Saturday, August 31, 2002

Will somebody please explain to me why sportswriters are so concerned about the financial success of baseball? I've just finished reading this column and can't for the life of me imagine why this scribe is so worked up about whether baseball is as big as football. My only concern about baseball is that when I sit down to watch the game, it's entertaining. Period. Why would I care if ratings are up or down or if more or fewer people in inner cities or suburbs or Mexico City or some podunk one-stop-light village on the far side of them thar hills are watching the games? I'm into baseball because it's a great game. I'm into the game. Last night I saw a thriller between the Giants and the Diamondbacks, and tonight's tummy-twister was the A's against the Twins. Scintillating stuff as the A's chalked up No. 17. The worst thing that could happen now is that baseball undergoes some kind of NFL-style remaking, sucking the heart and soul right out of it. Just leave the damn game alone. Don't touch anything (OK, maybe get rid of the DH in the AL, but that's it).

Friday, August 30, 2002

They didn't strike (told you so; see Wednesday's post), and now the pundits are mopping up. And it's ugly. We see quickly that it's simply not possible for sportswriters to accept a happy outcome. They spent the last several weeks wondering how the two sides could be so foolish as to allow another work stoppage and now that a deal has been reached without interrupting the season, they can't bring themselves to parcel out credit. Oh, no. They're onto their other pet screed—lecturing fans for being dupes.

Take a look at Tim Keown's column on It's condescending—as is most punditry these days, be it political or sports—and in its insistence in being smarter than you, runs aground on the shoals of illogic and stupidity.

First, Keown's assertion that the players "didn't want more" is absurd. Everybody knows that the status quo would practically have guaranteed the players huge raises over the next several years. Fans understood this, that's why they felt the owners were right in demanding a revised playing field.

Second, Keown wants you to know that revenue doubled in the past six years. So? In business, one side of the ledger is only important relative to the other side. A lot of dot-coms that shouted about their five consecutive quarterly 125 percent revenue increases in 1999 and 2000, and are out of business in 2002, can tell you about that.

Third, to say that Minnesota and Oakland are "aberrations" (I think the actual term Selig used was "anomalies") is hardly belittlement. In fact Selig's insistence that the system barely allows for competitive success in smaller markets casts the Oakland and Minnesota stories in an even more impressive light. In the Selig line of thinking, those two franchises did the nearly impossible. In the Keown line of the thinking, it's no big deal for a small market team to succeed.

Fourth, no, Tom Hicks won't get any of George Steinbrenner's money. What Keown doesn't tell you is that everybody will contribute an equal proportion of local revenues, and everybody will receive an equal share. Because it has fairly large local revenues itself (because of the A-Rod deal!), Texas will be a net loser in revenue sharing. Plus, it will be subject to the luxury tax. Montreal, meanwhile, will be a big winner under the rev-sharing plan, as will Minnesota and Oakland (which should help them keep their fine young teams together, something fans, I'm sure, will be happy about).

Fifth, Keown and the others who think they're smarter than fans like to say that greater financial parity won't make dumb owners and general managers smarter. This is a classic straw-man argument. Nobody has said that greater income redistribution would make dumb owners and general managers smarter. Quite the contrary: Dumb management will still be penalized; and now, smart management has a better chance of being rewarded. Furthermore, smart organizations will have a better chance of keeping their teams together, which is a major concern of fans.

Finally, Keown is outrageously disingenuous in his late, brief show of gratitude that a deal was struck. "So it's done. Great news. No games were canceled. The damage was minimized, and after today that's all that really matters." He writes this in the last paragraph of his column, after spending hundreds and hundreds of words ripping the people who run the game and the fans who support it. If he really was happy about the outcome, that sentiment would have been the gist of his column. But Keown, in the typical fashion of the embittered sportswriter, didn't give a shit if the games went on or not Which is fine, as long as he doesn't expect us to think he did.

Thursday, August 29, 2002

Niko is deep into Why.

On the Net somewhere I came across a torture technique said to be used on political prisoners many years ago. Worked like this: A rat-filled cauldron was placed mouth-down on the victim's stomach and the cauldron was heated from the outside. The rats, having nowhere to escape, would gnaw through the victim's stomach.

The Why torture isn't quite that bad.

