Shine on you crazy diamond

by the Night Writer

Son@Night and I attended our first Twins game at the new Target Field on Monday. I’d been looking forward to it since we bought the tickets a couple of months ago, and felt some excitement as we approached the stadium, so I was a surprised to find myself feeling a little crabby as we walked in and found our seats. Not that finding our seats was difficult; you get in (and out) of Target Field very easily compared to the Metrodome, though we were caught in a clog on the first concouse by the crowd in front of a concession stand taking advantage of $1 Hot Dog day. My mood was as inexplicable as the Twins’ own run of indifferent play of late. I can’t explain them, but I think my mood was perhaps affected by expectations.

Expectations can be a funny thing. Last week, for example, we took in a town ball game at Jack Ruhr field in Miesville and while my expectations then were pleasant, they weren’t exceedingly high for an amateur game in a small town ballpark. As such, when we got inside the small park I was greatly impressed by the immaculate field and the pride of place demonstrated by the community as well as the general competence demonstrated by the amateur players. The staff inside Target Field were obviously and justifiably proud of their field and the fans moving through the concourse with us also seemed quite happy to be there. Plus, it was another gorgeous night for baseball and the new stadium isn’t just “outdoor baseball” on the field, but open and bright through the concourses as well. Still I found myself casting a critical eye here and there, perhaps because of scale: a ticket and a snack in Miesville ran a little over $5; after buying my ticket and some food at Target Field I was already over $50 for the evening. “Alright, impress me,” I thought as I got myself situated in my seat in the second deck of left field while simultaneously bemoaning that I’d forgotten to bring my hat and the early evening sun was coming over the wall directly into the side of my right eye. Never had that problem at the Dome.

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(Out of) Town Ball

by the Night Writer

One evening last summer I was heading back to the Cities from Red Wing when I decided to take the Hwy. 61 route to Hwy. 50 and bypass downtown Hastings. In doing so I passed through the little town of Miesville and there, in the gloaming, was a little jewel of a ball park right next to the highway in “downtown”. The park lights were on and the players on the field in their white uniforms seemed to glow in contrast to the green, groomed grass. I would have stopped but I needed to get back to the Cities so I promised myself that I’d get back down there for a game.

Last Wednesday night was the night I fulfilled that promise, bringing along baseball and burger fan Marty Andrade to celebrate the completion of his MBA. The rest of the family, including Ben and the fully-baked cupcake decided to come along since we were going to eat at King’s Place before the game. King’s Place is something else I discovered in my trips, a historic building now serving as a family-run bar and restaurant. It’s popular with the snowmobilers in the winter and baseball fans in the summer, and hamburger fans year-round because the menu offers more than 50 variations of burgers (including a new one that features peanut-butter, bacon, mayo and lettuce – it’s fabulous, really!).
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Happier Opening Day

by the Night Writer

It was Opening Day for the new Twins ballpark today, and it sounds as if it was a great experience for everyone. I couldn’t be at the game, but I work a few blocks from the new stadium and got to watch the fly-over by the F-16s. I can recall a few fly-overs in the Dome days, but I think that was just because the Dome occasionally was on the flight path to the airport. We could hear the rumbles, though. Going home tonight I caught the light-rail and even though it was only about the 8th inning the train was packed with fans christening the new stadium by keeping up the Minnesota tradition of leaving early. The train smelled like a brewery, but it was nice to see all the sun-burned necks and faces (this outdoor baseball is going to take some getting used to, but I predict it will catch on.)

It was great to see that the Twins started the day off by unveiling the Kirby Puckett statue outside Gate 34 (the Twins numbered their gates after great Twins of the past). While I don’t think the statue looks much like Puck, he was the Face of the franchise. I hope — and maybe it has already happened — that the Twins do something appropriate for the man who was the Voice of the franchise: Herb Carneal.

Today I was remembering the Opening Days from 2005, 2006 and 2007. Out of some depressing coincidence, these openers came hard on the heels of the deaths of Puck (’06), Herb (’07) and long-time stadium announcer Bob Casey (’05). It also got me thinking about Ronnie Newman, the team organist who played “Take Me Out the Ballgame” for 1,775 straight home games and who died at the end of the ’03 season. Casey (I never heard him called “Bob”) and Ronnie had both been at Met Center and the Dome and I got to know them during my days as a Dome scoreboard operator.

Often when I was working I’d be on the same headset link with Casey. In between his announcements he usually kept up a profane, vitriolic and often apoplectic rant about anything and everthing that was annoying him that day. I thought for sure one day he’d slip and leave his microphone on during one of these but he never did. Nor did he ever have an aneurysm in mid-call, which I thought was sure to be his fate. Instead a double whammy of liver cancer and pneumonia (the latter he contracted in his lasts visit to Spring Training) did him in. One of his favorite foils was Ronnie, the ever-optimistic organist. They were friends, but Casey was always cracking jokes at Ronnie’s expense. Somehow the abuse just rolled off his back, though, and nothing ever seemed to change his smile or his demeanor. Ronnie was an unusual looking guy, short and about as wide as he was tall, and with a gravelly voice. He was as nice a guy as you’d ever want to meet, though I am ashamed to admit that I myself had a little fun at his expense one time. One night he came into the press box before the game wearing a bright blue and yellow plaid sportcoat that outshone the little yellow bulbs on the scoreboard.

