Stopped Cold at AT&T Park

San Francisco Giants vs. Arizona Diamondbacks, April 10, 2014. AT&T Park. San Francisco, CA.

AT&T Park (April 10, 2014)

 

On Thursday, I shivered through my first regular season San Francisco Giants game of 2014.  The night air was so cold, I had to slip into my down jacket before the end of the second inning — not a good sign. Unfortunately, I forgot my gloves.

It was “Farewell to the ‘Stick” night — a celebration of more than 50 years of baseball and football played amidst wind, fog and swirling trash at soon-to-be-demolished Candlestick Park. The fitting promotional giveaway was a commemorative scarf that smelled awful when removed from its plastic bag. I wore it anyway. It’s no coincidence that scarves are among the most popular promos at AT&T Park. On my way home, I encountered at least one freezing fan offering to BUY one off someone.

Granted, East Coast teams play in some very cold temperatures in the early months of the season — a few years ago, the Cleveland Indians home opener was SNOWED out — but they have the scorching heat of June through August to look forward to. In San Francisco, we probably won’t see weather like that at a night game unless we make it to the post-season in October.

I’m surprised AT&T Park hasn’t tried a mittens promotional giveaway. Or a hand warmer giveaway.

Naturally, such an extremity-numbing game went to extra innings, and unfortunately the Giants wound up losing to the Arizona Diamondbacks by one run in the 10th. Still, my seat — four rows from the field, right next to the visitors dugout — was something to blog home about. I can only assume that the original owner gave up price-gouging for Lent, because I bought it on StubHub for at or near face value. Bless you, kind stranger.

Apologies for any camera shake. I shot until the shivering made it too hard to keep still…

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Coloring Inside the Lines

Sunrise, Russian Hill. San Francisco, CA.

Sunrise, Russian Hill. San Francisco, CA.

I have a blog post inside me, just ITCHING to get out. It’s about The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg. Published to great acclaim in 2012, the book is fascinating and confidence-boosting — because Duhigg contends (with research to back him up) that once you break down what constitutes a habit, it’s easier to create those you most want, and nudge those you don’t into hibernation.

The book is also extremely well written.  I attended a writing seminar a year or so ago, where the speaker encouraged attendees to hone our way with words by reading great writing… like this.

I’ve decided to hold off, though, until I finish the book… which will be soon. The Power of Habit is 416 pages long, but if you enjoy digging deep into what makes human beings tick, it’s a very fast read.

Today I took a break from examining habit making-and-breaking to experiment with Color Splash, a mobile app that allows users to turn a color photo black and white, then retrieve color in a particular section using his/her finger.  I’m hooked.

I’ll take in my first regular season San Francisco Giants game of 2014 tomorrow night, and I guarantee you I’ll frame some of my photos with Color Splash in mind.

Check out my early works, using a few oldies but goodies as canvases.

Anyone else use the Color Splash app and love it?

 

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It Was All Over, Including the Shouting

2014 MLB Opening Week stencil on the field at Oakland Coliseum. April 2, 2014

On April 2, I caught the second half of a double-header between the Oakland Athletics and the Cleveland Indians. (The game had been rescheduled from the previous evening, due to rain.) I sat close the Indians’ dugout. The cheeks in my section’s seats were just as likely to belong to a Tribe fan, as an A’s fan. My people showed up well, and in respectable numbers. Even so, after the game I felt lucky to escape Oakland Coliseum with my Indians jersey intact.

What is UP with Oakland fans? Some of them are crazy, and I don’t mean in a zany, entertaining, endearing way. I suppose if I had to watch baseball in a dilapidated stadium with regular sewage back-ups and remnants of the Raiders’ gridiron still visible in August, I’d be bitter too. In fact, I have traditionally favored building the A’s a new stadium south of San Francisco, because they are an excellent team and lifting them up would be good for baseball. Now, I’m not so sure.

Forget the bleachers, it would seem that the nastiest A’s fans prefer to sit near first base, close to the visitor’s dugout — for maximum heckling effect. They don’t just ridicule opposing players; they also deride their fans, should they dare to cheer audibly. It’s as if they enjoy HATING the opposition more than they like cheering for their own team, which seems twisted and sad.

First baseman Nick Swisher joined the Tribe two years ago, and I’ve seen him play in Oakland before. Each time, A’s fans hurl hateful insults at him like I’ve never heard. I mean it, and I’m from CLEVELAND, where LeBron James committed his crimes against humanity. I understand justified vitriol of fans who have been wronged – but LeBron voluntarily took his talents to Miami in 2010. Since then, like most Cavs fans, I have pulled myself together and moved on.

