Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Kentucky Derby Thud at Rosecroft Raceway
I'm not a big player of the horses, but I like to go the Rosecroft Raceway to bet on the Triple Crown races. For as close as it is to downtown DC (10 miles, maybe), once you get there, you are worlds away, which is a big part of the lure for me. (Also, gas is cheaper out there.) I tradionally get there well before the feature race of the day, place some bets for friends, and place a couple of bets for myself on the day's particular feature race, as well as anything else that might catch my eye. I return home in time to watch the race on TV, although now I have to do this after sneaking away from my dog, who seems to think the horses are in our living room and if he wiggles around, whining and barking, they'll play with him.

Things were different this year, though. For reasons that I still don't fully understand, the track had lost their Simulcast signal. Not "lost" in the way that you lose a radio station when you're driving in your car, but "lost" in the way that someone comes to your house and takes your car -- radio and all -- if you stop making payments. Rosecroft had protested this action, and, according to frequent announcments over the intercom, was making its case before a federal court, with the hope that things would be settled and people would be able to vote on the Derby.

I figured I'd wait things out for a while. I stopped by the bar, and got a canned Corona from the great bartender (named Rose!) who has been there for as long as I can remember, and still appears genuniely surprised when you give her a tip. I stopped by the snack bar for a chilli dog. I'm not big on chilli with beans, but they do it right here. Then I found the one TV, of hundreds, that had the hockey game on it, which I watched while I ate and drank and listened to people bitch about having lost their shot at financial independence.

I was at the track from roughly 2:00PM to 4:20PM. They said they'd have word from the court by 4:00PM, which was about the time that the frequent announcements on the intercom suddenly ended. I guessed that meant they lost. So I headed to my car, drove to Smoke Shack to pick up ribs, and went home. I looked at the whole episode as unfortunate, but one that would ultimately save me money, as I know it did for the people I was supposed to place bets for. But everyone else was certain that this was costing them the opportunity to make a big score. They were unhappy. I felt bad for people like Rose and the other workers at the track, who had probably been looking forward to one of their biggest days, and instead gotten their worst day. That's never fun.

Later during the weekend, I saw this on their website, so I guess you were eventually able to bet, although I'm not sure if I believe anything from such a poorly run outfit. I checked the website Friday evening, and there was no mention of the controversy, just marketing material about coming to join them to bet on the Kentucky Derby. Maybe a good way to make amends to the hundreds of people that journeyed out to beautiful Ft. Washington, MD, might be to update the website to show an apology or explanation. Instead, though, they've chosen to ignore the issue, showing the contempt for their customer which is ultimately going to doom this place. Which is a shame.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Self-Absorbed Chatter of the Year Award
I was reading Tom Boswell's Washington Post chat this afternoon and came across this gem:

Help Please! From Ashburn: Tom, I will be celebrating a good friend's 50th birthday tomorrow at Nationals Park. So I'll be recording the Caps game at home. Is there any way to let the Nationals staff know to PLEASE not give Caps updates on the board or over the loudspeaker during the game?? It will be much less fun if I know the final score (or even the winner or loser) before I watch the game.

Tom Boswell: I'll be interested to see how they handle this.

Even if I'm taping a game (and heaven knows I tape enough of them), I still want to know the score as it happens. I figure most people do. Besides, the roar (or groan) when the score goes up is a fun part of the game.

But maybe the Nats will respect your point of view. We'l see.

First, the Caps don't even play Friday, and there was never any discussion of it.  I heard Caps radio announcers get into it after the game Tuesday, when one suggested that the NHL had said that the Caps next series would start next Tuesday, and another one said that he was full of it.  Nobody ever said anything about Friday, though.  (I hope Mr. Ashburn set his Betamax for the wrong day.)

Second, what the hell?  I know that DC is full of pompous, thoughtless a-holes, but I never thought that a guy from Ashburn would suggest that a columnist should ask the executives of a MLB team to withhold information from a crowd of, hopefully, 30,000 people just so he can enjoy his 50-year old friends' birthday party.  

To quote Jeff Spicoli from the classic film,  Fast Times at Ridgemont High, "What a dick!"

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Sorry State of DC Sports Radio in the Morning
You would think that a city like Washington would have some good sports radio that you could listen to as you go to work. Or any localized sports radio at all.

