Friday, October 5, 2012

FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME


Major League baseball has moved on to the playoff season now. The dreams of spring are gone for most, the cream has risen to the top, and by the weekend, eight of thirty teams will move forward and the rest will watch on television with the rest of us. There have been zany, remarkable, and memorable moments as there are every year. Perhaps one of the most memorable was that short span in Miami in the sixth inning of a meaningless game on Tuesday October 4th. There, on a night when a last place team was “playing out the string” as ballplayers say, there was this.

On July 9, 2007, Alan Greenberg achieved his dream. He was in the dugout of the Chicago Cubs wearing a major league uniform. Drafted in 2002 by the Cubs be had risen steadily through their minor league organization and had finally reached “The Show.” When Greenberg pinch-hit in the ninth inning against the then Florida Marlins in Miami, he was ready. A left-handed batter, he was asked to hit against Valerio de la Santos, a tall Dominican left-handed relief pitcher who threw his first pitch 92 miles an hour. In a moment their careers as baseball players were changed forever. It hit Alan Greenberg in the back of the head.

He folded up in the batter’s box like a cheap aluminum lawn chair. Thirty seconds after he was announced into his first major league game he was helped from the field thus becoming, along with Fred Van Deusen of the 1955 Phillies, one of two major league players in history to “play” in a game and never take the field.

Last Tuesday night, seven years, two months and twenty-four days later, in the second to last game played by the now Miami Marlins he appeared for a second time. He was sent to the plate to pitch-hit in the sixth inning while playing on a one-day major league contract against the New York Mets. He took a strike, decided he wasn't going to get cheated, and made two mighty swings against the Mets R.H. Dickey who is arguably the best pitcher in the league this year and who throws nothing but a thing called the knuckleball which is a pitch as hard to throw, as it is to hit. The last, an 80 mile an hour floater without much rotation went under the flailing Greenberg’s bat for strike three. 


Alan was neither surprised nor defeated by the result. The dimples in his cheeks and the smile on his face might have been even larger when it was over. The standing ovation certainly was. He was elated that at the age of 31 he was wearing a major league uniform again and being given the chance to play in a Major League game.

It was a long road to that moment. After he was hit, he was hospitalized, suffered all the symptoms of post-concussion syndrome: the dizziness, nausea, double vision and he began to understand that perhaps the minor leagues were the best he could ever do after that one stark moment of reality in the big leagues. He kicked around the minors and last played for an affiliated team at the AA level for the Los Angeles Angels in 2008, was released and has played sporadically for Independent League teams since. The last four seasons he has been with the Bridgeport Bluefish of the Atlantic League. This season, in perhaps the most ironic twist of all  they played a game against the Long Island Ducks whose starting pitcher that night was a now over 40 year old lefty named Valerio de Los Santos.

Because Santos was never thought to have tried to hit Greenberg, there was never any personal animus between them although they rarely saw each other after that brief moment on 2007. Thousands of baseballs are thrown very hard every year. Some aren't thrown where they are meant to and they both knew that. Sometimes they are hit over the fence and sometimes they hit people. It’s part of the game. Yet because he was hardly the hero of the piece, little is remembered of him, already a journeyman 38 year old whose career went as far south, albeit in less pain, as Greenberg’s did that July night so long ago. He pitched in only 17 games the rest of the season, played briefly for the Colorado Rockies and the New York Mets thereafter. Santos says it took him six months to get over that moment. He still finds it difficult to pitch to a left-handed batter and still remembers the day with haunting clarity. He knows that over nearly 150 years 18,000 players have come to bat in the Major Leagues and that Alan is the only one whose career ended on the first pitch. He knows that he did that. He needs no reminders. He has no illusions of returning to the big Show now. He is what he is. He pitched only a few more than two hundred innings in his big league career and now part of the drifters who play on as long and wherever they will let them and for little more than their love of the game.




The night that the Bluefish faced the Ducks, Alan Greenberg hit a solid single off Santos in his first at bat, wondering aloud afterward what would have been if that were the result the first time seven years ago. If it was as in that game on a small time field on Long Island this summer, he might have struggled for two weeks and been sent back down, the latest in a long line of Cub “might have beens.” On the other hand, he could have caught fire and played for years. He will never know but it has been long enough now for him to understand it was not the end of his life, only the progression of his dream. For now, he is bathed in light. There are interviews and attention. There is a possible documentary. Of course too, the memory of taking his swings against one of the best pitchers in the game this year in front of his family, more than 100 of his friends, and even Fred Van Deusen of the 1955 Phillies who came from Kentucky to throw out the first pitch and share Alan’s moment.

Does he hope that last Tuesday night will lead to being invited to spring training next year to resume the career that was so unfairly taken from him? He says he does. Will that happen? Probably not. Does that make the effort he made to get back to that moment futile? Not to him. His dream in childhood was to be a major league baseball player. He is. There is no asterisk next to his name in the record books. He was willing to do what it took to reach that goal even if it remains only for one day, one more at bat, one more chance to hear the roar of the crowd in what for him is the greatest show on earth.



Saturday, August 25, 2012

Neil Armstrong





We all felt as if we knew him. He was a government employee who became an American hero back when such things were  fashionable. His words will always be remembered, his flag remains on the moon as does that first footprint, that  giant leap for mankind.


I visited the small town of Wapakaneta  where he grew up just south of Lima Ohio. They built this  place to remember the extraordinary journey of this steely-eyed naval aviator and honor all the Ohioans who have gone into space. More have been born or educated there it is said than in any other state. 

It is a quiet and contemplative place, now a memorial to his life.


Godspeed, Neil Armstrong.


Friday, June 22, 2012

REST IN PEACE


LA COACHASITA, 2001- 2012

When the end came for my mighty iron friend, it was over in a few ticks of the clock. A lonely flat, straight, two-lane road, short of the North Dakota border at mile marker 103 on U.S. 12 North, just south of Big Thunder, SD at seven o’clock in the morning making for Great Falls Montana.


The signs said “Sharp Drop” and “Soft Shoulder.” The right front wheel went over the drop and onto that shoulder sodden with rain (with an assist from me) and we never achieved pavement again. We traveled through some long grass to a culvert and she stopped and lay down. now done.

