Perspective check

TMP327
My standard view when I go to Mariner games. Slightly higher than optimal, but otherwise great for keeping track of everything on the field

I've gone to three baseball games at the Seattle Mariners' home ballpark this month. The park has a corporately-sponsored name, but since the corporation in question isn't paying me anything I won't contribute to the annoying modern-day normalization of branding everything in sight by using the name here. I prefer to think of the place as "Niehaus Park," after the late Mariners broadcaster Dave Niehaus, or as "Griffínezuki Field," after the Mariners' three Hall of Famers (two for now, three as soon as Ichiro Suzuki is eligible in two years).

Anyway, branding aside, the experiences were quite different in that (a) the company varied; (b) the games themselves were rather different from each other; and (c) the vantage point changed.

The first I attended mostly by myself, as seatmate DB had had a bit of a day and showed up a little over an hour late, but I was quite engaged by the masterful pitching performance put on by Seattle starter Logan Gilbert, who had a perfect game going into the 7th inning; sadly, his teammates weren't supporting him and he ended up losing 2-1 to Texas. It was a ridiculously fast game, barely over two hours, giving me a little extra confirmation bias regarding the overreach of the new pitch clock in combination with the new normal of 6:40pm start times. When an alleged night game is over before sunset, maybe things need to be rethought a bit.

Second game was courtesy of KA, who bought tickets for herself, her wife, and me through a promotion that got us some extra swag in the form of "Ty France 'Tye'-dye" T-shirts. We were thus seated in the promotional T-shirt section down low in right field, section 116. Being closer to the field like that is neat and, for me, somewhat novel, but on the whole I found it a lousy vantage for keeping track of the game. I'm so used to the view from section 327—from which the entire playing field is visible and I know how to judge the trajectory of balls off the bat, not to mention having a decent sense of whether the home-plate umpire is missing the mark on balls and strikes—that I had trouble following anything hit to left field and no clue whether a pitch was inside or out or down the middle. It's fun to move around some, though, and I appreciate the variety of perspectives on a game. The game was comfortable, a relatively easy 6-1 victory over the hapless Oakland (for now) Athletics, and being treated to greasy fish-n-chips by one's best pal in her company watching a couple of outstanding defensive plays by fill-in first-baseman Sam Haggerty while basking in a beautiful Seattle evening was delightful.

KT
Karen mugging for the camera, us in our Tye-dyes. And evidence that my chipped front tooth is more noticeable than it used to be. I should make a dentist appointment.

The third game was tonight, in the club level way out in deep right (section 213), with WB. WB has been dealing with some life-things that she is remarkably projecting a glass-half-full attitude about; it's an impressive trait of hers that I can only aspire to as I tend to feel injustices a bit more in the taking-offense part of my brain. Anyway, she and I were able to catch up a great deal while watching—or attempting to watch in the first few innings, as our seats were right in line with the setting sun and glare was a real issue—the Mariners' usually outstanding pitching staff fall to pieces against the surprisingly-over-.500 Pittsburgh Pirates, who hit seven home runs in the game. Seven. And not cheap ones, either, these were bombs, including one off the restaurant windows in the second deck. The first of these longballs came on the second pitch of the game. You're just not likely to win when the opponents hit seven homers, and despite some effort to keep things semi-close, the Seattle lineup just couldn't string together enough hits and Pittsburgh took it 11-6.

fireworks
From what we could see it was pretty.

Sitting in the club level used to have a particular perk to it, in that there are more and allegedly better food options there. The one I was looking forward to tonight was the pasta bar, which prior to this season had been little booth where cooked rigatoni was ready to be covered with the sauce of your choice, heated and mixed in a wok with the protein and veggies of your choice (among just a few options, but still) while you wait. Overpriced, of course, but a way better value than other ballpark concession options and much healthier, and I waited in line for my opportunity to order one such meal. But things have changed, and now they pre-mix all the pasta into a mere two choices that you cannot customize at all: elbow macaroni with meatballs in marinara meat sauce or macaroni-with-chicken alfredo. It felt like a not-at-all subtle middle-finger salute to me and any other vegetarian/pescatarians that (even just  occasionally) pay the premium for club-level seating at games. Even the caeser salad offering was prepackaged with chicken, ruining an otherwise tasty snack. The fallback greasy-fish-and-chips were not a ready option either, even if I'd been inclined to have another jump into seafood town so soon after the last one, as there is no Ivar's concession on the club level and I wasn't about to spend two and a half innings hiking up and down stairs to and from other decks to buy something more expensive and less satisfying than what I was set on getting in the first place. I was annoyed, but my perspective check came in the form of a reminder from my seatmate that the ballpark concessionaires didn't deserve my money and I'd be going home $20 richer because of it.

It was also Karaoke Fireworks Night, which was fun; about half the songs were of too recent a vintage for me to have much awareness of them, but I sang along (poorly) with a few and enjoyed the fireworks, though again our seats were less than ideal for that as some of the display was blocked by the retracted roofing structure and the big scoreboard.

In discussing the difference in vantage points with WB, she related some of her recent drama stuff which involved an only-in-America dilemma about health insurance that, once resolved, put the rest of her drama of the moment into a far less stressful perspective. Nothing like a massive scary thing that is 100% the fault of a group of terrorists known as the Republican party to illustrate how, no matter the stress level of your drama, things could be way worse.

Tomorrow is another day. Go M's.

TMP213Sunset from 213. Ummm...ball? Strike? Did the pitch get hit?

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Maintenance

ITgraphic

I had free time today, so I finally got around to fixing some longstanding issues with the site as it appears on mobile devices. Long time coming, I know. Anyway, those of you viewing this on your phone or tablet should have a better layout now, though you may have to clear your browser cache if you've been by here before and it still looks wonky.

Firefox on Android is still giving me a little bit of flak, but it's minor flak, e.g. the rounded edges of the content window are still screwy there. Chrome on Android is still not spacing the text properly, but again, minor flak. For you iOS people I'm using simulators to estimate iOS responses since I don't own any Apple stuff, but it seems like it's all good there. Let me know if not.

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Bits and pieces

car
Returned after paying impound ransom. Glass half full.

Howdy. It's been over a week since the last post, but not for lack of material. I'd actually intended to write about a few things since the Great Car Caper, including its own follow-up, but you know how it is. Work, inertia, splitting headaches, a general feeling of "I just don't want to be at my desk anymore tonight." Anyway, in lieu of the various individual posts I'd been pre-writing in my head since then, here's a catchall one with a few bits and pieces from what I'm sure would have been much more elaborate and articulate ramblings had they gotten their due in a timely manner.