Last night was a big night in DC, the Caps won a seventh game. I know that the sports station formerly known at WTEM (WESPNDCDANSNYDER or something now) doesn't have a morning show, they run the syndicated Mike and Mike show. Sometimes they'll run localized programming for special events, like evaluating the NFL draft. What's more important -- the latest batch of non-offensive lineman and liars that the Redskins draft, or the only good team in town winning a play-off series? I guess the draft, because when I tried 980 this morning, it was those two dolts, Mike and Mike.

I figured, maybe I'm wrong on Mike and Mike, so I thought I'd listen for a while. That lasted roughly two minutes, until I realized that their big story for the day was for Golic to have his back waxed, on the air. Not sure who the target market is there, but I switched stations as fast as my fingers could handle it.

The Junkies used to be the Sports Junkies, but they still sometimes talk about sports. They're on the Caps station, and seem to like hockey. So I thought I'd give them a try. They had some women in studio with them, I suspect future bikini contest women or Junkettes or whatever. Their presence inspired one Junkie to take his shirt off and another to take his shoes off, so that the girls could decide which was most disgusting, one's gut or the other's foot. The foot won in a landslide, evidently EB has hammertoe. I don't know what that is, and I again changed stations. And I still don't really get why people are supposed to be interested in good-looking women ON THE RADIO, but I guess it worked for Howard Stern.

At this point, I knew I wasn't going to come across any talk about the Caps greatness. So I went to XM 175, the baseball station. Up until this year, they had a morning show called Buck and the Big Chair. Buck was Buck Martinez, and the Big Chair was Mark Patrick. I never really understood the Big Chair nickname, but, nonetheless, it was an enjoyable and interesting show. They had great chemistry. Buck tends to blather sometimes and his Kermit the Frog-style voice takes some getting used to, but Patrick really brought out the best in him. Patrick was funny and quick, and their morning shows recapped previous night's games. They were great.

In November, though, Patrick evidently got canned. I went through the whole Internet this morning, and can't find any rationale for that or any sign of where he's resurfaced. But he's not on XM 175 anymore. His replacement, Scott Graham, a former Phillies announcer, has no sense of humor; he's cheerfully bland in that annoying Bob Carpenter style, which makes me wonder how he survived in Philly. There is no chemistry at all between Graham and Martinez, their broadcasts are filled with pauses and lulls and I picture them each on telephones in different cities, shaking their heads and rolling their eyes at each other. It is often painful to listen to, as it was this morning, when I gave up on morning sports radio, and listened to Only Life, by the Feelies, which is always great.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Esquire's Future May Be Short
The folks at The Big Lead directed me to this article the other day, which notes 12 major brands that could disappear, Circuit City-style, sometime soon. It's a pretty interesting list, it includes Borders (I've spent many a lunch-hour at the L St., N.W., branch, and still remember when it opened and will be sad if it closes), Saturn (I owned one three or four cars ago) and Crocs (nicely done, Mr. Cank).

It also includes Esquire, a magazine I've subscribed to for quite a while, that puzzles me more with each issue. It seems that at least every other issue is devoted to some kind of theme, like the All-American Issue or the Extremes of Men's Fashion Issue (I don't even know, or care, what that means). The May issue is themed How To Be a Man. The cover is the creation of some crazed art director -- there are head shots of George Clooney, Justin Timberlake and President Obama. These are on consecutive pages, each page has two perforations, which allows you to combine, say, Clooney's eyes with Timberlake's nose with the president's lips. Which would be fun, if you were, like, six years old.

Also, are there any men out there who really even care about Justin Timberlake? He's a guy who struck it rich by being in a boy band, and now he's a gazillionaire. The end. George Clooney, while probably a little closer to the demographic of the magazine's readers, is still kind of a stretch. I've been a guy my whole life, and I don't care about George Clooney, and I've never had a conversation with any other guy about him. I know my sister liked him when he was in ER, that's fine. He makes some decent movies, and he seems like a nice enough guy. He cares about Darfur and the environment, that's cool. But I don't know any guy who's going to purchase a magazine because he's on the cover, and he certainly doesn't define manhood. That's silly.

Once you get in the magazine, they actually provide you with instructions on How To Be a Man: how to parallel park, how to make eggs, how to change a tire. Who doesn't know how to do these things? Tom Chiarella writes a ridiculous paragraph on how to bet the horses -- basically pick a horse and bet $20 on it to win, and then bet an exacta. Gee, thanks, that's brilliant. We're told that a good way to get a bartender's attention is to tip well. Ya think?