Juan and I remained relatively unscathed, I left for a hospital emergency room in Hettinger, North Dakota, while Juan remained to stand guard. He was upright and watching only a few feet away I was told, when they came to take her away. After a body scan and more x-rays than need be recounted, the doctor told me--as they had Yogi Berra after x-rays of his  head, “They didn’t find nothin'.” I am home now, this time by air after a few days of mopping up.

My brave companion, transportation, and shelter for the past 11 years remains in the salvage yard in a speck of a town called Reva, between Bison and Buffalo South Dakota. She will be valued and hauled away. I visited her briefly to remove belongings and found Juan a wonderful new home watching over the house and garden of the salvage man, his wife and child, their pet goat and pot-bellied pig, and lovely Arabian horse. He is happy in his new life.

We shall see if there are to be further travels of Reamus. First we will sort the detritus recovered, thank our personal god that our companion protected us so well, and leave decisions for another day.

Thanks for riding along all these years.


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

OUT OF CANADA


The foreign travel is over for the year, partially because of the stationary weather front that simply would not leave the border area. If I remained further north it was warmer and sunnier. I decided that Duluth was just a bridge to far and came out just north of Thief River Falls and east of Bemidji, the rain followed the next day and the cold the day after that.
Thief River Falls is on the Red Lake River at the confluence of the Thief River. It was established in 1887, was a hub for the “Soo” railroad, is sometimes known as simply TRF and is actually more charming than its name. It has, as with all the towns up here a complicated history of Indian habitation with the Dakotas and the Ojibwe being the predominant tribes. There was once a reservation there with the odious name of “The Moose Dung Reservation” that finally was merged with the Red Lake Reservation once some semblance of peace was established between the two tribes.
Like many towns large and small Middle America, it has a city park that incorporates a campground. The “tender” of the one in TRF told me that it is an old tradition when state parks, propriety RV parks and Interstates were not common. Some are more elaborate than others, the smaller ones simply offering a shady spot off the highway to park for the night. They are tended by volunteers or city employees who take great pride in them. Oddly they are rarely abused by the grateful users. The one in Thief River Falls is excellent. There are twenty campsites in a capacious park along the Red Lake River that offer free Wi-Fi and cable as well as electricity and water for a mere twenty American dollars. After the prices experienced in Canada, even at the Provincial Parks it was a real bargain. I stopped for fuel on Saturday and asked a man in line if there was a campground nearby and he proudly told me of it and how to find it and said he hoped I’d like it.
It was a nice welcome back present even if the foul weather did find me the next day. Lots of people came by to stare at the California plates and start a conversation. Nearly all these start in the same way:
          “Long way from home!”
          “Yes sir/ma’am.”
          “Where you headed?”
          “Oh, not sure. East for now.”
And it goes on from there usually including the fact that someone in their family or they know lives within a twenty mile radius of my house. They want to tell me all about their trip to Disneyland and perhaps the San Diego Zoo and tend to ignore anything I ask about the local area or wave a hand indicating that it isn’t worth talking about. Occasionally, and I relish these occasions, I get a local who is a bit of an historian who will tell me all about the place. I found these types far more common in Canada. Taciturn is a word I often use to describe Canadians. They are not all that way but have always seemed more relaxed than we are on previous trips.
This time I sense things have changed. The oils sands discovery in Alberta and its huge industrial impact on the whole Province and the rest of the country changed the place. It is expensive to live there and the people are at least in the cities in more of a hurry. Several of my native campground acquaintances found my perception right and didn’t seem comfortable about it.
So Reamus has made the U-turn to the west now. Home is still a few weeks away, but the journey feels half over in that way when you begin passing through states you have been in earlier. Minnesota was a state I spent nearly a month in a year or two ago and is familiar. From the lovely college town of Bemidji on the lake, the only lake north of its’ source that the Mississippi River flows through, we are now back in rural America stopping at Pipestone in the far eastern, prairie side of the state. It rained overnight but clears to a breezy and pleasant afternoon. Next will be northern South Dakota, pausing only to revisit a state recreation area along the Missouri River familiar from an earlier journey along the Lewis and Clark Trail. Then back to Montana to visit a monument to Sitting Bull near Billings I have somehow missed. The way home includes a trip down U. S. 395 a once iconic route through Alturas and Susanville in California’s far eastern corner, the only part of the state I‘ve never been in before. It is still a long way. There will be more to see and share.
Until then.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

