Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Rowing coaches critiquing joggers, picnickers

Running west along the Schuylkill River trail last week, during a rare, only partially cloudy day, I noticed, as I often do, the fleets of rowers on the slow-moving waterway. The sheer number of shells was like a scene from the movie Troy, without the sails or atrocious acting.

Mixed in among the rowers were a number of coaches, using bullhorns, directing, often yelling, orders at the amateur athletes: "You in the back, you're off by a split second. Step it up a notch. Most of you are not turning the oars properly. Don't break your scull. Flow, dammit, flow. Be lighter than the boat."

As I listened closely I began hearing commands that took my attention from the crowded trail ahead and back to the water.

"You call that a hoagie?" I heard shouted through the bullhorn. "You don't even have tomatoes on that thing."

Were the rowers eating on the boat? From my vantage point this was not the case. There was, however, a young couple sitting down by the bank of the river having a picnic and, yes, they were eating hoagies.

"What kind of blanket is that?" screamed the coach. "Looks like wool. It's summer out here buddy. Oh, look at me, I am sitting on a wool blanket in the summer. I need the attention that a wool blanket gives me in the hot summer."

The coach, and not just this coach, was critiquing and criticizing picnickers enjoying their spreads all along the waterfront.

As he steered the small, quiet boat upstream he moved to the next couple who was enjoying some wine and cheese.

"Looks like Boone's baby. At least spring for some Bartles and James. Oh, and sip the wine, don't gulp it."

The couple attempted to cover up the Boone's label, and did admit that "a nicer bottle of wine was only a few more dollars."

Most of the couples didn't really know what to make of the coach shouting at them. Some laughed, others pointed up with a certain finger and some countered with their own advice, often harsh, back across the water.

Just then I heard a second voice coming from my back left, another coach. "Get those knees up. Straighten your back. Get some real running shoes. Are those Velcro laces?"

They were not Velcro laces, I am proud to say, but I did realize that I was leaning forward quite a bit while running. For the remainder of the run I implemented the unsolicited advice and felt much better.

"Sure, we're out here to help the rowers," said University of the Arts men's rowing coach, Ben Baxter. "But we want to offer advice where ever we see fit to the throngs of recreationalists that gather along the river's bank. It would be silly if we didn't help out."

Many coaches claim they have been "helping the land lovers" for quite some time and, for whatever reason, it has only been noticed in the last couple of years.

A word of advice: if you don't want to be harshly judged on the chip selection accompanying your picnic than go with Cool Ranch Doritos, as they seem to be equally liked among the rowing coaches.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Softball time: Dobbs to play left center

Losers of 11 of their last 13 games the Philadelphia Phillies, in a desperation move, are planning to field an extra player during today's afternoon game against the Toronto Blue Jays in the once state of the art Rogers Center. The struggling Phils hope that a softball lineup, which includes 10 players (not nine) and is against league rules, will help end the horrid streak that has barely held the team atop the division standings. "We're going to play Dobbs in left center and hope, really hope, that the league does not notice," said Phillies' manager Charlie Manuel. The coach is referring to Phillies' pinch hitter extraodinair from a year ago Greg Dobbs. During his time as manager of the Cleveland Indians Manuel was able to play 10 players in the lineup on several occasions and get away with it, something made easier with the designated hitter rule. Dobbs plans to hide in the bullpen to start the game then quietly scale the wall and sidle in behind Shane Victorino in center field after several pitches. After an out or two Dobbs will slowly walk along the warning track to take his spot as the new left center fielder, hoping that he will blend in with the old SkyDome's backdrop. "I'm hoping they[the umpires] think Dobbs is an extra third base coach or a lost bull pen guy," said Manuel. Manuel is still uncertain how he plans to work Dobbs into the batting order.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Pen: Is rosin bag cam too much?

On Monday night the second episode of Major League Baseball Network's highly watched showThe Pen aired, which follows, often closely, the Philadelphia Phillies bullpen both on and off the field.

