Thursday, March 31, 2011

Holy overcontrived blog titles Batman!

Our house has discovered a new cable channel -- Hub TV (formerly Discovery Kids). The network plays kids shows during the day, then switches over to family-friendly sitcoms like "The Wonder Years" and "Family Ties," and it has even brought back a classic from the 1960s: "Batman." Not the animated series, not "Superfriends," but the live-action "Batman" starring Adam West.

I used to watch "Batman" almost religiously in my early grade school years, on Ch. 32 in Chicago. One story would be split up into two episodes, with Batman and Robin in mortal peril at the end of the first episode, then escaping and solving the crime in the second. Since I discovered Hub, I've been DVRing "Batman" episodes and watching them with Eldest. The series is good fun. They aren't really that violent (compared with some kids shows today) and are nowhere near as dark as the actual Batman is supposed to be.

But Elder is already catching on to the series' format. The first episode we watched, he asked who was the girl with the Joker. I told him that every male villain seemed to have a female sidekick around for just that episode. On the next episode, Eldest correctly identified "that dumb girl with Riddler. I'm waiting until he discovers these four things, even at age 7:

1. He will discover Batman and Robin will always escape the whirling blades of death, the hot liquid they are slowly being lowered into, the giant weight that will crush them, and the host of other indirect ways the villains try to eliminate the Dynamic Duo. Eldest will also eventually wonder why the villain doesn't stick around to watch the Caped Crusader's doom.

2. He will marvel how the Bat Cave has the ability to discover anything and that Batman and Robin's utility belts have just the right tool to escape any situation. "Quickly, Robin, use your Bat Shamwow to clean up that pool of acid!"

3. He will realize this incarnation of Batman is a sanctimonious, self-righteous, self-possessed superhero, and that Robin is, well, kind of whiny.

4. All these things considered, he'll start rooting for the bad guys, knowing they will never win even though they are more fun. (At least on "Law and Order," the bad guys sometimes don't get convicted.) Once he realizes this futility -- and I don't know how many episodes it will take or if it's more a maturity thing -- he will stop wanting to watch "Batman."

In the meantime, the fight scenes might help his reading skills. He should need only a few more episodes to be able to recognize "POW!", "SLAM! and "CRUNCH!" on sight.

Big scoreboard

After blogging about the Jazz game this week, I started thinking about my first NBA game. Like Eldest, I was a first-grader who was just starting to seriously like basketball. My dad was a big Bulls fan, and that season, the Bulls were good, with Norm Van Lier, John Mengelt, Norm Van Lier and 7-foot-2 Artis Gilmore on the roster.

I don't remember much of the game -- who won, who lost, where we sat, and so on. What I remember most was Chicago Stadium itself, especially the big hanging scoreboard overseeing the court. Lights from the bottom of the scoreboard lit up the court and provided a bright center to an otherwise dim stadium. The players' numbers were displayed as well as other key stats, and I was intrigued by the billboard ads rotating rotisserie style on the bottom sides of the contraption (this was before stadiums started putting Jumbotrons on scoreboards). The scoreboard was larger than life, at least for a 6-year-old, and dominated my focus, even after the game started.

That first game wasn't my most memorable Bulls game -- that belongs to a 1985 game against the 76ers when Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley were rookies and I was trying to get over salmonella. My boys talked about the Jazz game the day after and what they observed and liked. They took the Jazz bear and a near-victory from their first game. I took a gigantic scoreboard from mine.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Back to 1977


I recently posted about buying new baseball cards for the boys and me. I also theorized buying the 1977 Topps set, the first year I collected baseball cards.

I took that first step.

A complete 1977 set on eBay isn't cheap, so instead, I bought a lot of about 200 cards. I got a good deal on the lot ($4), knowing the some of the cards aren't in good shape. Yes, a few have gum residue, and a few are cut correctly or have frayed edges, but that doesn't concern me. I'm not trying to assemble this set to put away forever, but to look at and hold. And yes, the lot I bought is mostly commons and contains few superstars (Toby Harrah notwithstanding), but that's OK -- this was just a start. Re-acquiring the set in segments instead of all at once might be more fun. I will continue to post on my progress.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

We loved this game!