IT OFTEN LOOKS LIKE KANSAS


Moving east across Canada, the mountains are left behind. The Province of Alberta becomes dead flat just outside the National Park. If the State tree in Kansas is the telephone pole as some critics have it, then the Provincial Tree of Alberta is the fence post.
About the time you reach the other side of Medicine Hat you are convinced. The odd name for the town legend has it was the result of a tribal Medicine Man losing his “bonnet” during a battle and the Cree’s subsequent lost the battle. They never forgave him. History does not record his fate.
Suddenly the tug of an uphill climb is sensed in La Coachasita outside of town and 34 kilometers southeast of the Queens Highway you find the Inter-Provincial Park at Cypress Hill. The elevation here is the same as the mountain they ski on at Whistler far north and west in the Rockies. It is one of the very few areas of Canada that was not covered by glaciers during the ice age and had a substantial population during that time and may well have been part of a corridor that allowed humans and animals to continue to migrate from the Alaskan land bridge. The remains of ice age mammoths and camels have been found far to the south in Arizona and elsewhere. Many of the ancestors of the Navajo, Hopi and Lakota Sioux and other tribal civilizations are found here and well south of here. The conclusion is that they came this way more than 1,000 years ago. It is hard to wrap my head around the idea that the Indians living in Arizona are direct descendants of those peoples. Genealogy is not my subject but that is impressive.
There are an abundance of pines as well as deciduous trees including birch and cedar as well as wildlife found more likely in a more mountainous environment which make it a wonderfully diverse place to wander. Moose, cougar and beaver are here. You can visit the new and old beaver dams up the streams, the muskrat homes in the marsh along the lake. The Cedar trees are stripped of bark in places. They provide sustenance to the moose that tough it out in the forest in the brutal winters here and eat most anything they can find.
The exercise conscious Canadians are out jogging and biking on the cool clear mornings.  My neighbors, a delightful couple from a mere 40 miles away, deny that there is less obesity here, but I am still looking for my first morbidly obese person wearing sweat pants because that is all that fit, a common sight at home.
The weather is warm and mostly sunny. Last night there were thunderstorms that apparently are so rare here they were the talk of the village coffee house this morning. At we are under a very rare tornado warning, which for this grizzled veteran of the mid-west campgrounds finds amusing in the way the locals are reacting to it. One touches down in the Province about 20 miles to the west. I feel no more than a strong breeze and an increase in humidity. My hope was that it would be cancelled before midnight so that some amateur didn’t decide we needed to congregate in the visitor center for the night. There are precautions I take when this happens and I took them, singling up to only the electric line and running everything internally that I can. Before sleep I switched the refrigerator to gas in case the power is lost, I won’t lose the food. The temperature dropped ten degrees in an hour and while rain and hail were possible, neither happened here.
The trip over included a stop at Fort Mc Murray, the first of the Northwestern Mounted Police as they were first known. It was 14 miles down a gravel road and sadly is in great disrepair. There is a plaque and a flag that mark the spot. Fort Walsh, named after the first Commander which is part of this complex has fared better. The former was put there during the time before the definitive survey was taken to establish the 49th parallel as the border between Canada and those people to the south. The latter, Fort Walsh had a more violent beginning and interesting history. The distinctive red tunic that we identify with the RMCP today was first worn here and became a sign of trust to the Indians known here as members of the “First Nations.”
James Morrow Walsh was 35 years old on the November night in 1873 when troubled village here finally spilled over into violence. Hunters, known as “Wolfers” locally were abundant here as were people of the Cree Black Feet and the Metis (accent over the “e”), the name given the tribe which resulted in the intermarriage between the hunters and native women. While they were nomadic and followed the bison herds as did the natives, their dress and dwelling were decidedly European. A wolfer’s horse was stolen. He blamed a member of the Metis tribe and shot him. Further violence erupted all night. The Dominion government decided they had seen enough in this place with a history of strife, whiskey runners and other bad actors behaving violently and asked Walsh to Command a new detachment of the Northwest Mounted Police. He was a tough, demanding, yet fair and firm in separating the issues, well respected by the natives, disliked by the wolfers and did much to settle this part of Canada. After Sitting Bull defeated Custer he moved north and remained in this area from 1877 through 1881. Walsh managed to baby sit him without incident until he left. When he did and peace was more the norm in the Cypress Hills, the fort closed in 1883.
One Northwest Mounted Policeman was killed in those early days. A young trooper who was tending horses between here and Fort Mc Murray never returned. On November 17, 1879, his body was found with a bullet through the back of his head. It is still an enigma and a figurative stain on the now rarely worn dress red tunics of the men who “always get their man.” The murder of the man with the improbable name of Marmaduke Graburn remains even now an open case with the RMCP.
The park straddles the provincial border into Saskatchewan. There is much to see on that side and I will on my way out. Most of the camping is here near the town site of Elkwater. It is a charming place of cottages, a store and restaurant combination and an excellent Visitor Center in which the artifacts of the area are displayed. One of the ladies working the campground check-in lives here all year and says 90 other hardy souls do as well. The snow and wind chill here in January is not something in which I would want to participate yet she, like the man I met the other night who lives 20  miles from the Arctic Circle and can’t even drive all the way home, find such weather and isolation just fine. Each claim there is lots to do where they live and were surprised I would think otherwise.
A nasty wind a cold greets our departure from this lovely place and we more to Saskatchewan. Wrestling the van down the road becomes ominous amidst weather reports of a very wet weekend. I am forced to give up two stops and move on through Swift Current and Moose Jaw on the Queens highway.  We turn south trying to find blue skies and largely fail, ending up in Moose Mountain Provincial Park on the east side of “Sask” as it is often referred to here. It is a bleak province on the whole, and appears less well off than its neighbor. The unemployment is higher and the population smaller. Given my small window of opportunity to see it I cannot be sure, yet even the Provincial Parks are not as well kept, the people seemingly more distracted, less friendly than those in the Provinces have been in so far. It is flat, so flat, to quote a source I cannot recall, it may not be the end of the earth, but you can see it from here.
Tomorrow we make one more stop in Manitoba and visit (assuming the rain does not catch up to us again) the International Peace Garden on the border of Manitoba and North Dakota, said to be lovely. Should the weather catch us again we will move on further to the east and return to the United States through Minnesota.
See you on the other side where my telephone works, WiFi far more common, and even cable television available. 

Thursday, May 31, 2012

THE LAKE MADE FROM A GLACIER


Lake Mc Donald

This is Lake Mc Donald seen  from the low end. It is made from snow and clouds and moist air from 12,000 feet and flows to this point in Glacier National Park. It is a wonderfully peaceful place on an early overcast morning before the rain starts and the tourists arrive. I was here for 30 minutes with no company except this solitary loon and the sounds of birds and other ducks and loons unseen. He appeared at the end of his wake and then dove and  I never saw him again..


The Common Loon

The Road to the Sun is open for the first 18 mikes to a place called Avalanche Point. The crews continue to remove huge amounts of snow from the higher elevations. I was told by the kindly Ranger named Art that I met in the Visitors Center after I came down that it is not unusual and the good news is that the storm that was due this week which would have undone much of the work, it never materialized. I spend some time watching a video of the men doing the removal and looking at the relief map and historical material at the Center. Art is good enough to tell me the pros and cons of the various routes I can take tomorrow when I go  to Canada  to see that side of the this International Peace Park and  maps out the one he thinks is best. Occasionally, "tourists" come by and ask questions. Many have good questions and serious discussions about which campsites and trails are open. One lady demanded to know where she should go to see the "animals." Another man, whose question labeled him a life long city dweller pointed at a road on a map and demanded to know if there were bears there right now. Art handled him and the others graciously. When he saw my smile, he said the best question, and one he hears all summer, is "What time do you let the bears out?" Art has been here 30 years and had it not been time for his lunch I could have listened to his stories of Mountain Goats and Moose all day.

The park is an enchanting place even in the rain, even before they let the bears out and whether you see the animals or not. Some say the Canadian side looks better. I find it hard to believe it can beat this place of clouds and glaciers and rainstorms and mountains in the mist..

