Happy Merry

Happy Whateverholidayyourecelebrating!

Including, of course, no holiday at all, if that’s what you do.

As I write this, we’re somewhere between kid-stuff and adulting. The gifts are opened, but not yet played with. On the other hand, families have not been called, but the laundry is in the washer.

It’s too early to put the roast in the oven, but the hot cider is brewing. This year, we’re trying a variation on the usual recipe. Instead of a conventional–and thus, boring–navel orange, we’re using a couple of blood oranges. Doesn’t look like it’s going to change the color of the finished cider appreciably, but it smells fantastic.

And, yes, we are making the cider in our Instant Pot. In slow-cooker mode. This doesn’t seem like a recipe that would benefit from pressure cooking. So it’s still going to take four hours. Four hours of filling the house with a delightful scent. And having the cooker summon us when it’s time to give the cider a stir is a nice feature our old slow-cooker lacked.

The cats remain unimpressed, including Lefty, who has several times wandered into the kitchen, shaken his head in disgust over the lack of kitty treats, and disappeared back up the stairs.

We suspect there will be more interest once we start on dinner preparations. Cats do prefer beef to citrus, 999 to one, after all.

We’re determinedly keeping the radio off. We’ve had quite enough Christmas carols, thank you. I’ll admit to a fondness for a rendition that came out a couple of years ago, but which I only discovered last week, Revolution Wonderland. But enough is enough. Pack up the carols along with the inflatable Santas, Nativity dioramas, and giant foam snowflakes. Thanksgiving is going to be late again next year, so I’m looking forward to eleven months of nearly carol-free life.

I think I’ll stop rambling here. Time to go be an adult for a bit, thanking people for their gifts, before I can be a kid again and make some horrible noises with my new saxmonica*.

* Courtesy of Maggie, who shall now have to suffer for her generosity.

Not So Super

If you’ve come here expecting to see my annual run-down of the Super Bowl commercials and the obligatory snide comments about the game itself, my apologies.

See, I didn’t watch the game this year.

Not that I’m feeling smug about it or anything. In truth, I had been planning to watch. As I said last year, “I wanted to see the Patriots lose.” That was just as true this year–and I’m deeply disappointed in the Rams.

I can feel mildly virtuous for doing my part to reduce the NFL’s viewership numbers, and thus hurt their potential revenue from next year’s game. But only mildly, because I didn’t choose to abstain. But watching at work would have been a non-starter.

Of course, I did get paid to not watch the Super Bowl. That’s a darn sweet deal.

I did go looking for a recording of the halftime show. I could claim it was because I wanted to see if there was anything in it to justify all the various controversies. (Spoiler: nope. Topless singers and censored rap lyrics aren’t going to do the job.) Really, though, it was because I haven’t missed once yet this century and I wanted to keep my record intact. In retrospect, I needn’t have bothered. My life is not enriched. It wasn’t quite as much of a snoozefest as last year’s Justin Timberlake effort, but it’ll be hard for anyone to top (bottom?) Justin.

What? Oh. For those of you reading this overseas, no matter what the NFL wants you to think, Super Bowl Sunday isn’t a federal holiday. No mail delivery, but then, there normally isn’t on Sundays. And those of us who had to work were on our usual Sunday schedules.

But since we’re on the subject of holidays, perhaps you’ve heard that the “For the People Act” bill that Democrats are pushing in the House includes a provision to make Election Day a federal holiday? The intent is to make it easier for people to get to the polls.

Good idea, bad implementation.

Because, to be blunt, the kind of businesses that don’t close on holidays are exactly the ones that employ the people who find it hardest to take the time to cast a ballot: low-income workers, usually earning minimum wage, who live in neighborhoods where polling sites are routinely closed (chiefly by Republicans, naturally). Hotels, fast food restaurants, and convenience stores aren’t going to close. Neither, for that matter, are hospitals, police and fire departments, or airports.

