Freak of nature

So I had a night yesterday that was almost as good as my infamous baseball doubleheader in 2007.

My friend Tom and I had been wanting to meet for a Royals game all season. We planned to go to a game in May, but backed out because it was cold and raining. Then, there was the big move in June, and other things kept getting in the way.

As this weekend approached, I signed on to attend a lunch gathering in Kansas City for alumni of my college journalism school. It turned out the Royals were in town, too, and Tom and I laid plans to attend last night’s game.

On Friday afternoon, he purchased a pair of $9 upper deck seats and a parking pass for us. Hours later, the Royals’ game with the White Sox was called in the midst of our stormy weather … The game was rescheduled as a nighttime doubleheader, with the Saturday night game to go on as scheduled, with a 6:10 p.m. start time, and the Friday night game to be made up afterward.

So our cheap $9 upper deck seats suddenly became golden tickets to two games. Let me repeat that: $9 for two games. … And so much more.

I hit the lunch gathering and had a grand time catching up with generations of journalists, some of whom I hadn’t see in 10 years and were valued mentors to me back in the day. They were overjoyed when I told them about my new gig, too.

By 3 in the afternoon, I was at Tom’s place, just blocks from the stadium. We warmed up for the game by pulling out the old school Nintendo system and playing some RBI Baseball (Tom’s circa 1995 Atlanta Braves beat my circa 1995 Cleveland Indians, 9-8.)

We headed for the ballpark around 4. Drank a couple brewskies in the parking lot, and headed inside the stadium to watch some batting practice … Really, we just wanted to shag batting practice balls. More importantly, I’m on a crusade now to replace the two prized possessions that were stolen from me. Jerk burglars.

Instead, Tom and I walked to the left field seats -- the same place I caught my first batting practice home run in 1999 -- stood viewing the field for about three minutes, and then decided it was far too hot to wait on the slim chance a ball came our way. So we headed to the concourse for a walk of the improved stadium.

I hadn’t been to Kauffman Stadium since that other hot August night in 2007, one year before the renovations began … And, wow, has the stadium experience improved. The new concourse is wider, lighter and no longer feels like a continuation of the parking lot. When you enter the stadium now, it feels like a truly modern ballpark. Then again, I’ve been spoiled by my years of attending games at Miller Park … What’s more, the gates are surrounded by gardens of appealing ornamental grasses, replacing the pavement fields where my buddies and I used to play catch to pass time before the $5 general admission ticket windows opened.

We secured our Royals jersey coolers, and I purchased not one but two scorecards for the double-bill, thus impressing the souvenir hawker with my foresight … My next goal was to purchase a worthy Royals hat, to much teasing from Tom considering the prices of ballpark souvenirs these days. After all, I found a nice one with a faded look that felt comfortable; it cost me just $25 bucks and Tom approved.

Eventually, we headed for our seats, settling in about 15 minutes before the first pitch. Then the fun really began.

Philip Humber started the game for the Royals and was perfect for the first three innings. I jinxed it, though, when I pointed out the perfecto to Tom; Humber gave up an infield single to Juan Pierre -- the only White Sox player for whom I have any legitimate admiration -- leading off the fourth … The White Sox proceeded to mount a 5-1 lead in the sixth inning.

But in the seventh inning, Billy Butler led off with a walk. White Sox starter Freddy Garcia struck out Wilson Betemit and Alex Gordon. Then Willie Bloomquist and Mike Aviles singled to load the bases. Ozzie Guillen removed Garcia for Sergio Santos and Yuni Betancourt hit the second pitch he saw for a game-tying grand slam. The crowd went wild. High fives all around.

The score held until the 11th inning -- even after Bentacourt doubled in the ninth and the White Sox seemingly had the win in hand, only to watch the Royals toss a perfect relay from right fielder Carlos Quentin to second baseman Mike Aviles to catcher to catcher Jason Kendall, who tagged Paul Konerko sliding home. Again, the crowd went wild. Again, high fives all around.