“Hey, Ronnie,” I said, “nice coat.”

“Thanks!” he said, his perpetual smile getting even larger.

“Who’s couch died?”

“Aww…” and then that gravelly laugh.

Anyway, I’ve got tickets for an upcoming game, and will try to take in an afternoon game or two as the season goes on. I’m excited to see the new place and get a look at the new players in person, but there’ll always be something of the old place and the old guys sitting with me.

Btw, here are the pieces I wrote for Kirby and Herb when they passed.

If you’ve got the stones…

by the Minfidel

World-class curlers (and no, I’m not talking about the Mall Diva and her profession) can come from all over the globe but the sliding stones used in the sport can only be found in one place:

Apparently, there is a very special kind of granite needed to make the hefty stones that glide down the curling sheet. Specifically, it’s blue hone granite, and it’s known to be available in just one place in the entire world: Ailsa Craig, an island off the coast of Scotland.

And supply — or at least access to the supply — apparently could be dwindling. As noted in a recent Yahoo! Sports piece, curling could face a stone crisis down the road, though just how long is unknown. Even that is complicated. From the article: It “depends on demand for curling stones, British mining regulations, puffin breeding levels and if technology somehow allows for a non-blue hone granite solution.”

I don’t think I’d want to get too emotionally invested in anything that’s regulated by the Brits — healthcare, for example — or the mating habits of puffins. Fortunately some forward-thinking folks, such as my best friend from high school, are already at work on alternatives. My friend Nick suggested on his Facebook page that they combine hockey and curling into a new sport — called “hurling”. I thought that was a great idea, but for one catch: there already is a sport called hurling, and while it involves the Irish it’s not what you think. In addition, rugby has always had plenty of hurling, though typically after the games, as King David might attest.

I hope something gets worked out so that curling can continue to inspire it’s fans. Fans such as the DFL-controlled Minnesota legislature, for example, that’s trying to slide a deadweight bonding bill past the governor.

No need to spin this

by the Night Writer

It’s not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but there is considerable brouhaha in the PGA where one pro, Scott McCarron, has essentially accused other pros, most prominently Phil Mickelson, of cheating by using illegal clubs.

The issue stems from the PGA’s new rule this year outlawing clubs (especially wedges) with deep, square grooves. These grooves are what help an accomplished golfer (not myself) put greater spin on a ball so that it’s easier to keep the ball on the green. Due to a long-ago lawsuit the PGA settled with club manufacturer Ping, however, the PGA is not allowed to outlaw a particular older model of Ping wedge which features these grooves. Mickelson and some others continue to use this “legal” club, and it is this that McCarron is criticizing.

Technically, the Ping wedges aren’t illegal, but that’s because of the settlement, not their design. By the spirit of the new rules, however, the club is in violation and clearly gives those who use it an advantage. It’s not too dissimilar from the the days in Major League Baseball when the steroids weren’t officially banned. Golf is different from baseball, however, in many ways and one of the most essential is not just the premiium, but the mandate, the sport places on honesty and integrity. Golfers are expected to, and routinely do, call penalties on themselves or gamely accept their punishment if found to have inadvertently violated a rule, even when the infraction was for something picayune that barely created an advantage.

I’m not saying that all of those years when golfers could legally use the square-grooved wedges should be erased from the record books. These clubs were vetted and approved at the time. Now that the rules have changed, and are clear, Mickelson, et al, should honor the intent of the rule and the spirit of integrity the game calls for. If not, every dollar they earn this year should come with a big, fat asterisk beside it.

Please, don’t anyone tell Richard Simmons

While my passion for the NFL and Fantasy Football have waned a bit, my love for golf remains strong and I’m looking forward to warmer weather and being able to play again.

I’ll still enjoy it even now that I know it’s good for me.

I came across this story the other day about a study that showed some surprising results in the amount of calories a golfer burns over nine holes.

Among the top findings: Given the number of calories burned, it’s certainly fine to call golf a sport.

“One of the more interesting things I found was that the actual act of swinging a golf club takes significant energy,” said Neil Wolkodoff, director of the Rose Center for Health and Sports Sciences in Denver.

Maybe more energy than many people might think for a motion that takes a grand total of about three seconds.

Wolkodoff found eight male volunteers, ages 26 to 61 with handicaps between two and 17, strapped them into some state-of-the-art equipment and took them out for a few rounds of golf on the hilly front nine of Inverness Golf Club in suburban Denver.

Wolkodoff discovered the subjects burned more calories when they walked and carried their clubs (721) than when they rode in a cart (411). When they walked, they traversed about four kilometres, compared to a kilometre when they rode, but the 400 per cent increase corresponded to only a 75 per cent increase in calories burned.

The conclusion was that the act of swinging the golf club could actually be considered good exercise – a theory many on the “not a sport” side of the golf debate have long questioned.

