Monday, June 30, 2008

Minor league umps who belong there

I was gone camping last weekend with my son's Cub Scout den, so I missed most of the Cubs-Sox rematch, which ended up a Sox sweep (payback's a pitch). However, I did get to watch some of the Sunday night game, during which two minor league fill-in umps showed why they are still in the minors.

The trouble started pretty quickly. In the bottom of the second, Joe Crede tried, but failed, to check his swing on what would have been strike three, except that home plate ump Rob Drake didn't call it a swing. On the appeal, first base ump Chad Fairchild also blew the call.

That set Lou Piniella off. He came out of the first base dugout and took a few steps toward Fairchild, and yelling at him about the call. Fairchild held up his hand and told him not to come out. Piniella stopped, and slowly headed back toward the dugout, still yelling at Fairchild.

Meanwhile, Drake moseyed over from home plate and threw Piniella out of the game - while Piniella had his back turned to him. In fact, Piniella never said a word to Drake, and didn't even know he had been ejected. Drake had to give him the thumb at least twice because Piniella didn't see it the first time. That really set Piniella off. He got right in Drake's face and gave him the business, following him all the way back to the plate. The third base ump finally came in to intervene and break things up.

Not a whole lot went right in this situation. Both umps blew the call. You're not allowed to argue balls and strikes (something the announcers overplayed), but debating whether someone swung the bat is different that arguing pitch location. It's more like arguing whether a ball is foul or fair. Piniella should get some leeway to debate that, and Fairchild - correctly - seemed ready to give him a smidgen.

Drake was way out of line ejecting Piniella. If anyone was going to do that, it should have been Fairchild. Drake wasn't even part of the discussion. It's one thing to have your partner's back, but at least wait for him to need the help. Fairchild isn't a baby. I'm sure he can take care of himself. In fact, he seemed to have the situation quite under control. Not five seconds had elapsed between the time Piniella came out of the dugout and Drake's ejection.

Later in the game, Fairchild blew another call on a play at first. Ronny Cedeno beat a throw, but Fairchild called him out. Manager pro tempore Alan Trammel came out to argue, and once again Drake moved into position to interfere, but Trammel finished before Drake could scratch that itchy trigger thumb.

Rough night for both guys (and I haven't even talked about Drake's strike zone yet). It was the kind of performance that gets you optioned back to AAA.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Marmol finally gets hit

I was watching the Cubs last night when Carlos Marmol came in to pitch the eighth inning. Marmol was greeted with a leadoff single to right, which prompted Cubs announcer Len Kasper to point out, "that's the first hit he's given up since June 8th."

Of course, that doesn't mean he'd pitched well. In fact, he had been stinking up the joint lately. He hadn't given up any hits because he wasn't throwing strikes. He made seven straight hitless appearances before last night, and the first four of those were solid. But, last week against Tampa, he walked the first two batters he faced, then hit the next two, plating a run. Scott Eyre then came into the game and gave up a granny to Carl Crawford, so Marmol was charged with four runs, even though he didn't allow a hit.

In his next outing against the White Sox, he walked the bases loaded before allowing a run on a wild pitch. He did manage to get out of the inning unscathed otherwise.

Finally, in the first game against Baltimore, he seemed to have settled down some. Although he did hit another batter, he didn't allow anything else.

So, in three outings totaling two innings, he walked five, hit three more, threw a wild pitch and gave up five runs.

But no hits.

There's no need to fear, Wonderdog is here!

Fresno St won the College World Series 6-1 over Georgia last night, capping a remarkable postseason run.

Fresno entered the tournament with an RPI rating of 84, which basically means they only got into the NCAA tournament because they won their conference tournament.

Like basketball, the baseball tournament is a 64-team field. OK, technically, the men's basketball tournament is 65, but set that aside for the moment. In baseball, teams are broken into 16 regionals with the teams seeded 1-4 in each region. Fresno was a 4-seed in their region. That makes them roughly the equivalent to a 13-14 seed in the basketball field. So, Fresno winning the CWS is like Valparaiso winning the men's basketball championship.

