspaper today shows a county highway that is completely washed out, its pavement suspended over a 5-foot hole like a bridge ...

Today's weather is muggy and humid. The kind where the weight of the air makes you feel like a sponge ...

Perfect weather for playing baseball ...

* * *

Another game, another win today. A solid team effort. A 11-8 win …

Though we did almost give it away at the end. We went into the eighth inning carrying a 10-3 win and let five runs score, making the score 10-8. We tacked on one more in the top of the ninth, and then tried to hold on in the ninth … They loaded the bases and brought the winning run to the plate with no outs, but our pitcher got out of it with two strikeouts and a ground out to save the game.

After my troubles the last few weeks -- troubles only to me, really, because I put so much pressure on myself to perform -- I was moved down in the order to the seventh spot. I also was positioned in right field for the second straight week. … Immediately after learning my spot, though, the pressure of leading off was gone. I could study the pitcher for a few at-bats and feel comfortable in my first at-bat.

They got on the board and quickly put us down, 0-3. But we came back in our half of the second, batted around in the order and crossed seven …

In my first at bat, I came to the plate with runners on first and third and one out. I quickly got ahead 2-0 on a couple of low pitches, and then took a strike right down the middle. Then, I swung and missed a curve -- typical -- for a 2-2 count … So now the pitcher’s got me thinking, Great, he saw how badly I looked on that pitch, and now he knows I can’t hit the curve. I gotta be ready if he brings it again …

I started telling myself, sit back and wait on it, sit back and wait on it, and watched for the next pitch …

It was a fastball. Letters-high. It looked good. I swung … And connected solidly. The ball shot through the middle of the field for a line drive into center field. One run scored; the other runner reached third …

It was as clean of a hit as I’ve had thus far, and it felt really good. So good that I swore I heard The Natural theme music as I rounded first base. Seriously.

So now I had my hit for the day. I was psyched and really into the game…

After watching a couple pitches at first base, I realized the pitcher was hardly paying attention to me. I figured, There’s a runner on third base, there’s one out, second base is wide open for my taking … On the 3-1 pitch, I took off and slid in safely. Stolen base. … I scored a couple pitches later.

We had our chances during the ensuing innings but failed to get anything across … I reached base again in the fourth inning on a fielder’s choice and reached third base on a couple passed balls, but didn’t score.

In my last at-bat in the seventh, I popped up to the pitcher. Ugh … But I got another chance on the base paths that same inning when I had to pinch-run for our catcher who was planted on first base (Under our league rules, if the catcher is on base with two outs, the last batter to record an out can pinch-run for the catcher). … With two outs, the batter launched one to left field, and I was off at the crack of the bat. By the time I hit third base, I was flying. I scored standing up … Man did that base-run feel good.

Getting the win felt good, too.


Rattle and hum

So my day’s gone a little something like this …

At 12:31 a.m., I reached for my cell phone -- which I religiously keep at my bed side at night -- and looked at the clock. Seeing the time, I thought, Hmm, I wonder why my alarm didn’t go off. … Then I grabbed the clothes I set out for the day and headed to the bathroom to shower and get ready for work.

But I looked at my cell phone clock once more and realized the time read 12:31 … Not 2:31, the time that I actually had planned to get out of bed. My eyes had completely missed that first one.

So I returned to bed.

Still, at about that same time, there was some rumbling outside and lightning was flashing in the windows. The big thunderstorm weather forecasters had predicted for us was arriving right on time.

By the time my head hit the pillow again, the storm had fully arrived and mind-numbing thunder was crashing all around our house. Kates got up to use the bathroom about an hour later and discovered our power was out. Neither of us barely got a wink of sleep the rest of the night.

Phoebe, as usual, was out like a log.

At 2:15, my alarm did go off -- as it was supposed to -- and I started getting ready for work a second time … Interestingly, the lack of power in our house hardly deterred me. With the way our bathroom is designed, there was just enough light showing in our bathroom window and reflecting off our lightly-colored walls for me to take a shower -- the flashing lightning was a bonus. Then, I strapped on one of our headlamps to grab some breakfast (breakfast bars from the pantry, since we needed to keep the refrigerator cold and closed), put in my contacts and brush my teeth.