“As far as physical exertion, it’s not the same as boxing, but it’s definitely more than people thought,” Wolkodoff said.

Wolkodoff’s golfers played four, nine-hole rounds; one round each of carrying their clubs, pushing a cart, using a caddie and riding a motorized cart. Among the interesting findings was that there is virtually no difference in the number of calories burned when carrying your clubs (721) or using a push-cart (718). I like that since I use a push-cart myself.

“The study shows there’s significant energy expenditure in golf, more than bowling and some other sports it’s been compared to,” Wolkodoff said. “There are a lot of sports that don’t have this level of energy expenditure.”

Of course, whatever benefit I get is likely offset by whatever I choose to guzzle while “re-hydrating” after a round, but at least now I can see there’s a big difference when “grabbing a quick nine” refers to golf holes instead of doughnut holes.

Hey, Mr. Fantasy…

Well, the Vikings are through for the year — only one week later than expected — and I watched 15 1/2 of their games this season. Not a bad percentage for a football fan, I suppose, but what I find somewhat amazing is all the non-Viking games I didn’t watch this year.

I used to catch about half of each Sunday night game and most of the Monday night games, while also intently following NFL news via ESPN, Sports Illustrated and several websites. This year I don’t think I tuned into a single non-Viking Sunday night game and saw maybe one half of one Monday night game. Meanwhile my Sports Illustrateds would lie around for a couple of weeks before I got to them and I never used my ESPN Insider access.

Time to cue the Invasion of the Body Snatchers music?

“Come on, ref, he was out of bounds!”

Not really. It’s just that a little more than a year ago I decided that I was going to “retire” from Fantasy Football after 23 years as an owner and Commissioner. I felt a few mental twinges during the NFL pre-season this year when I felt like there was something I was supposed to be doing, but that wasn’t unexpected. Hey, there’re still times when late summer/early fall roll around where a certain smell in the air or texture of the earth makes me think I should be at football practice, and that’s been more than 30 years!

So, this year, there was no draft to prepare for, no off-season free-agent transactions to review, no clever team name to develop (I came up with a new name every season; my all-time favorite was Weapons of Mass Distraction, though the Rush Limbos was up there as well). The would-be draft week came and went and the NFL season started. The first shock of revelation came to me when I was discussing the season with someone at work and I said that we were only a couple of weeks into the season and it was too soon to panic. To which my friend replied, “Uh, it’s week eight.” Oopsie.

Weeks 13-16 went by like any other for me this year, though this was typically the fantasy play-off season. Today was the first day back at work after the Christmas/New Year’s break and the day I’d usually be collecting outstanding league fees from the slow-payers, or passing out cash to the winners — or looking forward to taking my own winnings down to Best Buy.

And you know what, I don’t miss it a bit. It was strange how easily my quest for knowledge regarding rookies, injuries, sleepers, busts and dark horses melted away. I still enjoy watching the game, but most of the games don’t interest me enough to re-arrange my life appreciably. Now when I see that some player has scored four touchdowns in one game — or suffered a season-ending injury — I don’t exult or scream (if it was one of “my” players) or think of sending a gloating “sympathy” email to my fellow-owner who’s starting wide receiver just shot himself in the leg.

Well, maybe I do miss that part a little bit.

Troy eager to drop Childress

Ex-Vikings “receiver” Troy Williamson says he’s still mad at the way Coach Brad Childress treated him and wants to “duke it out” with Childress at this weekend’s Vikings/Jaquars game (Williamson now sits for the Jags).

Williamson, now in Jacksonville, said Wednesday he lost respect for his former coach last year and would like to “duke it out” with him when the Jaguars host the Vikings on Sunday.

“We can meet on the 50-yard line and we can go at it,” Williamson said.

The 6-foot-1, 200-pound receiver said he liked his chances against Childress, too, especially with a few inches and at least 10 pounds on the coach. Williamson even said he would fight with both hands tied behind his back.

I think Williamson has an unfair advantage in that he always played as if both hands were tied behind his back anyway so he’s used to it. If he did connect, however, watch out! Williamson’s “hands of stone” would make Roberto Duran curl up in his corner and cry.

Only 40 shopping days left

Peter at Half a World Away discovered an amazing product in an airline shopping magazine during one of his recent trips from half of the world to the other: the Potty Putter. And if the name isn’t enough to pique your interest or close the sale, here’s the text from the ad:

You know those days when you’ve eaten something that hasn’t agreed with you and you can’t be too far away from the bathroom? Well, this is the perfect companion for such occasions: The Toilet Golf. The package includes: a putter with articifial turf, a miniature club, golf balls and flag. It also comes with a very useful sign to hang on the bathroom door “Do Not Disturb: Golf Game in Progress”.

The Potty Putter is a true innovation in toilet entertainment and the perfect gift for the golf (or toilet) enthusiast in your life!

No, I don’t want one (though I could use a new bug bat since the last one died). Peter thinks it is obviously the gift for the person who has everything.

I think it’s the perfect gift for those idiots at professional golf tournaments who love to shout “IT’S IN THE HOLE!”

(Yes, that was potty-humor from me. At least I won’t show a picture of the product. You have to go here for that).