Wednesday, July 31, 2013

July Tweets were, eh . . .

If I’d rank my July 8days2amish twitter offerings I’d say this was about a 5 out of 10 -- and readers familiar with my work know my raging vanities. So you’ve been warned.

Or maybe I’m just too demanding of tweets, which would be insane.

I’ll let you judge for yourself.

• Still stunned Cap’n Crunch isn’t a Cap’n. What next? Will they reveal that Count Chocula isn’t really a vampire?

• I’m going to stand in dimly lit room, extend video cam & spin ‘til I’m dizzy. Then I’ll post & boast I spent 2 mins in eye of a tornado.

• If any of the Civil War re-enactors die at Gettysburg, will their deaths count in the war totals? Is it possible this could swing the outcome to the South’s favor?

• I don't drink to get drunk. I drink because if I didn't drink bars where I like to sit for 4 or 5 hours at a stretch would throw me out for vagrancy.

• Here's what a poor judge of character I am: I thought Gronkowski was the biggest jerk on the Patriots.

• I sleep each night flat on my back, arms folded over a lily to make it easier for undertaker just in case I should die before I wake.

• The Titmouse might be creation's worst-named creature. Neither tit nor mouse, it disappoints on so many levels.

• Outraged over pic of Julianne Hough draped in nothing but the flag. I wish some passing patriot had ripped that flag away. 

• Edward Snowden is our least interesting most wanted man.

• I always use whomever instead of whoever cuz I figure no one knows which is proper and using whomever makes me look like a real smarty pants.

• Must be tough for peg-leg pirate captains to be taken seriously when they say they’re really going to put their foot down.

• I wonder if Nevada prosecutors ever tire of telling jurors the suspect shot a man in Reno just to watch him die. #theManInBlack

• New neighbor told me she loves it here. "Everyone is so nice," she gushed. Told her if that's the way she felt she's hasn't met everyone.

• Some might consider putting fancy prosthetics on injured animals faux paw.

• It makes me furious that if I ever get into a you-think-you're-better-than-me argument with Ashton Kutcher, he'd win.

• I think we should change the national anthem to the theme from "The Price is Right." It's so perfectly exuberant.

• It’s true: WOW is MOM upside down! Just take my word for it. Now, put mom down.

• I don’t have a fear of heights, which I find unreasonable. I have a fear of falling from heights, which makes perfect sense.

• How do we know even blind squirrels find acorns? I've never even seen a blind squirrel and I live in the woods.

• Revisionist historians already at work on radical Billy Joel theory: We DID start the fire!

Related . . .

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A great day for baseball! Let's play 2! Or 3! . . .

The longest game in professional baseball history was Easter weekend 1981 between the Triple A International League Rochester Red Wings and the Pawtucket Red Sox. It lasted more than nine hours over 33 innings.

Today, I hope the record is broken by the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals.


If that happens, I won’t be home until sometime Thursday afternoon.

And that would be fine with me.

I woke up this morning realizing today could be one of the best non-family days of my life. My buddy called with a ticket for today’s doubleheader at PNC Park between the teams with the two best records.

Who during spring training ever would have thought one of those teams would be the Pirates?

Not me, certainly.

The Pirates streak of consecutive losing seasons is 20 years old, the longest futility streak in professional sports.

That’s why I’m hoping today’s doubleheader will be such an extra-inning extravaganza. I feel like baseball owes us. 

The Pirates last night crept to within one-half game of first place after lambasting the proud and tough St. Louis Cardinals, 9-2.

And does reading the word “lambast” make anyone else hungry for gyro? Does it to me every time.

Maybe I’ll have one at the ballpark today. Heck, maybe I’ll have three.

Even without extra innings, I’ll be at what is widely regarded as baseball’s most beautiful ballpark for eight hours, roughly the equivalent of the epic minor league in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, McCoy Stadium.