  • Car update: The police recovered my car relatively soon after its theft and the only damage to it was superficial (exterior) and annoying (interior), which is to day a chunk missing from the plastic "rain guard" (I suppose it guards from rain getting into the door seal?), a small dent, and what appears to have been an aborted attempt to remove my Biden-Harris bumper sticker; and a truly impressive amount of garbage strewn through the inside. Mostly the trash was food wrappers, candy remnants, fast food bags, fast food detritus, that sort of thing, plus a few empty cans of spray paint. I presume the thieves were graffiti taggers.
    My working theory is that the thieves used the car to go from place to vandalize with spray paint to next place to vandalize with spray paint, with stops at various fast food and convenience store candy marts, until it ran out of gas, at which point they abandoned it to likely steal someone else's car rather than buy fuel. Score one for my inefficient internal combustion engine.
    I emptied all the trash, plus a little of my own trash that was still there, and aired the car out for a day or so to get the smell of fast food out of it. That done, and since I don't care to try and fix the superficial exterior damage, the only real harm done to me aside from the inconvenience of being without it for a few days was the ransom demanded by Lincoln Towing, the company that provided the impound lot the police use. They charged me the towing fee, a city regulatory fee, and hourly storage fees for the time they had the car. Quite the racket they've got going. Other cities have laws that protect auto theft victims from this kind of predation, but not this one. Apparently there was an attempt to pass a measure to address this in the state legislature some time back, but it didn't go anywhere. Alas. Still, way cheaper than replacing the car, so I'm choosing to look at it in a glass-half-full sort of way. And I ordered a wheel-lock thingy for future use when parking on the street.
  • Erik went to Korea. And Taiwan. Who knew? This strikes me as a little weird, not because Erik went to these places, but because not long ago I had a strange dream in which my dad and Marty were planning on moving to Pusan. It made zero sense.
  • The CNN thing with the "Town Hall" debacle featuring former President VonClownstick was something I was all worked up to write a whole screed about, but now that some time has passed I'm less outraged. Not because the event wasn't deserving of outrage, it was. The fact that CNN thought hosting such a forum would result in anything other than a fiasco is mind-boggling. On the other hand, CNN is under new management that wants it to be a place for disaffected Fox "News" viewers to go, so maybe this is just the first taste of their new business plan. Regardless, the thing did serve a positive purpose among all its rampant disservices, and that is that it provided a ton of material for campaign ads against VonClownstick. The program reminded those of us that were no longer paying attention to politics and the news as deeply as others of us do just who this guy is, that he has not changed, that he will not change, that he is among the vilest human beings to have ever lived. And of who his fans are. That he has followers that just eat his vileness for breakfast and regurgitate it onto society.
    Most of the news coverage after the fact has been criticism of CNN. Slate.com has a good analysis of it that includes:
    Absolutely every single moment of this debacle was predictable, and it is enraging to see CNN making the exact same mistakes it made when Trump first entered into the public sphere eight years ago. The network gave a seditious would-be despot carte blanche to openly lie on live television for an hour, in front of an adoring crowd, with ineffective pushback from a reporter who, if Wednesday night is any indication, is nowhere near ready for prime time. The pregame chatter among CNN’s vacuous panelists, meanwhile, used the same empty framing that has long made the term “talking heads” a pejorative.
    All the CNN-bashing is deserved, to be sure, but it misses the bigger issue of what the former president said during the televised hour of journalistic seppuku. He perpetuated his election lies. He once again defamed the woman he has been ordered by a court to pay $5 million to as damages for his sexual assault and defamation of her. He called the Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade "a great victory." Instead of answering a question about why he stole government documents after leaving office, he insulted the questioner. Of the January 6, 2021 insurrectionist footsoldiers, he said "They were there with love in their heart. That was unbelievable and it was a beautiful day." He avoided taking any kind of position on the war in Ukraine, lest it upset his good friend Vladimir. That is all very, very important information that should show everyone in the world how this man should not be allowed anywhere near any position of any authority ever again, but because of how it was presented (and subsequently covered by many) I fear that point will not get across to anyone who needs to hear it.
    CNN CEO Chris Licht said, in response to the criticism of his network's production, "You do not have to like the former president’s answers, but you can’t say that we didn’t get them." Except, yes, Chris, I can say you didn't get them. You got propaganda. You got deflections. You got bald-faced lies. When he was all but cornered on the stolen documents thing, you got "You're a nasty person" as his "answer."
    The American news media as a whole is terrible, TV news in particular, but outlets one might consider to be better, like National Public Radio, are guilty of the same kind of malfeasance, treating the sort of behavior DJT and his minions exhibit as basically normal politics when it is anything but.
  • Related to the CNN thing, there is The Gun Thing. I had some further ranting to do on that, on how the gun "debate" is evidentiary just on its own of the fact that the modern Republican party deserves to be labeled a domestic terrorist organization, but instead today I think I'll just let Wil speak for me.
  • I had another umpiring shift yesterday, four games in the sun on the first summery weekend we've seen this year up in these parts. By and large it was a good day, few points of conflict. But there were some, and they put me in mind of something my friend (and softball teammate) Mack posted over on the Book of Faces. I will reproduce it here:
    I'm sure my Laws of Sports Conduct apply to every recreational sport, but I don't play "every" recreational sport, I just play softball, and here goes:

    1. Never so much as grumble to an umpire.

    Teams, you're paying the ump like $20 to have them give an unbiased opinion on balls and strikes, safe and out, so STFU and take their word for it. Without an umpire, you'd have no walks and no strikeouts, and some batters would be there for like twenty pitches before they put the ball in play. Also, don't expect the umpire to be better at umpiring than you are at playing. ???? If you suspect that an umpire is mis-applying the rules, you'd better have your rulebook handy, or else don't go out there. Simply, don't. You have a fixed amount of time to play your game. Every minute you spend interacting with an official can cost your teammates an at-bat or even an entire inning of play. It's not worth it.

    2. Try to not hurt anybody.

    Your job on the field is to make sure nobody gets hurt. So when you're thinking about doing something "sportsmanlike" that can get somebody hurt, don't do it. Don't. Just don't do it. Never ever ever "take someone out" at second base. Don't do it. Your "job" isn't to prevent the double play, it's to keep the opposing player healthy enough to go out to the bar after the game. Don't throw your bat, don't make throws that your teammate can't handle, don't do the "fake tag" thing that makes somebody slide when there isn't even a play on them, and on fly balls—yell loud and clearly that either you're taking it or the other person's taking it. No crashes over a silly pop fly, OK?

    3. Respect the equipment.

    If you're the kind of player who slams a bat down after striking out, or throws a glove after making an error . . . you need to chill the fuck out. You look like a poster child for a domestic violence abuser, and if your teammate is caring enough, they will and should refer you to some counseling. I often joke that a good craftsperson always blames their tools, because it's obvious that it's not the tool, it's the craftsperson. It's really okay if you're a player who drops a ball or swings and misses. The greatest baseball players in history do that. The reason they "act out" is because of some stupid code that "shows they care." You don't have to show you care—because you shouldn't care. The game doesn't matter. We do this for recreation, not recognition, and certainly not for the adulation. Chill the fuck out.

    4. Be supportive of the other team's players.

    You're not being disloyal by showing appreciation when the other team makes a nice play or gets a nice hit. It's been proven that we feel better after a high-five than we do after grumbling about a missed opportunity. You don't have to applaud wildly when they turn a double play against you, but you might feel better telling the shortstop, "Nice play" rather than think, "you fucken bastid!"

