Everything’s Better in Black and White

Rick and Virginia were missing. As there had been no ransom demand, kidnapping had been ruled out. Murder and suicide had seemed unlikely based on their apartment in which nothing was disturbed, and from which nothing had been taken. The police, with nothing to go on, had slowly abandoned the case and now, six months later, in late-night moments of bewilderment, their friends even began to speculate if Rick and Virginia had been abducted by aliens.

“Weirder things have happened,” said his upstairs neighbor, Nelson, and everyone nodded yet no one had any idea what could be weirder than that.

Rick had met Virginia while working at the local food bank and each was sensitive to the plight of the unfortunate, but they believed in wholly different approaches to how best to resolve that plight. They had voted for opposite candidates in the last election, which produced several dinner-time arguments that carried well past their bed time. At their wedding, they had vowed never to go to bed angry; hence, some of their political discussions indeed lasted long into the night.

They were not only frustrated with one another, but a bit frightened, too, for this was the first time in their six years of marriage (“eight years of being together” as Virginia liked to add) that their disagreements had become so heated. Nevertheless, at the end of the day (sometimes quite literally) they had their love of old movies that brought them together.

As a girl, Virginia had spent a great deal of time with her grandmother and neither slept particularly well. The girl had an unnatural anxiety about the future and the grandmother had a deep longing for the past and so, one or two o’clock in the morning would find them awake and delighting in the Marx Brothers or marveling at how Humphrey Bogart found the Maltese Falcon or how Fred and Ginger would dance away their difficulties.

As for Rick, he loved Virginia and so he came to love old movies, too.

Shortly after the election, they got into a tremendous argument. At some point past midnight, Rick had half-shouted, “Why don’t we just get divorced then!” Nelson was sure those were his words when the police interviewed him. Virginia was stunned when she heard this, but an unnatural calm came over her in that moment. Silently, she took Rick’s hand and led him to the couch. With the other hand, she picked up the remote and turned on the television which, quite naturally, was already tuned to Turner Classic Movies.

The television was still on three days later, when their friends became aware that something was wrong.

Both sets of parents refused to hold any kind of memorial service and they continued to hold out hope that they would reappear, but Nelson had quietly convinced them of the practicality of placing Rick and Virginia’s belongings in storage and of giving up their apartment. He and his wife Jeannette had agreed to wrap and box the contents.

Jeannette was working in the living room and went to remove the batteries from the remote when she wondered to herself what Rick and Virginia were watching the night they disappeared. She turned on the TV—still tuned to Turner Classic Movies, of course—and in a melancholy moment, she turned on the DVR. wondering what movies they would never see as they had planned.

“Oh, my God! Nelson! I found them! Oh, my God! Oh, my God!” She plunked awkwardly on the couch, her jelly-legs not capable of supporting her.

Nelson came running in from the kitchen. “You found what? What’s wrong?”

“Not what. I found them. Look.”

Jeannette hit the back arrow three times.

“It’s a movie called Carefree.”

“What are you talking about? All I see is Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing.”

Jeannette hit play, then pause as she wiped the tears that were streaming down her face.

“Nelson, this entire DVR is nothing but Carefree. . . . There. Wait until they dance into this room . . . Look!”

Nelson looked. He sat down, too, only half-voluntarily.

“I know what I’m seeing, but I don’t know what I’m looking at. How . . .”

There on an oversized chair sat Rick and Virginia. There was no doubt about it. Rick in his white tuxedo jacket and Virginia in her long black gown rise up as Fred and Ginger enter, the latter playfully bounced off the chair by the former. The camera quickly focused on the two stars, but as they began to dance their way back into the main ballroom, the others followed. Right behind them were Rick and Virginia dancing past the camera, only for a second, but in glorious black and white, dancing and laughing as they disappeared out of the shot once more.

Something weirder had indeed happened.

Anyone look familiar to you?

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My Grumpy Predictions for the 2017 MLB Season

Each year I become less enamored of making predictions for the upcoming baseball season, which is no doubt obvious considering that I’m only getting around to them now, three days after the season has started. This is probably because each year I find myself more irritated by the predictions of the “experts,” and this is definitely because my team—the Baltimore Orioles—are consistently picked to finish last or next to last and are dismissed out of hand. This, in spite of the fact that

  • At 444 wins since 2012, the Orioles have won more games than any other American League team.
  • No one has qualified for the playoffs in the AL more than the three times that the Birds have done it in the past five years.
  • Only the Orioles and the New York Yankees have not had a losing record over the past five seasons in the American League.

The Yankees this season are fielding a bunch of prospects, none of whom has a major league track record, yet they are picked by many to finish ahead of the Orioles. If those identical lineups were switched and the prospects all competed in Baltimore, the “experts” would holler, “Unproven!” and switch the predicted order of finish.

