Now, I Need Free Help!

This is one of those “audience participation” entries in which you help determine a potential project of mine. I’m thinking about putting together the best “hour” of my Five Minute Fiction For Free series, which is to say, putting my 12 most popular stories into book form. So, my first question is, which story or stories did you enjoy the most? I’ve published 21 of them on this blog and it seems pointless for me to list them, not when you can move the mouse over to the right and down to Categories and then click on “Five Minute Fiction For Free.” In fact, that way, you can re-read any that you so desire and of course, that won’t take long! By all means leave comments. In fact, if there is a story (or stories) that you didn’t like or just felt weren’t that strong, let me know that, too. You are welcome to contact me personally as well.

Ironically, I can’t do this for free; I’d need to sell around 100 copies at about $3.00 each. Therefore, I need to honestly know if you would buy such a slender volume at that price. When I say “slender” I’m talking perhaps 50 pages. No or even No! are not bad answers. What would be bad is to receive a bunch of Yesses, order 100 books, and have 99 in my garage.

It is not always easy to mesh creativity with reality and your input will help a great deal.

As a thank you, here’s my favorite scene from The Three Stooges Movie:

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Seems Like Old Times

“Seems Like Old Times” is a 1946 hit song recorded by Vaughn Monroe. It is also the title of a syndicated radio show produced and hosted by a friend of mine, Craig Orndorff. Each week for two hours, Craig counts down the hits from the same week in a given year. The shows encompass the years from the 1930s to the 1960s and also highlights performers and themes. In addition, you’ll hear headlines, commercials, and entertainment news from the featured year..

Craig, who also does play-by-play for the Woodstock River Bandits baseball team, is happy to take requests, and honored mine on his February 21st show when he featured Ella Mae Morse, a big band/rhythm and blues/rockabilly singer from the 1940s and ’50s.

I’m sure that many of my readers will enjoy listening to Seems Like Old Times. The show airs at 7:00 p.m. on Sundays here in Hagerstown on WJEJ AM1240. If the show is not on a radio station in your area, you can still listen by going to the show’s website. Click here and you’ll be taken to the home page. Go to the “Listen Now” tab, pick a program, and enjoy time traveling to a different era.

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2015 MLB Predictions

We’ve endured our second consecutive cold, gray winter here in the Mid-Atlantic area, but we are only five days away from the best day of the year: Opening Day! I’ll be giving my predictions for the 2015 baseball season on Gordy’s Sports World, ESPN1380, and has become my custom, I’m committing them to paper. Well, “to screen” as the case may be.

National League

East

Washington—Best starting rotation in baseball and a solid offense. The big question for the Nats is can they stay healthy?

Miami—Up and coming team with an improved offense.

New York—Losing Zach Wheeler to elbow surgery hurts their playoff chances, but the Mets are trending upward as well.

Atlanta—Made some puzzling moves in the off-season. The Braves don’t have the young talent of the Marlins or Mets or the “old” talent of the Nationals. Still, they’ll be kept out of last place by . . .

Philadelphia—Whatever moves the Phillies make, such as trading Cole Hamels, will be too late for this year. Or next. Or 2017.

Central

Pittsburgh—Most balanced team in the division with a very exciting offense.

St. Louis—This team is always more than the sum of its parts.

Chicago—Another up and coming team. I’ll take talent over experience, but 1) experience does count for something and 2) much of the Cubs’ talent is still unproven at the major league level

Cincinnati—Not enough pitching and too many holes in the lineup.

Milwaukee—Their 2014 collapse carries over and carries them all the way to the cellar. They may have enough to overtake the Reds.

West

Los Angeles—Howie Kendrick is a solid addition and will help fill the offensive hole left by Matt Kemp’s departure. As long as Kershaw and Greinke stay healthy, the Dodgers should have enough.

San Diego—Padres engaged in an exciting overhaul, at least in the outfield. Quick: Name their starting shortstop. I can’t either.

San Francisco—Somehow, they manage to win the World Series every other year. This is the other every other year, however, and with that offense, I still don’t know how they got as far as they did last year.

Colorado—They’ve got some talent, but pitching is always an issue for the Rockies.

Arizona—This team just doesn’t seem to fit together. As with Atlanta, the Diamondbacks are trying to stave off disaster by mixing in one great player with a few decent prospects and a lot of mediocrity. That’s almost always the formula for disaster.

