Monday, June 29, 2009

Turning Backtime: One Week

A wise man and bona fide TV star once told me “If you feed your blog, it will grow. If you don’t, it will die.”

I hope the one-week layoff didn’t bring any medical examiners to my computer to draw any chalk outlines. The Backtime editorial department has been doing some major house-cleaning (yes it’s a metaphor, use your imagination), but we’re open for business again. So we’ll start with a backlog of last week’s notable experiences.

Monday/Tuesday – Karate Lessons.

What is a 40-year old man doing in Tae Kwon Do? Well my 5-year old son has had some developmental delays, and we started him in Karate (among many other things) some time ago. He likes it and has made incremental progress, but he’s struggling.

I thought if Dad learned some things, he would be able to show some moves to the young grasshopper.

The issue now is my abs. For two days, it was excruciating to pick up my 30-pound daughter, to cough, or laugh. Forget sleep.

Thursday – Sand Gnats Game

Single-A Baseball with a group of friends is a great diversion. The Sand Gnats (Mets) hosted the Charleston River Dogs (Yankees), so this was one occasion where I rooted for the lesser organization.

Didn’t get a chance to see Pat Venditte, Charleston’s switch-handed closer and Mariano Rivera’s future replacement, as the home team squeaked out a 1-run win.

But I did get a chance to see (and conquer) a Philly Cheesesteak at the game. Despite being seemingly devoid of cheese (they told me it was mixed in there), it was as good as any I’ve had in Philly. Just one man’s opinion. Check it out for yourself next time at Grayson Stadium.

Weekend – Muy Caliente!

Trying to find stuff to keep you cool is rough. I have been running almost every day, and I’ve pretty well acclimated myself to the Savannah weather in my second summer here. Though that hasn’t reflected in my weight…at least as much as it should.

The kids did the beach and a picnic on Saturday, and got a little overheated after all that activity. Sunday was an indoor playground. Gotta start staking out as many of those as I can, otherwise it's back to the family pool.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The New York Yankees...Leading the AL in Designated Hitters

The New York Yankees recently completed an 18-game errorless streak, the best in Major League history.

They have a solid infield, and can make up for some weak outfielders with a dependable CF, whether it be Melky Cabrera or Brett Gardner.

But the roster is generally loaded with far too many players who are best fielding baseballs while in the batters' box. If you've got no glove, you get no love in this post.

Exhibit A: Hideki Matsui.

This one actually is the DH. He was an average OF when he got to NY and those skills have deteriorated, whether it be by injury or a rapid aging process.

He's still formidable at the plate in stretches, but has become completely one-dimensional.

Exhibit B: Jorge Posada.

Never recovered from last year's shoulder injury. Not that throwing has everything to do with being a catcher. Nobody can make a 9-figure starting rotation look more disjointed.

It's no surprise that the Yanks' errorless streak took place primarily while Jorge was on the DL, or that he was the one to end it.

Still a clutch, feared hitter, and an enduring Yankee. But his future is likely as the backup catcher and the primary DH.

Exhibit C: Johnny Damon.

He can still run. But he can't really catch. The move from CF to LF seemed to be a good one for him a couple of years ago. Now I just cringe when a ball gets hit out there.

I have the exact opposite reaction when he's at the plate. He is an extremely productive hitter with no signs of age on offense. But he's probably a DH too.

Exhibit D: Nick Swisher.

Now he's probably the best fielder in this group. The former Buckeye will always give it the ol' college try and for that he became a Yankee fan favorite instantly. He even pitched a scoreless inning in an early blowout.

But despite the occasional great play, he's still below average defensively. He hides pretty well in RF or at 1B. He's a gregarious team guy and is hard not to like, but he's also a DH.

I'm glad my team plays in the American League, but you can only start one guy at the specialized position.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

I Like New York in June, How About You?

Central Park looks nice and lush because it's been raining forever. The US Open over on Long Island looked more like the British Open. The Yankees played Washington on Thursday afternoon...after a 5+ hour rain delay. This was a rare dry moment.

Second straight weekend a family event has the clan alive with wonder.

While dodging raindrops, the trip included a Broadway show, a few subway rides, pizza and bagels...and my wife's adrenaline got going in some Soho boutiques.

Caught some typical NY events like people lining up around the corner for the new iPhone. And some typical events happened to me like getting a summons for blocking the box. Outrageous fine but no points. What was I thinking driving from midtown to friends in New Rochelle on a Friday rush hour?

And the cops are out everywhere. Bloomberg's New York is different from the one I resided in. There is no shortage of manpower to ticket vehicles, provide police/security presence, or clean up the streets. Times Square is a family-friendly international mixing place...which obviously has its share of negatives. But NY hotels and theatres keep raking in the dough in an unbecoming economy.