In the bottom of the 11th, Betemit walked and Gordon bunted him to second. Then, Aviles singled, moving Betemit to third. And lo and behold, Betancourt slapped a two-out single to center field for the game winner. The Royals won 6-5 … The crowd went wild. High fives all around.

Our voices hoarse from all of the screaming, Tom and I ventured to the fountain deck for the intermission … The fountains at Kauffman Stadium are arguably one of the greatest features of any Major League ballpark. Now that fans have the ability to walk alongside them -- way cool.

We walked the entire deck, stopping to gaze up at the humongous scoreboard and the various outfield views along the way ... Eventually, we swung around to the deck that stretches behind the fountains and got an even more dazzling view of the water displays between innings.

And then to the children’s area … Holy moly, I can hardly wait to take Phoebe for a game and watch her run around there! There’s a full-fledged playground, plus a carousel, batting cages, a base run, a little league field -- and a mini-golf course!

In the meantime, the second game started, and Tom and I weren’t missing anything by the sounds of the crowd. The White Sox piled two runs and five hits in the first three innings.

Wanting to make the most of our opportunity, we headed to the Royals Hall of Fame, which is now housed in a cool, air-conditioned building beyond the left field corner. The storied history of Kansas City baseball hits you the moment you step inside the atrium, where the retired jerseys of Brett, Howser and White are encased and newspaper headlines of memorable moments are plastered on the walls … The sad part is realizing the Royals were once among the elite franchises in all of baseball.

From the jerseys, to famous bats and home plates, to the Cy Young and Gold Glove awards, the Royals Hall of Fame is a display that I can only imagine rivals the mother of them all in Cooperstown. (… Some day.)

(For all of my photos from the night, check out my Flickr set.)

“Yep, I’d say they did pretty good on the renovations,” I said as we walked back to our seats to watch the second game.

The second game, by the way, started at 10 p.m. … I was in my glory.

At the entrance to the upper deck, we were ready to bargain with the usher. After all, the ushers had been strict to start the night, even in the upper deck, which was hardly full. They were posted in every corner and allowed us to go nowhere but the section for our seats … So when we approached the usher for the second game -- and the stadium crowd had cleared considerably, I asked bluntly, “Seriously, we don’t have to sit in our original seats, right?”

To our surprise, he replied, “Nah, you guys could probably go down below at this point and nobody would say anything.”

No problem. We headed to the field-level seats and settled into a pair beyond the third base dugout.

We sat in the bottom of the third with the Royals showing little life and losing 2-0. "They're tired," I said. ... That changed in the fourth when the Royals knocked out five straight hits, including Betemit’s double, and took a 4-2 lead.

The White Sox took back the lead, 6-4 in the sixth … Gregor Blanco hit a home run in the eighth to make the score 6-5.

So you can imagine the excitement that filled the ballpark when the Royals came to the bat in the ninth -- at the possibility of the second game also going into extras. It didn’t appear it would happen when the first two Royals to bat in the inning struck out …

Then Mitch Maier drove a pitch down the right field line for a triple. None other than Yuni Betancourt came up next and -- you guessed it -- drove in Maier, sending the game into extra innings. (Check out Joe Posnanski's curiously long post about Yuni Betancourt.)

That was our cue to move even closer to the field, ending up about a dozen rows behind the third base dugout … During that last inning, the crowd had dwindled to mere hundreds. The stadium was so empty, the water pouring from the fountains was almost louder than any of the cheers echoing around the ballpark.

In the 10th, the White Sox took care of business. Juan Pierre doubled to score Gordon Beckham and the Sox won it 7-6.

The game ended at about 1:10 a.m. Two games. 6 hours, 31 minutes. 21 innings. For $9.

I’d say we got our money’s worth.


Shoo this!

One of best things about living in The 'Ville?

No mosquitoes.

Before the move in June, I repeatedly told Kates about the luxury. But she didn't believe me ... Until we began taking our nightly walks to the park and stayed out until dusk without attracting a bite.

Now comes news this week that the Chicago region is dealing with its worst outbreak in 20 years.

Have fun with that, folks.


