Monday, December 31, 2007


In direct conflict to the popular myth that began sweeping across America in the mid 1980s, I’m here to tell you that baseball cards do not grow on trees. I suppose one might attempt the argument that trees are a necessary step in their production, but with recycling and the amazing things engineers are doing with plastics these days, you’d probably have to invest several bottles of Busch beer as part of the discussion before you would even get me to listen.

Heck, Topps has even been recycling their baseball card designs for years, apparently having run out of fresh ideas. And I’m not complaining either. Personally, I like the idea of reusing old card designs with modern players on them. I think it is a wonderful tribute to the original design(ers), and has somehow managed to introduce an element of fresh air into the trading card industry- not completely dissimilar to aerating the outfield grass in a 100-year-old ballpark.

Someone sent me an article several years ago about a fellow who used to work for Topps. He went on about how people he met thought it would be an amazing score- landing a job with a baseball card company, let alone the granddaddy of them all. However, in (his) reality, it turned out to be just another job. I didn’t buy it when I read the article, and I’m not convinced now.

As long as I can remember, I’ve always thought it would be super to be the person who designs cards, or takes the photos of the players that end up on cards, or sits in meetings and lobbies for things such as the immediate discontinuation of including stick of crap chewing gum with the cards. Perhaps if I had moved to New York after high school, enrolled in an art school, and began applying for internships with Topps 25 years ago, I would have ended up working for them. But I didn’t. Besides, maybe robots perform all the work there now.

I do still have the dream of one day having one of my photographs used on a baseball card. And it isn’t unusual for me to spend several hours during a winter evening working on a new baseball card design while listening to old Gordon Lightfoot tunes. I’ll hash out a design and print a couple copies to get autographed in the spring and to add to my portfolio in the event that anyone (any minor league baseball club, for instance) would ever give me an opportunity to design their team set.

Generally, the only people who see my work are the players featured on the cards and a few of the autograph collectors. I’ve decided that it can’t hurt for me to put some of my ideas online in the event that the right person needing that sort of service might happen by and give me a shot. Worst case, someone decides to flatter me by stealing my ideas.

So here’s my work in progress for my dream team set for the 2008 Albuquerque Isotopes:

The key element in my design includes LOTS of white real estate for player autographs. Another thing I’m trying to do is create a desire for the card collector to really think of the set as a team set, as opposed to a stack of cards of guys simply wearing the same uniform- a rare concept in the modern age of free agency when players move about from team to team with the frequency of migratory workers. My intention is that the image of the baseball stadium in the background will serve to force people to assemble the “puzzle,” and possibly even make them come up with interesting ways of displaying the set once they get all of the cards autographed.

Once the team sets their roster at the end of Spring Training, I will be able to decide which players I want to include in the final version. Until then, all I can really do is tweak the layout and do some research to find a printer willing to run a few sets for me at a reasonable rate. Maybe I’ll have my resume printed on the backs of the cards, and ship sets off to Topps, Just Minors, Upper Deck and MultiAd. At the very least, they are unique.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Lettie Watson Mize: an introduction

Way back when I used to do archaeology, one of the questions someone was always asking me was, “How do you know where to dig?” If I answered them honestly, I would reply, “If it was up to me, I sure as hell wouldn’t be digging here.” Of course an answer like that would require some explaining, and that would take time- something that was usually at least as precious as having enough water for the day while taking a pounding from the sun in the middle of the Sonoran desert.

The bottom line is that roughly 100 percent of every archaeological project I was ever paid to work on was driven by some pending construction project that had some level of governmental funding, and therefore required cultural resource studies to be completed. Ideally, those studies would be completed before the project got underway, but I think most of us here are adult enough to accept that we don’t live in a perfect world.

On the other hand, some of the “neatest” projects I ever worked on were done so on a volunteer basis. The kool thing about a volunteer project is that you are able to pick and choose the ones to invest your time and energies in. So if you think it sounds like a crackpot idea, not getting involved is always an option. Oddly enough, I can’t name a single historical project where I ever volunteered my help.

I guess that all changed for me when we bought our house in 2004 and I began wondering about the people who had lived here at different times over the past 100 years. Basic questions like “Who were they,” and “What sorts of things did they do?” Unfortunately, it seems that when you buy a house, a comprehensive listing of that sort thing isn’t included. Perhaps it should be. Then again, I quickly learned that the process of figuring out answers to my questions is as entertaining as it is challenging.

The initial challenge is deciding where, and how, to dig without a shovel. Armed with pencil, a notebook and the knowledge that our house was listed on the New Mexico State Register of Historic Places as the “Lettie Watson House,” I made my first of many walks to the historic records library. Once there, I set about going through all of the available* Albuquerque city directories published since 1904 and making a list of the names of people who lived in our house. (*Note: Not surprisingly, they don’t have city directories for every year, so my data was almost immediately compromised.) In addition to keeping track of the occupations of all the people who lived in the house, my database also included names and address for anyone named Watson or Mize (Lettie’s eventual married name) to possibly assist with my long range plan of finding living descendants who might be able to provide old photographs of the house or people who lived in it over the decades.

This undertaking was going to take a considerable amount of time and dedication in order to make any progress, not to mention ample portions of good luck. Eventually I had pieced together enough information that I started to think of my database as the exterior portion of a jigsaw puzzle. You know, the pieces with one straight edge. To be sure, there were still some missing pieces, including a couple of the corners, but at least I had some firm lines to build upon.