 It's been more than 2,000 miles getting this far. In another 200 or so I will be entitled to an opinion. and am very glad I came.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

M is for madness

The trip continues in a bit better weather. It is mostly overcast, 40 degrees at night but in the 60's in the day time if you don't happen to be crossing the Bitterroot Mountains. As I left Idaho, the owner of the campground suggested that it was good that I waited another day since the rain we had was snow "up in the pass" and they were "chaining up" to get through. Now I am an easterner and went to school in northern Vermont so I understand all those terms it is just not what I expected to hear in May, nor were they things I was prepared to deal with now.. Just wrestling the water hose into loops in the 38 degree weather the following morning was enough winter for me.

There was lots of snow over the pass as I went on to Missoula. I was not quite prepared for Missoula. It was a one night stand to refill the refrigerator, steam clean myself and the van, and get the laundry done. These are always busy, somewhat annoying stops and the night, as this one, was spent in a motel.

So far as I can tell there is a "Casino" on every other corner in Missoula. Some of the small towns on the way up had three of them and one gas station with no other visible business. These are not, I an assured by the motel staff, the same as the "Indian Casinos" in that they only offer Keno and of course poker after 7 PM. I failed to understand any of that, but there it is. Casinos of this type are legal here. It is apparently the way Montana keeps its taxes down. What state does have a gimmick?

The madness of Missoula is that essentially  every possible business is on the same street. It isn't downtown (there is one and it is quite historic and lovely) but rather in a higgly piggly collection of open strip malls which seems strange given the weather here. Reserve Street, which runs north and south along the western side of town an it is where you go for anything possible  in Missoula.  Worse, it is the street everyone uses to get to and from work.Worse yet is that the paucity of traffic lights leaves one wondering how to cross over to go where one needs to go. One wag at the motel suggested that it may be the reason there are food stores and restaurants on each side. They really aren't in competition with one another,the one you will go to will depend on whether you are north or south bound.

Makes as much sense as the street.





NOTE: Reamus goes over the border (if they let him) on Friday. Posting could be light for the next ten days. Or not.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

UTAH IN THE RAIN

The time from Bryce to my current place on the Salmon River was nice at first, then boring and then, after one afternoon of eagle and elk stalking at my destination, has turned to rain showers with a wind chill of about 36 degrees. I can't say it is fun to be outside, but, at the risk of becoming claustrophobic I am trying to be out there as much as the weather will allow.

The general rule of RV travel is never look at the distances, always  the topography since it  really determines how hard the miles will be. Since my aversion to Interstate highways is so strong  I found myself on the first day out of Bryce Canyon marching up and down the hills of Cedar Breaks National Monument when SR 14 from Bryce to the Nevada state line was closed for reasons neither apparent nor announced. This detour was welcome since the weather was still marvelous and the scenery its equal. Yet it made the trip longer, which was long enough since my hope was to reach Wells, some 430 miles away near the top of the state before night fall. I knew the trip from Wells to my present place at North Fork Idaho was a long day's ride because of all the things to see along the way and the winding road that borders the Snake River all the way here.. At 430 PM we were here and had a lovely evening that stretched well beyond my usual expectations due to the rising latitude. Full darkness came near 1000PM and I slept in this lovely quiet place in the hope that the rain would somehow miss this happy little valley.

I was very wrong.

The next day dawned cloudy, windy, and (for me) cold. The threat of rain persisted all day and while I ventured out several times. I was never far when the next showers would bring a cold rain. While cold is not  something I eschew, cold, wind and water together are not conditions I enjoy all at once. Thus, Friday was a day of indoor cleaning, organizing and catching up on electronic editions of newspapers. Napping was also involved. Two days of 400 mile driving fatigues me now and I was enjoying the zen like silence of my small home. There are no telephone signals here nor television. There is WiFi  and Satellite Radio so I don't feel completely isolated.

It is now Sunday. Yesterday was a day of  rain. Today is better as the wind has died off and only an occasional shower darkens the brightening sky. I am hoping for a nice day tomorrow before we move on to a housekeeping motel stop in Montana and on to Glacier National Park before crossing into Canada..

Of all the trips I have taken in the spring over the years, this is the first Memorial Day I can recall that was this cold and nasty. I was due for one, and it has not been entirely unpleasant. Because I am this far north, there no crowds here wandering about in general disgruntlement about how their weekend has been "ruined." There are seven RVs here, all but I enjoy the company of at least two dogs each and it is hardly a rowdy bunch. In all, it is a pleasant break.

The weather map tells me that a front filled with rain sits just along the border, a giant comma-like shape that covers the area that I was planning to travel. With luck, it will move before I get there. Without luck, I will  change it and move above it. It doesn't matter. There is still much to see either way.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Deserts, Indians, and Solar Eclipses

As always the trip out of San Diego requires a trip to the desert. You can pick which one, but if you are going east you will cross one.


The weather was cool and foggy, a typical May morning at departure. The Mojave Desert was this year’s choice, passing Joshua Tree National Park, the improbably named town of 29 Palms which exists only to house feed and clothe Marines, their kin, and old curmudgeon retired Marines who spent so much time there in their careers they grew to like it which is indictment enough. When we detoured to Amboy and the other smaller towns before rejoining U.S. 95 we found little but remote houses, straight roads, heat, red mesas and lots of very white sand which gives a special beauty to this forbidding place. Services are non-existent. There is a small service station and store in Amboy but that is all that marks the turn in the road.

This route is a shortcut found after many years of hewing to the Interstates in order to reach Kingman which is the first stop simply because it is far enough to drive in such conditions in one day. Little else recommends it unless one considers the birthplace of Andy Devine a place of cultural significance. It was 95 degrees in town when we arrived and the wind was at near 40 mph and it would stay that way for the next night and day. It is what one finds in Kingman this time of year. By dark it was below 70 and except for the incessant wind, not all that unpleasant. A very early start in the morning found the wind as advertised, the entire state under red flag fire warning, and two out of control fires large enough to gain national news attention to the south of my route. The usual wrestling match with the steering wheel in a high profile vehicle ensued for the next five hours whether we were headed east or north. We turned at Flagstaff where it was cooler because it is higher but even windier.