I took the boys to their first Jazz game last night. Eldest got a free ticket from his basketball league, I got one for coaching, and after another player got sick, Littlest had a ticket, too. So the three of us met one of Eldest's classmates/teammates and his dad and went to the game at EnergySolutions Arena in downtown Salt Lake City.

The game went much better than I expected (at least off the court; the Jazz lost to the pitiful Wizards). Eldest and his friend paid attention to almost the whole game. They sat in the row in front of the dads and Littlest and were content to watch the game away from their fathers. I didn't mind. Eldest is getting to that point where he likes hanging out with his friends, maybe a little more than me if given the option. There's plenty of time to go to a game with just him (or just both boys). I think Eldest understood what was going on during the game, too -- at least enough that he paid attention. I'm starting to believe him that basketball has passed soccer as his favorite sport.

Littlest at time whined a little, but for the most part, had fun and didn't complain about being stuck at a basketball game. He watched most of the second half, thanks in part to the giant foam finger I bought him. He saw others with the souvenir and whined a little about it, but I did promise him to get him something at the game. Once he stopped whining, I bought him the finger at halftime. He spent the second half waving the finger and screaming "Go Jazz!" He may have not understood what was occurring on the court, but he understood to follow along when the crowd cheered or yelled "De-fense!" He had a blast.

The Jazz trailed by double-digits but came back to take the lead, sending the crowd, and the boys, into a frenzy. Alas, the game went to overtime and the Jazz fell apart. Littlest kept asking if it was over in OT, almost knowing the Jazz were going to lose (half the crowd walking heading for the exits didn't help).

Except for the final score, we enjoyed a fun, great night. Our seats were somewhat high up and in the corner, but this is an arena designed for basketball, so we weren't that far away (unlike the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, designed for hockey and miles from the court in the upper deck). Those cheap seats aren't that expensive as season tickets, and I've always looked forward to the day I could buy season tickets so the boys and I could enjoy basketball games together. Now that I know they can handle a full game, the year we buy them might be sooner than later.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Ab-sence of malice

For Christmas, Wife gave me a 10-punch pass to a "boot camp" class at the Jewish Community Center (yes, we belong to a JCC; there are no YMCAs in Salt Lake City, and I do appreciate the mild ridiculousness of being Catholic in the most Mormon place on the planet and belonging to a Jewish Community Center). I did a some boot camp-style classes a couple years ago and liked them, and Wife thought I might like to do them again. It's not real, R. Lee Ermey boot camp, but just a mildly intense workout. I've been going for a few weeks, and though it's been rough, and though I've felt like an uncoordinated spaz at times (some exercises -- pull-ups for example -- I've just never been able to do), I keep going back and feel worked out after each class.

However, the last class I took really beat me up.

Thursday, as part of the workout, I did 60 situps. Mind you, I probably haven't done that many situps in a 10-minute time period since high school, when I was in better shape. Being out of shape in the present and having not gone to boot camp in a couple weeks might have contributed to the pain I felt afterward. And by afterward, I mean two days afterward. I felt fine Friday, my upper arms and shoulders were sore Saturday from other parts of the workout, and the pain hit my upper abs on Saturday.

The pain hit bad. This was beyond comfortable soreness. Lifting my arms over my head was painful. Sneezing was painful. Sleeping on my side was painful. Rolling onto my back after deciding sleeping on my side was too painful was painful. Getting out of bed to get more ibuprofen was painful. Sitting up was painful.

The pain has subsided a little, but even as I type this, I stretched and felt a twinge of pain. This last workout kicked my butt good, which I need, but hopefully, my abs can withstand the shock the next time. In the meantime, I'm hoping my bruised ab muscles are healed enough so I can sleep easier tonight.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Super star

At preschool this week, Littlest was "Star of the Week." The recipient of Star of the Week gets a poster dedicated to him or her, on which the child draws a picture of his family, has all his favorites listed, and has comments from his family, teacher and all his classmates what they like about him.

