Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day Doubleheader

Back when I was young, there used to be such things as baseball doubleheaders, which is to say, two games on the same day, for the price of a single admission.  In baseball lore, this virtually always used to draw a reference to Ernie Banks, Hall-of-Fame shortsop-first-baseman for the Chicago Cubs (and anyone who could make the Hall of Fame playing for the Cubs in those days was a special ballplayer, indeed), who, aside from being a great, great ballplayer, was also one of the happiest men ever to put on a major-league uniform.  Ernie (and now I'm wondering if there isn't just something associated with baseball happiness that attaches to the name 'Ernie'?) was often heard to say, "It's a beautiful day; let's play two."  Back in my childhood days, most Sundays, as well as holidays like Labor Day, Memorial Day, and the Fourth of July, were occasions for doubleheaders, as if there were just something celebratory about twice as much baseball as usual (and, honestly, who can argue with that?).

Nowadays, there is pretty much no such thing as a doubleheader anymore.  Oh, teams will schedule doubleheaders to make up for rainouts, and such, but they're not 'doubleheaders' in the sense defined above; they're 'day-night' doubleheaders, in which, rather than play two games back-to-back on a single admission, they'll play an afternoon game, then clear the stadium and charge a second admission for a separate night game.  It's directly traceable to the baleful influence of money on what is, at its essence, a bucolic, pastoral game (if you'll allow me briefly to go all Bart Giamatti on you).  Teams need every one of those 81 paying crowds in order to meet their expenses (read: player salaries); 70 or so simply won't feed the bulldog (or, you know, the $27-million-a-year third-baseman).  So, no more doubleheaders.  It is, for baseball fans, a significant loss. . .


I grew up a long, long drive from Detroit, so we didn't go to many Tigers games when I was a kid; once a year, maybe.  But when I went to college, and suddenly realized that Tiger Stadium was only an hour-and-a-half from campus, it became much more reasonable to think about heading down for a game on the weekend, and we did, maybe a couple times during the spring term, and a couple more times in the summer.

It was 1981, I'm pretty sure (because it was one of the last games before the players' strike that took out the middle third of the season), that my buddy Steve and I went down to Tiger Stadium for a Memorial Day doubleheader against the Baltimore Orioles (I was 25 years old, and hadn't yet marked my first wedding anniversary; Jen wasn't even pregnant, so it was a LONG time ago).  The Tigers had an up-and-coming young team full of players like Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker, Lance Parrish and Kirk Gibson (who, only a couple years previously, had been wandering the same college campus as I had), still three years away from their World Championship of '84.  The Orioles, on the other hand, were a team of established veterans midway between a pair of World Series appearances in '79 (they lost) and '83 (they won).

My buddy Steve and his wife had just moved to Our Town from Texas a few months before, and we had instantly hit it off with each other.  Steve was a 'ticket guy' - he was always on the lookout for tickets to really cool sporting events.  Whereas I was mostly content to watch stuff on TV, Steve would come to me from time-to-time, saying, "Hey, I got tickets to the Indy 500 this year; you wanna go?"  So yeah, I went to the '84 Indy 500 (won by Rick Mears, the second of his four Indy wins), with Steve.

So, in '81, with the threat of a strike looming, Steve came to me with tickets for the Memorial Day doubleheader between the Tigers and Orioles.  We had a regular pattern when we attended Tiger games, in those days.  We'd buy reserved seats in the upper deck (in front of the posts, if possible), usually on the 3rd-base side.  From there, we'd spy out empty seats down by the visitors' dugout, and 'move up' for the end of the game.

In the first game, Dan Petry started and won for the Tigers; Steve Kemp homered and had 4 RBI.  For the Orioles, Ken Singleton was a one-man wrecking crew; he came into the game hitting .380 or so, then went 3-for-4 with a double.  But that didn't really capture how well he was hitting the ball.  Every ball he hit was crushed; even the out he made flew over 400 feet to the center-field warning track.  Kenny was seeing the ball real good that day.  (Even pretty devoted baseball fans might not remember, but Ken Singleton was a 3-time All-Star, and twice finished top-3 in the MVP voting)

For the second game, we duly moved up to seats between the Orioles' dugout and home plate, in the second row from the field.  We were so close, that we couldn't see the shortstop's feet, or the left-fielder's legs, because of the crowning of the field (for drainage purposes).  We could hear the catchers jawing with the umpires (in only the most deferential, respectful tones, you can be sure) over balls and strikes (without ever actually arguing over balls and strikes; it's a subtle art).  And we could talk to the on-deck hitters.

