Maps From The Stars

As you may or may not know from reading my past posts. I have a myriad of topics that captivate me.  Some are just subjects that hold my attention others can range from fascination to downright obsessions of mine.  But I especially love when two of my favorites can come together.  Recently that has been happening, thanks to a few astronauts on the International Space Station.

I have a lifelong love of the space program.  Perhaps that is because I was born just slightly over a year before the Apollo 11 moon landing.  I can still remember seeing the final moon landing broadcast on television.  I watched through Apollo-Soyuz and Skylab, into the Shuttle program and continuing through the ongoing ISS missions.

I also have a love of geography, specifically, cartography.  The study of maps.  I have sat and read an atlas the same way other people sit and read the latest Steven King novel.  I look for the detail, the proximity of cities and nations.  I pore over the relief maps to get a sense of natural boundaries and how nature influenced who we became and where we move and live.

When satellite imagery became part of all internet based map programs, I was thrilled.  I could now get a look at both maps, virtually at the same time.  I could toggle back and forth and zoom in, right down to my house if I felt so inclined.  And I have.  This is where two of my interests began to blend into one.

Recently, as I mentioned above, a few astronauts have been fostering this melding.  They have been sending out, via Twitter and other sources, photos of cities, landmarks and prominent physical features of our world down below.  I know they are not as detailed as some of the images already available, but there is something more to it.

Two of the astronauts currently staffing the ISS are an American, Shane Kimbrough and Frenchman Thomas Pesquet.  They send out photos almost on a daily basis of what they see as they orbit our world.  Big deal you say?  Well, yes, it is.  It is more than just the photo they send down to us.  It is what they tell us as well.

When I see the tweet, pop up in my feed with an image fresh from space, I immediately study it intently.  But what is great about what they say is the fact that they don’t just tell you what you are seeing.  They relate to what is in the picture.  From following and watching these pioneers, I not only get to live vicariously through them on the Space Station, I also learn a little about them.  In recent days, they have sent pictures of the launch site in Cape Canaveral, Florida shortly after the launch of a cargo ship on the way to them.  They congratulated the SpaceX team on the successful landing of the first stage of the reusable rocket.  I have seen Thomas Pesquet’s home town in France and learned that he would love to visit Beirut.  I learned that Shane Kimbrough is collecting photos of airports from space and sends out “good morning” or “good night” wishes to cities all over the world almost every day.

Then there are the earth’s natural features that they send to us.  In recent months, we have seen sand dunes in the Sahara and Brazil.  We received a spectacular photo of the Hawaiian Islands with the sun glinting off of the Pacific’s surface.  We’ve also been treated to sights like the Grand Canyon and stops all around the Mediterranean.  We receive beautiful underwater features like reefs and new islands just breaking the surface and then there are the volcanoes from New Zealand to Iceland.  All sights to behold.  We even see the not so spectacular scars we are leaving on the surface in the form of receding water lines, deforestation and climate change.  But I will save that for another time.

All of these wonderful, sometimes tragic, always stunning images link me to two of the subjects that I have held close to my heart for years.  I know the current group of scientists who are also just ordinary people fascinated by the same things we all are, have limited missions.  I can only hope that the future specialists assigned to the Space Station will continue to send these beautiful photos and maybe a little piece of themselves while they are at it, back to those of us who can only dream of being in their place.

If you would like the chance to see these wonderful photos on Twitter, please check out the International Space Station @Space_Station or to follow the astronauts directly Thomas Pesquet @Thom_astro or Shane Kimbrough @astro_kimbrough

In the meantime, I’m going to keep matching up the photos they send with my maps.  We can all keep looking up but don’t forget to take the time for what they can show us as they look down.

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Music is Better than Candy and Flowers: Make a Moment

As Valentine’s Day approaches, I go through my usual routine.  Someone at work will ask me “What are you getting your wife for the big day?”. I follow that with a solid, resolute, “nothing”.  Wait, before you gasp and think to yourself what a terrible person I am, let me fill you in on a few things.  I have been very happily married for seventeen years now and I am very deeply in love with this woman.  That is precisely why I do not need Hallmark or FTD to tell me I need to tell her so.  I bring my wife flowers unexpectedly (I hope) when I feel she needs them.  She may have had a bad day, so it is a pick me up or on a good day it’s a celebration.  I try to let her know every day how much she means to me.  So, I don’t need the guilt trip from my co-workers or the television to remind me.

What do I do?  Well, I try to show her by making her favorite dinner.  Yes, I can cook, I don’t just fumble around pretending to make a gourmet dish and coming out with a mess on a plate.  I will leave her a note or drop her an email in the middle of the day to let her know she is on my mind.  Yes, when you have found the right person this still happens after the six-month mark.  We also both really enjoy music, so we will leave musical reminders to each other.  Sometimes romantic, sometimes funny, sometimes it’s just off the wall.

A song can be an overt love song, have only a line or two, or have no romantic intent whatsoever and it can still have meaning.  We probably have more or “our” songs than most people.  Some remind us of a particular day, others for what they say and some for completely unexplainable reasons.  Sorry, no explanation for the last one.  But music is one of the ways we connect.

I will hear one certain song and always remember the way my wife sang it into my ear as we danced.  I will hear another and think of the dinner we were having when it played.  Sharing these moments with the person you love is what keeps you together.

In honor of the day that I hate more than any other (although there are some others very close, but that is another post.) here is my list of most romantic songs to play for your special someone, old school edition.  That’s pre-1980 kids.

So, without further ado and in no particular order:

  1. The Flamingos – I Only Have Eyes for You
  2. Sam Cooke – You Send Me
  3. Nat King Cole – When I Fall in Love or Unforgettable
  4. Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong – The Nearness of You
  5. Frank Sinatra – Fly Me to the Moon, I’ve Got a Crush on You, or You’re Getting to be a Habit with Me.
  6. Etta James- At Last
  7. Dusty Springfield – The Look of Love
  8. Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell – Ain’t No Mountain High Enough
  9. Aretha Franklin – (You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman
  10. Elton John – Your Song
  11. Paul McCartney – Maybe I’m Amazed
  12. Hall and Oates – Sara Smile
  13. Billy Joel – She’s Got a Way
  14. Patsy Cline – Crazy
  15. Al Green – Let’s Stay Together

Is this the definitive list, oh no.  Did I leave songs out?  Sure, I did.  Some of these songs may not even seem romantic to you, that’s okay.  You may have heard another version and like it better.  That’s fantastic.  This is just the start.

I made a point to go with older songs because those that get radio saturation lose meaning when it is everyone’s song.  Choose an older song and it can seem like yours alone.  The song that will mean something only to you and your partner.

Here is my wish for you and your special someone.  That you should find a few songs with a deep meaning or connection for only the two of you.  If I helped you find one with my list above, great.  If I only gave you a direction that is fine with me.  Everyone deserves to have a moment that no one beside the two of you understand.  You hear the song on the radio, your eyes meet and you just know.  That is better than flowers, a box of candy or even a ring that someone else told you to buy.  This moment was created by you and it is yours forever and you don’t need a date on a calendar to know it is special.

I won’t tell you to have a happy Valentine’s Day.

I will wish you a very romantic day for you and that special someone, every day.  Turn on the radio, your song may be playing right now.

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The Itinerary,What’s Left on My List?

