Combating the Trivialization of Christmas

We are way past the commercialization of Christmas. With Christmas merchandise in stores before Halloween and Christmas music playing 24 hours a day by the first of November and Christmas movie marathons running for weeks on end, we have reached the trivialization of Christmas, as Martha so eloquently put it during a recent conversation. I don’t think I’ve ever been as blasé about Christmas as I am this year. No, let me correct that: I’m more blasé about the Christmas season than ever, but more excited about the Christmas spirit than ever. People use that phrase, Christmas spirit without giving much thought as to its actual definition. To me, it’s much less about Christmas gifts and much more about Christmas gestures and those can be handed out on June 25th as easily as December 25th.

I have received many such gestures this past year. People have given me their time in interviews, have read my blog and my books, have laughed with me, danced with me, played catch with me. There is no qualitative difference whether those gestures said, “You matter for the rest of my life” or “You matter in this moment.” It’s not “one size fits all”; it’s more like “all sizes fit one.” I am so grateful to have been that one so often.

It really is the thought that counts; the thought and the laughing, hugging, playing, listening. Every morning, we should rise and fill our sleighs with that stuff and hand them out where needed. Which is everywhere. We all want to know that we matter, even if it is just for the moment. After all, Life is but a series of moments. Thanks to the many of you who have made so many of my moments in 2014 feel like Christmas.

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Safe at Home for Christmas

I can’t imagine that anything would put you in the proper Christmas spirit more than purchasing the books of a writer struggling to gain a foothold in the hearts and minds of his fellow citizens of the world. That’s why you should think about giving my books to everyone you know this Christmas. Make that EVERYONE!

In all seriousness, I do have a deal for you and it comes with a very heartwarming story. Safe at Home CoverFINALMr. Allyn Gibson recently wrote a review of Safe at Home: A Season in the Valley on his blog after purchasing the e-version through Smashwords. It was a very positive review, but one of Allyn’s criticisms was the formatting of the ebook. (Some writer who knows nothing about computer codes and formatting did that. . . .) We began an email correspondence and in very short order, Allyn offered to reformat the ebook. Explaining that he loved “puzzles” and to “tinker” with such computer problems, he had at it.

The result is nothing short of fantastic, most notably in Allyn’s integration of full color photos. Even if you have a hard copy, the ebook version is worth having, just for this feature. (These photos appear in black and white in the softcover version.) If you already have an e-version you can go back to Smashwords and re-download your file of choice. If you don’t, you can purchase a copy for only $2.99. Just click on “Book Information” at the top of this page.

Thank you, Allyn! You’re a Santa Claus for Safe at Home fans.

Now, here’s some more good news: Don’t forget that you can download Their Glorious Summer a must read, especially for Valley Baseball League fans for free! Make that FOR FREE! It’s been downloaded 865 times as of this writing and it would be rewarding to say that it reached 1,000 people.

Merry Christmas!

And buy my books! (The management of this blog apologizes for that last bit of Christmas commercialization.)

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Feast Your Ears on This

Here’s an interesting trivia question with which to entertain your holiday guests: Which musical act placed more songs (46) in Billboard’s Top Ten than either Elvis or the Beatles? The act also appeared in more Hollywood movies (17) than any other music group. The answer, as you have gathered if you peaked at the video below, is the Andrews Sisters. I don’t know about you, but that information truly surprises me, though perhaps it shouldn’t.

There is a wide-spread notion that America’s youth culture began in July of 1954 when “Rock Around the Clock” topped the charts and began the rock ‘n’ roll era, but this just isn’t so. The first “superstar” to use the post-War vernacular was Benny Goodman who played to sold out concerts where “the kids” (who would be in their 80s and 90s now) were dancing in the aisles. Girls were screaming over Frank Sinatra 15 years before their daughters swooned over Elvis Presley. Swing created rock stars before there was rock. In the middle of it all were the Andrews Sisters. Patty, Maxene, and LaVerne enjoyed their first hit in 1937 with “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen” which was the B side of record at a time when the teenagers were being paid $50.00 per recording session. (Not apiece; $50.00 to be split three ways.) In fact, the song was recorded November 24, 1937—77 years ago yesterday.

It’s remarkable that 73 years after its debut, even many youngsters know the song “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” which is their most famous hit, although “Rum and Coca-Cola” was their biggest seller. Indeed, dress three women in ‘40s style, direct them to sing in harmony, and everybody thinks “Andrews Sisters,” and that would be the case even if they were singing “Inna Godda Davida.”

