Saturday, July 16, 2011


I watched the MLB All Star Game this week because five San Francisco Giants made the All Star Squad. I don't ever recall watching another All Star Game, though I must have watched the 2007 All Star Game because it was played at the Giants' AT&T Park. I was staying at the Ancestral Digs that July, and my Dad wouldn't have missed the game on a bet!

I do remember being amazed by all the watercraft on McCovey Cove for the Home Run could barely see the water for all the kayaks, canoes, inflatable rafts, floating homemade putting greens, and all sorts of wacky stuff. I suspect I saw the Home Run Derby Flotilla online, not on TV...the Flickr photo sharing site I'd wager.

Back to today...Of the five Giants All Stars, two played in the game. Giants' skipper Bruce Bochy was the NL All Star's manager because the Giants won the World Series. Four of the five Giants' All Stars are pitchers, so it's no wonder Bochy let them for closer Brian "Fear The Beard" Wilson who pitched for the save, insuring that the National League Team will enjoy Home Field Advantage in the next Fall Classic.

The Giants' red hot infielder, Pablo "The Panda" Sandoval brought his 21 game hitting streak to Phoenix for the All Star Show, and didn't disappoint. The Panda smacked a ground rule double in his only at bat, driving in a run. The National League won the game 5-1...home field advantage secured. With the All Star Break over, Sandoval hit the first pitch he saw Thursday in San Diego for a single. Panda's streak is now 22 games...and counting...but I digress...

I tuned into the game after the "Red Carpet", in time for as little pre-game gab for the announce crew as possible. I won't go off about whether a Red Carpet belongs in baseball...

I was struck by how many of the All Stars were sporting scruffy beards. It was kinda quaint I remember thinking. In fact there were beards of all stripes from scruffy to The Beard. I hadn't expected to find anything thought provoking on the All Star Game broadcast, that's for sure...I mean they had a red carpet! Must everything on TV become a reality show or an awards show?

Hold on...I've got things all mixed up! The scruffy beards were at the All Star Game. The Red Carpet was for the ESPY Awards. Sorry, I conflated the bad...suddenly I've got beards on the brain! No, not BirdBrain! Honest!

They always warn that "TV will rot your brain"..."they" might be right! Idiot Box, indeed. Conflation is becoming all reality shows and award shows. How long can it be before we see "The Daytime Teenage Single Mom Hoarder's Ice Road Trucking Gator Hunter Awards"?

Last night, I got a chance to watch the first episode of Showtime's new reality show "A Season With The Giants". The show will follow the team all season as they defend their title.

The show starts with the Giants celebrating their World Series victory before the show begins to introduce the players. Necessarily, there was quite a bit of injury talk because injuries seem to be the theme of the Giants' season so far.

The show looked at Barry Zito's comeback from a foot injury, how Zito was left off of the Post Season Roster during the Championship drive, and looked at his rehab routine.

Zito was profiled during this rehabilitation, through his first game back in Chicago vs the Cubs. Barry spoke at length about his pre-game shaving ritual! He always pitches freshly shaven.

Beards? Shaving? All this caused all my nostalgia synapses to start firing...when I was a kid in the mid-60's, baseball was a radio sport. The ballgames were rarely on TV then. Radio loves baseball, and there's plenty of time during ball games to slip in short advertising spots. Back in the day, lots of these spots were for shaving cream and razor blades...oh and Chevrolets.

Even as baseball's Owners are trying to outrun the game's old-timey agrarian roots with loud NBA-style sound and fury pumped into the parks at every opportunity, I felt just a little bit of that old-timey peace and tranquility while watching the bearded millionaire All Stars playing on the field. There's real comfort and peace on a baseball field if you know where to look or listen. Baseball, always changing...always the same...

Friday, July 15, 2011

Duck Tuck & Roll

Excuse me while I vent my spleen! I'm getting as tired of whining about this damn weather as you, my gentle readers, are getting from enduring my kvetching!

I stayed up deep into Thursday morning to follow the Tour de France LIVE as the route entered the first stage in the  Pyrénées that promised to separate the contenders from the pretenders. There's nowhere to hide on these Hors Catégorie've either got the legs that day, or you don't.

To repeat Jonathan Vaughters' exquisitely precise and perceptive tweet from Sunday's crash-marred Stage 9: "Professional cycling is brutal and beautiful. It cannot be one without the other"

Throw in Mother Nature's great equalizer, our lingering La Niña-enhanced rainy season, and Voughter's Axiom becomes brutally prophetic. The tiny French country roads, and steep grades wet with rain, continue to vex the racers. Again Thursday bad luck befell several teams. Team Radioshack/Team CorduroyPlanet's Andreas Klöden and several others including the maillot jaune, hit the ground yet again, on a rain slicked French byway near the beginning of the descent from the first of three huge climbs that defined the first High Mountain stage of the 2011 Tour.