So when Ken Singleton appeared in the on-deck circle in the top of the first inning of Game 2, he was standing about 8 feet from where we were sitting.  "Come on, Ken," I implored.  "You killed us in the first game; take it easy this time, OK?"

He smiled.  "Can't do it, man.  You won the game; what do you want?"

We laughed, and then engaged in similar good-natured banter every time he appeared on-deck.  He ended up going the most awsome 0-for-4 I think I've ever seen, again hitting every ball hard, and a couple of them a long, long way, but right at the defense; he hit one line drive that Trammell caught out of pure self-preservation instinct, just before it would have exploded his skull.  The Tigers ended up winning when Lance Parrish hit a 2-run homer in the 8th, breaking a tie, so we went home happy, having seen the Tigers sweep a doubleheader from a pretty good team. . .

But you won't see anything like that anymore, because there aren't any doubleheaders anymore. . .

Sunday, May 27, 2012


Today is the Christian feast of Pentecost, which is probably the third-most-significant day on the Christian calendar (Easter is a pretty clear #1, and Christmas is #2, altho in the popular culture-at-large, Christmas gets way more airplay). In virtually all Christian traditions, Pentecost celebrates The Sending of the Holy Spirit; in some of the more ancient traditions (certainly Catholicism), it also celebrates The Birthday of the church. Either way, it's a big deal.

(I know that there is also a Jewish feast of Pentecost; if I have any Jewish readers, I'd love for you to enlighten me as to the nature of Pentecost in Jewish observance).

An ancient Hymn of Pentecost:

VENI, Sancte Spiritus,
et emitte caelitussend
lucis tuae radium.

Veni, pater pauperum,
veni, dator munerum
veni, lumen cordium.

Consolator optime,
dulcis hospes animae,
dulce refrigerium.

In labore requies,
in aestu temperies
in fletu solatium.

O lux beatissima,
reple cordis intima
tuorum fidelium.

Sine tuo numine,
nihil est in homine,
nihil est innoxium.

Lava quod est sordidum,
riga quod est aridum,
sana quod est saucium.

Flecte quod est rigidum,
fove quod est frigidum,
rege quod est devium.

Da tuis fidelibus,
in te confidentibus,
sacrum septenarium.

Da virtutis meritum,
da salutis exitum,
da perenne gaudium,


(In English:)

Come, Holy Spirit,
And send out from heaven
Your radiant light.

Come, father of the poor,
Come, giver of gifts,
Come, light of our hearts.

Best consoler,
Sweet guest of the soul,
Sweetness of cool refreshment.

Rest in labor,
Relief in heat,
Consolation in weeping.

O most blessed light,
Fill the center of the hearts
Of your faithful.

Without your divine power,
There is nothing in humans,
Nothing is innocent.

Wash what is soiled,
Water what is dry,
Heal what is wounded.

Bend what is rigid,
Warm what is chilled,
Guide what is astray.

Give to your faithful,
Who trust in you,
The seven sacred gifts.

Give the reward of virtue,
Give the goal of salvation,
Give eternal joy.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Over the past weekend, there was a fair bit of news coverage of a solar eclipse that was visible, among other places, in northern California, near where our friend Uncle Skip lives (as Suldog likes to say, he's not my uncle, but he's someone's).  In fact Skip himself made mention of the eclipse in his blog.  And in the course of commenting on Skip's 'eclipse' post, it occurred to me that I could post about my own experiences with eclipses, in the short time that I've been riding the earth around the sun.

(I should hasten to say that I am not speaking here about ellipses, the 'conic-section' curves that look like stretched-out circles (or squashed circles, depending on how you want to look at it), even though ellipses are extremely fascinating, and in fact, I've mentioned them before in this humble blog of mine.) (Just wanted to be clear on that. . .)

