Friday, March 27, 2009

Take the Trees Away!

This morning the crew showed up at about 8:30 am. I greeted them, and they said they were waiting for the truck. Actually, they were waiting for two trucks. That would hog the entire street.

But, bit by bit, my two large acacia trees that cast huge shadows are now coming down. I'll miss the shadows and the shade, but I won't miss the threats the trees pose.

As I type this, they're mulching the large pieces that come off. At least I think that's what that booming dental-type noise is.

Oh, just now I saw the big crane at work! They moved it in between my house and the next, then lowered it to pick up one of the huge branches. Then the crane brought it over to the street and lowered it. At one point, one of the workers asked me to step back. I was busy taking photographs to notice that I might be stubbed out like a cigarette.

The space in the back is getting lighter and lighter, although there is still a great deal of brush back there. Wow.

That last photo shows the last big tree trunk being lifted out. There's still a trunk left, but it's close to the ground. I wondered briefly what would happen if it slammed into the house....and decided not to mentally go there.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Spring Training 2009: Day Five, and Time to Go Home

I'm actually typing this on my Southwest flight. Isn't that cool! I got an email from them yesterday, saying they were featuring Wi-Fi on my flight, free of charge. I understand that future flights will feature Wi-Fi for a charge.

As I was boarding my flight, I saw Candi in line with her family. She spent 2 weeks in Phoenix, attending A's games. Candi puts together the spring training package for A's Booster Club members. I have joined up with her twice, but not this time. I asked her how it went, and she said that, for once, there were no problems. She had to scale back from 90 rooms to 50 rooms because of the economy, but sold out all 50 at the Embassy Suites on N. 44th St. I asked her how the newly renovated rooms at the Embassy Suites are, and she just shook her head. It seems that they decided not to go through with it due to economic reasons.

I also asked her, what do you think of the A's? She and I agreed that, for once, they had hitting and no pitching, "but I'm still an A's fan," she said. We agreed on that.

I had a great time this trip. I got to see a new park, some old ones, and talked with several people. I never initiate conversations -- well, rarely -- but people like to talk about their favorite team. It's very casual, non-stressed.

And I fell in love this trip. I love the GPS. I turned it on when I went to Budget Rent-a-Car, and that was already programmed into the machine. Very easy. I am determined to get one for my own.

And I will bring it next year to Phoenix for Spring Training.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Spring Training 2009: Day Four

Today is my last game. Maryvale Baseball Park, one of the little stadiums. One I really love.

Last year it took me an hour-and-a-half to find it. I figured I'd take surface streets. The freeways in Phoenix, especially I-10, are ferocious any time of day, and I had thought I'd avoid that. As a consequence, I got lost. More than once.

So this time, armed with a GPS, it took me 30 minutes to get to the park. I took a look at my seat -- right behind home plate -- and watched new manager Ken Macha talk to his players and watch bp. I was watching Ken. I've always liked him; he led the A's to two championships, and was booted after some mysterious "disconnect" with the players. I imagine Ken was under a lot of stress during those pre-playoff days, and it's unfortunate that we fired a good manager. But the Brewers picked him up two years later. I wish him well.

The Brewers were playing the Dodgers today. Yes, the same team I watched last night. I sat down at a concourse table with an umbrella to eat my pulled pork sandwich in the shade, and two people (not together) joined me. In the discussion, we learned that all three of us had been at the game last night. They didn't seem to think that was unusual, but I sure did. I asked one of them, the one with the Brewers hat, "What do you think of Ken Macha as a manager?" He answered slowly, "Welllll....he's an uneventful guy, if you know what I mean."

I went back to sit at my seat when the game was about to start. My friendly neighbor and I got into a chat as to what brought us here, etc. He was traveling with four other men. The guy on his left was 80, and didn't want to get to each stadium more than half an hour. He seemed to admire the fact that I wanted to get to each park right as it opened. In fact, he left after the first inning so that he could stroll around the grounds.

Before he left, though, he told me that he was a retired Las Vegas policeman. We chatted for a few moments about the tragedy in Oakland. He told me he couldn't believe that two of the officers who died had been SWAT officers. He wondered how, with their armor and face shield, any bullets could get through. He then related a story about a fellow policeman in Las Vegas who wasn't wearing any body armor, and in responding to a call at a bar, took seven bullets, stopped the two guys who attacked him, and lived to work again in the same department (but in an administrative capacity).