28 months

It’s been a long time since I’ve written solely about Phoebe. With her 28-month birthday this week, the timing seems right.

She’s been through a lot these last eight months. 

For six months, I was little more to her than a moving picture on “da ‘puter.” Then we took her away from “ ‘Nosha” and “Noni,” on a daylong car-ride, during which she threw up, to a strange land that is really hot, has a park around nearly every corner and where Mommy and Daddy are the only familiar faces … Then there was that crummy week we spent in a scary room where a bunch of strange people kept coming to poke her with needles … 

And now, during the weekdays, we take her to this weird place and leave her with a bunch of women she doesn’t know. She has to eat things she doesn’t like and take naps on a cot. She does get to color and play a lot, though.

Like I said, she’s been through a lot these last eight months.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell if her sudden tantrums and her clingy-ness are products of those months. In the two weeks we’ve been taking her to the daycare, or “school” as we’re calling it, barely a day has passed without her crying and screaming when we leave her. On some days, Kates picks up Phoebe and drives home to declarations of “I not leave you again, Mommy.” After all, Kates has been the one constant in her life throughout our adventure. Along with her baby and blanket.

Making things more interesting, she seems to have a remarkable memory. For example, when we dress her in the shirt she was wearing on moving day, she looks down at it and says “I not throw up.”

Or, all of this is a product of the “terrible twos.” It's hard to know; we're still learning this whole parenthood thing.

(Just now, I had to interrupt this post because Kates and Phoebe returned from the grocery store. The fact that I was heading outside to retrieve the groceries from the car -- while Kates stayed inside -- threw Phoebe into a tailspin of tears. She begged to come with me and held on as tight as she could -- until I removed her to the sound of louder screams.)

Yet, amid all the changes, Phoebe has not ceased being the incredibly intelligent, social, observant and curious little ham, er, girl she's been since birth.

She’s turned into Miss Independent. Just about every little thing she does these days is preceded with a loud “Iiiiiiiiii do it!” … Brushing her teeth. Climbing on to a bed, or her booster seat. Putting a movie into the DVD player. She wants to try anything and do everything. By herself.

She loves watching movies. She likes Tinkerbell and Bob the Builder, but Barney and Winnie the Pooh dominate our TV when she’s around … Winnie the Pooh is charming and innocent enough, I could watch it with her all day without getting bored. Barney, on the other hand, nearly drives me insane … On the bright side, she also discovered “Toy Story” this summer and enjoys watching our grainy VHS recording of a television airing that’s several years old.

She likes to dance, when we pull her away from the movies long enough for me to turn on some music. Of course, Phoebe’s idea of dancing is still jumping and running from one side of the room to another. Either way, it’s still movement to music … One of our more memorable music moments this summer happened several weeks ago when I turned on the great, great Byrds groove “Chestnut Mare.” When it comes to my classic rock, I have a tendency to sway my head lazily to the music like some kind of hippie. Phoebe caught me doing it and started doing it too -- with this huge smile on her face. It was totally adorable, but like I said, observant.

She continues to learn words as fast as lightning strikes. But hearing the way she pronounces some of them is half the fun. Our new favorite is “han-gaber” -- or what most people call a hamburger. She also refers to her butt as her booty.

She’s very matter of fact and particular about what she wants. After getting in the car the other day, she wasted little time announcing, "It’s not hot in here," to which I reached for the air-conditioning dial. That prompted her to say, "Turn it up loud, Daddy!"

Once Kates has her ready for bed at night, Phoebe stands at the door of her downstairs bedroom and shouts to me upstairs, "Come ON, Daddy! c'MON!" When she sees that one of us is frustrated or upset, she's quick with a tilt of the head and a consoling, "Dat’s ok ..." And when she wants to cuddle or hug, she'll approach slowly and say, in a soft voice, "I hold you."

She’a got tattle-tailing down. If I say no to something, she goes to mommy: "Daddy say no eating waffles in the big bed!" ... And when she sees something she doesn’t know about, she whips out her arm and points to it with an authoritative “Es dat!?”