Everyone has a list of things they want to do or places they want to go before they die.  I am no different.  I have to say I am not fond of the term “bucket list” but to avoid a diatribe that does not belong in this post, I will keep it moving.  So, my bucket list is more of a, places I want to go rather than things I want to do list.  I have no desire to jump from a plane, cliff, building or anything else for that matter.  I do not need to go through a military style boot camp.  I am an adventurous eater, but have absolutely no need to take a Bizarre Foods road trip.  I don’t burn to climb Mt. Everest or swim the English Channel.

I have to say that I have had the opportunity to fulfill many of the items that would be on most people’s lists.  If you don’t see the typical visit the Grand Canyon or the observation deck on the Empire State Building, it could be because I was there already.  I have been fortunate to have traveled quite a bit, at least through North America.  I have quite a few check marks already.

No, my list is much more simple.  Most people would probably call it boring.  But I like it.  Please note that this is my list today.  It could, and probably will change in the future. So, without further ado and in no particular order…

Visit Poland.  This is the place of my heritage.  Growing up I listened to my grandmother speak Polish and a bit of Ukrainian.  I listened to the stories of my family and how they made the voyage to America in the early 1900’s.  My family has even been fortunate enough to have a few of our relatives living there come for a visit.  I would like to do the same.  Poland has a rich history and I would like the chance to experience it firsthand.

Visit Ireland and Northern Ireland.  This is the place of my wife’s heritage.  Her family hails from County Cork, County Down and County Armagh.  I would like to see Ireland for all of the same reasons I want to see Poland.  I want to take in the history and beauty of the country and the understand the personal connections to this place.  Plus, I would have a much easier time communicating in Ireland than I would in Poland.

Visit St. Andrew’s Scotland.  While I am in the British Isles, I want to make my pilgrimage to the birthplace of golf.  I have been a golfer since the age of five.  I have loved my time on the course playing the only game that can simultaneously be the most relaxing and frustrating one on earth.  I am not alone having this location on my list.  Anyone who has chased a little white ball around with a crooked stick has dreamed of The Old Course and the town itself.

If you have read my past posts, you know that I love golf, but I am obsessed with baseball.  To that end, I have a few baseball related places on my list.

Visit two Halls of Fame.  I have been to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, NY, as a child.  I want to go back as an adult.  I also want to go to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, MO.  The first museum will always have a gap in its history, the second fills that need.  I want to experience the entire story.  Yes, I love the game, I can’t help it.

I want to experience a baseball game in Japan.  The game is as big in Japan as it is in the United States.  However, since baseball has been there for close to a century, it has evolved differently.  The game is played with the same set of rules, but the traditions are different and unique.  The fan experience is also very different there. The same holds true for South Korea and Taiwan.  I want to take it all in.

I want to experience a baseball game(s) in the Caribbean.  Baseball is one of our sports in the US.  In much of the Caribbean, it is the sport.  They live baseball.  I want to witness this firsthand.  I dream of seeing games in Puerto Rico, The Dominican Republic, Cuba, Curacao and while technically not Caribbean, Mexico, Panama, Venezuela, and several other nations as well.

I want to visit all fifty states and a few territories.  I have visited forty states to date.  I have no particular location in mind, I just want to make it there.  I would also like to include a few of our territories like Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

I would like to do the same with our neighbor to the north.  I want to visit all ten Canadian Provinces and three territories.  I am a bit farther behind on this list.  I only have three provinces checked so far.

I want to experience the New Orleans Jazz Festival.  I have been a lifelong jazz fan dating back to when my grandmother first played her old 78s for me.  You can keep Mardi Gras, I will take the Jazz Festival.

I want to experience Philadelphia’s Mummer’s Parade as an adult.  I have been there but I want to see it through my adult eyes to better appreciate the spectacle of it all.

I want to look down into the crater of a volcano.  As a child, I wanted to become a volcanologist.  I am still fascinated by science involved with a volcano.  I would like to see one up close and personal.  I am not particular.  I would be satisfied with an ash spewing giant like Mt. St. Helens or an active cauldron of lava from Mt. Kilauea.

I want to tour every Smithsonian Institution Museum.  Just limiting myself to the Washington DC area museums, there are eighteen.  I have made it to thirteen.  I was almost there but they opened a few more and that gives me a few new ones for the list.

I want to attend the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York, NY and the Crufts Dog Show in Birmingham, England.  I am an unabashed dog lover.  These are the Super Bowl and the Olympics respectively.  What else needs to be said here.

Then there is the one that I will never see come to fruition.  Space.  I, like most every other person on earth, has dreamed of traveling to space.  I did try to take it a step further.  I applied to Space Camp.  I did not make it, but in my mind, I always thought I could become an astronaut.  I follow NASA, the European Space Agency, the International Space Station, and several more.  I can still dream, can’t I?

Well, there you have it, my list. (For now) Like I said, not that exciting to the masses, but thrilling in my mind.  What does your list look like?  I would love to hear.  You can let me know in the comments or try me on Twitter @TWR_Individual.

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Who’s On Third?

As winter rolls on my baseball withdrawal worsens.  I search the internet for the latest hot stove moves.  I surf for the most recent prospect highlights from the Caribbean, Mexico and Venezuela.  I keep an eye on the Japanese Professional League whose season starts about the same time as ours.  I have even been watching the Australian League scores and Jim Kaat’s work in New Zealand.  My wife periodically asks me “How many days?”.  I can usually give her the countdown to when pitchers and catchers report, opening day and this year the World Baseball Classic.  Bonus!

But as I look forward to the coming season, I find myself looking back to my own playing days.  No, you never heard of me.  I was not a hot prospect.  I was a good high school player with a plus glove and arm but only an average bat and little power or speed, although I was an excellent bunter.  Those tools may get you a chance to walk on for a college team, but no one was handing me any offer letters.  Thankfully, I have come to terms with my talent and I am definitely not one of those guys who’s past gets better as they get older.  If I did that, by my age, I would be ready to enter the Hall of Fame.

When I mentioned I was looking back to my playing days, I am actually referring more to my early days.  Specifically, to my inspirations in the beginning.

Where I grew up in Pennsylvania, I was located in a small miracle like area of sorts for the new sensation of cable television.  We had stations from several major markets and I could see a ball game almost any time during the season.  I had stations that were either from or broadcast games for Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York and Pittsburgh.  In the 70’s and early 80’s I was truly the proverbial kid in a candy store.

For those not as obsessed as myself, let me give you a little run down of the teams in those markets.  Pittsburgh was a powerhouse through the entire decade.  Even after the loss of Roberto Clemente, the Pirates, led by Willie Stargell, Dave Parker and a solid pitching staff were rivaled only by the Reds in the first half of the decade.  The Orioles had one of the greatest pitching staffs in the history of the game (only the second staff with four 20 game winners) and appeared in three series in the 70s and six in a seventeen-year span.  The Mets had the miracle ’69 season and another Series a few years later but were beginning to fade as the decade progressed.  The Yankees made three straight Series appearances and four in six years.  These were the days of Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson and Catfish Hunter.  The Phillies finally shook off twenty-five years in the doldrums with three straight division titles and their first ever world championship followed by another Series three years later.