My only other challenge was manually opening and closing the garage door as I left the house.

By 3:15 a.m., I was on the clock and officially working … Why so early today? I was on a special assignment -- which I’ve racked up as another incredible experience -- but it was a classified operation that I can’t report for another few weeks.

At around 6 a.m., I was taking my seat in the office … only to find that our computer system was down. No doubt, there was much to report from the massive storm that had passed over us, but I couldn’t even start a document to do the writing, let alone post it to our Web site. So I made a wake-up call to our tech guy.

In the meantime, I started making the calls and learned firefighters had been working reports of lightning damage since 1:30, and they were still going steady. The electric company was trying to fix about 200 customers in the city -- 27,000 in the region -- who didn’t have power, with the epicenter -- get this -- on our street … Kates would tell me later that when she got up at one point she saw a lightning strike in front of our house and sparks flying from a fuse box.

Kates also was calling me with updates from home … The power at our house was restored around 8 o’clock -- just after she had loaded Phoebe in the car and taken a trip to the grocery store to buy her fresh milk for breakfast. And got a wicked blister on her finger as she closed the garage door.

Back in the office, our computer problems were fixed -- for the time being -- and I was leaving and beginning my weekend at about 10:40 this morning.

When I arrived home, the rain had resumed and skies were getting dark again. Kates had barely started giving Phoebe lunch when the tornado sirens started blaring, and down we moved to the basement. We set up Phoebe’s hi-chair over a flattened cardboard box so she could finish eating and not mess up our carpet.

We haven’t had any rain for a couple hours now. But here we sit. Kates reading. Phoebe playing and exploring. Me writing. And the music plays on.

The weathermen are predicting worse storms tonight. Stay tuned.


A note for the teacher

I caught this on the news the other night. Pretty cute.

My favorites part is when Obama asks the name, and the father replies with his name.

In case you missed it …


Game 4: Back to good

After getting walloped in our last two games against the two best teams in the league, we were desperate for a good win today. We needed a confidence-booster.

We got it. Against the worst team in the league. 12-5.

Interestingly, we went down 0-4 in the first inning on a couple errors and some timely hits. … I got the start in right field today, and the only ball to come near me was a line drive to my right side. I got a good jump on the ball, but it was too far out of my reach. I made a diving attempt at it, then felt it skip off the tip of my glove and saw it roll behind me as I skidded on the grass. The center fielder backed up the play and the batter trotted into second base with a two-run double.

It was all us from then on, though.

After doing nothing in our half of the first – I struck out leading off – we batted around and scored seven in the second. I drove in one run with a single to the left side and later scored myself.

You wouldn’t know it by the score, but we had our share of troubles hitting ... After facing a collection of hard throwers in our last two games, today we went up against a guy who was throwing pure junk that was so slow it barely made it to the plate. Every time the ball left his hands, our eyes got wide – but we were over swinging almost every time …

After my strikeout in the first and a single in the second, I had an RBI-ground out in the fifth. Then in the seventh, I finally got a good piece of the ball and drove it to left field – but it was directly to the fielder and caught.

While we kept scoring, our pitcher kept mowing ‘em down. He pitched the complete game and logged 11 strikeouts.

For once, our defense also held up – and included our third baseman’s diving snatch of a hot liner, which is sure to be the play of the year.

Pine Lake camping

So Kates and I made a return trip to Pine Lake over the weekend. The place where it all started …

Only now we had a kid in tow.

We’d been looking forward to this trip for weeks. But as it usually happens, plans and circumstances changed. Then, after our usual whirlwind packing frenzy, we loaded the car and finally pulled out a little after 6 p.m. – about six or seven hours later than we’d hoped.

On our way out, we had to make a stop to pay up at the daycare. And then a stop at Arby’s for some supper. Beef n’ cheddar sandwiches, our favorite.

The traffic was bearable. Kates read her latest book. I jammed to the iPod. Phoebe slept. The perfect road trip.

We arrived at the campground shortly after 9 and made a pass around the loop before locating my parents and our camp site for the night. Then, as the rain started to fall, Kates and Mom took Phoebe into the nearby shelter house while Dad and I set up our tent. For doing it in the dark, in rain, with one flashlight – we made quick work of it and kept the tent mostly dry.