The renewed desert landscape that lasted most of the next 250 miles going north surprised me. There are more than subtle differences between it and the one crossed the day before. Here is a white grass that carpets the earth, black soil from a volcanic eruption more than a thousand years ago and signs that it once was well watered and farmed by the Hopi and perhaps even earlier tribes when they migrated into the area. The ruins of the adobes at the Wupatki National Monument are some of the more impressive I have seen. The largest, a 100 room high rise built partially underground is incredible in the diversity of materials used and for the fact that despite weathering and vandalism, remain partially intact 700 years after their owners inexplicably walked away. Why they left is one of those vague Indian stories, part reality, part spiritual and part legend. As is true in Monument Valley and other centers of Indian culture near here, it is not even clear how many times these were inhabited and by whom. The Indians can tell you the oral history, but the clarity is only as good as the memories that are pass it down. There is no written record so much of what we know of these peoples is at best guess backed by stories and relics and shards of pottery of different materials. All that having been said, it is still a place of wonder and incredible innovation, more proof that these “savages” the migrating whites chose to shoot on site or treat horrifically were a great deal more innovative and wise than they are credited.

Climbing to the top of Arizona on U.S.89 is both breathtaking in its rural splendor and depressing in the grinding poverty of the remnant Indian population selling trinkets by the roadside to those headed for Lake Powell and the eastern end of the Grand Canyon. The neglect of these people, who subsist in the most substandard of housing, much without electricity or plumbing and live each day in a quiet, yet proud desperation makes questions about priorities part of the journey.

One turns east again to climb to the north rim of the Grand Canyon at 8000 feet and passes through the Vermillion Valley with its nearly deserted lands of remarkable rock formations. Eventually the mountain is climbed to Jacobs Lake where there are pines forests, some late afternoon clouds and a temperature not unlike those left two days before.

The next day is spent at the North Rim, which is higher and much less developed than the South Rim with which most are familiar. I confess that the temperatures and the lure of the arms of Morpheus kept me from a sunrise or sunset visit. What was clear was that many camping there were waiting for Sunday to see the Aureal eclipse. The National Parks in the west are hosting special programs for the event. I chose to go on to Bryce Canyon to see it. It is clear the interest in this invitation was vastly underestimated. The camps are packed. I managed the second to last spot at Bryce Canyon and watched the event amid an array of portable radio telescopes and camera equipment that defies imagination. Vehicle traffic into the Park was stopped before noon although the shuttle bus ran. There were people from everywhere. The Europeans were here in strength as were east coast amateur astronomers. The rest of us watched through special glasses given to us for the twenty minute event. It was an awesome sight. Applause greeted the circle of fire, and then we went back to camp and talked about it awhile. Today, there are thirty campers in the campground and some sense of normalcy has returned.

The weather was excellent for all this and expected to remain so for the next three days. Memorial Day Weekend may well be another story. There may be snow here. I will be in Idaho by then where rain is forecast in that “perhaps” language used when the Chamber of Commerce wants the picnics, festivals and the rest to go forward. The campgrounds will be full despite how bad it may be.

Juan and the rest of my “companions” are fine, I am bothered a bit by the altitude at the moment, but otherwise content that the trip is a good one so far.

And so it goes.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

O CANADA !


Reamus is off in the morning on his next excellent adventure. In the hope of missing of all tornadoes and as many hail storms as possible, I head north to visit our North American cousins on Valium, the good people of Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and the far western reach of Ontario. With luck and my usual dose of superstition, I will exit their country---assuming Homeland Security will let me—in Minnesota.

La Coachasita is breathing heavily in the drive, straining at the brakes to be left to run free. She bears all the foodstuffs and goods for the journey, at the ready as always despite our collective increasing ages and her near 150,000 miles. I, of course, have many more than that, so while she gets no sympathy from me I will treat her gently in the hope that her journey will be trouble free.

We will spend a few days in Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks on the way north and be on the Salmon River for the Memorial Day Weekend.

There was a book to finish and all the grinding clerical work entailed in publishing and some other issues keeping me here longer than usual this year. I believe it was the first Mother’s Day I have spent at home in the past ten years. Now ready, we, all my inanimate travelling companions and I will see what and whom we can find that will awe and amuse us as we go around the next bend in the road and find the unexpected waiting there.

We will leave sea level here in Carlsbad, the paradise by the sea now resplendent in roses and wonderful smell of blooming jasmine, and ascend to 8000 feet at Jacobs Lake in the very northern part of Arizona. From there it is a short 30 miles to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. We remember it from a few years ago in the fall when we visited two days before they closed it for the winter and we left in the midst of a snowstorm. We expect a more temperate welcome this trip although the campground only opened Monday of this week. Bryce and Zion Parks will be next. Then north in Nevada this time for a different view of the climb up the map to Idaho, allowing too for a few ghost town visits along the way. I will reach the valley of the Salmon River, the towns of Challis and Salmon, and stay at North Fork Idaho for four days of what I hope will be continued good weather. The area has been in the 80’s most all of this week, although there is a certainty in me that it will change soon.

As always, at least until go into the black hole of communications on the northern side of the border where data transmission is more expensive than gasoline for me and my Verizon, I will try to bring you some of the sights and as many thoughts as I gather worth repeating. We hope to learn much about the beginnings of the Royal Mounted Police, the place to which Sitting Bull repaired after the nastiness in the Black Hills with General Custer, and why the Canadians are paying three times the market value for their houses these days. The itinerary is vague except to be easterly. There are a host of Provincial Parks to visit, free ranging Bison to chase, and lots and lots of prairie grass.

Once back in the states we will stay in the north through the country of the Lakota Sioux and back through more of Utah and Nevada on the way to the most unpopulated and remote Northeast corner of California and the gold country of Placerville, Alturas, and Susanville.

I am looking forward to the new places and the chance to re-visit others. As always, I hope you will ride along. 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