Take another swing at it, Congresscritters. Concentrate on measures that directly make it easier to vote: longer voting hours (or extended voting periods), mail-in ballots, streamlined registration processes. That sort of thing.

If you really feel the need to establish a new holiday, there is that whole Super Bowl thing–I wouldn’t mind getting time-and-a-half for not watching the game. Just be aware that America’s other religions will expect the same treatment. I’ll be looking forward to my World Series Week this October.

The Christmas Spirit

A quick bit of bookkeeping: in order to reduce the craziness of starting a new job smack in the middle of the holiday season, I’m going to take a couple of weeks off from the blog. There will be Friday posts tomorrow, the twenty-eighth, and the fourth. Regular posts will resume the week of the seventh.

Moving on.

Diana Rowland is the author of one of my favorite series. It wouldn’t be stretching the truth at all to say the books are among my influences. Certainly, they’re a reminder that urban fantasy doesn’t have to have vampires.

Now she’s also one of my heroes.

The Washington Post has most of the story. But if you can’t or won’t read it there, the thumbnail version is that one of her neighbors took offense to her Christmas display–the same display, it should be noted, that she’s had for the past several years–a group of three dragons, festively decorated with Santa hats and garlands. The neighbor sent Ms. Rowland an anonymous note informing her that the dragons were inappropriate for Christmas, and that it was leading the neighborhood to suspect her of demon worship.

I have to wonder: if the dragons had been part of a full-blown nativity scene, replacing the usual sheep, cows, and/or camels, would the anonymous letter writer have been more concerned, or less?

Ms. Rowland did what any sensible person would do: tweeted the letter and added two more dragons to the display.

No, that’s not the heroic part.

Of course the story went viral. How could it not? Offers of additional dragons poured in, some in the form of cash to buy dragons, some as offers to ship pre-paid dragons to Louisiana*.

* How do you tell the difference between a gator and a dragon? If you don’t know the answer, be very cautious about making purchases that involve the phrase “an arm and a leg”.

Here’s the heroic part–and, surprisingly, the part of the story the Post missed.

Rather than escalate the fight further, she declined all the offers and asked that would-be donors instead make a contribution to charity. Not a particular charity. Not a specific amount. Not in her name. Just the charity of their choice.

Apparently, many of the people making donations are doing it in the name of the “Dragon Army,” which is, IMNSHO, a delightful way of exceeding expectations. Well done, Internet. The only way to improve on that scenario? Buy one of her books.

A Cold Truth

While I’m thinking of it–I just got back from the store–Saturday is Ice Cream for Breakfast Day.

As TFoAHK reminds us, this holiday is not a corporate invention. There’s no mascot, no gifts to wrap*, and you need not give a single cent to our corporate overlords**.

* Do not hang tubs of ice cream beside the fireplace unless you like cleaning up sticky messes.

** I’m too lazy to make my own, hence the aforementioned trip to the grocery store (Tillamook Mountain Huckleberry, if you’re curious). But don’t let my laziness prevent you from digging out the ol’ churn.

Even better, ICfB Day is an international celebration, not something confined to the United States, or even the North American continent. Nearly everybody loves ice cream, so observing the occasion can only bring us all closer together. Imagine how much calmer the country would be next week if Robert Mueller and Donald Trump shared a Saturday morning sundae.

Okay, maybe that’s a little optimistic. But it can’t make their relationship any worse–at least not as long as nobody hogs the hot fudge.

Anyway, before you start leaving me nasty notes about good nutrition in the comments, I’m well aware of the issue. And, to preempt the comments from the other side, I’m also aware that the much-touted “ice cream for breakfast” study has been roundly debunked. (If you missed it, the study supposedly showed that eating ice cream for breakfast improved alertness and mental performance. What it actually showed–if it was even performed; there’s some doubt about that–was that eating anything for breakfast wakes you up and helps you think. So don’t skip breakfast, but don’t feel obligated to eat ice cream. Except for Saturday.)