Phoebe, Kates and I were moved into our tent in no time … But sleeping would be an entirely different challenge.

First, Pheebs rolled off the little mattress Kates had built for her in a corner of the tent – the same mattress that she’d slept so well on last summer in Minnesota. I suppose 11 months of growth will do that.

So we let her sleep on the mattress between us. But even then she kept squirming and finally landed with her head balled up in my chest and her feet pushing against Kates’ chest. Adorable, sure – but extremely uncomfortable for Kates and I.

Combine that with the fact that, amid the rain and attempts to get Phoebe to sleep, Kates and I didn't bother changing into pajamas and slept in our plain clothes on top of our sleeping bags. Good thing we’d brought a couple blankets along for extra cover … And then there was the sound of the rain pelting our tent.

All told, I believe we got maybe three or four hours of on-and-off sleep. When the morning arrived, I declared it one of the longest nights of my life.

But all storms eventually pass.

Mom cooked some scrumptious pancakes for our breakfast, and by mid-morning the sun arrived to dry us out.

While we took a walk around the grounds, I couldn’t escape thinking of all the memories we’ve built there … Joel and I playing “wiffo ball” at the volleyball court, and climbing the huge, gangly tree next to it as children. Climbing on the “tire forts,” which I reminded Dad should have been torn down years ago. The canoeing. The fishing. The hiking. And the swimming.

And then as we got older and spent several summers working on the camp … All the nights driving the old pickup truck and picking up garbage. Running from site to site, checking the water. Painting picnic tables. Setting up and repairing the beaches. And of course, falling in love with Kates.

And now, here I was pushing our daughter around the grounds in a stroller … Eleven years ago this summer, while Kates and I had been dating only a couple months, her father told an imaginative story that some day Kates and I would return to the place and walk on the beach with our child taking his (or her) first steps. I couldn’t keep from thinking of that story, too, and marveling at how accurate it became …

As the hours passed, we sat around a picnic table, swapping stories of the joys and trials of our current situations. We taught Phoebe about the wonders of blowing bubbles. We played a rousing game of Ladderball – though no one was willing to take my suggestion of playing the game over a campfire and making it a game of “Fireball!” We dozed in our chairs under the sun.

For supper Dad cooked up some of his classic hamburgers, grilled to such a perfection that I'm constantly trying to nail down his formula myself. For dessert, we indulged in a chocolate-coconut cake in honor of Mom's birthday.

Finally, we hiked down the hill for one more look at the lake. With Phoebe on my shoulders, we trotted down the steps of railroad ties and greeted the shore with delight. The surface was smooth as glass and reflecting the trees and clouds.

We walked Phoebe on to the pier, pointed out the snails and the jumping fish. But she was more interested in walking around on the sand.

We spent several minutes around the lakeshore before hiking back to the camp site and packing the car to head home. At 7 o'clock Saturday night we were on our way back.

If only we could have spent a few more days there.


Out to the ball game

Yesterday was the last day of school!

So we celebrated by going to the Brewers game!

Several weeks ago, Kates' parents became the benefactors of four tickets in the Diamond Box seats behind home plate. The invited us to go, and we accepted ... Ending up 12 rows back, adjacent to the left side of home plate and close enough that we could see Ryan Braun's nose hairs.

The view was, in a word ... Ok, two words. Pretty awesome.

We did take Phoebe along for the ride. It was her first chance to see a Brewers game, after all ... But unfortunately for us, our abilities to really enjoy the game were somewhat hindered by Phoebe's inability to sit still. We'd pulled her from the daycare mid-day, completely messing up her routine. Then she didn't sleep during the drive to the ballpark and missed her afternoon nap. During the game she found shuffling between the seats to be the most fun. And by the eighth inning she was about as cranky and cranky can get.

If there was a bright side, it was that the game hadn't been worth paying much attention to anyway ... The Rockies took a 1-0 lead in the second, and were up 3-0 before the Brewers finally scored in the bottom of the seventh. Then, the Rockies made it 5-1 in the bottom of the eighth on catcher Paul Phillips two-run single. I also missed one of the game highlights -- Phillips nearly getting run over by one of the racing sausages -- when I took a break to use the bathroom and grab a soda.