Not just making the final four. Winning the whole thing.

For some perspective, when George Mason made the basketball Final Four in Indy three years ago, they were a 11-seed.

Oh, and the Bulldogs did all this without their best starting pitcher, Tanner Scheppers, who missed the CWS with an injury. Scheppers was the second round choice (48th overall) of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Wonderdogs, indeed.

For more coverage of this event, check out Eric Sorenson's Extra Innings blog.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Gorilla Ball

Rule #1 of attending a game is, "never leave your seat." That comes from when I took a friend of mine to his first Cubs game back in 1984. He got up in the bottom of the sixth to get a beer, and while standing in line and watching on TV, he saw his empty seat during the seventh-inning stretch as they showed our sheet sign, and then he saw it again a couple of batters later when a Cubs home run hit two rows below us in the right field bleachers. That was it for the Cubs offense in the game, and he missed it in the beer line. At least the Cubs won.

Apparently, this applies to watching on TV also. Last night, I was watching game two of the College World Series final between Georgia and Fresno St. I got to it a little late because of eating dinner, and when I turned it on, it was 5-0 UGa, withe Georgia still batting in the top of the 3rd. A few minutes later (now bottom 3rd), I had to put the little kids to bed. That only took 10-15 minutes, and when I came back, Georgia was up again in the 4th, but the game was now tied at 6. At the end of that inning, I went out to put up my grill - a relatively short task, but when I got back to the game, it was 8-6 Fresno. Runs were being scored at will, but only when I was away from the television.

I did manage to catch the last 15 runs of the game though, a 19-10 Fresno win that extends the series to a deciding game tonight. Pitchers, especially Georgia's, were hiding in the clubhouse, hoping not to get called into the game.

Check out my friend and CSTV colleague Eric Sorenson's coverage on his Extra Innings blog.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Not quite the big time

We had a chance to go see the Gary/South Shore Railcats on Saturday night. The Railcats play in the independent Northern League, with teams from Joliet and Schaumburg, IL, Kansas City, Fargo, and Winnipeg.

This is an interesting level of baseball. Most of these guys are minor league rejects. Some are local guys who tried out and latched on. A few are former major leaguers.

We saw Gary take on the Schaumburg Flyers, who has former Pittsburgh Pirate Jermaine Allensworth playing center field. Allensworth (who is from my wife's hometown of Anderson, IN and a fellow Boilermaker), played a few years in the bigs, kicked around the affiliated minors for a few more, and has been in the Northern League for the last five season. He played two years for the Railcats.

Guys like Allensworth stand out. He's better than everyone else. He never blows the routine play in the field. He has a polished swing. He doesn't make the silly baserunning error. You can tell he played pro ball once. He's just not good enough to anymore.

The rest of these guys might not be good enough to play on the teams I watch in the College World Series. There is a fair amount of slop (the home pitcher, warming up right before the start of the game, threw a wild pitch and the catcher overthrew second base by 30 feet on the throw down). The players play hard though, so it's fun to watch. They certainly aren't playing for the money. They get paid, but nobody makes a living.

Put me in coach!

Gary plays at the US Steel Yard, which is a nice, relatively new minor league joint. It seats about 6000, but almost none of it is in the outfield. There are a few seats near the RF line, and a hot tub section next to that, but otherwise, all the seats are in foul ground.

Like most minor league parks, there is a lot geared toward the kids. They even have a playground behind the hitting background in CF. There is also train tracks that run just past the left field wall, so we'll get a train going by every once in a while that gets every kid's attention. There are also not one, but two mascots, Rusty and Rascal. Rusty was my two-year-old daughter's favorite. They have kids competing for prizes between almost every inning. They also get to run across the outfield during one inning break.

My daughter's first crush

I missed quite a bit of this game (Gary won 6-5). I had the longest wait ever in a concession line - and I have been in a lot of concession lines. The line itself was short, but the guy right in front of me was ordering dinner for his family of six. It took the dimwitted woman trying to process this almost twenty minutes. Just waiting on this one guy, I missed the last two batters of the top of the fourth, the entire bottom of the fourth, and the first four batters of the fifth. I also spent an inning with my kids in the playground.