From that information alone I was able to figure out that Lettie had lived in our house “pretty much” all the time from 1906 or 1907 through the mid 1950s. Her mother, Louise Watson, had lived here “more or less” all the time that same period until she passed away right before the Great Depression. Lettie had married a meat cutter named Isaac Mize, who used to work across the street from the school where Lettie had been employed as a teacher. (Yes, part of my research includes walkabouts so I can make observations of the actual structures and properties in order to better visualize the physical environment rather than trying to imagine it in my brain that is already stuffed with numbers and names and such.) I also had determined that Lettie and Isaac had at least one child named Henrietta, but that was pretty much the end of that source.

Eventually, additional investigative work led to my discovery of Lettie’s gravesite in a cemetery just a few miles north of the house. Her mother had been buried on one side, her husband on the other. A thorough search of the surrounding area failed to reveal her daughter’s grave, and I chose to think of that as a good sign that she had either moved away, or was still living. The possibility that she had married and produced children was the best-case scenario.

Although you might suspect that finding someone’s headstone would be somewhat of a dead end, it is in reality quite the opposite for a historian. Those grave markers actually provided key information that I needed to push forward- dates of death. With that information, I was able to quickly locate appropriate obituaries by accessing copies of old newspapers on microfilm at the library. Without those dates, I wouldn’t even have attempted such a task.

There are some fantastic cemetery websites available to today’s historians. One that I am particularly fond of is called Find a Grave. I plan on supporting that site by adding the information I gather from this project, as well as posting photos I snap of random headstones. If I end up helping a single historian or genealogist on a future project even if by accident, then it is well worth the effort it takes to upload a few images.

It seems important to state that the discovery of these obituaries has led to the unearthing of a wealth of data about Lettie and her family. In turn, that information has set my research on a course that I had not anticipated. While I ponder what to do with the information, it makes sense for me to begin writing short biographies of the people involved- noting that these bios will require modification as additional information becomes available.

This blog seems an appropriate place as any to post them, and it seems only fitting to begin with what I’ve learned about Lettie. Assuming I fail to find a different voice to describe other people encountered in my research, they will be discussed based on their relationship to Lettie, or to the historic property itself.

Lettie W. (Watson) Mize

Lettie W. Watson was born on the westernmost edge of the United States on November 26, 1881 in New Santa Fe, Missouri. Today, only a small cemetery surrounded by a wrought iron fence remains of the town that once served as the virtual starting line for the Santa Fe Trail. Born ten years after her parents Dr. John Ellis Watson and Louisa S. Lipscomb were married, Lettie grew up with one sister, Alma Watson (Horton), and one brother, Dr. Frank L. Watson.

Following the death of Lettie's father, her mother packed up the house and moved to Albuquerque in 1905 with Lettie and Alma in tow. At present, there is no evidence to suggest that Frank moved to Albuquerque. It is reported that he was living in McAllister, Oklahoma in 1928. Louisa and Lettie became the first residents of the brand new house at 316 Walter Street sometime between 1906 and 1907. It is unclear whether or not Alma also lived here or elsewhere in the city.

By 1907, Lettie was employed as a teacher at the First Ward School. By 1911, she had taught at the Third and Second ward schools. Not long after that, she had married a butcher named Isaac Mize, and given birth to two children- Henrietta in 1913 and Wallace (date unknown- but I am working on it).

By the end of the 1920s, Lettie was employed as an “expression teacher,” a job I believe she performed here in the house. If you have any idea what an “expression teacher” did, please shoot me a comment. I am of the belief that she coached people in the art of public speaking or debate.

The last time I can confidently place Lettie in the house was 1955, but I suspect she remained in Albuquerque after she moved. A charter member of Monte Vista Christian Church, Lettie also served as a regent of the Lew Wallace Chapter of the National Society of the Daughter of the American Revolution.

Lettie passed away following a long illness at the age of 90 on July 8, 1972, exactly 33 years and one day after the death of her husband Isaac.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

the gift of the junkie

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 660 times… that one of the, if not THE, coolest things about collecting baseball cards is the “trade.” Whether putting together the deal that ultimately adds a highly prized 1974 Cookie Rojas card to your collection, or finally obtaining that elusive card to complete a set you’ve been working on seemingly forever, it is all good fun! A satisfying trade never fails to transport me back in time to the Ray Bradbury moments of my youth- lazy, hot summer afternoons spent on the front porch of our house trading baseball cards with my buddies.

With that in mind, I am pleased to report that the final card I need to complete my base set of the 2007 Allen & Ginter cards is in the works as the result of the generosity of one of the more interesting baseball card bloggers- Cardboard Junkie! I dare say that if the Junkie’s kind-hearted gesture had been portrayed in a movie 100 years ago it would have been enough to make William Sydney Porter leave the theater early in search of a good bar.

I’ve been a fan of the Cardboard Junkie for quite a while now. It is one of the few blogs I check on a daily basis- if for no other reason that to see what “new” oddball cards he has obtained as part of his Allen & Ginter type set quest. I’d say that collecting cards that were originally printed and distributed in the late 1800s is a noble project- definitely for someone much braver than myself!

In honor of finishing the set, I think I should mention that my favorite card has to be no. 201 Freddy Sanchez.