She can be boisterous. She likes breaking, out of nowhere, into counting numbers or reciting the ABCs. ... And she likes singing about everything and nothing at all. It’s shouting gibberish usually. And sometimes I’ll join her for fun, singing -- shouting, actually -- loudly. Da da da la ba da ta da ba ba ba

If Kates and I are in a giving mood, we’ll let her play with our cell phones. That could keep her occupied for hours, if we let it last that long. "Daddy, I test your phone," she says. Translation: "Daddy, can I text on your phone?"

Her other favorite pasttimes are rearranging the magnets on the refrigerator. Prancing around the living room while swinging her purse and wearing sunglasses. And trying to put her own (clean, of course) diapers on her babies.

She loves blowing bubbles on the back deck. She loves drawing with chalk on the front stoop. She loves playing soccer, which, to her, is bouncing a ball. And she loves playing baseball, which is hitting a wiffo ball off her tee -- and man, can she really hit for a 3-foot tall, 28-pound, 2-year-old. Seriously, softball player in the making.

She’s a daredevil. She climbs onto her bed by herself. And she climbs into her booster chair on her own; her hi-chair went into storage within a couple weeks of our arrival here.

And she's clever. A couple weeks ago, after Kates and I put her to bed, she came stumbling up the stairs around 9:45, telling us she forgot to eat her yogurt. Then she says she wants to watch the Cubs game with me. ... You could say it's in her genes. I often pulled similar tricks when I was a kid.

She's growing up. And we're finding it harder to keep up with her.


August baseball

Any hope for the Cubs the rest of this season is futile.

So I'm ramping up my attention to the teams that are going to matter the rest of the way. My desired World Series: The Texas Rangers vs. the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Phillies, through my eyes, have gone from one of baseball's most boring contenders a couple years ago to an awesome collection of talent and finesse. And now they've got Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt ...

The Rangers, meanwhile, have been bubbling toward the top of the AL West for a couple years. After plucking pitching coach Mike Maddux from the Brewers, acquiring Cliff Lee and now getting Nolan Ryan as their owner -- not to mention their World Series-less history and the adversity they've faced this season -- I like them as a team of destiny in the AL.

Last night, in my search for a baseball escape, I stumbled onto the Yankees-Rangers game and got rewarded with a thriller. For the first time in the longest time, I refused to go to bed so I could watch the end of a baseball game ... To my dismay, the Rangers wasted a lead-off triple in the ninth and left the tying run on third base as the meat of their lineup went 1-2-3.

Aside from the drama on the field, it was amusing to watch Nolan Ryan sitting in the front row and conversing with George and Laura Bush. And to see the pans of the ballpark and think, I've sung the national anthem there. Good times.


Getting The Weepies

I had another concert blues moment recently. And probably not the last.

Kates and I adore The Weepies. Have for years. Their music has been part of a few big moments in our lives. And given all the uncertainty in our lives these last couple months, you could say their new album due out at the end of this month is the one of the most anticipated events in our household this summer.

Their lyrics are oh so soothing. Their lush harmonies are musical bliss. The World Spins Madly On.

Suffice to say, as I've said a number of times, they're at the top of our concert bucket list. If the timing was right, we'd drive -- or fly, depending on the location -- hours to see them. Just once.

So when word came out a few weeks ago that the duo was setting plans for their first tour in four years, I had high hopes. I joined others by pleaing on their Facebook page for a Kansas City stop, and I had visions of turning it into a perfect wedding anniversary gift for us. I really thought this was going to be the year.

Instead, I was crushed when the dates went public about a week ago. And there was no date in Kansas City ... There are dates in Madison, Evanston, and Iowa City -- all of which Kates and I seriously considered. But considering our job responsibilities, those stops are scheduled during the worst possible week of the fall.

Get over it. I know.

At least we can still look forward to the new album ... And we have a new song to enjoy.


Saturday night hosts

EW is out today with a list of 15 stars it hopes will host SNL.

Jane Lynch. Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Steve Carrell. Will Farrell. Yes, please.