HUMBLE PHILIP HUMBER


          When you were picked in the third round in 2004, just behind Justin Verlander, arguably the best pitcher in baseball now, you are supposed to do something special. After two splashy but unsuccessful trades, first to the Mets and then to the Twins for quality pitchers, two releases, tendon surgery on his throwing arm and a line drive to the face, Philip Humber finally can say that he has.
          While his nine month pregnant wife sat home watching, trying desperately not to give birth, and only one week after the death of a grandfather he was as close to as anyone in the family. Philip Humber, who before Saturday never threw a complete game at the major league level, compiling and “might have been” record of 11-10 in his career, became the 21st pitcher in history, the 19th in the modern era and only the third in a White Sox uniform to pitch nine innings and never allow an opponent to reach base.
He did it with fewer pitches (96) than all but one of those men and only threw three balls to two batters before retiring them, both in the last inning. The perfect game was only out of his control for an instant at the very end when he threw a low breaking pitch on a three ball two strike count to the last Seattle batter, Brendan Ryan, who took a half swing that was ruled a strike by the home plate umpire, Brian Runge. While he argued about it the ball rolled to the backstop and Humber barked at his catcher “Go and get it.” While A.J. Pierzynski complied, he shouted, “Now throw him out!” A.J. did and it was over. The visiting dugout emptied while Ryan and the umpire remained in debate about the wisdom of the call. Humber fell to the grass in disbelief and disappeared under a pile of players while the appreciative Seattle crowd stood and applauded again as it had since the seventh inning.
They will come from the Hall of Fame and collect his uniform shirt, his glove if they can, the resin bag from the pitchers mound and some dirt from the same place so that it can be enshrined with the memorabilia of the others since Cy Young's in 1904. To this Humber had a simple reply when asked how he felt about it,
          “I have no idea what the name Philip Humber is doing on that list,” he said in a post game interview, “But I’m thankful it’s there.”
          When it was over, the interviews done, the 100 text messages and 50 phone calls acknowledged, Philip Humber went back out onto the field alone, walked slowly towards the scoreboard in left field which remained lit with the zeroes he had put there. He shook his head in wonder.
To the names of Sandy Koufax, Roy Halliday, Cy Young, and Don Larsen, legends with perfect games, they will add the name Philip Humber. He is both awed and most grateful.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

THE JOY AND THE SADNESS


On June 28, 2009 Matt Bush was viciously drunk. He removed his belt, swung it at a passing car, and crashed when trying to flee the scene. A fleet of police arrived to arrest him. Hog-tied on the ground, Bush kicked, screamed, and carried on as a toddler denied a toy. “I don’t care,” he yelled. Then he started to cry.


Fox News anchor Rick Folbaum took particular malicious glee in recounting Bush’s fall from No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 Major League Baseball draft to wailing face down in a San Diego parking lot.
“Apparently,” Folbaum said, “there is crying in baseball.”
On a gorgeous day in Port Charlotte, Fla., Bush leaned back on a bench outside the Tampa Bay Rays’ complex and talked about that day. He called himself an alcoholic and said he hoped to God that was his nadir. He looked lean, healthy, and handsome. At 5-foot-9, his size belied the magic in his right arm. Bush could throw a baseball 97, 98, sometimes 99 mph. The Rays, like so many before them, forgave Bush for what he did because of what he could do.
The worst of the worst was in the past, Bush said. He was clean, sober, and ready to play baseball. He was sure of that. The only thing left from that day was the sickening aftertaste of sitting in a locked cell, wondering how he got there and how he could get out, a moment that refused to stop haunting him.
“I have dreams still that I’m in jail, that I don’t even realize it, but I’m going to be there for a long time,” Bush said. “It’s scary what I got away with.”


Today, Matt Bush is in back in jail. He may well be there for a very long time. A Florida judge Monday set his bail at more than $1 million after Bush allegedly stole his spring roommate’s SUV Thursday night, got drunk, climbed on stage at a strip club before bouncers booted him, headed back on the road, and hit a 72-year-old motorcyclist. He drove from the carnage with a .18 blood alcohol level and a septuagenarian lying in the street in critical condition.
In the four days since Bush’s ill-fated joyride that led to seven charges, including three felonies, the Rays have tried to figure out why this happened, how it happened. Nobody knows. Not Bush’s teammates, not his coaches, not the employee-assistance program staff. All truly believed Bush, 26, had stayed away from alcohol since the 2009 DUI. Not even Bush’s roommate this spring, suspected anything.

The two had bonded since Rays camp started in mid-February. They went fishing almost every day. He cooked dinner for Bush almost every night. On Thursday, Bush offered to drop him off and take his Dodge Durango back to their apartment. He didn’t realize Bush’s license was still suspended. He never had let Bush drive before and figured it was harmless.
Immediately, Bush headed an hour northwest to Sarasota, Fla. What took him there remains unclear. Increasingly clear is the damage left in his wake. Tufano remains hospitalized with a brain hemorrhage, a collapsed lung, a broken back, broken ribs, and a broken wrist. Strife continues to ripple through a betrayed organization and a family grieving for a patriarch breathing through a respirator.
“We’re still a little numb to it,” Rays general manager Andrew Friedman told reporters Sunday.
Friedman said the Rays will cut Bush, a move that should happen sometime this week. It will come days after Bush met with Friedman and manager Joe Maddon to discuss his demotion to Triple-A. While such roster moves often come with sadness and rancor, Bush’s was upbeat. They talked about how far he’d come, how he’d fought his alcoholism, how proud they were of him.
What an incredible story it was going to be when sometime this year Bush finally made his major-league debut.


In a sport where alcohol plays such a massive part in all social settings – on the same day Bush was arrested, Boston reliever Bobby Jenks, another player with alleged alcohol issues, was charged with a hit-and-run DUI as well – there was a great story in Bush’s continued sobriety, one to tell when he finally arrived in the big leagues. Bush’s successes were redemptive, even inspiring to addicts who fight to stay clean for even a day or a week.