You would think that after five years of being wrong, that the math goobers who make these computations would realize that their formulas are missing something, but then the entire country seems bound and determined to repeat, rather than learn from its mistakes. I digress . . .

Here are my predictions and be forewarned that I have no formulas, I didn’t compute anything, and I firmly believe that when dealing with a group of human beings, i.e. a baseball team, that the total can equal more (or less) than the sum of its parts. Chemistry does mean something. Confidence does mean something. Clubhouse atmosphere does mean something, and even if all those things translate into only one game, then take a look at the two teams who qualified for the wild card last year in the American League.

AL East                      Al Central                  AL West

Boston                         Cleveland                    Houston

Baltimore                    Detroit                         Seattle

Toronto                       Kansas City                 Texas

New York                    Chicago                        Los Angeles (or are they Anaheim again?)

Tampa Bay                  Minnesota                  Oakland

NL East                      NL Central                NL West

Washington                Chicago                       Los Angeles

New York                   Pittsburgh                    Colorado

Miami                          St. Louis                      Arizona

Philadelphia                Milwaukee                  San Francisco (my bold pick because, frankly, I’m tired of hearing that the Giants will “figure it out,” but the Orioles “haven’t done enough.”

Atlanta                          Cincinnati                    San Diego (surest last place bet in all 6 divisions)

Ask me around the All-Star break for play-off predictions, but if I had to pick the two World Series teams right now, a useless exercise, but whatever, I’d say the Cubs will beat the Red Sox.

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Why I Don’t Fret Climate Change

The spate of warm weather we enjoyed back in February in the Winchester area was covered in a Winchester Star front page story, which noted that “since record keeping began in 1880 . . . 2016 is the third year in a row to set a record for global average surface temperature.” Some immediately engaged in a reflexive, self-flagellating response over climate change, but it got me to wondering just how old is the Earth’s current atmosphere, and therefore, what percentage of that time does our 136 years of records represent? My research led me to a fascinating website run by the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center entitled, Meet Your Atmosphere which is an eight slide introduction to our climate.

The final slide, entitled, “Modern Atmospheres”—and which features a very nifty illustration of dinosaurs and critters and swamps and things—states that our “modern atmosphere” is 290 million years old. 290 million! That’s only .0006 percent of Earth’s estimated 4.6 billion years of life. So, the atmosphere itself is a very new earthly phenomenon.

And to apply this to the point about the temperature being in the mid-70s in Winchester on February 7th, let’s assume that that 290 million year age estimate was made on a Monday morning, by a rookie scientist who had partied too hard all weekend and could hardly see his calculator through his blurry vision. Let’s assume then that the real age of earth’s modern atmosphere is more like 136 million. This way, we’ll be extremely conservative AND make the math much easier. Thus, the time we have been keeping records represents one ten-millionth of the modern atmosphere’s life.

Anyone who lives to the age of 80 will have lived 42,076,800 minutes. Judging the steadiness of the Earth’s atmosphere on those 136 years of records, then is the equivalent of judging your life’s steadiness on the last four minutes and 12 seconds of it.

More from Slide #8:

The Eocene Epoch was the warmest part of the past 65 million years. During the early Eocene, palm trees grew as far north as Canada, and forests of dawn redwoods covered Ellesmere Island near the North Pole. The Arctic Ocean was not permanently frozen, alligator relatives swam in the swamps on Ellesmere Island, and mammals related to flying lemurs climbed in the dawn redwood trees. Since the Eocene is so recent (geologically speaking), many clues remain to tell scientists about the atmosphere and climate, and how these affected life on Earth. [Bold face is mine.]

Palm trees in Canada?

If we judged baseball players the same way some judge “global warming” we might think that Rennie Stennett and Wilbert Robinson are the two greatest hitters to ever play the

This Hall of Famer can teach us something about climate change.

game because they are the only two players to collect seven hits in seven at-bats in a nine inning game. They batted 1.000! For that one game. But not for a lifetime. Stennett finished his ten-year career with a .274 batting average, while Hall of Famer Robinson concluded his 17-year career with a .273 average. Those career averages rank them 814th and 835th, respectively.

For the same reason that I recognize that Stennett and Robinson were not the greatest hitters in the history of baseball, I do not feel guilt or outrage over “global warming.” Warming up and cooling down is what the Earth does. The hubris that leads us to the belief that we should “control” what the Earth’s atmosphere does seems quite similar to the hubris that says we can do anything we want to it. Everyone should respect the Earth as a living organism; and then let it live its own life.

Regardless, beware the small sample size whether you’re watching baseball or enjoying a spring-like day in winter.

[Note: If you’re really fired up about this topic now, I suggest reading Thomas Gale More’s, “Why Global Warming Could Be Good For You.” This article was written in 1995, but the climatological history that he covers going back 6,000 years has not.]