American League

East

Baltimore—Best defense in baseball, power bats, and vastly underrated starting pitching. The modern game is won with the entire 40-man roster and none is deeper, especially pitching-wise than the Orioles; and no one knows how to juggle a roster throughout the season like Buck Showalter.

Boston—Much improved over last year, which wouldn’t be hard. Pablo Sandoval is a bally-hooed move, but if Manny Machado returns to his 2013 form, Sandoval will only be the fourth best third baseman in the division. Not quite the pitching depth to overtake the Orioles. If the Red Sox get Cole Hamels before June, then look out.

Toronto—They could win the division, but the injury to Marcus Stroman hurts their chances and they don’t have the depth of Boston or Baltimore.

New York—Every game is old-timers day at Yankee Stadium! It wouldn’t surprise me if the Yanks were in or near first at the end of May and at or near last by the beginning of September.

Tampa Bay—Even without David Price, the Rays still have good pitching, but they just won’t hit enough to escape last place unless the Yankees’ summer collapse is complete.

Central

Detroit—It is easy to think that the Tigers regressed, but they have the top three starters in the division. Martinez, Cabrera, Martinez, and Cespedes is not a Latin law firm, but may be the best middle of the order in baseball.

Cleveland—Corey Kluber and a much improved team led by Terry Francona takes the Tribe near the top.

Chicago—Another improved club. The Sox could give the Indians and even Detroit a run for its money.

Kansas City—Will the Royals young talent continue to improve or is regression in store? Their lineup isn’t as good as Detroit’s. Ned Yost will have no cure for the World Series hangover. Many other pundits seem to agree.

Minnesota—Unless new manager Paul Molitor can put himself in the lineup and hit the way he did 30 years ago and the Twins bring back Frank Viola and Mudcat Grant, they will remain in the cellar.

West

Seattle—Nelson Cruz will make a nice addition hitting behind Robbie Cano. The Mariners have the pitching and their young players are ready to step up.

Los Angeles—Solid team even without Josh Hamilton (who’s contributed very little anyway), but not enough to hold off the Mariners.

Oakland—Like St. Louis, the A’s always seem to amount to more than the sum of their parts. I just don’t like their parts this year.

Houston—On the way up. Finally. The Astros have assembled some good young talent.

Texas—How the mighty have fallen. Injuries killed them last year, but the Rangers haven’t done much to improve. Yu Darvish is out for the year with a bad elbow injury, so it will be awhile before Texas is back in the saddle.

National League Wild Card

The Cardinals for sure which will leave the Padres, Cubs, and Marlins slugging it out for the second spot. Gioncarlo Stanton hits a walk-off homer on the last day of the season to propel Miami into the Wild Card game. Here’s a good reason to take Miami: They play the Phillies and Braves 36 times.

American League Wild Card

The Red Sox and Indians both clinch their respective spots with one week to go and no one will care what happens on the last day of the American League season.

Check back at the end of September and we’ll see how I did!

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Things That Make You Go “Huh?”

There are an increasing number of things in this world that I just do not understand. Take for instance one recent morning when I was scanning Hagerstown’s Herald-Mail and came across this headline: Fire does $25K damage to Smithsburg goat shed.goat shed0003I don’t understand how it’s possible to do $25,000 worth of damage to a “shed” of any kind. Perhaps, the goats who lived in that shed are among the more affluent goats in the greater Four-State area. Had the headline indicated that there was $25.00 worth of damage to the goat shed, then I wouldn’t have had a second thought.  The article actually states that the building itself, which sustained $20,000 in damage “was not a total loss.” I would have thought that $20,000 in damage would have wiped out every goat shed in Washington County. The article also notes that there was $5,000 worth of damage to the “contents” of the shed and that does seem reasonable. I mean, if you’re a goat and your shed is worth upwards of $20,000, then you’re not going to furnish it with end tables from Wal Mart.

The night before I read about the goats, I was in the living room when our daughter Sarah began watching a show called Catfish. I thought that it was nice that Sarah took an interest in the great outdoors, except the show wasn’t about fishing. It’s about these guys named Nev and Max who go around helping “people who are emotionally entangled with someone they have never met in real life,” according to Wikipedia. This is as incomprehensible to me as a $25,000 goat shed. Apparently, however, and again, according to Wikipedia, a “catfish” is “a person who creates fake personal profiles on social media sites using someone else’s pictures and false biographical information to pretend to be someone other than” himself or herself. I can understand that. If I spent $25,000 on a goat shed, for example, I wouldn’t want people to know who I really was. I wondered at which demographic this show was aimed and then on came a commercial for DeVry University followed by one for The General Insurance.  Apparently, the show’s demographic consists of people who have time enough to create fake Facebook profiles because they are neither working nor could they get to a job if they had one because they have no car insurance.