No, eating ice cream for breakfast isn’t the greatest thing you can do for your body. Not even in the top ten. But unless you’ve got an overriding medical issue that requires you to avoid ice cream under any circumstances, a scoop for breakfast once a year isn’t going to do you any significant damage.

Live it up. Give yourself a treat. Cone optional, because I’m too chill right now for an argument over cake versus sugar versus waffle.

Merry Christmas From a Formerly Nameless Kitten


What, you were expecting a Santa hat? Not in this house! We’re bringing Sachiko* up in the True Faith, after all.

* Yes, it’s true. The Kitten To Be Named Later has been named. Depending on how it’s written, “Sachiko” can mean “child of bliss” or “happiness”. She’s a happy kitten, and–if the Giants continue to play well–should remain a happy cat.

Am I disappointed that she hasn’t chosen to follow the Way of the Mariners? A little. But since she’s a Bay Area native, I understand her desire to cheer for a local team.

I can only speculate about why she chose the Giants over the As. She’s definitely a hands-on sort. Wants to do it all. I suspect that she simply doesn’t approve of the designated hitter rule.

It Could Happen

Here we are again, approaching the end of another season. The last games of the regular season will be Sunday, then we get a day off to prepare ourselves before Thanksgiving, aka the playoffs, begin Tuesday.

Look for my annual rundown of who to root for in the playoffs Tuesday morning. I had hoped to do that today, so you would have time to run out and get appropriate ceremonial garb (caps, shirts, underwear, etc.), but unfortunately, the teams aren’t quite set. As I write this, three teams are still hanging on, hoping for a miracle.

In the National League, the Milwaukee Brewers are four games out with four games remaining. If they win their final four games and San Francisco loses their final four, the Brewers would face the Giants in tiebreaker game for the final wild card spot. It could happen.

In the American League, there are two teams pondering their faint hopes, the Seattle Mariners (three games out with four remaining) and the Cleveland Indians (three and a half games out with three remaining). The As and Royals are currently tied for the wild card; the Indians and Mariners will be looking to win out and hope that one or both of the leaders to tie their shoelaces together and fall on their bats in ritual suicide. It could happen.

It could happen. That’s a nice thought. We’ve talked about hope so many times before, and “it could happen” is the ultimate expression of hope. The chances are poor (the oddsmakers give the Brewers a 0.3% chance of making the playoffs, the Mariners a 0.4% chance, and the Indians a 0.9% chance*), but hey, four game winning streaks and four game losing streaks happen all the time. Hell, the Mariners currently have a five game losing streak, and Texas, the second-worst team in baseball this year, currently has a four game winning streak. It could happen.

* The Indians are getting slightly better odds than the Mariners despite that extra half-game because they’ve got a better record over the past ten games and because they only need to win three games instead of four.

Year after year–decade after decade in some cases–we continue to pin our hopes on “it could happen”. Why do we torture ourselves this way? I could say that if we don’t torture ourselves, who will? And yes, there’s an element of truth in that: if you want to be sure something is done right, do it yourself. And baseball is, as we’ve said repeatedly, a religion. Faith is the core of the religious experience, and you can’t pay someone else to have faith on your behalf.

More, watching those last few games, clinging to the hope that “next year” could actually be “this year” until the final out is recorded* on your team’s chances, is also a show of loyalty. We all know the majority of players have no loyalty to the fans. We all know the owners, by and large, have even less loyalty. So? That doesn’t reduce our responsibility to live up to our commitments. That’s the deal: you play the games, we’ll cheer, no matter how depressing it might be or how hopeless it might seem.

* Or even beyond in this age of video review and managerial challenges…

So, go Cleveland! Go Seattle! And yes, go Milwaukee!

It could happen.

Merry Christmas!

Fair warning for those who skip the baseball posts: this is one.