The game is almost besides the point though. The point is for the family to have a good night out without going broke, and we managed that.

We were all a little bleary-eyed when it was over

Monday, June 23, 2008

RIP George Carlin

He was one of the funniest [several words you can't say on television] comics ever.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Ozzie managing like Goldilocks

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen has handled his pitching staff like Goldilocks this weekend, and that has helped cost the Sox the first two games against the Cubs.

In the first game, he took out starter John Danks toooo soon. He'd only thrown 85 pitches over six innings and had the Cubs bats looking weak. Still, he took him out and brought in Octavio Dotel. Dotel only needed six pitches to blow the lead, and the Cubs went on to win in the ninth.

You can make a case that this wasn't really a bad decision, but just bad execution. The Sox bullpen has been pretty reliable this season.

Yesterday, Ozzie took out starter Jose Contreras toooo late. Contreras gave up eight runs in the decisive fourth inning, including four home runs. Two of those were hit by Jim Edmonds, and a third was a three-run bomb by Aramis Ramirez. Mike Fontenot hit the other homer, right after Edmonds first one. Ramirez was the ninth batter in the inning, and eight of those nine hitters had scored before Contreras finally got the hook.

Edmonds greeted the new pitcher Boone Logan with his second blast of the inning, but by then, it was all gravy.

Sox fans are hoping today, Ozzie handles things just right. Of course, tonight, it might not matter. The Cubs are starting Ryan Dempster, who has been unbeatable at Wrigley so far this season. Also, there's a chance of rain, so it might not even get played.

Edmonds, by the way, became just the third Cub to homer twice in one inning. The first was Sammy Sosa in 1996. Mark Bellhorn also did it in 2002, and the switch-hitter hit one from each side of the plate.

It's also the third time the Cubs hit four home runs in one inning. They did it in 1930 and in 2000.

It wasn't all roses for the Cubs though. They put Carlos Zambrano on the DL with a mild shoulder strain. The good news is that he is expected to just miss the two weeks and not longer.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Faith and the Cub fan

Jeff Passan writes a funny-but-true piece on the woes of the Cub fan at Yahoo!

He doesn't specifically mention 1984, which was the most painful moment for me. Ball rolls through Leon Durham's legs in game 5 (the inspiration for former Cub Bill Buckner's gaffe in the World Series two years later). Steve Garvey homers off Lee Smith in game 4. Not having home field advantage in spite of having the best record in the NL.

Not that I'm bitter.

Balls leaving (and entering) the yard

I watched most of two games yesterday with no shortage of dramatic home runs.

First, the opener of the Cubs-Sox series at Wrigley. The Cubs were coming off a sweep at the hands of the Devil Rays (I know, they dropped "Devil," but once you get a little of the devil in you, you can't get it out). That was the Cubs' first three-game losing streak of the season. Still, they had the best record in baseball, percentage points ahead of the Red Sox.

The Sox, on the other hand, appeared to have bounced back from a skid where they lost six of seven by sweeping Pittsburgh earlier this week.

Things looked good for the Sox early yesterday also. Jermaine Dye blasted a shot that still hasn't landed to tie the game in the second. Cub-killer AJ Pierzynski hit a two-run homer in the third to make it 3-1 and there they sat until the seventh.

Octavio Dotel came in to pitch for the Sox and Derrek Lee smacked his first pitch into the right field bleachers to make it 3-2. Just as the crowd was settling down from that shot, Aramis Ramirez made it back-to-back shots to tie it up. Those also cost WGN radio $10,000. They give a lucky listener 10Gs whenever the Cubs go back-to-back in the 7th inning.

The Sox started the 9th with a double against Kerry Wood, but couldn't do anything with it.

Scott Linebrink then came on to pitch the bottom of the ninth, but he didn't last long. Ramirez hit his second pitch into the center field shrubbery for the game-winner.

My nightcap was the College World Series elimination game between LSU and North Carolina.