Finally, there was this sign that I spotted in the drive-thru at McDonald’s: 20150214_000928

I was under the impression that both sight and the ability to read were prerequisites for obtaining a driver’s license, but perhaps not. And if these menus are for passengers, are you telling me that the driver, whom we’ll assume can both see and read, is so mean that he won’t read the menu to his blind or illiterate friend? I am tempted to drive through one night and explain that my passenger is both blind AND illiterate and that he needs the braille picture menu just to see what the response would be.

I have a Facebook friend who I bet would don sunglasses and participate in the joke.  Of course, this friend is a goat. At least, I guess he’s a goat. I’ve never actually met him.

goat in sunglasses

A goat in sunglasses. Or maybe it’s a catfish.

 

 

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Fun & Sun in Florida

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McKechnie Field (with some big head in a white hat)

We experienced great weather on our recent trip to Florida: record warmth and widely scattered barbecue. Our day at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland was fun-filled despite the fact that the Orioles lost to the Tigers 15-2. From there, we traveled to Bradenton on the Gulf Coast and saw the Blue Jays beat the Pirates, 4-1 at the latter’s home ballpark, McKechnie Field. McKechnie has been refurbished since Al and I first visited in 2012 (when we also saw the Pirates and Blue Jays play and on the same date. It was déjà vu all over again, as Yogi Berra would say.) A boardwalk has been added above the outfield fence providing a marvelous place to hang out on a sun-splashed day. As you can see from the photo below, you can also look right down into the Pirates’ bullpen.

Gerrit Cole warms up before his start against the Blue Jays.

Gerrit Cole warms up before his start against the Blue Jays.

We did not make it to Gainesville to see the University of Florida play. It was drizzling and down to 48 degrees by game time and we opted to stay home. Of course, the Gators were hosting the University of Maine Black Bears who no doubt thought that playing in 48 degree weather was tantamount to playing in paradise. It’s definitely all in your perspective. We arrived home on Sunday when the temperature was approaching 50 degrees and our neighbor was out in shorts and bare feet. In Florida, everyone wears a winter coat when the thermometer nears 50.

Amazingly, it only took an hour and 40 minutes from take-off at Orlando-Sanford to landing in Hagerstown. I knew we were close to home when I could look out the window and see the Seven Bends of the Shenandoah River. It might not seem like it, but this view will be all green, too, soon enough. Well, not “soon enough,” but soon.

18 7 Bends

Seven Bends of the Shenandoah

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Tidbits

After titling this entry, I got to wondering about the origin of the word, tidbit. It’s not that old, relatively speaking, dating to circa 1635 and being a combination of tide, as in “feast day” (think “Yuletide”) and bit as in “a choice or pleasing” piece of something including news or gossip. This according to dictionary.com. Thus concludes the educational portion of this entry.

As many of you already know, we’ll be heading to Florida on Sunday the 1st (my birthday, by the way, so Happy Birthday to me!) Our plan is to see the Orioles play the Tigers in Lakeland, the Blue Jays play the Pirates in Bradenton, and the University of Florida play up in Gainesville. We’ll also be watching our host, Al Smith, play in two softball games. I’ll post photos on Facebook, so be sure to check in. Here’s a nice one taken at Lakeland last year:

If you hold this photo up to your face, you can still feel the sunshine.

If you hold this photo up to your face, you can still feel the sunshine.

Lakeland, Florida has been the Spring Training home of the Tigers since the days of Boots Poffenberger and it is my favorite ST venue. Speaking of Boots, don’t forget to please leave a review of Boots Poffenberger: Hurler, Hero, Hell-Raiser on Amazon. Reviews help tremendously. Here’s a nice review that appeared on Skip Nipper’s blog. Skip has been keeping alive the memory of Sulphur Dell, Nashville’s old ballpark where Boots once played for the Vols.

If you want to read more than just a few tidbits, check out my SABR biography of another Williamsport native who pitched in the big leagues, Dave Cole, by clicking here.

I’ll give you a full account of our trip upon our return.

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A Fair Trade

Tom approached Margaret, one of the older ladies, who was seated on a padded bench which ran down one wall of the dance studio.

“Care to waltz?”