Nick Swisher left Oakland six seasons ago, and not even by choice! He was traded to the Chicago White Sox in 2008, before again being traded to the New York Yankees. One particularly odious Oakland fan heckled Swisher over and over for his greediness, how much he got paid per strikeout etc., so I assume he thought Swisher had jumped ship to the Yankees for their deep pockets. Unfortunately this ill-informed joker didn’t shut up all night.

Another bad, bad fan sat nearby, solo. (I was also a party of one, but at least I have decent photos to show for it.) This guy drank a lot, and appeared to seethe even when the A’s led on the scoreboard – which was often. His favorite taunt? “You WEEEEEAAAAAK!” Not “you are weak” or “you’re weak”. But “YOU WEAK”. He even called Indians catcher Carlos Santana weak after he got a hit. A double. Whatever.

This sad little man belittled Santana with racist insults I won’t repeat here, because they honestly made me sick to my stomach. (I heard similar taunting, to a much lesser extent, at a spring training game in March.) As if that wasn’t bad enough, strangers around the idiot LAUGHED. I overheard another heckler say, “This guy is so funny, he could keep me going all night!” Oh.My.God.

I refuse to accept the “nervous laughter” defense here. If you are nervous try biting your nails, grinding your teeth or indulging in emotional eating like a normal person. Do not giggle or chuckle. It only encourages a bigot.

Meanwhile, Oakland Coliseum “Guest Services” personnel stood around looking bored. I still am not sure what services they provide.

Oh yeah, I nearly forgot. This last heckler also went after shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera a few times, but inadvertently referred to him as “Melky”. Such was the level of aptitude I was surrounded by. I was tempted to point out that Melky Cabrera is a different player who has never worn an Indians uniform, but the risk of a “they all look alike to me” comeback was just too high.

So it was only fitting that the Indians turned things around in the 9th inning, with the help of A’s pitcher Jim Johnson. Things got very quiet, except for an occasional insult redirected at Johnson, instead of my Tribe. The Indians won, 6-4. As I packed up my camera equipment, I couldn’t help but notice that the heckling mob had already dissipated. Guess they were worried about traffic on a chilly Wednesday night. In Oakland, California. At 9:30 p.m.

Funny, Nick Swisher appeared to find the post-game atmosphere quite comfortable. Very satisfying.

I could say “suck it”, but I won’t. Instead I’ll say, Roll Tribe.. and congratulations to second baseman Jason Kipnis, who signed a six-year, $52.5 million contract with the Indians today — one day after his 27th birthday.

I called it first: He’s a keeper. Happy birthday Jason.

Cleveland Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis celebrates the Tribe's taking the lead in the 9th inning at Oakland Coliseum. April 2, 2014.

Jason Kipnis, back when he was 26.

3 Observations From 2014 Spring Training

Child's hand holding a baseball with the Cleveland Indians logo, waiting for a player to sign itI returned from Scottsdale and Cactus League baseball less than 48 hours ago, and am clinging desperately to the last shreds of my spring training vacation buzz. I didn’t have much time to blog and post photos while I was away, so now I’m playing catch(!) up. (Playing catch? See what I did there?) I also have some reflections on my five days in the Arizona desert.

America’s pastime isn’t always pretty: I often hear Bay Area dwellers caveat something going on around us with, “but of course, we live in a bubble.” It’s a good economy bubble, thanks to the Silicon Valley, as well as a great weather bubble – and as a result, San Francisco attracts a lot of young, educated, physically active people. Live here long enough, and you can lose sight of how the rest of America actually looks and behaves. Spring training in Scottsdale delivers an eyeful of reality.

I am not a perfect physical specimen, and I struggle to maintain a healthy weight, yet when I’m at Spring Training I often find myself both reassured (“Hey, maybe I’m not in such bad shape!”), and alarmed by the amount of morbid obesity around me. Listen, like most fans I indulge in ballpark food with relish (and mustard) – but it’s shocking to see so many overweight, middle-aged people sucking down multiple beers, foot-long chili cheese dogs and double cone soft serve ice cream… then hiring a golf cart to ride – rather than walk — .8 miles to their hotel. A few of these folks may have an injury or disability that impacts their mobility, but not THAT many.

If you see a slim person at Spring Training, it’s dollars to doughnuts (pun intended) that he/she is under 25 years of age, with a metabolism that is still working overtime. And if she’s a woman, she’s probably wearing false eyelashes, a push-up bra, a skin-tight tank top and very short shorts. One such young woman stood next to me before Sunday’s Giants/Indians game, as I took some of the photos below. Flashing her ample cleavage and a button declaring “It’s My Birthday”, she got lots of autographs from Indians players, despite not knowing their names or the positions they play. I SUSPECT it wasn’t the birthday button that did the trick. Speaking of autographs…

I don’t get the autograph thing: Maybe I’m bitter, because the first (and last) autograph I ever got — from Chris Evert, who I adored as a kid and still think is pretty awesome – I misplaced almost immediately, and was heartbroken. I guess I was so scarred by the loss, it soured me on the whole autograph-getting experience. So I am fascinated by grown men who jostle and elbow their way to the edge of the field each day, hoping to get a signature on a ball or cap brim. Many of them enjoy telling players stories as they sign, like “I was at the game where you hit that homer off Clayton Kershaw”, or whatever. The players politely nod and say things like, “Oh yeah? That’s cool.” Once they have an autograph in hand, these men beam like little boys.