In my opinion, this is clearly the best-looking card in the set, and in no way suggests that I am a huge Freddy Sanchez fan. I simply prefer the color, pose and card orientation over everything else in the set. Based solely on those criteria, runners up would be no. 204 Alex Gordon, no. 311 David Ross and no. 261 Torii Hunter- with a special nod going to card no. 239 author Fyodor Dostoevsky. The last one is total creepshow!

I don’t have the heart to ask the Junkie when he plans on picking up an original Allen & Ginter cigarette package to complete his monumental undertaking, but it should prove to be an interesting entry when he gets around to it.

Besides, I need to mind my own business and concentrate on completing the 2006 set, and there’s still that unfinished 1975 Topps set staring at me from across my office with an expression similar to that of a photo of a kid on the side of a milk carton.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

used car salesmen

Just when you were convinced that I was out of the comics business…

Pretty much the only thing you need to know about the conception of this idea is that when it “struck me,” it was WAY funnier than the turbulence we were experiencing at some 39,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean.

(Don't forget to click on the image!)

Also, now that I’m done and just looking at it, I have to say that the Ford salesman bears a striking resemblance to Bloom County’s Steve Dallas (unintentionally, of course). I wonder how much of the rest I stole from someone(s).

Monday, November 26, 2007

104,000 words on the topic of spain

Assuming the global picture to word conversion rate remains constant… THIS LINK will provide approximately 104,000 words about Spain as I saw it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

eat at jose's

I find it odd that the first question the majority of people have asked after learning that I went to Spain was, “What did you eat?” I guess nobody is interested in bullfighting? They could care less whether or not I met any members of the Spanish Olympic baseball team? (I did not.) And not a single reader is curious about the high-speed electric trains that carry passengers to all sorts of intriguing locations?

Fine. But please remember that I am neither a food nor restaurant critic. Keep in mind also that I do not play one on NPR.

Most importantly, I was unable to locate a source of Pop-tarts while I was in the Old World. Thus, I had to rely on the ones I transported across the Atlantic in my carry on luggage.

If you are considering making the voyage to Spain yourself, don’t fret- they have plenty of food. Small markets that dot the narrow streets of Madrid are a great way for people to pick up items needed on a daily basis such as fresh produce, meat, bread, nuts and whatnot. For every one of those markets, I would venture a guess that there exists at least nine Korean-owned/operated groceries that sell canned and packaged products such as pickles, chips, cookies, soda and alcohol. Oh yeah, and etc.

As if that isn’t enough, you also have the choice of tens of thousands of small restaurants, cafés and bars where service is noticeably fast. I found it interesting that although these places do not have jukeboxes, they do consistently have two slot machines just inside the front door and usually one blaring television. It was also an interesting experience to find myself back in a land where public smoking is not only an option, but pretty much seemed to be encouraged.

Most days, my breakfast consisted of a sandwich mixto (a grilled ham and cheese sandwich) and a Coke. Sometimes I would enjoy a sandwich mixto heuvo (pretty much the same thing with egg). Also receiving my five-K seal of approval was the toastada (toast with butter and jelly).

I really enjoyed looking at the photographs of these items that were used on the menus and plastered on the walls of the cafés across the city. I suppose the idea was to make ordering for people like me as simple as pointing. What made the photos most interesting to me was the awful color in the images where whites were represented by yellow, yellows were orange, oranges tended to appear somewhere between red and brown. Not always, mind you, but definitely more often than not. Very odd!

After strolling around the streets looking at art, people and buildings for several hours, it was time to eat again. Not in the mood for a big meal, the game plan was to pick out a table in a sunny area of an outdoor café and to settle in for a Coke and a look at another menu. Pleased with each discovery that Pepsi products were not available, I usually ended up ordering another sandwich mixto.

Practically every café/bar would provide Top-ums with drinks. These ranged from bowls of nuts, to plates of olives, bread or even crackers. Although the concept sounded appealing at first, my final thoughts on the platter of slices of cured ham, wedges of stinky cheese and hunks of dry bread is that it is a meal best served to survivalists.

One item that I particularly enjoyed was croquettes. Basically, these are fried balls of mashed potatoes with small chunks of meat inside. I did not like the ones that used fish, opting instead for the ones that were made with ham. It wasn’t until I stumbled across a piece of graffiti that I began to understand the sense of national pride Spaniards take in their croquettes. I believe this painting depicts the legendary “Croquette de Jaman.” I understand that parents recall tales of this unlikely superhero to children as they tuck them in for their afternoon siesta.

I did eat pizza in Madrid.

Compared to the heaping piles of food served everywhere here in the US, I was pleased by the appropriate amount of food served in Spain. I’m not sure if that is why I saw very few overweight people there, or if it because they tend to eat everything using tiny silverware. Nevertheless, the only exception to the serving-size rule I encountered was a bizarre combination of fried potato strips and chicken parts that most closely resembled some sort of failed science experiment. I would not complain about the taste, but I guess I wasn’t completely prepared for the impromptu study of how chickens can be butchered. Either way, less of that would have been better. Intriguing as I'm sure this dish must sound, I found myself unable to take a photograph of it.

I had some of this tortilla espana. It was mostly egg and cheese, with some potatoes and other items that I did not identify.

Finally, I offer this vegetable stew. No, I didn’t try this stuff, but I did get close enough to snap a photo.

Sitting on the runway prepared for takeoff for the 10-hour flight back to the states, I overheard the following conversation that forced me to put on my noise-reduction headphones earlier than I had planned.

Lady #1: “Would you like a piece of candy so your ears don’t pop?”