They actually started the game the night before. Carolina had two runs in and the bases loaded with one out in the top of the first before the rains came and postponed the game to last night. LSU changed pitchers overnight and got a double play to get out of that jam.

It was 3-1 Heels in the sixth when Matt Clark, the nation's leading home run hitter, came up with a man on for the Tigers. Instead of pitching around him, UNC's Brian Moran went right after him. Big mistake. Clark bombs one out and the game is tied.

LSU was threatening again in the eighth with Clark at the plate, two on and one out, looking to duplicate Ramirez, when a streaker ran onto the field. The little delay seemed to suck the pressure out of the situation. Clark walked (NC pitched very carefully to him this time) and then ACC pitcher of the year Alex White got out of it.

On to the top of the ninth, where a single and two intentional walks (the first after a stolen base and the second after a sacrifice) loaded the bases. UNC catcher Tim Federowicz then hit the first grand slam in a CWS in eight years. White made that stand up and the Tar Heels save some face for the ACC.

The ACC entered the NCAA tournament with three of the top four seeds. #1 Miami and #4 Florida St joined the #2 Tar Heels. They all advanced to the CWS and were the top three seeds in Omaha. But Miami and FSU both laid eggs. The Seminoles went 0-2 and were the first ones gone. Miami managed to go 1-2, but their only win came over FSU. Carolina is now 2-1, with both wins over LSU. They will face the other FSU, Fresno St, next.

To see Eric Sorenson's take on the game yesterday, including exclusive photos of the streaker, check out his Extra Innings blog on the former

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Two big TV deals

Two big TV deals were announced today.

First, NBC announced an extension of their contract to cover Notre Dame home football games. NDBC will now carry on through the 2015 season. The current deal, which paid the Irish $9M per year, was set to expire in 2010. No word on financial terms of the new deal. Notre Dame games on NBC had their lowest ratings ever last season.

The interesting thing about this deal is that it requires Notre Dame to play seven true home games and one off-site "home" game per year beginning in 2009. So, Notre Dame will play only four true road games per year. That will certainly making getting into a BCS game a lot easier.

Also, the war between the Big Ten and Comcast finally came to an end with a peace accord that will put the Big Ten Network on the cable provider's systems.

Comcast will initially offer the network on its expanded basic package in the Big Ten states. However, in Spring of 2009, Comcast will be free to move it to a more expensive (to the customer) digital package.

Outside the Big Ten states (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin), the provider can offer it up any way it wishes, including as part of a sports package.

Comcast will also be able to offer up some BTN programming through its video-on-demand service.

There were no details on the amount Comcast will charge subscribers as a "Big Ten Tax." Look for that line item on your next bill.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Stretching the truth

It's not unusual for teams to fudge a little when listing the height of a player, especially in basketball. Guys who are really 6'1" show up as 6'2" or sometimes even 6'3" in the media guide. Since I cover basketball and get close to players, I can usually tell which ones are a little inflated and which ones aren't. That's especially true of guards, who are closer to my own height (6'1").

On rare occasion, you'll find a guy who looks taller than his listed height. Stephen Curry of Davidson is one of those guys. He's still growing, so when I saw him in Detroit, he looked a little taller than his listed 6'2".

The Bulls lucked into the #1 pick in the NBA draft, which means they'll choose between 6'3" Memphis G (and Chicago native) Derrick Rose and 6'10" F Michael Beasley of Kansas St. Beasley was in for a workout yesterday, and the big news out of that workout is that he only measured 6'7". A three-inch difference between listed height and actual is pretty remarkable.

Rose comes in later this week. Maybe we'll find out he's only 5'6".

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Florida St goose-eggs

When I made my College World Series picks, I said I was risking making a fool of myself, and I did just that. Florida St, my pick to get through bracket 1, slinked home again without the trophy.

In the Noles first game against Stanford, they came back to tie it with three in the bottom of the eighth, only to give up 11 in the top of the 9th to lose 16-5.

In their elimination game yesterday with archrival and #1 Miami, they out-hit the Canes 18-11, but still lost 7-5. They left a whopping 17 runners on base. That's one short of a two-per-inning average.