This is the last of the “Baseball Religious Holidays” posts. It won’t be the last baseball post, but it does complete the annual cycle that began with the Happy New Year post last April.

Merry Christmas a little early (the holiday actually begins tomorrow)!

“Christmas? In February? What’s up with that?” I hear you ask.

Simple: the non-baseball world’s Christmas is derived from ancient festivals celebrating the end of winter. In the modern tradition, it’s also a celebration of gift-giving (read: “opening presents”). Oh yes, there’s also something about honoring a saviour.

Christmas works the same way for those of the True Faith. Observe:

The heathen Christmas begins a few days after the event it nominally commemorates: the solstice, officially marking the end of winter and the return of the sun, occurs on December 22. Christmas begins on the 25th and runs for a bit less than two weeks.

Similarly, baseball’s Christmas, also known as “Spring Training” and marking the end of winter and the return of the players, begins when pitchers and catchers report to their teams’ training sites in Arizona and Florida. Although the Diamondbacks and Dodgers players reported last week*, Spring Training begins tomorrow when the rest of the teams get started and runs for a bit less than two months. (For the record, this year pitchers and catchers arrive on the 12th, the rest of the players are due on the 17th, and pre-season games start on the 27th, give or take a day.)

* Arizona and LA start training early because they’ll open the season early with a pair of games in Australia** on March 22. They’ll then return to the US, finish Spring Training along with the rest of the teams, and be ready for Opening Day on the 31st. (Remember last year when the Astros and Rangers jumped the gun and played their first game the night before Opening Day? This year it’s the Dodgers and Padres doing the made-for-TV nonsense.)

** Australia? WTF? Look, I can understand having a couple of games in Japan from time to time. Japan loves baseball and it’s only reasonable to let them have a close look at the sport’s highest level. But Australia? They’ve got their own damn sport. I don’t see them giving up on Australian Rules Football in favor of baseball any time soon… (Back in its early days when it was desperate for content, ESPN used to show ARF games. For those who haven’t seen one, it’s worth digging around for a streaming broadcast. Take three sports I have no interest in watching (soccer, basketball, and rugby) and mix them together. Add a scoring system similar to American football. Somehow the result is quite entertaining.)

Both Christmases are celebrated by opening gifts. In one you have boxes covered in paper, holding a variety of objects, some of which will delight and some of which will disappoint. In the other you have players covered in uniforms, holding a variety of skills, some of which will delight and some of which will disappoint. In the first, you unwrap the gifts from your family and friends and try them out. By the end of the twelve days, you’ve got a pretty good idea of which ones are worthwhile and which ones should go to Goodwill. In the second, you unwrap the gifts from your GM and upper management and try them out. By the end of the 47 days, you’ve got a pretty good idea of which ones are worthwhile and which ones should be cut. Remind me: which one is baseball?

Then there’s that saviour thing. As I understand it, some non-baseball fans believe that Christmas celebrates the birth of an immensely powerful being who worked miracles, gave unstintingly of himself, and worked tirelessly to ensure that his followers would enter into Heaven.

As we’ve discussed, at the end of every season, the baseball fan looks at his team and tries to identify the one key lack that must be filled for next year’s team to win it all. Christmas, to the baseball fan, celebrates the unveiling of the player who will work miracles with his bat or pitching arm, give unstintingly of himself on the field, and work tirelessly to ensure that his team’s followers will enter into the heaven of a World Series victory.

Merry Christmas to all.

Play ball!

Happy Thanksgiving

Surprise! It’s a special bonus post!

Happy Thanksgiving!

(Yes, it’s another baseball post. Heathens may flee now.)

Thanksgiving in the Baseball religious calendar is a protracted event, lasting most of the month of October, and marked by the ceremony known as “the playoffs”.

At the beginning of the month, two-thirds of us are consigned to the children’s table, a rickety affair set up in the rec room, where we can console ourselves with shared tales of “almost” and “next year”. All the time we’re eating, we can listen to the happy conversations of those who made it to the real table in the dining room.