Lady #2: “No thanks. I’m too hungry to eat candy.”

Saturday, November 17, 2007

three wise kards

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always preferred to make greeting cards myself as opposed to buying them in a store. It just seems more personal.

Following the huge success of my bilingual Opus the penguin double-sided pop-up Christmas card in 1993, a number of people on my mailing list have inquired whether or not I would be interested in designing their holiday cards. Until now, I have resisted.

What follows then are three holiday-themed card designs that you can actually obtain and send to your friends, family and co-workers this year. If you DARE!

Feliz, Navidad

This card highlights my commitment to not learning a second language, while making readers wonder if I’ve even learned one. The town featured in the photo is actually Toledo, Spain.

Bah humbug

I designed this card with people who totally dislike the holiday season in mind. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if I end up getting a couple of this style sent to my mailbox.

Tis the season

I actually really like this design. Simple, yet to and well beyond the point! While you don’t have to buy this card, you will have to click on the link above in order to obtain the punch line.

Of course it would be completely selfish of me to not take advantage of your attention and point you toward the cards I would probably purchase if I was going to send out cards made by other people. These Christmas Story cards are the best!

Happy shopping!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

stranger in a stranger land

I wondered what sorts of hobbies people had to keep themselves busy in Spain when it wasn’t bullfighting season. It turns out that “collecting” plays a huge part of the Spanish culture, and it is extremely popular here in the city center of Madrid.

Gathered together in patches of sunshine on Sundays, collectors show off their most recent acquisitions and barter to make deals that will make them king (or queen) for the next week.

This photo depicts rabid stamp collectors who have displaced the local pigeon population at Plaza Mayor for a few hours on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

Stamps aren’t the only collectibles traded in these parts. Coins are big, as are soccer, Pokemon and Star Wars cards. Also being swapped were cigar bands, postcards, used phone cards, wine labels, old lottery tickets and comics. I didn’t notice anyone trading matchbooks, corks or bottles, but it is safe to assume that those items are collected here as well.

Not surprisingly, there was absolutely no interest in my duplicate Barry Bonds cards.

Friday, November 09, 2007

european WHERE?

Possibly you are contemplating a trip to Europe before what’s left of the dollar slides completely over the edge of the North American continental shelf? In that case, perhaps I can give you a few tips as they become known to me. I’m pretty sure that I can avoid wasting your time with material that you would find repeated in various travel books.

Lesson Number A: Things Aren’t Always as they Appear

First, this is NOT a urinal…

However, this IS an ashtray…

And THIS is a car…

2007 Arizona Fall League

Even before the final out of the 2007 season had been posted on the left field scoreboard at Isotopes Park, die-hard fans began processing possible post-season scenarios in their brains in an attempt to delay the inevitable arrival of the most fearsome of rivals- old man winter. With no post-season play on the horizon for the Albuquerque team, many fans accepted their fate of watching the reminder of the major league season from the comfort of their recliners. A few fans began using hand-held electronic data machines to consult home schedules of major league teams and accessing online banking accounts to determine whether or not they were actually going to be forced to call it a season just yet. Only the Pisceans and other dreamers rolled out star charts and began weighing their chances of obtaining major league division, league or (gulp) World Series tickets.

Another option would be to swallow a heaping spoonful of pride and travel to the cities involved in the minor league playoffs and championship. Besides proving to be a rather bitter pill to choke down, that experience would also prove rather costly.

Perhaps the best cure for minor league post-season blues is the Arizona Fall League. The AFL is the annual magical gathering of top prospects for six additional weeks of practice and organized games under the watchful eye of some of the finest coaches ever to have played the game of baseball. Six teams comprise the league- currently marking its 16th year in operation. The games are played mostly in front of a large group of scouts, former players, family members and autograph collectors. At only $6 per person for admission, you would be hard pressed to find a better bargain for your money in the sporting world.

Players from the Florida Marlins joined players associated with the Dodgers, Padres, Phillies and Tigers forming the Peoria Saguaros. In addition to practicing and playing games at the Peoria Sports Complex, the Saguaros are bussed around the Valley of the Sun to other Spring Training facilities where they take on teams including the Phoenix Desert Dogs, Scottsdale Scorpions, Mesa Solar Sox, Surprise Rafters and Peoria Rafters. Each of the AFL teams also play games against Olympic teams for the United States and China.

The 2007 Saguaros roster included three Isotopes pitchers- Craig Molldrem, Ricky Nolasco and Ross Wolf, as well as pitching coach Rich Gale. Other players from the Marlins organization participating in the Fall League include Chris Coghlan, Brett Hayes, Jai Miller and Scott Nestor.

Second baseman Chris Coghlan hit for an average of .287 over 115 games combined with the Greensboro Grasshoppers (A) and Jupiter Hammerheads (A) this past season. Coghlan swatted a dozen round-trippers, scoring 77 times and driving in 82 runs. Collecting 31 doubles as part of his 125 hits on the season, Chris also ended up swiping 24 bases out of 29 attempts.

Thru 13 games during the 2007 AFL season, Coghlan has accumulated 15 hits and maintained a .313 batting average. Yet to homer in Arizona, Chris has hit three doubles. He also has been caught steeling in each of his three attempts.

Catcher Brett Hayes played in 91 games in 2007 with the Jupiter Hammerheads (A) and the Carolina Mudcats (AA). Hayes compiled .254 batting average, scored 32 runs and drove in 42. More than one-quarter of his hits fell for extra bases.