So, FSU has now made 19 CWS appearances without winning it.

I did have Georgia at 2-0, so my picks weren't a complete disaster. The Bulldogs await the winner of Miami-Stanford, the two teams they beat.

Here, the dead just vote

A village in Romania elected a dead person to be their mayor. There are cities here that might want to consider this option.

This would get Americans into soccer

Austria wins the preliminaries, but Germany won the one that counted. The Germans advance to face Portugal in the Euro 2008 quarterfinals.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

College World Series

The College World Series starts today, and I might get to watch it for a change. I have always been a big fan of this event, but I haven't been able to watch much of it the last few years for various reasons. I started watching when I was in college. At that time, someone I played little league with (Pete Stanicek) was playing for Stanford.

It was kind of funny back then. For a couple of years, our little league team had a future major leaguer (Pete) and the worst hitter in the history of organized baseball (me).

College baseball is a little harder to follow than football and basketball because it doesn't get nearly the TV coverage, but that is improving. I was able to follow the end of a pretty decent season by my Boilermakers on the Big Ten Network, and if you get one of the cable/satellite sports packages, you can see most of the good teams play in the regular season. Also, ESPN covers some of the tournament regionals on its basic channels. That's how I saw Stanford, which is the only CWS team I saw more than a few innings of this season.

Like every sport, the college game is different than the pros in the level of ability (advantage pros), and the spirit with which the game is played (advantage college). Baseball is the only one I'm aware of where there is a significant difference between the colleges and the pros in the equipment used. College baseball uses aluminum bats, which is a huge advantage to the hitters, especially if the ball doesn't hit the sweet spot. Bats don't break and balls travel farther. As a result of that (and the fact that pitching and fielding aren't as good), there's a lot more runs in college baseball.

And, if my friend and CSTV colleague Eric Sorenson is right, it might really be bombs away.

So at the risk of making a complete fool of myself, here are my picks for the CWS.

Bracket 1 (Miami, FSU, Georgia, Stanford)

Florida St over Stanford and Georgia over Miami today.
Miami eliminates Stanford, Georgia beats FSU.
FSU eliminates Miami, then beats Georgia twice to get to the title round.

Bracket 2 (North Carolina, Rice, LSU, Fresno St)

Fresno St over Rice and UNC over LSU tomorrow
LSU eliminates Rice, UNC over Fresno
LSU eliminates Fresno, but loses to UNC to send Tar Heels to the title round.

UNC beats Florida St 2-1 to win championship.

Replay coming to baseball?

An AP story today reports that replay may be coming to Major League Baseball as soon as August.

According to the story, the rush to implement replay comes from a "rash of blown calls" lately, but the only two that are mentioned are home runs by the Mets' Carlos Delgado and the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez that were ruled incorrectly (supposedly - I never saw the plays myself).

I wonder if there would be such a rush to get replay going if the missed home runs were by players on the Pirates or Royals. New York whines about something and all of a sudden, it's an emergency. boo hoo.

Replay is already in use in most major sports in at least some fashion, but I have never been a big fan of using it in baseball. In general, the umps do a good job of getting calls right, and using replay could slow the game down tremendously.

Just recently, MLB instructed the teams and umpires to try to speed up games by doing things like shortening mound conferences and batters' pre-pitch preparation ceremonies. There are some guys who step out after every pitch and adjust their batting gloves, helmet, cup, shin guards, elbow pads, pine tar, makeup and 401Ks before getting back into the box. I understand the need for a routine, but that's ridiculous. .

There really aren't a whole lot of practical uses for replay in baseball, however determining whether something is a home run or not is one of them. Especially in the situation where the ball is over the fence, but bending around the fair pole, because the ball is dead whether it's fair or foul. Since those situations are relatively rare, the delays would be minimal.

The situation where the ball hits a wall near a yellow line that divides home runs from in-play doesn't work as well. If baseball decides that these plays are reviewable also, then umpires will be inclined, if not forced, to rule that anything close is still in play so that reversing the call is easy. You see something similar in football. Refs are now reluctant stop a play where there is any chance that a fumble occurred because once they stop the play, it can't be reversed.