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This “Review” Won’t Appear on Amazon

I have received some very nice reviews for Fathers, Sons, & Holy Ghosts: Baseball as a Spiritual Experience, including one from Dave Norman, a former Baltimore Orioles beat reporter for WBAL radio and the current webcasters for the Harrisonburg Turks of the Valley Baseball League. While it is always gratifying to receive praise from one’s peers, I was more than gratified when I received a series of tweets one morning from a lady in California. In fact, I was humbled and awed by her words.

A woman whose Twitter handle is “Kirty” contacted me to let me know that her dad had been placed in hospice and his condition was such that she wasn’t even sure that he understood anything that was said to him. He has a life-long love of baseball—he’s a Dodger fan—and Kirty reasoned that if he understood anything, it would be baseball; and so she has begun to read him baseball books. She stumbled upon mine, which she described as “beautiful” and “thought-provoking.” High compliments indeed, but she added, “Your book is bringing me lots of comfort. . . . Just wanted you to know how important it is in our lives right now.”

I was stunned, in a good way. A very good way. Every sale beyond that one sale in California is now just a small bonus. After all, how much is it worth to bring comfort to someone else? It’s worth exactly the same as when we receive it.

You could call it Luck or the Lord or whatever you choose to believe that brought Fathers, Sons, & Holy Ghosts to Kirty and her dad, but what we believe about that circumstance is not the point. That we affect others, often without even realizing it, is the point. You don’t have to write a book full of words to have an effect. Just one, well-placed word can be just as valuable. One of the most amazing things that I have learned so far is that if you’re in need of kindness, offer a kind word. If you’re in need of encouragement, be encouraging. If you’re in need of understanding, understand. Do this as much as you can, and your entire life will be a book that others may read and reference, long after you’ve written your own final chapter.

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That’s a lot of Candles!

This is a rather momentous day for me, as today I turn 60 years of age. At this point, it is obvious that I am not going to experience something that I thought I would somewhere during the past 40 years: I have yet to experience that moment in which I would forever more, consider myself an adult.

I’ve done adult stuff, but that’s doing and not being. I’ve parented and taught and voted and balanced a checkbook (which is apparently more adulting than some adults ever manage), but I don’t really feel any different in here, so to speak, than the day I turned say, 12. Yes, my eyes, knees, skin, etc., etc., feel different, but that’s just an inventory of parts, that’s not me.

As a non-adult, I don’t really deal well with things such as insurance forms or maintaining the concentration necessary to stand in the store and sort through the 83 combinations of tooth pastes to match the one written on the grocery list in detail. (This one fights cavities, but it’s a gel. This one’s a paste and fights cavities, but doesn’t whiten. This one is in a pretty box . . . I wonder what cookies are on sale?)

It’s interesting to me that some very successful adults seem to enjoy hanging out with me. I think it’s because their inner children feel free to come out and play when I’m around. Some friends have come to me with some very adult situations, but I think it’s because I reach their inner children when they can’t. Takes a child to recognize a child, so to speak.

Actually, I feel more the boy at 60 than I did at 20 or 40, but then that’s because in the past twenty years or so I’ve relearned two things that seem born into children, but that we manage to drum out of them: One is to care way less about stuff and way more about people, even strangers. Two is to go where the day takes you. I know that we have jobs and responsibilities and such, but those aren’t the same as shutting ourselves off from stray dogs and interesting sticks and trying to hit a sapling with a walnut.

Life is not an Accounting, It’s an Adventure. With a little luck, I will manage another 20 or 30 years or so having altogether escaped that sensation of being an adult, so that in the end, folks can say about me what William Dean Howells, Mark Twain’s editor, said about his most famous author:

He was a youth to the end of his days, the heart of a boy with the head of a sage; the heart of a good boy, or a bad boy, but always a willful boy and willfulest to show himself out at every time for just the boy he was.

Even then I had issues with toothpaste. For you kids out there, that thing on the floor next to me is a vacuum cleaner.

Even then I had issues with toothpaste. For you kids out there, that thing on the floor next to me is a vacuum cleaner.

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Sprinkles

I just finished reading a marvelous baseball book entitled, Where They Ain’t: The Fabled Life and Untimely Death of the Original Baltimore Orioles, The Team That Gave Birth to Modern Baseball, by Burt Solomon. It is a wonderful story about players, such as John McGraw and “Wee” Willie Keeler and Hughie Jennings who loved the game, and the fans who loved the players, and the owners who loved a profit. The last page was in fact, moving and I’m sorry that I came to this book too late to discuss it in Fathers, Sons, & Holy Ghosts: Baseball as a Spiritual Experience. I won’t quote any of that last page and ruin it for anyone who reads it, but I will say that clearly, Solomon understands the hold that baseball can take on its fans.

