Less Than Half Attention – Weekend Links

June 26, 2014

I have to admit I have been keeping only one eye (if that) on the Twins over the last couple of weeks. Most of my sports-watching attention has been focused on Brazil, where the U.S. Men’s National Team has advanced the the knockout round for the second straight Cup Finals.

Back in December, when the World Cup draw took place, I didn’t see much of a chance of Team U.S.A. advancing past the group stage. The draw included two of the top four teams in the world (according to FIFA rankings – Germany and Portugal), and the national team’s personal nemesis Ghana. It seemed as though things had to fall perfectly for the team to advance. While some things did go well for Team U.S.A. (Germany’s dismantling of Portugal, Portugal defeating Ghana), Klinsmann’s side largely made its own luck on the field.

The squad will be back at it on Tuesday, against a Belgium team that is no better than the teams they have already seen in the group stage. Who knows, if some things go right, this team may have a run in the knockout stage. As it stands, this has been a successful tournament for the USMNT.

The rest of the World Cup has been something to watch, particularly the first two rounds of the group stage. It has been largely wide open with lots of goals. Luis Suarez notwithstanding, there has been less dirty play, less flopping, and more of what makes the game so enjoyable. In addition to the United States, two other CONCACAF have advanced, including surprising Costa Rica who won a group that included England, Italy, and Uruguay and Mexico who drew the hosts.

Baseball players follow the World Cup too.

Aside from last weekend’s sweep of the White Sox, there hasn’t been a lot of good going on with the Twins lately. Now Aaron Hicks, who is a switch-hitter again, has been demoted to Double-A.

One good thing: Brian Dozier.

Additionally, the Futures Game during All Star Week will feature three top Twins prospects.

I caught the last inning of Lincecum’s no-hitter. Even better, though, was listening to the entirety of the replay of Clayton Kershaw’s no-no called by Vin Scully. Here’s hoping it’s not Scully’s last no hitter.

 

 

 


Context

May 29, 2014

A couple of years ago took the StrengthsFinder assessment with a church group. One of the five strengths on my profile was “Context.” From the website:

People strong in the Context theme enjoy thinking about the past. They understand the present by researching its history.

This probably isn’t a shock to anyone who knows me well, and it’s certainly not news to regular readers of this blog.

Those regulars (the ones who have returned anyways) also know that posting here had been sporadic to non-existent for about three years until I started researching and writing again a few months ago.

In 2010 I was a married father of two, a toddler and a baby. I had a job I liked at a junior high close to my house. I was posting just about daily here, and the AL Central Champion Twins had just opened a new ballpark.

Like the Twins, I hit a funk shortly after that. I didn’t see it coming. Now I am a divorced father of two; a 1st grader and a pre-school-but-ready-for-Kindergarten-er. I have a different job at a different school, and the Twins just might have a fighting chance of ending the season close to the .500 mark for the first time since 2010.

The road in between there and here has been a rough. I stopped posting here. I stopped doing a lot of things I enjoyed. One of my biggest regrets over these years is that I lost track of my sense of history, and, for a moment, lost track of who I was.

Friends and family suggested that maybe continuing to write would be good for me. The problem was, I didn’t want to. How can someone spend so much time writing about something as trivial as baseball?

Here’s where this gets relevant for this blog (I try to stay on topic…): this stuff may well be trivial. Looking through old box scores from random dates in Twins history might prove to be a colossal waste of time. I think there’s more to it than that, though. Digging through old newspapers is something I enjoy doing. Comparing today’s Twins to teams of the past is something I do anyways, here is a place I can publish my thoughts. Its great that people read it – the fact that there is any kind of an audience amazes me, but even if there wasn’t I would still write. I find a lot of allegory in the stories of the people who have been involved with this franchise – look at the fall of Kirby Puckett, or the perseverance of Sam Rice, or the excellence of Walter Johnson in 1913.

Baseball and its history is among the beautiful things God put into this world, along with morning runs, jambalaya, the strange and wonderful half-baked community at WGOM, and Lydia Loveless playing at set at the 7th Street Entry. I started this blog back in 2005 as a way to vent when the White Sox went to the World Series. I got caught up in the amazing 2006 season here, and relived 1987 and 1991. I have gotten into it with a few people about the Washington Nationals nickname, and who the Washington portion of the history of this franchise belongs to. This summer I will likely finish the year-by-year write ups. I want to do more player biographies, take a closer look at a few of the less well known players and seasons from the last 114 years. I might try to do some more interviews with former players. I may try my hand at more music reviews, or publish more personal essays. Sometime I’m going to make good on my intention to spruce up the appearance of my little corner of the internet. Whatever the project, I know that I am going to keep writing as long as I feel like I have something to say, as long as it is something that I enjoy doing.