Why you turning on the grill, Daddy?
To cook the fish.
Because that's what we're having for dinner.
Why we having fish for dinner?
Because it's good for us and we like the taste.
Why is it good for us?
It's a lean source of protein and is high in healthy fats.
Oh, I'm sure it has something to do with all that time swimming around in water. Salmon live in the water, of course.
That's where all fish live.

I reckon every parent of a 3-year-old (oh, all right; he'll be 3 in a month) has been through this. And every parent has been tempted to answer: Because. We have vowed not to take this easy way out. The kid is curious. Feed the curiosity, don't stomp on it!

Barry hit a homer.
Because in baseball, that's what you try to do, hit the ball a long way.
Because then you get to go all the way around the bases and score a run.
Because those are the rules of the game.
Because, well, no, it wasn't Abner Doubleday, but somebody about 150 years ago decided that would be a fun game.

I've vowed to wear the kid out, to answer every question ever-more elaborately until Niko caves and says, "Oh. OK." But it hasn't happened yet. Niko remains undefeated.

Daddy, can we make wine today?
Wine? No. The grapes aren't ripe yet. We've got to wait a couple more weeks.
Because that's when the grapes will be ripe.
Well, over the course of the summer the plant converts sunlight and water and nutrients to energy and grows fruit and transforms that fruit into a plump orb filled with just the right ratio of sugar and acid. It's then and only then that we can make wine. And, interestingly enough, the grape alone among all the fruits carries these vital ingredients for making wine. Did you know that?
No. [Pause.] Why we make wine out of grapes?
Well, I think the answer is really a short three-letter word: G-O-D.
God wanted something to drink, that's why. It was John Stuart Blackie who said: "Wine is the drink of the gods, milk the drink of babes, tea the drink of women, and water the drink of beasts."
[Pause.] I don't know why.

Wednesday, August 28, 2002

Bloggers get grief for being enraptured with their own viewpoint, but I know people who've never even heard of blogs who are just as bad. They feel compelled to deliver an opinion on everything under the vanishing ozone. Maybe bloggers are vanity publishers opining into a dark place that escapes even Google's bright light, on topics about which they have no expertise, with little research and no editing. But I submit that such an assault on the culture is far less abhorent than the (non-blogger) type who consistently accosts you in the flesh with his half-baked, already-evaporating take. Run into one of these guys and you are hopeless. You can feign disinterest, but that won't slow him down. The slashing and pummeling will continue until you finally have to say, "Hmm, yeah, good point."

Whereas, when I get set to launch my opinions, here, you can click away in an instant. No harm, no foul!

1. There will be no baseball strike. But if there is, it will be a good thing because it will free up the great spaces in my evenings and weekends now devoted to watching the Giants. (This is the same way I approach the pennant race when the Giants are teetering on elimination. "Just lose," I say. "You bastards take up too much of my time." And they do lose, eventually.)

2. We shouldn't invade Iraq unless there is real evidence that an attack on the United States is imminent. My suspicion is the Bush administration is hard at work manufacturing such evidence.

3. Warm weather that speeds up ripening and brings the harvest in soon will be lauded by winemakers and growers as a welcome turn of events. The grapes will have shot forward to a stunning state of ripeness. Either that or, continued cool weather that slows ripening and brings the harvest in late will be lauded by winemakers and growers as a welcome turn of events. The grapes will have gathered enormous complexity by virtue of this extended hang time.

4. The new Vintner's Collective in downtown Napa is beautiful and the people behind the project are to be saluted. But I hate it. It's St. Helena plunked down in our crappy little downtown and it makes me think the anti-redevelopment crowd, which I had previously dismissed and which fears for the vanishing working-class soul of Napa, might have a point: Twenty or thirty years from now the whole friggin' valley, from American Canyon to Calistoga, will be a gigantic food/wine/B&B/gallery Disneyland. The Green Lantern alone will survive–as the "scary ride."

