Saturday, April 29, 2006

My baseball journey began 20 years ago this month

In April 1986, I attended my first T-ball practice. I don't specifically remember anything about that first practice, but I do remember a lot from that first season. Probably the biggest things I remember are 1) not wanting to be on the team and 2) being confused as to why my parents were making me be on the team.

Oh, and I was a really bad player.

On the bright side, if Hollywood had made a movie of our team that season, I would have been the main star for being a walking "comedy of errors." However, back in those days, nobody on my team was laughing.

In my league, our teams didn't have nicknames. We were simply sponsored by one of the many local businesses and that would be our team name. But my team was different. We were sponsored by the park where all the games were played, which was called Robinette; and we had a nickname that was on our jerseys and hats: The Buck-A-Roos.

But more than our name was different. We were the worst team in the league--and I was our worst player.

I do think we won a game that year (might have won a second due to forfeit, I forget). But honestly, the losing didn't bother me at all since we got "treats" at the end regardless. What did bother me was my constant struggle to get "good wood" on the ball which constantly taunted me on that intimidating tee as I stood in the batter's box alone in front of everyone. It seemed every time my first swing would be over the top, then my second swing would be halfway down the tee and the ball would go about five feet--sometimes I'd run and sometimes I wouldn't, depending on what I thought the chances were of the ball actually making it out of that ever evil "semi-circle" of foul territory. This process would repeat until I either "struck out" or hit a weak grounder to the pitcher or first baseman who would make the easy play to get me out. It wasn't until about halfway through the season that some player botched one of these easy plays and I finally made it to first base safely. My parents took a picture to commemorate this milestone and the first base coach carefully explained to me which direction I needed to run when the ball was hit next. (Of course, as I had expected, I ended up getting mowed down at second base anyway.)

But the real reason I'm writing this post is because this 20-year anniversay has put me in a nostalgic mood regarding my entire baseball journey. I've been thinking about many, many plays throughout the years and it's interesting (to me personally) how certain plays really have stuck with me. Some things will probably stay in my mind for as long as my mind is coherent. In fact, five in particular have popped into my head... five of my worst moments as a baseball player. In this post I'll recount #5 on the list, and in the coming weeks I'll make my way down the list all the way to my most embarrassing baseball memory.

#5 "The Unpopular Executive Decision"

This one actually goes all the way back to that first year. It was early in the season, and I was playing center field. I remember thinking back in those days that the outfield was like being in outer space, and when I was out there, what was happening in the infield was kind of like looking into a strange planet. In other words, the infield was a whole different world to me... one that some day I might get to visit, but for now, I was stuck on a different planet--Planet Outfield.

As I was saying, on this damp, spring day I was playing center field. The sky was overcast and the temperature was cool. I remember the wet green grass... the brown patches of mud... the soggy yellow dandelions... wondering why we weren't inside watching cartoons... and then looking up to see a bunch of blue jerseys running in my direction. (These were the infielders on my team.)

Now, even at the tender age of six, I knew what this meant--and I was facing the first crisis situation of my life.

Immediately I spotted the white ball hopping past my legs and I turned tail in pursuit, fully realizing that I had let my teammates down. Despite the fact that I had at least four players from my team also chasing after that ball, I was determined to "make things right." And I definitely was going to be the first one to that ball. Part of me wanted to be able to tell my teammates, "Hey, stop running after the ball, I'll get it." But there was no time to talk as I ran with purpose.

Of course, by the time I got to the ball, it had stopped rolling and was way deep in the outfield (there was no fence or warning track for this field). I picked up the ball and turned around. By now, two other players were next to me asking for the ball, and some others were about halfway out into the outfield, yelling for the ball.

At this point I remember thinking, "Now what?"

Do I hand the ball off to one of my fellow outfielders or do I throw it to an infielder? The pressure built.

I might not have cared about the winning and losing back then, but I still had pride. There was something that didn't sit well with me just handing the ball off for someone else to make the throw. But at the same time, I knew I couldn't make that throw...

I had gotten us into this mess, so I was going to get us out. I would get a running start, then make the throw. So I blew off my fellow outfielders and ran toward my panicking infielders; with every step I made a calculation in my head as to whether or not now was the time to make the throw. As I kept running, my momentum built up and even though I was getting closer to my screaming infielders, the calculations in my head still weren't coming out in favor of a throw. In fact, I was starting to feel more comfortable with the run and then something else started to happen... I was becoming mesmerized by the allure of Planet Infield.