Anyway, where was I?  Oh, yeah. . .

The first eclipse that I remember actually seeing happened in 1963, I think; I was seven years old.  Our family was staying at a cottage Up North, although we hadn't yet moved up there.  I don't remember that much about it, except that it was summertime, and it was a bright, hot, sunny day; we spent the day playing on the beach.  And my mom was terribly worried that we were gonna look directly at the sun, trying to see the eclipse, and thereby render ourselves blind.  Because that's all that the newspapers said, in advance coverage of the eclipse - "DO NOT LOOK DIRECTLY INTO THE SUN TO VIEW THE ECLIPSE!!!  IF YOU DO, YOU'LL GO BLIND!!!  AND NO-ONE WANTS THAT, DO THEY!?!"  Which tangetially reminded me of another common warning of impending blindness that we sometimes heard in those days, but that's another story for another time (or, you know, not; 'cuz I'm just a tad less, um, forthcoming than some bloggers. . .).

Well, by the time I was seven, I had looked at the sun many times - squinting tightly, filtering the full intensity of the sunlight through my eyelashes (or however that works), so I knew that, if I did it right, and only peeked for a second (or less), that I'd be OK.  I don't recall if I actually did that, or not, or if the threats of blindness cowed me into compliance.  I vaguely recall that one of the very few clouds that day passed between me and the sun, allowing me to clearly see the disk of the sun, with a bite taken out of the side of it.

And I remember the ghostly dim light at the height of the eclipse (I think it was something like 74% of totality at the peak, where we were).  It was really strange, especially for seven-year-old me, experiencing it for the first time.  The world got noticeably dimmer, sort-of like it did around sunset, but the sun was high in the sky, and the shadows were the short ones of mid-day, not the long, extended ones around sunrise and sunset.

I'm not sure how long the eclipse lasted - it's usually an hour or two from start to finish - but in the fullness of time, the dragon barfed up the chunk of the sun that he'd swallowed, and the world returned to normal. . .


I really couldn't tell you how many eclipses I've witnessed in the course of my short life; maybe eight or ten?  I recall that most of the ones I've seen have been in the realms of 70-80% total, at their peak, very similar to that long-ago one when I was seven.  I recall one that occurred while we were in San Diego visiting my birth-mother (1991?), that went total somewhere down in Baja California, maybe 600-800 miles from us.  We briefly discussed going down to see the total eclipse in the Baja (and when I say 'briefly', I'm talking about seconds, not minutes), but decided not to.  That one might have been 80%, or something like that.

Without a doubt, the most spectacular solar eclipse that I've ever witnessed occurred in 1994.  It was an 'annular' eclipse (from the Latin 'annulus': 'ring') (as opposed to 'anal', which also refers to 'where the sun don't shine' but in an entirely different way), meaning that the moon was farther than usual from the earth, and the sun perhaps nearer, so that the moon's disk was slightly smaller than the sun's.  Thus, when the moon passed directly in front of the sun, it didn't completely obscure it, but left a bright ring of the sun's disk visible around the perimeter.  If the celestial geometry had been just a bit different, it would have been total, but alas. . .

That particular eclipse had its 'maximum occultation' along a band that went directly through mid-Michigan, including Our Town, and at its peak, it was 96% total.  The local newspaper wrote special 'eclipse' pieces for at least a week in advance, telling us how best to view the eclipse, what features would be visible where, etc.  Among other things, they told us that a #14 welder's shade was suitable for direct viewing of the sun.  Armed with that knowledge, I visited a local welding supply shop on my lunch hour, to buy a #14 shade.  The proprietor seemed a bit perplexed.  "You're the third or fourth guy that's been in here this week, asking for a #14 shade; what's going on?"  So I explained to him about the upcoming eclipse, and my desire to view it through the darkened glass.  "Well, I don't carry a #14 shade," he said.  "Nobody would ever want anything that dark for normal welding work."  I was disappointed, but he told me, "The shade values just add together - if you hold a #8 and a #6 together, you'll get the same shade as a #14."  So I bought a #8 and a #6, and the shop-owner was happy to sell twice as many shades.