Their distinctive harmony is still influencing singers even now. The tight harmonies of the Puppini Sisters as well as their name (the girls are not actually sisters) are a tribute to the Andrews Sisters. Also, witness Christina Aguilera’s 2006 song, “Candyman” which Aguilera and co-writer Linda Perry stated was a tribute to “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” While “Candyman’s” lyrics are suggestive (well, more like direct) they are perhaps no more so than “Rum and Coca-Cola,” a 1944 #1 hit for the Sisters that spoke of local women prostituting themselves to American servicemen (“Both mother and daughter/Working for the Yankee dollar”). Maxene told big band authority Fred Hall in a 1986 interview that the girls had no idea what the song even meant.

Indeed, the Andrews Sisters’ pleasant harmony and song selections evoke a more innocent time even as the horrors of World War II were unfolding. When the last surviving sister, Patty, died in July 2013, an era had truly passed. I hope that at some point during the upcoming holidays, when you’ve had your fill of football or you’ve heard “Run, Run Rudolph” for the 1,289th time, that you’ll click on some of the links contained herein and return to the boogie woogie world of the Andrews Sisters.

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Look Like Boots Poffenberger From the Ears Up

I’m excited to tell all those Boots P0ffenberger fans out there, especially those in Williamsport, that a reproduction 1940s Nashville Vols hat is now available for sale. My friend Skip Nipper, who runs a website about Sulphur Dell, the ballpark that once stood in Nashville and in which Boots played, is offering both flex-fit and fitted caps (as well as a variety of other souvenirs.) Go to the store page and check it out. I have a flex fit cap which is well made and comfortable. Skip’s prices are more than compatible with anything you’d find in a brick and mortar store for the same quality.

Nashville is building a new ballpark on the old Sulphur Dell site, which I believe is scheduled to open for the 2016 season. Boots fans who travel to Nashville then should be sure to stop by for a visit. Of course, you can always visit Skip’s website for a virtual visit to the old ballpark. His site was very helpful when I was researching Boots’ time in Nashville in 1940 and part of 1941 for Boots Poffenberger: Hurler, Hero, Hell-Raiser.

Remember that Christmas is coming. I can’t think of anything better to get your baseball-lovin’ loved one than a book and a hat!

Boots in his Nashville Vols hat . . .

Boots in his Nashville Vols hat . . .

Me, in my Nashville Vols hat.

Me, in my Nashville Vols hat.

The reason Boots is holding a sprayer!

The reason Boots is holding a sprayer!

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The Earliest Predictions You’ll See Anywhere!

With the Giants defeating the Royals in the 2014 World Series thanks to the historic efforts of Madison Bumgarner, all teams will now turn their attention to 2015 and so will I by offering the earliest predictions for the upcoming season that you will see anywhere. Being this early makes them pointless, but it does make them first.

Kansas City should win the AL Central as they are a team on the rise and the Tigers are a team on the decline, especially with the potential loss of Max Scherzer, and Miguel Cabrera’s more-serious-than-expected foot injury.

The Dodgers had the clear edge in the NL West last year, but they have some things to fix over the winter (i.e. shortstop) and the Giants are a team on the rise. Too close to call right now.

The Orioles and Nationals should repeat in their divisions. The Red Sox restocked with some excellent trades this year, and with money to spend on free agents, they could pose a problem. The Mets, while on the rise, aren’t on the Nationals’ level yet.

The AL West is a total toss up. Oakland, Los Angeles, and Seattle are all in the mix and neither Texas nor Houston will be as bad as they were this year.

Look for the Pirates to take the NL Central. It’s dangerous picking against the Cardinals, but I think St. Louis is on a down turn. Some fools will pick the Cubs to go from worst to first. They will be wrong, but before April gets here, everyone outside of Chicago will be sick of hearing how they are a good young team on the rise. Even though they are.

Okay, these are half predictions and half observations and if I get them half right, I will be wholly happy!

APPEARANCE NOTE: I will be discussing Boots Poffenberger: Hurler, Hero, Hell-Raiser with the Baltimore/Washington SABR chapter this Saturday at 9:00 a.m. at Brighton Gardens, 7110 Minstrel Way, Columbia, MD. It’s free and open to the public, so if you can make it, come on out!

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Orioles Lose; Royals Disappoint

Wow! The Kansas City Royals are on one of the greatest post-season runs ever, and maybe the greatest ever. Playing flawless baseball, they swept the Orioles in four straight. Let there be no mistake: It’s not that the Orioles kicked the ball around and lost, it’s that KC played flawlessly and won, which really is an even more impressive feat.