Sunday, August 25, 2002

Steve Edmunds of Edmunds St. John is one of my favorite winemakers. He's traveled up and down the state for 20 years now seeking grapes that have the potential to be turned into distinctive wines. And he succeeds so often because winemaking, for him, isn't a about convincing critics to reward him with high scores; the goal instead is to make wines that are interesting. But he can explain his philosophy better than I. In addition to being a great winemaker, he's a wonderful writer (and a musician to boot). Check out his brief essay describing his approach to winemaking, and then bounce around the ESJ site a bit to learn more about his wines. They're well worth tracking down--and compared to typical celebrated California wines, are a steal.
Last Week's Workouts
Mon: Swim 2000 yds (mostly 250s and 100s); run 40 min treadmill
Tues: Swim 1750 (a hard 1,000, 2 250s...); bike 1:20 at 125-135 HR (23 miles)
Wed: Swim 1750 yds (8x100 on 2:10, etc.)
Thurs: Bike 1:20 at 125-135 HR (23 miles); Mountain bike 1:45
Fri: Swim 2000 yds (8x100 on 2:05, etc.); 4 mile evening walk
Sat: OFF
Sun: Bike--Tour of Napa Valley (103 miles, 6:04 riding time)

Thursday, August 22, 2002

My first mountain biking race was in 1987 at that granite monolith in the eastern Sierra, Mammoth Mountain. I wore a goofy yellow helmet that had, I think, exactly zero air vents, and my bike was unsuspended, front and back. Come to think of it, I don't think anyone had any suspension at the time, even at the NORBA World Championship. That's right: World Championship. They could call it the World Championship because we Americans owned the sport. We invented it on Mt. Tam and the Euros were, for another year or two at least, still skinny-tire weenies. The great veteran runner/rider/triathlete Ned Overend (aka, The Lung) won the race, and I can't remember what happened to John Tomac, the emerging sport's young endorsement-besotted turk. I finished far back but strong, strong I tell you, on my Univega Sport, which weighed in at probably 40 pounds, including the rack on the back.

The point of this windy recollection is as you expect: To establish my street cred as a mountain biker. Because 15 years and a lot of miles and a lot of races later, I've turned on my tribe. Or maybe not. This is my problem: I love mountain biking, but I very much dislike mountain bikers.

I didn't fully realize all this until a visit last Sunday to Skyline Park, on the southeastern edge of our fair town. We were there for a walk in the Native Plants Garden, but the park proper is the only legit mountain-biking option that a Napa resident can hit without loading the bike into the car. As we pulled into the parking lot--me, my wife and almost-3-year-old son--we noticed a pack of mountain bikers getting ready to roll. They had dual suspension, Camelbacks, the latest frame technology--all the accoutrements of fanaticism, or at least weekend warriorism. I was immediately irked that they had, in fact, loaded their bikes into the car and driven to Skyline. Skyline is nice riding, but there's as good or better to be found all over the Bay Area; it makes no sense to come to Skyline from afar. And if you're local, why not ride to the park?

Then they took off and I could tell by the belly-driven tone of their conversations, by the way they shot down the little grade that connects to the trails, by everything about them, that they were ready for some hardcore riding. Never mind that it was Sunday and the park was full of hikers. Never mind that Skyline's track is often narrow and a hiker wouldn't have a prayer getting out of the way of a bike coming around the curve on an off-camber, gently down-sloping stretch. Never mind, moreover, that any other visitor's goal of some modest communion with nature--its sound, its quiet, its delicious lack of human intrusion--would be exploded by the presence of these cyclists.

The question I had wasn't how hikers could have a good time under these circumstances--it was how cyclists could.

A few days later, still thinking about all this, I gave my road bike a rest and pedaled my '96 Bontrager Privateer S (Indy shocks up front) over to Skyline. It was 5 p.m. on a weekday and nobody was there. I clambered up the Lake Marie fire road, cleaned a wicked rocky, rutted, singletrack climb and swooshed down the hill in the invigorating cool ocean breezes rushing from the Bay to the south. Good golly, I had a good time.


I didn't bother anyone. And nobody bothered me. I knew before I even hit the dirt that it was unlikely I'd come across even a single hiker. And I didn't. This freed me to ride unencumbered, and that made all the difference.

There isn't a chance in the world I would have enjoyed myself if every half-mile or so I had been coming across a hiker. I would have known I was wrecking their experience, and fears of a collision would have distracted me. (And a distracted mountain biker is a bleeding mountain biker.)

Where does that leave me? Here: I now know what it is, exactly, that I dislike about mountain bikers. It's their unwillingness or inability to empathize with other trail users. No matter how courteous they might be, mountain bikers on busy, narrow trails are a pain in the ass. Period. They take more than their share of the space, in every sense. They are selfish. But go ahead and ride. Ride hard! Just do it when you won't be bothering everyone else. You'll like it even more.