    I've had my share of inappropriate interactions on the playing field. I remember each and every one of them, which is a shame, because I've had so much fun on the field, all of those games and all of those innings and all of those at-bats . . . but it seems that those memories of the pleasant and fun times don't linger. Those memories may not linger, the fun of turning a double play or driving in a run or taking an extra base or making a nice relay throw . . . but the effects of those activities DO linger. They help build friendships, they help build community, they help make the world a better place, one play at a time.
    Fun. Recreational sports should be fun. I'm going out there this season to have fun. I invite you, if you're partaking in a recreational sport, to go out and just have fun! And try hard to not hurt anybody!
    Obviously, Mack's first point is the one that resonates most with me because I'm often on the umpire's side of things. I'm paid a bit more than $20 a game, but not nearly enough to accept the sort of treatment that an occasional player will vent my way. To date I have ejected exactly two players from softball games in over four years, and one of those was for physical violence, but I have been tempted to toss many. Three or four I probably should have tossed but didn't. Yesterday my shift began in an unusual fashion in that, before the games started, I was approached by a guy who had been giving me shit last week. "Hey man," he said, "I just want to apologize for last week. I just started acting out of my head for no reason at all, I don't know what the fuck that was even about. Sorry." This was good, set the stage for a good day that was only marred by one further violation (from someone else on a different team) of Mack's Rule #1 and one inadvertent violation of Rule #2 that led to some potentially damaging violations of Rule #4 that I was able to defuse relatively quickly. The Rule #1 violator is a chronic offender, though, which makes me cringe a little when I see his team on my schedule.
  • I can't believe it's taken me this long to read another Neal Stephenson book. Years and years ago I read Snow Crash, which was terrific, and Zodiac, also quite good, but it's only in the last couple of weeks that I cracked open another Stephenson tome. This one is Cryptonomicon, which is, if I'm recalling Snow Crash properly, not as awesome as that but still pretty darn fine. Plenty more when I finish this one, I guess.
  • I am going to unload my tickets to the Mariners/Yankees game on May 31st. That's a softball (playing, not umping) night for me and I'm already missing the prior week's game for similar reasons. Anyone reading this that wants the pair of (quite good) upper deck seats may have them for cost or in trade, otherwise I'm putting them on StubHub for profit. Let me know.

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That's not what the song means

thief

So, Thursday night I had an umpiring shift over at Cal Anderson Park on Capitol Hill. Not unusual, I generally do a couple of those a week out there. On this evening I found myself running late because of a traffic snarl on the freeway—someone had lost a barbecue grill out of the back of a pickup truck, so everyone was wisely slowing down and changing lanes so as not to collide with this tipped-over piece of outdoor cooking tech in the center lane, causing a backup of many miles—and I was hurrying to get to the field on time. Usually on a Thursday I have to park several blocks away. The league doesn't reimburse me for parking as a rule, so I troll for free spots in a very densely populated part of town. On this day, though, I lucked out—someone had just vacated a spot less than one block from the park. The opposite end of the park I needed to be at, but still. Seemed like a break and I got there in plenty of time to set up the field and start the night's games on schedule.

The games were good, mostly with teams I'd not encountered before, though I knew one of the groups from the first game of the evening. Good guys and gals, although some of them kept on nagging me about the conditions; the lights at the park are broken, only about 1/3 of them come on and it's pretty dark when you need to track a fly ball, but what good nagging me about it does is a mystery. For the most part the newbies were good folks too, I was even complimented by one of the guys who was impressed with my "fun differential" (which is a literal inside-baseball joke referring to last year's Seattle Mariners) while another offered to help me collect the outfield cones and another one was effusive about my getting out to call plays on the bases and making sure everyone knew what was what (I figure his prior rec softball experience might be in the city league I sometimes play in, which has some of the gawd-awfulest umpiring I've been around with guys that just stand rooted in place and quietly go "hup" when calling a strike that might well be over a batter's head).

Anyway, when the games were completed at 11:00 and I had packed up the gear, I had some pep in my step and walked the length of the park back toward my car, already plotting out the rest of my night. I have to stop by the league office on the way home to get a gear bag for Sunday's shift, then I'm going to pick up a couple of quick groceries from the one 24-hour Safeway I can think of, then go home, feed the cats, put up my feet, and watch the Mariner game recorded from this afternoon while I eat leftovers from Karen's cooking the prior night. I was humming to the earworm in my head of a Billy Joel song from his 52nd Street album, even though I hadn't been listening to that earlier, and was feeling pretty good.

Then I arrived at my allegedly lucky parking spot to find some other car parked there.

WTF?!

Had I parked illegally? Did someone tow my car? No signs for towing companies anywhere. The posted parking restrictions all expired at 6:00pm and I didn't arrive until a bit before 7:00. But it is Cap Hill, people are zealous about parking. I was kind of freaking out, but also kind of methodical.

I called a friend who has more experience than I do with navigating the parking of Cap Hill, but he had no answers. I called the towing company used by the city police when they tow illegally parked cars. Do you have my car? Nope, sorry. So, the police it is. Called 911—which I was surprised you are supposed to do in a case like this, but you are—and reported my missing vehicle and they dispatched a police unit to talk to me. Took a while for them to get there, a missing car can't be high on the priority list, but they showed around midnight.

Officer Chu was fantastic. Good-humored guy, looked over the site and confirmed, yes, a legal spot, no reason you'd have been towed, 99% likely stolen as it's an older car with no anti-theft stuff. Plus the electronic locks don't work reliably anymore, I have to remember to manually lock the doors, and honestly can't remember if I checked them all since I was hurrying to the field. Chu let me know that the recovery rate for stolen cars is actually pretty high in these parts (around 70%), unlike in other cities and other parts of the country where it can be puny, so I may well get it back before too long. He and his partner, whose name I did not get, gave me a positive experience with the Seattle police, which was reassuring but also made me wonder if certain of my friends would have gotten the same treatment given their ethnic backgrounds. I'm choosing to believe Officer Chu would be just as cool with them because, hey, he seemed like a good dude. His mustachioed partner, who knows, he didn't say much.

After finishing with the cops I made my way to the Cap Hill train station and barely caught the last train of the night that would take me as far as the Northgate station, after which I begged a favor of my only friend in the north end with wheels that I knew wasn't a freakish morning person (looking at you, Failor) and that didn't have to punch a clock in the morning.

Ultimately I got home. Way later than planned. But I still watched the M's game (good one, too). And scrolled through autotrader.com to see what I'm looking at as a monetary hit if I need to buy a new-to-me used car; looks like maybe $5-8k. Really bad timing on that, given my giant HOA assessment hit this month.

Ironically, there was a particular CD in the car stereo. On my drive down I had been listening to The Beatles' Rubber Soul. Beatle fen will know what the first track on that album is. And, yes, I might be a star when it comes to the cast of rec league softball umps, but no, car thief, I will not, in fact, love you. Bastard.

 

 

UPDATE: Shortly after I posted this, the police phoned me to say they had recovered my car near Harborview Medical Center, not that far from where it was stolen. Apparently it had not had its plates removed and was "in driveable condition," though no word on whether or not it is damaged. It's being towed to an impound lot now and I can call the towing company tomorrow to arrange to reclaim it. Hopefully there's not a big fee attached to that.

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Mariner musings

CBP
Philadelphia's ballpark is among my most favorites, with all its flats and angles and variety of spaces outside the main seating area. The only drawback is its location amidst a sea of asphalt in south Philly.

So, yeah, there's a lot of important stuff going on in the news—the governor of Florida seems hell-bent on turning his state into a fascist hellscape that somehow relies on tourism; two-thirds of the Supreme Court is more corrupt than Warren G. Harding, Spiro Agnew, Ted Stevens, and the entire Reagan Administration combined; shootings are rampant across America; and so on—but tonight I'm just going to make a few observations about baseball and the Seattle Mariners. Because, hey, you gotta find some balance, right?

The Mariners just concluded a three-game series in Philadelphia, in which they lost two of three at my favorite big-league venue of those I have actually been to personally. (Philly's corporately-branded ballpark has great sightlines, lovely brick everywhere, angles galore—no rounded walls in sight—lots of great spaces, Phillies history exhibits, lots of great stuff. Too bad it's so far from downtown.) When I'm watching games on television I sometimes mix it up and watch the other team's broadcast feed—since we live in the future and that's a thing we can do now—because (a) the Mariners' broadcast team ranges from OK to bad, with color commentator Mike Blowers the only reliably good voice in the booth, and I like to get a feel for what fans in other markets get to hear day in and day out; and (b) it's fun to get the opposition's perspective on what the Mariners do in the way of, er, let's call it "strategy."