The newspaper also published a map of the area, showing what parts of the local area would be able to view the eclipse at is maximum, with the sun's ring fully visible all around the circumference of the moon.  Working as I did in an engineering office (and virtually all engineers having grown up as science nerds), there was much water-cooler discussion of the eclipse in the days leading up to it.  A group of us made plans to play hooky for a couple hours on Eclipse Day, to watch it all happen.

We were particularly fascinated by a region marked out on the maps in the paper as the 'graze zone', where the edge of the moon's disk would 'graze' the edge of the sun's disk as it passed in front of it, producing an effect known as 'Baily's Beads', or 'The String of Pearls', in which the hills and valleys on the moon's surface uncovered the sun's disk very locally, so that, from the earth it would appear as an arc of little bright dots, arcing between the 'horns' of the crescent remnant of the sun's disk.  The 'graze zone' was very narrow - measured in yards, rather than miles - but part of it crossed the county fair grounds, so we determined to find a place at the fairgounds for our eclipse-viewing pleasure.

Armed with the newspaper map, we found a place securely within the 'graze zone' where we could park our car without being in anyone's way, who was at the fair grounds on 'normal business'.  Then we got out of the car, bearing a variety of viewing gadgets - the cardboard box with the pinhole, among a few others, and my welding shades (I didn't need the whole helmet, although I think we brought one, just in case).  Then we spent the next hour or so watching as the moon passed, ever-so-slowly, across the face of the sun, first looking like someone had whacked the sun with a ball-peen hammer, then looking like progressively larger bites were being taken out of it.  As the time approached the peak, the sun looked like a sliver of a shining fingernail in the sky, and I had my welding shades pretty much straight over my head.  The air around us seemed almost a deathly gray as the eclipse went 94. . . 95. . . 96% total.

Then, all of a sudden, we saw them.  The map in the paper had  been right!  An arc of tiny points of light crossed between the horns of the sun's crescent, twinkling and blinking as the moon - and we - moved, and the sun's light filtered through the valleys on the lunar surface.  Short of a total eclipse itself, it was about the coolest thing I could ever imagine seeing in the sky (Comet Hale-Bopp was pretty cool, but not this cool).

In fairly short order - a few minutes, really - the moon began passing off the sun's disk.  The 'String of Pearls' disappeared, and the bright crescent in the sky began to grow larger again.  We packed up  our gear and returned to the office, and by the time we went home at the end of the day, we had our good-old round sun back again.

I did take a couple pictures, with my regular old 35mm camera, with the welding shade over the lens, but I didn't have nearly the set-up required, nor fast enough film.  I ended up with something that looked like a glowing green horseshoe; when I see it, I remember the moment, and what I really saw, but it is no kind of documentation of the event.  (*sigh*)

At any rate, that was one extremely cool event, and it all happened less than 10 miles from my home. . .

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Lulubelle? Is That You?

I grew up in a small city in northern Michigan.  The high school I attended was the only one for our entire county, serving a total population of 30,000 or so souls, about half of whom lived in the city (where my own family resided), and the other half were spread throughout the county, mostly on farms.  Thus, during the course of the school day, I was studying and otherwise rubbing shoulders with both city kids and farm kids, and the sports teams I played on were similarly diverse (mainly football and baseball; tennis and golf, not so much).  In my Driver's Ed class, most of the farm kids had been driving tractors since they were ten or so, and a stick-shift was not an exotic concept to them.

We generally got along pretty well with each other, and there wasn't this huge 'city/country' divide.  Most of my closest friends tended to be city kids, like me, but that was far from hard-and-fast.

In fact, one of my good friends was a fellow honor-student, who eventually attended the US Naval Academy, whose family lived on a farm many miles from town (you may recall him as the fellow with whom I shared a small adventure with a train during our senior year).  One time, I was having dinner with his family at their house, when I came starkly face-to-face with one of the sharp cultural differences between city-dwellers and farm-dwellers.

We were having steak for dinner (nothing like a good, hearty farm dinner, for sure), and as the steaks were being plated and distributed, my friend's younger sister turned to their father and asked, "Is this Lulubelle?"  'Cuz, you know, Lulubelle was the name of one of their cows, who had recently been butchered. . .