The game began. A few things happened of interest. I was interested in watching catcher Jason Kendall, who runs the Brewers' pitching staff like a finely tuned instrument. I met Jason once on the field when I was selected as Fan for a Day and got to attend Play Like a Pro. He was such a charming, down-to-earth guy, I hated to see him leave Oakland. But getting $10 million a year for a horrible .200 average.... well, it was inevitable.

Manny was back, playing in the outfield this time. During his second at-bat, after his first hit, he actually got into an argument with the umpire over a called third strike. It's spring training! This either means he cares about what happens, or it means that you don't call a third strike on Manny.

The Brewers showed that they have pitching and they have hitting. The Dodgers were obviously trying out some pitching prospects, and the Brewers hit against them easily.

But I was beginning to lose interest even though (1) this was a great seat and (2) the shade took over my part of the stands. It was very, very pleasant sitting there. Everybody seemed to be into the game. And we had so many foul balls (straight back? Go figure.) that everybody seemed to be laughing and bonding over that. I was two feet away from my first foul ball....and I didn't duck.

The GPS took me out into I-10 again and bumper to bumper traffic. Man, I could live in Phoenix quite easily, but I would hate traveling on the freeways.

Four days is perfect. I am now ready to go home. I met a lot of different fans from different cities, and I believe baseball is in good hands for another year.

2009 Spring Training: Day Three: Where's My Car?

I was sitting in my seat at Hohokam Park, watching the guy two rows below me slather sunscreen lotion on his son. He went over his face several times, hitting his ears about five times. Those ears were already red. It was that kind of day.

I do like this little park although it's missing some amenities (like cup holders on the seats). It was supposed to be only about 75 degrees, but it was a direct kind of sun. And it wore me down. But this was a terrific seat: right off third base. I was in the Cubs home park, and there was a sea of blue all around me. Cubbie fans are serious fans. And by luck only, I was going to watch two pitchers whom I knew very well. They were with the A's club last year.

Chad Gaudin pitched for the Cubs, while Greg Smith pitched for the Colorado Rockies. Both were fairly ineffective in the first inning, giving up two runs each, but each settled down in the second. Gaudin was lifted by Lou Pinella after the second, while Smith stayed in there for four innings.

One of the concession people, in one of their two gift shops, noting my spring training t-shirt, told me that the Cubs sold out of their spring training shirts completely. And he said that, after the first week, the Cubs have been selling out. I heard later that the Cubs set a new spring training attendance record.

I had on-and-off conversations with the couple next to me and their upstart teenage daughter. Norm was dressed in his White Sox jersey. "I'm the only one wearing black here," he mentioned casually, as if he expected a fight to break out any moment. His wife, who was keeping score, was wearing her Cubs hat. I noted their daughter was dressed in a bright blue Cubs shirt. Two against one. But they catered to him.

It was one of those marriages you hate to watch. He yelled at her for the slightest thing, like where was the sunscreen. Why did you put that there. Why didn't you help us carry back our food. And she would constantly try to placate.

You know, I don't know anything about their marriage. It could be that's how they communicate, that she doesn't mind his constant wearing down of her esteem. But it seemed to me he's an anger management project about to explode.

They had come from Chicago, and stayed at a Motel 6 near the airport. They don't come every year, but when they do, they like to see different teams play He told me all about the Angels stadium, and how cold they were yesterday in the shade. In my memory of Angels Stadium, I would have killed for shade.

And speaking of that, shade greeted us in the fourth! I could stay there another couple of innings without sweating my life away. But I finally left in the 6th, and walked out to my car. I set the GPS for the new Camelback location, or at least the intersection where it should be, and dove into rush hour traffic.

I exited at Camelback Road, and drove to 107th, hoping to see the stadium. It wasn't there, although I could see structures in the distance. The GPS was finished, so I turned it off. After going down 107th and not finding any way in, I turned around and drove down Camelback this time, and finally found a little wooden sign saying, Camelback Ranch.