In this situation, if the ump lets things play out, and then if the replay shows that it was a home run, it's no big deal. If the ump calls it a home run first, but replay reverses it, there's no way to remedy the situation. I suppose they could simply treat it like a ground rule double, but nobody knows what might have happened if the correct call had been made to begin with. More than likely though, the call would not be considered reversible, which defeats the purpose of replay.

The same problem occurs with fair/foul rulings on the lines, or any other play where the ball is either alive or dead, depending on the call.

Replay would also be very impractical on the bases and for balls and strikes. If those calls were reversible, baseball would turn into cricket, where games sometimes go on for several days.

So, until the Cubs lose a World Series because some ump blows a home run call, I'd like to see things stay as they are.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Benson Gets Bum's Rush

The Cedric Benson Era mercifully ended Monday with his release. The Bears now enter their 22nd season of looking for Walter Payton's replacement.

In 1986, Payton's last year as the every down starter for the Bears, he ran for 1333 yards. Since that time, only Thomas Jones has surpassed that total (1335 yards in 2005). That's not good when you are primarily a running team. Remember, the Bears are still looking for the second coming of Sid Luckman at QB.

Neal Anderson was the Bears leading rusher for the seven years beginning in 1987, but he only surpassed 1000 yards three times and failed to hit 750 in four of those years.

The Bears have used three first round draft choices on running backs since that time. Benson was a first round choice (4th overall) in 2005. Before that, Curtis Enis was picked 5th overall in 1998, which precipitated the release of Rashaan Salaam, who was the 21st overall pick in 1995.

Only Salaam ever did anything of note. He was the rookie of the year in 1995 with 1074 yards rushing. He only had 606 yards in the two years following.

Enis had 1497 yards in three seasons with the Bears. That was his entire NFL career. Benson finishes the Bear portion of his career with 1593 yards in three seasons.

Benson wasn't cut just for being unproductive though. He was cut for being stupid and unproductive. When you're job is hanging by a thread (the Bears took RB Matt Forte in the second round of this year's draft), you need to keep your nose clean, and Benson didn't do that.

He has been arrested twice in the last month for OWI-related offenses. The first came on his boat, and the second was last weekend in a car.

So, before we say good riddance, let's review some of the highlights of the Benson Era, thanks to the Chicago Tribune for helping to fill in some of the details.

  • April, 2005 - Bears pick him fourth overall. He cries, but not tears of joy. He's upset because pre-draft talks between his agent and the Bears were way off on contract basics, which meant a likely contentious negotiation.

  • August, 2005 - That turned out to be true, because he held out for 36 days before finally getting on board.

  • November, 2005 - Finally makes his first start against the 49ers, but blows his knee in the first half and his next appearance is in the final game of the season.

  • August, 2006 - Leaves the bench during an exhibition game, then misses a team meeting.

  • February, 2007 - Injured early in Super Bowl and misses the rest of the game. Finishes with -1 yard on 2 carries.

  • September, 2007 - Now the starter after Thomas Jones was traded in the offseason, he carries 24 times for 101 yards against KC, his only triple-digit rushing total of the season. Despite this game, he only has 538 yards on 177 carries (3.04 ypc) through the first nine games.

  • November, 2007 - After finally having another decent performance the week before, he injures his ankle against Denver and misses the rest of the season. It turns out to be his final game as a Bear.

  • May, 2008 - Legal troubles begin as he is arrested for OWI on a boat and resisting arrest.

  • June, 2008 - Arrested for DUI on last Saturday, cut by the Bears on Monday.

    So, the Bears enter the new season with an offensive line in need of repair, a QB that is either unproven (Orton) or a proven disaster (Grossman), a rookie RB (Forte), and a receiving corps that is perhaps the biggest question mark of the unit - and obviously, that's saying something.

    Hope that defense is really good.
  • Sunday, June 08, 2008

    We moved!

    Last night, a series of tornadoes ripped through the area. The Chicago Tribune story details the damage, but also notes that Lake County is in now northeast Indiana. That must have been some storm if it picked up an entire county and moved it (Wizard of Oz-style) all the way to the eastern part of the state!