To each his own, right? The autograph frenzy only bothers me when I see a father pushing his kid HARD to get a signature, and it’s clearly the dad’s thing. The kid doesn’t care. In fact, before the aforementioned Giants/Indians game, a dad – who I’m pretty sure is an otherwise good guy and loving father – forced his super-shy son to the front of the crowd. When the kid hung back and an Indians player missed him as he moved down the line signing for fans, the dad got overly enthusiastic and shouted “little boy right there, you missed a little boy to your right, little boy, little boy”. The player stopped cold, glared and asked, “You telling me to sign?” He eventually signed the boy’s ball, and father and son thanked him. It was awkward. I was sorry for the dad, getting schooled in front of the crowd. But I also sympathize with players, who must get fed up with pushy fans treating them like employees who OWE THEM an autograph.

Shop much?: The only thing at spring training that’s more frantic than a line of autograph hounds, is the San Francisco Giants shop in Scottsdale Stadium. Step inside and it’s like you’ve been sucked into the famous Running of the Brides at Filene’s basement. There is pushing, shoving and general rudeness by fans who are seemingly unaware that there are Dugout Stores all over the Bay Area, or that most Giants swag is available online. Not sure how they manage to function in society in the off-season. The weird thing is, while the Cleveland Indians/Cincinnati Reds shop at Goodyear Ballpark is always crowded, it lacks Scottsdale’s mob-like, looter vibe. I wonder what the Cubs team shop in Mesa is like? Cubs fans are rabid too, but Chicagoans have Midwestern manners so…

There it is. A recap of my easing into baseball season, in fewer than 1,000 words. Despite wearing 50 SPF sunscreen I picked up some color (in the form of freckles), and I took good photos, consumed a few warm-weather cocktails, and shook off a load of work stress.

Next step: Opening Day! Put me in coach, I’m ready to play!

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2014 Cactus League Shot of the Day

Cleveland Indians first baseman Nick Swisher takes a walk in Spring Training, March 17, 2014.

Nick Swisher

 

I love sports photography – you’ve probably surmised that by now – but the truth is, once I get caught up in a game I’m not always ready for the fast and unexpected. Pablo Sandoval’s jumping catch in Monday’s San Francisco Giants game against the Cleveland Indians? Nope, didn’t even have my camera raised. (I applauded wildly, though. Thirty pounds ago, Panda would have missed that ball by 12 inches.)

Yesterday’s spring training game in Goodyear, AZ – the Indians vs. the Cincinnati Reds – presented greater-than-average challenges for my photography, because my view of parts of the field was partially obstructed by an MLB.TV cameraman.  So, I missed the chance to capture some important stuff – including the second-base umpire taking a Brandon Phillips line drive to the groin. (An odious man seated next to me kept yelling, “Ball’s still in play” as the poor ump lay face down in the dirt surrounded by concerned players, until another fan suggested he stick a sock in it.)

Replay umpire John Tumpane was later hit in the backside by a bad throw to second by Indians first baseman Joe Sever. I missed that too. It was a tough day to be an umpire, or a photographer seated in section 118 of Goodyear Ballpark.

The photo above of Nick Swisher was a classic case of right place, right time. I finally got a good view of the batter’s box, and since Swisher had already homered twice in two days I had my camera trained on him. He walked, and (unintentionally) I snapped just as he tossed his bat to the side.  I nearly deleted the photo, then noticed the bat’s shadow on the ground and realized I caught it hanging midair, perfectly parallel to the ground. I get a kick out of capturing a split second facial expression, a foot on the bag, the ball making contact etc.  If I got paid for my baseball pics, this could be a money shot.

The rest of my photos from the game…

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2014 Spring Training: Day One Was a Dust Up

It’s that time of year again: Major League Baseball Spring Training in Arizona. The new season brings a new camera lens for me, which is proving a little unwieldy so far. For starters, when it’s attached to my camera the entire ensemble weights more than six pounds. I got cramps in my arm, and a blister on my zooming thumb. Tomorrow I’ll rub some desert grit on it, and get back in the mix.

It was a beautiful Scottsdale day: hot of course, with breezes that kept us cool while kicking up a lot of dust. Unfortunately, it wasn’t pretty for the San Francisco Giants — or Matt Cain who gave up seven runs to the Oakland Athletics. The Giants lost 8-1.