So, the Phillies TV team is headed by Tom McCarthy, a consummate pro and one of the best play-by-play guys working today, with sidekick and color commentator John Kruk, a former All-Star first baseman for the Phils and a general goofball on the air. They make a great and complementary duo, with McCarthy effortlessly shifting from accurate game-calling to engaging with Kruk's blue-collar humor and unfiltered observations of the moment. Some of it is just silly, like their banter about Seattle catcher Cal Raleigh's nickname of "Big Dumper" and how completely off-color it can be interpreted. Some of it, as Kruk himself says on air, gets him emailed reprimands from Major League Baseball for not only skirting the language regs but for not towing the Commissioner's party line (this is the best stuff, naturally).

During these three games, Seattle manager Scott Servais was the indirect subject of criticism by McCarthy and Kruk, though they were generously giving the benefit of the doubt, expressing puzzlement. On Monday the Mariners' starting pitcher was Marco Gonzales, who, as McCarthy helpfully told everyone, was coming off one of the best games of his career in his previous start, one in which he was snakebit by his relief. (Marco had thrown six brilliant innings against Milwaukee, shutting them out on just two hits and an umpire-aided walk; Servais let him start the seventh inning, but then pulled him after just four pitches because the first one was dribbled weakly past the shortstop for a cheap hit and the fourth—which was precisely the type of pitch and in the precise spot catcher Tom Murphy called for, on purpose—was struck for a standard run of the mill big-league single. This was panic time for Servais, who went to the bullpen because, oh my god we're in the 7th inning and we've yet to use a reliever!! and oh my god, Gonzales is nearly at 90 pitches and must therefore be losing it!!! Matt Brash came in to allow both baserunners to score and the score went from 2-0 in favor of Seattle to 5-2 Milwaukee before the inning was over, and there was Marco leaning on the dugout railing, thinking "good grief, I'd have gotten out of that with one run scoring at worst, but nooooo, Scott has to be a slave to the fucking pitch count." I mean, probably. He should have been thinking that if he wasn't.) Anyway, here in Philadelphia, Marco was once more cruising through the game, retiring one Philly batter after another with only one real blemish, a solo home run by Edmundo Sosa. Then in the top of the sixth frame, as Teoscar Hernández is circling the bases on his two-run homer, McCarthy notices activity in the Seattle bullpen. "What's that about?" he asks. Kruk concurs. "Why? Gonzales is only at, what, 70 pitches?" (It was 75, but still.) "There didn't appear to be an injury of any kind, he's not on short rest," McCarthy added (I'm paraphrasing). They were genuinely perplexed.

I, however, have observed Scott Servais manage the Mariners for years and I know what McCarthy and Kruk did not: Servais makes a game plan ahead of time and doesn't let pesky things like what happens in the game deter him from sticking to it, and he's a slave to pitch counts. God forbid a starter goes over 90, it's as if that would bring the horsemen of the apocalypse riding in to rain destruction on all the land.

Tuesday saw the M's start Logan Gilbert on the mound. He too was pulled from the game after just five innings, and once again McCarthy and Kruk were befuddled. Gilbert hadn't been as sharp or as economical as Gonzales had been, but was still in the lead and pitching well. Continuing to puzzle over it, McCarthy seemed to be starting to catch on, opining that perhaps this was just how the Mariners do things because they've had such good relief pitching the last couple of years. I'm not sure how much I agree with the "good relief" part of that, but yeah, that's totally it. The ’pen blew it in this case, though, as Philadelphia came back to win in the late innings.

Then came today, when the starter for Seattle was George Kirby, who, as McCarthy once again told us all—the guy really is a pro, he does his homework—constantly throws strikes and should generate a lot of contact. Which was true, and lo and behold we get to the seventh inning and what's this? Kirby is back out on the mound. McCarthy and Kruk are confused again. McCarthy looks it up: this is the first time Kirby's ever pitched beyond the 6th inning. Is there something different about today? Kruk starts to suggest that since the pitch count is low—still under 70—that's why, but McCarthy reminds him (and us) that Gonzales got pulled with roughly the same count and he was pitching at least as effectively. Confusion reigned again.

For the record, Kirby completed the game. Only eight frames, but still, it's a CG in the books, a rarity in today's game and a near-unicorn-level rarity on a Scott Servais team. Still lost, though, as Philly took it 1-0.

Kruk was also entertaining to me as a critic of the new rules, specifically the pitch clock. There was an issue with time-outs and a clock violation in yesterday's game and Kruk said, "what a great game this used to be." He also remarked that he'd better stop saying such things if he didn't want another email from Major League Baseball. Come on, Kruk, you know you want to say it: Manfred sucks.

 

Seattle finds itself in fourth place in the standings as the first month of the season draws to a close, three games under .500 and three back of first-place Houston. Not great, but not that bad either, and things still look quite promising despite Scott Servais' inability to think on his feet. One reason they do is the Mariners' third baseman, Eugenio Suárez. Geno has completely changed his approach at the plate from last season. Instead of the uppercut swing of prior years, he's swinging more level and thus hitting more liners and base hits. Compared to this time last year, his batting average is up 30 points and strikeouts are down. Fewer home runs, but more runs batted in. It is exactly the kind of thing I gave up on ever seeing from the Mariners, who for so long have been champions of the "go deep or go home," "launch angle is all" school of dumb hitting coaches. Keep at it, Geno.

 

Jarred Kelenic is another bright spot on this so-far underachieving team. The former top prospect has learned well from the brutal dose of humility dumped on him in both of his attempts at a rookie season in 2021 and ’22 and is currently the team's best hitter by a mile at .313 (no one else is over .260, though J.P. Crawford has come on strong in the last two weeks). Is he finally going to be the guy that the team brass thought they were getting when they traded Edwin Díaz for him? Is it ridiculous that the word "finally" is in that sentence, as had he not been rushed way too soon to the bigs this is basically when he'd be coming up anyway? (Answers: Maybe, and yes.)

 

That relief corps that Servais seems to love so much continues to trouble me, but left-hander Gabe Speier has been terrific. Everyone else, well, my confidence is not inspired.

 

Oh, and last year's big free-agent add, former Cy Young Award winning pitcher Robbie Ray, is this year's James Paxton: One start and done. He'll miss the remainder of the year with a flexor tendon injury. Not great for the M's, but the balance of the starting rotation is really, really good, save Ray's current fill-in (Chris Flexen), who's been pretty brutal. My opinion is that they can weather the loss fairly easily, maybe by taking a flyer on someone recently cut by another team (probably not Madison Bumgarner, though), maybe by recalling Tommy Milone again, who did great in his one chance this year despite being a victim of Servais' absurd proclivities. There's really no one else on the farm that's ready to get a shot. It'll be interesting to see what they choose to do.

 

The M's go north of the border for their next series, and I look forward to learning how the Toronto Blue Jays' broadcast team handles things and seeing graphics with Canadian spellings like "defence."

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Sponsored by Acme Anvils

DeanP
Don't be a level 7 susceptible

The other day I was at the Mariners game with my friend Mack. He and I were discussing the various things, good and (mostly) bad, that have changed in baseball since Rob Manfred took over as Commissioner of Baseball and eventually we got to advertising. The Manfred era has brought more ads to the baseball consumer, including ads on the field of play at some venues (on the back of the pitcher's mound for the TV cameras and on the grass in foul ground along the baselines) and even ads on the players' uniforms.