Stuff like this makes me wonder who Esquire is aimed at. I suspect that it's the crazed art director and a few of his friends. Another brilliant idea they came up with is the Sexiest Woman Alive, where they show a different body part of a woman each issue for some period of time and then they assemble all the body parts and we find that there's been a six month build-up to Halle Berry winning the honor. That's stunning news, I know, the tension was difficult to handle.

The sad thing about this is that, amidst the crap, there's a decent magazine. The May issue included articles about Todd Palin and Todd Marinovich (maybe it should have been The Todd Issue) that were both interesting reading. If you can find them, there are often good tips about music, books and, uh, booze.

Esquire's demise is predicted due, of course, to falling ad revenues. That's not too surprising. While there are ads for cars and beer and tequila, there are also those smelly ads for cologne, as well as high-end watches, cigars, clothing that you might be able to fit into if you're 16, and other crap. Stuff no real guys care about. All these products were initially geared to the super rich, then when our culture started crumbling and people that weren't wealthy thought they should at least act like they were wealthy, they'd max out their credit cards to pay for $9000 watches. Then they couldn't pay their credit card bills or their mortgages, and they stopped making these stupid purchases, and couldn't even afford to make more sensible purchases, so now the economy is screwed and the companies that make $9000 watches find out that they have to cut their advertising budget. And a formerly good magazine bites the dust. And Justin Timberlake and George Clooney are doing just fine.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Marley and Me and Family Guy
Not to get all Marley and Me-ish, but my dog Willie and I have recently finished our first shot at obedience training. Willie is a very high-spirited young dog, so I wasn't quite sure how this was going to work.

It turned out he was either great at things (the name game, getting in a down position, running pell-mell across the training room when I called him) or just really not interested (everything else). The first thing you learn at such training is that it's all based on food rewards. About 45 minutes into the hour-long sessions, Willie's attention span would be shot, and he'd be so full of treats that they had no appeal whatsoever to him, and I'd start to be feeling a little nauseous myself from walking around with pockets full of chopped up hot dogs and dehydrated liver. My main goal was to keep both of us from throwing up before we left the class.

At obedience training graduation, we were to have our dogs do a trick. I set my goal for this low, unlike some better-trained pups that I am aware of. We would do a "gimme five," a "gimme ten," and hit the graduation parties. We worked on it for a couple of weeks. Willie caught on fast, and seemed to remember it from one time to the next. I hadn't felt so good about a final exam in a while.

When it was time for our performance, Willie and I marched to the middle of the room, his tail wagging excitably at the attention of all of his classmates. You start out both "gimme five" and "gimme ten" from a sitting position. Which is a position that Willie would not get into at that particular moment. He was aware that I had treats, and he went through his whole repertoire of treat-earning moves. Except for "gimme five" and "gimme ten." He did this in a charming manner, though, so he still got a nice round of applause as we left the spotlight, with me mumbling about how great he did this when he was at home in our kitchen. The instructors found it in their hearts to let us both graduate, though.

Of course, as soon as we got home he gave me five AND ten until we both collapsed on the couch in exhaustion. We're on home study now, and we're working on some new tricks. I've made him watch this video time after time, so he truly will understand the magic of a high five. Eventually, I'll be in the Cleveland role, and Willie will be Peter.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Nats Begin Home Losing Streak
Yesterday was the Nats home opener, and, overall, kind of a strange day.

As we made our way to the stadium, we heard that legendary Phillies announcer and voice of NFL Films Harry Kalas died, as he was preparing for the game. After the game, I read that legendary pitcher and character Mark "Bird" Fidrych died during the day. I remember the days of Fidrych Fever; if you saw him pitch, you'd never forget him, he was the closest thing in baseball to a real-life Sid Finch.

The game was strange, too. Daniel Cabrera was on and off, and certainly not helped by his defense. Anderson Hernandez, who appears to the be latest in a long list of lousy second basemen for the Nats, didn't help by commiting two errors. Adam Dunn didn't field very well either, but that is to be expected.

The good news for the Nats, though, is that their offense appears much impoved. Guys in the heart of the order -- Zimmerman, Dunn, Dukes -- all have the ability to crush the ball, which they each displayed by homering yesterday. Nick Johnson hasn't done much yet, but he'll either warm up or get injured soon. Hopefully, he'll get heated. Christian Guzman is a singles machine. Unfortunately, yesterday he became the third Nat this year to hurt himself running to first base (along with Willie Harris, and Hernandez). Hopefully he'll be back soon.