There are multiple cameras that film the happenings in the "land beyond the outfield wall," but some, fans and media outlets, have started to ask if the series has gone too far.

During the first episode the rosin bag in the Phillies bullpen was shown several times--team's are very careful to divulge too much information about club-owned rosin bags. Usually placed on the backside of the mound, the powder rosin inside the bag is mainly to help pitchers keep their hands dry, but the rosin can also help prevent blisters.

There was such a positive response by the viewers after the initial episode last week calling for more rosin bag screen time that the network has decided to place two cameras on each of the pen's bags.

Appearing in the lower right and left hand corners of viewers' television screens this week were two Picture in Picture's (PIP) of each rosin bag. Even if the members of the pen were being shown at home with their families the two rosin bags will always appear on screen.

Where should the line be drawn when it comes to accessing professional athletes' lives, whether it's on the field or off?

"Giving all-access to the rosin bag just doesn't seem right. It's one thing to show the guys out fishing or grabbing a beer or partying, but showing the rosin bag, at least to that extent, is a bit much," said Phillies fan Hugh Franz, 46, of Wilmington, DE.

The cameras are fixed so if the bag happens to be picked up and used by a pitcher warming up the cameras will not follow. And should those same relievers throw the bag down out of the camera's view, then a MLB-hired assistant returns the bag to within the camera's range (marked by lines in the dirt on the mound).

"There is a line, but, honestly, I don't think they have crossed it yet," said Phillies' reliever Chad Durbin.

Durbin, who enjoys sending tweets (short messages from twitter) during games has denied a proposed Tweet cam by MLB for the television series. During the first episode a Phillies pitcher wearing number 37 was seen twittering (sending messages) in the pen, but his identity was concealed with a blurred face.

"My tweets are private," said the pitcher.

In any case, the huge increase in the amount of rosin bag coverage is here to stay. The fans spoke and Major League Baseball listened.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

US considers annexing Baja for better symmetry

The United States government recently announced a plan that would call for peacefully annexing the Baja peninsula of Mexico. The administration has cited geographical symmetry as the main reason for a possible annexation of the mostly desert landscape and has therefore named the plan the Symmetry Act.

Advisers to Obama argue that if one were to fold the United States in half, roughly down the Mississippi River, that having two peninsulas at either end would be "much more pleasing on the eye."

"It makes sense because in the east we have this long peninsula of Florida and in the west there is the Baja ... just sitting there," said USGS peninsula specialist, Ty Culligan. "Also, I think Floridians have felt strange being the only true peninsula dwellers of the US."

Obama also points to the fact that children learning geography will make better maps and have an easier time learning states. A recent Cooper-Sinclair study revealed that almost 73% of our nations 4th graders felt Baja was already a part of America and was often included in crayon map drawings.

The Baja peninsula is made up of two Mexican states: Baja California and Baja California Sur. The rugged terrain extends nearly 800 miles from the Mexican-US border in the north to Cabo San Lucas in the south. It is sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean to the west and Gulf of California to the east. It is often called the "greatest peninsula of the world" by Peninsula Weekly.

Mexican officials who at first were threatened by a sizable loss in their overall land area, admitted that "having two large peninsulas framing a country would be neat."

Most Mexican officials in favor of the plan are calling for Cabo San Lucas, the resort town at the peninsula's most southern tip, to remain part of Mexico. The town's large number of dollar-toting tourists are a huge boost to the Mexican economy.

Others inside the government are appalled at the consideration of giving land to the US, while some even predicted the arrival of this request years ago.

"I knew this day would come," said Mexican official and Baja California Sur representative, Jose Montenerro. "This is why I proposed filling in the Gulf of California almost ten years ago."

Montenerro proposed a top secret plan in February of 1998 calling for the elimination of the body of water that separates Baja from mainland Mexico. The official was ahead of his time when he foresaw what the attraction of geographical symmetry for the neighbors to the north would mean to his country and literally called for the moving of mountains to prevent it.