Julianne Moore (Ugh. That Boston accent was enough to make me change the channel). LeBron James. Tracy Morgan (Are you serious!?). Joaquin Phoenix ... Um, no thanks.



Just finished watching another Cubs game. They lost. Again ... To the Reds. Again.

I dozed off a little during the game, too. Lying flat on the couch. Leaving all my burdens -- as our pastor encouraged during his sermon this morning -- behind ... Speaking of the Cubs and burdens, check out this guy's story. I want to meet him.

My perfect Sunday afternoon.

In another few minutes or so, Phoebe will wake from her nap, and the Sunday night rush will begin again ... Deciding what to do for dinner. Maybe a walk to the park. Trying to get Phoebe settled down for bed. And then maybe getting to watch "Mad Men" live -- while "My Boys" gets the VCR treatment because we have yet to watch last week's episode.


Stuff n' fluff

Once again cleaning my desktop of meaningless, but entertaining and worthy, reads and links I've come across the last few weeks ...

The title of this post, by the way, comes from the latest buzzword to dominate our household these last couple weeks, thanks to Phoebe's incessant viewing of her Winnie the Pooh video.

First up, this geekalicious "Star Wars" video I picked this week from a Twitter feed. It's a montage of every lightsaber ignition -- and retraction -- in the galaxy far, far away ...

* * *

This one is called "16 Stars' Most Embarassing TV Ads" ...

I was surprised by how many of these TV commercials I remembered.

* * *

Here's two Onion reads that really had me laughing out loud recently ...

First: God Hinting At Retirement

Second: Local Family Homeless After Tornado Destroys White House

Maybe it's my years of crime and spot news reporting. Maybe I was in a loopy mood. But the latter delivers so many great lines, I was laughing uncontrollably.

"As of press time, several items of sentimental value to the family remained unaccounted for, including Mrs. Obama's wedding gown, both daughters' baby books, David Axelrod, and an antique portrait of George Washington that had been in the home for generations."

* * *

On its photo blog the Denver Post recently published a series of color photos taken between 1939 and 1943.

Simply beautiful.
* * *

The Old Spice campaign is one of the best marketing and advertising stories of the year. And I've enjoyed reading about it.

Check out this "making of" video of the iconic Super Bowl commercial.

* * *

Finally ... Think social media is a fad? Watch this video.


Is Brett done yet?

So Brett Favre's at it again.

Would I like to see him continue playing? Sure.

Do I believe he'll retire? When reports surfaced this week that he planned to retire, I immediately made the same statement as Drew Brees ...

"Haven't we all seen it before? I'm not going to believe it until he doesn't walk out of the tunnel on Sept. 9."



So all of my dreams for awhile are going to be compared to Inception's architecture.

Last night I had one that came pretty close to the real thing - or whatever that reality is.

I arrived at some kind of train station. Could have been European. From the platform, the floor and walls were a bluish gray. And there was a set of futuristic elevator capsules. I stepped into one and started pushing buttons with barely a clue of where I was heading.

Suddenly I was in this food court area that felt part '80s mall with neon light strips and chrome, and part casino lobby with mauve, patterned carpet and indoor waterfalls. There were also hints of the town square set in "Back to the Future," too, with classic cars parked throughout. I was looking for something to eat, but I realized my wallet wasn't in my back pocket.

There was an interlude filled with projections of buddies from my junior high and high school years. Corey and I talked of our field hockey days in junior high. Another acquaintance, Ryan, who plays in a popular rock band in reality, was milling around, telling us to "be safe out there." I passed through a door into a hallway that was painted completely in a grayish, off-white.

Suddenly I was in a lavish California-style palace that was the university president's home. Though there wasn't an item inside that resembled the real thing. The president and the first lady were giving me a tour of the home, leading me down the winding metal staircase and pointing to relics along the way, like an antique television set they said came from a residence hall.

As we got to the bottom of the staircase, the atrium looked more like the lobby of the Museum of Science & Industry. And there was a large group of people moving through it, about to embark on a tour. Somebody said, "You'd better get going!" And I began jogging through the atrium to catch up with the group as they rounded the corner.