I found out later that they ushered us to parking very far away from the entrance. And this was a good two hours before the park opened. Usually when you get there early you get the good parking. Also, the park didn't open until one-and-a-half hours before the game. So I wandered around part of the complex -- which turned out to be huge -- watched some players I didn't recognize do some BP. Groups would walk by, and the passageways were roped off so that we couldn't interfere with them.

This Camelback Ranch complex is shared in spring training by both the Dodgers and the White Sox, and is the most modern, well-equipped one around. A manmade river separates the two so that, supposedly, the players don't mix. On my convoluted way into the park, I passed by numerous practice fields and batting cages.

Finally they let us in. Apparently backpacks aren't allowed in, except the huge backpack of the guy in front of me. When he told them he had been coming in the last four days with that backpack, the guy let him proceed.

I wandered around the upper walkway. They had some different food. I immediately got a root beer float, which was very good. Besides the usual fare, they have pizza, hamburgers, and BBQ. The guy sitting next to me later brought down a BBQ brisket sandwich, and I had to smell that sweet smell for two innings.

The sun began to fall and the game finally started. I, again, had a marvelous seat just off third base, but I soon discovered that seating was like at AT&T Park: if there's any crowd off to your right, you won't be able to see the hitter.

The stadium seats 10,000, with another 3,000 or so on the grass (berm). When the game started, only half the seats were full, but by the second inning, another half of those had been filled. Still, it was not sold out. But then, the seats are so much more expensive here.

It was the Dodgers vs. the Seattle Mariners. As one guy told me while we shared a table while eating on the concourse, he wanted to see the Mariners "because they're in my division," and pointed to his Angels hat. He also told me an interesting story about why Mike Scioscia, of whom I'm a fan, went over to the Angels because of how the Dodgers treated him once his catching career was over.

The fans gathered en masse near my seat, since that's the one area low enough to invite autographs. Even though the Dodgers sport a very good infield, it was all about Manny. Look, there's Manny (who came in later than anyone) running as he warmed up. Look, Manny is running again. Manny only DH's and did not play the field this game, and all those lightbulbs went off when he came up to bat. It reminded me so much of Barry Bonds.

His second up-to-bat was a homerun. Look, see Manny run the homerun trot. I swear it was the longest homerun that never counted. It must've been at least 420 feet over the left field wall and past the people sitting on the berm out there.

The Dodgers' pitching was very good. Kershaw kept the Mariners to one hit for several innings. And the Dodgers' defense was also very good.

I left early because I was tired. Climbing up and down those stairs to get to my seat made me even more tired. When I exited out the front, I realized that this is not how I'd come in, so I strolled to my left to try to find the car. Nothing looked familiar. I went to a parking guy in the neon green vest and asked, where did they put the cars when they first came in? "Oh, gosh," he said, not in a helping way, and pointed me in two different directions. Thirty minutes later, after walking almost entirely around the stadium, I found what looked familiar, and found the blue Jeep. I set my GPS for the hotel, and set off. I was thankful that I didn't have to think about where to turn, etc. It led me home.

I was really tired when I got home, but enjoyed the experience of the entire day. Night games are a great way to avoid the heat, but it actually got cold there. A cold wind came in and caused everybody to complain. I had brought my pullover, so I was fine. I wouldn't mind going back to Camelback; the food was definitely better. But I'm not fond of some of their procedures.

Tomorrow: one last game, this time at the Brewers' home stadium, Maryvale.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Spring Training 2009: Day Three

This hotel is very Oakland A's friendly. My only problem with it is that breakfast (which is included) isn't served after 9 am. But since I have to get on the road by 10:30 am for these games, that's probably a good thing.

Today is a busy day. I have two games today:

1 pm Colorado Rockies at the Cubs, Hohokam Park in Mesa
7 pm Seattle Mariners at the Dodgers, the new Camelback Ranch park in Phoenix

There is a chance, I don't know however good, that Ichiro will make it back in time after winning the World Baseball Classic last night -- and he won it with a single in the 10th inning! We'll see. If he shows up, it will be to thunderous applause, I'm sure, even though he's in the Dodgers' territory.