In the top of the ninth, with the game appearing out of the Brewers' hands, we headed to the Metavante Club -- formerly the 300 Club -- high above left field, which we had access to as part of our ticket deal.

Speaking of a pretty awesome view ...

As the ninth inning continued, we marveled at the view, snapped pictures and let Phoebe shuffle around the dining room -- to the wait staff's chagrin, I'm sure.

We had barely been paying attention to the game as the Brewers got two runners on in the bottom of the inning and Ryan Braun stroked a pitch to center field to close the gap to 5-4. I looked in time to see the ball sail over the wall, and then caught Bernie Brewer taking the home run slide. With the club's windows looking out over Bernie's clubhouse, I thought to scoop up Phoebe and carried her over for a closer look. Bernie saw us and waved as he walked the stairs back to his clubhouse ...

After a walk put Prince Fielder on base as the tying run, Mat Gamel struck out and it was over.

Turns out there were quite a few one-run games on Thursday.


Nationals Select Strasburg With Top Pick in MLB Draft

So the Nationals took Stephen Strasburg to start the MLB Draft last night.

Big whoop.

I'm so tired of hearing about and seeing Stephen Strasburg.

The guy has yet to pitch an ounce of Major League ball, and already he’s being heralded as one of the greatest pitchers of our time by seemingly every baseball blogger, analyst and columnist in the country.

Anyone remember Mark Prior? Todd Van Poppel? Brien Taylor? ... Not for saving a franchise or any post season heroics, I'll bet.

Until he actually does something worthwhile, he’s just your average draft pick, folks.

Good reads ...
a Lemire: MLB taking baby steps with draft
a Strasburg vs. Nats is shaping up as biggest battle in draft history
a The arm that changed the Major League draft


'Saved by the Bell' reunion coming soon!

I just caught this on EW: Mark-Paul Gosselaar on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon ...


I also think it says something about the kind of actor Gosselaar is if he can pull this off some 15, 20 years later ...

Aerosmith still flyin'

(Update 08.24.2009: A lot has changed since I did this interview in the spring. This story comes from yesterday's Boston Globe.)

(Update 11.10.2009: End of the line for Aerosmith?)

When Aerosmith played Alpine Valley for the first time more than 30 years ago, the group wasn’t yet headlining material and the rock critics were hardly paying them any attention.
Social networking was done best in a club after work, or by picking up your land line phone and making a call. And the terms mp3 and iTunes could have been taken as droid names in a “Star Wars” film.

A lot has changed in the music biz since Aerosmith’s first stop at Alpine Valley back in 1977.

The band has since sold more than 150 million albums, earned countless awards — four Grammys, eight American Music Awards, six Billboard Awards and 12 MTV Awards, been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and they have a video game built around their music, “Guitar Hero: Aerosmith.”

On Saturday, the quintet featuring vocalist Steven Tyler, guitarists Joe Perry and Brad Whitford, bassist Tom Hamilton and drummer Joey Kramer will be returning to Alpine, the second show in a three-month tour that will pair them with 3 Doors Down and ZZ Top for parts of it.

A few weeks ago, I got to talk with Hamilton on the phone from his home outside Boston. We talked about the highs and lows of Aerosmith’s tenure as “America’s greatest hard rock act,” the band’s new studio album and how they’re reaching out to fans in this technological age.

How is the band doing? Are you guys ready to go?
We’re getting ready. Our first gig is June 10 and Alpine Valley is the second. Alpine Valley is a venue we’ve been playing for a long time. It’s sort of a homecoming venue for us. I always associate it with all the fun of when we first started. We weren’t headlining and the way the audience looks from the stage there is incredible. It’s massive.

I think we probably played there in the mid to late ’ 70s. It was one of the first, at that time, of that kind of venue we knew about. There was Pine Knob near Detroit. That’s a Nederlander (referring to the Nederlander Organization, which built the outdoor amphitheaters in the 1970s). That’s what our manager told us. ‘A Nederlander?’ We’re like, ‘What’s that?’ He says, ‘Oh, that’s a cool place.’ A family that owned a lot of these theatrical places. So we felt like we really made it because we were playing at a Nederlander.