I could now see players from the opposing team flying around the bases and marching home like a parade of ants--and I could hear the parents in the bleachers yelling and cheering (I was later told that my team's parents were yelling the whole time at me to, "Throw the ball!")

But I had now come too far to stop, and seeing these enemy players showing me up by taking advantage of my mistake only further aroused my anger. In a snap decision, I opted to stick to my guns (mainly because I knew I didn't have any) and try to run one of those guys down like a cheetah catching an antelope for the kill. In my mind, it was our only hope.

So, much to the horror of every single Robinette Buck-A-Roo fan and player, I bypassed my teammates who were waiting for my throw and went by foot with ball in hand all the way into Planet Infield. As I approached the mysterious territory of second base I could see that the last of the runners was now about three steps from home plate so I switched to "Plan B" and made a desperation throw that ultimately came to a harmless stop about halfway down the first base foul line.

At the time, I remember thinking that the throw had actually vindicated me, but I don't think anyone else saw it that way. I got some "looks" from my fellow six- and seven-year old teammates--and most people in the bleachers must have had pity for my parents' embarrassment.

But oh well, I still got treats.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

A Basketball Hypothetical

So the NBA playoffs are in full swing. The best basketball on the planet is being played.
Players from around the planet of varying backgrounds come together each season to compete for the world championship. But which of those backgrounds has produced the best players?
What if there were three all-star teams that played off representing the international players, players who came straight from high school, and players who came from college. Who would win? Potential teams would be:
High school lineup:
PG: LeBron
SG: Kobe
SF: McGrady
PF: Garnett
C: Stoudemire
Bench: PG: Telfair SF/PF: Rashard Lewis PF/C: Howard

College lineup:
PG: Kidd
SG: Wade
SF: Pierce
PF: Duncan
C: O'Neal
Bench: PG: Billups SG: Iverson SG/SF: Carter F: Marion

International lineup:
PG: Nash
SG: Ginobili
SF: Diaw
PF: Nowitzki
C: Yao
Bench: PG: Parker F: Nocioni F/C: Gasol

Who's your winner?

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Maps Race

As I'm sure most avid Internet users such as yourself are aware, the big Internet companies have been engaging over the past year or so in a full-out race to see who can build the best online maps (and thus gain the most market share).
The first major online maps site to hit it big was MapQuest. And they are still the industry leader, especially for driving directions. However, the big 3 Internet companies--Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo--are charging hard with their own maps, all of which also include aerial images.
The market having established itself, TechCrunch has pulled together a thorough review of the maps sites available. Weighing all factors they have chosen a favorite. Note, this is only as it stands right now-- these things change seemingly week to week, as seen with Google Maps' major updates at the beginning of this week.
But, as I already had intimated at the right, Yahoo is the current leader. Says TechCrunch,
Mapquest is the most popular mapping service but lags on features and usability. Google is the most notable and has a ubiquitous API. Windows Live Local dazzles with its creative views and features but falls short of the others in direction functionality. Mapquest offers a number of features but still is missing satellite imagery, which makes it trail the competitors in core functionality. Ask Maps is a worthy competitor but had the highest error rate of the group.

Overall, Yahoo Maps was by far the best application tested. Its fast Flash interface, multipoint directions, live traffic information, and easy send-to-mobile feature make it the hands down winner. It also features the most robust API options.
All the sites have some pretty cool features if you haven't visited in awhile. I'd encourage you to check them out. The future of mapping is very bright as novel ideas continue to develop.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

A polluter

Gallon for gallon...2006 lawn mower engines contribute 93 times more smog-forming emissions than 2006 cars, according to the California Air Resources Board. In California, lawn mowers provided more than 2 percent of the smog-forming pollution from all engines.
Some of the dirtiest engines on the market are those running our country's lawnmowers. The state of California wants to tighten emission requirements for small engines, which would almost certainly require catalytic converters on lawnmowers.

It sounds like a great idea, however, the lawnmower engine industry has dug their heels into the ground and are stridently opposing the regulation. They're concerned about the added cost to produce the engines. And certainly they're not worried about their own bottom line...
Patricia Hanz, an assistant general counsel for Briggs & Stratton, said, "We acknowledge that there's an air quality problem in California." But she added that Briggs engines were 70 percent cleaner than they were than 15 years ago, before regulation.

To meet the new standards, she said, would require a minimum 30 percent price increase "across our product line."