Hayes’ Fall League average thru 14 games has dipped to .224, with 6 runs scored and only 2 driven in. However, Brett appears to work very hard behind the plate, and isn’t shy when it comes to flashing the leather, or keeping base runners honest. I have no doubt that Brett will soon be winning over the hearts of many Isotopes fans.

Outfielder Jai Miller’s first name is Randall, but this article might be one of the few places you’ll ever see it used. The right-hand hitting outfielder finished the 2007 season batting .261 over 129 games with the Carolina Mudcats (AA). Miller’s 106 hits included 26 doubles, 2 triples and 14 homers. Jai nearly drew as many walks (55) as RBIs (58). Miller stole a dozen bases while getting caught five times.

Thru 18 Fall League games, Miller’s average has hovered right around .264 while collecting 19 hits including 3 doubles, a triple, and one round-tripper. His 24 strikeouts in 72 at bats are obviously something to keep an eye on. Barring some blockbuster moves by Florida during the winter, I expect to see Miller playing right field in Albuquerque in 2008, with Brett Carroll in left, and Alejandro De Aza patrolling center.

Unless De Aza has another outstanding spring, it seems unlikely that his 2007 production of a .261 average, 14 runs scored, and 8 batted in will prove enough to land him a starting position in Florida’s outfield. De Aza’s 2 stolen bases in 2007 compared to 27 steals in 2006 while batting .278 for the Carolina Mudcats suggests that the Marlins need to figure out a way for the youngster to get some at bats on a consistent basis. Albuquerque seems as good as any place for that to happen- perhaps the best.

Due to his veteran status, the Marlins had to obtain special permission from MLB in order for Ricky Nolasco to participate in the Arizona Fall League. After missing the majority of the 2007 season following elbow problems, Nolasco did toss 33.2 innings in the minors- compiling a record of 1-4 with a 7.49 ERA, and 21.1 innings for the Marlins where he went 1-2 with a 5.48 ERA.

Possibly beginning to turn the corner in his recovery, Nolasco has a 3.78 ERA over 16.2 innings pitched in 5 AFL games what is generally considered to be a hitter’s league. I would be surprised to see Ricky in an Isotopes uniform in 2008.

Also pitching for the Peoria Saguaros this fall is right-handed reliever Craig Molldrem. Having spent the majority of his season with the Carolina Mudcats (AA), Molldrem finished the 2007 season with a record of 5-4 and a 4.61 ERA.

In seven Fall League appearances, Molldrem has been saddled with a 15.75 ERA. The five long balls Craig has allowed in only 8 innings are just two shy of his total allowed over 70.1 innings during the regular season. Hopefully, his work with Rich Gale during the Fall League will pay dividends in 2008.

I had never seen right-handed reliever Scott Nestor pitch before since he spent the entire 2007 season with the Carolina Mudcats. Due to the way things worked out while I was in Phoenix, I still haven’t. The fact that the Marlins selected Nestor for the Fall League suggests that they believe he will only improve on this season’s numbers; 2-4 with a 4.44 ERA, and 86 strikeouts vs. 41 walks in 75.0 innings.

Thru 8.1 innings over 7 games this fall, Nestor’s ERA is at 4.32 with 10 strikeouts and 4 bases on balls. I would anticipate seeing Nestor on the Isotopes team when they break from Spring Training.

Right-handed reliever Ross Wolf spent a couple of weeks in the Fall League following his second call up to the parent club during 2007. However, Wolf only pitched a single inning, and yielded two runs (one earned) on two hits before the Marlins made the decision to shut him down for the winter. I talked to Ross briefly before he headed to Florida for an MRI on his shoulder that he described as a precautionary measure. Wolf did log a total of 59.2 innings over 59 games for Albuquerque and Florida during the regular season, so some time off probably wasn’t unwarranted.

The Arizona Fall League… where some of the questions about next season are answered today!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

never been to spain

You may now safely add that song to the list of Three Dog Night tunes that you’ll probably never again catch me whistling with any authority. You may thank Iberian Airlines for that favor.

There is no need to refresh your computer in disbelief- I’m actually in Europe. The deal is that my wife lived here once for a year after college, and has since wanted to return on vacation before she turned 35. Thus, here we are. Since I honestly don’t deserve a vacation after spending the entire summer “working” at the ballpark, catching a week of fall ball in Phoenix, then popping up to Denver to catch a World Series game, this trip is intended to serve as a “Cultural Unit” in my continued home schooling experience.

What was my honest first impression upon landing at the airport here in Madrid? Jesus, am I ever thankful to be off that airplane!

The next thing that stuck in my mind was a children’s “ride”/photo booth on the airport concourse in the shape of a tiny fiberglass biplane. I was intrigued by the fact that the ride had buttons that could be pushed to create simulated sounds of machine gun fire and dropping bombs… in an AIRPORT! For crying outloud… am I the only person who remembers “three-one-one?”

My third impression as we rode into the city center was how eerily beautiful this enormous cemetery was laid out along a hillside, before being peppered with headstones and aboveground crypts. I don’t know if we will have time to visit that place before we leave. Even if we did, I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have “enough” time to offer it the thorough inspection it deserves.

My already odd sleep pattern has been completely thrown out of whack by the traveling. For instance, I just woke up at 5:00 am local time. Like, huh?