We’re really looking forward to it and getting going again. We haven’t done a tour in a couple years. We’ve been working on a new album and now we’ve got that to where we can tour, then go back and start working on it again.

How’s the album looking?
It’s looking cool. I can’t say we got through everything that we’re going to try out. We did pre-production for the first 10 tracks. We’ve got another 10 to consider. We won’t record all those, so we have a ways to go.

Is there anything you can tell us about the sound of this album? Are you guys doing anything differently?
I’m hesitating. I’m not seeing something that’s so consistent. I can’t say it’s this album or that. It’s definitely going to have a little hair on it.

How did you get interested in music?
I had an older brother that I looked up to very much and he used to be in all these bands with his friend. He was a teenager and I thought ‘that’s really cool!’ One time, he and his friend went into some studio where you could pay 50 bucks and record a track. I think it was like ‘Shortnin’ Bread’ or one of those songs you learn in the first 10 pages of a guitar book. I thought, ‘aw, man that’s incredible, a recording studio!’ I was fascinated with it. …He got a brand new fender stratocaster, he taught me my first chords and he would tolerate me sneaking into his room and fooling around.

I love the music side and I love the gear side. I love both. I was into tape machines when I was a teenager. I was one of those kids that was watching ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ and watched the Beatles when they performed their U.S. debut. I was blown right off my chair. At that time, I was into an instrumental group called The Ventures. They did these really cool guitar versions of some of the hits that were on Top 40. Then, I saw the Beatles and I was self-conflicted. I thought I was being disloyal to a band with no vocals. Then I would drive friends out of the house because I would buy the new Beatles singles and play it like 20 times.

There was just a flood of new, cool, very interesting music coming from England and the West Coast of the United States. You had this whole psychedelic era in places like Greenwich Village, and all these interesting bands coming out of England like Cream, and the Yardbirds, the Stones, The Who and Led Zeppelin. It was just an endless stream.

I think there’s a lot more young people into that music now. Maybe that’s one of the things that’s going to be great about this new downloading era. We’re established, we can tour whenever we want. But I think of all the kids that are working really hard on writing their songs. Do they get their dream of recording their record or do they wind up on salary at an advertising agency? It’s a lot of high quality rock music now. Back then they didn’t use rock music on commercials. That would have been to destroy your product. Now you can’t even look at a tampon commercial without hearing a rock song.

I’ve also read you wanted to be an actor. What made you stick with music rather that pursue acting?
I was in drama club in high school until I got kicked out. Senior year I applied to a couple schools. That was the plan but then we got to the end of my senior year in high school, Joe and me started talking more and more about how cool it would be to play in bands.

Right, you were performing in a band with Joe Perry when Steven Tyler found you guys.
I lived in New Hampshire for grades seven through 12. Joe Perry and I were in bands, and Steven Tyler would come up in the summers and the place would turn from a hick town to a rocking place that had all the enthusiasm of the flower child era. Steven was getting fed up with people he’d been playing. He liked wild abandon.

He took an instant liking to Joe, and Joe and I moved to Boston ready to go with Steven whether he wanted us or not. We said ‘let’s try it.’ My father said, ‘Don’t come back in five years and expect me to put you through school.’ And I said ‘I won’t.’

Joe and I used to go see his bands play when he would bring them up to New Hampshire. (Tyler’s) year-round home was New York. He was a legend already. His bands were good. They had tight vocals, perfect clothes, Beatles equipment, the whole package. We finally managed to go see them at this one big gig at a ski area there. You knew he’s going to be star.
Every year he would rearrange his bands. He was ready for a change.

Do you think you could fit in Steven Tyler’s mouth?
There’s been times I’ve wanted to climb in there. That’s one of the things that makes him such a powerful singer is the infrastructure he’s got in there. He’s got such a huge mouth.

The press and radio kind of overlooked you guys at first. Did that have any effect on you guys?
Before we had a record contract we were dying to have a record contract. Then you get that recording contract, you think you’re going to be rich and famous and you feel like, ‘oh my god, we’ve made it. We’re in the big leagues now.’ We thought, we are going to be part of the rocket to the top.