Bush grew up in San Diego. His parents both worked for local schools, his dad, Danny, an electronic technician and his mom, Theresa, a custodian. By his senior year at Mission Bay High School, Bush was a legitimate top 10 prospect, ranked behind better-known college players like Jered Weaver, Justin Verlander and Stephen Drew but tantalizing nonetheless. When the hometown Padres chafed at selecting Weaver and Drew, Bush reached out to the team and said he’d love the privilege of being the top pick. It was perfect: The team would glean great public relations for picking the local kid No. 1, and he was thrilled to play shortstop and accept a bonus offer of $3.15 million, well under what Weaver and Drew wanted.
“I was always just imagining how great a million dollars would be, or possibly two,” Bush said. “It’s hard to explain, I guess. It was the greatest thing I could ever imagine. All I really wanted to do was play professional baseball, and it was surreal to know I was going to be a high draft pick, but to be No. 1 in my own hometown. It was too much.”
The pressure was immediate. Only two No. 1 picks in the game’s history – injury-prone New York Mets catcher Steve Chilcott and New York Yankees “phenom” Brien Taylor, who hurt his arm in a fight – hadn’t made the major leagues. Weaver is one of the best pitchers in the American League with the Angels. Verlander of the Detroit Tigers is the reigning AL MVP and Cy Young winner. Stephen Drew is the solid everyday shortstop of the Arizona Diamondbacks. The No. 1 pick is not a place for hometown stories, guesses, or bargains.
The Padres’ impulsiveness soon resembled recklessness. Bush didn’t have a driver’s license, and the team didn’t know that his older brother Jeremy, who would chauffeur him around the team’s complex in Peoria, Ariz., had two DUIs and spent more than a month in jail for domestic violence. Nor did they realize at the pool near where Bush lived, people would bring 30-packs of beer and toss a can to anybody who asked. Two weeks after Bush signed, he hit a party at the pool, and then went with Jeremy to a nearby bar. The bouncers refused to let them in. When bouncer put Bush in a headlock, he bit his arm. Police charged Bush with felony assault, and the Padres wondered what they’d done. They looked into voiding the contract but refused to let free such a dynamic talent based on one incident.
The Padres had paid him $150,000 to sign. Another $3 million was coming in 2005, and when it did, Bush blew through it, too. He bought a Mercedes CLS class and drove if for 1,000 miles before trading it, along with his Range Rover and $60,000, for a new Bentley. A few months later, he traded the Bentley for another car. Every new purchase enthralled him, gave him a high he couldn’t find on the baseball field, where he struggled through injuries and never hit. He kept spending until there was nothing left.
When he was arrested Thursday, Bush had only $2,000 in his bank account.
Bush’s continued drinking added weight, neutered his bat speed and turned him into an everyday oaf, yet it didn’t affect his arm, the only body part his addiction couldn’t steal yet. By the time the Padres decided to convert Bush to a pitcher in 2007, he had hit .219 in 259 games and committed more errors (76) than he drove in runs (70).
Almost immediately, the move looked inspired. Bush was hitting 98 mph on radar guns in rookie ball, where as a 21-year-old he struck out 16 batters and walked just two in 7 1/3 innings. The Padres moved him to Low-A Fort Wayne, where he debuted Aug. 9, 2007. In his first inning, Bush gassed a 99-mph fastball. His arm felt loose. There were fans, unlike in rookie ball, and he wanted to show off. He threw a perfect slider for a strike and heard a crunch. Bush left the game, worried something was wrong. His arm felt fine the next day. He picked up a ball and tried to throw it. The ball barely went 10 feet.
The ligament in Bush’s right elbow had snapped. He underwent “Tommy John” surgery when the swelling subsided. He would miss the rest of 2007, all of 2008 and fall back into the pattern of trouble that seemed certain to doom his career.
While rehabbing his injury in Peoria AZ in 2008, Bush was injured in a bar fight. Before spring training in 2009, he got drunk, drove to a nearby high school in San Diego, assaulted two students, and hit a curb driving away before he was arrested. The Padres designated him for assignment and found a taker in the Toronto Blue Jays, who acquired Bush and placed him on their 40-man roster. His father came with him to spring training the first few weeks to babysit Bush.
“As soon as he left, I felt lonely,” Bush said. From that moment on, he went back to the same routine. Eventually he stayed out until 6 a.m., missed a 7 o’clock workout, and woke up at noon. Toronto released him April 1, 2009.
Bush returned home to San Diego. He played basketball, went fishing, immersed himself in video games. He tried anything to replace the alcohol. Sometimes he’d say he needed to go to the grocery store and spend hours driving around, passing liquor stores, tempting himself, weighing the benefits and detriments of another drink. He tried outpatient rehab but found it laughable. Drinking turned into a game, a test, one he couldn’t win.
The night of his first arrest runs a frightening parallel to his most recent. Nearly three months of sobriety had lulled Bush’s family into not monitoring him with necessary vigilance. Afterward, he spent the next four months at Rancho L’Abri, a now-shuttered rehab center about 30 miles east of San Diego. He went to daily meetings and learned about addiction. He was sober for the first time in too long. The Rays sent a scout named Jake Wilson to visit Bush. They wanted to sign him and place him at the Winning Inning, a baseball-and-life-skills academy in Clearwater, Fla., that emphasizes discipline and religion.

Bush worked out during the day with Roy Silver, a former Cardinals minor-league player and manager who runs the program, and spent weekends with his friend Bill Manion fishing at Lake Tarpon and ponds around Pinellas County.
While he spent much of 2010 injured, Bush impressed Rays’ officials enough to earn a 40-man roster spot before the 2011 season. After surgery on his radial nerve, Bush finally, after five years, pitched a full season as a reliever. In 50 1/3 innings at Double-A Montgomery last season, he struck out 77 hitters. Had he continued to pitch well at Triple-A Durham this year, Bush would’ve been among the first pitchers summoned upon injury or ineffectiveness in the bullpen.
“I like the way he’s dealing with everything,” Maddon, the Rays’ manager, told the Tampa Bay Times in late February. “Here’s a young man that’s gotten a second chance, and he’s done a lot of good with it.”
How that good went so bad so quickly still preys on the minds of those closest to Bush. Maybe he was fooling everyone and played sober like a superb character actor. Maybe something pushed him and he snapped. Maybe it was like the last time, the culmination of all those clean days – nearly 1,000 this time – proving too difficult to withstand, the force of his addiction’s strength greater than the will to fight it.
“I’m in his corner,” Silver said. “He’s not in the corner with me right now. You never can go into life without being prepared. I know where Satan lives. He dominates this earth.”
Silver is mad. Silver tried to teach Bush: never let up, never give in, and never take sobriety for granted. He valued accountability.
“There’s always a place you can go or a phone number you can call,” he said. “Cancer is not a choice. This is a choice. It’s called free will.”
What Bush allegedly did plumbs the depths of human ruin – stealing from a friend, endangering the life of every person on the road and ultimately putting one man’s into peril, all things for which he deserves the punishment the law provides. Yet he is no one-dimensional villain. He is a man with a disease, a vicious, unrelenting disease.
When minutes bled into hours into days into weeks into months into years, at some point no amount of rehab or incentive or even the taste of a major-league mound could keep him from doing what his brain told him to do. It frightened him that it might never change. He was so close to the major leagues, where he may now be persona non grata, though as long as he throws 97, or 98 or 99 that is no certainty. More, to three years of sobriety, and perhaps even to rescuing himself from whatever chased him from Arizona to San Diego to Florida, up Interstate 75 and into the life of a man who was riding home on his Harley after babysitting his granddaughter.
If Tony Tufano dies, Bush almost certainly will spend at least two years in jail. A hit-and-run DUI resulting in a death in Florida carries that minimum penalty, and the other counts could result in a longer sentence.
For now, he sits in Charlotte County jail, wondering how he got there and knowing he can’t get out. This time, it’s not a dream.
The joy of an athlete and the beauty of his skills must meet the reality of life. Some times that meeting is sad. There isn't anyone Matt Bush can blame except a disease he doesn't understand and cannot control. 
That may be the sadness part of all.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

IT'S ONLY A GAME


It was an unusual scene for a day in Spring Training. No one looked happy or expectant of good things. No hope sprang eternal as it usually does in camps in Arizona and Florida before the season when all things are still possible for every team before they play the games. It wasn’t about baseball, it was real life intruding on the game. And not in a good way.