    I was at a graduation party for the daughter of a friend of ours in St. John, IN when the sirens went off. We went outside to have a look and it looked very nasty just to our north and west. Where we were, it was just raining and it appeared to be clearing up.

    I've lived in this area nearly all of my 44 years and have never seen a funnel cloud, let alone an actual tornado. I could go 44 more years without seeing one and wouldn't feel like I missed anything.

    Saturday, June 07, 2008

    Two major political cogs go down

    This was a tough week for local politicians in this area as two dealmakers were found guilty on corruption charges.

    In Chicago, Tony Rezko was found guilty on 16 counts of fraud and corruption charges. He was guilty of taking kickbacks to funnel state teachers' pension fund money to certain brokerage houses. Rezko has been a rainmaker for both Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich and senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama, though both have tried to distance themselves from Rezko since his indictments. Yes, that's plural. He has at least two more trials coming.

    This is the latest in the string of victories for US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald in Chicago. Fitzgerald (not to be confused with Northwestern football coach of the same name) came to the Northern Illinois district in 2001 and has been taking down corrupt pols ever since, including former governor George Ryan. Many of us are waiting to see if he ever gets to the big fish, Blago and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley.

    Rezko was also allegedly part of a group of local pols that included former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert that tried to get Fitzgerald pushed out of his job and this investigation killed, but that plan failed, obviously.

    The Tribune's John Kass writes that Rezko may not just be trouble for Obama, but even some republicans.

    Lake County, Indiana has a level of corruption that not only rivals, but surpasses what happens in Chicago. Our county's reputation for shenanigans was the reason local officials were the butt of a national joke on the day of our primaries when they couldn't promptly count and release vote totals.

    One of the reasons why corruption goes on unfettered, and barely under the table, is because we don't have a Peter Fitzgerald willing to take on the politicians. Perhaps that is finally changing.

    Yesterday, a key Lake County political dealmaker, Bob Cantrell, was convicted on 11 fraud and corruption related counts. Cantrell got kickbacks for arranging for local judges, including his daughter Julie, to send people to a friend's addiction counseling service company. He also got hit with tax fraud charges for not reporting that income.

    The NW Indiana Times has a blog detailing the trial.

    So, maybe the feds will use the momentum from this verdict and go after more local pols. It's a well that will never run dry.

    Thursday, June 05, 2008

    Money can't buy you brains

    Last week, Michel Fournier tried to set a world record for the highest and fastest free-fall. The plan was to float 25 miles high in a special balloon and jump. According to news reports, he spent two decades and $20M of his own money to make this happen.

    Then, when the balloon was filling with helium, it took off by itself because it wasn't properly attached to the capsule.

    I don't know anything about ballooning (I'm afraid of heights), but you would think "Attach balloon to capsule" would be near the top of the pre-flight checklist.

    Sunday, June 01, 2008

    Indiana Palms and the Temple of Baseball

    With much trepidation, I wanted to try to take the entire family to a Cubs game this year. It's a quest fraught with peril, because you have to first find tickets, then get to the game, keep the younger ones entertained so the rest can enjoy the game, and finally, you have to get the whole exhausted brood back home. Oh, and you have to finance the adventure, but fortunately, rates are reasonable right now.

    The hardest part is the first one, finding the tickets. Finding five tickets together, either online or over the phone, is impossible for two reasons: the games are near sell-outs and the system for purchasing the tickets isn't really designed to be helpful.

    Everything is based on the date of the game, which makes sense of course. Most people want to go on a specific day or, say, weekend. We had a lot of flexibility though. We wanted to go to just about any day game. To get tickets online, you first pick the date. Then a screen comes up to choose a pricing level (or best available) and the number you need. Then you are taken to another screen to enter one of those security codes, where they put numbers and letters in a box that has lines and stuff in it to make it hard to read. Then, you can finally get to the screen where you can buy the tickets - or in my case, find out that what you need is not available.