We've been through this before, twice with Eldest and now twice with Littlest. But it was Littlest's answers that highlighted this Star of the Week, particularly what he wanted to be when he grew up. Littlest answered that he wanted to be happy when he grew up. A few years ago, Eldest declared he wanted to be a parent when he grew up, which was awesome. Littlest's happy comment might have been the cutest I've heard in all the years at this preschool (even cuter than the girl who wanted to own a Target when she grew up.

I could have talked for minutes on what I liked about Littlest. About how proud I am of him for working so hard these past couple years in speech therapy (I somewhat mentioned that). About how smart he is (I did mention that). About how he gives great hugs and is so sweet. About how he looks for the best in everyone. About how enthusiastic he is about everything. But I finished with how he loves to sing, and not just kids songs. This led to a short rendition of Weezer's "If You're Wondering" complete with Littlest belting out the line "Girl!" It was classic.

Littlest will always be my star. So will Eldest. I love my galaxy.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The cycle of life

I got my first bicycle in May 1978 when I was 7 years old. It was a black and silver not-quite-a-BMX bike with a giant shock absorber across the middle bar, and it was a present for my first Communion. I was a small second-grader, and I don't think my parents realized how big this bike was. But this was before you saw many of the little bikes you see today that are aimed at smaller kids. My dad installed training wheels, but training wheels were different then, too, usually with only one on the ground at any given time instead of two. Being so high up on this bike and not feeling balanced freaked me out too much. My parents must have wondered what was wrong with me (because I also was too frightened of water); I hope they didn't get mad that they bought me a bike I refused to ride.

I did learn how to ride a bike the next summer: My sister's Prairie Flower. It was smaller and easier to balance. I think what drove me finally figure it out was finding out a 6-year-old neighbor (as well as my sister) had figured out a two-wheeler, and here was I at 8 and I couldn't. I didn't figure out my bike until March 1980 -- fourth grade. Once I did, I rode it everyplace -- even when it started falling apart, even after I wiped out on it, even after I got my pants stuck in it and an elderly woman across the alley had to come out with a pair of scissors and cut a small part of my pant leg out -- until I got a 10-speed for Christmas in 1983.

I'm telling this story to contrast to Eldest's bike-riding history. I bought him one of those little bikes (though this one wasn't as little as the one I'd buy Littlest) with training wheels when he was 3. The training wheels fell off a year later, and rather than try fanagling them back on, we tackled two wheels, which he eventually mastered at age 4 1/2. He outgrew this bike, so late last summer at age 6, he switched to a bigger Trek mountain bike Wife found a garage sale. He was shaky at first but has figured out the handbrakes and gears. Yesterday, at age 7 -- the same age I was when I got my first bike -- he tackled his first big downhill, smiling the entire way and stopping right where I wanted him to stop (I was waiting for him in case he didn't). He also rode uphill, downshifting for some extra pedal power.

Oh, he also has ripped a pant leg in the pedals. At least he didn't need a old lady to free him.

I sometimes must remind myself when Eldest is frustrating me on things he won't try or isn't getting that there are plenty of things that I am amazed he can do at his age. The big bike was helped along by the fact he's so tall (almost 4-foot-6; I didn't get there until I was almost 10), but sheer will and determination helped. And there are things I could do when I was 7 that he can't yet. Each kid is different; each adult is different; each person is different.

Littlest's training wheels fell off his bike, and we are going to move him up to Eldest's old bike and see if he can learn a two-wheeler. If he doesn't right away, we will keep trying and not get discouraged. After all, at age 4, Littlest jumped off a diving board and swam back to the side on his own. I didn't do that until I was 36.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Spring still

What to blog about, what to blog about ...