Needless to say, I had great games to watch at all times.  This was the fuel to my fire.  The spark however, that was my father.  My Dad grew up in Philadelphia, in the heart of the City.  He was a diehard A’s fan idolizing Connie Mack, always hoping he would find a way to bring back a string of championships like he had twice in the past.  It was not to be and the A’s joined the move west to Kansas City and eventually Oakland.  My father remained an A’s fan until he passed away.  Dad also loved the Phillies and knew every member of the Whiz Kids.  He made me the baseball fan I am today.  Even when I got older and we had our typical father son disagreements, we could always talk baseball.  (Yeah, I know, it sounds sappy but it’s true.)

So, when I decided I wanted to start playing, dad asked me where I wanted to play.  Well, that was the easiest answer of my entire youth.  Third base, of course.  When I looked around at the men playing third, I knew where I wanted to play.  The Pirates had Bill Madlock and the Yankees had Graig Nettles.  But then there were two Hall of Famers in the Phillies Mike Schmidt and the Orioles Brooks Robinson.  Why look anywhere else?

brooks-robinson

When I started to play Little League, I begged the coach to play third and he gave me my chances, but he also moved me around to other positions.  I gave each one my best, but I always wanted to go to “my spot”.  Dad worked with me and the following year I moved up a division and my new coach put me at third and that is where I stayed for the next decade.

Then one day as he was working with me in the back yard he mentioned a new name to me. He told me about another third baseman who grew up in Philadelphia and became an All-Star playing in Philly.  Judy Johnson.  Now, at this point I was about ten years old and the name stuck in my head for two reasons.  First, my father loved the game and he was telling me about an all-time great who came from and played in his hometown.  Second, my mother’s name is Judy, and his name stuck with me for obvious reasons.  He told me what he knew about him.  He explained he played in the Negro Leagues and that he retired before he had the chance to see him.  This prompted a whole new set of questions about the Negro Leagues and why these players could not play in the majors.  At ten, this was as difficult to grasp as it is for me today.  Dad even had an old book with two photos of Judy.  I wish I had that book today but I can still see both photos.  The next fall I went to the Library and found a book about the League and read it cover to cover.  I learned names and read stories I never knew existed.  A whole new part of game opened up for me.  I soaked in all I could about Johnson, Robinson and Schmidt and wanted to be just like them.

mike-schmidt-philadelphia-phillies-1973-1989

To some extent I emulated the three of them.  As I mentioned I had a plus glove and arm.  I was very good in the field and could throw out anyone from deep behind the bag.  Unfortunately, that never carried over to the bat.  So, my professional career ended long before it started.  Even though I never made the show, I do have a few memories of my playing days I will always cherish.  As a twelve-year-old, I played in Howard J. Lamade Stadium, the home of Little League Baseball.  I played third base that day.  I went 4 for 5 with 4 doubles and 4 RBI.  It was and still is my favorite day playing the game.  Earlier that same year, I also had the chance to play on the home field of the Original League in Williamsport.  This was not my home league, but the man who was my second father was an officer of the league and he made the arrangements.  He also introduced me to Carl Stotz.  A man I firmly believe belongs in Cooperstown.  How many professional ball players would never have had the chance without Little League Baseball?

In the coming years, I would find new and better information about the trio who drove me.  I learned that Judy Johnson was not actually from Philadelphia but nearby Wilmington, Delaware. Years later, I lived in Wilmington and was able to see how the city now appreciates and celebrates the man.  Through events, I was able to meet and shake the hand of both Mike Schmidt and Brooks Robinson.  I never had the opportunity with Judy Johnson.  They say never meet your heroes.  I met two of the three and I have to say I am glad for it.  From everything I have read about the third, I would not have been disappointed.

judyjohnson_600

Recently, I stumbled upon a gentleman on Twitter.  He happens to be the president of the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City.  After following him and seeing the wealth of information that he and his connections share, I was reminded of Judy Johnson.  That is what brought back all of these memories.  Thank you, Mr. Kendrick.

Judy Johnson played his first professional season 98 years ago.  I am so glad my father introduced me to him so I could have the perfect man to round out the trio that I tried to emulate on the field.

If you are as obsessed with the game as I am and would like to discuss more about any facet of baseball history, please look me up on Twitter.  I am @TWR_Individual.  I may not have all the answers, but I will have a great time finding them with you.  I would also like to hear about who your on the field influences were.  Who did you want to play like?

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Dear Santa – One Last Gift for Everyone

With the holidays upon us, I thought I would lend a helping hand.  Tis the season to pitch in and make yourself feel good about ignoring those in need for the past eleven months.  So, I thought I would volunteer my services to and finish up those last-minute gift ideas for you.  The ones that you forgot you needed or were just too shy to ask.  Everyone has their list for Santa Claus.  You may not want to admit it, but you do.  Some of these suggestions are semi-serious, some are light hearted.  None of these deal with particularly heavy subjects.  Without further ado, here are my additions to everyone’s Christmas lists.

Dear Santa,

For every middle-aged office worker who goes to the holiday party thinking, “I can still tie one on like I’m in my twenties” I wish for them a little common sense.  The sad truth is, you can’t.  Slow down and realize, the consequences you are facing once you walk back into the office Monday morning.  Even if you can still bend your elbow with the best of them, you will probably make a complete ass out of yourself.  Then, when the holiday party is cancelled next year for “budgetary” reasons, everyone will be looking at you.  Moderation is the key my friends.

For the movie industry, I wish for a new idea so we can move on from super heroes.  Yes, I know the masked and caped dual identity do-gooders make billions for Hollywood.  I know there are millions of fans out there who wait with great anticipation for the next one, but come on already.  First, how many times can we go back to the well with the big three.  Batman, Superman, and Spiderman have been done to death.  Second, does every legend of comic book lore need to make it to the silver screen?  How long until the Wonder Twins are touching rings?  Please, studio executives, implore your writers to create something new.

For the music industry, I would like to gift you with forgetting you ever found auto-tune.  This device has made many a so-called singer a star.  If this is truly the music industry and you are supposed to have talent to succeed, then go sign talent.  I have grown so tired of hearing everyone’s voices digitally adjusted I want to scream.  A completely pitch perfect scream, mind you.  Let’s face facts here.  I can sing well enough to get close to a melody.  Should I be a rock star?  Hell no.  If your artist cannot sing on key, or in Randy Jackson’s favorite criticism, “A little pitchy”, don’t sign them.  Look a little harder, dig a little deeper and find singers.  By the way, if some of the stars currently on the charts can really sing, we can’t tell.  Let their talent shine.  Please.

For Facebook, Twitter, and all other social media companies.  A series of pre-post buttons.  These buttons are created for the sanity of everyone OTHER than the person posting.

  1. Are you sure you want to post this now?
  2. Did you check it for spelling and grammar? (Not that anyone cares about this any longer.)
  3. Is this a photo you will regret posting later? (Like when you interview for that next job.)
  4. No, really, you need to re-read this post.
  5. Okay, but you will rue the day….

One can only hope this will still stop those who did not get the memo that duckface and deuces has gone out of style.  Maybe the complexity of the posting will eliminate some of the drunken 3:00 AM rants about how Tom Brady got screwed or how the draft (pick our sport) is rigged.  I think this one is a lost cause though.  This may be out of Father Christmas’ wheelhouse.