A revised plan, also top secret, presented by Montenerro in 2000 called for constructing a 125-mile land bridge between La Ribera (the end of Baja) and Altata (the Mexican mainland) to alter the definition of the strip of land. Both plans, obviously were nixed.

"The International Federation of Peninsulas (IFP) would have stripped Baja of its peninsula status," said Montenerro. "Baja would have been worthless to the US."

Both Obama and Mexican president Felipe Calderon have assured citizens in both countries that nothing is set in stone as of now. The two are planning an August meeting in San Francisquito, Baja to discuss the details of the Symmetry Act.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Downed jetliner's search crew accused of chasing tail

Last week, the wreckage search crew looking for debris from Air France Flight 447 in the Atlantic Ocean discovered the tail of the aircraft. The airline and World Aviation Federation (WAF) officials are seeking answers to what caused the jetliner to lose altitude, or come apart at peak altitude, and crash into the ocean off the coast of west Africa.

The WAF has given those searching—more than 60 workers on 12 ships and five helicopters—direct orders to seek, and bring to the surface, only the jet's black box, also known as the flight data recorder.

Officials in charge of the search were disappointed and angered when the team recovered the tail of the plane last week, disregarding clearly stated instructions.

"They're always chasing tail when we need them to chase the black box. They look at finding the tail as a very manly thing. It's a competition among the entire group," said a very frustrated Marc Luc Gaulle, an Air France search and recovery specialist.

When the tail was brought to the surface at around 13:10 GMT, the boat's eight crew members used air horns and the two-way radio to alert the rest of the group that "they were all over that tail."

Some crew members were seen patting the tail lightly with an open palm as it broke the surface of the water, while a few divers wore speedos and sat directly on top the twisted metal.

"It took some serious persuasion and, not to mention, some negotiating, but we got some tail today," said Brazilian diver, Ronald Saldenha. "It's an important part in determining what happened to the plane."

The wreckage recovery team is mostly made up of French and Brazilian men who, all too often, are labeled as very smooth with the ladies—Casanovas if you will.

Ship captain Raul Pemeta said his crew was working very hard to recover the black box and it was only by chance that the tail was recovered first. When asked why orders to only raise the box were ignored he responded:"We came across the tail, are we suppose to leave it there all alone and take the risk that the tail will up and walk away, er, wash away? The tail would have been insulted and we may not have gotten a second chance with that tail."

After the piece was placed on the deck of a ship and group photos were taken surrounding the vertical steering section, some of the most experienced divers at the site were quickly loaded onto helicopters and taken to Dakar Airport in Senegal for flights home to France or Brazil.

"The fact that the best divers left to go home after the tail was recovered is a clear indication of their intention. It really sickens me," said Luc Gaulle.

The ship captain reported those divers were not feeling well, possibly a bends issue, and left to receive medical care.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Phillie helping planet one carpool at a time

Many of the Philadelphia Phillies, and professional athletes in general, along with their spouses and families are passionate and active in one particular cause outside of baseball. The team encourages community interaction and charitable work and hopes that residents will benefit from the presence of the team.

For example, Chase and Jen Utley work tirelessly to help area SPCA's, Jimmy Rollins is involved with the Arthritis Foundation and Ryan Howard started Bat Plant-it, a nonprofit that plants trees to replace those used for making MLB bats. Their visibility in the community, not to mention a hefty salary, are key to contributing to, and marketing, successful charities.

Yesterday, in rapidly-growing Montgomery County, adjacent to a four-lane highway with little space for additional automobiles during peak rush hour, a Park and Ride opened. Not just any Park and Ride, but the Chan Ho Park and Ride.

Park is from congested, high tech South Korea, in fact, he is the first Korean-born player in the major leagues. A fact the reliever often brings up randomly during conversations. It is here that Park became interested—some say obsessed—with the idea of smart commuting, particularly carpooling.