There were a lot of home runs, a lot of errors, some actual good catches by Milledge and Dukes, a lot of hit batsman in a row (well, two, but you never really see that), and some questionable managing decisions by Manny Acta, who I expect to be fired any moment.

For me, though, the bottom line was that it was fun. The stadium was packed. I didn't notice a higher percentage of Phillies fans than at any other Phillies/Nats games. I actually was amused by the people that criticized Stan Kasten for inviting, last week, Phillies fans to the game. Kasten can't win. Anybody who's ever been to previous Nats/Phillies games, or Skins/Eagles games, or Caps/Flyers games knows that people in Philadelphia know how to get to Washington, and always make their presence known. Believe me, these folks had bought their tickets and made their plans long ago; I'd be surprised if even one person bought tickets because of Kasten's remarks.

Metro, unsurprisingly, let me down yesterday; we got to L'Enfant Plaza to make the transfer to the green line, and it didn't look like there were any more trains than on a usual weekday afternoon. So we caught a cab. There were long lines in some of the concessions, and I'm sure all of the city's great Nats fans have chimed in on that in various forums. But you could find shorter lines if you walked a little bit, or, you know, just try to go a few hours without eating junk food. Nats' management finally caught on to what every other stadium does, and gave their beer vendors bright yellow shirts so that they could be picked out in the crowd.

I'm not sure that it adds anything to the gameday experience to have two crappy bands playing in the stadium. Both played so loudly that you couldn't have a conversation if you were close to them, which resulted in the band by the Porch not having anyone within 30 feet of them. I guess that and the fact that at one point they were playing the theme from Cheers. (I think they were being ironic -- kids these days.) People standing in various food lines just kind of looked at them and looked at their watches, with a "Isn't it about time for them to break?," look in their eyes. I'd lean to bagging bands at the stadium altogether, although it would be awful cool if a band like the Nighthawks were playing as you walked into the stadium.

On the field, I think the Nats need to make some moves. They need to fire Acta, who doesn't even really seem like he'd mind. They need to do something with Lastings Milledge, I'm not sure that sending him to the minors is going to help his fielding. See if someone will take him in a trade, and hope he doesn't become the next Emilio Bonifacio. Get rid of Kearns. I was encouraged by the massive home run he hit last week, but he was back to his old self by Sunday, grounding into two double plays ("Kearnsies," as I like to call them). Put Dukes in center, give poor Josh Willingham a chance in right, and keep it that way for a while. Keep Willie Harris out of the infield. And see what happens.

I'm hoping that this stretch of poor pitching will end soon. Maybe call up Bergmann and Zimmermann and anybody else with two n's at the end of their name that seems like they may be able to help. Give them a shot, if they can't do the job, get someone else. I hear Nick Swisher may be available.

What I hope, is that at the end of the season, we'll be saying, "Well, it was a decent year, and it would have been even better if not for our poor start." But that will only happen if they win soon. Tomorrow would be nice.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Say It Ain't So, Wily Mo
The Nationals did everyone not related to him a favor by releasing punchless outfielder Wily Mo Pena yesterday. Wily Mo had surpisingly nice power numbers as a very young man in 2004 and 2005. By 2007, he was with the Nationals, and each day he was with the team the luster of his potential lessened until it was all gone, and it became worthwhile for the Nats to give him $2 million to get out and stay out -- not for nuthin' did his mama call him Wily. Add him to the list of Jim Bowden projects that are over with.

Everyone has their own special memories of Wily Mo, I know I sure do. Last May I was at a game, sitting pretty close to the Nationals' dugout, a few rows in front of a few drunkenly enthusiastic young ladies who were apparently pretty big Nationals fans, and were trying to get the attention of the players. Most of the players appeared not to notice, a couple gave a quick glance. They got Wily's full attention, though, as he spent a good part of several innings looking away from the field, in the direction of the ladies. Wily's success with these ladies was equal to his success on the field, though, as it soon became evident that the gals were asking him to get Ryan Zimmerman's attention for them. And he tried, but Zim professionally kept his eyes field-forward.

Good for Zim, bad for Wily, who never really seemed like he was in it for anything other than the money. And, he had hoped, the ladies.