The ’81 game inspired the 2012 Dan Barry book, “Bottom of the 33rd: Hope, Redemption and Baseball’s Longest Game.” I intend to read it one of these days. Here’s some facts from the game:

• The game featured two eventual all-time greats, Cal Ripkin Jr. and Wade Boggs. When Boggs’s father asked him how he did, he said, “I got four hits.” His father thought that was great. “Then I told him I’d had 12 at bats.”

• The start of the game was delayed 25 minutes to correct an issue regarding stadium lighting.

• The International League had recently approved a standard curfew meaning that games would be suspended at 12:50 a.m., but umpire Dennis Cregg’s rule book was printed prior to the rule’s activation.

• There’s a Pirate connection to the historic game: The losing pitcher was Rochester’s Steve Grilli, father of injured Pirate ace closer Jason Grilli.

• It was so cold in Rhode Island that night that players from both teams began burning broken bats for firewood. When all the broken bats had been burnt, they began dismantling the wooden benches and throwing them on the fire.

• Boggs hit a run in the bottom of the 21st inning that tied the game for Pawtucket. “When I got to the bench,” he said, “I didn’t know if my teammates wanted to hug me or slug me.”

• By 4 a.m., players from both teams described themselves as “delirious” from exhaustion. 

• The league president Harold Cooper was reached in bed at 3:45 a.m. and told the game was still going on. Horrified, he ordered that play be halted at the conclusion of the current inning. The game was ordered to resume during a rematch series on June 23. It would end that night after just one inning that took 18 minutes to complete.

• Players departing the stadium reported seeing Christian worshippers heading to Easter sunrise services as they were heading home from the ballpark.

• The initial game was attended by 1,740 fans, only 19 of whom remained in their seats when play was suspended at 4:07 a.m. Those 19 received lifetime passes to McCoy Stadium.

• Umpire Cregg set a still-existing record for longest plate appearance: 882 pitches (60 strike outs) over 8 hours and 25 minutes. Cregg had chosen that game to take his young nephew, David, and the boy was one of those 19 who received a lifetime pass.

• Cregg has told reporters he doesn’t think his nephew has in 32 years ever set foot in another ballpark.

So there’s something for those of you who, like me, can’t get enough baseball.

If any of that happens starting today, I promise I’ll provide a full report the morning after I return from the ballpark.

And I hope that means Friday.

Related . . .

Monday, July 29, 2013

Darieth, don't go! When a local news lovely leaves

Recriminations flew. People wondered who was to blame and if something couldn’t have been done to prevent the split.

And we all wondered who was going to get the kids.

The kids in this case being me, the guys in the bar and the hundreds of thousands of other viewers who have become attached to Darieth Chisolm, nightly news anchor for WPXI-TV here in Pittsburgh.

The station announced last week that she’d be departing after 20 years. 

I’ve seen the guys in the bar show less intense emotion regarding the dissolution of once-vital marriages.

Their own!

We really love Darieth.

Why is she forsaking us?

Conspiracy theories abound. I’m omitting names of the accused because this isn’t a court of law and because the accusers had absolutely no idea what they were talking about and because they were mostly Happy Hour tipsy.

“I saw it coming,” said one of the Joes. “One of her co-anchors made some crack about her hair. You should have seen the look she gave him. I knew then it was over.”

Another guy said she was unhappy that the weather guys are devouring the newscast. This is credible. Local weather is now about 40 percent of the entire 22 minute newscasts. It’s incredibly detailed.

Apparently Bob Dylan was wrong. We do now need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

For her part, Darieth is saying she has other interests and wants to spend time with her family.

I believe her. She’s never lied to me before.

When she said the Squirrel Hill Tunnels outbound would be closed on for the weekend, by God, they were closed!

I remain fascinated by the grasp the local news personalities have on our lives. The on-air talent, especially the females, have to be visually appealing and appear composed when saying things like, “ . . . and now it’s time for Jeff and the sports!”

Chisolm, dubbed one of the city’s most beautiful people by Pittsburgh Magazine, was described by one media reporter as “classy” and “poised,” two adjectives I did not hear mentioned by my admiring bar friends.