In 2006, the pitcher was honored with South Korea's highest possible "Green Award," which marked the 100th Park and Ride opening in the country. Seoul, the capital and largest city is home to the majority of the Chan Ho Park and Rides.

In only his first year with the club, Park wasted no time and began in March studying the area's highways to determine where his signature Park and Rides would most be needed. It did not take long to conclude that U.S. route 422, which snakes its way from King of Prussia to Reading and beyond and crosses the Schuylkill River several times, should be the recipient.

"The Schuylkill River Valley corridor is exploding with suburban sprawl," said Park in the Phillies' locker room while pointing at a wall-sized map of the region's highways. "U.S. 422 had no carpooling lots ... now they do."

From an early age Park saw the value of increasing passengers and reducing the number of vehicles.

"When I was about 13 I developed a detailed carpool for my middle school baseball team's practices," explained Park proudly. "The parents of the children that lived near each other would take turns driving the kids."

Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell was at the site in Upper Providence Township as four complete strangers, office workers from Collegeville, piled into a car bound for Center City. And thus, embarking on the maiden voyage that was christened when Park shattered a champagne bottle over the commuter's front fender. The awkward, nearly 28-mile trip can take over an hour, but the state and ballplayer hope that number will drop significantly with each carpool registered at the site.

"Pennsylvania is already on its way to becoming a leader in renewable energy," said Governor Rendell. "So when Chan approached me about setting up an authentic Chan Ho Park and Ride here in the state it was an easy decision. Our hope is that we can get a good handful of cars off this road in the next five years."

Park has had little success, however, getting current teammates to carpool to the stadium on a daily basis. The pitcher said that for two days in April JC Romero, Chad Durbin, Eric Bruntlett and himself drove to the field in a Philly Car Share Prius.

Philadelphia is the onetime starter's fifth team since 1994 and left behind in each city—Los Angeles, Dallas/Fort Worth, San Diego and New York—are crammed cars and greater fuel economy. Let's hope this is the first of many of the Chan Ho Park and Rides in the Delaware Valley.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Lidge to regroup, heal while working on 'The Closer'

Yesterday, Philadelphia Phillies all-star closer Brad Lidge was placed on the 15-day disabled list because of a knee injury that has bothered the pitcher for most of 2009. Many also have speculated that the move is an opportunity to help Lidge refocus and correct his pitching mechanics that have also plagued the pitcher this season.

The perfect save record from a year ago is a distant memory now, as Lights Out has blown six save opportunities almost a month before the halfway mark of the season.

Team manager Charlie Manuel met with Lidge late Sunday night after the final game against the Dodgers in Los Angeles, a series in which two failed saves were credited to the closer. Manuel informed the pitcher that he would be placed on the DL and, in a risky move, that he would be joining the crew, and possibly, the cast of the award-winning television show The Closer during his time on the shelf.

"It makes a lot of sense because the show is shot out there in Hollywood and so Brad can stay behind and spend a couple weeks getting his form and his knee in order," said Manuel.

The manager stated that Lidge was very accepting about being placed on the DL and even more welcoming to the idea of "working out the kinks" on a program such as The Closer.

The TNT show, which stars Kyra Sedgwick as police detective Brenda Johnson, portrays a special unit of the homicide division for the Los Angeles Police Department and their efforts at solving violent crimes in the City of Angels.

During a conference call with reporters on Monday from California, Lidge opened up about what he hopes to achieve during the next two weeks.

"I met briefly with the directer this morning and they're going to start me off as a production assistant. I'll be getting coffee and tea and all sorts of finger foods for the crew," said the excited reliever. "I'm crossing my fingers, not sandwiches, that I'll appear in at least on scene."

The Notre Dame graduate also admitted to the media that he had seen the show only a handful of times and thought the title was pronounced with an 's' sound and not a 'z.'

The Phillies closer will not be baseball's first saveman to appear on the series in an attempt to stem a long slump.