I can't say that the late rain in France is La Niña's fault, in fact there's probably an Atlantic Ocean analogue to our Pacific's La Niña.

Now that I give it a little thought, there might be a corollary between the PDO, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, and the AMO, the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation. I haven't found any evidence that the two are linked together, because until I watched this year's atypically rainy Tour de France, I never thought to look for a linkage. It seems to me that the the driving forces that drive one could also drive the other.

OK, I remember now...I looked at my own blogs! I searched the AMO tag and found a CorduroyPlanet "Inside Baseball" from September 2010. One of the articles I linked had the smoking gun.  The article on Anthony Watts' blog had a chart showing the excellent correlation between the PDO and the AMO. Now I'm no scientist, but isn't it kinda obvious that something is driving both of these long-period cycles. If I had to take an educated guess, I'd say chances are better than good that our sun is in the driver's seat here.

Here's the X's and O's from the article:

Tale of the 19X2's?
I don't know about you, but there's a pattern...not a perfect pattern (it's Nature after all) to the peaks and valleys. On the graph, look at the years that end in 2. With just a little fudge factor, those years are either the peak or the rock bottom of the cycles. The Sunspot Cycle is generally agreed to be 22 years from peak to peak. Close enough for Government Work as Americans used to say.

Sadly if the cycle repeats itself, I'm looking at roughly another 10 years of funky cool Summers. On the bright side, snowmaking seasons should be shorter, and groomers should enjoy extra nights of Hero Snow. Droughts should be mitigated, the glaciers will get well, and the lakes will be full until fall every year until spawning German Brown Trout stir. I'm guessing that bicycle wheel, tire and brake builders will iron out the wet weather performance of their products about the time the climate starts to warm back up.

In the near term, I'm lookin' for a fair weather window to duck up to the DaveCave so I can fix my pickup, and fetch some specialized tools for some projects around the Ancestral Diggins. One look at the satellite images is troubling to say the least...not one, but two wound-up cold low pressure systems are coming out of the Gulf of Alaska. Yeah, I said "duck". The AFD says there isn't "much" moisture associated with the mid-July interlopers...yeah, yeah...I've heard that one before too...

To quote the Prophet Homer Simpson...d'oh!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Unmarked Obstacles Exist

This morning I was doing a little reading when a tweet from @planetski announced: Wild boars cause disruption in Austria. 

Curiously, there's been a little Wild Boar Buzz on @CorduroyPlanet's horizons this week.TV Chef Anthony Bourdain's Travel Channel Show began airing new episodes this week, and I stumbled upon an episode of "Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern" devoted entirely to the feral pigs. I heard a wild boar recipe on the KFBK Outdoor Show recently. You could say there's been wild boar background noise on CorduroyPlanet lately.

So I clicked on the Austrian Wild Boars story...that's where I found the Bears and Wolves in Switzerland story, and that lead me to the Skier Falls Into Bear's Den story.

Say what? You're skiing along, minding your own business, and wham! you fall through the piste onto a hibernating bear? Talk about bad luck! We're gonna need a sign for that...

My Mountain has a couple of bears. We see them, or rather their paw prints early in the season before winter really sets in and the bears retire to their dens to hibernate. We see them again in the Spring when they wake up and set out for breakfast. Again we usually know they're about when we happen upon their tracks. It seems to me that it's been at least five years since I've seen a bear in the, fur.

Back then it was a Winter that was having trouble getting started...we were still making snow into January for the terrain parks and super pipe. The local bruins were taking their damn sweet time bedding down for their hibernation. My Mountain has a day lodge midway up the mountain where there's a small dumpster that serves the cafeteria kitchen and bar.

On the night in question, as I was passing the midway lodge, the lid of the little dumpster blew open, and Mama Bear with a cub exploded out of the dumpster, and they hightailed it down the hill and into the woods. They are surprisingly fast, but now that I give it a little thought, they were running on groomed man-made snow, not squeaky freshly fallen wild snow.

Jamaican World and Olympic Record Holder in the 100M and 200M, Usain Bolt could outrun mama bear for a few hundred meters, but I'm pretty sure that bears are more like Endurance Athletes...think The Tortoise and The Hare. I couldn't gain on the bear at full stick in my speed, what? 12mph?