No, they described this accomplished professional woman in the same terms that local forecasters use when predicting the onset of an intense high pressure system. They said she was hot and steamy.

I wonder if the woman seeking to fill Chisolm’s anchor chair would ever think to include those meteorological-sounding adjectives on their resumes. Or does a really sexy glamour shot suffice?

It must be tricky for the men -- and I’m supposing they’re mostly men -- who do the hiring in broadcast news.

They can’t really say animal sex appeal is a key factor in their decision when it must be foremost.

Because they understand that men like my friends and I will stare at the television to watch a beautiful, busty woman tell us there’s a water main break in Bridgeville more willingly than we’ll watch a homely gal or any man inform us Jesus Christ is back.

But hiring, say, a stripper would be considered tasteless and might alienate the large percentage of home viewers who look to the local newscast as the surrogate family who are in many cases preferable to their actual families.

Their actual families may be dull, impaired by prescription drugs and surly at supper. Sure, our chipper on-air families are just as likely to be all those things, too, but they are gifted with an essential ability to conceal it when the lights come on.

That’s why local news people are so fascinating. Nationals, too.

We all wonder just what these people are really like.

Is Matt Lauer as big a jerk as we suspect? (probably). Does Megyn Kelly have a soft side? (doubtful). And is luscious Robin Meade, she who cheerfully toils in morning Headline News cable anonymity, really as dynamic and vivacious as appears? (Yes! Yes! Yes!).

Robin, we love you!

You, too, Darieth!

We wish you all the best and want you to know you’re always be welcome in all our homes and taverns where ever superficial men like me gather.

Just be sure to build in a little extra time for any east-bound visit.

I hear the Squirrel Hill Tunnel outbounds are closed.

Related . . .

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Welcome Steelers & fans back to Latrobe!

The six-time Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers reported to St. Vincent College in Latrobe Friday.

I was there yesterday morning to waiting for them.

My car was getting worked on at a nearby tire shop. It was such a magnificent day I figured I’d stroll about a mile to the campus library and write while the tire guys figured out fresh ways to soak an innocent like me.

They did. It was $386.30 for new ball bearing joints and what I think George Costanza referred to as “Johnson rods.”

Too bad the Steelers all arrived after I left. I was eager to introduce myself to any arriving players and tell them what to expect.

I’d planned on telling them they’re about to see a lot of corn.

This time of year corn just dominates the landscape. It’s everywhere and it’s delicious.

Watching corn grow excites me. If it wasn’t for the change of seasons I’m convinced our Pennsylvania corn could grow clear to cloud-tickling heights.

As they’ll be studying playbooks, I doubt I could coax any rookies to spend a day with me in one of our lush corn fields just sharing our mutual amazement at how rapidly corn grows. And it might disqualify any would-be Steelers if coach Mike Tomlin were to learn any of them spent some time contemplating unusual vegetable growth spurts.

Especially considering how many of these very same athletes are known for unusual growth spurts of their very own.

The next three weeks are a great time to be in Latrobe. It’s when Steelers, both superstars and wannabes, become our neighbors. We’ll see them at the ATMs, at the gas pumps, at the bars and restaurants.

Just last year I was pushing my shopping cart down the chip aisle at the local Giant Eagle when I nearly ran right into 6-foot-4, 300-pound defensive end Ziggy Hood. I remember thinking, gee, he doesn’t look anything like the tiny, philosophical Ziggy I enjoy from the funny pages.

But I recovered quickly, said a bright “Go Steelers!” and stepped around him the way I remember seeing Ray Rice do when the Baltimore Ravens stomped the Steelers last year.

That would be a dream encounter for many fans. Everyone wants a one-on-one with Hood, Ben Roethlisberger, Heath Miller or -- my favorite -- Troy Polamalu.

I wasn’t there for it when a cheer went up when Polamalu and his family walked into Sharky’s, a popular Route 30 sports bar. The commotion caused him to summon the manager. Was he going to demand some diva privacy?

No. Instead, as the story goes, he told the manager he was going to pick up the check for everyone in the house That’s drinks and dinner for, oh, about 150, a lovely gesture.