We just got through an uneventful, overcast weekend. Eldest had a soccer game, I took the boys to Costco, I worked on a freelance project and watched plenty of NCAA basketball (go Marquette, Sweet 16!). Those were the highlights of the weekend.

After spring teased us in Utah, we had a snow flurry Saturday night. This cloudy weather -- which, by the way, obscured the SuperMoon -- has got me feeling a little blah. I'm ready for highs in the 60s and 70s, baseball season and trying to make our lawn look presentable.

At least our perennials are starting to poke through in our front yard, with help from some springy yard work. It won't be long now.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Kittypet

We've now owned Maggie, our new kitten, for about a month. Littlest and I took her to the vet today to get a feline leukemia booster shot and to get her ulcerated eye checked. I'm happy to report that her eye is looking better, she's completely healed from getting fixed, and that in three weeks since we took her to the vet last, she's gained a pound. I've noticed she's looking bigger -- our kitten is going to be full-sized in a few months.

Maggie has so incorporated herself into our family. She loves the boys (unlike our last cats, who barely tolerated them; granted, the cats were there first ...), is comfortable in our house, and is as active and playful as the day we first took her home from the shelter. She's a little too curious about outside (we are keeping her an indoor cat); hopefully, she won't try making a mad dash out a door. And, Maggie encountered her first dog up close and was fine. We had a friend bring over her chihuahua that was not mich bigger than Maggie. The dog left her alone, but Maggie hissed a couple times, but also tried getting the dog to play. It's a good sign -- as long as we bring a friendly, not-too-big (but not chihuahua size) dog home and we're careful, Maggie and the new friend should get along fine.

But that's in the future. For now, we're enjoying our new member of the family.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Bully pulpit

If you haven't seen the viral video of the Australian bully getting body-slammed by the kid he was tormenting, watch it. It's the real-life version of Ralphie beating up Scut Farkas, Daniel LaRusso winning the karate tournament, Peter Brady knocking some of Buddy Hinton's teeth loose, George McFly smacking Biff, Matt Dillon getting his nose broken in "My Bodyguard" and the neighborhood turning on Nelson Muntz.

I'm not advocating violence. I believe the best way to combat bullying is to make it so undesirable for the bully that he or she decides to not bully. That's why encouraging kids to tell a teacher or grownup (even if it's not happening to them) is a good method to preventing bullying. The bully operates knowing silence will allow him never to get caught; the more adults who know (and the more consequences the bully might face), the better. I don't think fighting back should be the first answer. The Hollywood image of the victim fighting back and winning carries a triumphant message -- comeuppance seems to be in our human nature -- but in reality, I'm guessing a good percentage of victimized kids standing up for themselves end up just getting hurt more. I hope this video is not going to encourage kids to unrealistically try fighting back. The bullied kid here (Casey) was older and obviously stronger than his tormentor. Most bullied kids don't have this luxury.

That said, I couldn't help but cheer for Casey in this video, not only for standing up to the bullying, but also walking away instead of continuing to pummel the other kid. Maybe he showed restraint, maybe he was so horrified at what he just did that he wanted to just leave, or maybe he was nervous one of the kids friends was going to do something (you can see the one confront him after, only to be confronted by a girl telling him to back off; hurray for that girl!). That's why I'm a little annoyed that some people are criticizing Casey for going too far in defending himself. This Salon story especially annoyed me, suggesting that maybe the other kid was the victim because he's getting harassed since the video went viral. I'm sorry, but no one forced the bully to harass Casey, no one forced him to get his friends to take video (and post it on YouTube), and no one forced him to punch Casey in the face. He started the fight, and Casey finished it. If you don't want to potentially get hurt or embarrassed, don't start fights. It's that simple. Don't pity the bully because Casey used force to defend himself against force.

The Salon story was also worried Casey might face retribution from his bully's friends. I don't think Casey should worry -- my guess is that the school, likely mortified that such bullying is taking place in its institution, won't let any bullying of any kind happen again. "Come to our school and get bullied or body-slammed" isn't exactly the best public relations.