For all students, I would like to clear a few things up.  Wikipedia is not a legitimate reference tool.  Pi is not 3.  Physical education does not involve video games.  There are fifty states. Benjamin Franklin did not “invent” electricity.  Not everything needs to be abbreviated.  If you are young and were offended by this because you know better, thank you.  You are the ones I want caring for me when I am old and cantankerous.  That may be in just a few weeks.

For the scientific community, no matter your field of expertise, my wish for you is patience.  Persons are smart, people are stupid, reactionary and unwilling to listen.  Keep working on the individuals and the people will come around.

For the sporting world, another year like the one we just had.  We saw long droughts end, old favorites ride off into the sunset, and unexpected champions the world over (yes, you Leicester City and Ottawa). The global community came together again for more successful events.  As long as you keep thinking of the fans in the seats, at home and in person, your game will improve.   Kudos to the NBA and MLB for keeping the peace and the game on the field.

For everyone who is addicted to social media, a book.  A book is like Twitter if you didn’t have a character limit, had spell check, full words, no hashtags, coherent thoughts, sensibility, and a point.

For people who do not text and drive, a forcefield to keep those who do away from us.  If you are a person who texts and drives, stop.  You are not as good at it as you think.  I know, you think you are the exception.  You are not, you suck at it.  Stop.

For all the people in any store who feels like they have the entire place to themselves, awareness.  No, you cannot park your cart on one side of the aisle, stand on the other and pretend that no one else is trying to get past you.  Wake up and smell the frustration.

To certain hipsters, a bar of soap and some shampoo.  You know who you are.

For our heroes, the real ones, our first responders and members of the military, safety.  Enough said.

For every shelter animal, everywhere, a forever home.

For NASA, ESA, RSA, and every other space agency, courage to take the next step.

For the medical community, more power to heal.  More and better research that will lead to cures and treatments.

For all those celebrities who are famous for being famous, self-respect and humility.  Your self-esteem should not rely on us. Because we only need you until the next thing comes along.  Get a grip.

For Minor League Baseball, better name choices.  Jumbo Shrimp, Baby Cakes, really?!?

For those who take everything too seriously, a laugh.  You can still be a crusader and take a moment to smell the flowers.

For those who take nothing seriously, a sense of responsibility.  Some of us are getting tired of carrying you.

To everyone, a happy holiday.  No matter if it is religious or secular, I hope it is healthy and safe for you and your family.

Sincerely,

The Well-Rounded Individual

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2016 – It Wasn’t So Bad Afterall

As we wind down 2016 and look back on what seems like a dumpster fire of a year, I want to stop and look around for a few moments.  We are all too familiar with all of the contentious, sad and maddening events of the past year.  You know what I am talking about.  I will not soil my post with mentioning even a one of them.  Instead, I want to take a look at what went right in the world this past year.  Believe it or not, it was some pretty great stuff.

I am going to fire off a long list of people and their accomplishments and achievements.  I am going to start with the most obvious place for celebration, sports.  I also want to cover many other fields that have achieved milestones that may have flown under your radar.  I am sure I am going to miss many, many topics and people along the way, but here is my list to make you feel better about 2016.

Athletic Achievements

Michael Phelps becoming the most decorated Olympian in his final games.  But, he handed the swimming torch over to Katie Ledecky who has a bright future.

Brazil and Germany took home the Football (Soccer) golds.  Impressive wins for traditional powers.

The US Women’s Gymnastics Team was spectacular.  Simone, Gabby, Aly, and the team, Brava!

Kimia Alizadeh whose sport is Taekwondo, became the first Iranian woman to bring home an Olympic medal.  Take the advances where you can find them.

Golf returned to the Olympics.  Justin Rose and Inbee Park brought an end to a century old drought for the game.

South African sprinter, Wayde van Niekerk shattered Michael Johnson’s world record for the 400 meters.

Usain Bolt, the world’s fastest man, did what has never been done before.  He won the 100 meters for a third time.  He was so impressive in doing so, I would not be surprised to see him in his trademark bow pulling stance four years from now.

The Pittsburgh Penguins raised the Stanley Cup again adding another title for the City of Champions.

Peyton Manning and a suffocating Broncos Defense brought a Super Bowl win back to Denver.

Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers brought a championship back to the city for the first time in 52 years.  There is still hope Indians fans.

Leicester City FC broke through to take the Premier League championship in what could be the greatest upset in league History.

Real Madrid came away with an impressive and record setting eleventh UEFA Cup.

Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Ben Zobrist, and the Chicago Cubs broke the curse of the billy-goat and about a dozen other self-inflicted curses with a World Series victory.  They have a great foundation and have the opportunity to keep this going for a while.

Serena Williams added another Wimbledon title to her record setting collection of major wins.

In men’s golf, Danny Willett, Dustin Johnson, Henrik Stenson, and Jimmy Walker all became first time major champions.  Everyone had unique stories and are forces to be reckoned with in the future.

Not to be outdone on the women’s side, Lydia Ko, Brooke Henderson, Brittany Lang, Ariya Jutanugarn, and Chun In-gee showed that they can do it too with four first time major winners.  The women’s field is opening up and getting much deeper than it has ever been.

Jimmie Johnson joined an exclusive club as one of only three men with seven NASCAR championships.

Nico Rosberg brought home his first Formula 1 championship for Mercedes and Germany.

Medical Advances

Johns Hopkins University is leading the way with brain controlled prosthetics.  New technology has been developed that will allow fine motor skills. They are also getting close to replicating the sense of touch through artificial limbs.

Nano Retina has developed a sophisticated chip that can restore eyesight to people who have been declared legally blind.  The can bring an individual with sight of 20/200 bac to near 20/20.

Hongjie Dai and his team at Stanford University have developed long lasting batteries meant for use in internal devices such as pacemakers that will allow patients to live without replacements for up to several years more than current devices.

Researchers at MIT and Harvard University are closing in on what they believe is a potential cure for diabetes.

Scientific Advances

Computer Scientists at Brown University are developing technology that will allow robots to learn from one another.  This will remove the burden of programming each one individually.  Robots can be taught their own tasks and will in turn cross-train their peers.

Paleoanthropologist Lee Berger took a random discovery of two South African spelunkers and proved their find was evidence of a new species of human beings.  This could fill in many gaps in human evolution.

Astronomers at Cal Tech presented evidence of a ninth planet in our solar system orbiting our sun every 15,000 years.

Researchers at Rutgers and Stanford Universities developed a means to inject healthy nerve tissue into the brain to treat Parkinson’s Disease.  Successes in mouse trials could lead to human trials within the next ten years.

NASA has completed the James Webb Space Telescope.  Launching in 2018 it will replace the Hubble Space Telescope and provide greater detail and a look even deeper into space.

Through conservation efforts the Giant Panda, West Indian Manatee, Arabian Oryx, Louisiana Black Bear, Amur Tiger and several other animals have been removed from the endangered species list.  There is still a long way to go, but these are positive steps.

Centenarians

Kirk Douglas turned 100 this week.  If a plane crash, a massive stroke and acting with Arnold can’t stop him, nothing will.  Happy Birthday!

The National Park Service turned 100 this year.  If you realize it or not, you have probably enjoyed time at a site run by the NPS.  Here’s to 100 more (at least).

The first Charlie Chaplin films were released in 1916.  Yes, they are silent.  Yes, they are black and white.  Yes, they are still classics.

The first modern grocery store, Piggly Wiggly opened 100 years ago, in Memphis.  Thank them every time you walk into your local mega-mart.