I will depend on my GPS today to get me where I'm going. I have directions written out, don't get me wrong, but it would be easier if a robot choice told me where to turn.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Spring Training 2009: Day Two: Too Many Cubs

I got to Phoenix Muni parking at 11:13, 13 minutes after they opened. The parking was half full. Wow. So I'm glad I came early. I had a great seat -- often where the younger Boosters sit -- in a field box, in the outfield, right off first base. I got a lot of shots of Jason Giambi, who played first base, and all the Cubs players who made it to first base. There were a hella lot of them.

The final score was, I think, 20 - 5. I was having an early dinner at Applebee's right after the game, and the two women next to me, taking in my face tattoo and shirt, laughed and said it looked like I had just come from the game, too. At one point in our brief conversation while we waited for food, one said, "I wonder how they think we're going to make it through the season without pitching?" From your lips to Billy's ears.

I stayed my usual time at the game. If it had been a normal, you know, counting-type game, I would've left early. But I had these great seats! And the weather was perfect! The A's were not.

But if you stay long enough in a spring training game, you get to see some of the other players. Corey Wimberley, the guy whose listing in the program as 5'8" makes people laugh, did some flips in the air before practice, and pretty nearly did the same thing a couple of times during the game. At one point, someone yelled from the stands, "Corey, can you play first and third, too?"

Nomar Garciaparra is a hitting machine. His warm-up, though, is something to behold. It's stretching, stretching, stretching, and he did all of that in front of me before the game. Knowing that he has a hamstring issue, I'm not surprised.

This little kid next to me kept yelling, "Nomar! Nomar!" over and over during this stretching routine, as if the call of his name would bring him over to sign an autograph. Perhaps the Dodger hat put him off. (That was Nomar's former team, though.
One of them.)

But newbie Edgar Gonzalez, who had hoped to be one of the guys kept for the starting rotation, got bombed; he only got two outs while giving up eight hits and seven runs. His ERA for the spring is now over 12. None of the other A's pitchers did well, either. Starter Dana Eveland almost didn't get out of the first inning. He'd get ahead in the count, but then give up a pitch right down the middle. The Cubs were patient and just waited for that pitch.

Vin Mazzaro, whom we saw yesterday, got sent down today to Triple A. He has some work to do. Looks like the whole rotation -- those who aren't injured -- needs to do the same.

One bright spot: Ziggy arrived in camp! We saw him walk by the bullpen. His Team USA lost for the last time last night, as Japan took it to them, and he came back to work at his closer job. That job is totally his at this point, unless Joey Devine suddenly gets better.

Spring Training 2009: Day Two

First, I applied the tattoos.

Oh, don't worry. They're only temporary tattoos. But I really like 'em. I wonder how long they'll last. Thankfully, today is the coolest day, only about 73 degrees.

Today I go back to Phoenix Muni. As it turns out, my hotel is on the corner of 44th and Van Buren, and it's about a 5-minute drive to that stadium.

However, starting tomorrow, I will not be going back this year. My other three games are at other stadiums.

Today we meet the Cubs! I'm going early because the Cubbie fans will be out!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Spring Training 2009: Day One: Honoring the Fallen Officers

Just one more piece about today. Before the national anthem, the public announcer explained the flags at half mast, and asked that we take a moment of silence for the fallen Oakland police officers, as "they paid the ultimate sacrifice."

This from the Oakland A's:

"The A’s players and staff were reeling from news that four Oakland police officers were shot and killed on Saturday following a traffic stop a mile away from the Coliseum. Two of the officers had worked games at the Coliseum, providing extra security, escorting players and officials and handling some road block duties.

"The team will hold a moment of silence before today’s game against the White Sox and there were discussions about whether the players might honor the officers in some way on their uniforms. I’m told there will be more formal recognition of the officers during the home opener on April 10, with some kind of ceremony.

"Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen is wearing “OPD” in silver lettering on his cap today and he spoke at length before the game about how devastated he was by the news of the officers’ death because he has such great respect for law enforcement and military members."

Rich Hurd interviewed Ozzie today, and the White Sox manager told him this (from Hurd's blog):

"'There’s no reason to take peoples’ lives. It should be a hard day for the Bay Area,' Guillen said. 'I’ve never seen anything sadder than a police funeral. To take anybody’s life, especially when you’re a policeman or fireman (and) you’re protecting this country. … How come we only worry about police when they get killed? We don’t give them enough credit for making our life easier.'"