I’d been having one of the strangest dreams, so I’ll probably be better off awake for a while. In the dream I was sitting in a small café minding my own business when Weird Al Yankovic approached me and asked if I wanted to help him write a spoof song. Actually, he called it a parody, but I’ll leave that up to you to decide.

He mentioned that he was feeling down, and that he could only find joy by collaborating on a song with a random Spaniard. I offered that I was not a Spaniard, but instead from Albuquerque. Pausing for a moment to sniff the air and taste it with what appeared to be a slightly forked tongue, Weird replied, “That explains the smell of root beer.” Following a moment of silence punctuated by an accordion rim shot, he added, “Old Spain, New Spain… what’s the difference?” In the real world, I could have listed at least seven, but unsure whether he was in my dream or I was in his, my mind drew a blank.

Given Al’s great depression, I recommended that we retool Yip Harburg’s 1931 classic “Brother Can You Spare a Dime?” Either he though it a great idea, or he didn’t care enough to argue. For the title, we settled on, “”Buddy Can You Spare a Euro?”

Now that I’m awake, I find that I am unable to recall the majority of the lyrics that we had hashed out. I assure you that we had a fantastic time, and Weird was all smiles- even when the bartender would carve off slices of Al’s hair and serve it to customers as top’ums with their beer. These are the only lyrics that I remember:

Once I wrote a blog. I wrote it well, constructed it with rhymes.
Once I wrote a blog, it was swell. Buddy can you spare eighteen dimes?

Overall, I would not hesitate to rate the dream at least an 8. After all, at least I didn’t dream about standing at the baggage claim carousel counting suitcases.

Monday, November 05, 2007

writer's strike

Fear not! The ongoing Writers Guild of America's strike will not impact the frequency of entries on this here blog.

Friday, November 02, 2007

New Mexico Highways

Raise your hand if you’ve never had the pleasure of having been driving home from a World Series Game 3 in Denver and opted to take my patented “Eastern Santa Fe Bypass” (ie., NM Route 84 from Romeroville, New Mexico to Interstate 40- a shortish distance east of Clines Corners). Those of you with your hand up do not realize what you’ve been missing.

When you do finally get around to exploring this little segment of the desert Southwest, I highly recommend doing so just prior to the sun begins to call it a day. Also, do yourself a huge favor and pop Supertramp’s “Breakfast In America” into your handy mp3 gadget, cd changer, cassette player, 8-track stereo, or whatever have you right as you begin heading southward along this sparsely populated, yet entertaining travel corridor. Crank it up and enjoy!

Sure, the album is pushing 30 years old, but it is still quite space age music for the seldom-traveled, pre-1937 alignment of Route 66. The only other suggestions I have to offer is that if you hear any part of the saxy Logical Song before you reach the tiny village of Apache Springs, you really need to ease off on the gas pedal- not because of cops, but in order to fully enjoy what you are otherwise going to miss.

Hey, put your hand down already! Geeesh.

Similarly, you don’t want to drive so slowly that you can’t take advantage of the energy of Child of Vision as you ramp back up and engage with the flow of traffic on I-40. Obviously you should be musically prepared in the event that you decide to stray off and explore a few of the back roads that crisscross the southern foothills of the Santa Fe Mountains.

Monday, September 24, 2007

writing's on the wall

If you are reading this, then like me, you have survived the 2007 New Mexico state fair. Either that, or you missed it completely. Dry those tears if that is the case. I didn’t even see a hint of a giant butter sculpture, so you really didn’t miss anything.

The vast majority of what I did see of the fair was out of the corner of my eye while perched in the crow’s nest at the end of the home stretch at the racetrack. I am of the opinion that the races are a big part of many people’s annual Fair experience.

A few readers have inquired about what exactly I have to do at the Downs. Basically, I shoot video of the horses and jockeys during the post parade- a ten-minute period leading up to each race where fans in attendance and those huddled together in smoke-filled off-track betting parlors around the world can make last minute decisions on specific horses, and tweak their wagering strategy as needed. I also shoot the entire race from starting gate to finish line, and that video becomes part of the official race record along with the feed from normally four additional cameras from different locations.

That part of the day passes extremely fast! Then there is a period of approximately 10 to 15 minutes between each race where I am not required to shoot anything. I don’t waste that time watching tv, reading or even blogging- although I could. Instead, I utilize that down time reviewing the results of the previous race on paper- you know, looking for patterns on why I failed to select the winning horses. Sure, I could think of reasons to blame the jockeys for failing to urge the “better” horse along quicker, but that really wouldn’t help me on future races. I also take advantage of the time and read the next day’s racing form and picking the ponies that when my personal handicapping biases are applied, literally “stand out” from the rest of the field in much the same way as those 3D posters work.

Usually I run out of things to “do” by the end of the 7th race, and am forced to entertain myself between races. I admit that I enjoy reading the graffiti on the walls of my 10-foot-square corrugated tin shack in the sky. At first glance, I assumed the scrawling represented the documentation of a person gone mad, not unlike what one might expect to find of the walls of a dimly lit prison cell wherein a lifer’s only companion was a black Sharpie. I realize that the writings may not “mean” anything, but that doesn’t prevent the anthropologist in me from attempting to categorize the various phrases. That said, I have developed the following four categories:

Anger Management:
A few examples of scribblings included in this category would be “Murder & Rose’s,” “ 99 Ways to Die” and “Testament (All Lies).” It is worth noting that there are several areas in the walls where a sharp object has been jabbed through the tin. I can’t imagine anyone thinking they weren’t getting enough air to breathe, so I am left assuming they were simply practicing handling a blade when they weren’t working on their penmanship.