The San Diego Zoo turns 100 this year.  One of the world’s premier zoological parks.

Making it halfway to the century mark in 2016 are Batman the original television series, The Beatles first American concert, and Star Trek.  Also, celebrating 50 years are Adam Sandler, Halle Berry, Kiefer Sutherland and Janet Jackson.

 

You see, 2016 was not completely bad.  In fact, some really great stuff happened this year.  I know I have only scratched the surface and there is much more to add, but you get my point.  You can even extract light from some of the darkness.  I know we lost many wonderful people this year.  But after the initial sadness wears off, celebrate the lives of: Arnold Palmer, Glenn Frey, David Bowie, Prince, Florence Henderson, Gene Wilder, Kenny Baker, Harper Lee, Maurice White, John Glenn and the list goes on.   In the words of Theodore “Dr. Seuss” Geisel “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”

In the case of 2016, I am not going to cry.  I am going to smile because of what we have done.  For those who know me, they will see this as a positive message from a usually cynical person.  It happens occasionally.  But maybe it is because the year is ending, I am choosing to look at what we have done to move society forward.  I challenge everyone to go find one new thing you did not know about that went well this year.  Hold on to it and carry it into the new year.

Cuisineist – The New Food Word for the Rest of Us

I am going to just come out and say it, I love food.  There it is.  I love to eat good food, I love to cook.  I am an obsessive viewer of Food Network and The Cooking Channel.  I enjoy the science involved in cooking.  If you were not paying attention in class, cooking is science.  I enjoy the art of plating and presentation.  I am intrigued by the history of food and how dishes evolved or became associated with a culture or a city.  But, I am not really sure of what to call myself these days.  I could be a foodie, gastronome, epicurean, gourmand, bon vivant, or even a connoisseur.

The term foodie is thrown about but I don’t associate myself with the crowd that is currently coupled with the word.  I will make a point to seek out a restaurant or cuisine while traveling. However, I have never traveled for the food as foodies will.  I have never pulled out my cell phone, snapped a picture of my untouched meal and immediately launched it into cyberspace so anyone who knows me can see that I am enjoying something they are not.  I will not thumb my nose at someone else’s dining experience.  What I like may not be to your taste so I will not tell you what you should, or worse, should not like.  I am not above food because eating something pedestrian may damage my reputation as a foodie.  No, I no longer think I am a foodie and have distanced myself from the word.

Gastronome and the others, while dedicated to the food and not the circus around it, are routinely associated with fine dining.  I am no stranger to Lobster Newburg, rack of lamb, or Cornish game hen.  But at the same time, I have a deep appreciation for what would be considered common food.  I love a big plate of pasta and meatballs. Chiles rellenos has become a favorite of mine.  Nothing can beat a well-made beautiful lump crab cake.  Foodies and gastronomes alike will find these appetizing if the presentation is right, the name on the door is one worth repeating, or the Chef preparing it has the right cache.  But these terms still elude me because I relish the opportunity to dive into a plate of wings, I have tried slices from more pizza shops than I can remember and Lord knows I have polished off more than one human’s share of cheese steaks.  No, these terms don’t fit me either.

Do I like sharing my food experiences?  Yes.  I do talk with a few people at work who know I cook and discuss meals occasionally.  They always ask about holiday meals.  Since I only cook for my wife and myself, we have always gone the non-traditional route on holidays.  For instance, this Thanksgiving, I made fettucine with Cajun shrimp, Brussels sprouts and bacon, and a spinach tort.  Gasp all you want, we enjoyed it.  We do not miss the turkey and the cleanup is so much easier.  We also had no leftovers.  I love a turkey sandwich the day after Thanksgiving as much as the next person, but not for weeks.  It is only two of us.

Yes, I have a Yelp account but I use it almost exclusively for places that I enjoy. I have only given poor reviews to a small handful of eateries or coffee shops.  Those were places that appalled me and I felt compelled to share more as a warning than mudslinging.  None of my reviews contain a photo of the perfectly molded rice pilaf, the grill marks on my fillet, or the foam on my latte.  In my review of the place I always remark about the staff and service.  I comment about the atmosphere and mention what I had.  I will give basic descriptions but I do not feel compelled to detail the number of flecks of freshly ground black pepper appearing on my carrots.  I want to praise the experience, not dwell on what some do.  “My tomato slice was askew on top of my burger, ruining my experience.”  Yes, this is a real review I happened upon while looking for a good burger.

Let me stop and break that down for a moment.  I am eating at a burger joint.  I am so caught up in my foodie experience that I consider my experiences ruined because a slice of fruit was off center when presented to me at the table. (Yes, a tomato is botanically a fruit, not a vegetable.)  In the words of one of my favorite literary characters, and apropos for the season, “Bah humbug”.  Enjoy the damn burger.  If it was anything like mine, it was cooked perfectly.  Just another reason why I am searching for another term for myself.

Anyway, back to the subject at hand.  What to call myself.

I do consider myself an adventurous eater.  Not in the way we consider Andrew Zimmern adventurous though.  I love to try new cuisines.  In my lifetime, I have been fortunate not only to know a widely diverse cross section of people, but to consider them friends enough to become exposed to their culture.  Through these great people, I was able to sample the home version of their cuisine.  I do like to try new restaurants, but keep in mind, they cater to the customers and can stray from their roots.  More on that later.  Tasting the home version, you get the real deal.  I have tried and loved Korean, Tanzanian, Indian, Brazilian, Greek, Filipino, Italian, Puerto Rican, French, Mexican and in my own household Polish and Ukrainian. I cannot begin to tell you how great each of these experiences were and how each opened my eyes wider to the world.  There is also nothing like a meal cooked by someone who puts their heart into it because they want you to experience their soul, not just eat dinner.

I mentioned more on the restaurant experience.  Well, I came to learn as I compared these wonderful meals to their cultural counterpart restaurants that the experience is not always the same.  I am not saying this is true for all ethnic based dining establishments, far from it.  But most people know that much of what you find on a Chinese menu is either Americanized, or developed here from the start.  I will eat many of these non-authentic dishes and enjoy every bite.  I just have to realize, when I do make it to a place that serves the real item, that it will be a different and almost always a better experience.

Another example of this is my history with Mexican food.  I grew up in the mid-Atlantic and ate many a Mexican meal.  No, I am not talking about the fast food shops that call themselves Mexican and barely pass for food.  I mean the real restaurants that serve “authentic dishes”.  They may be well intentioned and based on a real dish, but they are tamed down or changed to suit the patrons.   My wife and I found this out first hand when we moved to the southwest and were able to taste the un-edited versions of dishes and many others that you just do not see in other areas.  The flavor profiles are so very different.  Plus, heat has a whole new meaning for us now. I am not just referring to slathering ghost chilies on some wings and making it so hot that you are not even given the chance to taste the flavor.  I am talking about using any of dozens of chilies to add beautiful depth of flavor.  At the same time, they can turn up the heat to a place that will make you sweat, but stop before you lose the burst of flavor.