We shouldn't condone violence, and we should teach our children to respect each other, stand up for one another, and not let bullying get to the point where it gets ugly. Grownups need to intervene to prevent bullying as well -- it's been proved that safe, non-harassed kids do better in school. So why has watching a 13-year-old bully get body-slammed been so cathartic for so many people? Maybe we remember our feeling helpless in our own childhoods to fight back, either out of fear or simple bad odds. Or perhaps the recent spate of bullying suicides has conditioned us to root for one story that delivers a happy ending.

The adult/parent in me thinks I should feel bad for watching the bully get his comeuppance. Oddly, but I hope not sadly, I don't.

I cheered.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Forward sprung

Daylight Savings Time arrived over the weekend, much to the consternation of many people, including Wife. The lost hour of sleep is a big adjustment -- it has been for me the past two days. I worried I was staying up late working last night, when in fact, I was mostly on my normal evening schedule. Littlest slept until 8 this morning -- about an hour later than usual, but still got the right amount of sleep. I know it will take just a few days to adapt. And honestly, I welcome the beginning of Daylight Savings despite the sleep schedule upheaval.

As a night person whose favorite season is summer, Daylight Savings is the first sign of what's to come in the next few months. Getting to those later evenings, at least for me, is evidence that winter is being conquered. This mental component of DST got a boost a few years ago when it was moved from early April to mid March. Remember when Daylight Savings didn't start until the first week of May? Then, that first day of the later sunset was confirmation that summer had arrived (even if it technically hadn't). In March, it's more of confirmation of spring's arrival. Granted, here in Utah, on the west end of the time zone, the early clock switch will make mornings darker for a few more weeks. I can see how that can perturb morning people (like my wife), but I can live with it until summer (I only like early mornings in summer, anyway).

Some people argue that Daylight Savings Time is unnecessary in our less agrarian society. But do we really want summer mornings to start at 4 a.m. (if you live on the east of a time zone, like Chicago, where the sun comes up so early in June)? Do we really want our summer days to end an hour earlier? Do we really want to discard that reminder that the warm seasons are on their way? I don't, and I can live with a few tired days for DST. The yawns are well worth it.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Pack mentality

I bought a pack of baseball cards for Eldest today.

That statement is not entirely true. I bought a pack of baseball cards for Eldest and me Thursday.


I was checking out at Walmart today in the lane that adjoined the shelves with trading cards, Pez dispensers, compact umbrellas and "As Seen on TV" wares. I glanced over, saw the baseball cards, thought about it for a minute, grabbed a $2 pack of Topps 2011 and added it to the conveyor belt.

For a few years now, seemingly every spring, I've been contemplating buying a pack of baseball cards just for nostalgia sake. Other than a one-year flirtation with MLB Showdown (a collectible card game published by Wizards of the Coast that I was writing strategy articles for), I haven't bought packs of baseball cards since perhaps 1981.

Thursday, I finally bought a pack. I'm guessing I pulled the trigger because of a combination of things:

-- I'm quite hooked on Josh Wilker's blog Cardboard Gods, which takes a look back at cards from the 1975-81 (my own prime collection years -- at least 1977-81). He wrote a book from the blog that Wife bought me last summer, that aside from sparking my card nostalgia, has provided a bit of inspiration to write more.

-- I really wanted to let Eldest experience the thrill of opening a pack of baseball cards and seeing who was inside, even if he has no clue who the players are. I started collecting cards when I was 6, and it helped teach me the game. I know this sounds like over-pushing sports on a kid, but Eldest, as a boy, will need to understand the rules of baseball (as well as football; I think he's got basketball down) as he grows up. Of course, I want him to know the basics so we can enjoy games together, but on a practical note, boys who don't know sports are thought of as dorks by other boys. Right or wrong, that's the reality. I'm not worried he's not going to pick these things up, but I figured baseball out at 6, I think he can be well on his way at 7. Another practical consideration: I'm hoping he'll want to read the cards.