Thankfully, not even half of the teams have instituted the uniform ads (yet). But there doesn't seem to be enough of an outcry among fans of those teams that have; I suppose our culture has just become so conditioned to accept being inundated with branding and commercialism in every moment of existence that we're kind of numb to it.

Which brings up the meat of my conversation with Mack: What's the point of it all?

Obviously, the point to Manfred and company is revenue; advertisers pay for the opportunity to plaster their logos on spaces that will get exposed to our eyeballs and MLB and the teams rake in some dough. But what's the point to the advertisers? Do they get any benefit out of this, really?

A prominent software company based in the area has an ad on the outfield wall of the ballpark (and on the rotating billboards on the wall behind home plate). Everyone knows what that company is, we see it and register "that's an ad for the software giant we're all familiar with," but does that translate somehow into more money for the company?

Mack listed off all the ads visible from our seats. We know all of the brand names. We may even associate those brands with memorable marketing, e.g. the Bob Uecker ads for a certain beer brand back in the day. We may do business with those companies, we may not. But the fact that they advertise at the ballpark means nothing to us.

If I get on an flight offered by Airline X it's because their schedules and pricing were more advantageous than those of competing airlines, not because they put their logo on the outfield wall or sponsor the Mariners' pregame show on the radio. I suppose if I had never heard of Airline X I might go "hm, they sponsor the Mariners, I will add them to the list of options I look at when booking flights." Maybe. But what percentage of the audience is going to fit into that scenario? Does this bank or that gasoline brand get more business from people that go to baseball games because they put their logos on the stadium wall? Do San Diego Padres fans all now flock to buy the sponsored brand of phones because the Padres wear that company logo on their sleeves? I rather doubt it.

Sometimes marketing has a clear purpose. Like the scenario of never having heard of Airline X, getting the name recognition out there so your company will be thought of and considered, that makes some sense. Big well-known outfits can do well with great commercials; the prominent software company's principal competitor has had some genius ads over the years that have undeniably been very successful. But those tend to be funny commercials or ads that make an impact through the accompanying message, not just a wordmark or a bit of iconography. Don't get me wrong, I love good iconography, and I guess if all else were equal and I was choosing between two brands I may well go with the one with the better design sense. But generally a great logo isn't enough to make me choose Brand X over Brand Y, and the fact that Brand X is in my face every time I watch a ballgame is not necessarily going to help their cause.

I was at another game more recently with another friend, one who still works tangentially in the advertising world, and brought this up. She was of another mind about it altogether, citing various psychological/sociological theories about what are effectively subliminal connections people can make with brands because of the repetition of seeing the names and iconography in circumstances they associate with good times. That sounded a bit too "big brother" to me for comfort, but she's probably right. People are, indeed, sheep in may ways.

I then recalled an episode of the late great sitcom Community, wherein the character of Craig is targeted by a guerrilla marketer because Craig is discovered to be "a level seven susceptible." It's pretty funny as over the course of the half hour we see Craig surrounded by more and more products from the guerrilla marketer's employer corporation. (Also a very creative way to get some product placement bucks while mocking things like product placement. Community was awesome.)

So I guess ballpark ads are like junk mail. There's a relatively tiny rate of return on them, individual consumer-wise, but of those few perhaps enough of them are level seven susceptibles to make it profitable. Kind of like the MAGA problem.

So...humanity is probably screwed.

 

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What a week

PicardS3
Whatever else has gone on the last week-plus, Picard has been a reliable highlight

So, it's been a while since I posted anything here. I've been pretty busy with work of different types. A client gig that was supposed to be relatively small that turned into a pretty involved endeavor because of software bugs led to a few all-nighters that I've not recovered from yet, hence me blogging at 3:00am (again). Also my umpiring gig involved a three game shift the other night that was just a miserable experience—it was raining, it was cold, there was an altercation between players I had to deal with—that I was half-convinced was going to result in my getting sick, but I guess my immune system is better than I gave it credit for and I wasn't out of commission for very long.

But it isn't like there was a shortage of things to post about. I mean, the domestic terrorists and autocrats known as the Republican Party have just kept on doing their thing to frighten their constituents and do anything they can think of to wrest more power for themselves in defiance of democracy. A week after I posted a screed about gun violence there was another mass shooting. Then another one the next day. And another one while that second one was happening, in the same town. Which begat more Republican autocratic power grabs and more Republican legislation to abet domestic terrorists.

You know, the usual.

Not all the news was bad, though. My state Attorney General, the awesome Bob Ferguson, stuck it to a suburban gun shop for over 2,600 counts of violating the law limiting what amount of ammunition can be sold, that was very cool. And my governor made noise about protecting my state from those autocratic Republican terror laws. Oh, and former president vonClownstick is squawking about his criming, which is equal parts entertaining and scary.

And then there was the pop culture stuff. Season 3 of Star Trek: Picard is nearing its conclusion without missing a beat, continuing to deliver some truly great stuff. (I wonder if there might have been a little overreach in this week's episode, but I guess we'll find out in the finale next week.) Ted Lasso is also in its season 3, and while it continues to be great it's pacing is a bit slower than over on Picard; interesting stuff has been set up, but not much payoff yet. Then there's a little show called The Big Door Prize—it's on Apple TV+ and from some of the folks that made Schitt's Creek, starring the always charming Chris O'Dowd, whom I enjoy in pretty much anything he's done. That show is a really interesting character study of disparate people in this small town that become enamored with a seemingly magic machine that tells them "their true life potential." I recommend.

What I haven't made time for the past week-plus is my new bike, which still awaits my attention to replace its seat and install a rack. Hopefully I'll get to that soon. Nor have I done any reading of anything other than some news, which is very unusual. Not counting the reference materials on SQL databases I made use of in the aforementioned all-nighters, anyway. My pile of books and comics just keeps growing and I need to make a dent.

Anywho. This has been a blithering blog post of no import and little focus. I now return you to your regularly scheduled websurfing.

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New Season Primer

SEAlogo2

For the benefit of the few of you that were loyal readers of the now-defunct site I used to run about the Seattle Mariners, here is a much-abbreviated version of what might have run there as we approached Opening Day last Thursday.

Keeping track of the offseason player movements is sometimes a challenge, and as you tune in or go to the ballpark in 2023 you may wonder, "What happened to so-and-so?" and "Who's this guy that I never heard of before?" Well, fear not, I'm here for you. And after last season's playoff run, the team was already in pretty decent shape, so there's not a ton of new faces to learn. We'll miss some of the guys who have left Seattle, but welcome the new additions to the fold.

Here goes:

Gone from 2022 New in 2023
Player New team   Player Former team
Adam Frazier (2B/OF) Baltimore (free agent)   Trevor Gott (RHP) Milwaukee (FA)
Mitch Haniger (RF) San Francisco (FA)   Teoscar Hernández (OF) Toronto (trade) 
Kyle Lewis (OF) Arizona (traded)   Cooper Hummel (C/OF) Arizona (trade) 
Carlos Santana (DH/1B) Pittsburgh (FA)   Tommy LaStella (IF) San Francisco (FA)
Erik Swanson (RHP) Toronto (traded)   A.J. Pollock (LF) Los Angeles Dodgers (FA)
Abraham Toro (IF) Milwaukee (traded)   Gabe Speier (LHP) Kansas City (waivers)
Luis Torrens (C) Chicago Cubs (FA)   Kolten Wong (2B) Milwaukee (trade)
Jesse Winker (LF) Milwaukee (traded)      
Curt Casali (C) Cincinnati (FA)      
Matthew Boyd (LHP) Detroit (FA)      

 The big moves were the trade of Winker and Toro to the Brewers for Wong and dealing Swanson and a minor-league prospect to the Blue Jays for Hernández. The rest of the shuffling was fairly minor, though Pollock could become an important piece and I'm intrigued by Hummel.