Yes, you can see I love international flavors.  But I also love the regional foods found right here in the United States.  I have done a bit of traveling over the years and have tasted many local favorites.  I have learned that what is thought to be the local hero, sometimes is not the one the locals go for.  Other times, it is most certainly the one.  The question becomes, where to get it.  If you want to know that, forget social media.  Forget what you see on television.  Ask a local.  If you don’t already know what the local favorite is, they are the ones to ask.  They also know where to go to get the best.  From my experience, that will not mean the tourist hot spots.  It usually means some local neighborhood.  These places are also not the ones with the plate photos plastered all over the internet.  They are the one who do not waste time with a garnish.  Don’t think that means the presentation will not be spectacular.  If my senses go into overdrive when the plate hits the table, you’ve got a great presentation.  I need the look and smell to get the juices flowing so the taste sends it over the top. That is a meal!

So back to how to classify myself.  Foodie has moved away from me.  Gastronome, epicure and the like seem to only work for the haute cuisine.  I am not a glutton or debauchee, they seem too far in the other direction.  I need something in the middle.  Something that speaks to who I am.  I enjoy an aged porterhouse and a ballpark hot dog.  Clam chowder is every bit as delectable as she-crab soup.  Haluski, cioppino, lamb tagine, and sushi all make my mouth water.  I love the experience but I certainly do not need Cirque-de-Dinner.  I am also perfectly content to talking about my meal with only my wife, not all of Instagram and Twitter.  No term seems to fit me today.

Maybe I need to invent my own word.

Cuisineist.   I looked and it doesn’t appear that anyone has claimed this one yet.  It speaks to food.  The breadth of cultural possibilities.  Neither chichi nor too guttural.  I like it.  We’ll see if I can make it stick.

While I work on my new cultural revolution, I will keep cooking for my lovely wife.  She is a cuisineist like me.  She usually loves what I create.  I will continue tasting and enjoying new and different dishes from anywhere and everywhere.  I will remain faithful to my television favorites: Alton, Sunny, Aaron, Cat, Ann, Alex, Guy, GZ, Marc, Emeril, Jet, Ree, Scott, Chris, Curtis, Susan, Mary Sue, Masaharu, Simon, Ted, Marcus, Mario, Michael, Ingrid, Carla, Andrew, and my first TV cooking favorite Graham along with several more that have slipped my mind.  I will also think fondly of my other two early television influences, Julia and Paul.  I can’t leave out my first culinary influence, my Mom.  She stood and watched me stand on a stool to make my first ever meal, scrambled eggs.  She coached me but allowed me to do it myself.  From there I was off and running.

Hmm, Cuisineist, I think I like it.

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Should an Artist’s Signature Song Define Them? (My Way Isn’t the Only Way)

Anyone who has been reading my musings over the past several months knows I love the big picture. But at the same time, I love to revel in the minutiae. I have stopped and started a few posts on another favorite subject of mine, music. The reason I stopped was because I kept going for the grand tour of my musical palate. So, I have decided to cut smaller swaths and discuss a smaller subject in more depth. For today’s swath, I want to open a discussion that I have had many times with many people about various artists. Many singers and bands have a signature song. It is the one that starts to play in your head. You know the one that every television show will use as an introduction. It is usually their biggest commercial hit.
Is the signature song their best song? In many cases, I don’t believe so. Now when I say best, I am referring to the entire package. The music, lyrics, presentation are all part of the song. A great hook does not make a great song. I want to make another distinction. I am also not referring to a favorite song. I have many favorites that are not an artist’s best work. I am looking for the best an artist has to offer. Let’s explore.
I will start with a classic example, Frank Sinatra. The Chairman has an extensive catalog from a half century of recording and was a giant in the industry. He will forever be tied to My Way. (Sorry, unless you are a Yankee’s season ticket holder, it is not New York, New York.) Is it his best song? I say, no. I have two personal favorites, You’re Getting to be a Habit with Me and Fly Me to the Moon. I think the latter is possibly his best song. Among my other candidates for best Sinatra tune are: All the Way, In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning, Come Fly with Me, and I’ve Got the World on a String. I believe these songs showcase the best of his music. These vocals and arrangements are his best.
Next, let us look at the Rolling Stones. Think of them and think of Satisfaction. I love this song and Keith Richards opening riff is one of the all-time great intros in rock history. It is not their best song. Paint It Black and Sympathy for the Devil are both better songs but they only vie for number two. Gimme Shelter is not only their best, but I feel one of the best rock songs ever. The give and take between Mick Jagger and Merry Clayton is what drives the song but the music behind it is every bit as good. I want to throw out 19th Nervous Breakdown, not as their best but one of my personal favorites.
Billy Joel not only has a signature song, he is so associated with it that it has become his moniker. He is the Piano Man. While I do love the song, I don’t think it is even close to his best. He tells a compelling story and yes, his piano sounds like a carnival, but he has so many better songs. I will start with Just the Way You Are. This has a depth of feeling Piano Man does not and the music is better composed. For my money, this is number one. I want to offer a few others I feel are still better than his signature: Movin’ Out, Only the Good Die Young, My Life and The Downeaster Alexa. Okay, okay Joel fans, I know I did not include Scenes from an Italian Restaurant. I love all seven and a half minutes of it. It is just not his best work.
Purple Rain is regarded as Prince’s signature. Much like Billy Joel, Prince is tied to the song more because of how it relates to his persona than for the greatness of the song. I think everyone agrees that When Doves Cry is his best effort. Musically, emotionally, vocally, it is superior. For Prince, I also think Let’s Go Crazy and Sign O’ The Times and Kiss are better songs.
David Bowie is linked to Space Oddity. It is the song that made him a star. I don’t think this is even a top ten song for Bowie. Allow me to give a short list of better works from the Thin White Duke: Fame, Heroes, Modern Love, Young Americans, Rebel Rebel, Ashes to Ashes, and One that fits the bill for two artists, Pressure. Yes, Pressure is not only better for Bowie, I say it is better than Bohemian Rhapsody for Queen. Not by much mind you, but better.
I hope you can see where I am going with this now. Let me jump into a list of artists, their signature, and what I believe is better.
Aretha Franklin – Respect
I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)
Do Right Woman, Do Right Man
Madonna – Like a Virgin
Like a Prayer
This Used to be My Playground
Crazy for You
Otis Redding – Dock of the Bay
Try a Little Tenderness
Elton John – Rocket Man
Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
Nikita
Led Zeppelin – Stairway to Heaven
(About half of their catalog)
Michael Jackson – Anything from the Thriller album
Anything from the Off the Wall album

My lists could go on and on from Elvis to Donna Summer, The Supremes to Coldplay, Chuck Berry to Metallica, The Beatles to Mariah Carey, Marvin Gaye to Usher. You get the picture.
I don’t want you to think I feel this way about every artist. There are many where their signature song is probably their best. The Eagles – Hotel California, Gladys Knight and the Pips – Midnight Train to Georgia, Johnny Cash – Ring of Fire. But even these great ones can be up for debate. And that is exactly what I want. I don’t want some DJ or iTunes telling me what the best song is from any particular artist. I like to talk about it.
Now I want to take a moment and explain the choice of artists I used for this post. I stayed away from most current artists for two basic reasons. First, I am nearing fifty and the artists above are what I listened to growing up and they are part of my core. There are many others, but mostly in the same eras. While I do keep up with much of today’s music, I have limited favorites and I don’t want to short change great talent by making a stupid comment because I am uninformed. The second reason is that most of these artists have already put out the bulk of their catalog. Can Madonna or the Stones come out with another album with the greatest thing they have ever recorded? Sure, they can. That would be incredible and I will take my copy on day one. Rihanna, Adele, Drake, Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars, Katy Perry, and Niki Minaj all have many years to create that one song that will define them. I think it is too early to assign a song to them now. Let’s give them all a few more decades and we can include them.