Over the next few weeks, some of us will reach our limits, stop eating, and retire to the living room, where we’ll sprawl in front of the TV and occupy ourselves with football, stirring only to make room on the couch for new arrivals from the ranks of those whose teams have been eliminated from the playoffs.

The true faithful are in it until the end, be it bitter or sweet. The World Series begins today, and all true fans, even those with deep ties to the Cardinals or Red Sox, are rooting for the same thing: a seven game series. Sure, some, perhaps even most, of the fans of those two teams are rooting for a four game sweep, but the True Fan of The Game watches because it’s baseball. Even a game in which you have no rooting interest is preferable to no game at all, and so we cheer for Game 7 and hope it goes into extra innings; conversely we weep over a sweep. The end of the World Series means no more games until Spring Training rolls around. Naturally, we want to put that off as long as possible.

Wait, so where’s the “thanks” in “Thanksgiving”? Certainly it’s obvious for the fans of the ten teams who made the playoffs, but what about those sitting at the kiddie table? Well, the fans of the six teams that had 90 or more losses this year are giving thanks that the season is over and they’re free to turn their collective attention to the off-season trade and free agent news. Fans of the six teams that finished at .500 or better but missed the playoffs are thankful for having stayed in contention until the last few days of the season, for achieving a measure of respectability, and for the knowledge that they really are likely only one puzzle piece away from making it next year. Then there are the fans of those other eight teams that finished with records between .450 and .499. They’re thankful to have avoided the ignominy of 90 losses, that they’re not fans of the Astros, the Marlins, or the White Sox. In short, they’re thankful for the existence of schadenfreude.

Hang on, back up a second. I keep saying things like “we watch it because it’s baseball”. That’s not really a help, is it? Why do we watch baseball, even when we don’t care who’s playing? Thousands of writers have used millions of words trying to answer that question. As you might imagine, I have my own ideas on the subject. I’ll be rambling about that a couple of times over the next few months. I need something to occupy myself with during the long, dark winter.

In the meantime, it’s still Thanksgiving, and will be for another four-to-eight days. Pass the turkey, please.

Independence Day

You knew it was coming, but you didn’t know exactly when. Now here it is, and it’s too late to hide. That’s right, it’s another baseball post!

We’ll be continuing our series of posts looking at the major religious holidays of the sport. The current one is Independence Day. Unlike the civil holiday of the same name, the baseball holiday lasts four days*. To the heathen, the holiday is known as “the All-Star Break”, the official mid-point of the religious year. Yes, “official” does not equal “actual”. Most teams played their 81st game two or three weeks ago, around the end of June. But who says religion has to be logical?

* This is actually a change in the scriptures. Until this year, the break was three days. This alteration seems unlikely to cause a religious crisis, unlike the previous one which grants home field advantage in the World Series to the league that wins the All-Star Game. Prior to that change, advantage alternated from year to year. It’s still a highly contentious debate ten years later.

“How can a day last four days?” I hear someone ask. Well, it just does. This is an allegory, after all, not a literal representation of mundane reality. If it really bothers you, petition MLB to expand the break to five days the next time they negotiate an agreement with the players’ union. If that happens, I’ll start calling it Independence Week (after I get done sulking, that is).

Why is it Independence Day?

This is the point at which fans are freed from a number of burdens.