It is early enough that there are still many of the minor league players still in camp trying to impress and when one of their own announces that he is leaving the game he has loved at 23 years of age it is not a time of celebration. The obligatory statements are made about how it is a shame, the unfilled dreams, the “family” being pulled apart, and how sometimes real life takes baseball by the throat and reminds us all it is only a game.

In Pace Florida, a town not far from Pensacola, Andrew L. Cumberland began playing baseball while growing up. “Drew” to his friends and teammates he was drafted out of high school by the San Diego Padres in the 1st round of players in 2007. He played that summer at age 18 in the Rookie League and then in lower A in 25 games and batted a remarkable .320, which in baseball language means he was successful in getting a hit of some sort in three out of ten attempts. To put that in perspective, players who manage that for their entire career go to the Hall of Fame. Three out of ten over a career will be good enough to be remembered as one of the greats. In the fall, when most of the world turned to football, Drew went to the Padres team in the Arizona Rookie league and hit .318. He was a shortstop and 2nd baseman still looking for the place he was most comfortable, but if he could maintain hitting statistics like that, they would find a place and be sure he was comfortable.

In the next three years he played in Eugene, Oregon, Fort Wayne Indiana, San Antonio, and Lake Elsinore California. As he moved up his hitting remained consistent and his play in the field remained at the “excellent prospect” level.

In 2010 he had to stop playing. He had symptoms of concussion syndrome. He was later diagnosed with a rare neurological disorder which has damaged portions of both his inner ear and greatly affects his balance. Essentially retired from the game by a body that would not cooperate, he stayed at Fort Wayne to coach, and while he enjoyed the experience he refused to believe his promising career was over.

Over the winter he had medical treatment and worked out vigorously with no side effects so he reported to camp here with the hope of returning to the field. After 14 days of play, the symptoms returned and on Monday, he retired as an active player and left camp, “unavailable for comment” as the team PR flaks put it. He can no longer play the game he loves with a passion and played so well. He is done at the age of 23.

No one said the game was fair. That would make it different from real life, so it isn’t. Athletes often fail to see that, because when you are 23 and very very good at something that few others in the world can even try to do, it is devastating when you learn you no longer have the physical capacity to do it. While not exclusive to professional athletes, it is particularly prevalent among them. It is sad to watch and hard to grasp. Cumberland plans to return to coaching in the minors again this year, teaching others nearly his own age how to use the techniques and skills that made him so successful but which his body now refuses to let him display.

May Drew Cumberland also be wise enough to understand that while he has a lot to teach others, he has a life yet to be lived outside of this little boy’s game at which he excelled.

Meanwhile, on the other coast in the Florida camp of the Baltimore Orioles, Brad Bergesen, 27, a right-handed pitcher, reported with all the others. He was with the major league club last year for all of for 35 of the 162 games they played last year. For this meager effort he was paid $400,000. When he was offered a roster spot this season his agent began salary negotiations.

There is an old joke about the definition of chutzpah. It is said that it is a man who murders both his parents and then throws himself on the mercy of the Court claiming he is an orphan.

As crude as it is, until last week I was reasonably certain it was as good as any. Now there is Brad Bergesen and I am not so sure.

While most of the world was wondering who would win the Super Bowl and there were still two week left before pitchers, catchers, and roster players who were injured last year had to report, Mr. Bergesen was burgling his team through a process known in baseball as “arbitration.” Baseball arbitration bears no resemblance to what may come to mind when one thinks of it in real world terms. Rather, a simplified version of how it goes is this: After the first three years with one team, a player may request salary arbitration, or, alternatively, he may be “offered” arbitration by the team if a salary cannot be negotiated to their mutual satisfaction. Once at that impasse, the player picks a number that he believes he is worth for the use of what tools he has in the coming season and the team picks a number they believe is worthy. These two numbers are given to a panel of arbitrators. After hearing arguments from the player and the team representatives, they decide which one the player will receive. The arbitrators cannot choose a number but must pick either the player’s number or the team’s. It goes without saying that the team’s number is always the lesser of the two.

This arcane process was once thought to be a fair way to keep penurious owners from keeping players of great skill in relative poverty after a surprisingly sterling early career. Like all other things in the world of baseball finance it is no longer any such thing.

How do we know this? Consider the case of Mr. Bergesen.

A native of Concord California, he was drafted in 2004 in the 4th round by the Orioles. A draft choice at that level is one which the team would  expect to reach the major leagues. He was there for those 35 games, appeared in 12, winning 2, and losing 7. He was hammered for more than 5 runs per nine innings pitched and allowed more than 1 base runner per inning pitched. Horrid numbers even by Oriole standards. When his salary negotiation came up this year, he decided the skills that had given that effort were worth $1.2 million. The team refused, but in an act of either great faith or incredible stupidity actually offered him $800,000. Perhaps they felt he might feel wanted.

There is nothing physically wrong with Brad Bergesen. He just hasn’t shown anyone that he can throw a baseball for strikes, get batters out, or keep them off base with consistency. Yet he will earn twice what he received last year and one must assume since the Orioles were foolish enough to offer it, they might expect him to be twice as good. Perhaps he will win 4 or 5 games and only lose 6. You all may stop wondering now why the Orioles consistently are finishing last in their division.

So, Drew Cumberland walks into the obscurity of the coaching ranks while reeking of potential due to his physical condition, Brad Bergesen walks back out onto a major league baseball field reeking of wealth due to the pedestrian performances of his past.