-- Simply, spring is almost here, and I've been listening to spring training games off an app on my Android.

I let Eldest open the pack, which contained 12 cards. I informed him that the first year I collected cards, a pack cost 15 cents (but didn't add that wax packs, with more cards, were a quarter; and damn, I forgot to describe the gum that used to come with baseball cards). The first thing I noticed was that today's baseball cards are much nicer than back in the day -- full color, glossy finish, more statistics (including slugging percentage!). Shuffling through the pack, we got Vincente Padilla, Jair Jurrjens, David Eckstein, Michael Cuddyer, Howie Kendrick (I told Eldest that Kendrick used to play for the Bees), a Josh Hamilton AL MVP card, a blue Justin Verlander that directed you to the Web, and AL ERA leaders.

The pack also included a cardboard replica 1950 Bowman card of Jackie Robinson. I explained to Eldest the significance of Jackie Robinson as well as told him that this is what baseball cards used to look like in my day: color on one side, two-toned and gray on the other. I read the statistics off two cards, trying to explain what they meant (though I didn't even attempt to explain OPS). I told him that maybe we'd try to see a game in Wrigley Field when we visit Grandpa in Chicago this summer.

Eldest asked if he could keep the cards, and I said yes, adding we could buy more packs as the year went along. I did say he had to find a shoebox in which to keep them; otherwise, they will be all over the place (I'm speaking from experience).

I'm looking forward to buying more cards as the season goes along, and wonder if I save a little money to go on eBay and buy some cards from my youth (I own complete 1980 and 1981 Topps; I'd love to get the 1977 set, but that won't be cheap). In the meantime, I'm debating whether to sneak into the boys' room and get the cards I bought today and look at them again. That's not the crazy part of all this -- what's crazy is that I wish today's baseball cards still came with that non-soft, tasteless bubble gum.

This, that and these

Random thoughts and observations after a really busy Wednesday that took me to Costco, Smith's, Old Navy, Kohl's and T.J. Maxx. Oh, I co-oped in Eldest's class, too.

-- The eight inches of snow we got overnight Monday is almost all melted. Wednesday was gorgeous: mid 50s and sunny. I'm determined to not wear my winter coat again until November.

-- Watching my Wisconsin friends go ape-poop over the politics has been interesting. Although I'm sure I'd be enraged if I still lived there, I'm not as fazed when ridiculous politics happen in Utah: I knew what I was getting into when we moved here. And at least the politicians here don't like big demonstrations: When one bill was seriously challenged this week, many legislators took pause (the governor signed it anyway; again, not shocked). I'm just happy the state government loosened the liquor laws a couple years ago.

-- My dad's generation wore Converse (which I liked, by the way), mine wore Nike, and I think my kids and their friends are stuck on Skechers. That what the trip to Kohl's was for: Eldest's Skechers are wearing out, and Littlest needed new shoes, too (and it was just easier to get them both Skechers -- Littlest may be outgrowing (both by age and foot size) character shoes. They are a little more expensive than what I'd get at Payless, but Eldest's pair held up well over the months, and buying them at Kohl's, where everything is on sale (before my 30 percent off coupon) make them worth it.

-- I feel bad for Littlest: We need to get Eldest some new clothes as he grows (and I did today -- size 8s for everything), but Littlest is relegated to mostly hand-me-downs. I think that's why I didn't mind getting him the Skechers. I did buy him a swim shirt Wednesday that we saw at Kohl's (on sale, of course) -- one clothing item Eldest didn't have at his little brother's age.

-- Six blog posts in three days: I'm on a roll! I'm trying to publicize this more, on Twitter and Facebook. I just better keep the posting momentum going.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Maddening March, part 3

By the winter of 1981 I had learn to like basketball. During the winter of 1981, I learned to love basketball -- watching it and playing it.