Over the years I have seen a fair amount of wildlife on My Mountain...coyotes are the most common, of course. Squirrels, porcupines, I saw a weasel in it's winter coat, white fur with black tips on his tail and ears. One of my guys saw a mountain lion or bobcat once, he couldn't be sure which.

The Austrian Wild Boar story didn't give me any idea of what elevation the feral pigs were diggin'. Just know exotic interlopers, should a wild tusker root it's way outta the woods onto My Mountain, I'd find a way to waylay it and turn the tusky tourist into the main course of a slopeside luau! Break out the CP Beach Balls!

Zimmern said the wild boar are much tastier than the domestic porkers...pass the poi and pupus. Mahalo.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Anxiety Attacks

I’m feeling both a little down, and a little edgy today…I’m chalking it up to baseball’s All Star Break, and the first rest day of the Tour de France. Our continued cold, gray weather isn't helping either...and my favorite morning chuckleheads of chat radio, Armstrong&Getty have the week off too.

Sunday’s Stage 9 was one for the books…I never thought I’d see a France Television car run into the leader of the race! The darn car sideswiped Juan Antonio Flecha, who did a textbook tuck and roll and avoided serious injury. Behind him, Johnny Hoogerland wasn’t so lucky. He somersaulted ass over teakettle across the roadside ditch and landed in a barb wire fence!

Both men toughed the day out and finished. Johnny Hoogerland went straight from the podium  to the hospital and was rewarded with 33 stitches. (despite his off-road mishap, he earned the climber’s polka-dot jersey)

At the end of the day, Team Garmin-Cervélo's Directeur Sportif, Jonathan Vaughters said: "Professional cycling is brutal and beautiful. It cannot be one without the other".

My trouble is there was no Giants’ game for me to unwind to after I took in the Tour late Sunday night, and no ballgame Monday while the Tour took the day off.

The Home Run Derby only exacerbated my anxiety (good thing that fool’s friends grabbed him before he fell to his death into the lower deck!)

Seein’ the Giants' Pablo Sandoval in the game warmed me up a little, as did his ground rule double, but I need my whole Giants team…torture and all.

Giants' manager Bruce Bochy sent the runners for three stolen bases in one inning, and the National League won the game giving the NL home field advantage in the next World Series. 

Giants' closer Brian Wilson pitched for the last two outs. His beard was featured prominently at both ends of the big broadcast. Wilson is developing into one of baseball's great characters, a hyper-oddball if you will.

OK, even though it was played in Phoenix, it was all brite lights, big city, and though entertaining, didn't really mean that much to this Giants Fan. Oh, the home field advantage can't be discounted, but it wasn't Giants' baseball.

The Giants, and their radio and TV broadcasters, like their City, are homey and almost cozy like a small town. Giants and their fans are like one big goofy family, and you miss all that on these long breaks.

You see, the Giants were starting to really cook going into the All Star break, and the games were really entertaining. Guys were getting their mojo back at the plate, the defense was getting solid, and the casualties were coming back off the DL and IR. I just hope the break doesn't chill their momentum!

For baseball teams as well as bicycle racers, there sometimes is a paradoxical result from days off. For the bike racers during a Grand Tour, their bodies are used to grinding out the miles for 5-6 hours every day, burning 10,000 calories or so. Sometimes the Rest Day upsets the whole apple cart.

Baseball teams when they're "on" become highly tuned machines with lots and lots of moving parts. Now, throw in baseball players' legendary adherence to superstitions and rituals. Any discombobulation of routine or ritual, and the fleeting balance can vanish all too easily.

The Giants resume league play Thursday on the road against the San Diego Padres. I can't wait. In France, Wednesday will be the last day for the sprinters...the roads tilt up Thursday, and Le Tour will be in the Pyrénées for the weekend.

Thursday evening, I'll be feeling all simpatico with The Narrator in Steinbeck's "Cannery Row" when he summed up by saying: "Once again the World was spinning in greased grooves"...Play Ball!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Thrill Chill

Imagine my surprise when I woke up this morning at 0445 fully clothed on top of the bedspread. I don't remember falling asleep of course, but it was after the Giants victory, and after the package replay of Le Tour's Stage 9 from the French countryside.

The promised break in the Heat Wave finally arrived Saturday in earnest, and this morning the marine layer is overhead.

I got under the covers and tuned in the Tour while the French Roast brewed, and settled in for a day of total niche sports immersion...and a baseball game. Oh, I've got some chores to take up before the day's over, but mostly I get to be self-indulgent today. I settled in to see if race leader Thor Hushovd could hang onto the maillot jaune.