In the end its a relief to know that the past three years are behind me. I have been impacted by some of the uglier things in the world, but I wouldn’t trade it because at the worst times, I saw people at their best: family, friends; especially my two boys. For them, context is also important. Not just because I think they have inherited this trait from me*, but this shared experience is going to be a part of who they are. It’s part of their story too. I have learned that they are fighters, and I have learned a lot from watching them deal with adversity. I couldn’t be more proud of them.

*I see it clearly in the oldest as he asks question after question about the Revolutionary War.

It’s probably just a coincidence that the Twins have lost 90+ games each of the last three years. It’s also probably a coincidence that they are exciting to follow for the first time in a long time, and that the hope for a return to the form of the first six years of Ron Gardenhire’s tenure as manager seems closer than it has in a long time. It’s a coincidence, but it seems right in context.

 

 

 

 

 


Favorite Drive-By Truckers Albums

March 24, 2014

DBT is playing at First Ave next week. As a countdown to the show, I offer my five favorite albums. I am not a music critic, so these are just based on my preferences.

5.The Fine Print (A Collection of Oddities and Rarities)
This may be the spot for their new offering English Oceans, but I think I need to listen to it more before I am sure where exactly it fits. The 2009 release TFP is a collection of previously unreleased tracks. It lacks the flow of most of their albums, but I really like the good stuff. There are some really good covers on this album, including my favorite track “Mama Bake a Pie (Daddy Kill a Chicken)” and a  cover of Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” that a lot of people don’t like but I think is enjoyable.

4.Brighter Than Creation’s Dark
There is a lot on this 2008 album. It’s all very good, but there don’t seem to be the standout tracks that are in the top three albums. Highlights for me are “I’m Sorry Huston” (love Shonna Tucker’s lead vocals), “Bob” (“Robert ain’t exactly scared of women, he’s just got his own way of living”), and “The Righteous Path.”

3. The Dirty South
TDS

There is, I think, a significant gap between #4 and #3. I also generally find the top three interchangeable in order, so this list is a little fluid in my mind. The top three, though they were consecutive releases, each has a distinct feel. TDS highlights the alt-country side of the Truckers. The album has some good rockin’ tracks like “Where the Devil Don’t Stay” and “Lookout Mountain,” but the real strength to me is the story telling in tracks like “Tornadoes” and “The Sands of Iwo Jima.” Bonus for having the best cover art.

2. Decoration Day
So many good tracks, it’s hard to choose. 2003’s Decoration Day includes the best of Jason Isbell’s brief run with the Truckers (“Outfit” and “Decoration Day”), Mike Cooley at his song-writing best (“Marry Me”), and Patterson Hood doing what he does (“My Sweet Annette” and “(Something’s Got To) Give Pretty Soon”). Topics covered on this album include marriage, divorce, suicide, and incest. There isn’t a bad track on the album, and its the one I listen to when I’m feeling the most country.

1. Southern Rock Opera
SRO
A double album released in 2001, Southern Rock Opera combines the real-life story of Lynyrd Skynyrd with a fictional southern-flavored coming-of-age story based in the late 70’s. I knew the concept before I listened to the album and was skeptical, but it works. The three-guitar sound works perfectly throughout, and the ongoing theme of the duality of “The Southern Thing” is a history lesson on all things from a southern perspective, spanning historically from Hood’s great-great-grandad who was wounded at Shiloh to George Wallace’s death (sung by the devil welcoming Wallace to hell in “Wallace”). Other highlights include “Ronnie and Neil” – an attempt to offer some perspective on the “rivalry” between Ronnie Van Zandt and Neil Young; “72 (This Highway’s Mean)” – a beautifully depressing country song; “Life in the Factory” – a bio of Lynyrd Skynryd with just the perfect guitar riff for it; “Shut Up and Get on the Plane” – the best of a trilogy of songs about the plane crash that killed Van Zandt; and my favorite DBT track “Zip City” – the perfect combination of guitar solos and lyrics that captures the teenage mind:

I got 350 heads on a 305 engine
I get ten miles to the gallon
I ain’t got no good intentions