I wish I’d have been there -- and not just because I’m a real cheap SOB.

No, I just love a good story.

That’s why I’m hoping one day this week some unheralded Steeler rookie strolls into The Pond looking for a real authentic local bar filled with real authentic Steeler fans.

He’ll be slight of build, someone the scouts dismissed. He’s maybe a war veteran. He’ll have left the family sawmill to take a chance on making the Steelers as a fleet-footed running back. He’ll say if he doesn’t make the team the business will fold and his baby brother will lose the prosthetic limbs he needs after the awful accident.

The slight, wheel-chair bound kid will be named Timmy.

Tiny Tim, you could say. 

That man will make the team and lead the Steelers to their seventh Super Bowl victory. And each year he’ll return to The Pond to revisit old friends and buy us each new cars for our initial encouragement and for just being so darn cool.

He’ll marry a daughter of the one of the Joes, enjoy a Hall of Fame career, and all the Steeler fans will live happily ever after.

What, that story too sentimental for you? Well, what did you expect?

There were plenty of hints up top that this story was going to be real corny.

Related . . .

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Miracles & deaths at our ball & amusement parks

As the following post deals with dead amusement park mothers and nearly-decapitated ballpark babies, I apologize in advance for the tastelessness that’s bound to ensue. I just can’t help myself.

So I ask that you please remain seated until the ride comes to a complete stop.

We enjoyed a great all-American frolic Saturday in nearby Altoona. We started at heirloom Lakemont Park, home to the world’s oldest surviving-roller coaster, the 111-year-old Leap the Dips.

Next up was the night game between the Altoona Curve and the Erie SeaWolves. The two parks are adjacent and Lakemont’s Skyliner roller coaster serves as an appealing right field back drop.

Discordant death stalked us nearly every step of the way.

You can’t strap your precious daughters into a rickety 111-year-old roller coaster and not think of that poor woman who plunged to her death on the Six Flags coaster in Texas.

From what I’ve read 52-year-old Rosa Ayala-Goana was instantly aware her safety harness had failed. She screamed for them to not to start the ride. Her screams were ignored.

What could be more tragic?

How about this: Taking your newborn to a baseball game and having it decapitated by a foul ball.

This nearly happened right before our eyes.

We were sitting in the first row of the upper deck just up from third base.

They were great seats. I was happy because I felt confident my 14-year streak without catching a foul ball was about to end. I’ve caught three fouls at Major League baseball games and two of them were remarkable enough to earn huge ovations from more than 30,000 fans, and more thrilling moments are rare.

But I knew I’d have to be careful. We were on the first row of a 20-foot precipice that terminated on a concrete concourse.

I thought of that guy -- another Texas fatality -- who reached to catch a Josh Hamilton souvenir ball, slipped and broke his neck falling headfirst, oh, about 20 feet onto a concrete concourse. It happened right in front of his 6 year old son.

So we’re sitting there in the third inning with top Pirate prospect Greg Polanco batting lefty at the plate. On the third pitch, the 6-foot-4 Palanco swings late at an outside heater.

Oh, how I wish this story could end with me describing how the kid snagged the screaming liner and Bucco scouts rushed up to offer long-term contracts.

But that is not what happened.

What did was the most horrific thing I’ve ever seen in a ballpark -- and I’ve watched the Pirates play 20 years of losing baseball.

The mother was holding the baby to her chest so the child was facing us when the liner struck somewhere in the tiny torso. I have no doubt if the ball had struck the baby in the head the child would have been killed instantly.

The crowd gasped.

The baby was silent for what seemed like 30 seconds. He then let out a wail loud enough to cause the home plate umpire to turn and admire the volume.

I called the Curve office this week and was told the baby was fine. Thank God. It is to those of us who witnessed it a bona fide miracle, although I foresee a future where the guilt-racked mother will become so over-protective the kid’ll be wearing bubble-wrapped body suits until he’s at least 21.

It reminded me of one of the most miraculous survivor stories I’d ever covered.