With Frazier leaving, the Mariners needed someone to hold down second base, and though I'd have preferred it if they gave Sam Haggerty a chance to claim the spot, Wong is a proven hitter and defender (though he played below expectations in Milwaukee). Losing Haniger is a bummer, but Hernández is a terrific pickup to take the right field job. Cutting ties with Kyle Lewis wasn't popular, but I like it—he may well turn into a fine hitter, but aside from being injury-prone, he only showed three weeks of solid production for the M's; it was just magnified because those weeks came in the mini-season of 2020. There wasn't room for him in the outfield mix anymore anyhow, and Cooper Hummel was an on-base machine at all levels of the Diamondbacks' minors and put up decent defensive marks as a catcher while capable of playing the corner outfield as well, so I like the trade.

Winker is apt to have a great year now that the M's have dealt him away, but I don't mind shipping him off in the Wong trade. One year of Winker for one year of Wong, contractually speaking, plus the addition-by-subtraction of unloading Toro in the process. If spring training is anything to go by—and it rarely is, so who knows—Jarred Kelenic might just be ready to come into his own, making Winker eminently expendable. And if Kelenic still can't cut it every day, Pollock can step in beyond a strict platoon, and there's some outfield depth in the minors/coming off of injury.

On paper, you'd think the guy the M's will miss most is Swanson, but Swannie's better off with the Blue Jays. Manager Scott Servais never seemed to know how to use Swanson in a way that played to his strengths, so getting traded might be how he gets to finally be a go-to 8th- or 9th-inning guy.

 Anywho, the ’23 Mariners will feature a very strong starting rotation, even though Robbie Ray is on the injured list after just one game. With Ray out for likely a month or more, it'll be Luis Castillo, Chris Flexen (in Ray's spot), Logan Gilbert, Marco Gonzales, and George Kirby. It's not often that the number two spot is the weak link, but weak is relative here. These guys could all go deep into games if their manager would allow it, but as it's Scott Servais we're talking about, they'll get shortchanged some innings in favor of an overstuffed bullpen more often than is ideal.

That ’pen is a bit of a crapshoot, too. One of the club's strengths the past couple of years, the relief corps strikes me as the Mariners' biggest potential trouble spot. There's a lot of upside in youngsters Andres Muñoz and Matt Brash, but they're both still a bit raw; Diego Castillo was great a few years ago, but not lately; Gott seems like your average middle-relief guy. It just seems iffy to me. Is the Paul Sewald of 2022 for real or will he regress? Matt Festa and Penn Murfee have looked great from time to time, but they've also looked awful on occasion; Speier has been hit-and-miss, both literally and figuratively, in his time with the Royals, and he's the only southpaw in the group. Of course, if Servais let his starters pitch seven-plus on the regular, this would be less of a deal; why, they might even realize that carrying eight relievers is kind of bonkers! Yeah, yeah, I know. Never happen.

But with that pitching staff and a lineup that features Ty France, Julio Rodríguez, Eugenio Suárez, and Hernández, this looks to be a fun season. Wong and J.P. Crawford up the middle are among the best defenders at their respective positions, and thanks to the (dumb) rule that caps the number of pitchers on the roster, the team will have a workable bench complement. I mean, it'd be better to have five than four, but Servais has to have his extra reliever. Thankfully the bench has a lot of versatility—Haggerty can play six positions; Dylan Moore, when he gets healthy, can play seven; Hummel can spell the catchers or let one of them DH without courting the disaster scenario of having a catcher get hurt and no one left to put on the gear; and whichever outfielder isn't in the lineup (most often Pollock or Kelenic) figures to be the go-to pinch-hitter.

Got all that? See, not much different from 2022. It's not like being a Reds fan, for whom only every fourth guy is a name you might recognize; or a Marlins fan, where every other name prompts a reaction of, "wait, he plays for Miami now?" (Did you know Jean Segura is a Marlin now? See, you didn't, did you.)

Batter up.

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Bullpen Bulletins

Back in the day, Marvel Comics all had a page in them near the back that was for their little promo blurbs of various kinds that they called Marvel Bullpen Bulletins. In that vein, a few things to blurb about today...

  • ITEM: Trump indicted! (Or "indicated," as he wrote on his knockoff social media platform.) About frakking time, but also, not nearly enough. It's a good start, and with luck the media will remind everyone that, though this is a relatively trivial case amongst the many criminal acts of former president VonClownstick, it was the one that conceivably allowed every subsequent one to happen and is of a kind when it comes to motive: to hoodwink the public and rig an election. May it be the first of many indictments and may it serve to lead to eventual justice being done, or at least a significant measure of it.
  • ITEM: Yesterday was opening day of baseball season! I did not attend the opener for Your Seattle Mariners as I have been wont to do, but I will attend many games this season as per usual. I watched the game on the telly, though (after the fact), and thankfully the new rules Commissioner Manfred forced upon us didn't play much of a role. There was one pitch clock violation by a Cleveland reliever, who looked uncomfortable as all get out anyway, and one play at second base on a Ty France double that might have resulted in an out instead of a safe call if the old standard bases were in use. Otherwise, you wouldn't notice much change. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the pitch clock itself is not placed in a spot that the TV cameras can see with the usual camera angles. Good—I don't want to see the damn thing, it's too distracting.
  • ITEM: Speaking of Opening Day, in years past I would have been spending a great deal of time writing up season preview articles and delving into all the player movement over the offseason and consulting my peeps for their season predictions. This all for the website I used to run based upon the magazine I used to do production for, which I finally got burned out on last summer. I gave it a go for several years, but it never made a dime and its audience never grew beyond a smattering. But I know some folks still want to know about my opinions regarding the Mariners in particular, so I'll run down some of that stuff over the weekend.
  • ITEM: As some of you know, I have a side gig umpiring rec-league softball. I was working a few games last night, one of which featured two of my favorite teams to ump for, a good crop of guy and gals that keep things fun and don't take it too seriously. One of those teams is The Leftovers, who mark their softball journeys on Instagram. I even got namechecked in one of their videos. Their captain suffered a freak injury in winter league, so he's not playing for a while, but he's always there with his camera to document all the good stuff and post it. I appreciate that when he posts a video of a close call with the question "safe or out?" that he doesn't overtly second-guess me. :)
  • ITEM: I bought my new bike finally, and gave it a bit of a shakedown ride the other day. It needs a little bit of adjustment, which I've not managed my time well enough to finish doing yet, but so far I'm pleased and not regretting the almost-$700 purchase.
  • ITEM: The Mariners are playing! I must go now to tune them in on the TV machine.

More later. Excelsior!

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Guns are bad, m'kay?

noguns

Guess what. America had another school shooting. Because it's a regular week on Earth.

I realize that this is just screaming into the void (and apologies in advance, this post will probably have more swearing in it than is typical). The Nashville incident this week that resulted in seven deaths barely registers a blip on the societal consciousness because we are so goddamned used to it.