What was not impressive was the juvenile manner in which the Royals handled their success. Such behavior crystallized for me when in Game 3, Eric Hosmer, broke his bat in the first inning, scoring two runs, taking second on the throw home. After sliding in, he promptly got up and patted himself on the back. There was Jeremy Guthrie’s tee-shirt and Jarrod Dyson’s stream of cocky comments. Fortunately, for Dyson especially, not Early Wynn, Don Drysdale, nor Bob Gibson pitched for the Birds, or Dyson’s ankles would have had bull’s-eyes on them whenever he came to bat. To the Orioles credit, they didn’t gripe about a lack of breaks and they didn’t drill anyone. The only way to respond was to win and since they didn’t, they kept their mouths shut and took it like men. That would be a good example for Kansas City to follow just in case things go badly against San Francisco. After all, the Giants are on an impressive run themselves.

MASN columnist, Roch Kubatko, rightly pointed out that the Royals went from the easiest team to root for to the most difficult. Read his excellent column here.

My Bird Lovers World Series prediction flew south for the winter. Instead, we have a match up of wild card winners. Did anyone out there predict THAT one?! I believe it’s a first, but my pick is the Giants for a couple of reasons. KC has a slightly longer layoff, but they have home field advantage which counts for a little bit. The Giants, however, have Bruce Bochy who will most likely out-maneuver Ned Yost, but who at least had the good sense to stay out of his players’ way against the Orioles. (Although even then, a couple of moves he made were more than questionable, but they happened to work.) And mixing a bit of probability with superstition, it’s in the Giants favor that they’ve already lost two games along the way. They are not on one of those streaks as are the Royals that makes you start to think, “Uh-oh; this has to end some time!”

Two teams, both on a cosmic-sized roll. As has been amply demonstrated, anything can happen and it probably will.

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Bird Lovers World Series

My Divisional Series predictions did about as well as Detroit’s bullpen or Washington’s offense, but since the one I did get right was the Orioles, I’m happy. At this point, I’m predicting a bird lover’s World Series and here’s why:

Baltimore versus Kansas City Both teams are coming off sweeps and both divisional series were closer than first appears. The Royals were taken to extra innings in the first two games by the Angels, while the Tigers lost by only a run in Game 3 and had an 8th inning lead in Game 2. Despite the sweep, Kansas City put up some truly anemic numbers against Los Angeles, batting just .198 with a .275 on-base percentage (OBP) against a struggling Angels’ staff. They managed to win by posting a stellar 1.74 ERA.

The Orioles, on the other hand, batted .263 with a .330 OBP against three Cy Young Award winners (and a horrendous Tiger bullpen.) For the season, the Orioles’ team OBP was .311, but the Royals were only three points higher. Meanwhile, KC’s .376 slugging percentage was 48 points below the Orioles’ .422.

These numbers suggest that Baltimore is actually the hotter club right now and possesses a better offense overall. They also possess a healthy and productive pitching staff unlike the one the Royals just faced. The Birds have home field advantage, and since both teams are built for their respective parks, this gives an edge to the Orioles. Furthermore, Buck Showalter should be the Manager of the Year, while Ned Yost consistently employs strategies that make you go, “What?”

Key to the Series If Baltimore can get early leads and negate the impact of KC’s excellent bullpen, then the Royals offense can play for one run at a time all they want. As Earl Weaver used to say, when you play for one run, most of the time that’s all you’ll get.

Prediction: Orioles

Bonus Predictions: At least one announcer will use the phrase “small ball” 142 times before the first four innings of Game 1 are over, singing the praises of the bunt and the hit and run, both of which should have been abandoned as serious strategy in 1920. The Royals do those things because they have to; they would gladly trade their stolen bases for the Orioles home runs.

You’ll also hear some know-nothing blabber on about Camden Yards being a hitters’ paradise. It is not. According to baseball-reference.com OPACY actually favors the pitchers by a very slight margin. You can look it up. Here.

San Francisco versus St. Louis It seems foolish to pick against these two teams; no matter their faults and flaws they manage to get where they need to be. The Giants and Cardinals have passed the National League pennant back and forth since 2010. Neither team pounded the ball with the exception of the ten runs that the Cardinals put up in Game 1 against the Dodgers. In fact, you could dress up as the Giants offense for Halloween because their series .275 OBP and .278 slugging percentage are downright scary. Four games is no sample size at all, but I do think St. Louis has a better offense and since the pitching matches up pretty evenly and since the Cardinals have home field advantage, I’m going with the Cardinals.

Prediction: Cardinals

Bonus Prediction: Some announcer will talk about how exciting National League baseball is because of the double switch. No one, as in not a single person, comes to a game to watch a manager employ a strategy that any 13 year old with a Strat-o-matic table top baseball game can figure out. In fact, watching most pitchers wave a bat around while trying not to hurt themselves is far LESS exciting than watching Nelson Cruz swing the bat.

World Series Prediction: Orioles over the Cardinals. By the way, the New York Times picked these two teams to meet in the World Series before the season began.

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