Rachel Canning Can’t Win For Losing

18-year-old Rachel Canning lost round one of her suit to force her parents to fund her education and living expenses on Tuesday, March 4 2014.

Photo: Reuters

Like most parents, mine had plenty of rules and expectations, but above all else insisted on academic performance. I don’t mean they set the bar at Harvard Medical School or a Rhodes Scholarship, but they expected maximum effort, perfect attendance and a respectful, cooperative attitude in the classroom. There was no sense in arguing, “My teacher has it in for me” when there was a problem; that protest was always shut down, before I had a chance to complete the sentence. In my family, an education was a gift that was not to be squandered. That said, it was not an inalienable right. My folks agreed to pay, so long as I kept up my end of the bargain – and so I did.

On Tuesday, an 18-year-old New Jersey high school senior lost round one in a lawsuit she’s waging against her parents, to force them to pay what remains of her private high school tuition, her living and transportation expenses “for the foreseeable future”, and her college expenses. (In case you are wondering, according to Collegedata.com, one year at a private American university currently costs approximately $25,000.)

Rachel Canning arrived in court wearing khakis, a button-down shirt, a monogrammed school sweater and eyeliner reminiscent of Amy Winehouse. She also had a chip on her shoulder the size of The Preppy Handbook, which her lawyer had obviously read cover to cover before buying her that get up. Rachel contends that her parents kicked her to the curb and cut her off financially, because they didn’t like her boyfriend. Not true, the Cannings counter. They say Rachel left on her own accord, because she didn’t like house rules like curfews. Oh, and they “claim” she had been suspended from school.

I put the word claim in quotation marks there, because news reports present her suspension as an accusation — something that is being alleged. Seriously, how lazy is the American media? How hard is it to verify a school suspension?  What ever happened to old-fashioned gumshoe reporting?

Anyway, a judge denied Rachel’s request for high school tuition and current living expenses but the jury is still out (yep, that’s a pun) on other issues in the suit, including college costs. Regardless of the final outcome, in the age of social media she is screwed. For the rest of her life, a simple Google search will spotlight Rachel Canning’s narcissism, sense of entitlement and crummy judgment.

Even if she eventually wins her lawsuit, she’s already lost.

Where does a kid get the idea that her parents owe her an all-expenses-paid education?  Plus, transportation costs! Clearly, the Canning household had problems, but debate rages about whether blame belongs with America’s everybody-gets-a-trophy culture. Maybe, I’m just not sure.

This afternoon, I met up with a friend and former colleague whose daughter is considering applying to the high school I attended. I told my friend about the small classes, and the dedicated faculty that generally lives on campus. By graduation day, those teachers knew me inside and out. They had coached my sports teams, helped prep me for standardized tests, reviewed my college applications, and pumped up my confidence when I needed it (which was often).

Once I had a severe case of bronchitis, and a fever so high I could barely raise my head off the infirmary pillow. I lost count of how many faculty members stopped by. I was woozy, and would literally pass out during their visits. Later I’d wake up alone – but not. I knew someone who cared about me would be back to check on me soon.

I shared a story about my American History class, in which I often went head to head with my friend-and-nemesis Brad on political issues. (Believe it or not, I leaned pretty far right back then. My, how times have changed!) When it came time for a school tradition – debates between “management” and “workers” in the Pullman strike of 1894 – our teacher Mr. Army naturally assigned me to represent the oppressed working man, and cast Brad as a fat cat industrialist. He knew us both so well, and wanted to challenge us. Mr. Army had a pretty wicked sense of humor, come to think of it.

That was years ago, but I still remember large chunks of those debates as if they happened yesterday. I wonder if Big Man Baron Brad does too? He certainly has a lot to atone for, having been on the wrong side of history and all…

Bringing us back to the present day, I described to my friend the strong bond among alumni of our little school. A few of my classmates have succeeded in very public ways, and the rest of us couldn’t be more proud. One coaches a professional sports team, and when his games are nationally televised – especially during the playoffs – Facebook LIGHTS UP. Regardless of where we settled after college, allegiances to local sports tend to take a back seat when this guy and his team come to town.

My high school was expensive then, and the current tuition kind takes my breath away. While I didn’t have a full appreciation of the sacrifices my parents made to send to me there at the time, I was aware that I was lucky. No one ever had to warn me, “Don’t you dare blow this!”. I just intrinsically knew, and I suspect most of my classmates did too.

Maybe Rachel Canning will triumph in her lawsuit, and her parents will be forced to pony up five times the income of an American family living at the poverty line, to send her to the college of her choice. If that happens, I expect Rachel will gloat and feel vindicated in her sense of entitlement. She’ll probably get 15 more minutes of fame, as Today and Good Morning America woo her for exclusive interviews.

But, will she be GRATEFUL for her education? Or, grateful to her parents?

Somehow I doubt it, and I don’t think that’s winning. Do you?

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