But the trek was all about grandkids and great-grandkids who were there to see Oma celebrate her 90th Birthday.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

What's Up Homes? Santa Barbara Edition

Ah, the California coast. Weather never gets too hot or too cold. Lots of glorious afternoons once the marine layer dissipates. So what if you have a few brush fires, earthquakes, or imported LA smog? You might also have a house like this: Multi-level backyard with great stone settings and orange trees. Just what the hungover post-wedding crowd ordered.

Colorful and eclectic, yet tasteful.

Obviously plenty of time and space going into success (or failure) in your garden endeavors. Either way, worth the effort.

And welcome to my kind of office. My cousin Roger, the faculty religion/sociology bigwig at UCSB calls it "the cockpit." Now I have never lived in California, nor visited for very long. It's pretty pleasant. Maybe just drop me from a helicopter with a parachute and a turkey and cheese wrap over one of Santa Barbara's wineries and let me get lost for a few days. I could check out any time I like, but I may never leave.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Backtime Play By Play: West Coast Wedding Edition

Spent the past weekend out west. Attended a family wedding at the picturesque Montecito Country Club in the Santa Barbara hills, overlooking the Pacific.

The groom was my second cousin, Jared Stacy - known throughout my family as the west coast version of me (except that he's better looking, smarter, and younger). He followed me into the TV biz, working as an associate producer on Dodgers and Lakers games. Does he get two rings this weekend? Anyway, here he is with his parents at his last recorded moment of freedom:

This is an important moment since there was something from his lovely bride, Caitlin McGinty, in the wedding vows about an 80-year contract. That's going to be tough to renegotiate.

As for the sports angle, the groomsmen included a couple of NBA big men, Jaron and Jason Collins, who attended Stanford with the groom.

Legendary Dodgers' broadcaster Vin Scully was working and couldn't officiate the ceremony, but he lent Jared his cuff links for the occasion.

And there was an official announcement in the Dodgers' game notes. (I have to learn to photoshop)

Good nuance at the reception. The house red wine was Syrah. The Irish folk dancers were captivating (later emulated by the bride and her siblings). The cupcakes were the best ever.

As for me, with my bride stuck in the Savannah weather center due to a staff wedding down here (congrats to David & Jess by the way), I brought a younger woman.

No such weather issues on the California coast. This one stole the show on many occasions.

Except for my pregame Friday Night toast when I had to explain to her that at least for a few minutes that I was Paris Hilton and she was the chihuahua.

That's alright, take an 80-year contract with her any day.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Whither Orlando?

There's a void right now in the TV drama rotation. Breaking Bad just wrapped Season 2. Mad Men won't return until late summer. House is taking some time to think things over. Big Love likely hasn't even contemplated it's return date.

So I was left to return back to TV gold, The Wire - Season 1. It just so happened that I was replaying the old episodes at the same time of year as I was soaking in the human drama of the NBA Finals. So I couldn't help but think how to draw parallels between the fate of the Orlando Magic after the Game 4 debacle, and that of Wendell "Orlando" Blocker, the gentleman's club owner and front man for B&B.

Both Orlando (the team) and Orlando (the would-be player) weren't ready when it was their time to step up.

Even though The Wire's Orlando had his name on the marquee and was swimming in strippers, he didn't have the rep or the cash that he desired. So he took matters into his own hands, trying to get in "the game" and start his own empire with a simple drug buy. He got busted, and then got smoked.

Last night, the Orlando Magic couldn't stand their own prosperity. They held a 12-point lead at the Half, and blew it. They came back again to take a 5-point lead with under a minute to go, and blew that too.

Not only did they unravel when it was their time to step up, but they compounded it too.

Mickael Pietrus put himself in a world of jeopardy with his dirty foul on the Lakers' Pau Gasol at the very end of overtime.

Now, one can make the argument that you don't dunk the ball with a 5-point lead with 3 seconds to go - that it's a breach of basketball etiquette.

But a 2-hand jolt on a guy's back while he's in mid-air is much worse. Pietrus' reaction was pure frustration and lack of composure. Unless he decided that this was the time to announce to the world that French was once and for all the superior language to Spanish.

It didn't really matter at that point. The Magic were busted as pretenders, and then they got smoked.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

What's Up Homes? Truck Stop Royalty Edition

Yes, and my wife is an heiress.

The Jack's service station/restaurant/western wear/outdoor wear empire looms prominently in the Cullman, Alabama skyline. If you've ever traveled I-65 from Birmingham to Huntsville, then you've probably frequented the family truck stop.

My father-in-law (the grandkids call him "Pa-Paw") lives way out in the boonies in a majestic place on Smith Lake.

