Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Today's Photo - 04/22/09

While on my morning "jog," I had to take a picture of this lonely postal truck, perhaps enjoying a moment of solitude, or just stretching out among all of the vast space now available at the almost totally abandoned, now in foreclosure, Georgetown Mall on Packard in Ann Arbor.

That used to be a Rite-Aid behind where the truck is parked. That parking lot used to have a hell of lot more cars in it. And the surrounding neighborhood used to have a place to pick up their pharmaceuticals, a postal counter, a pizza place, a tailor/seamstress, a hair salon, and an antiques shop. Kids who grew up nearby, such as myself, found a place to hang out as adolescents, or a place to work as they got a bit older.

Now, all that's left is a Kroger that's probably on life support, and a giant asphalt-covered, pothole-riddled, weed-infested eyesore.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

'If You Build It, He Will Come'? Well...

With today being the 20th anniversary of the theatrical release of Field of Dreams, I thought this might be the time to confront one of my personal demons and make a confession "in print."

No, it's not that I didn't see the movie. Nothing like that. I've seen it several times. And if I'm flipping through channels and notice it's on, I'll watch. So I enjoy it, too. That's not what I'm confessing. The end made me cry like I was hormonal. "You wanna have a catch?" hit all those father-son issues - which I've always been a sucker for - right in the chest.

What I'm admitting today is this: I lived in Iowa for two years, and never once visited the actual "Field of Dreams."

I know, Shoeless Joe, I know. I can't explain it, either.

Iowa City is only a 90-minute drive from Dyersville, where the field is. (If my mother is reading this, it's actually a two-hour drive. Ahem.) And my two years at the University of Iowa included spending a summer there. Yes, I was taking classes the whole time (with a pretty heavy course load - really), but I couldn't have devoted a Friday or Saturday (or the random Tuesday) to making a trip?

However, I will point out that I did attend a lecture by the film's director, Phil Alden Robinson, when he visited campus, back in 2004 (probably to commemorate the movie's 15th anniversary). Does that take me off the hook at all? No, I know it's not enough.

Maybe the issue was that I would've visited Dyersville by myself, and thus wouldn't have been able to play catch with anyone. That may have led to some awkward situations.

"Excuse me, kid - can I borrow your dad for a bit? We'll be back in a half hour. Go play in the corn. I think I saw Lou Gehrig's ghost over there. Or maybe it's the dude who played Costner's dad, signing autographs. Oh, and I'm gonna need your mitt, too.

Okay, 'Dad,' I think we're about the same age, but let's have a catch."

If I had to name two things in this life that I truly love, baseball and movies would both be on the list. Yet I have to look at myself in the mirror each summer and try to deny the truth. When I watch Field of Dreams now, maybe those tears signify something else entirely.

"If you build it, he will come"? Apparently, the concept was lost on me.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Today's Photo - 04/20/09

I got to meet a rock star last night! Well, I doubt Brian Vander Ark would be comfortable with that label. Nor would I use it, myself. I just tried to get your attention. (And perhaps distract you from the poor picture.)

Anyway, his show at The Ark last night was tremendously enjoyable. After a rough week that frequently put me in a bad mood, it was nice to just sit back and hear some good music. Vander Ark's lyrics make it easy to visualize his stories and escape for a couple of hours. Thanks to Rob (who's on the right of the photo) for inviting me to be his plus one, and introducing me to the headliner of the evening.

Skeet Football, Starring Matthew Stafford

Just in case you missed it (as Late Night with Jimmy Fallon is on, well, late), the possible (likely) first overall pick in Saturday's NFL Draft appeared on Jimmy Fallon's show Thursday night. For all those Detroit Lions fans wondering what sort of player they might be getting as of approximately 4 p.m. EST on Saturday, Matthew Stafford is lethal at skeet shooting with footballs.

That could be our quarterback, Detroit. (Though I'm among those who hope the Lions draft an offensive tackle, even though they really, really need a stud quarterback.)

The Lions are formally announcing their new logo and uniforms today (which have been the worst-kept secret in Detroit sports over the past few weeks). But maybe they should put a plate on the front of the jersey instead. Stafford would hit Calvin Johnson between the numbers every time.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Today's Photo - 04/19/09

Quite the maƮtre d' they have at Knight's Restaurant in Ann Arbor. He didn't seem too interested in accepting a tip for the shiny armor, though.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Best Ad for Cotton Fabric Ever?