We couldn’t get radio stations to be interested. The recording company told us if it didn’t happen on the next record they were going to opt out. So we decided to all move-in together in the same apartment and live and breath the next album. We made the “Get Your Wings” album during that time and in between we were doing a lot of touring. Management was taking much more of a we’re-going-to-sell-the-band-on-the-road approach. So we built our fan base that way.

What about when Joe and Brad left the group for a time? Did you think it was over then?
The band had been touring a lot and everything that goes with it. I think we were all just stressed out and massively hung over. We were starting to make money. You could go to your own house and hide there. We kind of lost some focus in ’79 where we had recorded the “Night in the Ruts” album with no vocals. For the first time ever we had to go back on the road with an album that wasn’t finished. We were extremely stressed out.

It was mutually decided that Joe should leave and he wanted to leave. I thought that source of conflict was gone now, everything would be great. But it wasn’t. You get the idea that you can just replace band members and continue on but you can’t. In the beginning of 1984, we knew our careers separately weren’t going to be anything near what we had, so we put the band back together.

What do you think has helped keep you guys together this long?
It’s just wanting to be part of it. We really feel that we got a lot of other people out there that like our music. We get inspired by that, but we also want to prove ourselves. You want to get out there and show you’re still in the game. There’s still a lot of new things to accomplish and new things to try and new ways to grow as musicians.

Any thoughts on how much longer you’ll be doing this?
People have been asking that question for so long I don’t want to answer it. I don’t want to jinx it. Either way, I love to go into my studio and just go into that daydreaming musical world and wait for those riffs to come up and develop them into songs.

What are you guys most proud of so far?
Just getting to the point where we can go anywhere in the world and we know we’re going to be good. We know how to play good. Really we know we’re going to be good up there. We’re proud of our history. We’re proud that we’re going to keep fighting.

What’s your favorite song to play after all these years?
Living On The Edge.” It’s an ethereal, powerful dramatic song. It’s one that has a lot of dramatic, loud, powerful parts and then there are parts that go quiet. Plus it’s in the key of D, which is my favorite. You just milk that emotion. It’s epic.

How about “Sweet Emotion?” That’s got to be a fun one for you to play.
It’s a pretty awesome moment (when the band plays it). I look back to where I was at, to where I was when I came up with those ideas and I look back at those pictures and I say, “Look at those little shits.” There’s still people that are out there that anticipate that moment and wait for it. That’s another one that’s quiet and then it comes crashing back in. “Back in the Saddle” is another one.

Is there a song you’re sick of playing after all these years?
I’m fed up with “Cryin’.” But whenever I say that I get yelled at. It’s fun to play. It’s got a lot of changes and a lot of opportunities to think of fills.

You guys have the video game now. Are you into things like Twitter and Facebook and all the social networking that’s happening now, too?
We definitely get into having a presence on the web where spontaneous stuff. On AeroForceOne (the band’s fan site) we had this thing called “Tom’s Big Box.” That’s an example where I had one of the guys from the office over at my house, doing bits for the Web site, telling little stories. We were going up to get this big box that I had to get to the band’s warehouse and we got this idea to do this silly little Tom-Abuses-the-Crew. (You can find the video by doing a Google search of “Aerosmith Tom’s Big Box.”)

It’s an example of where you can have an inane idea and instead of going through the process where it has to be perfect, it has to be planned in 50,000 friggin' meetings and you have post-production, you can have an inside idea and be looking at it within a couple days. It’s the goal of being able to do it and put it up there.

What we’re finding on any given day is there’s a huge number of people who want Aerosmith information. Facebook and Twitter are becoming a huge part of how we reach people.

Who do you like among the bands that are coming onto the scene these days?
Kings of Leon. I think their new record is friggin’ awesome. I was really into their first album, although most of the time when you think it’s their first album, it’s usually their second album. I was like, here are these guys, they’re playing this music that has such deep roots and they’re 20 years old! How do they know to sing like that? How do they know to play like that without living in those eras? Their music is so wild and pure.

What is the significance of his scarves on the mic stand?
This is probably some bullshit story, but Steven is an adorner. Every thing that he sees or he has, he decorates. So it’s his natural artistic response not to take what it is, but to embellish it. Sometimes it drives us nuts, but he sees an object and figures out how he can make it more fun to look at.