It was Nashville in about 1989. I was working the newspaper phones when I heard an 18-year-old boy had spun out on a country road picking up a split rail fence link in the trunk. My eyewitness said: “The horizontal fence hit the tree and went through the trunk, through the car’s back seat, through the driver’s side seat, through the driver -- and just shish-ka-bobbed the kid.”

Shish-ka-bobbed him!

It was the perfect quote, one I’ll never forget.

And that’s how they loaded him onto the emergency chopper. They cut the chair, kid and pole out and flew the whole works to the trauma center.

What happened to the kid?

He was released the next day, a result that led to the second memorable quote from the story. The surgeon told me: “You couldn’t have picked a better spot to have a baseball-sized rocket run through your torso without causing any lethal damage. It’s a true miracle.”


Where was the reckless kid heading?

He was on his way to acolyte at his local church.

So much mayhem among even all the innocents at ball games, amusement parks and those on their way to pray for salvation.

Anyone know where I can buy a closet full of bubble wrap jump suits?

Related  . . .

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

How a tug of war can save Detroit

I’m maybe the only guy in the world who when he heard of Detroit’s bankruptcy didn’t immediately think of lost pensions, municipal hardships or a city that needs saving.

No, I thought of a schoolyard game.

I thought of tug-of-war.

When was the last time you were in one? Sixth grade? Eighth? 

That was about it for me. I remember my side won and I remember the exhilaration  of pulling our opponents into the pit.

“Survivor” drags out the rope every few seasons and I remember a great M*A*S*H episode that featured a tug between enlisted men and the officers with both sides ending up covered in mud.

Bankrupt or not, Detroit to me will always be home to the world’s greatest tug-of-war, or if I have may way the world’s second greatest tug-of-war.

It is maybe the only international tug of war and for about 20 years took place across the 1.2 mile long expanse of the Detroit River between Detroit and cross-river rivals from Windsor, Ontario. Teams of 26 men each organized and practiced all year to out-pull their opponents.

I remember reading Canada took a 9-8 lead after her team practiced all year dragging a loaded coal truck across a 1,500-foot field for two hours at a stretch.

The truck’s brakes were fully engaged.

I’ve for 10 years pitched this story to nearly every major men’s or healthy/lifestyle magazine in America. To my amazement, none of them has bit.

You’d think any magazine would welcome a story involving Americans truly pulling together.

I’m fascinated by the logistics of the whole enterprise: Where do they get the rope? Who has a garage big enough to keep the rope the other 364 days when no one needs a 1.2 mile-long rope?

That this event isn’t a nationally televised holiday and competitive hot dog eating is says that our media saturation still has a way to go.

So I don’t know how the bankruptcy will affect the great tug. Maybe right now the police are being ordered to chop up the rope to use as a cheap substitute for metal handcuffs.

But I think this is the perfect time to up the stakes.

Yes, it’s time for a Europe vs. USA tug of war.

This has the potential to be one of the greatest events in the history of mankind. It’s something everyone will want to be part of.

The logistics promise to be tricky. We’ll, of course, need to shut down the Atlantic Ocean from just off the coast of Norfolk, Virginia, clear to Brest, France. And we’ll also need to close down traffic on every north-south interstate from coastal Virginia to about Topeka, Kansas.

As we don’t want to exclude anyone from participating, we should just let both continents stack the tug as much as they want.

For instance, France could probably enlist about 2 million people. But the French are very petite and fit. Two million Frenchmen weigh about as much as six guys I know named Bubba so it’ll all even out.

Participants will need to sign insurance waivers because some of the front liners will likely drown. I suggest we use tubby convicts or maybe some of the Gitmo expendables right up front.

With all that ocean determining a real winner might be difficult so we might have to wait until one continent or the other collectively screams uncle.

And winning may not be the most satisfying outcome either. Just imagine the fun if after about five straight days of arduous tugging everyone on the U.S. side simultaneously dropped the rope!

You’d hear the bones snapping clear across the ocean. Ha!

Of course, we’re getting a little bit ahead of ourselves here.