Today's Stage 9 is an up and down affair with no fewer than seven categorized climbs and an uphill finish. Of the seven climbs, three are Category 2, with three Category 3's and a 4. That's a lot of climbing, but not as severe as when they're in the Alps or Pyrénées, climbing the 1st Category and Hors Catégorie mountain passes! This is perfect terrain for breakaways to escape from the peleton and steal a stage win.

Sprinters like Hushovd as a rule are bigger men with huge legs, who struggle in the mountains when compared with the smaller lighter climbers. Hoshovd, reigning Road Race World Champion has impressed the peloton all week by holding the yellow jersey since the roads began to turn uphill in France's Massif Central.

I'm struck by how vivid the green grasses are in this year's France. It may be the rain that's been omnipresent so far. The riders aren't taking in the awesome scenery, they're too busy trying to keep their wheels under themselves on the rain-slick roads.

The first week of Le Tour has been marked by crashes as usual. Typically it's nervousness in the peloton coupled with narrow roads and brisk crosswinds in northern coastal France that causes all the trouble, but this year the field seems to be extra nervous due in part to crashes to race favorites compounding the fear for the teams of the "Heads Of State" as the contenders are known. Throw in wet roads too, and it's just the Devil's Arithmetic.

It started early today, 84km into the stage, when Defending Champion Alberto Contador tangled with another rider and veered off the road and into a spectator landing in a ditch on his butt before chasing back to the peloton, seeming none the worse for wear.

Early on, a six man breakaway escaped and ran their lead up to about five minutes. Three of the five were my fantasy riders. At 102km there was a horrific crash on a 70kph (43.4mph) descent that broke the peleton apart at the front. Four racers were injured badly enough to abandon including American Dave Zabriske of Team Garmin-Cervélo, who's another Team CorduroyPlanet fantasy racer. My fantasy teams are starting to resemble KirkVallus' fantasy football picks...on Injured Reserve...

The peleton kicked into Chivalry Mode, called a truce, and took it easy while those caught in and behind the mess got themselves sorted out and rejoined the peleton. At the front the break away was adding to their lead, as yet unaware of the carnage behind them.

Team CorduroyPlanet is looking good I thought as the news of the crash victims came trickling in. Normally, I'd be monitoring Twitter and Tumblr for up-to-the-second news from France, but I didn't want to find out the results of the British Grand Prix. The Fox TV Network is broadcasting the F1 race today, delayed for the American market. Normally, I'd be watching the GP LIVE, and avoiding the Tour de France results 'till I could catch the next replay, and I'd be unaware of the drama playing out in central France! There's nothing that takes the fun out of watching an F1 race like knowing the outcome!

The news from the crash scene was not good. Zabriske had a broken wrist. Alexander Vinokurov who challenged for yesterday's stage win, and stood 3rd on the podium in Paris in 2003, was the worst off suffering a broken pelvis (or femur) and a broken elbow.

Team Omega Pharma-Lotto teammates Jurgen Van den Broucke and Frederik Willems suffered a broken shoulder blade and a collarbone respectively. Also on the pavement were Team RadioShack/CorduroyPlanet's Andreas Klöden and Team Garmin-Cervélo/CorduroyPlanet's Christian Vande Velde, fortunately undamaged.

After some time, the shattered peleton reassembled itself and called off the truce and began chasing down the breakaway. Up at the front, another weird crash, this one in full view of the High Definition TV cameras. A French Television car bumped breakaway race leader (and Team CorduroyPlanet's) Juan Antonio Flecha at speed, causing him to hit the pavement and cause Johnny Hoogerland to somersault over a roadside ditch and into a barbed wire fence! Ouch!

Juan Antonio Flecha picks up the pieces
Flecha was back up and on his bike quickly before fading from the breakaway and getting caught by the chasing peleton. Hoogerland took quite a long time to get untangled from the barb wire, get bandaged up and slowly soldier on in disgust. Johnny Hoogerland finished dead last on the day. Either man could have gone on to win the stage if not for the fool holding the wheel in the TV Car.

The video is in Dutch, but you don't need a translator to get the gist of the commentary!

I gotta say all this carnage put quite the damper on my day. Thrills chilled, that's for sure.

Spoiler Alert! Stage 9 Results:
Oh, I almost forgot the bright side...Team Rabobank/CorduroyPlanet's Luis-Leon Sanchez won the stage, and is now in contention for the GC  ahead of Cadel Evans and Team RadioShack/CorduroyPlanet's Klöden. Frenchman Thomas Voeckler takes over the yellow jersey after racing in the breakaway all day. Much to my amazement, Team CorduroyPlanet has five riders in the Overall Top 20!