Race Horse Names:
Tell me you wouldn’t be tempted to include one or more of these in your next superfecta wager- “Highway Jones,” “Frog Stomp,” “Sweet Life,” “Mama’s Fool” or “Drive it Home.” Personally, I wouldn’t hesitate to lay $2 on “Right to Cheese” across the board!

Band Names:
Sure, “Garden Groove,” “Bong Hits” and “Spitting Clam’s” could all be names of horses, but I just like the idea of a bunch of Albuquerque kids hanging out in a garage playing covers of Kiss tunes and arguing what they should call themselves. Eventually, of course, the band would break up citing artistic differences as the root of the problems, and the lead guitarist would be forced into seeking a summer job (perhaps operating a video camera at the racetrack).


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

klimbing that ladder

Don’t worry; I didn’t land a fancy corporate job or anything like that!

However, my plan to spend the down time between the end of baseball and the beginning of hockey kicking around at the racetrack took a twist this past weekend when I wormed my way into one of the video crew positions at the Downs at Albuquerque.

A perfect excuse to spend every day at the racetrack, and earn a little cash while learning more about the fascinating world of horse racing and betting on the ponies!

Without a doubt, the most challenging aspect of my new job is getting to work, even though the track is located only a few miles from home. Actually, the last 50 feet of my commute are the most difficult I’ve had to overcome given that they are literally straight up! Trust me, it is a true white-knuckle experience.

However, once I arrive at my perch, the view from my “desk” is pretty amazing.

Here's a view of the New Mexico State Fair which wraps up this Sunday.

I could keep typing, but I need to save my fingers for clinging onto the ladder through the end of the live racing season in early October.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

bob and tom and MY DAD?

If you took the time to look around my father’s office, you might walk away with the impression that he never met a slingshot that he didn’t like. That isn’t true, but the fact that a slingshot is poorly made or simply doesn’t perform well has yet to prevent him from buying a newly discovered species.

To be sure, his collection has resulted in moments of local, national, and even international fame. Probably if anyone was keeping track, they would determine that he has used up his allotted fifteen minutes already.

That said, he does keep showing up in the most unusual places. Take, for instance, this recent mention on Bob and Tom’s website. Scroll down after clicking on the link… you can’t miss it. And just maybe you shouldn’t!

field of refried dreams

I was hoping to catch a glimpse of the full lunar eclipse this evening, but clouds have moved in and are making it next to impossible to enjoy the event. Hopefully they will clear out in the next hour or so.

In the meanwhile, I thought I’d post a few photographs I took way back on August 6th when Kevin Costner participated in batting practice with the Albuquerque Isotopes prior to a game with the Colorado Springs Sky Sox.

It was really a very neat experience, being on the field when this was going on. I was unable to determine who was having more fun... the players or Kevin.

This photo depicts Kevin chatting with outfielder Eric Reed next to the batting cage. Kevin borrowed Eric's bat when it was his turn in the cage. He didn't "Bop the Bunny," but he did do a fine job of hitting- even when manager Dean Treanor cranked up the speed.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

barney googled

So I’m sitting in the public library the other afternoon reading old newspapers on microfilm trying to answer my newfound question of whether comic strips might tend to be funnier during war times. It wasn’t long before I convinced myself that I really needed to follow through with a few ideas I’ve had for comics- if for no other reason than to clear the space they are cluttering in my mind.

What follows then is my first offering, which is basically a conceptual prototype. Please remember to click on the image in order to see it in full size. (No, that won’t make it funnier, but it should make it legible.)

To answer the question that one of my readers (a psychic professor) is preparing to ask, the comics included in the Albuquerque Journal on Sunday, March 14, 1943 included the following: Bringing Up Father; The Heart of Juliet Jones; The Lone Ranger; Right Around Home with Myrtle – A Dignified Position!; Ripley’s ~ Believe It or Not; Donald Duck; Blondie; Dennis the Menace; Dick Tracy; Prince Valient; Walt Disney Presents Uncle Remus and his Tales of Brer Rabbit; Mickey Mouse; Henry; Barney Google and Snuffy Smith; Buz Sawyer; They’ll Do It Every Time; The Little King; Archie; Little Annie Rooney; The Katzenjammer Kids; Little Iodine; Thimble Theater starring Popeye; Flash Gordon; Steve Canyon.

Interestingly, the funnies then came in two separate sections as an addition to the 15-cent Sunday paper (along with the ever popular Parade magazine).

Oh yeah…. were they “funny?”

Well, I suppose that is a matter of opinion- except Henry. Mimes are ALWAYS funny!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

goats head stew

Until you’ve stepped on a goathead, you’ve never really experienced agony of da feet. However, if you’ve spent any amount of time in the American southwest, odds are that you’ve stepped on one of these seedpods from hell barefoot, or had one jab you through your shoe, punctured a bicycle tire, or had the misfortune of having gotten one stuck under your fingernail.

Also commonly called Texas Sandburs, bull’s head and caltrop, goatheads are the product of the Puncturevine (or Tribulus terrestris L. for all you braniac Latinheads). First reported in the United States just over 100 years ago, it is believed that the seedpods of the puncturevine were transported from the Mediterranean area as stowaways in imported sheep wool. Stranger things have happened.