My God. And I thought Ozzie Guillen was a clown. I have a lot more respect for him now. (Even though you do have to wonder why the Chicago manager had to say something, and not the Oakland manager...)

I won't be at the April 10th tribute, but I hope radio/T.V. covers it.

Spring Training 2009: Day One: Hit for More than Average

I actually rented a GPS, and I have to say it was no help getting me to the ballpark. At first. But I re-set it, and the GPS finally came on (I guess it was just maps before), and told me to go on the freeway (202). I didn't want to, but since I couldn't find the north or the east direction, I decided to do what it told me to. The menu did not have Papago Park or Phoenix Municipal Stadium, so I plugged in the hotel address and figure once it found Van Buren for me, I could take it from there. And that's what happened.

Phoenix Muni appeared to be sold out. LOTS of White Sox fans. Maybe 50-50 A's fans vs. Sox fans. My neighbors were all A's fans, and it was interesting how much they did not know about the team, especially the Sacramento couple behind me "Who's that? Has he been here before?" It wasn't until they started asking around that I would answer questions. "No, Corey Wimberley probably isn't 5'7"." "The starting pitcher is Vin Mazzaro."

Mazzaro got lit up and was taken out in the 2nd inning. He's one of those new phenom pitchers for the A's that has a chance at one of the two open spots in the A's rotation. Yes, the rotation is that bad. No, I don't think Mazzaro is going to be one of those after today's performance. Dallas Braden, who replaced him, got him with a homerun in his 2nd pitch, but settled down after that. However, the game was just a hitfest from both sides. I believe the score was 11-8 White Sox at the end, but I wouldn't be surprised if the Oakland A's outhit the Chicago White Sox.

It was great -- and surprising -- to see how well Kurt Suzuki hit. He's back from the offseason in Maui, and he continued right where he left off: being Oakland's most consistent hitter. He's dwarfed by the big guys in the lineup: Jason Giambi, Matt Holliday, even Ryan Sweeney. But he appears to know how to hit. And he has speed. He nearly went for the cycle today. I don't have the box scores in front of me, but he seemed to go 4 for 5. Just amazing.

Holliday still hasn't found the handle. And he failed to run out a pop fly, a fly which actually dropped in for a hit. He actually went from a dead standstill to a full run and beat out the throw, much to this fan's amazement. But after that, the woman next to me wouldn't let him forget it. "Love Oakland or leave it! And run out those pop flies!" She's convinced that he's just here for the year, or maybe even half a year -- Billy might dump him off if the A's are not in contention by July, and his heart is not into the Oaktown struggle for greatness. She may have a point.

And it was a thrill to see Mark Ellis play for the first time this spring. He was the designated hitter. The Sac couple behind me said, Well, then why isn't he playing 2nd base? I didn't bother filling them in.

First Day at Spring Training, and Taking a Break from Oakland

I'm sitting here at Oakland Airport, and able to post this thanks to free Wi-Fi.

Clearing TSA wasn't as bad this time. I didn't have to take off my watch. There were the usual jokes about "at least we don't have to take off our pants, but it's darn close," and a young woman in the Southwest security line who asked, "What's this line for?" after standing there a few minutes. She saw the longer line inside, and all those people looked warm, but stuck it out in our outside line. Our line was freezing, but our line was a great deal shorter.

Today the game starts at 1 pm, a contest between the Oakland A's and the Chicago White Sox. I'm trying to think if I know anybody still (which usually means: did they once play for the A's), and I think there are a few left like Jermaine Dye. All of this is as Phoenix Municipal. I just realized I forgot to bring a hat, so I'll buy one there. I probably would've done that anyway.

I'm still trying to get over that stunning gun battle in Oakland yesterday. Four police officers were shot by apparently one suspect, who died on the scene. He shot the first two, I believe, during a routine traffic cop. Then he ran from the vehicle and hid in the neighborhood. An anonymous tip led them to an apartment complex, where the killer used another weapon -- semi-automatic -- to gun down two more. It is so horrible to think that those men lost their lives just a few miles from where I live.