In 2006 Mets closer Francisco Rodriguez, then a member of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and fading on the mound, appeared in two episodes as an extra. Though no lines were assigned to KRod, his performance as Customer #3 at Coffee Shop #9 was impressive.

"Working with crew and the actors was exactly what I needed to get my pitching in order," said Rodriguez, who returned to his team after 15 days and fully regained his dominant form.

In fact, it was Angels manager Mike Scioscia, responsible for sending KRod to The Closer, who consulted with Manuel about the assignment and eased any concerns that persisted.

"Mike was great. I had lots of questions for him. What Will [Lidge] get from all this? What are the training/rehab facilities like? Will he have access to reruns of The Closer? Can he occasionally handle the scene clapper? Will his knee hold up? What's Kyra Sedgwick really like?" said a very at ease Manuel.

The show seemed ready and willing to take on the struggling Phillie and, coincidentally, the creator, James Duff, was huge Steve Bedrosian fan. Bedrosian was a Cy Young-winning closer for the Phillies from 1986-1989.

"We are ready for Lidgy. We'll bring back his form and his knee," said Duff. "Also, please mention that I'm a huge Steve Bedrosian fan."

Kerya Sedgwick did not return phone calls concerning this story.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Report: Tank Man hero was a real ... 'Tiananmen square'

On the 20th anniversary of the quelled protests in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, which called for political reform and free speech, some additional details about the demonstrations and the people involved have slowly—very slowly—surfaced. Specifically, facts about the lone student who stood in front of, and single-handedly halted, a line of heavily armored Chinese tanks.

The student's identity was never confirmed, nor was his fate after the incident. The man's picture and video facing off against the tanks was sent all around the world and instantly came to symbolize the protests. The man became known simply as Tank Man. But what was this remarkably brave protester really like?

Despite China's restrictions on free speech, acquaintances have begun to come forward to say how proud they were of Tank Man and, considering his character, how his actions on that day were extremely shocking.

"He never wanted to have any fun at all. He just studied all the time," said a friend who wanted to remain anonymous. "I would often hand out pamphlets about democracy and
uncensored media and he would say,'don't you know we could get in a lot of trouble for that.'"

Apparently, in 1988 during a college party at Beijing University's Smith Hall dormitory, Tank Man discovered underage drinking and informed dorm officials about the indulgences by his fellow students.

The guilty partygoers were forced to each partake in a 10-minute keg stand in Tiananmen Square. During the public punishments two students came ever so close to drowning, but later fully recovered.

Many in Tank Man's family and his friends all believe that the public, government-orchestrated keg stands of that year changed the way he felt about communism and the country's leadership.

"I think he just snapped one day during the protests and all of his squareness was unleashed upon the Chinese Army," said another friend.

So straight-laced was the student that when playing checkers he elected to enforce the rule that required players to jump the opposition if a jump was possible.

In fact, the "friends" that have come forward only knew Tank man as 'Tiananmen square.' University students in China at this time often used this nickname to label students like Tank Man, who, on the outside, lead a conservative way of life.

"I had no idea that Tank Man was capable of standing up to five tanks," said yet another friend. "Every time we saw him coming we would literally say,'great, here comes Tiananmen square.'"

It appears that Tank Man's perceived demeanor was strictly for show and that perhaps he was producing the literature his friends were distributing.

"[His squareness] was all a show, which makes him a damn genius," said one of Tank Man's professors.

Friday, June 5, 2009

WWII vet blown away by, er, from D-Day

Calais, France—This year is the 65th anniversary of D-Day, the massive, mind boggling invasion of mainland Europe by the Allies to recapture the continent from the Germans. The day is being remembered in France and the U.S. with parades honoring the surviving soldiers from that catastrophic day.

Part of the D-Day plan in 1944, in addition to the naval invasion, included dropping thousands of paratroopers behind enemy lines several miles inland from Omaha and the other landing beaches. Due to heavy German fire, however, the pilots of many planes decided to significantly increase altitude in an attempt to escape engine damage.