There have been 38 mass shootings in the US just this month. There were 40 last month. 53 in January. A lot of media types are reporting on the specifics of the Nashville case—because it's the newest, it's fresh—looking for motive and details and insights into the perpetrator as an individual, which is, OK, fine, I guess, but that's not what I want to see coverage of. I want to see journalists, protesters, people in general badgering Congress and state legislatures to regulate the fucking guns.

Reporters did approach Tennessee Congressman Tim Burchett on the subject on Monday, which is good. Burchett is a Republican, though, so his response was not helpful. It was, however, relatively honest, which is notable in and of itself for an elected representative identifying with that party. He said, "We're not gonna fix it."

Whether he says that because he believes it's pointless to try or because he doesn't care about gun deaths or because he's too deeply in the thrall of the National Rifle Association's profit motive is up to interpretation, but the bottom line is right there. Burchett elaborated (if you can even apply that word) with, "I don’t think a criminal is going to stop from guns [sic], you know … I don’t think you’re going to stop the gun violence." By which he means, he doesn't think you, the empathetic concerned citizenry, can stop it because we, the Republican party, have enough power to ensure it keeps happening and that suits us just fine.

"We're not gonna fix it."

That is but one of the many reasons it is appropriate to label the modern Republican Party as a domestic terrorist organization.

The House Majority Leader, Congressman Steve Scalise, was asked what he thinks should be done about this issue. His response was eminently predictable. "I pray for the victims. I pray for the families. I get really angry when people try to politicize it for their own personal agenda," he said, trying to mask his own politicizing of the problem. The Senate chaplain, Barry Black, wasn't having it. "It's time to move beyond thoughts and prayers," he said in a prayer service he was leading for Senators. "Lord, deliver our senators from the paralysis of analysis that waits for the miraculous." I suppose that's the chaplain version of "kick these senators and other leaders squarely in the ass and make them act, because they sure as hell won't do it on their own."

Republicans behave as if this is just the normal course of life in America. But when I was growing up, we didn't have active shooter drills in school. We didn't fear that criminals were out there with AR-15 style assault rifles. We have always had a gun-fetishist culture that romanticizes the mistaken idea of the "old west gunslinger," but even in the old west there were, you know, regulations—you show up in town, you had to surrender your guns. The famous gunfight at the OK Corral? It happened because the Clanton gang wouldn't surrender their guns in accordance with the law. Tombstone, Arizona, had more gun control in 1881 that it does now.

I don't know when the NRA managed to convince Republicans that the second amendment to the Constitution didn't actually contain the phrase "well-regulated" or "safety of a free state"—maybe when they trotted out Charlton Heston to speak for them—but at some point the orthodox Republican position became that there should be no laws whatsoever restricting anyone's access to firearms of any kind. Former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Warren Burger said in a 1991 interview that the second amendment "has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud [perpetrated] on the American public." Many Republicans know this. Not all of them are insane Alex Jones types, plenty are smart enough to understand what the language of the amendment means and what the intent was with the wording as understood when it was written in the 18th century. But they do not care.

"We're not gonna fix it."

Once, we had a ban on assault rifles. It was effective, so Republicans made sure it went away. Now the assault rifle is a status symbol. Gun fetishists all have to have one. Or two. Or a dozen. Reinstating that ban would be a good start, but it's nowhere near enough.

I've known people that own guns. Most of them were the sort of person I would not trust with one. When I was a teenager I had a friend that lived with her father, a guy I knew to be a drunk and a real piece of shit, and there were multiple guns in her house. I never wanted to be there. I've known people who are not like that, that are basically well-intentioned sorts, that own guns. I had the impression they had them with the perhaps-sublimated hope that they would have an excuse to use them. I've even known a couple of folks who owned one "just for protection" against home invasion or the like. They, I thought, owned their guns out of fear and were far more likely to have the gun used against them or used poorly so that it offered no protection at all.

I have a bias, obviously. I do not support private ownership of firearms at all when it comes to handguns and other guns intended to kill human beings. I find hunting to be revolting, though I respect that it's a different thing and in and of itself can be regulated separately, but mass shootings like this never seem to be carried out with buckshot. Like the Nashville shooter, the perps tend to have assault rifles and handguns. And if we banned those fucking things, I can't help but believe these incidents would decrease dramatically.

They wouldn't completely go away. There's plenty of evidence to suggest that if someone wants to get something illegal, they'll find a way to get it. But it'll take a lot longer, take a lot more effort, and weed out a great many of the prospective perpetrators. Every other developed country on the planet has mental illness among the populace, has media with gratuitous violence, but only the United States has essentially unfettered access to guns and only the United States has dozens of mass shootings every month. Restricting access to guns would prevent many of these incidents, would save lives.

But we can't do anything like that. We can't ban assault rifles, let alone handguns, because Republicans have power and Republicans like violence. Too simplistic? OK, prove me wrong. Republicans like violence. They promote policies that encourage violence. They want criminals to have the very best armaments possible. In fact, they want everyone to be armed to the teeth and settle their problems with a bullet to the head, or at least the threat of one. Why else do they behave the way they do? Give me a convincing argument against that. "We're not gonna fix it" is their doctrine.

Well before this latest mass shooting, Jon Stewart interviewed a state senator in Oklahoma about his efforts to make acquiring and using firearms as simple and uninhibited as possible. It's a great/horrifying interview in which Stewart rams home the hypocrisy of this guy's positions and spotlights just how much this senator in particular and the modern Republican party more generally does not care about gun violence. The whole thing is on his Apple TV+ show, but the bulk of it is available here.

 

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Hodgepodge

shaw
Captain Shaw might be a jerk, but I do feel for him

A few morsels of flotsam and jetsam from my mind as I get ready to head out for the evening...

  • I did my taxes over the weekend. As per usual, as a self-employed person that gets screwed by having to pay both employer and employee shares of FICA and because I never send enough in estimated advance payments, I owed money. As not per usual, what I owed was more than $3,000, which makes me think I am doing myself a disservice by doing my taxes myself. Tax laws are so complicated, the forms are so elaborate, the software for making it easier to do so layered that I'm fairly sure I could have filed with a lower amount due if I knew what to deduct and claim and so on. I used the simplest/cheapest small business tax prep software I could find and it didn't guide me through all the stuff I seem to remember doing in prior years, but because tax laws change all the time I don't know what to think of that. I even know a tax prep professional personally, so I think next year I'll just pay her to do it and maybe I'll end up a little better off. The days of a 10 minute filing by form 1040-EZ are past me.
  • Tomorrow night episode 6 of the final season of Star Trek: Picard drops, and boy am I ever here for that. Of course, I've loved every iteration of Star Trek (except Voyager and the JJ movies, of course), even when they're problematic and the writing slips (looking at you, Discovery writers' room, and no, I haven't forgotten Berman & Braga's incredibly lame time-war arc on Enterprise). But kudos to Terry Matalas and company for this season of Picard. Why is this the last season?! More, more! Spinoff!
  • Former president Clownface von F*@%#stick told his cult of minions that he would be arrested today. Hasn't happened yet. Obviously, that was just another lie from him to generate fundraising, to get more of his red-hatted dupes to mortgage their houses for his legal fund, but I was still hopeful. Alas.
  • Last night I was working here at my desk and heard a vicious-sounding fight between a cat and something else out my window. I peeked out to see what was what, but it was too dark, so I went outside to check it out, but by then combatants had fled. I just hope the cat wasn't seriously hurt. I bring this up just to say, as a lover of cats, please keep your kitties indoors whenever you can, especially at night. I know some of them love to explore and such, and once they get that into their systems it's a hard thing to curtail, but they will live longer and healthier lives. Give them stuff to climb on and room to run around inside if you have the space, windows to peer out of, toy mice to hunt. Keep them away from cars, coyotes, big dogs, even other territorial cats that might harm or kill them, not to mention parasites and diseases. I'm fortunate that I have a big condo with lots of space for my two to chase each other around in and that they've never shown an interest in bolting outside. When I was a kid I went through a string of pet cats that all died awful deaths because they went outside. My indoor cats lived to be 15½, 17, 18, and 19, my current two younger ones I hope will break 20.
  • This went kind of under the radar, but President Biden vetoed a bill yesterday. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy whined in response: “In his first veto, Biden just sided with woke Wall Street over workers. Tells you exactly where his priorities lie.” You know what, Kevin McCarthy is right. In that one thing, anyway. It does tell us where the president's priorities lie. They lie with the environment, working people, and the future. They do not lie with the short-term greed and profiteering of corporate moguls. The bill in question would have reinstated a Trump-era law that prohibited administrators of government retirement plans from considering environmental impacts or potential lawsuits when making investment decisions. Heaven forbid! Consider the likelihood that a company will be sued for its malfeasance when deciding whether or not to invest in it? Heinous! Mustn't be allowed! Give thought to whether or not a company is poisoning the planet before investing civil servants' retirement earnings in it? Outrageous! Poison and destruction should be irrelevant to making oil barons richer! Sit down and shut up, McCarthy, you spineless yet evil weasel.