Oh yes, it's haunted too. The Savannahesque statue guards 17 graves in the front yard. My wife reports all sorts of strange happenings from her childhood, including a sleepwalking chase which involved tearing out a window screen...Just another piece of the puzzle I guess.

The owner is a stickler for decor in all five bedrooms on three levels.

It makes me think I might have jumped to conclusions about life in Alabama and the truck stop business. Maybe I ought to tear up that screenplay.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Breaking up is hard to do

This was the first Sunday Night after the Breaking Bad season finale. And while a fine Game 2 of the NBA Finals helped fill the void, the loss of my new favorite show hasn't really sunk in yet.

While it hasn't sunk in for me yet, imaging being Walter White (Bryan Cranston).

You've beaten cancer. You've taken care of your family financially for the forseeable future. You've rescued Jesse (Aaron Paul), your "business" partner from an abyss of drug addiction and depression and set him up in a cushy recovery situation.

You've managed to evade law enforcement. This includes a dogged DEA bigwig who just so happens to be your brother-in-law who is actually looking for you (well your alias "Heisenberg" - named after a pioneer in quantum mechanics).

And most importantly you're still alive when so many that you've come into contact with are no longer.

So, you've won. Except that all the lies you've told your family to get to this point are being called...And your wife Skyler (Anna Gunn) says she's had enough and leaves you.

And as this all sinks in, Walt's property is bombarded by debris from an overhead plane crash...The result of a chain of events that he actually set in motion. Seems that everything's connected in the ABQ.

Now, we'll all miss the great characters unveiled in the second half of Season 2.

"Better Call" Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk, Mr. Show) - the sleazy, well-connected, brilliant criminal lawyer. Without Saul, Walt and Jesse would still be at each other's throats and more importantly, would still be broke.

Gustavo (Giancarlo Esposito from a million things, maybe best in Do The Right Thing) - the successful owner of Los Pollos Hermanos, a regional chain of Mexican chicken shacks, and community leader. He's also the largest crystal meth wholesaler in the Southwest.

Donald (John de Lancie, who was the comic antagoinst "Q" from Star Trek: TNG) - the grief-stricken air traffic controller who can't come to grips with his daughter's overdose, which yields tragic results.

I guess we'll see ya'll next season. It's a break that will seem too long.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

An Alabama Hit and Run

How was your weekend?

Mine was spent behind the wheel. Took my 5-year old to Grandma's in Cullman on Saturday, then made an about face on Sunday.

First stop, truck stop. Meet the family business.

You can spend an entire day and a lot of money at Jack's Western Wear. My son must think that Crocs grow on trees. I considered buying him one of these T-shirts:

A cursory check yielded no such Christmas requests to play for Gene Chizik at Auburn. Not yet anyway.

When I spent the night at my father-in-law's lakeside estate (more on this in a later post), I found a familiar looking statue waiting for me.

And much like the Savannah version, she guards headstones - in his front yard.

Swung by Talladega Super Speedway on the way back.

If fictional race car driver Ricky Bobby ever enjoyed any Talladega Nights, that would be a fictional account too. If there's any nightlife in this sleepy town, it would be a major upset.

Despite being almost constantly on the road, my XM radio kept me connected with my Yankees. Heard both weekend games in their entirety. Got to watch Federer make quick work and history on Sunday morning. Got home in time to see a vintage Tiger Woods Sunday finish.

Saturday, June 6, 2009


I like to think I grew up in the "golden age" of tennis.

Borg. Connors. McEnroe. Lendl. Becker. Which spawned the next era of Sampras and Agassi. Today isn't shabby either with Federer and Nadal, but neither of them are American.

The women's side still has strong US representation, and international sex appeal as well.

Tennis is still globally relavant, but it's not moving the meter much here in Dixie.

Tennis happens all over the world at all hours, but it's a different age now with the internet, ESPNEWS, etc. If I'm at the playground, I can keep up with scores on my phone. If I'm in the car, I get updates every 20 minutes on ESPN Radio.

I expect to pop in the house and see live action.

On Sunday morning, Rafael Nadal entered his 4th Round match against #23 Robin Soderling having never lost at Roland Garros (31-0). But as I learned he was on the ropes I raced home to check out the end.

It was the weekend so I went to NBC first - infomercial. So I went to ESPN2, the Grand Slam Network - Outdoor show. No live coverage for the biggest upset in the sport in years.

On Friday afternoon, Roger Federer was in a deadlock against #5 Juan Martin Del Potro. It was the Men's Semis, so I went to NBC first - Judge Judy. I went to ESPN2 - College Baseball Super Regionals. Great event, not what I was looking for.

No live TV for Federer's 5-set gut-check win to knock on the door for his first French title.