So now, I want to hear from you. Do you agree with any of my examples? If not, that is okay with me. What are your thoughts on the best they created. If you have other artists you feel fit the bill, please share them. I love great discussion.

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America’s Stories Are Closer Than You Think

The other day I was talking with a co-worker who knew I had lived in Philadelphia.  She and her family were considering a trip to Philadelphia and she asked me about Independence Mall.  Is it worth it?  My immediate answer was “Yes, absolutely!”  Then I followed with don’t limit yourself to just that small area.  There is so much more to see if you are interested in history.  I then gave her a short list of other must see sites in the area from Penn’s Landing up to Valley Forge.  We talked for about ten or fifteen minutes, but that got my wheels turning.

When we started talking she mentioned just the Independence National Historic Park.  As I told her about other places in the area I was hearing myself say the same thing.  National Historic Site, National Historic Landmark, National Historic Park.  After our conversation ended, I began to think about all of the places I have been that fall under the auspices of the National Park System.  Just from memory, quite a number.

When I woke up this morning, I found myself still thinking about where I had been and began to look at the National Park Service’s website.  I was surprised to find just how many places I really had seen and experienced.  I have even lived very close to several of these sites.  That is not completely shocking since there are currently 413 places that fall under the Park Service.  They range from the largest at over eight million square miles to the smallest being the size of one historic home.  They also vary from the well-known and much visited Blue Ridge Parkway and Yellowstone to Cape Hatteras National Seashore and Golden Gate National Recreation Area.  There are also less obvious but well known places that are managed by the Service including Mount Rushmore and the White House.

I am throwing out what may be boring statistics to some to illustrate that National Parks are all around us and probably even close to you.  To that end, I want to tell you about a few of the ones that have made the greatest impact on me.

The Grand Canyon – The name really speaks volumes.  I had seen pictures all of my life of the canyon, but they did not really resonate until I went there.  To say it is beautiful is an understatement.  We did not venture down into the canyon itself, but we did make a point to visit several points along the rim.  We were at the very crowded south rim observation point at Grand Canyon Village and the views were spectacular.  From there we drove east stopping several times at less crowded places.  We did this until we reached Lipan Point where you have what I think is the best view of the canyon looking down river instead of across to the north rim.  That is a memory I will keep forever.

Zion National Park – This was a hidden gem.  When we left the Grand Canyon, we drove up through Utah and were heading to Las Vegas.  We both knew of Zion but had no plans to stop there.  I cannot tell you how glad I am that we decided to take it in.  If I am honest, it is more visually stimulating than the Grand Canyon.  Being at the bottom looking up does give a different perspective, but the rock formations and colors are amazing.  The Three Patriarchs, the Narrows, the Subway, the Pulpit and many other formations are worth the drive.  Among all of the parks I have been to where nature is the focus, Zion is my favorite.

Fort McHenry – The place that inspired Francis Scott Key to pen a poem that would become our national anthem.  The fort is on a point that is now in the center of Baltimore. To get there you need to travel the busiest of streets and find your way through some industrial areas, but once there, it is a little oasis in the city.  The site is well preserved and pristine.  The guides here are some of the friendliest that I have encountered in my travels.  They tell the story so well and at all times there is an enormous 15-star flag used as the focal point of the story.  If you are in a patriotic mood, this is a must.

The National Mall – Where do I begin with how great this is to visit?  It can be a little hard to define since it is not strictly the strip of land running from the US Capital Building to the Lincoln Memorial.  It is much more than that.  It includes all of the monuments from the iconic Washington Monument to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to the Jefferson Memorial, the African American Civil War Memorial, and several more.  Then there are the buildings under the Park Services care including Fords Theatre and the Frederick Douglas National Historic Site.  I would also be remiss if I did not mention the Smithsonian Institution.  Although the many museums are not part of the Park Service, they frame the National Mall and provide endless days of enjoyment and education.

Shenandoah National Park – Blue Ridge Parkway – Great Smokey Mountains National Park – I group these together because essentially, where one ends the next one continues.  If you love nature this is a great place to visit.  It is a large part of the southern half of the Appalachian Trail, a hiker’s delight for longer than it has been a defined trail by the Park service.  If you are not that into hiking but still want to enjoy the park, this is one of the best driving parks we have.  In the fall the Blue Ridge Parkway is a foliage lover’s destination making it the most visited park in the system.  I have driven just about the entire length several times. These three parks are friendly to just about every level of outdoor aficionado.

Gettysburg National Military Park – I saved this one for last as it is my absolute favorite.  My parents brought me to Gettysburg almost every summer for a few days and we would explore new parts every year.  Later in life, my wife and I lived there for about three years.  We would spend hours on the battlefield.  We rode our bicycles around some trails walked with our dogs down others.  Many of the monuments are beautiful and tell a tragic story of our history.  Yes, there are many monuments to the men who fought for the Confederacy, but the town also has a deeper history.  Gettysburg was home to a community of “free blacks”, African Americans who made a life for themselves and were a part of the greater community in a very contentious time.  Everyone knows about Lincoln’s visit to Gettysburg, but George Washington also came through and stayed just outside of the town on his way to put down the Whiskey Rebellion.  There is so much more to learn about this great place.  I know the battlefield as well as some of the guides, but I learn new things all the time.

I want to mention a few more that I have visited and have left a definite impression on me.  They are in no particular order; Saguaro National Park, Boston National Historic Park, Everglades National Park, Petroglyph National Monument, Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, Colonial Historic Park, Antietam National Battlefield and of course, where I started this train of thought, Independence National Historic Park.  There are more, but these are at the top of my list.  I have an entire other list of places I could go into but I have kept this to our National Park System.  You can find many just as fascinating place in National Forests, State Parks and private sites all over the country.

Why did I limit this to the National Park System?  Because on August 25th of this year, our National Park Service celebrated their 100th birthday.  On a rough count, I am nearing a quarter of the sites visited.  I want to see many more.  I invite you to send the Service a birthday gift by visiting any one of the sites under their care.  You may learn something.  You may see things you have never seen before.  You may just sit and enjoy nature.  Take a look.  I bet you have one near you.

I hope you have had the same wonderful experiences.  I would love to hear about your favorite National Park visit.  Please leave a comment.  You may give me my next excursion idea.

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Extra Innings with a Seamhead

I have many obsessions. But I have only one addiction, baseball.  Well, two if you count coffee.  Baseball is certainly an obsession of mine, but like anything you are fascinated with you can put it away for a while.  I call baseball an addiction because I cannot put it away for the winter.  The first embers of the hot stove are heating up.  My twitter feed is filled with teams, networks, writers, leagues, anything that will feed my need.  I surf websites regularly to keep up on the trade rumors, free agent news, history of the game, or any other nugget of information that will satisfy me.  I am a Seamhead.

Baseball people have a unique way of looking at their sport.  You have camps.  In other sports, the measuring sticks are the same throughout most of their history.  Yes, stats evolve, but the arguments remain the same.  Baseball has old school traditionalists and new age Sabermatricians.  I find myself somewhere in the middle.  I understand and find value in the cold hard numbers, but I believe there is more to the sport than just stats.  I see value in the intangibles a player brings to a team.  But intangibles do not win championships.  I favor a healthy blend of both worlds.  This approach comes in handy when watching the sport at other levels.