I can't remember how often my friends and I would simply go to the park the play basketball before that winter 30 years ago. I suppose we did occasionally, just as we went to the park to play football or baseball. But that winter 30 years ago, I remember, maybe for the first time, going to the park by myself to just shoot around. The first time, I walked to Oriole Park's fieldhouse and shot around inside. I must have had the hankering to go, because I was just shooting baskets on my own. I remember the fieldhouse had a soft rock station playing over the PA and hearing "What Kind of Fool" by Barbra Streisand and Barry Gibb. The gym was mostly empty, so I had a basket all to myself. This may have been one of the first times I just shot on my own. I know I'd shoot around at my dad's basketball games at any opportunity (read: when his game wasn't in progress). I didn't yet have a backboard on our garage, so Oriole Park was my closest option.

Soon, the weather warmed up enough that I could shoot around on the outside rims next to the fieldhouse. It might have been gray outside, but as long as there was no snow, I could play. I liked shooting on the northeast basket that had a full square backboard but a slightly titled rim. I'd shoot around randomly or pretend I was in a basketball game, scoring points and making the game-winning shot (just like I would on my Nerf hoop at home). I started to bring a small tranistor radio to listen to music as I practiced.

That winter 30 years ago we had season tickets for DePaul basketball games. The Blue Demons had moved out from Alumni Hall in the city to the Rosemont Horizon (now Allstate Arena) in the suburbs near our house. My aunt coached volleyball at DePaul, and we'd sometimes get her seats near the court, but even our upper deck seats weren't that far away. This might have been the best DePaul team ever with Mark Aguirre and Terry Cummings. The Blue Demons had been ranked No. 1 all year, losing only to Old Dominion, and had been so much fun to watch, espeically when they were beating great teams. And I loved going to the home games.

Here's where Oriole Park and DePaul converge. March 14 was a Saturday, and it was a gorgeous sunny day (I looked it up -- the high reached 50 degrees, which after a cold winter, 50 might as well be 80), and my friends and I went to Oriole Park to play basketball. DePaul was playing in the NCAA Tournament that day, a second-round game against St. Joseph's. In 1981, the tournament was only 48 teams, meaning 16 teams got byes, including the top-seeded Blue Demons. Even though DePaul had lost their first game the year before, I guess the beautiful day and the confidence that the Blue Demons couldn't lose overrode my desire to watch the game on TV. We went to the park and listened to basketball while playing basketball.

Of course, DePaul lost. Of the three consecutive upset losses the Blue Demons suffered in the early 1980s, this was the most painful -- a missed free throw, a St. Joe's rebound, a mad sprint down the court, a layup with 2 seconds left, the clock expiring. And it was the most painful because this was the best team in DePaul history. When researching the exact day of that game for this post, I discovered two other top teams lost that day in the second round. One article even implied that this day was when March Madness (emphasis on the "Madness" part) truly was defined.

I don't regret missing the game to play basketball. Instead, I'm almost glad I didn't watch it live -- it was painful enough on the radio. As I watch my alma mater waste a 23-point lead tonight (come on, Marquette, hold on), I'm reminded of the highs and lows of my favorite sport. I saw those highs and lows coaching Eldest's biddy ball team this season, which was so much fun even when it was driving me crazy. I don't know if I'll ever be as hoop-crazy as I once was. But I know I'll always be drawn to basketball, whether it's me just shooting around, the college game, the NBA game, or my son's game.

Maddening March, part 2

I first got hooked on college basketball in 1979.

I had been playing and watching hoops since I was 6 in early 1977, but for the most part, I watched the NBA. The Bulls around that time were good, and my dad preferred the NBA then, so I naturally started liking the NBA too. I even got to go to the Bulls' practice facility one preseason and get autographs; I'll never forget how tall 7-foot-2 Artis Gilmore was to the 4-foot-1 Joey G.

But in 1979, my loyalties changed. DePaul had one of the best teams in the country, and my father took me to my first college basketball game.

DePaul used to play in their on-campus gym instead of an arena out in the suburbs, and my dad got is in for a game against Lamar. By "got us in," looking back, I don't think we had tickets. We got there a little late, somehow got in, and sat on the stairs on the edge of the bleachers rather than in the bleachers. The atmosphere was amazing, especially in such a small gym. DePaul won and headed into March as one of the best teams in the country.