As I caught up to them, we entered another atrium that looked part Galleria, part Union Station. Neil Diamond's "Song Sung Blue" began playing, and people had started skipping and dancing. The atmosphere was festive - sort of like this. I looked to my right and a former boss was skipping along side me. I reached out to him and we slapped hands as we skipped near the back of the crowd.

Suddenly I was back at the elevators. I stepped into one and started going up.

The dream ended.

And of course, I can't remember how I got there in the first place.



It's been darn hot the last few weeks.

How hot?

This hot. According to our car's thermomenter around 6 tonight as we were leaving for an evening with friends ...


Date night

Last night, Kates and I went on a date.

We booked our friend Gina for some baby-sitting time with Phoebe and went out the town. The plan: dinner and a movie.

Dinner didn't work out quite the way we'd planned when we got a later start than we'd planned. Then, we decided to hit a pizza joint for their popular buffet, only to discover that the buffet isn't available on Saturday nights. After a drive down the main drag and nixing all of the restaurants we saw along the way, we ended up ordering some quick appetizers at the movie theater restaurant.

Although the appetizers were hardly quick. Kates and I ordered a plate of pita break with spinach and artichoke dip and a nacho supreme plate ... We waited in our booth for a full half hour before the food arrived. Luckily, our waitress understood our situation and delivered the food in to-go boxes so we could take it directly to our movie.

A little bit about this movie theater, The Hangar. It opened about 10 years ago while I was student here -- after the antiquated theater downtown closed -- and became an instant hot spot for entertainment. Much of the theater's charm is in its motif. From the outside it looks like a small, private airplane hangar complex. But step inside, and it's a spacious entertainment house with two large dining areas and a fifth studio that's used as a dinner theater.

The mood is always fun, and the low prices put the high-tech 30-plex theaters to shame ... Last night, after we'd finished our movie, Kates and I were walking down The Hangar's long lobby runway, when she sighed and said, "I love The 'Ville." ... It is, after all, a simpler, less complex way of life than we've been used to in recent years.

Speaking of complex. The movie we saw? "Inception."

It went atop my summer movie wishlist the moment I saw a 30-second spot on TV for the first time last spring. The action appeared to be awesome. The pairing of Leonardo DiCaprio and Ellen Page appeared stellar. I'll take just about anything with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, too.

Then again, I knew little about the plot of the film -- which seems to be more and more of the case in these days of trailers that are huge on explosions but tell you zilch about the plot. (And studios wonder why their movies don't always bring in the big bucks they think their movies deserve.) ... I'd seen and followed enough of the buzz to know, however, that "Inception" wasn't a film to be missed.

So Kates and I went in with our to-go boxes and ... Wow. Wow. Wow.

In a nutshell, "Inception" is founded on dreams -- several layers of them in fact. It's a mind-blowing thriller from start to finish. And just like a dream, you never knew where the film was going or where it was going to end ... Before you know it, the film is you tossing back and forth among multiple, but related, layers of dream sequences and you're mesmerized. Although, Kates and I agreed we never thought the film got so complex it was hard to decipher.

The concept was genius ... with hints of "The Matrix," "The Bourne Identity" and other recent mind-benders thrown in.

Perhaps the best measure of the film is the final scene, which focuses on a thumb-sized top spinning on the table -- I'll leave it to you to see the film and learn for yourself how the film reaches that point -- and then the screen goes dark.

The audience let out a collective groan -- just like a great dream that ended sooner than you wanted it to. (Watch a hilarious spoof of the scene here.)

Here are some good reads I picked out that explain things better than I ... And then the full trailer.

a This Time the Dream’s on Me
a Entertainment Weekly Review
a 'Inception' is a massive sci-fi success
a An exhilarating ride, from Genesis to Revelation
a Does Inception stand up to a second viewing?
a Everybody’s a Critic of the Critics’ Rabid Critics
a 'Inception': Behind the scenes of a movie about movies -- and the mind of its maker