I guess we should first find out if anyone has a 5,000-mile stretch of rope they’re not using hanging in their garage. We can’t have trans-Atlantic tug without one of those.

And how about this?

We charge each participant $5 and the money goes to bail out Detroit, a great American city that’s fallen on hard times.

That way our friends in Michigan would know we’re all really pulling for them.

Related . . .

Monday, July 22, 2013

The killing in Mister Rogers' Neighborhood

It was the first standoff I’d seen where people brought folding chairs so they could sit down.

It lasted about 18 hours after the fuse had been lit in the Lincoln Avenue pharmacy I pass every day on my morning strolls. It’s where Scott M. Murphy, 46, robbed at gunpoint a pharmacist of several hundred OxyContin pills and drove about two miles away to barricade himself in his home on a busy Latrobe street.

As I’d never met Scott Murphy and he was threatening police with automatic weapons I began to channel all my thoughts in one law-abiding direction: kill Scott Murphy.

This the police did at about noon Friday. It all played out on live TV.

One casualty: Trooper Brian King, 44, is recovering from wounds to the eye that resulted after he and his team stormed the house and Murphy fired a bullet that shattered his protective face shield.

The news was still on the tube when we began to gather for Friday Happy Hour. Although no one would ever confuse us for Latrobe’s high society, we felt free to indulge in catty remarks about our neighbors reporters chose to interview on camera.

We didn’t like this one’s piercings, that one’s tattoos and generally concluded our local tourist industry was unlikely to surge based on the broadcast comments of people identified as Latrobe residents.

“Why couldn’t someone have talked to Arnold Palmer?” one wag wondered.

But after hearing a bit more about Murphy, I wish we could all have heard from another famous Latrobe native.

I wish we could have heard from Fred Rogers. He was born here in 1928 (one year before Palmer) and modeled much of his show after growing up in Latrobe.

There’s a smiling picture of Fred Rogers on a billboard welcoming people to Latrobe. It’s just a mile away on the same street where police ventilated Murphy.

Despite the proximity, I doubt Murphy ever watched the show. Few heroin addicts do, I guess.

Watching “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” is sort of a civic obligation for those of us raising children in Latrobe. I watch it once a week with our sassy 7 year old and sometimes wonder if I’m getting more out of it than she does.

So it’s a win-win either way.

He lives on in our promotional brochures, on our utility polls and at the Fred M. Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media here at St. Vincent College.

Three days later and I’m now troubled by this shooting and wonder if Murphy had to die.

From what I read, Murphy had been a pretty ordinary guy right up until 2011. Then on the day after Christmas that year, Lisa, his wife of 21 years, died. News reports say they had at least one daughter and a step-son.

“When I met Scott, he was always nice,” one neighbor told reporters. “But he’s also a drug addict. It was all downhill after his wife passed away.”

It’s a safe bet the hostage negotiator hasn’t watched much Mister Rogers lately -- and the term “hostage negotiator” is a bit of a misnomer for a police action that involved zero hostages. Had he been familiar with Rogers’ philosophies, it’s unlikely he wouldn’t have addressed Murphy with bullhorned taunts like, “Don’t be a sissy! Come on out. Be a man!”

That seems less like a hostage negotiation than the words a bar bully might shout to goad a weaker man into brawling.

There’s a police press conference today regarding the Murphy killing. Maybe it’ll reveal the reasoning why officers had to risk their lives to storm the house of a man who seemed to me had nothing but time and bags full of OxyContin.

Oh, well. 

Nothing can be done for Murphy and a lot of my neighbors are saying good riddance. He had it coming and who am I to argue he did not?

But many of our neighborhoods are full of drug addicts. We can’t just kill them all.

Here in Latrobe we just killed one and simultaneously created at least two fresh orphans and will now live with all those cascading consequences.

We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say, “It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.” Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.

Those aren’t my words.

That’s from Fred. 

Dead 10 years, he still has so much to say in a world that now needs his warmth and wisdoms now more than ever.

Be sure to check your local listings.

Related . . .