And in March, I watched them make it all the way until the Final Four, which included Michigan State with Magic Johnson and Indiana State with Larry Bird. Yes, the 1979 was the NCAA Tournament became an event. I watched that whole Final Four. I watched Indiana State edge DePaul in the semifinal. I watched Michigan State easily beat Penn. I watched DePaul win the third-place game (this was when a third-place game was still held). I watched Magic beat Bird in the championship game.

That's all it took. Though I liked the NBA as much as the college game during the Jordan years, I emerged from the 1979 Final Four as a big college basketball fan. I was feeling the Madness.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The big brush-off

I woke up this morning to eight inches of snow on our cars. I went outside to brush off the cars and start shoveling the walk and driveway. But the cars took so much time I barely got to the driveway. Every winter, I remember how much work shoveling is but forget what a task the brushing is, especially after big snowfalls. Besides the time it takes to get that much snow off the top of the car, I added eight inches of snow onto the driveway.

Luckily, I won't have to shovel too much the rest of the day -- the temperature is already in the 40s and the snow is melting. I hope this doesn't create flooding for other people, but I won't be sad when this snow is gone in three days.

Maddening March, part 1

March has arrived, which is great because not only is spring on it's way and the MLB season will begin, but college basketball is in Madness mode.

There was a time when I lived for the college basketball season -- the whole season, not just March. If a game was being televised, I'd be watching it. My love for college basketball is probably one of many reasons I ended up as a sports journalist. But since I got to Utah, my interest started to trail off a little. I think the combination of being far away from the teams I followed the most, the fact the Utahns have been nuttier about their football teams the last decade (and nuttier about the Jazz rather than college hoops), and that I was working full-time nights and not watching as much.

All that said, I still love March. The first two days of the NCAA Tournament are two of my favorite non-holidays of the year. Inevitably, my alma mater always seems to lose that first weekend of the tourney, but that's better than when I was in college and we didn't make the tournament. I don't care: March brings out the college basketball freak in me -- the freak I've somewhat outgrown over the years.

Just don't look to me for bracket advice.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Fuelish decisions

The price of gas is going up, up, up again, and I'm starting to wonder if it's going to be worse (more expensive) than it was a few years ago. So I'm starting to devise ways to use less gasoline in the coming months.

The obvious first step is to get the repairs on the cars that might affect fuel economy. The Outback needs a new catalytic converter and new tires -- those two things should save gas. Our 14-year-old Corolla still runs well and gets great mileage, but will need a new clutch soon (it's still on its original), and not having that hung up in the shop will help.

The next step is to find alternate wheels. Eldest is riding his bike quite well, and Littlest is probably just a few hours of instruction away from riding without training wheels. Wife and I owned two bikes that were somewhat damaged, but last year, we managed to get one working bicycle from the two. If we get that tuned up and buy another bike -- one that's not so expensive, a $200 Schwinn should do -- we'll be a four-bicycle family and can at least get to close places (not on busy streets) without having to get into the car.

Our family has never shied away from walking to places, and I think this spring and summer, we'll be hoofin' it all over the neighborhood. Littlest still fits in one of the running strollers, the boys like riding their scooters (and actually, never complain walking far distances), and we do own a wagon. Enough walkable businesses and parks are nearby or even a little further out if we want to make a minor event of it. We walked plenty before 2011; I foresee us walking even more this year.

Finally, I'm going to try staying closer by than in other summers. This is going to be tricky, because I love driving up the canyons when it's nice out. Those drives just use a few gallons of potentially expensive gas. But plenty of good mountain hikes exist with five miles -- they may not be quite as picturesque, but they can still be worthwhile.

In the meantime, I'll keep hoping gas spikes then comes back under $3 a gallon, as well as hope that airfare doesn't get too crazy, because we're not driving to Wisconsin or Texas this year.