Ms. Hanz did not explain the components of this projected price increase. The E.P.A. estimates that a catalytic converter and new hoses would cost a company about $20 to $25 per machine, on average.
Honestly, who wouldn't be willing to pay $20 to $25 more to not smell like exhaust after they mow their lawn? That it would be helping the environment is a bonus. I've long thought that cracking down on terribly polluting small engines, such as those in lawnmowers, snowmobiles, ATV's, and small construction equipment, would be a great step towards reducing smog.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Link of the Day -- StateMaster

As a native Minnesotan, I think I was born with some intrinsic state pride. Nowhere before, however, was there a place I could turn to so easily point out the relatively great place Minnesota is. Now, however, the power of the Internet brings us a state statistical powerhouse. Let me introduce you to StateMaster.

For instance, did you know that,
Wyoming consumes more gasoline per capita than any other state. California consumes the least.
Interesting. (I knew you'd think so)

And this one won't surprise you. Guess the five states whose residents are most likely to lose their natural teeth. Yep,
#1 West Virginia 42.8%
#2 Kentucky 38.1%
#3 Tennessee 32.2%
#4 Alabama 31.9%
#5 Louisiana 31.3%
Oh, and Minnesota. We're only the most educated state in the Union. And it's not a shoddy education either mind you; we're #1 in 8th grade math scores.

Monday, April 17, 2006

The Brutal Suburbs

Out of Ur asks, does the suburban lifestyle undermine our mission as Christians?
Many voices are beginning to say that the lifestyle of the affluent suburbanite, while heralded for 50 years as the fulfillment of the American dream, may actually be detrimental to the Christian life and mission.
David Fitch goes on to say,
...the suburbs are built for the idolization of the affectionate family as the end and purpose of all life. The problem? When the family becomes another form of life separated from God and the church, it too becomes another form of self-imploding narcissism.

By idolizing the family, suburbanites may become focused on consuming more stuff to create the perfect home and family. There is nothing but contrived affection left to keep the home together. And children who learn they are the center of this universe from parents actually develop characters that believe they really are the center of the universe.

After decades of this suburban lifestyle America is left with families split by divorce, kids leaving in rebellion, and millions on various drugs to relieve the emptiness as the idolized family turns out to be a myth. Apart from the personal destruction the suburbs can bring, suburban isolation also poses a real problem for the spreading of the gospel.
Do you agree? Is it more difficult to live the life of a Christian in the suburbs?

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Construction Sign Hacking

Who knew it was a possibility?
I have the feeling more subversive messages may be on the way if more folks figure this out.

Oh, and make sure you look at the comments on the post linked above. Funny to note the differing reactions.

Friday, April 07, 2006

The plight of the young black man

Despite a time in our country's history when almost every people group across race and gender lines is making dramatic economic gains, one particular group is being left behind. That is the black male.

Several new studies show that the situation for young black men,
...has worsened in recent years even as an economic boom and a welfare overhaul have brought gains to black females...
The problem is deep and very real.

    • Almost 60 percent of black male high school dropouts in their early thirties have spent time in prison.
    • In 2004, about 72 percent of black male high-school dropouts had no jobs, either because they couldn't find work or because they were in jail.
Why is this? The answer is not simple. Various explanations include a persistance of discrimination, lack of education, fatherlessness, unemployment, drugs and alcohol, etc...

What becomes more and more obvious is the "failure of social scientists to adequately explain the problem, and their inability to come up with any effective strategy to deal with it." My heart goes out to these men.

I personally think that the lack of fathers has a LOT to do with it. What's the solution, however? I honestly don't know. It has to begin with education. But for that to succeed, education has to become valued. In the 'street' culture, it often is not. The cycle is self-perpetuating. Does anyone have any ideas?

For further insight on this topic, I'd encourage you to check out a book I recently read called Code of the Street by Elijah Anderson. I found it highly educational and it definitely dwelt heavily with this topic.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Children of the Future

Be heartened. The future of our country lies in the hands of people such as this future leader:
This budding genius, currently a 1st grader, says, "There are five days in a week. There are two days we do not have school. It is almost Earth Day. There are nine days until Earth Day. Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday."

This next youth makes the profound statement that, "If I were Johnny Appleseed I would plant apple trees."

For more incredible insights and stunning drawing skills, check out the Children of the Future blog, which serves as a collector of the "wondrously bizarre stories written by elementary school children on their class websites."