Here's more, if you're really interested.

(via /Film)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Wonder of the One-Year Wonder

[The following post ran earlier today at Bless You Boys.]

Like many in the Tigersosphere (and baseball blogosphere) writing about Mark Fidrych over the past 24 hours, I didn't get a chance to see him play.  Yet I almost feel as if I did, because The Bird was such an integral part of the baseball history and culture in Detroit.  I was often amazed by how enthusiastically people remembered him.  And as I said in today's Morning Prowl, whenever I saw Fidrych in interviews, it struck me how genuinely grateful he was for that season of glory in the major leagues, instead of bitter or remorseful.

My father became less of a fan as he got older, but it was obvious Fidrych meant something to him.  He'd tell me all about him during our first trips to Tiger Stadium, enough that I immediately associated him with the Tigers, though his career had ended years before I ever went to a ballgame.

And that's what impresses me as I'm reading about Fidrych today, hearing stories on the radio, and watching footage on television.  How many players with a career as short as Fidrych's - even though that rookie season (19-9, 2.34 ERA) was incredible - leave such a deep, lasting footprint on a fanbase?  On a sport?  As Joe Murray posted on Twitter, the Tigers have had plenty of other one-year wonders throughout their history.  But none of them are remembered as fondly or vividly as Mark Fidrych.

Here's a memory I can share, however, if you'll indulge me:

I had a short career myself, as a sportswriter.  And while working at Motor City Sports (now a website, under new ownership), a recurring assignment of mine was to write a feature on the 30th anniversary of Fidrych's rookie season.  During the staff meeting, another writer offered to help me out, as he had a bunch of Fidrych stuff in his basement.  I kind of got the feeling he really wanted the gig.  And I briefly thought maybe he should get it, as he seemed to know more about The Bird than I did.  But I wanted the challenge.  And I wanted the chance to write about a player that held such a special meaning in Tiger Town.

Unfortunately, it never quite came together.  We kept pushing the article back, as space was needed for more "timely" articles, either previews of upcoming seasons, or features that maybe didn't need quite as much lead time.  (Plus, the publication schedule was kind of spotty, and issues were put down here and there.)  Finally, just when it seemed like we might get the article in for an issue in the fall, I got a call from my editor.

"Did you see today's Free Press?" he said.  Not yet.  Why?

Michael Rosenberg had written a 30th anniversary feature on Fidrych for the paper.  And all I could do was laugh.  Of course that was going to happen.  He was Michael Rosenberg, writing for the Detroit Free Press.  I was just some wanna-be, writing for a start-up magazine that ended up folding less than a year later.  Even if we'd had a chance to run a similar article, and just waited too long, it wasn't going to be seen by anywhere near as many people as Rosenberg's.

Besides, after reading the article, I was kind of relieved.  Because my piece wouldn't have been as good.  I can't kid myself.  Ultimately, I was happy to just enjoy the story as a fan, rather than having it become work.

What I remember most from that entire process, however, is how easy it was to get ahold of Fidrych.  I was used to going through the team for things like that, and figured I'd have to get some contact information from the Tigers.  Plus, I thought it might seem more "legit" working through a more official channel.  As it turns out, however, I didn't have to go to such trouble.  Fidrych was in the phone book.  Maybe that's not as unusual as I'm making it out to be.  But to me, it sort of fits right in with his "normal guy"  persona (I put that in quotes, because he's a bit more eccentric).  Sure, call me up.  We can chat.

Now, I kind of wish I'd pushed a little harder on that one.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Loser of Fun, Winner of Life!

I'm a couple of days late with this, as the opening week of baseball season has swamped me. But as awful as Monday night was, from a sports standpoint - with the Tigers losing their opener, 9-5, and Michigan State losing the NCAA basketball championship game (to North Carolina!), 89-72 (and the game wasn't even that close) - there was a little ray of sunshine among all the clouds.

I won a NCAA tournament bracket! To be more specific, I won the bracket put together by Dan Levy and his On the DL podcast. You can view the final standings here, though I believe you need to be registered with to view the page. I can't remember if I've ever won a bracket, though I recall coming close back in high school (and actually nabbing some prize money).