This weed is extremely dangerous to livestock, but that really doesn’t impact my garden since the only critters I have in any large number this spring are grasshoppers. Eliminating puncturevines from my yard has been the highest priority since I began working my small urban plot a couple/few years ago. These weeds are so annoying, that I also watch for them on both sides of the alley as they approach my zone of defense. I will drop any task I am doing to grab a puncturevine by the taproot and either toss it into a fire, or into the trashcan. Believe it or not, I am of the opinion that one would find worse things in the city landfill than these monsters.

As I prepared to snap these photographs, I began wondering if perhaps my hatred of these weeds was unique or somehow “over-the-top”- given the fact that I see them all over the city and no one seems to be trying to do anything about them. Imagine my surprise while conducting a little interweb research, to discover someone who hates goatheads as much as I do! Such an informative website, and I admit that I am intrigued by this idea of their Puncturevine Weevils.

The notion that these nasty seeds can remain viable for up to two decades while lying in wait for the proper conditions to germinate is baffling to say the least. Although I do believe I can control the weeds in my yard by staying on top of it, deploying a small army of seed and vine munching grubs in the alley might prove a worthy battle plan- assuming, of course, that the larvae do not mutate into strawberry eating weevils. Unfortunately, the high price of the weevils may force me to approach the board of our neighborhood association to see if they will provide some funds.

As an interesting digression, I’ve also learned that “Waiting on a Friend,” one of my favorite Rolling Stones songs that appeared on the Tattoo You album in the early 80s, was in fact, an outtake from the Goats Head Soup album that was released in 1973- on the 70th anniversary of the first reported finding of the puncturevine in the United States. Who knows… perhaps the “friend” Mick and the boys were waiting on was a puncturevine weevil.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

missed it by that much

I saw a number of interesting items and places while traveling along the road back to Albuquerque upon the conclusion of the recent Midland excursion. One of the themes that repeatedly crossed my mind was how much the landscape and the small towns I passed through reminded me of the beginning of one of my favorite films- Midnight Cowboy.

Once I got home, watching the film again became a priority. When I observed the signage in the opening that indicated Joe Buck (Jon Voight’s character) was living Big Spring, Texas before heading off for the greener pastures of New York City, I recalled the portion of a discussion with the owner of Cloud 9 Sports Cards in Odessa just three days ago when he mentioned Big Spring in passing. A quick Google search revealed that Big Spring is located just about 40 miles northeast of Midland. Nertz! I’m kind of bummed that I failed to realize that I was so close.

I could very easily have been trying to find the location of the Sahara Drive-In (renamed “Big Tex Drive-In” for the opening scene of the film) in Big Spring instead of snapping photos of the modern Big Sky Drive-In located between Midland and Odessa. Triple darn that I failed to have a slice of pie in the diner where Joe Buck once worked as a dishwasher before walking out carrying only his dream and cowhide suitcase.

Rest assured, next time I find myself in Midland for baseball, I will definitely make the side trip over to Big Spring and take several dozen photos of the “downtown” area and anything that is left of the drive-in theater.

One blogworthy site I did see for the first time was a fun Buddy Holly statue in the heart of Lubbock’s Walk of Fame. I was also very impressed with Lubbock’s brick-paved streets that have survived for close to 90 years.

Also just a few miles off the route one encounters the reported gravesite of outlaw Billy the Kid. This location is as interesting as it is controversial.

Friday, May 04, 2007

midland, texas... it's a gas!

Greetings from Midland, Texas!

According to popular legend, Midland’s name is a derivation of “Midway,” the original name given to the point located approximately half the distance between El Paso and Fort Worth as the iron horse flew. Legend continues that “Midland” was adopted as the town name not long after the discovery was made of a number of other small Texas towns named Midway. Undoubtedly, that resulted in some very confusing days for the Pony Express riders before it all got sorted out.

Does that answer your question of what I’m doing in Midland? No it does not.

Am I here to visit what is reported to be the childhood home of the 43rd President of the United States? Hardly, but since I’m already here...

Baseball is what brings me to this part of the country- specifically, Double A baseball. After a couple of seasons of a buddy telling me how enjoyable ballgames are here in Midland, I decided to accept his offer to take a road trip over to check it out.

My first impression is that Citibank Ballpark is a very nice facility. The fans that turn out to support the Midland RockHounds, are typical, if not fewer in number that what I would have expected. It is now my understanding that that majority of the quarter-million people in this area are most likely too busy sitting at home watching Friday Night Lights on tv and getting pumped up for the high school football season than to be bothered to head out to enjoy a baseball game.

It is reported that Midland receives approximately 14.8 inches of precipitation each year. Personal experience suggests that the vast majority of that amount arrives in the form of a single thunderstorm in the late morning/early afternoon hours each May 2nd. Thankfully the field at Citibank Ballpark drains quickly!

A quick glance around reveals very little in the way of scenery beyond a forest of mesquite and a never-ending sea of oil derelicts and pumpjacks. Although I’m in no position to write a travel brochure for the city, it is worth noting to my “Hollywood” readers that Midland’s seemingly abandoned business district would provide a prime location for the long overdue remake of Omega Man.

The Midland RockHounds defeated the Corpus Christi Hooks in each of the three games I attended. The overall production was eerily similar to the Isotopes games in spite of the differences. It was very pleasant to attend a few games as a fan, collect a handful of Texas League baseballs during batting practice and get several baseball cards autographed. I would definitely recommend that anyone passing through the area schedule an evening to take in a ballgame here in the Permian Basin.