The unusually high winds of the day meant, as taught during training, paratroopers had to wait significantly longer—up to four minutes—to pull parachute chords to better their chances of landing near the rallying point.

A nervous Pr. Albert Peters of the 1526th Airborne Division, however, released his chute only seconds after jumping from the plane. The high winds pushed the soldier to the north over the English Channel in a matter of minutes as he watched the remainder of the 1526th grow smaller as they plummeted towards the intended target.

"I have to admit that I had a great vantage point over the Channel and I was able to see the whole massive invasion. The storming of the beaches, the half-tracks half-tracking off the transport ships, everything," said Peters.

The winds, at that altitude, were strong enough to carry Peters completely over the Channel and back to the coast of southern England to safety, or so he thought.

American and British soldiers, who remained in Britain in preparation for a German counter attack, believed the lone parachuter was a German soldier or spy and quickly opened fire.

"I knew I was approaching England as I could see the Cliffs of Dover very far to my right, which gave me great relief and comfort," said Peters. "That relief was quickly interrupted by bullets and anti-aircraft fire."

Peters followed his training skills and fired a flare into the air. The warning signal was designed to form an American flag upon exploding, but the winds had other plans.

"The winds jumbled the flag to make it appear as a tattered, sloppy Union Jack. They thought I was disrespecting their flag and, for that, I had to be a German," said Peters.

As the winds calmed, and the famous British fog concealed him from the troops below, the soldier began to lose altitude quickly, but not before being carried inland some forty miles where he landed smack in the middle of Stonehenge. "For a split second I thought I had done some time traveling or something."

Some in the 1526th accused the trooper of deliberately releasing his chute early to avoid the invasion, as twenty-five men lost their lives before even landing. One fellow soldier who wanted remain anonymous said that Peters is "a good guy." Three days later Peters reunited with the rest of his division in Caen, France.

"They teased me mercilessly," said the veteran of his fellow soldiers upon meeting on the ground in France. "They gave me a nickname. Let's just say it rhymes with paratrooper, which was better than the first nickname they came up with."

Thursday, June 4, 2009

CBS3 reunion newscast turns ugly

Last night's 6pm CBS3 reunion newscast featuring fired anchors Larry Mendte and Alicia Lane was the highest rated program in the Delaware Valley since game five of the 2008 World Series. The reunion was the third highest rated local show ever behind only the 2004 Super Bowl and last year's clinching World Series game.

Before last night's meeting the co-anchors had not spoken since Mendte was accused of illegally accessing Lane's email accounts and feeding her personal information to local news outlets during 2007 and 2008 and was subsequently fired by the station.

The news show also terminated Lane after she was involved in an altercation with a New York police officer last year. All charges were eventually dropped.

CBS3 began planning a reunion newscast almost three months ago by contacting the two to gauge the possibility of an on-air reconciliation. In doing so the local station also knew it would take a large financial commitment to lure the award-winning pair back behind the news desk.

"I laughed and hung up the phone," said Lane, a native of Long Island, NY, when the station contacted her in early March. "Then they called back and mentioned how much they were willing to pay for the reunion."

Reports have Lane receiving $2.3 million and Mendte $1.4 million for participating in the broadcast. CBS3 said demand for advertising during the 45-minute program—extended from 30 minutes—was almost "Super Bowl-like."

"I realize that what we paid the two seems like an awful lot of money, but what we made from advertising pales in comparison," said station manager, Hank Lizel.

Mendte began last night with a joke by telling viewers to watch for Spyware—the computer information collection software—because "frankly any creep can break into your personal info these days."

Lane responded by attempting to strike her co-anchor (pictured above) and saying,"I haven't done that since New York, er..."

After a short commercial break, and five stitches to Mendte's lip, the two worked harmoniously together as if the snooping or the punching had never occurred.

After the show the two inked a deal to co-write a book together documenting the reunion show and only the reunion show.

"We will each be writing our own books about the circumstances that led to our firing," said Lane.