    Not very useful. Now imagine doing that for every day game, for three or four different pricing levels, and you can see how frustrating that can be. I didn't do that of course. I eventually gave up and called the ticket folks.

    That didn't work either. It appears that they have no better way to find tickets for you than you can do for yourself online.

    So I turned to a friend who I had hoped might be able to put me in touch with the right person. One of the many people who regularly interview me during basketball season is David Kaplan of WGN in Chicago, which just happens to be the station that carries the Cubs. He did better than put me in touch with the right person. He found me tickets for some pretty nice seats.

    When you have four kids, going anywhere, even places like the grocery store, is an adventure. Wrigley Field is tough to get to by yourself. You can drive, if you don't mind the traffic and paying $40-50 to park within walking distance of the park. The other option is to take the L (train), which is very crowded, but much cheaper and drops you a block from the park. That's the way to go, even for us. Our biggest problem is getting a double stroller on a crowded train, but we have always managed it so far. We also still have to pay to park downtown, but that is much cheaper than parking at Wrigley. And the kids, especially the younger ones, love riding the trains.

    Another place the stroller can be an issue is the ballpark itself. Last year, when we went to a game, we sat upstairs and stashed the stroller in a corner by the bathroom entrance. That actually worked surprisingly well.

    This year, as we walked in, the ticket taker said we could check the stroller for free at the customer relations office. That's a nice feature.

    The ballpark staff was generally very nice, which includes the Octogenarian Ninja Ushers. If you have ever been to Wrigley, you will have undoubtedly noticed that the ushers in the seating area are all very senior citizens. I even saw one wearing one of those oxygen backpacks.

    Don't let the grandmotherly (or grandfatherly) look fool you though. They are not pushovers and they'll get after you if they need to. If you go where you don't belong, they go right down there and grab you by the ear and take you away.

    I wanted to get down by the wall to say hello to another media friend of mine who was on the field before the game, but the ONU wouldn't let me get there. I got out before I got the ear-pull though.

    We saw the Padres when they were in town on May 15th, which is back before Spring started around here. Spring this year was from May 25-June 3. It's now Summer, but I digress.

    The point is, it was cold. My wife and kids were all in their winter gear. I refuse to wear a winter coat in May, and especially to a baseball game.

    The weather kept the crowd down a bit. There were a lot of no-shows around us, and a few of the people were clearly not interested in the game. Like, for example, the lady across the aisle from me who was there by herself and doing her knitting.

    We also had the requisite loudmouth half a section behind us, but fortunately, he kept it clean. Even better, he ran out of hot air half way through the game.

    Most people wear Cubs gear to the game, but one young lady in front of us must not have had anything, so she wore a blue Cub Scout neckerchief as a bandanna. I guess that's the best she could do.

    We sat about 15 rows from the field, looking right up the first base line. We were just at the edge of the net, which was nice because with the kids, we can't spend every second watching for line drives to come back at us.

    The game itself was pretty good. The Cubs won 4-0, getting all four runs in one inning off of former Cub Greg Maddux. He got a standing O as he left the field because many of his think it might be the last time he pitches at Wrigley. The game was played quickly (under 2:30), so we weren't out in the cold any longer than we needed to be.

    Our younger kids were entertained by the two kids sitting in front of us that were about the same age. Although, I have to say, my two-year-old daughter liked the game itself. She still doesn't talk much, but one of the first words she ever said was "ball," and she loves playing and watching anything with a ball. She's the only two-year-old in America who would rather watch Big Ten Tonight than Teletubbies. At the game, when she would see someone swing the bat, she would swing her arm across her body to mimic that. Now, when ever she sees the Cubs logo, she yells "Ball!" and swings her arm.

    After the game, we waited around for the crowds to die down so we were among the last ones out. Before we headed to the train, we walked over to check out the new Ernie Banks statue, just on the third base side of the entrance at Clark and Addison. The sculptor did a great job capturing Ernie. It's a great tribute to Mr. Cub.

    Getting home was relatively easy, except for some rush hour traffic. The car was a lot quieter as some of us slept. A great time was had by all, and it was definitely worth the effort.