Now, even us city kids weren't so 'citified' as all THAT.  We were a long, long way from the 'big cities' down south, and we knew where meat came from, beyond simply 'The Store'.  But it was the least bit disorienting to me, to think that I might be eating something that had had a name, and not all that long ago. . .

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Double Digits!

Please join me in wishing a Happy 10th Birthday to 8M, our youngest.  So we no longer have any single-digit-aged children in our family.  Which seems like it must be some manner of a significant marker. . .

But not nearly as significant, at least in my (admittedly skewed) paternal mind, as the impending birthday of his eldest sister in a couple weeks, who is 20 years older. . .

Among his haul of presents was this blast from my past, which just seems way more fun than it oughta be. . .

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Poll Question For Today. . .

First, let me wish a very happy and restful Mothers' Day to all the mothers among my readers, and most especially to my dear wife, the mother of my own children, to my mother(s) and hers. C'mon, guys. . . let's get that Breakfast in Bed going, and the manicure/pedicure.  Sweep and scrub the kitchen and dining-room floors, and, you know, whatever else she wants (which may or may not involve whipped cream and/or hot fudge sauce) (what?  ice cream sundaes?). . .

Generators of the Next Generation, I honor the sacrifices you make daily (hourly, weekly, monthly, etc) for your children and your families. . .


(*ahem*)  OK, then. . .

I came across this on a talk-radio program I was listening to on my way to or from work recently, and I thought it was at least amusing to consider.  Besides that, it seems perhaps tangentially related to Mothers' Day; at least for those of us who are married to actual mothers (and heck, even if your wife isn't a mother, I see no reason why you couldn't play along). . .

I've got a feeling that this won't generate much controversy among the ladies, but the guys might actually go back and forth on it, a bit. . .

Anyway, without further ado. . .


Death not an option (ie, you HAVE to choose, and 'neither' isn't one of your choices),

Which would you rather share with your spouse -

Your razor, or

Your toothbrush?

Sunday, May 6, 2012


In much of our country, spring is Tornado Season.  Michigan, where I live, is hardly Tornado Central, but we do get twisters around these parts.  In fact, just in the last couple weeks, there were some pretty nasty tornados that hit a town not terribly far from us, and we know some folks who actually lost their house to it.

The behavior of tornados is sometimes utterly baffling.  I can recall one time, on a muggy day in late spring, when Jen and I were visitng friends of ours on the far side of town from where we live.  We were grilling out in their back yard, the sun was shining, and we were pounding the iced tea to compensate for the sweat that was leaving our bodies, due to the extreme humidity.  Suddenly, the tornado sirens went off in the distance.  We looked around.  All around us, the skies were hazy and bright, and the sun was beating down mercilessly.  Near the horizon to the north of us, however, we saw a row of low, black clouds - I mean, it looked like someone had splashed black ink on the sky.  As we watched, the black clouds proceeded eastward at a fairly rapid pace, until the sirens quit, and the ink-blot passed out of viewing range.  Sure enough, a funnel had grounded about a mile to the north of us, moving eastward, and causing minor havoc for 15-20 miles before dissipating.  And where we were, the sun was shining the whole time, a mile away. . .

I've never actually seen a live tornado (nor am I particularly inclined to go seeking one out; just sayin').  Which is not to say that I've never encountered one. . .


Jen's grandmother died in the first year or two of our married life.  We went to the funeral, in Michigan's 'Thumb', near where Jen had grown up.  Afterward, Jen stayed on for a couple days, to help the family take care of all the details of disposing of Grandma's earthly goods.  I had to return home and be at work the next day (corporate bereavement policies being what they were, 'Wife's Grandmother' entitled me to a single paid day).  So, after the funeral dinner, I kissed my young wife, hopped in my car and headed for home.

I hadn't driven very far before I noticed that the clouds on the western horizon were starting to look pretty threatening, so I turned on the radio to see if I could find a weather report.  Almost immediately, I heard that obnoxious claxon-sound, signaling that some important weather-warning was going to follow.  For the next two hours, the report said, there would be a severe thunderstorm warning, and a tornado watch (indicating that conditions were ripe for a tornado), in Genessee and Lapeer Counties.  Oh, joy; for the next hour or so, I would be driving through precisely those two counties, with no reasonable alternative route.  So I resigned myself to the fact that I'd be driving through some heavy weather on my way home.