The bittersweet irony of the win, of course, is that the result that gave me the victory was the exact opposite of the outcome I was rooting for. The total surprise of it all is that I had written myself off, as I was way down toward the bottom of the standings after the third round of the tournament. As Dan pointed out on Tuesday's podcast, I came out of nowhere to steal the win. Getting the final two teams right (and, of course, the champion) will do that, I suppose.

And here I thought MSU was kind of a homer pick (while raising the flag for the Big Ten conference). However, I did think - as I said to several of my friends - that coach Tom Izzo does not waste a team. He knows how to coach through the postseason tournament, but if he has the talent and experience on his roster to win, they will get there. This year's run proved that yet again. MSU just happened to run into the best team in college basketball at the end.

Thanks to Dan for running the bracket for his listeners (and if you're a sports fan, you really should be listening to On the DL) and for being good to me as a sports blogger. What a pleasant surprise this has been.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I would like to dance.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Twist Ending: Jordan Honored in Detroit

Who was that tall gentleman being honored for his induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame during halftime of last night's national championship game in Detroit? Why, it was Michael Jordan! Maybe you've heard of the guy.

Pardon the term, but talk about a slam dunk. Is there any athlete in any sport worthy of such an honor more than Jordan? How long do you think the selection committee took to debate that one?

But what makes me want to post a short note about this is that it seems deliciously ironic that Jordan was recognized in Detroit, perhaps the one NBA city that, as my friend Big Al said on Twitter, doesn't universally worship him as a basketball deity. The rivalry between Jordan's Chicago Bulls and our Detroit Pistons was just too fierce, and I could be wrong about this, but I think some hard feelings still exist (though it's been quite a while now).

I'd also like to think that Jordan appreciated the irony of being honored in Detroit, as those knock-down, drag-out playoff series versus the Pistons truly forged him into the championship player he's now known as. Of course, Jordan was already a phenomenal talent. Maybe the best ever. But until he figured how to beat Detroit, he wasn't going to win it all. That rite of passage - something that used to be a standard in the NBA - is an important part of his legacy.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Happy Best Sports Day of the Year!

Opening Day in baseball? College basketball's National Championship game tonight? The first Monday in April is the best sports day of the year. If only we were all allowed the day off today.

Normally, I would say the only thing to make this better locally would be for the Tigers to begin the season at home today, instead of tonight in Toronto. But with today's snow, baseball in Detroit would be a soggy bummer and probably postponed.

Besides, Michigan State playing at Ford Field (right next to Comerica Park) for the national championship is a more than suitable replacement. Growing up in Ann Arbor (and later studying at Iowa), I can't act like I'm a huge Spartans fan (though I did attend MSU for one year). But MSU certainly represents our state tonight. They're also a decided underdog, which is always more fun to root for. (And if they can beat a school from the south, it'd be that much sweeter. That's kind of my own personal issue, though.)

Between the Tigers playing at 7 p.m. and MSU tipping off after 9 p.m., it's going to be a fun night. Of course, it'll be even better if both teams end the evening victorious. (There's a bit more at stake for MSU tonight, however.) Oh, this will be glorious.

Today's Photo - 04/06/09

You know, I'm always the guy who says there's going to be one more snowfall. In response, I usually get, "Why don't you just enjoy Spring?"

Yeah, I'll get to that, Sunshine. As soon as my back stops aching from the wet, heavy sludge I had to push off my driveway this morning.

This will not, however, harsh my Baseball Opening Day mellow. More on that later.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

The Myth of the Fifth Third Burger Continues to Grow

Perhaps you remember our post last week about the massive Fifth Third Burger that the West Michigan Whitecaps will be offering at its ballpark this season. Last week, CNBC's Darren Rovell sampled it, but when I found out about someone else who had actually attempted to eat the thing, I wanted to talk to him.

You can read my interview with XM Radio's Casey Stern over at Bless You Boys.

Oh, and just because, here's Padma eating a big burger of her own.

(photo via Big League Stew)

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Today's Photo - 04/02/09

My first baseball game of the season: the University of Michigan hosting Oakland University yesterday. It ended up being more about endurance than enjoyment, as the game lasted four hours with the temperature steadily dropping amidst consistently strong winds. U-M finally won, 14-13. Here's the Ann Arbor News recap.

I don't know why the hell this photo is so blurry. Dammit.