She met his smile with one of her own and took his outstretched hand. Tom whispered to Margaret that she was beautiful, not in words, but in his steps as he gracefully guided her around the room. Margaret not only heard, she believed, and for a couple of minutes her skin was smooth, her hair was black, and her heart was light once more.

When the dance ended, Tom escorted Margaret to her seat and looked around for Molly, but was disappointed to see that she wasn’t there. Molly came to almost every Saturday dance and she moved so easily and smiled so brightly. Tom delighted when she teased him about being considerably older than she.

Tom never missed any of these Saturday practice dances at the studio. He had learned to dance late in life and he found that it was the one thing that connected him to other people in an honest way. The accomplishment was honest, the mistakes were honest, and the joy was honest.

Honesty, however, had not always been Tom’s policy. Once his card had read “T. Henry Farris, Servant of the Lord.” Tom had always been friendly and charming and the folks in his little church back in Pinkneyville, Illinois just seemed to feel better in his presence. They began to believe that he had the power to heal through the laying on of hands and Tom was happy to accommodate the belief. He quickly learned that Hope was a sure-selling product and a reasonable facsimile could be manufactured with little effort. He convinced the almost blind that they could just about see and the almost deaf that they could almost hear.

Because the hope he sold was manufactured with poor ingredients, which included a large percentage of his own greed, his world fell apart quickly enough. He lost his fortune, his following, and ironically enough, any hope that his own life would come to any purpose, for of course, T. Henry Farris made the mistake of many young men by equating profit with purpose.

For the past two decades, he lived quietly and searched unsuccessfully. Then, on a whim or divine inspiration perhaps, he decided to take ballroom dance lessons, which at least gave him satisfaction if not purpose.

***

The following Saturday, before Molly arrived at the dance, Tom was informed immediately upon entering that Molly had been diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. This didn’t seem possible as Molly was not, and had never been a smoker and she seemed to be in perfect health in every other way. The doctors were saying it was one of those impossibilities that in fact, was not impossible.

When Molly did arrive—for surely she could not just sit at home, waiting—she was swarmed with sympathizers. Everyone told her repeatedly that everything would be okay. One lady strongly suggested a homeopathic remedy. When another began telling Molly all about her sister’s uterine cancer, Tom interrupted.

“Let’s dance.”

They began a foxtrot to Fred Astaire’s “Change Partners.”

Although he had sold them by the barrel full, Tom knew the true value of words and therefore, said nothing. Instead, he let the dance talk. Their frame was excellent, their steps were large and light and they floated around the room. Tom held Molly for a dramatic pause and when they caught each other’s eyes in the mirror, they smiled in unison.

“That was nice,” said Molly when the dance was finished. “Thank you.”

Tom could not sleep that night. In the darkness of his apartment, he laughed bitterly at himself thinking that at one time, Molly would have represented nothing more than a mark, someone whose despair he could use to his own advantage. He thought of their foxtrot. He took an imaginary Molly in his arms and danced his way out to the kitchen. He paused. Now, the dance was talking to him. It had whispered something; it was almost inaudible, perhaps because it was more of a sense than a sentence; a feeling, a truth that passed all articulate understanding. But it seemed to say that if one impossibility can be possible, so can another.

When the following Saturday evening was about to end, a young man asked Molly for the last dance, but Tom cut in. “You’ll have plenty of opportunity to dance with Molly, but tonight this last dance is mine.”

Tom presented his arm and led Molly to the floor for the final dance, which was always a waltz. Tom offered Molly a frame into which she set herself. He very deliberately wrapped each finger of his left hand around her right and firmly set his right hand on her shoulder-blade. His patterns were sharp, his turns were controlled, and Molly marveled at the crispness of his steps and his styling. As the waltz ended, Tom led Molly in an underarm turn and then bowed. Instinctively, she curtsied.

“That was beautiful, you two! I was watching,” said Margaret, but her face saddened when the image of the dance faded and the reality of Molly’s situation presented itself to her again.

“Thank you for that wonderful dance,” said Molly. “It lifted my spirits.”

“Not as much as it lifted mine.”

Tom was tired by the time he got home that night. He went to bed, immediately fell into a peaceful sleep, and never woke up.

The shadow of Tom’s death that had hung over the dance studio was lifted three weeks later, when Molly announced that she had wonderful news. By some miracle, Molly’s cancer had disappeared. It was impossible, but it was true. It had disappeared as if someone had just reached in and waltzed away with it.

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