Tuesday, August 20, 2002

It was very late, well past the customary appointed hour of slumber. But we were nearing the station, finally--just about to lie down and read "The Salamander Room." And that's when Niko turned to me and said the one and only thing that would derail the bedtime express: "Daddy, can we go downstairs and watch the Giants game together?"

We sat hip-to-hip on the couch, my arm around his shoulders, as Schmidt overpowered the Mets and Niko talked. He talked about how the fishes breathe water, and about the Duplo office tower he built, and how we could go to a lot of Giants games if we won the lottery, and how black olives have lots of flavor because of the salt and the vinegar, and he looked outside at the blackness and asked, "Is it night now?"

It pours out. The theories to explain the mysteries, the questions to answer curiosities, the speculations to close gaps in suspicions. Niko isn't interested in thrills, in screeching down the slide at the playground or tearing around the yard on his tricycle. Niko wants to understand. (The other day, he and his mother sat for a full 30 minutes studying the area under the kitchen sink, working out which pipes took which water--yucky, hot, cold--where, and how the garbage disposal motor works, and why that white plastic pipe thing goes up to that vent hole thing up there.) I confess: Sometimes I fall into my old impatience and sink under the weight of Niko's unending assault of Whys? and am tempted to grab that wretched ol' buoy Because! But so much is missed, and tonight reminded me of that. Niko unloaded the day's accumulated knowledge and I, the Daddy, sat there full of pride and love, dazzled to my very core, soaring at the wonder of how far his short journey has already taken him, and where he might go in the years to come.

Monday, August 19, 2002

This is great. The Associated Press talks to an expert whose credentials are unspecified, and a clueless neighbor; reads from a lawsuit by a disgruntled former devotee that was settled; and the next thing you know a thriving winery is labeled a "cult." To be sure, it's a fine line between off-beat organization and cult and this "fellowship"/winery may fall on the cult side. But who thinks mainstream media are well-equipped to make the distinction? Not me. I read this story looking for some hard evidence that Renaissance Winery and Vineyards was evil, but never found it. Especially appalling was the passage in the story where the writer says of Renaissance, "[t]hey are virtually unknown to their neighbors," and then goes onto quote a local retiree who, with no apparent evidence at all, proclaims, "They are really on another level. It's a cult. They don't make decisions for themselves." How does she know this? We're not told. Weak stuff from AP, and weaker yet for the Chron to pick up the story.

Sunday, August 18, 2002

Speaking of Lileks, he's just gone nutso about an anti-America piece he just read, and says that "with the publication of this piece in a major American daily" the idea that lefty idiots don't have any avenues for their views is shot down. Only problem is, the piece he's talking about (I won't link to it; it's ridiculous) was published in the Baltimore Chronicle, which is neither major nor daily.
Eventually I want to include some thoughts here about being a father, but think I'll wait until I have a better feel for the blog form. Meanwhile, two of my favorite bloggers are Brad DeLong and James Lileks, and here's DeLong, reacting to a recent Lileks' post, on the profound change that parenthood brings.
Daily Howler has the goods again on how shockingly poorly the NY Times covered the 2000 race. As a former reporter and editor, this stuff amazes me. (And if you think that DH is always hostile to Dubya, this is a must-read.)
Last Week's Workouts
Mon: Swim 2000 yds (300 warm-up, 7x100 on 2:15, 500 steady, 500 mod hard--9:10); run 45 min treadmill; 3 mile evening walk
Tues: Swim 1500 (500 warm-up/steady, 2x250, 500 steady); bike 1:20 at 125-135 HR (23 miles); 3 mile evening walk
Wed: Swim 1750 yds (200 warm-up, 4x200 on 5, 500 steady, 200 recovery)
Thurs: OFF
Fri: Swim 1750 yds (200 warm-up, 500 hard, 1000 slow but steady, 50 breaststroke cool-down); 4 mile evening walk
Sat: Bike 35 miles, up Mt. Veeder, down Oakville, moderately hard
Sun: Swim 2250 (250 warm-up, 8x100 on 2:15, 100 breast recovery, 2x250, 500 steady, 50 breast easy/recovery, 50 cool-down); 3 mile evening walk
The Seattle Times editorializes that because the Washington wine industry is so successful--it's now selling $628 million worth of product a year--you and I ought to pitch in and give it $250,000. Huh?