OK, I have to go. Umpiring to do, followed by a hopefully spoiler-free viewing of the WBC championship game—being played right now as I type!—when I get home.

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A WBC game for the books

Murakami Semis
Munetaka Murakami is mobbed by teammates after delivering the winning hit

Holy moly but that was a thrilling end to the WBC semifinal game between Mexico and Japan this evening, 180 degrees from the other semifinal (wherein the US trounced Cuba by 12 runs in a dull dramaless pounding). I know most of y'all don't care about such things and fewer still watched along with me, but I was into it and this is my blog, so I'm gonna tell you about it anyway.

Boosting Japan all the way, I was, naturally, feeling a bit frustrated at how things were going. Starting pitcher Rōki Sasaki, he of the 102mph fastball, devastating forkball, 2022 perfect game, and heartbreaking personal story—he's from the Tohoku region near Fukushima and lost everything including his father and grandparents in the 2011 tsunami—had been burned by a successful two-out hit against an infield shift that should not have been employed (I know Team Japan's manager, Hideki Kuriyama of the Hokkaido Fighters, is one of those sabermetric types, but when your pitcher is throwing 100+, do you really think batters are going to pull every batted ball?) and a popup that fell in behind the third baseman before his one hiccup of the game—a hanging forkball that got crushed for a homer. 3-0 Mexico. Meanwhile, Mexico's pitching was unexpectedly sharp when it needed to be and Japan's star third baseman, triple-crown winner Munetaka Murakami, continued his tournament-long slump by failing to cash in with runners aboard (three more Ks with runners on tonight).

By the 7th inning it was looking pretty bleak and I was resigning myself to the idea that at least I wouldn't have to worry about the championship game tomorrow being spoiled for me (I will be umpiring while it's being played and planned on watching it after the fact, and softball players have a tendency to look at their phones in the dugout and gab about scores they look up, heedless of my DVR no-spoiler lockdown).

But then came the bottom of the 7th. After a frustrating strikeout by catcher Takuya Kai and a lineout by Lars Nootbaar (yes, he's on Team Japan with that name, his mom's Japanese and his dad's Dutch-American), Kensuke Kondoh delivered a base hit to generate a little hope. Mexico went to the bullpen for a lefty to face Shohei Ohtani, but Ohtani took five pitches and walked. That brought up former Osaka Buffallo and new Boston Red Sox OF Masataka Yoshida, who leads the entire tournament in RBI. Hope welled some more. Yoshida ran the count to 1-2, but I'd seen enough of his at-bats by now to know he's a bit like Edgar Martínez in that two strikes doesn't faze him. He got a changeup falling into the lefty low-inside happy zone and golfed it over the wall a couple of feet inside the foul pole to tie the game. SUGOI!!

But then Mexico retook the lead immediately in the 8th as Japan's pitcher, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, was missing with everything. Yamamoto had been brilliant in his start against Australia and for two innings tonight, but here in the 8th he couldn't seem to locate any pitch. He got Austin Barnes to strikeout on fastballs out of the zone, but Randy Arozarena creamed a hanging forkball for a double and on the next pitch Alex Verdugo bashed a fastball down the pike for another double. It was time to pull Yamamoto, but no relief was ready yet, so Joey Meneses got to whack another hanger and now runners were on the corners. Too late, Yamamoto is relieved by the young setup man for the Hanshin Tigers, Atsuki Yuasa, and order seems restored when Rowdy Tellez strikes out; but Isaac Paredes still has something to say about it and grounds one through the hole into left field. That plated one run, but Japan escaped further damage when Yoshida threw a missile in from LF to cut down Meneses on a play at the plate and end the inning. Whew, and yikes.

Down two runs, Japan puts their first two batters on in the bottom of the 8th via a hit batter and base hit. Unfortunately, the bottom of the order is now up, but in true NPB fashion, shortstop Sosuke Genda, broken finger and all, squares to bunt and lays one down to advance the runners to 2nd and 3rd. Hokata Yamakawa is summoned from the bench to bat for Kai and hits one hard to left, but it's caught by Arozarena so all Japan gets out of it is one run on the sacrifice fly. Nootbaar follows with a walk, but reliever Gerardo Reyes gets Kondoh on strikes and things go to the 9th with Mexico still ahead.

In the top half, new pitcher Taisei Ota makes short work of Mexico so when Japan comes up in the last of the 9th it's still a one-run deficit. Mexico goes to its closer, Giovanny Gallegos, a solid Major Leaguer with St. Louis during the regular year. Ohtani leads off and doubles on Gallegos' first pitch to get the crowd and his dugout (and me on my couch) excited. Yoshida gets nothing good to hit and walks, which may have been a pitch-around situation—Yoshida has been Mr. Clutch all tournament and the next guy is Murakami, mired in a slump. So now 1st and 2nd, nobody out. Yoshida's no slowpoke, but still Japan goes to the bench for a pinch-runner, the very fleet-of-foot Ukyo Shuto, in case there's a need for speed. Nevertheless, this is a good double-play opportunity for Mexico and Murakami's slump might be exploited here. And he does foul off a pretty juicy fastball to go 0-1, then lays off a breaking pitch that gets buried at the plate. But this is still the guy who just won back-to-back Central League MVP awards, slump or no slump, and the next delivery is a fastball much like the first one and this time Murakami doesn't miss: he squares it up and drives it all the way to the center field wall, scoring Ohtani easily while Shuto kicks it into warp drive and slides home well ahead of the throw in from center. Game over. Japan wins. Much jumping around and screaming. The players seemed jazzed by it, too.

Really, one of the best finishes to a game I've ever seen; it sparked memories of the 1995 ALDS, even though the stakes in a short tournament aren't nearly the same. Mexico manager Benji Gil may have the quote of the night, summing things up thusly: "Japan moves on, but the world of baseball won today."

So, tomorrow we get the WBC finale we deserve, the two most established and historic baseball nations going at it, USA vs. Japan. Should be fun.

Now, if only I can get the softball players to keep their yaps shut so I can watch late tomorrow night unspoiled by "future" knowledge.

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