  • Meaningful baseball – just as the civil holiday frees most workers from their jobs for a day, the religious holiday frees most fans from caring about the results of the baseball-related activities they see. (What about the home field advantage in the World Series? Isn’t that meaningful? Well, yes. Historically, the home team has won approximately 60% of World Series games, so there really is a home field advantage. But it’s only meaningful to the two teams that make it to the World Series. That means it’s only meaningful to the fans of two teams. Granted, we don’t know which two they are, but it’s hard to waste brain cycles on the chance that it will matter to your team: 19 of the 30 teams are still seriously in the hunt (I’m defining “seriously” as “odds of no worse than 20 to 1”). Worry about your team getting to the World Series before you start stressing about home field advantage.) And nobody really cares who wins the Home Run Derby.
  • Freedom from bandwagon fans – By now the “fans” who only show up when things are going well have departed for all of the teams who are under .500 (14 of 30 teams, 16 if you include those exactly at .500) and they’re starting to vanish from the teams over .500 but in third place or lower in their divisions (an additional three teams including the Yankees). OK, it doesn’t mean much–there are no fewer loudly expressed incorrect opinions or drunken idiots at the games–but it’s nice to know that almost everyone you see at the game is a co-coreligionist, there because they want to be there, not because it’s the hot place to be.
  • Freedom from unrealistic expectations – Fans of the bottom-dwelling teams are freed from the need to plan vacations around camping in line for playoff tickets. Instead, they have hope. Yes, this is when the cries of “Wait until next year!” begin. For the rest of July, the focus will be on trading current veterans to playoff hopefuls in return for hot prospects to beef up next year’s team. (We’ll talk about August and September in a couple of weeks.) Note that there’s always an exception to this rule. This year, it’s the National League West division, which has exactly one team over .500. The distance between top and bottom is 8.5 games, which means that even San Diego, currently at .438 can’t be totally counted out (odds makers have their chances of winning the division at 15 to 2, though their chances of making it through the playoffs to the World Series are currently at 40 to 1).

Hope? Seriously?

Yup. Isn’t that what religion is all about when you come right down to it? Hope for a better tomorrow/next life/afterlife?

Here’s how it works, using a randomly-selected* team:

The Mariners are currently hoping for respectability this season (a .500 record) and a realistic prospect for making the playoffs next year. The last (mumble) years have been marked by a significant lack of hitting; this past off-season’s acquisitions were intended largely to beef up the bats. For the first half of the year the new bats, mostly swung by older veterans, helped some but the effects were swamped by injuries and highly inconsistent pitching. On the other hand, in the past couple of weeks the rest of the team’s bats have been heating up. Some of those bats are being swung by rookies brought up earlier than planned to cover for injuries, others by younger veterans who had been expected to start hitting last year or the year before. And then there’s Raul Ibanez, one of those older veteran bats brought in during the off-season. He’s making a serious run at the records for home runs hit by a player over 41 and 40 (yes, heathens, the true faithful really do track that kind of statistic). He’s currently at 24; with the records at 29 and 34 respectively, he’s got a damn good shot at them both.

So here’s where the hope kicks in: Rauuuuuuuul (as it’s spelled in Seattle) and the young bats will carry the team the rest of the way this year. They’ll build on the pre-All-Star Break sweep of the Angels by pounding the Astros and Twins (two of the three American League teams with worse records than the Mariners) and hold their own against the Indians. That would bring them to the end of July no worse than four games short of respectability, leaving them well-placed to go just over .500 for the last two month to make it to .500 on the year. Towards the end of the month, they trade Ibanez to a team that wants a clutch bat off the bench in exchange for a decent outfield prospect. Next year the top pitching prospects in the minors come up to the majors, and the team, now with a nice balance of offense and defense vault past the Angels (crippled with expensive, non-performing players) and As (whose ability to get top performance out of unknowns will surely fade eventually, so why not next year) and go head-to-head with Texas for the division title.

Clearly that’s greatly oversimplified, but it gives you an idea of how hope works at the bottom of the standings. And it works, too. Just look at this year’s Pirates, who have put 20 consecutive losing seasons behind them and are currently at .602 with 13 to 2 odds of making the World Series. If it can happen to them, it can happen to anyone, right?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to watch the Home Run Derby. It may not mean anything, but it’s hard to find better entertainment than the crew of kids (8 to 15 years old) trying to catch the balls that don’t make it over the fence while not getting beaned.

* Not really random.