Oakland has had its share of violence in the last year. Some really bad stuff is going down. I'm glad to take a break from it. But the latest in mayhem won't leave me easily.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Waiting for the A's

I kept telling people that I'd rather go to Phoenix a little earlier in the season. It's difficult to do that because of tax season. However, this year, I think it's going to work out perfectly.

You see, several A's are injured. Yes, already. Mark Ellis has yet to play 2nd base. Eric Chavez has yet to hit. Reliever Joey Devine was pulled from the rotation because of his right elbow. And the other reliever, Brad Ziegler, is playing for the USA in the World Baseball Classic.

There is a good chance that all these players will play for the A's while I'm there, and that I'll get to see them.

I don't think there's any chance I'll see pitcher Justin Duchsherer, however. I think Duke has a longer way to go.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


We had a blast at Wicked, which has been at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco for the last few months. Ruth had read the book (make that "books"), and knew the storyline. I did not. Let's just say that it turns the Wizard of Oz myth on its ear.

During the curtain call, Nicolas Dromard, who plays Fiyero, appealed to us to join in with charitable contributions for shirts, etc., a chance to appear as a walk-on in a future performance, or a photo with the two leads, Elphaba and Glinda. We chose the last two.

Surprisingly, once we found the right place to be to buy these things, there was no line for the photo op. Once I saw the price, I figured out why. However, it was a chance to contribute to AIDS and breast cancer research, and a fun thing for the two of us. Plus, Ruth bought a chance at that walk-on. A star could be born!

So the photo is of stars Kendra Kassebaum, who played Glinda, and Vicki Noon, who understudied in that performance as Elphaba. Let me say that both were just excellent, and it was very nice of them to give up their time for this very worthy cause.

And, I have to add, I thought that witches would be taller. Who knew?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Getting Ready for Phoenix

In a couple of days I'll be making my 5th trip to Phoenix for Spring Training. It's not consecutive: I skipped a year in there after Rick and I first went.

I keep switching hotels, hoping I'll find something I really like. This may be the one. I know I want to stay somewhere along N. 44th Street. It's just a skip and a jump from there to Phoenix Municipal, which is where I'll attend two games and where the A's claim their home. And it's very close to Phoenix International Airport, where I'll be flying in. AND it's easy to find my way back to the rental car hub from there, all on surface streets.

I will actually have a chance to see the new Dodger stadium, Camelback. And it's a night game. I'm a little nervous about finding my way there -- it's a good deal west of the hotel -- not to mention my way back. I'll be going right after the day game, so I should be able to get there during daytime hours. I hear it's very nice.

I actually see the Dodgers twice. I think the second time is at Hohokam Park, home of the Cubs. I didn't really pick the teams to see. I'd much rather see the Giants, but they were impossible to get to after Sunday and Monday (and those days are reserved for the A's at Phoenix Muni). I wanted games that were still in Phoenix. I didn't want to go to Tempe Stadium; the seats are antiquated and right in the sun there. So I ended up with the games I ended up with. What does it matter? It's baseball!

I'm flying in this time rather than taking 17 hours or 2 days (which is what it took to drive there last year). So it should be fairly easy. If I could just pack lightly, I'll be fine. Ha!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Removing the 'Ol Tree

I brought landscapers out to look at installing a drip and spray system in order to water my lawn and the plants. I rejected their exhorbitant offer quickly enough, but when the three of us stood around, they casually mentioned, oh, that's a big acacia tree. And I not-so-casually noticed (actually, with much alarm), that it was towering towards the deck and roof of the house. They told me I could have it removed, and said they would send me the name of the arborist they deal with.

I knew I'd never get that name, and I haven't yet, but I really welcomed that idea.

So I went on Yelp and found The Professional Tree Care Company. They had two good refererences.

Craig Hancock, Consulting Arborist, came out today, and agreed with me that the giant black acacia should be removed. He said that, because the tree grows quickly, the cells are not densely packed, and limbs tend to break off easily. And it also rots easily. We went around to the side and looked at the massive tree trunk.

It's cheaper and easier to leave the trunks of the two trees. He agreed to treat them so that the proliferous plant shoots wouldn't grow back. I will see an estimate by email within a few days. Yes!!!