So what can people expect on the tour?
We’re really hitting the classic rock stuff a lot. We’re touring with ZZ Top for a lot of the tour. I’m psyched about that because their roots go way back. They started as a blues band. They’re really incredible guys and that goes back to the Hendrix era so we’re looking forward to that.
We’re looking forward to seeing everybody out there. Everybody comes to a show thinking they’re seeing us, but we’re seeing them and it feels really good.


Bliss is ...

Spending an afternoon on our deck with birds chirping, swooping in and out of the garden, splashing in the bird bath.

Going to the native plant sale.

Going to Bloomin’ Days. And freezing. Watching Leah and Emily perform with the music conservatory. Walking through the streets as Phoebe’s zonked out in her stroller.

Stopping at Craig’s record store. Thumbing through albums. Having an impromptu reunion gathering when Raechel and Shaun, and Laura and Wes stop in, too. And being entertained by Phoebe.

Driving home in the rain, but stopping for McDonald’s mochas and taking a detour to look at houses.

Watching a documentary together about the Kennedys at 11 o’clock on a Saturday night.

Sleeping past 6 a.m.

Phoebe waddling around the kitchen with wondrous abandon and talking to herself in her very own language as Kates and I sit at our table reading.

Making Phoebe laugh and imitate us when we shake our heads and make funny faces at her.

Breaded chicken, fried sweet potatoes, steamed broccoli and cheesecake pudding with crushed graham crackers.

Feeling like my iPod is totally in sync with me.

The beginning of summer.


Game 3: Bad day

The game started so, so well.

I batted in the leadoff spot and started the game with a single up the middle. Then I advanced to second base on a bloop single into the outfield.

I took third on a ground ball to the third baseman -- it was a force play, so I had to go -- and got around the big third baseman with a hook slide into the base as he reached to tag me. I scored on a single a few pitches later and we went up 1-0.

And then …




That run I scored would be the only run we put on the board until the eighth inning. We lost the game 11-4.

Baseball players are famously superstitious and -- aside from my thrilling run around the bases to start the game -- things weren’t right with me from the beginning.

Rather than thinking about playing baseball, I had been keeping an eye on the Weather Channel and secretly hoping for a lazy, rainy Sunday. The radar images had storms passing over us throughout the weekend and they called for a 70 percent chance of rain, beginning at 3 p.m., our game time. … But the storms never came, and we played under sunny skies.

Add to that, we were playing at a new ball field that was a 25-minute drive out of the city. I got a late start on my drive and arrived almost 30-minutes late for our warm-ups … Usually, I’m among the first at the ballpark.

I also forgot my water jug on the kitchen counter … leaving my mouth dry for most of the game.

I got the start at second base and we figured pretty quickly during our infield warm-ups that it was going to be a tricky infield. The grass was rutty and the dirt was dry and gravelly ... The ball was taking bad hops all over the place.

In our league’s four-year history, two teams have dominated the standings. No matter how talented we know our team is, one of them beat us last week ... and we were betting on the other taking it to us today.

My mind had the best of me before the game started.

The first batter in the bottom of the first inning hit a ground ball right at me … and it bounced right by me. An identical play occurred to start the second inning. Then in the third, I fielded a perfect throw to catch a runner stealing second base but missed the tag.

To put it bluntly, a couple of us in the infield did a fabulous job of putting the game out of reach for our team. And by the sixth inning none of us were arguing with Coach’s suggestion to pull us.

I stayed in the batting lineup, though I didn’t do much more of anything there, either. In the fourth, I got down in the count by swinging and missing two nasty curveballs, and then struck out looking at a fastball that caught the inside corner. … In the seventh, I came up with no outs and two runners on. I got down in the count again, but I battled and fouled off three or four pitches before the pitcher got me swinging at a curve -- which got better the deeper he went in the game -- for strike three. We eventually loaded the bases in that inning, but failed to get any of our runners across.

Finally in the ninth, we showed some life, stringing together a few walks and a couple hits for some runs. But the damage had been done…

The game ended with me waiting in the on-deck circle. I hate it when that happens.