There was another passage toward the end that got me to thinking beyond baseball. (I do that occasionally.) Of Joe Kelley, an old Oriole, future Hall of Famer, and manager of the Boston Beaneaters (as the Braves were then known) Solomon wrote, that Kelley “assailed the quality of the modern ballplayers, compared with the old-timers.” This was in 1908. The year in which Ty Cobb turned 21. In researching my various books, I’ve come across similar sentiments expressed by every past generation of ballplayers about the current generation of ballplayers.

All “old-time” players are better than “modern” players. The old-timers played when we were young.

As adults, we see ballplayers as fellow human beings who happened to possess an incredible skill. As children, however, they were our heroes who performed feats almost beyond our imagining. They did what none of our fathers or adult neighbors did, that’s for sure. Their job was (and is) to play baseball. They got paid to actually roam that magically green grass when summer was on and school was out. That’s why Shoeless Joe, upon discovering the diamond cut into the cornfield in the movie, Field of Dreams asks, “Is this Heaven?”

You bet it is.

It’s not just the ballplayers, of course. Nothing was as good as the “good old days,” which is a fascinating human concept. I used to hear my parents and their friends talk about the good old days, which seemed strange because they were talking about the Great Depression and World War II. What was so good about that? Youth, it seems, can even over-power world-wide calamities.

First ballgame, first car, first kiss; all treasures of our youth and they glimmer with the polish that only Innocence can provide, even if our team lost, that car was a rust bucket, or the realization that the first kissee (or kisser, depending) is now, in fact, just as old as we are.

Since we can’t relive the good old days, our only alternative is to keep right on manufacturing new ones, and the only way to do this is to stay young. Play catch. Order sprinkles. Laugh loudly, cry hard, and get up in Friday’s and dance in the aisles because a great song came on and, well, why wouldn’t you?

One of those old Orioles, John McGraw was known for his competitiveness, for living and dying for every game, for every pitch. There’s no clock in baseball, but there is in this Game that we’re all playing.

Play it to win.

Go on—order the sprinkles.

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Fathers, Sons, & Holy Ghosts

Fathers, Sons, & Holy Ghosts: Baseball as a Spiritual Experience is now available in both print and electronic forms! Ordering and download links can be found on the Book Information page, and I am also happy to say that the good folks at the Winchester Book Gallery, on the Old Town Mall in Winchester, have already scheduled a book signing for Saturday, March 18 from 11:00-1:00 p.m.

I am very excited about this book. It’s a love story and a coming of age story and a quest story. It’s my story, or at least it represents a big chunk of my story, and it’s been two and a half years in the making.

The cover, on the other hand, was about an hour and a half in the making, and if you don’t f-s-hg_editedbelieve my passion for baseball has existed since the beginning, note that on the left is the ticket to the first game that I ever attended in 1965 (well, maybe, but that story is in the book). There is also a ticket from a collegiate summer league game out in Indiana in 2015, six days shy of exactly 50 years after I attended my first game. The birthday card in the upper right corner was from my parents who had saved such things, and which I discovered in going through my parents’ effects. In fact, every birthday card from age 7 through about age 12 featured a baseball theme.

 

The photo of the distinguished looking gentleman is Maynard G. “Mo” Weber. This card was from the early ‘80s when Mo served as the General Manager of the Peninsula Pilots, then an A league affiliate of the Chicago White Sox. Mo is now in his early 90s and his eyes still twinkle whenever the conversation turns to baseball. Actually, that isn’t quite accurate because almost always the conversation starts with baseball and doesn’t turn much from that subject. Mo and I speak the same language, again as I explain in the book.

Mo is my baseball father, and of course, I have done my best to pass along my love of the game, and its meaning, to my girls. Sarah once remarked that “Baseball is my second sibling,” which was quite insightful even if spoken with a hint of jealousy. In any case the girls are on the cover as well. Becky, aged 13 in this photo, is on the left while Sarah, 8, is on the right. They are flanking the number of their father’s hero, Brooks Robinson. Every number that the Orioles have retired has been cast in aluminum and placed in a courtyard just outside Camden Yards. These monuments mark the entrance to sacred space. In flipping through the album in which this photo is stored, I see one of Becky and her husband Jesse. At some point, I guess the newly arrived Riley Harper Dice will have to have her photo taken by #5 as well. (For those of you without a scorecard, Riley is Becky and Jesse’s daughter and our first grandchild.)

That’s a quick “tour” of the cover. For a more extensive tour, you’ll just have to buy the book and read it! And a big thank you to everyone who is helping me get out the word about Fathers, Sons, & Holy Ghosts: Baseball as a Spiritual Experience.

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