As a devotee of the sport, I love more than just Major League Baseball, and I am endlessly enthralled by every level of the game.  I pay close attention to both the Little League and College World Series.  I am very happy now that the MLB Network carries the Caribbean Series and I am looking forward to the return of the World Baseball Classic this Spring.  I constantly read about the history of the game reaching as far back as the true early days in the late nineteenth century.  I feel great joy in seeing where the game is going.  Australia and Europe are experiencing a surge in the popularity of baseball. New players are introduced to the game at the youth level.  The game is as strong as ever in Latin America and East Asia. I would love to see games on MLB from here also.

As for me, I spent my youth playing America’s pastime.  When I went as far as my talent would allow, I coached Little League in the Senior division for six years.  Then I moved into umpiring.  I called thousands of games.  I started at the Little League level and worked my way up through high school and then into college.  I became pretty good.  I was asked to work in a summer wooden bat league for talented college players.  I also tried my hand at administration for several years.  I was the umpire consultant for my local league and was on the district board as the administrator for the Big-League level (16-18-year-old players).

All of this background was to establish a foundation for the point of my essay.  I, like most other fans have hopes and wishes for the game we love.  I want to share a few of mine with you.  You may not agree with my suggestions.  That is perfectly okay with me.  This is just how I feel.

  1. Start games earlier. This is a popular battle cry.  I happen to agree, especially when it comes to the post season.  Isn’t it better for the west coast to miss the beginning of a game than the east coast to miss the end?  The arguments are plentiful on this one, so I will leave it at that.
  2. Let the All-Star Game be what it is supposed to be. The All-Star Game was meant to be an exhibition to showcase the best players in the league.  Because we had one tie, we lost our collective minds.  I still believe, as I did when it happened, Commissioner Selig made the right call.  But let’s get our heads back on straight.  We stopped that game to prevent player injuries that could impact the remainder of the season.  So, in reaction, we said “This time it counts”.  Now we have ruined the Mid-Summer Classic to affect change to the Fall Classic.  Stop already.  Leave the All-Star game as a fun, fan friendly exhibition and find a better way to determine home field advantage.  I have heard many good suggestions.  Among them; simply use the best record, best inter-league record (either for the individual team or the league as a whole), or just go back to alternating.
  3. Figure out the designated hitter. I must admit I struggle a bit with this one, but we need to figure it out so fans will not have to endure hours of announcers, commentators and reporters droning on about the differences between the leagues. Personally, I love pitchers that hit.  I love the strategy involved and managers having to think innings ahead.  Teams also get a big boost with a pitcher who can handle a bat.  I feel if you only want to see balls mashed over the fence, go watch beer league softball.  Even in the American League, small ball still works.  Thank you, Tito!  I know the DH will never go away, but let’s find common ground so we can talk about more interesting things.
  4. It is time for MLB to move into new territory. I fully realize this is years, maybe even decades away, but I would love to see teams in Puerto Rico, Cuba, Mexico and eventually Japan.  Yes, I know there are economic and political barriers to overcome.  Why can’t baseball help pave the way?  Looking past those barriers, I do have a concern that this could, in turn, hurt the existing leagues that have been thriving in those countries for the better part of a century.  I think it is worth exploring.
  5. Hall of Fame, figure it out already. I think the Hall has made progress in the election of new members.  However, we still face the inevitable steroid discussion every winter and at the ceremony when Hall talk is in the news.  My personal feeling is, it happened, move on.  Put Bonds, Clemens, Palmeiro and anyone else deemed worthy in the hall.  Let’s face it, with the number of reprobates currently in the Hall, are we truly hurting the aura of membership?  Bob Costas suggested putting a sign at the entrance stating essentially that the era happened and you can make up your own mind.  I agree.
  6. It is time to help the Umpires out. As I mentioned above, I was an umpire. I understand how good they are.  I was also privileged to have been mentored by a former Major League Umpire, so I have insight.  Knowing how difficult it is to call a 90-something mile per hour pitch on the corner of the plate, I can tell you they do an amazing job.  If you have not seen a baseball moving in the mid-80s break about two feet, you should try it.  I could not have more respect for what these men do.  That said, they face constant scrutiny over every pitch.  I have seen a number of systems and I think they could be close to helping on balls and strikes without slowing down the game.  I know the men in blue don’t want to give up the control, but we have proven that replay works and your reputations are only helped, not hurt.  Let’s give it a try.  Side note to the fans at every level, give them a break.  Most umpires do it for the love of the game, not to sway an outcome.  Mistakes happen.
  7. College Baseball deserves more respect. College baseball is gaining popularity and MLB teams are now looking at top players differently than they had several decades ago.  We should too.  I am glued to ESPN every June to watch the sport’s pinnacle in Omaha.  There are future Major Leaguers on almost every team.  The games are beautiful to watch.  For a baseball fan, this is every bit as great as March Madness.  If all you know of the college game is the piercing “ping” of the bats, times have changed.  While the bats are still aluminum, new technology has reduced the flight of the ball and dampened the sound considerably.  Gone are the slugfests.  The game now closely resembles the pros.  If you have not watched a college game, I encourage you to try one.  I am sure you will love it.
  8. The Majors should take a page from the minors. Have you been to a minor league baseball game any time, ever?  It is one big party.  In between watching the game’s rising stars, most all minor league games feature mid inning games, entertainment and just plain silliness. Let’s keep in mind, it is still a game.  Now, a few major league teams get it to a lesser extent, but why can’t we have more fan participation at the highest level of the game?  No sport anywhere appreciates their fans more than baseball.  I believe that.  We have interactive fun throughout the minors.  Games in Latin America feature constant music, live music, during the games.  Japanese games are more fan inclusive.  But when we get to the highest level of the sport we want fans to watch and be entertained.  Forget that, let’s have fun!  (Just not the wave.  I hate the wave.)
  9. Patience is a virtue, ask a Cubs fan. Indians fans, just wait, it will come.  I can say this as a lifelong fan of a team that waited 97 years (76 if you only count the modern game) for their first championship and another 28 for the second.  I am watching the rebuilding process now in hopes of number three.  Keep in mind you do have a pennant to look at in the outfield.  There are eight teams led by the Rangers who have not won their first series.  Washington as a city is now on their third team with no championship since 1924.  While no team should have to wait 108 years, with 30 teams, a drought is inevitable.
  10. To casual fans and Seamheads alike, I say expand your horizons. I am not going to go into great detail here.  I will instead give you something to explore if you wish.  Here is a list of teams who have won championships this year.  If you want to grow your love of the game, google some of these teams to discover where they are from and what they are about.
    1. Chicago Cubs
    2. Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters
    3. Venados de Mazatlan
    4. Maine-Endwell
    5. Netherlands
    6. Santurce
    7. Brisbane Bandits
    8. Doosan Bears
    9. Coastal Carolina University
    10. McGill University
    11. Pericos de Puebla
    12. Ciego de Avila
    13. Leones de Escogido
    14. Tigres de Aragua
    15. EDA Rhinos

 

I would love to hear from all baseball fans no matter your level of interest.  I would like to know what you love about our game.