As I drove westward, my car, and the line of threatening clouds on the western horizon, drew inexorably closer to each other.  Soon, the skies overhead were a scudding, ominous gray, and it began to rain.  As I drove onward, the skies got progressively darker, and the rain became progressively heavier, to the point where visibility was starting to become an issue.  I wondered whether I should pull off the road and wait out the storm.

By the time I was roughly halfway home, on the outskirts of the city of Flint, the skies were pitch-black, as if it were the middle of the night.  Suddenly, all hell broke loose around me - the rain intensified, to the point that it was like someone throwing buckets of water onto my windshield; my little car was pelted with pea-sized hail;  and five (count 'em!) lightning bolts grounded, all within 100 yards of me, virtually simultaneously.  If that wasn't freaky enough, my car began to drift sideways on the roadway.

I've always taken a degree of pride in my capacity for taking hints.  There was an overpass just ahead, so I pulled off the road under the overpass, and decided to wait until at least the worst of the severe weather had passed.  And in just a few minutes, it did.  As I pulled out from under the overpass, there was already a broad band of bright sunlight in the west, and I hadn't driven very far before the rain had stopped.  By the time I arrived safely back home, the sun was out, the streets were dry, and the birds were singing.

Being home alone, I clicked on the TV to catch the news, just in time to see reports of a tornado that had touched down near Flint.  They mapped out the twister's path, which was parallel to the road I'd been driving on, about 50-100 yards north of the roadway.  Then they showed live video of a multiplex theater, at which several cars had been tossed through the large plate-glass windows.  I recognized the theater; it was a prominent landmark along the route between our house and Jen's ancestral home, and right near the overpass where I had decided to wait out the storm.

And then I understood.  When my car had begun to drift sideways (to the north!) on the road, I had figured it was hydroplaning on the rivers of water flowing across the pavement.  But now, it seemed more likely that it was suction from the funnel cloud passing 100 yards away from me.  But I hadn't seen a thing; all I'd seen was torrential rain, lightning grounding all around me, and otherwise, pitch blackness.

And then, sunshine, and singing birds. . .

Please Pray. . .

For a 10-year-old boy I'll call Little A, and his family.  Little A is one of 8M's most faithful buds/playmates; he's at our house enough that he's almost like another member of our family, and he and 8M sometimes squabble more like brothers than neighborhood buds.

Jen and I have sort-of taken Little A under our wing, just a bit.  His family life has been, to put it mildly, pretty chaotic.  He has mainly been raised by his grandparents, who are neighbors of ours, because his parents are both. . . well, not always sharing the same reality as the rest of us, shall I say.  His father was actually a grade-school classmate of 1F, back in the day (and I'm sure that says something, that our youngest child's playmate is the son of a classmate of our eldest child. . .), but just hasn't managed to pull his life into a coherent pile.  His mother has been in prison for the last couple years (she went in around the time his father got out; are you getting a sense of the situation?)

So yesterday, fairly early in the morning, the doorbell rings, and it's Little A, asking after 8M.  I had to tell him that 8M wasn't home; he was in another town, attending the First Communion of another of his friends.

"Oh," said Little A, very matter-of-factly.  "Did you hear that my dad died last night?"

He said it so plainly that it took a couple seconds to sink in.  At first, I thought he was talking about his grandfather, who has had some health issues in recent years.  But no - he was talking about his father, who apparently shared some of his own father's health issues, and years of hard living had sort-of accelerated the process.  He was 28 years old.

So the poor kid is without his father, who had actually been making some positive steps toward straightening his life out in recent months.  And his mother is in prison.  His aunt, his father's younger sister, is a paraplegic, since a car accident a few years back.  And his poor grandparents are just crushed by grief.

There are no words.  I just let Little A in, and set him up with some video games in our family room (with the comforting thought that 8M wouldn't be pestering him to share the remote), to just give him some chill time, because, as he said, "Over at our house, everybody's just crying all the time."

So, I would solicit your prayers for Little A, and for his grandparents, and the rest of his family.  And that God would give us the love and wisdom to help give them what we can. . .