Twice this week, the live TV situation completely burned me - and is helping to push me away from a sport I used to love.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Jumpin' Around

June 4, 2009 turned out to be one of the monster sports days. It started off quietly enough as four women with multiple syllables and hard to pronounce names faced off in the French Open semis.

But as the afternoon moved on, working in and around parent things, action heated up in the Bronx.

The Yankees capped off a rally from 5-1 down. A bases-clearing double by 2009 MVP Candidate Mark Teixeira and a clutch single by A-Rod set the table for The Amazing Melky Cabrera, who came up big again with a 2-run game-winning blast in the 8th.

Then Randy Johnson, the Big Unit, collected win #300 – some say he’ll be the last to get there. Brian Wilson closed out the Nationals, striking out the side in the 9th for a 5-1 Giants win just before 7 ET.

Get the kids to bed and it’s the NBA Finals and the Stanley Cup Finals on the same night. Very odd that it happened.

With the potentially long layoff for the NHL since the Wings and Pens easily advanced to their Finals rematch, the start date was moved up one week. The problem was, NBC wanted to launch Conan O’Brien without the risk of a double OT game moving him to the middle of the night. So Stanley Cup Games 1 & 2 aired back-to-back weekend nights on NBC, and Versus got a very reasonable Tuesday/Thursday double-dip in Pittsburgh.

I was relegated to my office and my instincts and a remote. My wife used her rare off night to watch Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange on the big TV. If she went for Full Metal Jacket, it might have been a tough call. If it was Eyes Wide Shut, she probably would have gotten me out of the house.

With the 1-hour stagger you really can watch both, even on one set.

The NHL game was the superior product, at least on this night. It’s not really a fair fight as it was Game 4 vs Game 1. The scene in Pittsburgh had a lot more intensity despite Leo, Jack, et al in LA.

The LA crowd was “Been there, done that.” Pittsburgh's was “Been here, do this!”

The Red Wings were looking to seize control of the series. They led 2-1 in the Finals, and were up 2-1 on the road early in the 2nd Period. They got back-to-back Pittsburgh penalties, and were looking to ice the game and, effectively, the series.

But Jordan Staal got a steal and scored shorthanded for the tie. Right after they killed the remainder of the penalty, Sidney Crosby scored the go-ahead. Then Sid set-up Tyler Kennedy on some gorgeous pinball action. It was 4-2 home team and the Igloo was on fire. Talk about a House of Pain !

The electric 2nd Period ended just in time to see The Magic get spunky early in LA. Jameer Nelson's return further bolsters the St. Joe's rep - that "The Hawk Will Never Die." But the Lakers woke up in time to go on a 25-10 run to end the 1st Half. And as intermission approached in one venue, action began in another.

The Pens got strong goaltending from Marc-Andre Fleury throughout the final period and got even. Now they're headed back to Detroit for Game 5.

Since hockey concluded in tidy regulation, I got to see the Kobe show in the 3rd Quarter. Certainly looks like a man on a mission, playing with a ferocity that we haven't seen from someone so smooth.

Interesting to see if Versus, which had a very nice rating on Tuesday, made a dent in the mighty NBA on ABC. They had the better product and some fortunate timing.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Meet Your 2009 American League MVP?

It shouldn't be that big a surprise considering the money the Yankees spent on Mark Teixeira. But, if you date back only 3 weeks, he was batting just .191 and frustrating a nation of Yankee fans, as well as his himself.

His bat has rebounded in a big way, but the numbers aren't off the charts. His 16 HR and 44 RBI rank 2nd and 4th in the AL, respectively. His .279 average is a big step up, but the measurables don't begin to tell the story of Teixeira's impact.

It's his intangibles that are leading the Yankees to their current perch on top of the League. He is a 2-time Gold Glove winner and the best defensive player on a team that just posted a Major-League record 18-game errorless streak. First Base is usually a position where you hide one of your best hitters, but Teixeira adds that extra dimension, which is what makes him so valuable.

And he may have had his defining moment in last night's win over his former team.

If you see the final score, it looks like a 12-3 romp for the Bombers. If you look in the paper, Mark Teixeira went 0-for-3. He didn't score a run. He didn't drive one in. But if you look closer, you'll see he was hit twice by the Rangers' Vicente Padilla. The second time was a little too obvious.

But instead of charging the mound, Teixeira took care of it the old-fashioned way, breaking up A-Rod's potentially inning-ending Double Play.

Teixeira's fire and determination kept the rally alive and helped turn the 3-2 deficit into a 9-3 lead, and there's no trace of it in the box score.

His play, and most importantly the way he plays, is what makes the Yankees a different and better team in 2009. And as the Yankees separate from the pack as the summer wears on, he may very well be the ringleader.