The industry wants the quarter-mil to expand its genetic plant bank, or "mother block." A good cause, but why can't this fabulously successful industry pick up the tab itself? This looks like corporate welfare, pure and simple, and is just the sort of thing we don't need in lean economic times. The sad thing is, the only argument in Washington is whether the big corporations and wealthy independents who make wine in Washington will get $250,000 (House version of the pending legislation) or $150,000 (Senate version).

Saturday, August 17, 2002

Napa has a new wine shop and it appears to be well worth checking out. It's a little shop, called Back Room Wines, and is on Franklin Street between First and Second. Some Californians you don't usually see in Napa--Cedarville, Copain, Ojai, Hitching Post. Daniel Dawson is the owner. He wasn't in last night when I strolled by. More on Back Room after I meet Daniel. For now, check out the shop's website.

Friday, August 16, 2002

NWS guys in Monterey office are a little bent that the ETA drastically underinitialized low level moisture this morning. They think it'll miss the boat again. But that's OK: means temps in the low 80s through the weekend for those of us who live inland (but not too far inland). Ah, the Napa summer!
What's the key to becoming a better triathlete? It ain't fancier, more expensive equipment. It might not even be piling on more hours of training, suggests Slowtwitch's Dan Empfield.

I think Dan makes good points, and so does Gordo, here.
Christine Brennan of USA Today thinks it's time sportswriters stopped writing about what Tiger Woods does on a golf course, and get to the heart of the matter: His views on political issues.

I'm with Brennan in thinking it would be great if Tiger were highly engaged on social issues. He could probably do a lot of good. Then again, I think simply by playing his sport with great dignity he's already done a lot of good as far as breaking down barriers in golf. Golf participation by minorities and women is way up in the last five years or so, and Tiger clearly has much to do with that. Jackie Robinson changed the world not by getting up on a soapbox, but by playing ball with incredible skill and intensity--the same way Tiger plays golf.

It's also worth pointing out that Tiger is barely in his mid-20s and he's entirely focused on his craft (or art, or sport, or whatever golf is). Maybe he hasn't figured out what he thinks about these other issues. Maybe he knows that when you're young you tend to say stupid things (I'm sure glad I wasn't quoted on political issues when I was in my mid-20s). Our culture is so demanding that everyone have an opinion--or "take" in the Jim Rome vernacular--on everything. Doesn't matter if they've studied the subject or even paused to think deeply about it. I kind of respect somebody who doesn't fall into that trap. Let's give the young man some time. Lastly--and I say this as a PR guy and a former reporter, and someone who will doubtless commit journalism again some day--I think it's just this sort of vaguely pious holier-than-thou hectoring that hurts journalists' standing with the public. I don't doubt that many of the questioners are asking them out of sincere journalistic curiosity and/or a sense of journalistic obligation. Fair enough. Ask the questions. And if Tiger has something to say, great. If he doesn't, back off.

BTW, Romenesko links to a nice Star Tribune column on the topic, wherein Dan Barreiro takes on Tiger's disingenuous lecturers.
Lots of letters to Jim Romenesko's MediaNews regarding the twin issues of Tiger Woods and his obligation to speak out on social issues, and the obligation of journalists to demand answers from celebrities such as Woods on such issues.... My own missive, narrowly focused on factual claims of another letter writer, appears at the top of the list of August 15 letters. To follow shortly, a more complete rendering of my view on the aforementioned twin issues.
Now that I understand how this works, a few quick works about me: I'm of midwestern stock, grew up in California, educated in public schools from Stipe Elementary for kindergarten through UC Berkeley, spent several years as a sportswriter, then as a copy editor, then a website editor, then a freelance writer, and now I'm a PR guy.

And about this blog: The best blogs focus on topics that the writer is passionate about. My faves are family, wine, triathlon, politics, media, weather and baseball. If I'm smart, these are the things you'll read about here.

Look what Randall Grahm is up to now. I'm going to ponder this further, but I think the Bonny Doonster might have gone a tad far with this one. "It's crude, but it gets people thinking about the concept that wine is a complex product that derives from many factors in its creation," he says. I'm skeptical; mostly it gets Randall publicity. Grow the grapes well and in the right place and you'll really get people thinking about the many factors in the wine's creation.
You mean you don't have a blog? Wow.

OK, now I do. Real live must-read bloggish matter to come (when I figure out how this works).